I mentioned in a previous post that I was a huge space ship nerd. That’s completely true. When we’re talking about sci-fi one of the principal aspects I look at is the space ships; their design, their capabilities, and their size. And my favorite dreams place me as the captain of one of these vessels, fighting pirates or smuggling goods or even just exploring the deepest and wildest regions of space for science. During my PAXEast post I dedicated plenty of words to Dreadnought, the up-coming capital ship-based PvP game by Gear Box. While scouring the web for a decent-enough video that actually showed off its gameplay I stumbled upon a phrase more than a few times: Star Citizen. And I have to say; once I did some digging I completely fell in love.
What is Star Citizen? To put it romantically, it’s the most ambitious and expansive crowdfunded space sim I have ever heard of. There are two aspects of it; a single-player campaign called Squadron 42 and an MMO-style persistent universe. And the persistent universe is what I’m drooling over. Imagine a sandbox game where you play as a citizen in a galaxy-wide society. You are the captain of a space ship, and you can do whatever you want.
That’s not an exaggeration. Chris Roberts is the head of Cloud Imperium Games (CIG), the company developing this impressive experience, and he promises a massively beautiful galaxy that you can truly live in. You may recognize his name from titles such as Wing Commander and Freelancer (of which Star Citizen is the spiritual successor). If not, know that these games are favorites among many gamers, and Roberts knows how to encapsulate the feeling of space combat and economy very well. And with that comes amazing immersion. Have you always wanted to be Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds? Then you can do that, and spend your days in Star Citizen traversing dangerous sectors with valuable (and sometimes illegal) cargo, fighting pirates and dodging UEE (that’s the United Earth Empire) officials. Prefer ship-to-ship combat and dogfights? Love the idea of being a space Jack Sparrow or Boba Fett? You can do that too! Get together a pirate crew and target freighters for their space booty, or work as a bounty hunter taking the odd job to bring lawless scoundrels back into the arms of the law.
And it doesn’t have to stop with those options, either. Maybe you like the idea of running escort for freighters but not carrying your own cargo yourself; you could sell your services to a smuggling captain. Fancy exploring the unknown? Then grab a ship with long-range jump capabilities and discover new travel routes or resources and offer your knowledge to the highest bidder. Just about whatever you can think of is possible within the world (or rather, galaxy) of Star Citizen. Your only goal is to successfully make a living among the stars. And you can do that while interacting with NPCs and other players. Best part is that if you get attacked by a group of pirates or get a bounty target you have no idea whether those individuals are NPCs or not. Presumably their actions may clue you in, but the game will not tell you who is at the controls of that ship.
The persistent universe that you play in will be a living, breathing thing. CIG will be releasing dynamic content constantly in order to keep things fresh and give you something to actually live within. But the overall experience is a sandbox on a galactic scale. At the start there will be approximately 400 custom-designed systems to visit, all of them with their own unique stories and history. For example, the Nemo system has a planetoid orbiting Nemo III which looks exactly like a terrestrial whale. It’s become a tourist trap, complete with “I saw the Space Whale!” T-shirts and overpriced food.
If you’re a physics major you’ll probably like this next part; Star Citizen‘s physics engine employs accurate Newtonian physics. So what does that mean in really simple terms? Well, in a “normal” video game movement of a ship is pre-programmed in based on the user’s input to work a certain way. So, if I wanted to strafe to the left I would press the button which strafes me to the left and the game would strafe the ship in that direction, complete with appropriate thruster or engine effects to make it look like the thrusters moved me in that direction. But in Star Citizen it doesn’t work like that. The thrusters actually move me by interacting with the physics engine. If I want to strafe left my right-mounted thrusters will fire. The physics engine then calculates how much force those thrusters are applying to my ship, and in what direction, and moves my ship based off that math. The game doesn’t tell the ship to move so much as the physics engine determines whether the ship should move. If one of those thrusters were damaged in a battle then the ship’s movements would be affected, so perhaps instead of strafing left I’d actually strafe left and slightly back since one thruster isn’t doing its job. I’d then have to apply the proper amount of forward thrust to counteract that force pushing me backwards.
And that’s just one example of how in-depth the physics engine is. Being a space ship means you can also do other things that a plane in atmosphere can’t do. You can turn your ship 180° to fire back at an attacker while keeping your forward momentum. You can hard break before hitting an asteroid, change your heading while remaining stationary, and continue moving in a new direction without having to make a wide turn. The game has the full six degrees of movement you’d expect from a space simulator. Don’t make the same mistake Khan did; you’ll need to start thinking in three dimensions. And you run the risk of your pilot temporarily blacking out and losing control if you bank too sharply or pull out of a steep dive too quickly.
Intrigued? I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet; the space ship porn.
The subsidiary of CIG that is directly developing Star Citizen is Roberts Space Industries (RSI). They have, by my understanding, approximately 300 individuals working on Star Citizen around the clock. And some of those developers are designing absolutely beautiful ships. There are dozens of ship designs already completed, many of which you can see here in this post, and in Star Citizen there are multiple ship manufacturers competing for customers just like car manufacturers today. CIG has even released commercials for various models, things that real people within the universe may watch. The Freelancer commercial (made by Musashi Industrial & Starflight Concern, or MISC) is easily my favorite, and is shot like a present-day Ford truck commercial complete with gruff-voiced narrator.
You’ll need one of these ships to get around the ‘Verse, and what ship you fly will be dependent on what you want to do. The M50 is a fast interceptor, so if speed is your game then consider focusing your efforts on that. The Hornet is a strong single-pilot fighter, and its multiple variants make it suitable for stealth missions, patrol, or superiority fighting. My personal ship has already been decided; a Freelancer I’ll be calling Errant Mercury. I’ll be playing as a smuggler and space trucker, depending on which side of the law I can find credits on, and the Freelancer’s cargo space, smaller profile than other freighters, and defensive capabilities make it perfect for my tastes. Plus it looks kickass and gives me a strong Serenity vibe, so there’s that.
I’m going to assume you’re interested now, and as such you’re probably asking how you can play this game. At the moment Star Citizen is still in alpha, and donating to RSI by donating a certain dollar amount will give you access to the current game and allow you view your ships in the Hangar Module or dogfight against NPCs and other players in the Arena Commander module. An FPS module for ground combat is expected soon as well. That’s right; I said donating. You see, RSI has set up a pledging system for fans looking to help the game develop. By pledging a certain amount of money you are funding the game’s development. RSI then thanks you for your pledge by giving you access to a ship for your character. Depending on the ship’s current development status you are either able to fly it now or you’ll have to wait a bit for the ship to be fleshed out more.
Yes, a number of pledge packages will cost you quite a bit of money. But as with anything it is you choice to make a pledge now or wait for the game’s release. What concerns me is how stuck on the money so many other reviewers seem to be. As user paulus1978 mentions on Reddit, “the thing that stands out is that nobody other than the outsiders cares about the money.” And that’s completely true in my experience. Those who have pledged; what we call citizens, did so because they want to help fund the game (and perhaps fell in love with a ship or two). Nothing more. It’s the “outsiders” who scoff at the money some people have spent. But we’re talking about responsible adults here; they can do whatever they want with their cash.
Every single ship in the game can be purchased using in-game currency after Star Citizen is released. There are and will be no ships that you need to acquire now or else you’ll never see them. Star Citizen is not pay-to-win, and nothing anyone gets now will be unavailable later. If you want to pledge today and join a growing community of over 860,000 individuals who are ready to bring the Star Citizen experience to life then please do so; the cheapest pledge package will get you a ship and access to everything in the alpha as it develops, and all for less than the cost of a AAA title. Just remember that the game is still in alpha. That means bugs and problems are relatively common. You need to expect this will happen, because the game isn’t completed yet. So if you want to wait for the game to be fully released before you make a purchase then feel free; that’s a completely valid decision that will not leave you terribly affected.
Would you like to know more?
I’d suggest you check out the subreddit for daily discussions and thoughts from long-time members of the community. There are also many amazing podcasts and video blogs where you can delve deeper into the game than I could ever do. Tales of Citizens is one such podcast which I am slowly working through. Beyond that, Google is always your friend, and of course the official Star Citizen website is there waiting. Hopefully I’ll run into a few of you around the ‘Verse. I just hope none of you will be interested in my cargo.