Let me take you back to a time when there was a game called Star Citizen, the spiritual successor to another game called Freelancer. Freelancer is an oddity, an extension of Wing Commander: Privateer, with this grand scope of what it was going to be. Each planet was going to operate independently of the player, with its own weather. The world was going to be alive and ships were going to have this very complicated AI to navigate the solar system so that players only focus on combat.
Let's start where it all began: Wing Commander: Privateer. This is the foundation of the space sim / RPG hybrid where you live within a world where there are various NPC factions and you can play a non-combat role and become a trader. It wasn't the first, Elite was the first, and its sequel Elite: Dangerous has already been released. However, it was influential to the story of freelancer, as it was Roberts first attempt at making a game that's more than just space combat.
Freelancer was then pitched, sometime around 1998. In this period of time, there were regular space simulation games coming out. Earth & Beyond would arrive in 2002 and finally Freelancer would arrive in 2003. Freelancer was a very simple game, much simpler than it was pitched, but it was a monumental success with the space sim community.
Freelancer had multiplayer, up to 128 players could join a server and you could even use modifications online, allowing servers to link up with each other and entire custom campaigns. There was trading commodities (although the price didn't fluctuate as originally desired), a full single player campaign, tons of side missions, and voice acting. Ships, weapons, and combat so simple yet so complex it would make anyone excited.
You simply flew your ship with your mouse, targeting and firing with a various combination of buttons. It was great and the keyword here was that it was simple. Anyone could get into the game and play it, it didn't require advanced physics like Kerbal Space Sim and didn't require you to memorize star maps. In a lot of ways, it was very similar to Earth & Beyond, except it wasn't persistent.
This was going to change when Chris Roberts announced Star Citizen, effectively Freelancer 2.0. It was the original pitch that Freelancer had, but this time it was going to be a reality. Then something happened. First, fans of Freelancer threw their money at Chris Roberts going crazy with joy and then... the competitive group joined in.
Things had changed since Freelancer launched: EVE Online arrived and became very popular. EVE Online was based off of the same blueprint (Elite). It was released just two months after Freelancer and took away a lot of the attention of the then healthy space simulation fans. The only problem with EVE Online was that it took a odd direction: it wasn't about the solo experience, but about the company experience. Official support for the dwindling Freelancer community ended in 2008, but EVE Online was so very popular at the time and even still.
You played with a group of people who were essentially a giant well organized military. These groups had to defend, attack, and watch the space under their control and there was no single player element. Everything was eat or be eaten and you could easily spend months gathering wealth and lose it if you weren't protected by a company.
A lesson EVE Online players knew all too well was that ships and loadouts were everything and you need both quantity and quality to win. You need tacklers to swarm capital ships and you need capital ships to deal damage to structures. You need to hold your space, defend your property, and you need to win. This is a huge detachment from Freelancer, a game that's more like FreeSpace where you're just a dude in a fighter ship doing your best to make it in this hostile world.
So, there came two components. First, the space race to purchase an ever increasing large pool of ships that would be made available at launch, and a huge detachment from what the original gameplan was going to be. Star Citizen was no longer a successor to Freelancer, a quirky yet fun heroic space sim with hardcore moding potential. It was a behemoth, a well funded (one of the most well funded games to date) one at that.
The stretch goals contorted and changed the vision, to where Star Citizen is now some holy messiah. No one knows what it will be, no one knows how it will be, just that it will be massive in both size and scale. As such, it has lost a lot of its core roots and became more and more like an EVE Online. Sure, the single player campaign has changed, but odds are within the world of Star Citizen privateers now will be but fledglings compared to companies who start with a Javelin and move up through the capital ship lists.
This all happened of course because an almost cult like attitude arrived, where people began buying ships to be on the ground floor and not be stuck in a rust bucket floating through space. The detachment being that, more and more ships came, so more and more money had to be poured into the game to keep up. This caused players to be heavily invested, the need for an almost endless amount of feature creep, and for players to believe in the vision and have faith that their money (sometimes in the thousands) won't go for waste.
The only saving grace of the feature creep is that one thing is different from EVE Online. You don't have to fly a rust bucket and tackle larger ships with mass numbers. You can actually assist in piloting one of the capital ships. Sure, you won't specifically be involved in the action, but at least it's... a different role. Of course, this is on top of the FPS component, the vast variety of spin-off game modes, and well the huge list of feature creep.
To be honest, as a huge fan of Freelancer, it saddens me quite a bit that privateers in Star Citizen have gone from the same world that Freelancer offered - just larger in scale to essentially an EVE Online clone with a single player spinoff. Sure, I mean, you could word it that in the real space world freelancers would need to join one of the houses or a company or a navy to make it somewhere, but Firefly has taught us that you don't specifically need a large crew or ship to make a large impact, which is something that's becoming more and more a faint dream.
One last note, the community has wanted this, they have begged for this, and they have voted for it with their money. This is simply my opinion on the matter and in no way is what transpired wrong, beyond those who initially invested into a product that's beyond the scope of what they originally wanted. Those pouring their money into the game want this - nay need this, because they've bought into this vision and if it wasn't delivered, then they've been defrauded out of their money. It isn't as if Star Citizen isn't what the community wants, it's just that it's not what Freelancer should have became, which is two different lines of thought.
Star Citizen should enter an alpha period later this year for the persistant universe component. Considering delays with previous releases, it would be safe to say you can expect it anytime late 2015 or early 2016.
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