Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Star Citizen and My Thoughts on Derek Smart's Blog Post

There's something about all of the marketing for Star Citizen that never fails to excite me. The Freelancer and Constellation commercials both make me tingle with excitement. Whoever is doing the marketing for Cloud Imperium Games is doing a stellar job of hyping the concepts of Star Citizen (pun completely intended). But as time goes on, I find myself doubting if Star Citizen will ever actually happen, and if it does, if it will live up to the expectations that Chris Roberts and his team have created for the game.

Derek Smart - litigious game dev &
self confessed troll.
Small disclaimer: I at no stage have put any money toward Star Citizen. My wish for the game to succeed is not from a financial standpoint of wanting my 'investment' to pay off, but a general love of space sim games.

This whole post started because of a blog post I recently read by Derek Smart, the president and lead developer at 3000AD Games. Derek's games have always been controversial (putting it politely), and unfortunately, his response to criticism usually involves bans and threats of lawyers. Smart has also said in the past that he will occasionally "post just to piss these guys off", and "go in there (forums) and start trouble", essentially describing himself as an internet troll. However, despite his history of poorly made games, litigious nature and generally toxic personality, I still feel like Derek raises some valid criticism of CIG and Star Citizen, even if I disagree with his message of wanting everyone who backed the game to demand refunds or sue CIG.

When Star Citizen was Kickstarted back in 2012, the features they listed were reasonably humble: a 'rich universe' with single player (online co-op available), persistent online multiplayer, the option to create modded servers (not hosted by CIG) and submit player created ships to CIG for implementation into the main game. Where Elite Dangerous promised, and delivered, a massive universe, Chris and his team promised a smaller universe with far more depth to individual systems. All of this was slated to be released in November 2014, and the game eventually raised $2.1 million on Kickstarter.

We're now in July of 2015, and at the time of writing Cloud Imperium Games has raised just over $85 million from just under 925,000 people. You can actually watch in real time how much they have raised here. That page also contains all of the stretch goals they have hit. They are no longer adding stretch goals, giving the reason for this move as they don't want the game to have too much feature creep. However, I would argue that the game already has some pretty severe feature creep.

Today the list of features has grown to immense levels including:

  • 100 star systems (handcrafted)
  • Professional motion capture, including facial capture
  • Orchestral score
  • A single player campaign, Squadron 42, that has at least 50 missions (although further stretch goals hint at more than that)
  • Ship boarding
  • Immersive capital ship gameplay (putting out fires, repairing systems, etc)
  • Ship modularity, the ability to completely customize any aspect of your ships performance and features
  • Pets
  • Fully fleshed out AI characters on planets
  • Real alien languages created by linguists
  • And much, much more
Chris Roberts - has his baby gotten too
big for its own good?
It's starting to look more and more like something Peter Molyneux would put together as his list of "features that are totally in my next game guys, please trust me please I need money". It's also not unlike Freelancer, where Chris Roberts promised a dynamic economy and world that would change around the player based on actions of other players and even AI factions. Freelancer was eventually released, and while regarded as one of the best space sim games, fell very short of these promises due to technical limitations. And here we are again, with Chris promising a lot and perhaps not able to deliver as much as he would love to. The game pitched in 2012, while not as grandiose as the game presented now, was at least achievable in a reasonable amount of time.

Another point of criticism CIG comes under is the "pledge system" they have used to continue crowdfunding. You can buy ships that grant access to the games packages with prices ranging from $30 to $325 for individual ship packages that include other in game goodies (most of which don't exist yet). There are also multi-ship combo packages that range from the $1,100 "Battle Pack" that contains every fighter sized ship currently available, to the $15,000 "Completionist" pack that contains almost every single ship. 

The stretch goals page that I linked to earlier has an auto update function. Just for fun I left it running while I wrote this post: around $1200 from 11 people over about 3 hours. In the last 6 months, they have made more than $2 million every month. The hype around Star Citizen, and the amount of money that some fans have spent on the game has also created a culture where any criticism is shot down in flames. Because they feel the need to justify their investment, these hyper fans go out of their way to defend any aspect of the game, including legitimate concerns about the direction the game is going, how long it is taking, and that CIG might be in over its head with what has been promised.

Even if Star Citizen fails, the Redeemer will remain one of my favourite
ship designs. Props to CIG for running the Next Great Spaceship competition.
Yet, despite all my misgivings, and as I mentioned in the start of this post, I really do want Star Citizen to succeed. Something about the idea of piloting a ship with friends in a persistent universe has captured my imagination. I want to explore a universe with a crew just like in the Constellation trailer. I want to ship cargo and fight off pirates like in the Freelancer trailer. There is no doubt in my mind that if Star Citizen actually somehow manages to live up to the hype, it will be remembered as one of the greatest games in history.

However, if it fails... if they don't deliver the product they've promised... it'll go down as the biggest internet scam in history.

As always,

GAME ON!

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