Last week, Star Citizen held their fourth annual CitizenCon. Included in that event was an unedited, 30-minute demonstration of on foot exploration, various land-based vehicles, FPS combat, and the powerful tools they've created to allow for advanced random planet generation. Oh, and there was a colossal sand worm.
Note: If you want to skip straight to the sand worm, scroll down to the embedded video to see 30 minutes of live Star Citizen gameplay
Chris Roberts, one of the founders of Cloud Imperium Games (CIG), took to the main stage to kick off the two-hour presentation. Roberts started out with a retrospective dedicated to the growing, vibrant fanbase, showcasing the diverse community that has grown up around a game that hasn't even officially released. Over the course of the presentation a revolving assortment of Star Citizen developers cycled through to show the newest developments in the space-faring MMO.
One of these was the Spectrum module. Spectrum will be an application that allows for in-game and out-of-game chat. Players will be able to use the Spectrum application to talk with their friends who play Star Citizen or the other people in their life who don't play the game. Additionally, Spectrum will feature modern forums using a flexible, easily updatable system that hosts classic threads, dedicated Q & A threads, and live threads. Players will also be able to create their own forums for their in-game organizations and hold private conversations with single friends or groups of people. Perhaps most importantly, Spectrum also supports voice lobbies, voice transmission, out-of-game voice chat, and in-game spatialization of voice chat. Spectrum will be launched in alpha before the end of the year as a web application and future updates will integrate it with the game world, embed it within the Star Citizen launcher, and finally release as an app for mobile later next year.
Part of the presentation was dedicated to the sale of new in-game ships, most notably the Polaris class ship, which retails for $750. That's a steep, steep price to ask for an in-game item, especially for a game that remains in development. Probably for that very reason, Chris Roberts took to the stage to clarify CIG's stance on ship purchases:
You probably already know because it's been on Reddit, we sorta pre-released the RSI Polaris corvette and I think yesterday was the best day we've ever had in Star Citizen. And- the one thing I do want to say though is- because I know that sometimes there is a bit of debate and controversy- the, uh, it is your- no one needs to get a big, fancy spaceship or anything else. You spend $40 or $45 and that's all you need, but the way I look at it is, you know, this- getting a corvette or, whatever, a constellation is really just supporting development. That's what it looks like, so, for me, it should only be if someone's saying, 'You know, I really like what these guys are doing. I want to support it, I love the process and I'm there and they're giving me a cool ship in the process.' That's the way it should be nothing more, nothing less. Because you will absolutely be able to earn everything through in-game playing.
The sale of in-game ships has long been one of the big driving forces behind CIG's incredibly successful fundraising efforts. To date, the company has raised almost $130,000,000 and boasts a community of nearly 1.6 million people. Of course, with that much money paid by people who have been waiting years for Star Citizen to be finished, some in the community have cried foul and accused CIG of scamming the community by selling in-game models of ships for a game that will never be finished. Despite the small number of vocally disgruntled backers, CIG genuinely seems to be creating something interesting, both when it comes to fundraising and when it comes to the game that they have steadily been unveiling over the years.
The presentation gave an important update on the state of Squadron 42, the big budget single-player campaign of Star Citizen. Though initially announced in 2012, Squadron 42 has become a huge affair. It boasts a cast that includes the likes of Mark Hamill, Gary Oldman, Gillian Anderson, Andy Serkis, John Rhys Davies, and a number of other recognizable actors and actresses that fill out a cast that has over 340 speaking roles, most of which make use of advanced facial scanning and motion capture technology. The action takes place throughout 28 chapters filled with over 60 missions. The campaign features 40 unique ship designs that range in size from single-pilot fighters to hulking dreadnoughts. The campaign now encompasses both ship-to-ship space combat and FPS gameplay that will range from stealth missions to head-on assaults. To avoid even more feature creep, Squadron 42 has now been feature locked and faces a small stable of AI and animation hurdles to overcome before release. However, the team plans on bringing one mission to shipping quality in the near future to give the world a taste of what the campaign will be like.
Star Marine, the FPS module, will be coming in the next major update along with a number of additions for the other Star Citizen modules. Two locations will be available: Station Damien, a 4v4 map, and Echo Eleven, a 12v12 map. Each map can be played in either traditional deathmatch or control modes. New armor, weapons, and grenades will be added to Star Citizen as well as a new tactical visor, looting system, and achievements.
Chris Roberts then began walking through CIG's road map for future updates to Star Citizen. Keep in mind that CIG tends to have a rather rosy view of when things might be done, so some of these features might be further out in the future than we might like to believe, but it is difficult not to be excited at the possibilities hinted at by the features.
CIG plans for the 3.0 update to be the launch of Star Citizen's foundational gameplay systems. It will include support for the basic professions like trading, transport, piracy, smuggling, mercenary, and bounty hunter. Most excitingly, 3.0 will implement the Planetary V2 system that Roberts revealed later in the presentation. 3.1 will include systems for mining, refining, and material processing in-game. Additionally, the update is planned to include support for escort missions, new solar system locations, the ability to pull people out of quantum travel in deep space ambushes, and refueling systems. Roberts walked back promises from earlier in the year that CIG would be putting these updates out every month following the release of 3.0 saying that a timeline of every 2-3 months was more realistic. The 3.2 update will include the ability to salvage and dive into covert mercenary operations. New ships and solar system locations will be available in 3.2, too. Farming and rescue operations will become available in the 3.3 update, a reveal met with thunderous applause.
Eventually, the 4.0 update will open up the galaxy with jump points, allowing players to travel to multiple star systems to discover and explore new worlds. CIG has decided to stay silent on the number of star systems that will be available when 4.0 launches as the firm number will depend on how quickly they can finish the work coming down the pipeline for other parts of their massive game. Players will also gain the ability to research and develop new items and technology. Roberts hopes for the game to reach 4.0 before the end of 2017, though he would not commit to any solid date.
Roberts then moved on to show off their new tech for procedural planet generation. CIG's tech seamlessly supports spherical planetary terrain on a planetary scale that generates at run time. There is an unrestricted view distance - the horizon is the actual horizon of the planet. The procedural generation does a lot of the work, but artists will be putting unique, interesting touches to each planet, guiding their generation and their noteworthy features. This same approach applies to the content of each planet. While some creatures and AI controlled raiders might be spawned by the procedural generation of the planet, developers will also step in to handcraft missions and adventures for players that have engaging narratives and distinct elements. Roberts then stepped aside to unveil the tech in a live demonstration, which you can view below, complete with an FPS counter in the upper right corner of the screen.
Following the demonstration, CIG began explaining how they achieved the results of their new procedural generation system for planets. Star Citizen operates using a heavily edited and altered version of the CryEngine. CIG stepped into their game editor to literally fly around a planet to demonstrate the scale and power of what they've achieved. Each planet is created out of thousands of "ecosystem chunks" that blend together, creating unique combinations of planets that the devs can then make more unique with personal touches. To prove that the live demo wasn't using sky boxes, the devs simply created a new part of the planet in-editor on stage, then proceeded to take off to one of the planets in the sky, seamlessly transitioning between worlds.
Star Citizen might still be a very long way from being finished, but it seems to be shaping up to be an impressive title for people who haven't yet backed it to keep on their radars. There's a lot of amazing technology behind it and it seems to be on track to pick up they shattered hopes and dreams of those who rallied behind No Man's Sky. Here we have another game utilizing procedural planet generation and promising space-faring MMO action and exploration, but it might actually be able to deliver on the high expectations it has fostered over the past four years of development. You can watch the full presentation on Star Citizen's YouTube channel.
There are no hard release dates for any part of Star Citizen, but many speculate that Squadron 42 might release sometime during the first half of 2017 and Roberts himself gave an optimistic, though flexible, estimate that Star Citizen 4.0 will be live by the end of 2017.