It’s nearly impossible to talk about space simulation games like EVE Online without hearing about Star Citizen, Chris Roberts’ crowdfunded future masterpiece. But discussion of it is usually surrounded by misinformation or heavy opinion, so we’re going to try to peel back a few layers of that and present a basic run-down of the concept and it’s status.
What Is It?
Star Citizen is intended to be an all-encompassing space simulation game. In what they’re calling the “first-person universe”, Cloud Imperium Games hopes to deliver a game that can seamlessly combine space combat and first-person shooter gameplay into one cohesive experience. While CCP has declared similar visions before, taking a multi-game approach with products like EVE Online, DUST 514, and EVE: Valkyrie, CIG is attempting to put everything in a single game in one persistent universe. In addition to Star Citizen, they are also developing Squadron 42, which is a single-player campaign.
While Star Citizen is one unified game, it is being released in ‘modules’, starting with the Hangar Module in 2013, which allowed to to walk around and sit in some of the ships that you purchased, and Arena Commander, last year, which is a flight simulator game played out of your hangar module, with dogfighting and racing modes. While it has missed it’s initial release deadline, the first-person shooter component of Star Citizen, dubbed Star Marine, is expected to be released next, followed by a social module, dubbed Planetside, and then the Persistent Universe, which should tie everything together.
One of the most unique aspects of Star Citizen is that it is entirely funded by gamers. No large game publisher is bankrolling the game, and they’ve accumulated over $80 million dollars US so far. Initially being funded from a WordPress and a Kickstarter, CIG continued to accept purchases of game packages and ships after their basic crowdfunding goals were completed. Players can purchase ships with real money which they’ll be able to use in the game. While CIG maintains that everything purchased for cash now will be available for in-game currency in the completed game, in order to play with ships in Arena Commander today, you generally have to buy them outright.
Prices for the ships have remained controversial since this process began. On the low end, you can buy an Aurora ES, a baseline starter ship, for $35. However, Star Citizen has offered ships all the way up to the limited edition Javelin destroyer, for a monumental $2,500. (Javelin sold out in seconds.) Quite a few ships range in the $200-300 range, leaving the opportunity for ‘investment’ in the game to potentially be quite high. The power and features of these ships are subject to change, so it’s possible that what you pay for now may not be what you get when the game launches. A secondary discussion about the value and availability of LTI, or lifetime insurance, has been another source of major controversy.
The Feature Creep Problem
Feature creep is a concern in software engineering, where your project continues to be delayed, or is never finished at all, due to a continual addition of new features, rather than finishing the original product in a timely manner. Star Citizen almost certainly suffers from extremely severe feature creep. As each funding stretch goal was met, CIG defined a new one, often including large scale gameplay features with significant repercussions for the development of the game. For instance, first-person shooter gameplay was added in a stretch goal. While arguably the concurrent increase in funding supports hiring more developers to handle these new features, the difficulty of integrating all of this talent and all of these designs into a cohesive game could be an insurmountable task.
Additionally, developers seem to commit to almost any player-discussed ability as something that they will do. In many cases, they have detailed extremely complex interaction models that have never been attempted in a video game before. Much of what is proposed requires new technology to be developed from scratch, adding to the additional challenge of building a space simulation game in an engine designed for first-person shooters.
Personally, I do not believe the naysayers who say that Star Citizen will never be released. However, I also raise caution to many Star Citizen fans that believe everything promised will come true. As with most games, I expect quite a few promises made during development to end up being broken before release of the game. However, it is yet to be seen which promises are broken, and how much of the game we will see.
Comparisons with New Eden
The best analogue for Star Citizen in New Eden is most certainly Valkyrie, at least in it’s current iteration, as Star Citizen primarily allows dogfighting between largely single-seat ships. However, Star Citizen aims to tackle a larger EVE-like environment within the same game, with some major twists. Unlike EVE Online and many other games, larger ships will actually be able to be crewed by multiple players, as players can take different stations on the bridge or man offensive turrets. Every spaceship has a fully modeled interior, complete with bathrooms and bunk beds where applicable.
Additionally, the first-person shooter elements of Star Citizen are intended to be much closer integrated with their space gameplay than DUST 514. Some ships are designed to be boarding vessels, to help deploy sets of troops onto planets, stations, or other ships. CIG has detailed a hyper-realistic damage model where damage to limbs and vital organs are tracked, as death is meant to be rare and somewhat more permanent than in New Eden. One of the most anticipated features of their first-person gameplay is zero gravity combat.
We still have a long way to go until we see Star Citizen as a finished product. It’s impossible to say what features the game will and won’t have for sure, or if it’ll even be any good. However, with it’s unique funding model, it’s revolutionary goals, and the technology it looks to redefine, I expect Star Citizen to have a lasting impact on the genre, regardless of how it turns out.