A massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) and a space sim put together. The full title is Jumpgate: The Reconstruction Initiative. The game works in a manner similar to Privateer or Elite: You start out with a cheap, crap ship and go from there. In exchange for doing various missions (mining asteroids, transporting cargo, patrols, combating an alien race, scouting) you gain both money and experience. Aside from the missions available at the various stations throughout Jumpgate's universe, other players can hire you (or you hire them) for... well, for almost anything within the game really: Escorting cargo ships, running blockades, bounty hunts for other players, and so on. As you gain experience levels you are allowed to buy bigger, better, faster, stronger, etc. ships and equipment for them. The game was created by NetDevil (www.netdevil.com). Launched in July of 2001, NetDevil boasts it has a 36-month long storyline going to help keep the gameworld changing, in addition to the independent actions of its players. As with most MMORPGs, Jumpgate requires a monthly fee to play ($10 USD or about the equivalent of that for European customers). Currently, the necessary software to run the game can be downloaded and need not be purchased (previously it had to be bought but was available at some locations for as low as $20, despite being new).
History of the Jumpgate Universe
Thousands of years ago the galaxy had become a very prosperous place. After years of various hardships the various factions in the galaxy had finally made a mostly stable peace with one another and all, for the most part, was going quite well. Then came the Great Collapse. In almost an instant, entire planets and civilisations were destroyed. Great advances in technology were lost and only a few worlds were known to have survived. Millenia passed and eventually descendants of the four major factions discovered gravity wells near their planets. Through some research it was discovered that constructing devices to tune the energies of the gravity wells could enable them to act as wormholes. They became known as jumpgates and space travel resumed... at a cost. To survive the dramatic shifts in gravity that occur when travelling through a jumpgate, each pilot must be genetically altered to withstand the varying G-forces in such a way that living on a planet with a normal gravity level is no longer possible (basically, you won't be landing on any planets in the game).
The four factions prior to the Great Collapse were Solrain, Octavius, Quantar, and Hyperial. After space travel resumed contact was (sort of) made with a new faction, Amanath. No one of the other four factions has ever seen an Amanath ship or even a person. Amanath station appears fully automated but is always kept in top-notch condition... somehow. What technologies of their's are for sale through their exchange are highly advanced and there are rumours of their entire race being extremely powerful. Together these factions are participating in The Reconstruction Initiative (TRI): an attempt to restore the galaxy to its former glory.
Also seemingly new to the galaxy since the factions made contact with one another again is a mysterious alien race known as the Conflux. No communication attempts with them have succeeded and all encounters with them have resulted in the Conflux attacking. Their vessels, which may be the creatures themselves, tend to look like marine lifeforms. The Conflux are, so far, the only craft in the game controlled by an A.I. All other ships encountered are piloted by real people playing the game.
Of the five factions, new players must choose one of three to join: Solrain, whose society excels primarily in trade; Octavius, a loosely-tied together organisation of mercenaries; or Quantar, a deeply religious society, good with mining. Due to a past war with Quantar and internal conflicts, Hyperial has only a small part in TRI and no ships to be seen. Amanath, of course, remains a mystery for now.
Despite the specialities of each faction, players are pretty much free to pursue whatever jobs and expertise they choose regardless of which faction they belong to. While Solrain, for example, has an emphasis on trade and a lot of their ships are cargo vessels, they still have fighters and scouting ships available, should a Solrain player want to mostly do something other than cargo hauls. What ships are available for purchase depends on what faction you belong to but the equipment that can be used on those ships can have been developed by any of the factions. As the game goes on, new technologies and spacecraft are being introduced, usually following the completion of faction-wide missions to develop the new product.
Instead of a galactic police department to keep things in line, TRI keeps (or at least attempts to) troublemakers in line through a bounty system and political ratings. Newbies are protected near their faction's stations by automated defense drones and firing on another player's ship in TRI-regulated space, unless the other ship is marked as Honor Guard (more on that in a moment) or the other ship initiated the conflict, will get a bounty placed on the offending pilot (other players can see how much the bounty is on someone with their targetting system). Destroying a non-Honor Guard player's ship, assuming he/she didn't start the fight, will hurt your political rating and place a much larger bounty on the offending pilot. The change in political rating and amount of credits (Jumpgate's currency) offered for a player's destruction depends on the experience level of the pilot destroyed compared to the offending player's and the destroyed pilot's faction. Basically if you're level 50 and you destroy a level 1 pilot's ship on a whim there's going to be a huge price tag on your head.
Political ratings affect how each faction will react to you. Some of the better technologies are only offered to pilots with good political ratings to the corresponding faction and, if your political rating is too low, the faction that doesn't like you may even send defense drones from their stations to automatically attack you on sight. Political ratings also affect how much sales tax you pay when buying from the various factions. Kills can be made without punishment, however, if the two pilots fighting have both marked themselves as Honor Guard (essentially labeling yourself as open for player vs. player combat) or the battle takes place in neutral space, unregulated by TRI (the factions all control a number of systems with a large, unregulated area in the centre of the map).
The physics of flight in the game don't act as if there is no gravity affecting the pilot's ship at all but as though there is very little. Cut your engines and the ship will continue moving but also gradually slow to a stop. This means turning and stopping take a bit of getting use to and some calculating. The game comes with a simulator, which you can play on- or offline, to allow you to practice flying around without ruining your insurance rating should you smash into anything and blow up instead of successfully docking back at the station. The insurance system will reimburse a pilot should his/her ship somehow be destroyed (the pilot never actually dies, instead ending up back at the nearest station in an escape pod). If your ship gets destroyed a lot, your insurance rating will drop and you won't be given as much to make up for what you lost.
200 MegaHertz or faster CPU (350MHz recommended)
64 megabytes of RAM (128MB recommended)
DirectX 8.0a compatible or higher 16MB 3D accelerator with Direct3D support
DirectX 8.0a compatible 16-bit sound card
Windows 95 (with Winsock 2.0 upgrade)/98/2000/ME
250 free megabytes of hard disk drive space
TCP/IP connection to the Internet
keyboard and mouse (joystick recommended)
Update (16 February, 2002): The game is alright but it has the potential to be much better. A war between some of the factions or another event that would dramatically alter the gameworld (or gameuniverse, in this case) would be nice. One of the downsides for me that a lot of MMORPGs have is that their worlds are so static. Individual players' characters can change but the world stays pretty much the same until there's a new area patched in/added via an expansion pack. Jumpgate doesn't need as much data for new areas since there's no terrain, just specific objects in the vast expanse of space. While new systems have been added, the game remains pretty much the same. Perhaps something will jar the gameworld to life somewhere down the line with NetDevil's boasted 36-month plot. Unless that happens, Jumpgate, while not bad, just won't stand out in the crowd.