Updated Tue, Nov 20, 2012 by ricoxg
Roberts says that the new space sim involves as much engineering as coding as its developers, Cloud Imperium Games Corporation, design the ships that go into the game. Each ship is designed to be functional, have functional components, and have realistic damage models. It’s hugely ambitious, but the letters to the community and forum posts demonstrate the level of thought going into it. Ladders, gantries, and enclosures will all have to either retract into the ship or stow somehow realistically--no more magical landing gears that just appear or disappear at the touch of a button. This system also includes handling for damage to be applied on a component level, allowing much more realistic damage modeling.
Physics will also play a major role in the game. Star Citizen will feature a fly-by-wire system similar to the flight controls of the F-35 Lightning II, according to Roberts. Combined with component-level damage modeling, this should make for some pretty interesting game mechanics. If a thruster is damaged, the ship computer compensates, but the resulting sluggishness should be noticeable to the pilot.
One of the crazier ideas Roberts has is allowing the community to run their own servers and create their own mods. In a way, it makes me think back to the old days of Ultima Online, and if the interesting results from some of the free-shards back then are any indication, Roberts may have just demonstrated a stroke of genius. Not many titles launch with the stated goal of involving the community to this level, and hackers and exploiters are just one of are several pretty good reasons why.
If the team can develop a good system for catching and controlling hackers and exploiters, opening the universe up to modding may really work well for them. In a way, it’s like crowd sourcing creativity. Giving a large player-base the opportunity to be creative and be noticed is a great way to promote the innovation that Chris Roberts is so keen on, and it can often result in some very cool game enhancements. How often have we found mods that we liked far more than the original game? Reality Mod for Battlefield 1942 or the Warfare and DayZ mods for Arma are a couple that come to mind.
To promote the innovative work of modders, and to take full advantage of it, Roberts has stated his intent to create a vetting process for mods to include them in the official version of the game, which seems like a very smart step. By allowing players to test mods on private servers, and then creating a process to submit those mods in the official package, it’s like outsourcing development and play-testing. By the time it gets back to the official Star Citizen servers, the developers will know what bugs are inherent to the mod and have a great indication of community interest in it. It’s not a sure thing yet, but the mere idea that the developers are thinking about it enough to post it publicly says a lot about the direction of this game.
It’s not all roses for Star Citizen, though. They’re starting to gain some hype, they have a strong community growing around them, and they have a rock star leader, but there things to be concerned about. While many developers use terms like “pushing the envelope” or “being innovated,” few mean it like Chris Roberts does, and there’s a reason. Innovation can make a game, but it’s risky. Effort invested in something the community ends up not caring for is wasted resources, and true innovators blaze the way via new techniques, which take just that much more time and money to realize. Innovation means risk, money, and time, all three of which are hard on fledgling businesses, and especially the ones in this industry.
Few games that make a deep impact on the gaming culture ever go on to become huge commercial successes. Like a mass singularity floating through the universe, they warp space-time about them and change the trajectory of other bodies, but are rarely noticed among their more brightly burning cousins.
There should be some concern that Star Citizen will try to do a lot of awesome things, and not get any of them quite right. Open world content, highly detailed graphics, quasi-real physics, and complex modeling…I have to admit, I’m drooling just a little in anticipation, but realistically it’s a tall order. I want them to succeed badly, and so should you. PC gaming has really lost what made it great, which was the type of innovation Roberts is proposing. The reason it’s not more common is that it doesn’t work more often than not, and publishers are typically loath to take those risks. Luckily, crowd sourcing has created a way forward for those sorts of games again.
The other problem is the curse of the trend-setter. Few games that make a deep impact on the gaming culture, or the gaming community in general, really ever go on to become huge commercial successes. Like a mass singularity floating through the universe, they warp space-time about them and change the trajectory of other bodies, but are rarely noticed among their more brightly burning cousins.
Regardless of the eventual status of Star Citizen, my hat is off to Chris Roberts and his team. They’re pros, and they know exactly what they’re undertaking here. The courage to do so in an industry that’s cooling is just ballsy, and I like it. As a fan of PC gaming, I’m excited that someone is actually making a game designed to truly take advantage of the platform, and I would encourage anyone else who’s a fan of space sims or PC gaming in general to pay close attention to this title. Whether Star Citizen explodes in a brightly colored super nova of temporary glory, or goes on to be that slowly drifting dark mass warping the universe to its design, it promises to be very interesting and worth following.