Exclusive Interview with Star Citizen’s New Director of Persistent Universe
While the new Dogfight Module for Star Citizen is what most folks are talking about, there's been a recent addition to the team mentioning. Tony Zurovec, developer and producer of the legendary Crusader series of games and another Origin alum, has been brought on as the new Director of Persistent Universe.
Tony's just the latest in a line of experienced cadre from Origin and Digital Anvil to join the project, which I think bodes really well for the game. All these guys already know each other and have experience working together, so that should help jump start the Cloud Imperium team. I'm hoping it allows them to avoid a lot of the typical pitfalls of new teams, which is something I've been a little worried about with the rate these guys have been expanding to meet the new stretch goals.
So when on a recent trip to Austin, someone let slip that they'd just brought Tony on board, I had to track him down for his first an interview. I'm not sure he wanted to do the interview as evidenced by how quickly he hit the back door when he saw me heading his way, but the nice thing about the new patio behind CIG's offices near Austin is that it's on the second floor and there's no way down without jumping.
I had the chance to hit him with a few questions and I took it.
Ricoxg: So the Crusader games were fantastic, but as a story-telling medium they're also pretty different from Star Citizen. How will your experience there translate to Star Citizen?
Tony: I've always been attracted to games that presented the player with a large, detailed world in which they could forge their own unique path. I like that freedom - that total escapism that comes from not only stepping into a fantasy world, but having it present you with enough detail and choice that you can really lose yourself in it. I spent my first ten years in the gaming business focused exclusively on how best to build those types of complex worlds, and I think that experience is going to directly translate to Star Citizen.
Ricoxg: Are there any unique qualities of the Crusader games that you think people would be surprised to find benefiting Star Citizen?
Tony: I think of it the other way around. In 1995 Origin published the official guide to Crusader, and in it I talked a bit about what I'd want in any sequels. More than anything else, I wanted to allow for the exploration of space and the addition of other players for both cooperative and competitive reasons. I thought that merging Crusader's intricate level of detail with a much more open-ended universe would result in an awesome game. So, when Chris Roberts was explaining to me earlier this year what he was looking to do with Star Citizen, I perked up quite a bit as I started to realize the ambition of the vision. He was basically taking some of the fundamental ideas that I had always found attractive and turning the dial up to eleven. It's part of the reason why I gave up my freedom and decided to return to professional game development, which is something that a year ago I'd have said would never happen. Chris is aiming to try and finally deliver that all-immersive universal simulator of a game that so many hard-core gamers have always wanted, but which no one has ever been crazy enough to attempt. It hasn't escaped my notice that a game like Crusader - with all that I'd once hoped to do with it - would slot right into a little corner of the Star Citizen universe.
Ricoxg: You've obviously worked on a number of games across multiple genres, what would you say is a fundamental component of making a game fun, and how are you going to work to make sure we see that in SC?
Tony: Balance is absolutely crucial to a good game. It sounds simple, but in reality it's often extremely difficult to get right. In Star Citizen, getting the balance right will mean a lot more than just making sure that the ships and weaponry have the appropriate counterbalancing strengths and weaknesses. One of my primary goals in helping to build out the persistent universe will be ensuring that there's a lot of content for a wide assortment of play styles. In order to make the player really feel like it's a living, breathing universe in which they they've got total freedom, they've got to be able to play the game as they want - pirate, bounty hunter, merchant, explorer, spy. Each of those occupations and many more need to be fully supported - need to be given enough interesting and challenging things to do to really keep them engaged. That's a significant challenge as it implies a huge amount of content and a lot of very different play mechanics coming into contact with one another. It's too early to say how exactly this will be accomplished, but there will be an algorithmic element to many of the mission archetypes that will provide for lots of very unique situations.
Ricoxg: So what design philosophies or standards do you bring to the team that you think will most impact the persistent world of SC? In other words, when we play, what is it about the game that we'll see and say, "Ah. Tony Zurovec was working on this?"
Tony: Star Citizen's canvas is already so broad and ambitious that I think most of my influence will be felt in more subtle ways - more on the execution side of the Persistent Universe rather than the fundamental design. I'm sure bits and pieces of me will poke through around the edges here and there, but my primary focus is going to be making sure that we have the right tools and processes and mindset in place to effectively execute the most critical aspects of the established vision within a reasonable time frame. It's going to be very difficult because the game covers so many disparate areas, but that diversity is also one of the features that I find most appealing.
Ricoxg: Story is a REALLY hard thing to do well in an MMO. Can you talk a little about what "story" means to you with respect to SC and how you expect to enable that experience for players in the game?
Tony: Star Citizen will feature plenty of story-driven missions that will allow players to gradually progress through elaborately designed scenarios in the pursuit of long-term strategic objectives. The main focus, though, will be in providing you with the means to be the “hero” of your own particular story, whatever that may be. The idea is that the narrative isn't set in stone. To this end, Star Citizen will adapt to your play-style in ways both subtle and dramatic. Choose the role of a sinner or a saint, and the game will respond to you as such in a number of different ways. In essence, you'll choose the broad strokes of your character's life, and the game will help you fill in the details.
I'd like to thank the guys at CIG for giving me a chance to hang out and ask a few questions amidst the chaos of trying to get their new dogfight module out. I'll be sure to arrive with appropriate baked goods next time as a demonstration of my appreciation.
I especially want to say thanks to Tony Zurovec for agreeing to answer my questions. He really did sort of get ambushed before he was even officially on the team yet, and I know he couldn't have been ready to have an interview thrown at him. I'm really looking to see what this guy does for the persistent universe in Star Citizen. While everyone's focused on the immediate release of the dogfight module, the meat of the game will be the persistent part, so it was really great to get an early look at the guy who'll be in charge of it and how he thinks. I hope you readers enjoyed it as well!