A bit of a change of pace this week, here’s a snippet from a post I made elsewhere on the Ether-web.

Flying through space alone, only to be ambushed by three enemies popping out from behind asteroids within firing distance. Firing off a few shots to distract, and then running like a bitch, dodging like hell through asteroid fields and flying like a crazy man, while screaming like a girl on voice comms for backup. Surviving for a couple of sectors by the skin of my shields while my squad mates are assuring me they’re almost there. Almost intercepted by another bad guy coming in from another direction, but then punching past them and through a gate, to find 3 of my squadmates just turning up on the other side. The green guys come out of the gate to find that it’s turned from a chase into a battle in a matter of seconds, and I get to turn round and join in the most satisfying 4 a side battle. And when they’re all down and we only lost one of ours, I’m jumping up out of my seat and shouting “take that you f&**ers”, and then collapsing back down in fits of laughter, and a smile that didn’t go away for hours.

The game was Jumpgate, a game originally sold to me as “online Elite”; and with a description like that I was instantly sold. Elite has been a favourite of mine, and many others, since before high school. Jumpgate took the same open ended ethos and made it massively multi-player. Even in its heyday, Jumpgate rarely boasted more than 500 players on-line at any one time, but those who did play showed an amazing dedication and passion for the game that turned a small universe into a hive of activity. Combat, deep-space mining and trading all co-existing in space (relatively) well together; however it was the combat that generated the most devotion from the players. From all 3 factions squads and pilots relished the character traits of their factions, and role-played them to the hilt. There was a fair amount of out-of-character banter, but the meat of the game was always the warring between the factions.

Unusually for an MMOG, the complex flight model means that success is based entirely around your skills as a pilot. While you can earn money and experience to gain ready access to better equipment, the only thing that can improve your ability is practice and training. Undoubtedly this puts many people off, but for those with the ability and perseverance to learn, the adrenalin pumping rewards are phenomenal. My own skills in the sky were sadly outclassed by my contemporaries; I had the privilege of flying with the Octavian Vanguard – generally accepted as the finest squad on the server, and certainly filled with some of the most able pilots.

Sadly, a litany of poor decisions on behalf of the developers (Netdevil) sent Jumpgate into a spiral of decline. Arguably it was simply suffering from the natural cycle for MMOs – a big initial following which dwindles as newer and more interesting games appear. However it was clear from the long cycles between patches that there were few people behind the scenes supporting the game, and that the engine was fragile and prone to bugs when any significant changes were introduced.

The combination of stagnating game-play and bitter disputes amongst the player-base with claims of ‘griefing’, mean that today the server population rarely tops 50. A space once filled with new players and the vibrant hum of travellers lies cold and mostly empty; the few who remain live primarily for conflict, and continue to test their combat skills against each other. The much vaunted role-playing aspect has all but disappeared. However there is life in the old game yet, and talk of an upcoming graphical update to bring the visuals forward from their pre-2002 level has a few old heads interested again. And while there is still apparently just a single developer working on the game, no-one seems to want to see Jumpgate retired just yet.

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Last modified: April 12 2020.