Start with the scale of EVE Online, mix in the spectacular and skillful dogfights of a Flight Combat Simulator, and add an economy more complex than the X-Universe. Then, include the immersive storytelling and lore of a Bioware game, the freedom of a sandbox, and the multi-player interactivity of an MMORPG. And just to finish it off, add the intensity of a first person shooter, and the zero-g combat of the Ender’s Game Battle Arena. What would come from such a potent mixture?
The result is Star Citizen, a game of such grand scope that it has broken the confines of traditional genres and defined its own: “First Person Universe.” Star Citizen sets you in the boots of a spacefarer of the 30th century, a resident of the interstellar United Empire of Earth. You are one person in a universe of possibility, and how you make your way in it is entirely up to you.
The Most Involved Community in Gaming
Star Citizen holds a unique place as the first ever crowd-funded Triple-A game. As of the writing of this article, over 720,000 accounts have pledged nearly $70 million to support its creation. In return, the crew at Cloud Imperium Games has done something unprecedented in Triple-A Game development: they have given their supporters a voice its formation. In addition, they are also following a ‘play as we build it’ model that is typically only seen in in smaller, independent games.
As a result, the Star Citizen community is extremely engaged with and enthusiastic about the game. Their involvement includes polls on possible additions to the game, the ability to pitch ideas for the development staff to see, and weekly Q&A with the CEO about the mechanics of the finished product. Consequentially, Star Citizen will be one of the most exhaustively tested games ever made by the time it releases…meaning you can forget about those pesky Day-1 emergency patches we all typically expect and loathe in our video games.
Two Games in One
At the core, Star Citizen is divided into two discrete but connected games. Squadron 42 will be a traditional branching storyline, single-player game with drop-in co-op. The plot follows you as you serve a tour in the UEE Military, a combat pilot aboard a Bengal Carrier, and ends as you leave the armed forces and strike out on your own into the massively multiplayer Persistent Universe. While you could play it as a stand-alone space combat game, it is written to be a lead-in to the MMO portion of the game. Your character’s actions and performance in Squadron 42 will carry over, but this introductory segment is strictly optional, so you will also have the option to skip the intro and dive straight into the Persistent Universe and all its open-world possibilities.
Who Are You?
In many games, you play the part of The Chosen One, or The Special One, or some other role that elevates you above the common masses. In Halo, you were the unstoppable engine of destruction known as Master Chief. In Skyrim, you were the only one who could permanently kill a dragon. While this can be desirable in a single player game, it starts to feel meaningless and unwieldy when you move to an MMO and become one of several thousand ‘Chosen Ones’ in world. In Star Citizen, you are a normal person–perhaps a mildly distinguished military veteran, or a simple civilian from Terra who saved up enough to buy his first ship. You are a typical, unremarkable person… and the whole, enormous universe seems to be just fine without you.
But that is only how you begin the game; your potential is another matter entirely, and your reputation is as much of a trading tool as your coin. Unlike the typical MMO, in which reputation is merely a tool to unlock items or quests, in Star Citizen your deeds have true impact. They will open some doors and close others, defining how you are received by the world. Will you live out a quiet life in relative obscurity, known only by those you do business with? Will you carve such a legend of justice into the hulls of your foes that pirates panic at the sight of your ship, or will your face be plastered on wanted posters across the galaxy? Perhaps you will amass such wealth and influence as a businessman that the mere mention of your name will create showers of favors and open closed doors. Maybe you will strike out into the unknown, seeking fame and fortune in the uncharted depths of space. Whatever path you seek, your success or failure rests firmly in your own hands.
Where Can You Go?
“Space is big. Really, really big.” – Douglas Adams
This quote holds true for Star Citizen; the universe they are building is vast. However, if a universe is simply ‘big,’ that isn’t enough. The universe of EVE Online is big, but it’s largely empty and boorishly uniform. The only appreciable difference between different sectors and solar systems is the security level, which influences little more than a voyage’s risk and commerce value. Apart from that, there is no appreciable difference beyond simple cosmetics of the space stations and whose favor you need to work there. EVE has five thousand channels and there’s nothing on.
But in Star Citizen…
You may find yourself flying through asteroid fields and stormy nebulae, riding the trail of a comet, or maneuvering through the scorching aftermath of a star gone nova. You may stumble upon vast gas giants, habitable worlds, wrecked ships, or even wander into the midst of a battle that is underway. All 100 of the planned star systems are unique in the universe, fostering commerce, adventure, and exploration in the deep wonders of space. Furthermore, the universe is far from empty. For every player in the universe, you can expect to see about 9 NPCs also flying around. These are not the typical NPCs which cruise around and provide background noise. Each one of them has individual goals and is being driven by a modular AI system that generates unique combinations of capabilities and intents. The AI system is advanced such that, at first glance, players and NPCs will be indistinguishable. Obviously, a little investigation will render the distinction, but this mechanic will cause the universe to teem with a level of life and interactive opportunities never before seen in a spacefaring game.
Whenever you choose to land your craft, the variety increases even further. Just to give a sampling of the vast diversity you will see on-planet, here are a few that have been announced so far…
- Terra: A Super-Earth that is very similar to the original, but more carefully planned. Terra Prime is a city of vast spires and beautiful landscapes. Industry and the space ports are kept away from the city proper to preserve the pristine beauty of its native surroundings.
- ArcCorp: A vast factory world that is entirely covered in manufacturing plants and cities. There is no space left for nature on this city world, the headquarters of the behemoth ArcCorp Engineering.
- Crusader: A planet formed halfway between terrestrial and gas giant where terraforming ran into some problems. Only the upper atmosphere is humanly breathable. Despite its issues, the entire planet is inhabited; its vast, floating cities hover far above the surface of the planet.
- Cassel: A world that is nearly 85% water and the majority of the landmass is moderately sized islands covered in rainforest. The sky is lit by a pair of suns, which are backed by a beautiful nebula. As a world of almost pure beachfront property and spectacular skies, Cassel specializes in tourism, and is considered the ultimate vacation destination.
- Spider: Not actually a planet, and not properly a space station either. Spider is a junkyard of ships cobbled together into a habitable, planetoid mass. To come here is to take your life in your hands, as Spider is a hotbed of criminal and pirate activity that lacks any proper ruler. Despite that, life in Spider is surprisingly pleasant—assuming you don’t get shot out of the sky while trying to land. Everyone knows they are in the company of criminals, and a sort of polite equilibrium has formed.
This is but a small selection of the worlds that will be available to visit, and more are being revealed all the time. And beyond that, there is the exploration mechanic. If you don’t feel like hanging around the known universe, you can always set out into the uncharted vasts of space and find something new…
What Can You Do?
Star Citizen is a massive universe full of diverse opportunities in an open world mechanic. As the game is still in development, we aren’t yet aware of every option available, but those that we do know about show signs of a vast array of choices waiting for us.
Two important points to mention are this: First, Star Citizen is a skill-based game; you do not have stats, a character class, or training levels. Everything you do is based on your own skill as a player. Consequentially, you can switch between ‘professions’ at will if you like, though it may take some time to build up a reputation for competence in your new occupation. Second, the team at Cloud Imperium Games is devoted to balancing all of the different jobs such that there is no single ‘end-game job.’
Based on the ships that have been announced, as well as interviews with the staff at CIG, we know that the following jobs are available to us (though this is by no means an exhaustive list).
- Trading (both speculative and contract)
- Mercenary Combat
- Ship Repair
- Equipment Tuning
- Personnel Transport (bulk and luxury)
- Foot Soldier
- Information Runner/Hacker
- Search and Rescue
- Medical Operations
- Crew Member on another’s ship (player or NPC)
Star Citizen also features an emergent job contract system that is run by the same complex engine that manages the galaxy’s economy. In accordance with events, needs will change and will be represented by the appearance of corresponding job contracts. If a factory is running low on certain supplies, it will put out a contract for their delivery. Of course, pirates (player or NPC) may also catch wind of this contract and start preying upon the goods-rich ships trying to fulfill the contract. So the freighter pilots start putting up contracts for armed escorts. And this cycle continues, constantly producing fresh content in real time. And if players don’t take the jobs, the world doesn’t grind to a halt; rather, the NPCs pick up the slack.
Another immersive feature is that players can post job contracts in the same way that NPCs can, essentially allowing players to create ‘quests.’ This system includes an Uber-like peer review mechanic which lets both employer and employee rate one another.
What Can I Fly?
At its core, Star Citizen is a game about space travel, and the bulk of your game time will be spent aboard a starship. As a starfaring member of society, your ship is your livelihood, regardless of whether you are the owner or simply a member of the crew. Because of their critical role, ships are the part of the game that we know the most about.
Unlike EVE and almost every other spacefaring game with a combat feature, ships in Star Citizen are not simply hollow shells that fly through space. Every last ship is fully modeled, down to the components inside the walls. Not only does this mean that you can get up and walk around while traveling, but it also means that damage to ship systems is realistically modeled. If your scanners are destroyed in a fight, you will be flying without radar until you get them repaired.
There is a tremendous variety in ships, and each is somewhat flexible in the role it may fill. Broadly speaking, there are two ways that ships can be classified: ownership type and degree of specialization.
Ownership type is split into two categories: player-owned and persistent. A player-owned ship is the personal property of a specific player. The most important aspect of this type of ship is that when its owner and any other flight-permitted players log off, the ship disappears from the game and is completely safe. Furthermore, player-owned ships can be docked in safe locations where they cannot be damaged or stolen. These ships are the smaller ones in the universe, with the largest being the Javelin-class Destroyer.
The persistent ship, by contrast, is present in the universe regardless of log-in status, and is not owned by an individual player. Instead, it is controlled by the group which either seized or salvaged it. If ever they are lax in protecting it, or are boarded and defeated, another group takes control of the ship, and it is lost to the prior owners. These are the largest ships in the game, generally crewed by twenty or more people, and include behemoths such as the Bengal Carrier.
The other division of ship type is perhaps the one a player will deal with most: degree of specialization. Ships in general tend to be either multipurpose or dedicated specialists. A specialist ship has been designed and built to excel in a single capacity. Examples include the Carrack for exploration, the Hull-C for cargo hauling, the Orion for mining, the Herald for data running, and the Reclaimer for salvaging. A multipurpose ship, however, is built for flexibility, capable of switching between these roles with relative ease. Examples include the Constellation, Aurora, Caterpillar, Cutlass, Mustang, and Freelancer.
So what do you choose? Do you want a ship that smokes the competition in a single role, or a ship that is a fair hand at a wide variety of tasks? For example, the Crucible is a dedicated repair ship; it has no peer when it comes to getting damaged ships back in flying shape. You could refit a Constellation for the same purpose, but it would always be inferior to the Crucible in that capacity. However, if you tried to refit a Crucible as a cargo ship, explorer, combat ship, or miner, it would still be dismal compared to a similarly refit Constellation.
The specifics of each ship will be discussed in full depth in later articles. Suffice to say that wherever you go, and whatever you want to do, there is a ship ready to take you.
How does flying work?
The flight model in Star Citizen is a realistic, physics-based approach to spaceflight. In technical terms, your ship and all of its accoutrements have mass, your thrusters produce force, and the physics engine combines those factors with your current momentum to determine how your ship will move. This can be disorienting at first, but once you gain experience with it, you’ll be able to manage some spectacular maneuvers not possible in atmosphere.
(A detailed write-up on flight in-game:)
State of the Game
Star Citizen is still in development. However, they have released a pair of ‘modules’ that allow us to start playing with the systems and see their progress, with several more slated for delivery sometime this year. However, all currently available modules are considered a work-in-progress and will have small bugs or incomplete pieces.
Hangar Module: Any ships which have reached the ‘hangar ready’ stage of development that you have pledged for (see here: http://www.starcitizenguides.com/ship/tips-to-choose-pledge-package/) will be available in you hangar for you to walk around, climb inside, and generally admire. This is mostly a cosmetic module, allowing pledgers to view their ships pre-launch.
Arena Commander: Originally called the ‘Dogfighting Module,’ Arena Commander is a combat simulator which showcases the flight engine. Any ships you have pledged for which are also in the ‘flight ready’ stage of development are available for you to take out. There are modes for free-flight, racing, Vanduul Swarm (multiple waves of NPC enemies), and several multiplayer modes.
It is important to note that CIG resists committing to a release date until it is very close. Therefore, many of these estimated release dates are only tentative, and some are simply the developers’ best guesses.
- Social Module: This will allow players to go visit their friends in their hangars, letting them see each other’s ships and interact with one another. This is estimated to occur sometime in early 2015, and will be later followed by the release of the Planetside Module which will allow more diverse interaction.
- FPS Module: Containing first person combat, this module includes fighting in a zero-g arena inspired by the battle room from Ender’s Game. The current best guess for its release is in the first half of 2015.
- Planetside Module: This will allow players to wander around a planet location, interact with vendors and NPCs, and get a rough sample of the economy system. It is rumored to allow players to use money earned in Arena Commander to buy new equipment for their ship, and is slated for release in mid-2015.
- Squadron 42: There will be no Alpha or Beta for Squadron 42. They intend to release the polished game in ‘episodes’ of 10 missions each. The first episode is tentatively scheduled for early- to mid-2015.
- Persistent Universe Beta: An eagerly anticipated release, this beta of the game features a compacted version of the Persistent Universe for players to try out. Its estimated release is at the end of 2015.
- Star Citizen 1.0: The current estimate for the official release of the full game is late 2016.
Making the Best Damn Game in the Universe
“I don’t want to make a video game. I want to make a universe.” -Chris Roberts, CEO of CIG
He has already succeeded.
Untold hours of superlative design and craftsmanship have come together to create a game wholly unlike anything else on the market. It is often compared to other games, but only to provide recognizable glimpses of its grandeur, complexity, and incredible design. It is a personally created adventure for every player, a universe vast, meticulously crafted, and waiting for you to discover your place in it. So visit the site and start choosing the ship that will carry you into the first genre-creating game of its time: Star Citizen.