Wing Commander Creator Returns to Game Development, Announces Star Citizen

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

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Chris Roberts, creator of the Wing Commander series, Starlancer, and Freelancer, announced his return to game development at this year’s Game Developers Conference Online. His first project will be Star Citizen, a “space combat and adventuring” PC game set in a “persistent open universe” that he promises will evolve according to player actions and feedback. Roberts intends to create “one holistic universe that encompasses everything that was great about Privateer and Freelancer, but also what works with…Wing Commander.”

The game will feature both a cinematic single-player mode and an online multiplayer mode. In single-player mode, entitled Squadron 42, players will enlist with the titular Squadron 42 to earn their citizenship (more on this later) and combat an alien menace. Like the Wing Commander games, Squadron 42 will feature a branching mission structure. In addition, it will be playable both offline and online. When online, friends can join in as wingmen. Once players finish the story, they will be able to carry their earned credits, citizenship, and ex-Squadron 42 status over to the online multiplayer mode as free agents. They will also be able to play future story campaigns.

In online multiplayer mode, the player’s first overarching objective will be to earn citizenship with the in-universe government (hence the name Star Citizen). This can be accomplished by enlisting with the military (i.e., playing Squadron 42), completing missions to raise the player’s “civic standing,” or amassing wealth as a merchant and buying citizenship. Alternatively, players can forgo citizenship and play as pirates and other members of “the grayer side of law and order.” In addition to ship upgrades, players will also be able to buy real estate.

Updates to multiplayer mode will be smaller but more frequent. Instead of, as Roberts puts it, “a big, sort of monolithic content update every one year or two years like you see in some of the bigger MMOs,” Star Citizen will receive “micro content updates” every one or two weeks to gradually and steadily expand the in-game universe. Roberts says the development team could, for example, add a star system on one end of the galaxy one week, then add a five-mission story path on another end two weeks later.

Some additions will be unannounced, leaving players to discover them for themselves. Roberts offers the following example: a player can stumble upon an uncharted jump point (essentially a wormhole that connects two star systems) and choose to chart and travel through it, a risky procedure Roberts compares to “riding an incredibly gnarly wave on the north shore of Hawaii.” If successful, the player will be able to name the jump point and the star system on the other end of it after himself or herself, then sell the new navigation data “at a great profit” to an in-game “space corporation.” The navigation data will then become purchasable by other players.

In addition to traditional fighters, players will also be able to acquire larger craft. Some will be ‘Millennium Falcon-style ships,’ with corridors and turrets, while others will be large enough to house a small fighter. Players will be able to invite their friends aboard, where they can move about in first- and third-person views, operate the turrets, and pilot the onboard fighter.

During spaceflight, an enemy encounter will create a battle instance. This instance will always reserve slots for players on the participants’ friends lists, enabling nearby friends to join in and respond to player-issued distress calls. Roberts hopes this system will allow players to join their friends anytime instead of being locked out by a full instance.

Graphically, Star Citizen, or at least the prototype Roberts demonstrated at GDC Online, looks very impressive. Even the opening trailer (embedded below), Roberts claimed, was rendered in real time on just an Nvidia GeForce GTX 670-based video card using the in-game engine and graphics. The entire game environment, from ship decks to fighter cockpit to open space, was a seamless whole—no zone changes or load times were evident when moving from one place to another.

Roberts also showcased a fighter with an astonishing level of detail. It boasted many articulating parts, from gun mounts to missile bays to maneuvering thrusters. The cockpit likewise looked well modeled, featuring fixed readouts, touchscreens that swing in and out of view, and a few holographic overlays. The player character was seated within, freely looking around in first-person view and working the ship’s controls, including the throttle and rudder pedals, in tandem with Roberts as he worked his own controls.

Mere words and pictures, however, don’t do the graphics justice. Load Roberts’ original GDC Online presentation (embedded below), which was streamed live and is now hosted courtesy of Gamespot, then skip to 24:07 (mm:ss) to see the graphics in motion.

To finance the development of Star Citizen, Roberts has recruited a group of private investors but is also seeking US$2,000,000 to US$4,000,000 through crowdfunding, partly to assure said investors there is interest in a “high-end PC space game.” However, instead of using Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or another crowdfunding service, he is collecting funds directly through the Star Citizen website. Roberts’ reason for doing this is that he wishes to provide “one destination to support the project, read updates, and most importantly participate with other members of the community…Kickstarter, as great as it is, can’t deliver this experience, which is why we’ve decided to go it alone.”

If Roberts cannot raise the minimum US$2,000,000, backers will be able to obtain a partial refund (i.e., the pledge amount minus “processing fees”). Alternatively, they can leave their pledges with Roberts to use in future fund-raising efforts or to develop Star Citizen “at a reduced level.”

If released, the game client will cost US$60.00; however, early backers can reserve a copy now with a minimum US$30.00 pledge, while later backers will have to pledge at least US$40.00. There will be no monthly fee to play online. In addition, Roberts plans to offer private-server software.

To learn more, visit the official Star Citizen website, watch Chris Roberts’ entire hour-long presentation below, or watch the shorter videos that follow:

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About Oscar Tong

Oscar joined oprainfall late September 2012 in response to a recruitment drive. He quickly discovered his job was much harder than he had anticipated. Despite the constant challenge, he has come to enjoy his responsibilities.

When he is not scrambling to meet a deadline, Oscar enjoys story-driven games with a strong narrative. He is especially fond of computer adventure games, role-playing games, and visual novels. He hopes the world will one day awaken to the power of video games as a storytelling medium.