I like to say that I was born a thousand years too early. Ever since I saw Star Wars as a kid, I’ve been entranced by the idea of living on other worlds. Civilization on the scale of a star system—on the scale of a galaxy. Space travel dominated the thoughts of my youth and continues to fascinate me on a imaginative level as well as a scientific one. I dream of having a space ship and traveling to distant worlds. Living “on the road” with a crew of friends. Taking odd jobs of cargo transport, salvaging, or (when I’m feeling brave) bounty hunting. These dreams have already begun to take shape in Star Citizen.
Since I started playing video games, especially when I started playing PC games, I’ve been searching for the perfect space game. A few have piqued my interest over the years, but they all fell short of the dream. X3 proved too impersonal and unknowable (even after many hours of playing). Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was vastly enjoyable, but it was an RPG rather than a sandbox. Star Trek Online was interesting, but suffered from MMO syndrome (too similar to World of Warcraft). And, although I’ve always loved the stories generated from the infamous EVE Online, the gameplay itself is quite boring (also, if I can maintain the small social life I do have, that is best). Most recently, Elite: Dangerous has proven to be a lot of fun, but it fails to make me feel like a part of the galaxy—like a pilot striking out in his trusty ship among the stars (I’m anxious for the first-person DLC to launch … when they finally decide to do so). When I first heard about Star Citizen, I knew it was different.
I first started following Star Citizen about three years ago. I pledged for my first package of an Aegis Avenger (which has since grown) shortly after hearing about the game. I saw some of the things the team had already done and were planning on doing and I was sold. I played around with Arena Commander and I loved the way the ships handled in the zero-G environment—the way you were given a wide variety of tools to navigate the often perilous expanse of space. It made me feel like Han Solo, whipping the Millennium Falcon around an asteroid field and fighting TIE fighters. And I loved walking around the hangar, just interacting with the ship—my ship. Walking up the boarding ramp, sliding into the cramped living quarters, hopping into the pilot’s seat to (pretend to) shoot out from the hangar doors on the next adventure. Star Citizen captured my imagination and still holds me in awe of all the dev team has done and continues to do. Even in its unfinished state, Star Citizen has gone farther to realizing my star-faring dreams than any other game has done previously.
As the success of Star Citizen‘s crowd-funding campaign grew, so too did the scope of the game. What originally began as a spiritual successor to Chris Roberts’ beloved series, Wing Commander, soon became a quest to create the “Best Damn Space Sim Ever.” In one of the weekly video series, “10 for the Chairman,” in which Roberts answered questions from the subscribers, he called the game a “first-person universe.” I love this idea. It’s not just a game about flying around—it’s a game about stepping off your ship and out onto the various worlds that make up the universe. A universe where you might be chasing down a pirate in your starship one minute and floating through the quiet halls of a shipwreck the next. Where having a large ship means getting lost in the corridors, traders can inspect the product in their hold, and flying a ship with friends means more than just another body to man the guns. A living, breathing universe from pupil to planet.
I don’t make it much of a secret that I pretty much hate MMOs. So few have strove to be anything other than a clone of the (for some reason) massively popular World of Warcraft. They all have wonky control schemes that make it feel more akin to navigating a poorly conceived car than a character I’m supposed to be relating to. Star Citizen aims for realism and immersion to be reflected in its mechanics—so long as it’s fun. This can already be experienced in the flight model—momentum is unresisted in a vacuum (Sir Isaac Newton is, indeed, the deadliest son of a b#%@h in space—as we learned in Mass Effect), maneuvering thrusters are vital to precision flight (to the peril of damaged vessels), weapons and utilities are convenient … unless the appendage containing them should be violently removed, and while your ship might be able to make that tight turn, you, the pilot, might not have the same capabilities (I’ve woken up a few times on a rapid trajectory towards a looming asteroid). Not to say that sim games are always incredibly fun, but it sure beats spamming the “1” key until my fireball timer resets.
Star Citizen‘s universe denies the rule “you can’t,” instead opting for the idea “you probably shouldn’t.” Picture walking into a port on a planet with a high level of government control. You could try to blast your way through the checkpoint into the city behind, but there will be an immediate, forceful response that will likely lead to medical expenses and a large fine on your part. With the same scenario on an anarchist planet, you might have less resistance (unless you’re in a room full of pirates). You can try to sell that contraband good in the middle of a public courtyard, but you might very well get caught. You can ignore the safety regulations when landing your ship, but doing so might incur consequences—be they financial or violent.
This freedom is not merely limited to fictional-government regulation either, from the start of the game, you’re free to define yourself as you will. Want to be a merchant? Go trade goods from station to station. Want to exclusively supply space stations with Big Benny’s noodles? I … guess you’re free to do so. Want to salvage derelict ships? Go get some good scanning equipment (and maybe a few guns). Want to race? Buy a fast ship (and maybe do some runs in Arena Commander before you put your ship on the line). Want to intercept transmissions and various information from secretive groups? There’s a ship for that (hint: it’s the Herald).
While the original plan was to have designated landing zone on planets with guided landing systems, it’s recently been revealed how procedural technology is allowing for full, richly detailed planets to be explored. Check out the recent Gamescom presentation. While planets look rather barren currently, later models will feature forests, oceans, cities, and anything else you might expect to find on a planet. Star Citizen plans on building on the model of No Man’s Sky and and turning it into a much more tailored experience for less crazy randomness and more incredible vistas.
I’m rather picky when it comes to my starships. Functionality is nice, but, when it comes down to it, I want to fly in style. I like ships that look like a natural extension of modern technology—something Star Citizen tries to do. The Vanguard is modeled lightly after the P-38 Lightning. The Retaliator bomber resembles modern stealth bomber planes. Beyond this attachment to the real world, the ship design is incredible. One of the main things that itch at the back of my mind in Elite: Dangerous (even though I don’t even see the ship while flying) is the, in my opinion, lackluster ship design. There seems to be little variation in the designs, and few of them are interesting. Star Citizen, however, showcases a large variety of designs reflected in ships even from the same fictional manufacturer—and few of them are ugly. Even the massive hauler, the Starfarer, is visually interesting in its own way. The devs have dedicated a lot of thought to defining what makes each manufacturer unique. MISC ships take influences from Russian helicopters. Anvil takes a more squared-off, gruff military look. Origin designs ships for the 1%. My personal favorite is Aegis, whose ships often resemble something you’d more likely see underwater than in space.
Thursdays have become one of my favorite days of the week. That’s the day Cloud Imperium Games releases their weekly video series “Around the Verse.” This show contains all matter of sneak peaks, WIP ships, universe lore descriptions, interviews with team members, along with a healthy serving of puns (thanks Ben). I’ve always been impressed by the passion of the devs and their eagerness to get involved with the game’s already impressive community. From Chris Roberts on down, you can tell they are dreaming with the community and building a game they’ve always wanted to play. Their work is difficult, the hours long, but the mission is worth it. Whether they’re working on lore for the individual planets or shaders for the various materials or the UI for the various ships, they all chatter excitedly about what they’ve been working on and the things they’re excited to reveal to the community. They’re active on the Star Citizen sub-Reddit, they talk actively on the official forums, use community content on the weekly videos, and they hold a weekly Twitch broadcast designed specifically to answer questions from the community. Star Citizen‘s community has been one of the highlights of the long wait for the full game.
Now, I hear some of you saying, “Why should I pay a million dollars to play an unfinished game?” First off, everything currently being “sold” will eventually be purchase-able using in-game currency (and with none of that free-to-play/pay-to-win crap). What currently exists is the ability to pledge money towards the development of the game and be rewarded with these ships in-game later (or sooner, depending on the development stage of the ship you pledge for). You can wait until the full game launches to buy it for the normal $60—and you probably should. As with any early-access game, the development stage is long and often quite boring for the average user. There’s still not a whole lot of real “game” to be played with Star Citizen, and it could be a while until there is. By all means, wait for the game to be completed! Don’t sink money into it because a nerd like me tells you why I’m excited for it.
Because that’s all I’m really trying to say here: I’m really, really excited to play the finished product of Star Citizen. Sure, I’d love for you to share my enthusiasm, but I don’t expect I can do with words what CIG has tried to do with impressive technology, genuine enthusiasm, and Mark Hamill. I hope one day you give the game a chance (maybe on one of the fly free weekends they have regularly!) and maybe sometime I’ll see you in the ‘verse.