By Remko Molenaar (Proxzor)
The drama surrounding Chris Roberts and Star Citizen seems to have as many twists and turns as Hollywood tabloids would hope for. With quite a bit of time in development, nearly a million people involved in backing, and still not a ton to be shown, it’s only natural that the chaos levels would rise. Still the dream of the ultimate space game continues to inspire backer donations despite the PR mess Star Citizen currently finds itself in, with $89 million and counting. So we figured it was time to look back at see just where the development of Star Citizen currently sits.
Backing a game is always a tricky thing. The vision of the game you want is rarely the exact same thing the designers are setting out to create. Further still, lack of funds or unforeseen setbacks can reduce the vision to not meet expectations in the end. Kickstarter has been front and center in the crowdfunded game development scene long enough to see some of the earlier backed projects come to fruition, many of which not being worth it in the end. Some still giving up before ever reaching a completed project, leaving its backers SOL. This has resulted in most indie companies without track records having a real struggle funding even 5 digit projects. Yet a few big names like Chris Roberts still brought the confidence to snag millions in funding. Time will soon tell if this high profile project brings faith back to crowdfunding, or delivers a devastating blow to consumer confidence.
Last year we already got to play around with the Arena Commander. This module was specifically made to play around with the physics, show everyone the exact way that the game is going to be played, and demo dog fighting combat in space. Most fears were somewhat alleviated as this first taste of Chris Roberts design delivered on promises. Though the realization of how ambitious this project was made it clear we wouldn’t be touching a finalized version for possibly years to come. Arena Commander was first released over a year ago back in June, and still remains the primary experience for backers, with occasional patches and improvements being the only tangible updates. Granted its merely a glorified tech demo more so for the developers to experiment with gameplay ideas rather than for players to enjoy regularly. Thankfully a new module has arrived to shake things up.
The Social Module Cometh
Let’s get into the biggest news in some time, the social module. No worries, it’s not just an improved chatbox tacked onto Arena Commander. It lets us go to planetside in a big city to explore the progress being made outside of ship combat and physics. Most speculate this is the bare bones demo of the planned Star Marine module (FPS shooter module), though no confirmation beyond vague hints of “soon” have been given. In the Social Module we get to experience what its like when we hop out of our space ship, and have to get our groceries and find specific agents or just have a chat with the community in a local hub. And it is one of the few stepping stones in development that had to be made. To gain access to ArcCorp all you have to do is go into your hangar, go into the elevator and press the access codes to launch yourself into this whole new world.
In ArcCorp you aren’t able to do a lot besides meeting up to 24 players for a group chat with avatars. Right now that is not really needed though. Since the game is far from finished the social module does exactly what its made for. Rather than navigating menus, you get a sense of realism having to meet with other players planetside. It’s a nice change for plain forums to hang out in the local bar, or perhaps shop for new ships or parts, before snagging your next mission. A medical facility seems to hint at personal health as well.
And while this is all expected basic elements of an MMO, its the scenery that sells the experience for me. ArcCorp provides some of the most impressive sight seeing with extreme attention to detail you’re likely to find in any MMO ever. Not bad for an alpha module! Even alleyways with their dust, garbage, and plastic bags are there to make the whole adventure so believable. Every shop and building seems to have its own unique architecture. I guess after so many years of reviewing MMOs, I’m not used to seeing a world built without cutting corners. With the addition of active NPCs, this world will become an unparalleled hub. If we can expect the same level of quality for the various hubs and storytelling locations in the final version, I can say some of the massive funding behind this game is being well spent.
As harsh a critic as I am on crowdfunding and the madness of the backers behind this game, I have a confession. I myself was one of the first hundred thousand to back this game. Despite all my skepticism, Chris Roberts sold me on a solid and inspired concept. Before this social module, I was regretting this decision. Now my glimmer of hope is burning bright once more. Sure the game has had a lot of delays, and tons of bad publicity, but if you believe in giving a game time to reach its goals for quality, then none of that matters. Being able to fly in ships, blow each other up, and then laugh about it with avatars in a planetside pub afterwards is more than a lot of past space flight simulators have offered. The upcoming addition of the FPS module is going to set this game apart from anything else on the market.
After waiting over a year between the Arena Commander and Social Module, I don’t have my hopes up that we’ll be seeing the next two modules anytime soon. Still we can dream that one day Squadron 42, the single player story module, and the Persistent Universe module will come to fruition. Video teasers look as promising as we hoped, and hope is all we can do at this point.
History is being written here, and that history wouldn’t be possible with the typical unforgiving bottom line driven publishers that run the MMO industry. With crowdfunding behind them, the only hard heavy breathing down the backs of the developers necks is from Youtube comment ragers. Even if it takes another three years, so long as Cloud Imperium Games remains open and transparent about progress, I’m sure this will be the game I look to proudly for being among the first Kickstarter backers.