Recent game development has been controversial, with big publishers like EA and Activision emphasizing micro-transactions, which has created millions of disappointed fans.
Traditional game development includes developers, a publisher, and a production pipeline. Many studios are not very transparent about their process for various reasons.
On the other end of that game development spectrum is Cloud Imperium Games.
Led by Chris Roberts, the video game Star Citizen is a crowdfunding success story. The game is in late-stage pre-alpha with almost 2,000,000 “Star Citizens”.
How did CIG use tech to change the game development process?Star Citizen Redefines #GameDev With TechClick To Tweet
A Brief Intro to Star Citizen’s Origins
Star Citizen became the largest recipient of crowdfunding in games of 2017 through commercials. Well, not the kind you’d find on tv. They mimic car ads and Top Gear. This one, for the M50 gets the top shelf treatment and resembles an F1 car.
Along with the M50, The Reclaimer (pictured above) is one of many Star Citizen ships available. Other Star Citizen Ships include the Consolidated Outland Mustang. It resembles the ship of Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop.
These unique, niche Star Citizen ships designs and commercials do more than advertise and provoke nostalgia. They served as a direct revenue source for crowdfunding. Users could pay real money for ships they would get later with full functionality.
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As of February 2, 2018, the game has raised $177.8-million USD completely independent of a big name publisher.
One of the reasons for this is Chris Roberts’ experience on past games with EA. Experience on his title Wing Commander left a sour taste in his mouth. By having financial independence, Roberts, CIG, and RSI can have total creative freedom.
But they can also interact with the community to listen to their needs and wishes. This is evident in the “Around the Verse” updates the team posts on YouTube. CIG is very transparent about the game development and even walks through bug fixes.
Beyond non-traditional funding, Star Citizen pushes the boundaries of tech for a better gaming experience.
Who Needs VoIP When you Can FoIP Instead?
Though many promises were vague in the crowdfunding process, CIG had lofty goals. Among those goals was something called “Faceware”.
Roberts spoke about the “Face Over Internet Protocol” feature in 2017 saying:
“Our players’ facial expressions will be translated onto their avatars’ face. Combine that with a player’s voice correctly positioned in the virtual world, and you have the most lifelike player-to-player communication ever.”
This means that you can communicate in real time with your own face in-game. It’s 2018 y’all; this stuff is wild!
While some, like Polygon’s Allegra Frank, found the experience a bit unnerving, I think it’s fascinating. Unfortunately, FoIP is slated to release on patch 3.1, but this may change. Still, this kind of futuristic tech is not showing up as robustly in other video games.
The procedural generation of planets is also something other games sought to do. Most notably, No Man’s Sky attempted this feat but fell short. It is also rumored that Mass Effect: Andromeda wanted something similar to this, but had to scale way down.
I do have to echo Kotaku’s Mike Fahey on this: the transition from planet to space is so cool. The “Planetary Landing” module only launched in Star Citizen 3.0. But it portends great things yet to come.
Score one for Star Citizen. Apart from one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns of all time. Oh, and the super cool Star Citizen ships and hilarious commercials. And the insanely cool lore you can find on this website. I could go on.
The Tech Underneath Squadron 42 and Those Graphics
Originally called into question by a high profile refund bid, the single player Squadron 42 trailer dropped in 2018. User Philip Schulz requested a refund of his $25,000 USD saying in Dec. 2017 that Squadron 42 was not on CIG’s radar anymore.
Star Citizen has since provided further transparency with Squadron 42 updates. But when everything is working as intended, the game defies logic. The graphics are unreal and the world feels truly open and alive. Sometimes, disturbingly so in the void of space.
As Reddit user Firebird242 suggests, Roberts must have access to advanced tech.
The reference to Warhammer 40K is difficult to explain, but you get the scope of the question in context. How to heck does CIG get those wonderful graphics?
Another user, Bagimus, goes onto explain the mysterious tech of CIG.
As Bagimus points out, if you want to experience Star Citizen, you better have a great rig. Optimization is usually something that comes during the “Beta” phase of a game release. But patch 3.0 saw more stability than previous patches. I only crash every 30 minutes now.
But that’s the joy of playing a game in alpha: being a QA tester of sorts. You also get an inside look at the developer changes if you play AND watch “Around the Verse”. Thanks to their transparency, you can see real-time changes, build by build.
In tandem with their FoIP, the choice to switch to AWS’s Lumberyard engine means leveraging new tech. Lumberyard’s royalty free engine model is built on the same code base as their old engine, CryEngine.
Digital Trends got in touch with CIG’s Carl Jones to talk about the change. Jones spoke cryptically about how CIG would use AWS services.
“We have built our game since day one to take advantage of cloud computing and have always run our platform and game environments on cloud platforms. We’re live on AWS now and taking advantage of AWS features in many ways.”
V useful, my guy.
Modular Development, APIs, and Optimization
CIG engaged in modular development for Star Citizen. This means that the development team targeted specifics areas of the game before moving to another objective. Bit by bit, the game came into focus with the Hangar Module first.
What followed was the Arena Commander and Star Marine modules. The 3.0 patch saw the release of “Planetary Landings” which debuted exactly that. This module also allowed for mining for resources on said planets.
By breaking things down into digestible bites, the teams can better tackle Roberts’ evolving vision. This also allows for more cool Star Citizen ships to emerge from the dev team.
CIG also uses APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, which can do many things. For Star Citizen, it could mean improved performance which, mentioned above, is a concern. The developers plan to incorporate the Vulkan API over DirectX12 or DirectX11.
The inclusion of the Vulkan API could open up mid-range PC owners to the Star Citizen experience. This forward thinking toward future optimization is something I, as a gamer and techie, would like to see other devs incorporate.
Are you thinking of Bioware? Because I’m thinking of Bioware. And maybe Firaxis Games XCOM 2 is STILL buggy as heck on my GTX-1060 with 16 gbs of ram.
Is Star Citizen the Future of Gaming?
Despite its transparency and future-oriented mindset, Star Citizen is not without its drama.
Perhaps due to its high profile development, Star Citizen has drawn some ire. Derek Smart, a known enemy of Chris Roberts, has repeatedly targeted the project. Other users exaggerated their refund amounts to the tune of $45,000 instead of the real $330.
Many backers have become dissatisfied with the progress on Star Citizen. Similarly to Elon Musk, Roberts is uncompromising in his vision. Despite the transparency of the studio, any fan would grow frustrated after years of seeming inertia.
Other outlets have also written about “Star Citizen’s troubled development process”. On top of these concerns, Crytek, the old engine, sued the game company. This relates to the fact that CIG transferred from CryEngine to Amazon’s Lumberyard in 2016.
Despite this “bad press”, Star Citizen still receives consistent funding per their live stats. Almost 2-million “Star Citizens” (including myself) have contributed to the game, believing in Roberts’ vision and methods.
But beyond how grindy a game is or how underwhelming its loot boxes, Star Citizen illuminates something lost in games lately. That thing is wonder, excitement — hope. It’s a cheesy thing to suggest, but search your feelings. You know it to be true.
Forward Momentum & Potential Diversification
Independent studios such as Larian Studios, NinjaTheory, and formerly Respawn Entertainment courted many fans. Their projects, not backed by big publishers, saw immense success in 2016 and 2017.
Unlike these, however, Star Citizen is still a crowdfunding project. The Star Citizen ships and other various “buy-ins” continue to be a revenue stream. As a result of the fan dedication, CIG responds in kind with new updates.
CIG shows continued progress moving into 3.1 with a new roadmap for objective completion. Bigger than the question of future game development is what else could CIG do with their tech?
Maybe they could license their FoIP or game structure to other people/companies. Similarly to how Musk diversified into batteries, Roberts could find unique ways to further his Star Citizen vision.
Regardless of trajectory, the crowdfunding and tech focus will carry CIG and Star Citizen into the future.
An Update From the Edgy Labs Team to its Audience
Update: This article originally misreported Star Citizen news by omitting the word “Trailer” in the sentence: “Originally called into question by a high profile refund bid, the single player Squadron 42 trailer dropped in 2018.” This kind of lapse is not acceptable and this writer vows to perform better for the Edgy Labs readership in the future.
I was also unclear when I said that “mining” had been implemented. NPCs are currently the only way to access “mining” features. Player-based mining is yet to be incorporated into the playable version of Star Citizen. This lack of context misrepresents the game’s development and features. When reporting on an in-development project, this is unacceptable.
Also, many have commented about development inaccuracies reported in this article. I’m always down to have more information presented to me! I reported what I found in my research both on the RSI and CIG websites, Star Citizen Reddits, and other outlets such as Polygon, PCGamer, and more.
I also found several tools to follow development in that research. A few can be found on the RSI website, but these may not be neutral enough. You can follow an independent, crowdsourced “Star Citizen Tracker”.
Developer Tracker also has one that operates similarly to a forum.
Thank you for your passionate responses and comments. We will always welcome them and move forward in collaborative and responsive ways!