When Star Citizen first started as a Kickstarter project back in 2012, its vision of being an ambitious massively multiplayer online space simulator was bold and visionary.
Conceptualised by the renowned Chris Roberts, Star Citizen is a spiritual successor of Wing Commander: Privateer (1993), Starlancer (2000) and Freelancer (2003), and received plenty of interest as well as commitment from backers. The crowdfunding raised over US$2 million in its first month.
Rather than being forced to ship out a substandard product to appease the shareholders, like the traditional game studios, the developer Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) took on a very different path for the funding model for Star Citizen with its crowdfunding and backers.
A point of contention now is its long development time. Today, the game is in Alpha stage with no announced deadline for the Beta release. This has caused some negativity among those who invested earlier and expect to see the game launch in a fully playable state.
After 10 years and having raised over US$500 million, what does Star Citizen look like now?
Ten years on, what’s up now?
The CIG team, led by chief development officer Erin Roberts (who is also Chris Roberts’ brother), were in Singapore recently to show off some new updates to the game.
He described Star Citizen as a “universe of unprecedented scale where you can be whoever you want to be, and do whatever you want to do with a level of detail and immersion which has never been seen before.”
A live demo of the game shows off a persistent experience without the tell-tale load screens typical of many open-world games.
From the perspective of a space flight in a star system to fully open planetary exploration, right down to the cities and buildings on the various locations on the planet, even down to the glass of beer held in the character’s hand, it all feels like a continuous experience with no break in the realism.
What the game hopes to achieve, Roberts said, is a level of immersion that makes you feel that you are living there. “Your character has to physically travel to planets on spaceships.”
“Within planets, you can go anywhere that you can see,” he added. “You can literally drive all over the planet, and experience stunning sunsets and sunrises while exploring all the different biomes such as snowy landscapes and forests although it will probably take weeks.”
“As a player, you can drive a land vehicle or get into a spaceship, and you can be a miner, a salvager, a pirate, or a smuggler,” he noted.
The new 3.18 update, which will be launched in January 2023, will feature the much touted Persistence Entity Streaming feature, new locations, new missions and tasks such as time trial races and ship salvaging, as well as a new salvaging ship.
The Persistence Entity Streaming feature, Roberts explained, makes the game feel a lot more realistic. “What that means is that if you go on a planet and you take a cup from your ship, put it on top of the mountain, then get back to the ship and fly away, the cup will stay there forever until someone interacts with it.”
Star Citizen’s new contents are added to the game via a quarterly patch release. The next big milestone for the game is getting the server meshing ready before the beta release. Following that, CIG intends to hone the player and user experience, and focus on fewer features but those of higher quality.
“At the moment, we are not trying to get people to come in and play when they are not ready,” Roberts stressed. “Currently, we have tens of thousands of players each day, so we don’t want to risk crashing the game for current players.
“We test to ensure patches work well before releasing them,” he added. “As an MMO, the game is never actually finished but it is getting closer. Once it hits commercial beta, we feel that will be the time to invite all to come and play.”
Besides Star Citizen, another project that CIG is working on includes a single player game, Squadron 42, which is set in the Star Citizen universe.
The game features an A-list cast including Gillian Anderson, Mark Hamill and Gary Oldman but, just like Star Citizen, the release date is anybody’s guess so don’t hold your breath on this one.
Being a Star Citizen in Singapore
Despite being only available in English, Star Citizen has been very successful in Asia. Singapore is the third largest community in Asia, behind China and South Korea, according to CIG.
“In Singapore, there are thousands of registered players, with about a few hundred playing on a regular basis,” said Tyler Witkin, the community manager for CIG.
The Star Citizen community in Singapore are a passionate bunch, ranging from those who recently stumbled on the game, to those who have been playing for about a year, to those who had backed the game via Kickstarter back in 2012.
The community here is cool with a game that isn’t officially completed. They believe they are investing in a ground-breaking title with a vision that no other studio had dared attempt before.
There’s even a joke that one can leave their Star Citizen account to their kids if they don’t live long enough to see the completed game.
Wayne Ong, an IT engineer, who has been playing Star Citizen for over a year after springing US$45 (about S$60.70) for the starter pack, has followed the progress of the game since 2013.
“Star Citizen is different as it invests in long term innovations and works on fulfilling a vision,” he said. “Too many games these days are developed to extract money from players while using the same tried formula to increase profit margins.
“Cloud Imperium Games dares to experiment and push the boundaries on new technology that no one has done before in the industry,” he added. “Seeing how the game and the community has been growing with each update, I feel it’s more than worth the price of the starter pack.”
A data engineer in a startup, who wanted to be known as Jeff, also picked up Star Citizen over a year ago. He streams Star Citizen regularly on Twitch as “FrozenGamingSG”.
“CIG has communicated a huge vision on how they would like the game to look like in its initial full release state chock-full of very ambitious features, and it is still far from reaching that milestone as of today,” he said.
“Despite that, the experience which Star Citizen has managed to provide in the past year since I first started out in the game has already made my money’s worth,” he added. “It is incomplete, but mind-blowing nonetheless.”
He plays mostly first-person shooter missions in Star Citizen as the gameplay loop is relatively less buggy and pays out a handsome amount of in-game money.
“It’s pretty fun to finally earn enough to purchase a new shiny ship to try out in-game when you don’t have enough real-life funds to just purchase it off the online shop,” he added.
He has a pretty “Zen” outlook to the long wait. “Granted, there is still a pinch of frustration whenever an up-and-coming feature gets delayed with no clear updates on any sort of indicative target release dates given,” he said.
“But I’m optimistic that the game will be released in full very soon, and I have noticed CIG working towards greater transparency and engagement in terms of how the game development has been progressing.”
Eugene Ngo, an engineer, had invested in Star Citizen’s Kickstarter in 2012 and has been a community member since then. He feels that CIG takes community feedback very seriously.
“What they are doing with Star Citizen is revolutionary, and there’s no other game studio whose aim is to create a game like no other,” he added.
“Now we see only a small part of its potential, and with every year of development, it gets closer to its bold vision,” he noted.
Journey through the stars, explore the civilisations
I joined the Singapore community in a few playthroughs, and I am glad I had someone to guide me as the depth of detail as well as the massive scope of Star Citizen can be pretty intimidating for a new player.
There is quite a lot to do for an Alpha stage game and it’s quite enjoyable if you are not too fussed by the frequent crashes and game-breaking bugs.
A basic starter pack costs US$45 (about S$60.70), which includes an Aurora MR ship, 1,000 UEC (the in-game currency), and access into the game. Spaceships are sold separately, and it’s easy to see why some enthusiasts will splurge on a nice ship.
There are hundreds of spaceships to choose from, ranging from small agile ones for scouting, to fighters for offensive missions, to huge luxury liners fully decked out with stocked bars, full glass panels for out-of-this -world panoramic views, marble countertops inlaid with gold, and spacious quarters for the crew.
The most developed area is New Babbage, which is the largest city on the planet of microTech. New Babbage is packed with facilities including an array of shops, bars, medical facilities, and even transit systems that can take your character to various parts of the sprawling metropolis.
With a spaceship, you can easily fly to other locations and explore, as well as perform missions and contracts in the game to earn UEC.
At the moment, Star Citizen features a variety of missions and contracts that you can take on for fun and profit. You can deliver items, perform hits as a mercenary, assist in repairing outposts, as well as investigate and gather information at certain locations.
Exploration is pretty interesting although the experience is incomplete. For instance, I was flying around randomly and stumbled upon a little outpost where it looked like you could sell parts, but it wasn’t functional.
There is also a significant survivor element in the game as well. Your character can freeze and lose health if you happen to be caught outside without the right attire, and thirst and hunger are real issues as well.
It’s advisable to be properly attired and well stocked up on food and water before travelling outside of civilised areas. What’s striking is the remarkable level of detail in the game – there is even a dedicated action for your character to wipe the rain off your helmet visor.
Many aspects of the game are incomplete, such as non-functional but great-looking Non-playable Characters (NPCs). There is no dialogue with them but they do populate many areas in the game, so the game doesn’t feel empty or lifeless.
Being an MMO, there are also many other player characters around but it really helps to be part of a friendly group.
Since the game is in Alpha state, bugs are pretty serious and often break the game. For instance, my character can be riding in an elevator in the ship and suddenly end up stuck in the ship’s hull or the base of the elevator, with no way of getting out.
Or I can be walking in one of the buildings on a planet and the floor suddenly disappears. Or my companions who are armed to the teeth and decked out in full armour appear to me as if they are walking around in their underpants.
There is also serious lag at times, and your character or members of your party can vanish although they are still around.
I also feel that the user interface is hard to engage with, and often miss the head-up display for basic actions such as “enter cockpit” or “climb ladder”.
Some tweaks also need to be made for the spacecraft to be steered properly – I was tumbling through space during my first solo flight and made the mistake of not engaging the landing gear, which damaged my ship.
Thankfully, flying a ship is surprisingly easy after a bit of getting used to, even though I used a keyboard and mouse to control it.
I did have some accidents in trying to land my craft and disembarking, which led to my character’s death and eventually spawning at a medical facility in a faraway planet since I did not have a chance to reset it.
For long-distance interplanetary travel, the Quantum Drive can be engaged to guide your ship to its destination automatically while you grab a snack in real time. This means you do have to wait a bit to get to your destination instead of relying on an instantaneous fast travel system.
To draw players back to the game, Star Citizen also offers limited in-game events like the recent Intergalactic Aerospace Expo (IAE) show, which gives gamers a chance to view the new spaceships and even test-fly some of them.
Is it time to jump into Star Citizen at the moment? My take is that Star Citizen is definitely not a game for everyone at the moment – not in terms of gameplay but for believing in a vision that is taking a long time to come to fruition.
Is it worth your time? That depends on your expectations and perspective as a gamer.
If you want to have NPCs with dialogues and who can act as quest-givers, feel happy with a checklist of to-do quests and accomplishments in the game, or if you feel frustrated with frequent crashes and bugs, this is definitely not the time.
However, if you are keen to see how the game develops, and feel the thrill of exploring new albeit incomplete frontiers, then hop onboard.
Do note that the game requires a 64-bit processor and operating system, a quad-core CPU, a DirectX 11.1 compatible graphics card with 3GB video RAM and 16GB RAM (from personal experience, at least 32GB are recommended).
If you are ready, sign up to be a Star Citizen here – currently, the basic Aurora MR starter pack is on discount at US$40.50 (around S$54.60) until January 10, 2023.