It’s been a little over 4 years since the launch of Star Citizens crowd funding campaign, the anniversary of which was on October the 9th. To celebrate, as is becoming a yearly tradition for Cloud Imperium games they held a convention in LA, called CitizenCon, giving backers a chance to meet the staff, meet each other and also see some of what the company has in store.
While we were unable to be there ourselves we were certainly able to watch the livestream and weigh in on what was shown. Compared to previous years it did seem to be lean pickings from a gameplay perspective, though if anything this shows more that while work is continuing its on more back end systems that don’t really readily lend themselves to visual demonstrations. On that note, however there was talk of a part of the forthcoming platform that CIG are going to be providing to backers for communications, group organisation, and even launching the game, Spectrum.
A New Communications Platform
For a while now CIG has given backers various tools and platforms for communications and interaction, specifically online forums and chat roll, in game chat roll and an organisation management platform to name a few. Spectrum is looking like it is planned to supersede all of these and offer a more integrated experience which looks to be taking the best of modern communication platforms such as Facebook, Discord and others and putting a slightly new twist on it.
From the demo Spectrum appears to initially be a web based real time forum and chat client, allowing for live notifications and updates, flat endless style formatting, meaning no page numbers on forum posts as well as allow for organisations to communicate with and manage their members. However, scratching a little deeper shows it to be much more, according to CIG and Turbulent, the company they have outsourced to for some aspect of platform development, Spectrum will also feature chat, both in and out of game which when in game will allow for spatially aware audio, meaning you will hear another player speaking from the position their character is stood in relation to your own character in game, of course this means it will also need to support a contact list, which apparently will also allow players to pre-populate a location aware game lobby for when everyone logs in on their game client. Finally, because player groups known as organisations will need to be able to communicate and manage their members the entire platform will support name-spaced sandboxes, which will be unique to each player group featuring all of the features mentioned above.
Spectrum is also going to replace the current game launcher and patcher, eventually featuring a much more streamlined patching process, only pulling down the files needed for each update, rather than gigabytes of data as it currently does. The Spectrum client will be available as a web platform, a desktop client, which is where the patcher comes in, and finally a mobile client. The desktop client has also been said to support in game notifications, overlay integration and function as an out of game communications bridge.
All in all, quite a big update by the sounds of it, even if it’s less exciting than new game content. From the livestream this was said to launch as a feature limited system by the end of the year, with feature additions happening every 6 – 8 weeks until all the planned features are added.
Next up, Chris Roberts takes the stage to talk about Squadron 42, the single player campaign. Some quick information was shown, with Roberts reminding people that the game has grown significantly since 2012, citing 28 chapters, which he suggested are equivalent to 60+ missions, an A-List cast, 340 speaking roles, 20hours of performance capture, a story arc featuring 1255 pages of dialogue, 40 distinct ships systemic gameplay allowing for alternate play styles, and much more… Of course, this was a prelude to some bad news, foreshadowed by Roberts saying “I’m not giving any dates because I get shouted at when I do that”. It seems that the 2016 date given on the RSI homepage and in the game trailer shown at CitizenCon in Manchester last year has slipped. It seems they are currently working on implementing their new AI platform, known as subsumption, specifically the pathfinding logic, animation integration, combat logic mission system integration and flight AI. Additionally, optimisations are still needed as is object container streaming. However minus final polish, it seems like the majority of the in game assets, features and chapters are actually finished. This lack of polish also means that a preview mission that many fans were expecting was nowhere to be seen, though it seemed hopeful that this would be shown in the near future.
Ultimately, the thing to bear in mind regarding the missing features is that it seems that the underlying systems as well as assets are being shared between both Star Citizen and Squadron 42, which would mean taking short cuts to ensure that Squadron released in 2016 would potentially mean going back and refactoring existing code when the time came to use it in Star citizen, which is pretty inefficient. While the news of the delay and the lack of any preview is disappointing, it’s understandable. It’s just a shame that missed deadlines does seem to be the way of things where CIG are concerned, since it gives their dissenters just enough ammunition to use against them.
Speaking of Star Citizen, the roadmap for the next 15 or so months was laid out, with progress updates on the forthcoming 2.6 patch, which is in initial testing phases with a small subset of backers known as ‘The Evocati’, we reported previously in our coverage of the GamesCom event on the features that were planned, these include arena commander changes, the long awaited Star Marine, further work with the ‘Stanton System’ in the persistent universe as well as improved music logic and camera systems.
After 2.6 we should see 3.0 released, which will see the initial roll out basic professions such as bounty hunting, trading, transport and so on… Along with a few new ships and a shift from just having a single planetary body as a play space to a whole solar system.
The cheers started when the roadmap for 3.1 onwards was announced however, with more professions being pushed out, as well as more ships and locations in the Stanton System. Roberts mentioned there will be 2 – 3 months between patches once 3.0 releases, which considering how much content they are looking to push out is perfectly understandable. 3.2 will bring yet more professions including repair/salvage mechanics, further locations for Stanton and another slew of ships. The 3.3 slide was greeted with significant cheering since it contained a lot of long awaited backer favourite ships, The carrack, the 890 Jump, the Banu Merchantmen and finally all the MISC reliant variants. Finally, the 4.0 slide was revealed. Showing the plan to allow players to finally leave the single system they’ll have been playing in over the course of the year and visit other star systems, 4.0 will likely be the start of the game seeing its full potential since all of the fundamental features should be present.
Proc Planets V2 Demo.
The final hour of the presentation was reserved for a couple of demos, the first being an in game demo of what CIG are calling procedural planets 2.0, this is a significantly enhanced version of the tech that had been shown off at the GamesCom event and on various live streams prior, featuring an unrestricted view distance, allowing for seemless support of spherical terrain when at a planetary scale, meaning the actual horizon line is the horizon line, anything you can see can be walked to with no skyboxing or ‘cheating’ to fake it. This requires everything to be generated at run time, meaning the technology is impressively fast to pull this off in live gameplay at the levels of detail shown to date. After having watched the demo I can safely say I’m sold that they have pulled this off. Frame rates were generally sat well above the 60FPS mark and averaged closer to 90/100 FPS if my calculations are correct, the demo was stunning, featuring a variety of biomes, such as snow-capped mountains, desert dunes, wrecked space craft, all at incredible levels of detail.
After the 30 minute gameplay demo was over, we were treated to a demonstration of the technology in their game development tools, where an artist was working within a procedurally generated location and just dropping in content, painting coast lines, adding flora and fauna with ease and a fluidity that was highly impressive to see.
It does also seem that CIG may have sneaked a small preview of the Squadron mission they were looking to show the crowd at the end of this, since once the artist was done adding content he dropped a ship onto the map, put the dev tools into a gameplay mode and took a quick flight to another planet showing off yet another biome, this time made of sulphur lakes. It was here that a second ship showed up, seemingly featuring Mark Hammils character from the single player campaign, both ships then jumped to a location in space containing a small flotilla of ships before the screen faded and the crowd was told we have shown you too much, a few moments later Roberts confirmed that this was a peak behind the curtain and more will be shown when they demo the fully finalised Squadron mission.
By the end of the presentation it was announced the next CitizenCon will be in Germany, home of their Frankfurt office. I am hoping that the event being a little closer to home means we may be able to report on the event having been there first hand.
While the delay of Squadron 42 is disappointing, it doesn’t seem to be too surprising when looked at in terms of what CIG are trying to achieve. Ultimately the thing to remember here is that although they have raised a staggering $127 Million and counting the company essentially didn’t exist prior to 2012, so they have had significant hurdles to overcome, such asd the hiring of staff, establishing of offices and working processes; for them to have got to where they are now in the time they have is incredibly impressive and a testament to quality of the people they are attracting. Looking at the presentation as a whole it does feel as though certain aspects of this were added in due to the lack of the Squadron mission they were hoping to show off, suggesting it may well have been being worked on right to the last possible minute. Hopefully it won’t be too long before this gets revealed to the public.
The full presentation can be watched below.