Star Citizen: Introducing Organizations
Okay, Im a Star Citizen fan. I like the guys on the team, I like some of the changes Im seeing in the gaming industry because of what theyre doing, and I just like the concept because Im an unabashed nut for space and flight sims. So yeah, I abused my press privileges a bit on a recent trip to Austin in order to get a look at their new office. Im proud to report that you can now sit more than two people at a time in Erics office, and that Mark Skelton no longer has to store his hookah under Chris Olivias desk. Additionally, the new location is just in an insanely cool location.
While I popped in to look at the new office, I also had a chance to catch John Erskine in his office for a bit and pepper him with questions about the new organization module hes been working on. Like the hanger module, the organization module is a part of that distributed development model being used by the team at Cloud Imperium Games. What we already have access to on the website is a core component of what will go into the eventual game, and there are a number of things to get excited about when you dig into it.
Forming an Organization
Of course the obvious addition in the new module is that it now allows players to form organizations and declare their allegiances on the website. All the normal things youd expect to do with a guild or corp from any other game is available. You can promote or demote members, rename ranks, and other standard actions from the webgui just as youd typically do from within a game.
The new organizations module will also allow the founder to create a webpage for his new organization, selecting from templates such as a generic organization, corporation, para-military company, religious order, or criminal syndicate. From there several of the organizations preferences can be listed. Things like preferred language, how hardcore or not the organization is, whether roleplaying is expected or not, and even primary and secondary activity focuses can be listed.
Once the general outline of the new organization has been roughed in, nearly every aspect of the new website is customizable. Introductions, background images, icons can all be customized to be more individual to the organization. All of it feeds into a database that will eventually be accessible in-game. That means recruits find organizations more easily and organizations can recruit more easily, inside the game or out of it.
There are other cool features in store on down the road for the organizations module as well. For example, because the module integrates with the players account via the website, which already integrates your hanger module, eventual updates to the organization module will tie into players stables and introduce a new tab to show what sorts of ships an organization may have at its disposal. Though these additions are a ways off, and there are a number of issues to address before they do roll out, such as whether individual players or organizational officers even want the information publically available.
New Communications Format
Another big change rolling out with the organization module is a revamp of the chat system for the website, and its a change Im particularly glad to see. I hate being forced to chat through a webgui, and am super excited to see that the new chat system is based on XMPP. For those who dont get their geek on as hard as others of us do, XMPP is an open source instant messaging system that was once called Jabber.
Youre probably scratching your head wondering why this is something worth writing a whole section on when I could have just listed it along with the other new organization stuff. Well, for one its cool because organizations will now have their own private chat channels and a second channel for officers. Its also pretty exciting news because XMPP can be handled by a wide array of clients and were no longer stuck using a webclient. But the big reason Im cheering is because of what it says about the project and the potential it creates for some really cool things down the road.
One of the big draws to Star Citizen for me was this idea that CIG was creating a game that they would make available to the community to create additional content for. To me, the new chat protocol isnt just a small step towards realizing that ideal, its a massive leap into the deep end of the pool of righteousness. Because they chose an open source protocol for the new system, tons of documentation already exists on working with it and nearly any programmer automatically has an idea of where to start.
Like the rest of the content released with the organization module, the new chat system used will eventually be the basis of the chat system used in-game. So the community already has access to a core component of the game that they can start developing for. Chat systems are an excellent way of connecting to outside resources from inside the game, or even going the other way around.
Idle a bot in the channel to handle commands like reporting stock information when you ask for it or maybe email you if a friend sends a distress signal. Connect to your friends from your phone while youre on the road if you want. The opportunities are endless for connecting the outside world with the eventual in-game world of Star Citizen and we already have an opportunity to start working on it.
So yes, Im incredibly excited about the potential this represents, and Im just as pleased at what it says about this team. CIG have just demonstrated in a very real way that this game is our game. It belongs to the fans, and its not something they just say. They could have very easily created their own chat system from scratch like most developers do, or adopted and then obfuscated an existing system. They didnt. Instead, they chose the more accessible route, and the route that creates more opportunity for community-developed content down the road. Maybe its a little more dangerous for them, but its a heck of a lot more appreciated by me, and no doubt more than a few others as well.
Proving the Development System
On the heels of the dogfight module being delayed, Im glad to see the organization module is coming out as planned. Of course, I like a lot of the things in the module itself, as if I havent gushed enough already to make that obvious. I also like what it says about this distributed and modular development concept that CIG has adopted for Star Citizen. Chris Roberts pointed out in a recent interview that a slip in schedule with one module typically wouldnt impact other modules.
With the organization module releasing, I think were seeing those words proved to some extent. It suggests that a geographically dispersed set of development teams actually can deliver, despite a few nay-sayers. Though true, its not absolute proof. Only the released game can really prove the concept conclusively, but it does go a long way to demonstrating that the system works.
When I made the same observation to John Erskine, he remarked on how interesting he has found the process as well. No one has been totally sure that this would work, and John also pointed out that it was certainly the first time hes ever been a part of building a game like this. Qualifiers aside, through the conversation I got the impression that he was actually really enjoying this process. Specifically he talked about how nice it was to build systems that would be included in the game, rather than having a game and then trying to shove systems in later. In thinking about it, I think I see his point. PvP in World of Warcraft for instance, was nowhere near as thoughtful and well integrated as it was in other games like Dark Age of Camelot. It was just sort of shoved in as an after-thought, and it really showed.
Voting, calendars, and other goodies are coming soon for the organization system, but just the parts that are about to be released will add a whole new set of fantastic features. The opportunity to create new organizations and for backers to affiliate themselves should create a little extra life on the forums over the next several weeks, as well. Its a particularly cool thing because you know that what youre doing will actually translate into the eventual game.
The even bigger win are the things it says about the developers and where their priorities are with this new game. Developers seeking open-source protocols in order to make their games more accessible to modders and fans with programming skills is almost crazy. There is some risk to it and maybe its a mistake. Either way Im sure theyll have their share of problems, but I believe a devoted community and unbelievably communicative set of developers should be able to navigate any obstacles in the end. If they pull it off, it may just be the best damn space sim ever.