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Star Citizen is a still in-development massively multiplayer online video game set in a futuristic universe called The Verse. The game intends to be a simulation of living in a universe where flying, trading, fighting, and exploring Space should be the common daily routine of each player. It’s a highly ambitious project launched more than a decade ago but still in development and alpha test.
The pre-production of Star Citizen began in 2010, and then the production started in 2011. In 2012, a succesful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter (and very press covered because of the exceptional aspect of the event) drew more that 2 millions dollars to finance the development. The game is very ambitious : A single-player story-driven campaign named Squadron 42 including co-op, company-hosted universe, self-hosted, mod-friendly, no subscription, no pay-to-win mechanics, with virtual reality and flight sticks support. The project is very famous among the gaming universe because of its controversies and criticisms regarding its never ending delays and multiple reports. Also, because of the incredible amount of money invested on it.
In this article, I won’t really talk about its controversies (there were enough press coverage regarding this) but more of my personal feeling about the game because I’ve bought it, or pledged it to be more specific, in 2018 and playing regularly on it.
First, what can I say about my first experience of Star Citizen ? I was still a little anxious regarding this game because I think it would be only two things : the most awesome game ever made, or the biggest fail of the industry (like Atari’s during the previous century). The game is really ambitious and thinks about a lot of details. Of course, I’m a Sci-Fi nerd and the idea of piloting a spaceship around a massive solar system is really exciting. I’ve finally decided to buy the starter pack (not really expensive, around 45€) to see what is it going there.
Visually, the game is freaking beautiful. It is designed for high-end gaming computers and my gaming PC at this time had some difficulties, especially because of an undersized RAM regarding the big requirements : 16GB required, I had 8GB at this moment. One month later I’ve upgraded the RAM and the game ran more smoothly. The designs and décors are awesome, the game is incredibly detailed and polished. It’s still considered as an alpha pre-release, so having this level of finition is kindly rare in gaming industry because it generally happens during more stable and optimization phase. However, Star Citizen is quite nicely optimized despite its alpha status, the framerate is dropping regularly but not at critical levels.
The first contact is a kind of disturbing because the game is designed for VR support and all the gameplay is made from first-person view with your character interacting with its environment. You need to focus and activate the doors buttons or ships commands with the interaction key. After a couple of minutes you get used to it.
Then, you retrieve your ship from the spatioport storage and try to familiarize with it. The piloting system intends to be very realistic as the game wants to be a simulation. Piloting with the mouse direction needs some acclimatation and the ships are not really automated, you need to perform several tasks at once. On a small ship it’s not a real problem because they’re enough agile and can accelerate and brake quickly and they’re small enough to avoid environmental collisions. On bigger ships, you’ll need to focus a little more and split some activities (like checking the surroundings, calling the landing support, etc) because the maneuverability is more difficult : the ship is big and heavy, and you’re basically handling a 20 tons truck in a city supermarket parking. They ships are intended to be maneuvered by a crew of players in fact. Globally, the piloting system is nice and has been slightly improved since I’ve started to play.
In Star Citizen, your character is nobody, as being the random guy working in the Verse. You can be whatever you want : a trader, a transporter, an explorer, a criminal, a pirate, there is no predefined scheme and you can do what you want. However, since a couple of updates, the Crime system has be enforced and now, playing as a pirate or a criminal can be a serious challenge because it’ll block you some cities accesses (the law enforcers will attack you) and the other players can also track you for the bounty on your head.
Let’s transite to the Contract system. As an online game, the basic activity will be to accept Contracts generated randomly by events (a ship is attacked, a NPC pirate attacks, a NPC calls for help, etc) or by story driven content. The missions can be bounty hunting, mining, mercenaries (escorting a fleet, etc), retrieval of supplies from a crashed ship, investigation, whatever. Player can also create contracts when they need help for a mission, and assistance. For example, you crashed your ship and you’re unable to leave, you can send a beacon and another player can pick you up.
The business model of Star Citizen is to sell space chips in exchange or IRL money. Technically, you don’t buy the game, you buy a ship offering you access to the game. After some months playing, I was tired of my small Aurora ship and decided to invest on a transport ship that would allow me to trade. I’ve bought the MISC Freelancer and it’s still my ship. Since some times, you can now also buy the ships with the in-game money so it’s now possible to start at low level and farm enough to buy a bigger ship. One of the promises of the game is to be able to access the same content buy paying with IRL money or in-game money.
Globally, I’m positive about Star Citizen because the time spent on it to explore and discover it worth the investment. However, there are issues.
And big issues.
And fucking annoying issues.
The game is still terribly bugged for basic things. For example, I’ve almost never been able to finish a contract… ! There is always something that goes wrong. Not later than this week, I’ve updated the game after some hiatus on it to see what’s new. “Let’s do some delivery contracts” I’ve said to myself. Take of, travel to the destination, take the package, put it in the trunk, and go to the receiver. Arrived at final destination, the package disappeared from my cargo…
Another contract in the same kind : unable to find the delivery endpoint despite the indicators. Bothered by this, I’ve quit the game telling myself “I’ll see this later”. Today I’ve started it, my character was waking up from inside the ship (why not, but I’ve disconnected on a space station) on the landing pad. Suddenly he was teleported inside the station and I’ve got a unauthorized park charge ! When you have this, you have to wait 15 minutes or pay (with the in-game money, of course) to reduce the delay. I’ve faced this kind of problem one year later and that’s still the same today.
Despite the persistent world activation last year, the character status following the disconnection is still random. If you disconnect, your contracts are lost. If the game crashes, you respawn at one of the residential area and need to retrieve your ship from the insurance (and paying for it or wait). The persistence is still very bad and inefficient.
But as you said, Star Citizen is an alpha-release, stop complaining !
Yes, and you’re absolutely right my dear fictive interlocutor.
Despite it’s visual qualities, it’s realistic gameplay and the fucking awesome designs Star Citizen has a very big issue : its development process changes its mind every day ! The game developers provide a roadmap of features they currently implementing with “core tech” steps. These “core techs” are the mandatory elements required to create other planned features in the game. Sadly, the problem I see with Star Citizen is they’re changing too often the mandatory “core techs”. So, while you can still have after months a ship ladder that kills you (yes, the MISC Freelancer had this issue for one year), the PR of Star Citizen preferred to proudly announce they enhanced the lights effects of the ship toilets. I’m caricaturing of course, but that’s my feeling : they can’t have a stable roadmap and stick to it.
Of course, Agile models in software development allows to change your mind and rethink your roadmap to adapt the software to your changing needs. But, don’t do that every month ! The game started why 2 millions of dollars. In November 2021, the funding surpassed $400 millions. When your budget is drifting like this, ask yourself what is the problem !
I’ve been in this kind of poorly driven projects (as an actor or a witness), changing their mind for each whim of the client, and the result was always the same : a failure. The delivered product looked like nothing and was unusable because it integrated too much unfinished features and failed to stabilize the core. Star Citizen is community funded, and so the development is impacted by this. The game was supposed to be released in 2014, now in 2022 it’s still an alpha with a lot of unfinished business.
This is the main problem, IMHO, about this game : it’s project direction is random and goes everywhere. It’s like the developer launching a new side project after leaving the 300 others to be forgotten, but with an entire development team doing this.
That’s really a sad thing, because I’m still believing that Star Citizen could be an awesome game. Alas, it is stuck in its development hell and feature creep that could end up by a colossal mess of unfinished business.