Hypergate Review and Interview with Geoff Nagy

Whilst the Hypergate campaign is short at 2 hours, the outstanding visuals, ship controls, pumping music and epic battles gave me vibes of my old X-Wing versus Tie Fighter days.

Hypergate is a 3D space arcade combat shooter solely developed and published by Geoff Nagy. After 5 years in development and a project name change (it was titled Gateway until later in development), Hypergate released on Steam and Linux on December 21, 2018. It’s definitely a passion project for Geoff and later in this review, Geoff was kind enough to answer some questions about the game’s development, how it progressed and what’s to come for the game. There have been several great sci-fi games released this year with War Tech Fighters, Subdivision Infinity DX and Rebel Galaxy Outlaw to name a few and I’m pleased to add a recommendation for Hypergate to my list of great sci-fi games of 2019.

“You are a new pilot of the Novan Interplanetary Alliance and your side is losing a civil war. Master space fighter combat amid a crumbling Alliance. Shoot your way through enemy fleets. Fight in a single-player campaign to save humanity or build your own massive space battles.”

While the single player campaign in Hypergate is extremely short at just 2 hours, there’s a lot to like in the 10 campaign missions. Plus the developer has outlined plans for 10 more fully voiced missions to be released sometime in 2020, all for free. It runs extremely well, even in huge battles with many ships. There aren’t many graphics options available to tweak, only enabling zoom-blur effect and FXAA, but the game supports many high-resolution and widescreen monitors. The main menu could use some background music as I loved the different soundtracks during the missions, adding a good intensity to the battles. I enjoyed having the option to have mission briefings voiced, which can be toggled off, as it got you invested in the mission. Further compliments go to the random chatter from squadmates, such as “Fox Three!” and “Great shot!” as it was a reminder that you were part of the squad and not fighting along, which is how some games feel.

Once in-game, the graphics and battle backdrops were amazing to look at. The UI was minimal which I like, with shield indicators on the left next to the missile counter, and a heat warning system on the right. I particularly loved seeing the ship’s joystick move as I flew around in space. Flight controls are simple. I played using mouse and keyboard but there is support for gamepads and joysticks. Targeting is easy by either shooting at a target or pressing ‘R’ for next target. You boost by holding down ‘W’ and can slow down your speed by holding ‘S’. This bought back memories of playing Star Wars X-Wing versus Tie Fighter, zooming at full speed towards a target then cutting to 1/3 speed in tight turns to get behind to blast them.

We are taught how to use an EMP to get rid of incoming missiles, however I found I was only shot at by a missile that one time and didn’t have to deal with missiles for the rest of the campaign. Big hulking cruisers have long range and devastating turrets that will quickly rip you to shreds if you charge at them headfirst. However, if you’re flying close to squad mates, I found it too easy to peel away, let the turrets target my squad mates, then fly in from the side or behind and easily take out the turrets. A cruiser generally has around 6 turrets and you’ll blow up the ship once all turrets are taken out.

There are no turrets on the underbelly of these cruisers so there were blind spots that I could easily take advantage of. This took away much of the challenge of the game, even when I played on the ‘experienced’ difficulty. I did find the ‘veteran’ difficulty harder with cap ships and small fighters targeting me more often, however it was still easy to boost away then turn around and blast them. I would have liked to have seen either shield generators that you would have to take out first, and then focus on the turrets, or once the turrets are destroyed, the cap ship has some hull armour that needs to be destroyed before it blows up.

Those small complaints aside, I found the fighter combat to be fun and engaging. I particularly liked the automatic horizon levelling enabled by default as in a lot of these games, I’m constantly tilting my head either side to ‘level out’ my craft in the game’s space. In close dogfights, I still tilted my head in those tight turns but auto-levelling out as I sped towards the next target was a terrific initiative. This can be toggled off if you want total control, but it felt right for me in Hypergate.

As you complete a mission you will earn experience points and credits. There are various ranks to earn and credits can be used to upgrade four areas of your ship – shields, laser cannons, missile packs, and coolant. As you upgrade your laser cannons, you need to be mindful of the additional heat they’ll generate, so your next upgrade would then be coolant. I liked this progression of upgrades as you complete each of the 10 campaign missions. You can’t see what your ship looks like at all, so can’t see the upgrades visually which would have been a good touch but as a sole developer, there’s only so many things Geoff could add on his own with limited funds. As you near the end of the campaign, you will need to have upgraded at least your lasers and coolant, along with shields if you want to get in the thick of the action.

After completing the campaign after 2 hours, I was rank Ensign and had upgraded each component four times each. There is a global leaderboard where you can see where you rank amongst other players in the world – I am ranked 75th after my playthrough. I would have liked the ability to scroll through the list to see what scores the top players have. There’s great replayability in the game with an Instant Action mode where you can create your own missions either in singleplayer or over LAN. Plus you can replay the campaign missions again to earn more experience and credits.

At the time of writing this review nearly a year after release, sole developer Geoff Nagy has released one major content update which was to add 5 new Instant Action maps, 8 new equipment upgrades, steam cloud saves and some quality of life updates, as well as some lesser updates. I’ve seen Geoff tease some ship concept designs on his Twitter account, so we may have a future option to change which ship we fly in, and he also teased there could be a third person view which would be cool. Geoff was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions I had about the game, so here’s an insight into Hypergate’s development.

GOA: I was reading through your development blog and amazed that you developed this game yourself over the past 5 years. Very impressive and it’s a great game to play, especially for fans of the space flight sim genre. Sure it’s short, but well done for creating an awesome game.

GN: Thanks for playing my game. I’m really glad to hear that you enjoyed it!

GOA: I loved the fact the in-cockpit joystick moves as you do, and the auto-roll feature is great and I wish it was in other games!

GN: The moving joystick was a cool suggestion from some play testers to make the cockpit more dynamic. The auto-roll feature was inspired by the space combat in Halo Reach, which I found really smooth.

GOA: Do you have a rough date in mind for your second content update for the game?

GN: I’m hoping that mid-to-late 2020 will see the release of Content Update #2, but I don’t have anything more specific than that. 2020 is also the last year of my PhD so there’s lots of deadlines there. There may be 1 or 2 smaller updates before Content Update #2.

GOA: Did you have any external financial support to keep developing the game over the 5 year period, or was it all self-funded?

GN: This project was self-funded. Over the course of 5 years I spent perhaps around $650 or $700 (CAD). This was spent on music, plus a couple pizza-playtest sessions with friends. All other assets were built myself.

GOA: Wow that’s amazing, and to have the time and energy to work on it around a PhD is incredible. Well done indeed.

GN: Thank you.

GOA: Did the voice acting cost a lot, as it definitely was needed for the briefings, and I loved the odd comment from fellow fighters in the heat of battle. It certainly felt like you were fighting as part of a team instead of just a lone pilot amongst the fray.

GN: The voice acting was actually done by friends and family who had distinctive voices or enough charisma to be able to breathe life into the script. They were all kind enough to provide their talents for a Tim Horton’s gift card each plus a free copy of the game.

GOA: Ahh, ok, that’s great you have that support network around you.

GN: Yeah, they’re pretty great!

GOA: Is it much of a process to get your game onto Steam?

Geoff: The process isn’t too bad—there is a checklist of things that Valve requires (e.g., does the game pause when you unplug a controller, do the features that you claim to support work, etc.) before you can release your game.

GOA: It’s almost been 12 months since the game released, have sales of Hypergate and Asteroids Millennium met your expectations? (Editor’s note: Asteroids Millennium is Geoff’s first game that he released on Steam)

GN: To be honest, I just make video games mainly for fun and to immerse people in the worlds I create—any sales that my games earned are just a bonus. Even if I were to develop games solely for the purpose of making money, I would still be making “games for fun” on the side in addition to that. So, selling the games I make for fun is kind of a way to optimize.

GOA: That’s a great philosophy and mindset to have. As I read through your blog, I did notice the time periods between posts, presumably where life takes over, and to see you develop and release other games around Gateway as it was named then.

GN: Yep. Tackling a project as big as Gateway/Hypergate—and figuring out how to finish something of that scale—was certainly a learning experience. I started the blog to help other folks out.

GOA: Do you also play games these days, or is your time dedicated to family, PhD and working on Hypergate?

GN: I don’t really play a lot of games, and I mostly play just a handful of favourites when I do. I make sure to strictly limit my PhD work from the hours of 9-5 during weekdays, to maintain a good work-life balance. So, my evenings and weekends are spent with my fiancee, Hypergate, or any of my other projects.

GOA: A lot of us definitely need to work on that work-life balance, me included! I have a 2-year old daughter so am still trying to find that balance.

GN: Ha! I hear you, although I can’t pretend to know what that’s like (yet). So, clearly, I shouldn’t be up all on my high horse!

GOA: Is there much difference in difficulty within Hypergate between Experienced and Veteran?

GN: I tried my best to make the difficulty scale linearly: the difference between Veteran and Experienced should be roughly the difference between Experienced and Junior, and so on. The last two (E and V) have a couple of extra tweaks to make things a little more interesting, though.

GOA: I found that enemy fighters would occasionally shoot at me, but if I hit them they would back off. Or if I flew level and straight into a freighter, their turrets would rip me to shreds, but if there was another fighter or ship nearby, they would leave me alone to take their turrets out.

GN: Individual AI preference for how aggressively to attack (or how much damage to take before veering off) are randomized within certain limits. A special voting system is used to prioritize AI targets in a way that is strategically smart, although perhaps not optimal in the truest sense of the word.

GOA: Ahh I see. I will definitely try Veteran difficulty next then. On Experienced I did die a couple of times, moreso by running into ships, but also to turrets with front-on attacks. Though some of the battles where there were many fighters on my side as well as the enemy, were easy to sneak behind the freighters. So long as I remembered to take out the gates to stop reinforcements.

GN: Yep—those cruisers are nasty head-on. Taking out the gates first is great way to limit reinforcements. The downside, I guess, is that it leaves fewer targets (and therefore potential points). Trade-off.

GOA: That’s a very good point. My focus last night was on learning the game and playing through the story, with points earned being a bonus. However now the campaign is complete, racking up points is on the agenda to unlock more items.

GN: Great! You can also earn points in Instant Action mode the same way. Also, there is a score multiplier—the higher the difficulty, the more points you’ll score.

GOA: I will give Instant Action a play next time I jump in! Well thanks so much for your time and answering my questions, and I appreciate the insight into the game’s development.

GN: You’re more than welcome! I was happy to chat about all this. Thanks again for your interest, time, and for the great video play-throughs.

You can read Geoff’s development blog over at https://singlehandedgamedev.wordpress.com/. In particular, I’ve got to show you the following quote from Geoff’s latest update on November 21 which really impressed me:

“Updates to Hypergate will always be free. Updates will always be integrated into the main game, not just as separately-acquired DLC. I’m a big fan of “game ownership”. Once you’ve bought the game, you get everything else that comes with it. In my mind, a video game is more than just gameplay. The complete video game experience should include occasional updates and developer support, bug fixes when required, and a listening ear for players.”

This is music to my ears and I wish more AAA publishers could have the same philosophy these days.

I really enjoyed my time in Hypergate. Whilst Hypergate’s campaign is short at 2 hours, the outstanding visuals, ship controls, pumping music and epic battles gave me vibes of my old X-Wing versus Tie Fighter days. The game was solely developed by Geoff Nagy and his development blog is an interesting read for anyone interested in how game’s are thought up and developed over time. This review was compiled using a Steam key provided by the developer with 3 hours of gameplay. Hypergate is available now through Steam for AUD$16.95.

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