Cloud Imperium Games surprised many by announcing earlier in the year that they wouldn’t be hosting a GamesCom event for Star Citizen this year and instead would focus more on having a show floor booth to try to show off the game in its current and bring in new blood, so when Brian Chambers, the Frankfurt offices Development Director announced at BritizenCon that they would be hosting a separate event again there was a fair bit of surprise and rejoicing amongst backers. I was lucky enough to have already made plans to visit Cologne for GamesCom itself (For pleasure, rather than work, hence the lack of write ups I have done on this.) which happened to leave me time to be able to see the event too. What a night it was too, with huge lines of fans waiting, some awesome cosplay in the form of a guy dressed as a Big Benny’s Noodle machine, an ingame vending machine that fans seem to have become particularly fond of, and some frankly staggering footage of what to look forwards to by the end of the year.
While the event only lasted an hour and a half a lot of ground was covered, from the then forth coming 2.5 update, through to plans for 2.6 as well as an hour long demonstration of what they have in store for us at the end of year.
New Patch, New Ship, New location!
Since 2.5 has been live for a week or two now, we will be skimming the surface of what was said. First off a new spawn location for players who like to play with slightly more anarchic approach, GrimHex. Players who have a wanted level will now spawn in GrimHex as their default starting point and will be unable to navigate to Port Ollisar using Quantum Travel markers. Similarly, more lawful players will be unable to navigate to GrimHex and instead will have to try to locate it manually. Having visited the location during the PTU (Public Test Universe – a limited access server used to help bug hunt before general release.) I can attest to the sheer level of detail and work that has gone into creating this locale.
The patch also sees 2 new ships being made available, the MISC Reliant, a small ‘starter’ cargo ship and the Argo, which is more of a supplementary craft for larger capital class ships like the Idris. The Reliant features a nice transformation when shifting between landing mode and flight mode, where the main body of the ship rotates and the cockpit orientation shifts so that the pilot and co-pilot move from side by side positioning to a more vertical seating arrangement. The Argo, being a parasite craft lacks any features like quantum drives and similar, as its really designed to be used as a transport vessel for its parent carrier.
In addition to the new craft and location, the usual barrage of bug fixes and feature tweaks have been implemented, including a new lighting system, which really starts to bring the game to life.
Star Marine, Arena Commander and the forthcoming 2.6 patch
Next up we have 2.6, to a huge applause Chris Roberts was able to finally announce a release plan for the long awaited Star Marine. Much like Arena Commander before it, Star Marine will be a ‘game within the game’ allowing players to engage in FPS battles without risk of harming their character or losing any assets they may have acquired in the main Star Citizen universe itself. There has been much speculation and rumour surrounding the release of Star Marine due to delays causing its release to be a year later than initially suggested by CIG something which their critics have jumped and used as a method to try to attack the studio. During the vent it was said that the initial release will be limited, likely to a single map and that over time more would be added as was done with Arena Commander when it first launched.
Speaking of Arena Commander, it too is being overhauled in 2.6. With the release of 2.0 the Universe component of the game started to see increased focus in terms of development, with improvements made to the flight model and so on to factor in how ships handled in an area as large as that afforded to them by Stanton and its moons unfortunately this has in turn had a bit of a knock on effect with Arena Commander, where the gameplay suffers due to these very changes not being carried over and the ships handling being less refined as it is in the main universe section of the game. The update with 2.6 should see a new death match arena, a new race and other general improvement to gameplay and the camera modes.
The final bit of news given for 2.6 was two new ships, the Drake Herald and the Aegis Vanguard Hoplite Drop Ship. The Herald is a data runner, designed to collect information and run to avoid capture. The Vanguard Hoplite is a variant of the currently flyable Aegis Vanguard, which based off the fact it’s a drop ship means it’s likely to have troop transport capabilities. Its release in 2.6 likely isn’t a co-incidence, since CIG have said repeatedly that the ships being worked on to date are those that will be needed for Squadron 42, their single player campaign and spiritual successor to Wing Commander.
Patch 3.0 and the future!
Finally, we get to the good stuff… Patch 3.0 promises to be another huge jump in what the game offers. To date backers were given the Hangar Module. A simple room or rather set of rooms that featured any ships they owned at that moment in time, later other features were added like a weapons rig to allow ship weapons to be fired as if in an arms range and a small obstacle course for the buggy.
Last year saw 2.0 drop, the first glimpse of what Star Citizen was going to offer. A planet, its moons and several space stations to explore and fight around. Eventually this had missions added in to give players more to do, crime systems to allow for bounty hunting to take place and to show some of what is planned for system security and finally in 2.5 another space Station in the form of GrimHex.
3.0 promises to be an even bigger shift than 2.0 was from what was available before it and Arena Commander was from just having the Hangar Module. Initially the content was pegged to be billed as 2.7, however it seems this is a big enough shift again that CIG thought it deserved to be a full release in of itself, rather than a sub release of 2.0 as they were planning.
With 3.0 we should see several changes, firstly a significant jump in the number of locations from half a dozen to around 300 or so, to facilitate this CIG will be bring the entire Stanton system to bear with its 4 planets and various space stations. In addition to the huge jump in locations we should be seeing significant improvements to netcode, the start of CIGs NPC AI, known as Subsumption, new missions, new flight modes, new play styles, item systems, mission systems and also the first forays into actual in game careers such as cargo hauling, bounty hunting and so on. The big reveal however was procedural planets and the ability to land on them. CIG have spent a long time working on procedural generation tech for the game, specifically for the planets themselves and have talked about it quite a bit of the last year or so. It seems that work is paying off dividends now. We were shown a demo of 3.0 and what was shown of the planets was outstanding. CIG have said in the past that rather than take a purely procedural approach like Hello Games have with No Mans Sky, they allow artists to adjust and adapt what the procedural generation tool has created, allowing for a much more curated approach. Chris took pains to point out that at now stage are they ‘cheating’ anything visually, anything you see on screen is being rendered from the in game assets, including planetary curvatures and features.
After the slide show, we got to see some of whats coming via an hour long gameplay session between a few of the devs on stage.. Starting with the ‘main player’ waking at Port Olisar, to receive an in game broadcast from an NPC by the name of Miles Ekhart. Flying from Olisar to Levski, one of the new planetary locations, to visit Miles in person at a base known as Nix. After meeting Miles the player then sets out to a shipwrecked Starfarer, to pick up a blackbox recording and was finally given the choice to go pick up the cargo from the wrecked ship. All in all this was about an hours worth of gameplay and showed off just some of what is to come by the end of the year.
All in all, I think its safe to say that the next few months promise to be quite interesting and feature packed as far as Star Citizen is concerned, hopefully this should start going someway to assuage doubts of those on the fence regarding this project at the moment.