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Feature Article

How Star Citizen Plans to do Much of What No Man's Sky Doesn't

Every star a story.

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The problem lies in a glass of booze. The mercenary across the table glances around the bar, then back at us, and tinkers with his wrist-mounted computer device--but he can't seem to grip his glass of pink alcohol. Our co-op partners are millions of miles away in another solar system. They're fighting pirates and careening through a foreign planet's atmosphere. But here, in this bar, at a lonely outpost on planet Delmar, that solitary glitch in the booze is a problem.

"We should have that fixed by tomorrow," Cloud Imperium Games founder Chris Roberts says. "Minor detail, but we should have it fixed."

To some, this meticulous attention to detail might seem excessive. But to Roberts, it's a necessity. It demonstrates Star Citizen's core tenet: the small things are important, even in a massive open world.

Roberts is at Gamescom showing off Update 3.0, the next expansion to Star Citizen, a massive MMO that hopes to combine first-person shooting, dog fighting, piracy, economic trading, and now, interstellar travel. Like Elite: Dangerous and the more recent No Man's Sky, Star Citizen is trying to build a seamless world on myriad planets and the space between them. If all goes according to plan, the bug he just saw will be squashed before his team livestreams the update on August 19--tomorrow night.

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"We want to create texture--an emotional feeling for each location," Roberts says. "We need a history, a sense of place, for each of these worlds. Details are important."

Roberts' Gamescom demo begins in several places: a bed aboard a space station; a ship in the docking bay several floors below; an outpost waylaid by pirates on a distant planet under a star-spattered sky. For one Cloud Imperium member, the moment is tranquil. For her partners, it's chaos. One plays a first-person shooter, the next experiences a flight simulator, the next wanders around a hub town much like he might in a role-playing game.

In real life, they're sitting in a room together. But in Star Citizen, they're light years apart, playing cooperatively nonetheless.

So, they decide to meet up. The first player--we'll call him the Freelancer--consults his smart watch, sifting through various side quests and potential storylines to find a suitable job. And there it is: a mercenary on the space station Levski needs cargo delivered through means of questionable legality. The freelancer agrees to the task and makes for Port Alasar's docking bay.

We need a history, a sense of place for each of these worlds. Details are important.

Chris Roberts, Cloud Imperium founder

Here he finds the second player: a friend we'll call the Pilot. He has a two-person ship waiting in the hangar to take the duo to another system. They board the ship, leave their current station, and enter the vacuum of space. The pilot plots a course on his star map. He triggers the quantum drive. They leap forward at a speed faster than light toward the planet Delmar and the promise of payment for a job well done.

"We're actually moving in this space," Roberts says, eyes darting between each of the players' respective screens. "These aren't in-game warps disguised by animations. We're not cheating here."

Soon enough, the two arrive at Delmar and land in Levski's docking bay. The Pilot stays with the ship. The Freelancer heads for the saloon. There he finds the mercenary--the one who can't grip his glass--and learns the location of the "lost" cargo. In the courtyard outside the bar, the Freelancer pauses to examine his surroundings. Several people mill about the statue of a fallen hero. "Remember Antony Tanaka," a plaque reads. It's like Roberts said: "A history, a sense of place." A ship enters the Freelancer's line of sight through the window behind the statue. It seems the Pilot grew restless and needed time for a joyride.

Meanwhile, the other two players--we'll call them the Pioneers--are on a barren planet scarred by rocky gorges. They're firing assault rifle rounds into the open doorway of a pirate hideout. They can't see their enemies, but a crosshair indicator reassures them they're hitting something.

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This planet is one of thousands that Cloud Imperium is creating. While No Man's Sky uses its tech to generate new planets as you travel, Star Citizen uses procedural generation to build the skeleton of specific planets before artists fill in the vital details. There are far fewer planets in Star Citizen--the studio is aiming for about 100 solar systems, each containing an average of five planets with their own moons as well--but Roberts and his team are working to ensure that each planet is worth exploring and returning to.

Despite No Man's Sky's technical achievements and gargantuan size (around 18 quintillion planets), detractors point to its lack of memorable moments as its chief downfall. With Star Citizen, Roberts says there will be side quests, distinct landmarks, new characters, and more to find on each rock's surface. Cloud Imperium is also aiming for "Crysis-like visual fidelity" on each one.

"No Man's Sky does a really cool thing with its planet-building tech, and it uses it well," Roberts says. "But the coolest thing it does, to me, is that seamless transition between the planet and space. We're aiming for that seamlessness, too. Once you exit the atmosphere, we want you already thinking about where you'll head next."

The firefight with the pirates continues for a few minutes. Then, as the Pioneers prepare to enter the structure, they look to the night sky. And there they are: the Freelancer and the Pilot, hurtling through the planet's atmosphere, straight toward the pirate stronghold. All of a sudden, a small speck emerges from the rear of the ship--it would seem the Freelancer found a hoverbike at Levski and wanted to try it out.

Once you exit a planet's atmosphere, we want you already thinking about where you'll head next.

Chris Roberts, Cloud Imperium founder

"We got in a dogfight with pirates on the way down," the Pilot tells his friends. Roberts saw it, too: it was like the turret scene from Star Wars. His eyes darted between the players' screens as the Freelancer manned the turret and the Pilot fired his forward-mounted cannons. They dispatched of the pirates and rushed to their co-op partners' aid.

As a newly formed team, the Freelancer and the Pioneers enter the complex, secure the cargo, load it aboard the Pilot's ship, and receive their payment through their respective wrist-mounted computers. Two of them travelled millions of actual in-game miles to get here. Two of them spent their time aiming down assault-rifle sights, killing pirates whose cohorts ambush any ship bold enough to enter this planet's orbit. This was a cooperative quest played across a span of light years, on planets that players will not just discover, Roberts says, but also remember when Update 3.0 launches later this year.

However, considering Star Citizen is a work-in-progress driven by constant crowdfunding, it's hard to tell when and if these claims will come to fruition.

"Exploring on its own can be great," he says, finally taking his eyes off the four screens surrounding him. "But we're trying to create something else. Something human in you needs something more to connect to. That's what we're looking for."

Now if only he could figure out the problem with that mercenary's drink.

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Mike Mahardy

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392 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for p1p3dream

Haters gonna hate.

Avatar image for TaylorAP13

Why is this game being compared to No Man's Sky when they have completely different ideals behind them? No Man's Sky is a game about making history, where as Star Citizen is much more about playing in an open world with a story already inserted. Sure No Man's Sky has a story, but it's not the main feature of the game. No Man's Sky is a lot more Minecraft in space where as Star Citizen is much more Skyrim/Fallout in space. The only similarity, they are in space. I think No Man's Sky's is getting bad press now because people made a ton of ASSUMPTIONS as to what the game would be. Most of the issues people have been having are because their PC's don't meet the minimum requirements. Sorry, small rant because this "rivalry" they are attempting to build is ridiculous.

Avatar image for bigdegs

@TaylorAP13: I could never understand the hype around No Man's Sky. Sure, the tech they were building for procedural planets was somewhat impressive for its trailblazing.

But, there is a rule in video gaming creation: the wider you go, the shallower you get. It's the reason the huge push over the last few years for open world games has worried me. We're starting to see the fatigue set in now.

You can't go much wider than quintillions of star systems. You can only mitigate the rule so much with new dev tools.

Star Citizen is attempting to go both wide and deep. Yet, even though they are restricting their goal to 100 star systems, look at how many people, how much time, and how many new tools it is taking to achieve that goal. They have four main studios, with a combined workforce of over 300 people. Even so, they outsource a lot of work (mostly art). They have been pioneering several pieces of tech to try to speed things up. And they're already 2 years past their original release date with no full release in sight. They should have one full star system by the end of this year, and even that won't be fully populated.

Anyone with common sense could have told you the pitfalls of No Man's Sky and why it was predestined to be a failure. Hell, I've invested $130 in Star Citizen and I half expect never to see the finished game. I fully accept that I may lose that investment. Which is why it scares me that many people have thrown thousands, or even tens of thousands at the game, blindly.

Moral of the story: blind faith doesn't work well in any area of life, video gaming included.

Avatar image for moriwenne

@TaylorAP13: Let me try and fix NMS for you. See if you agree.

Player needs to be on a planet.

Players needs to have a reason to explore the planet.

As he explores the player needs to have a sense of progression (equipment, stats).

As the player progresses new experiences need to happen (new materials, places, recipes, quests).

As the player explores and progresses the player needs to have a goal (build something? reach a certain place?).

After all of the above has been achieved player needs to be able to fly into space and explore some more.

Now player needs to have all of the above but in space, that is, progression, exploration, building, a goal.

Then player needs to go to a new planet and all of the above continues, the progression, the novelty.

By this point all of the gameplay mechanics are probably exhausted so you'll need story and a different environment to make moving forward a worthwhile experience.

By this point most of the game has been revealed to you and only new content would make it interesting to continue and new content needs to be crafted by artists. Two or three planets with all of the above would already make NMS a fantastic game. The fact that it still has 90 bazillion planets to go to is a completely irrelevant feature.

Even basic minecraft did all of this. Straight away they tell you to make stuff to survive. Then you decide to build shelter. Then you want to explore to find the things you need. Then you get new recipes and need to find the ingredients. As you explore for those you find new things that are used to build new items. As you do these things you have a hard time surviving maybe even die and have to prepare a little better. Then you explore a cave and something unexpected happens. Then you travel to a certain biome and everything looks different and you immediately start wondering what you'll find there, that you'll need, that is new. You're now far away from home and decide to build a new shelter. Then you decide to build a transit system between your two homes. All of this while having A MILLION INVENTORY SLOTS!

In conclusion: Survive, craft, build, explore. That's what people want but in space. If you can add a story and some rpg elements (star citizen) that's even better. But NMS fails at survive, fails at craft, fails at build and fails at explore. Also fails at combat, story and rpg. The only thing it doesn't fail at is the seamless travel between planet and space. Not enough.

Avatar image for deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

This reminds me, gotta go throw couple of hundred dollars more on that game.

Avatar image for Sgt-Damain

@groowagon:Or, you could wait until it comes out, read some reviews, and then decide if you want it.

Guess that never occurred to you though...

Avatar image for deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

@Sgt-Damain: Or i can keep on enjoying it right now. Yeah, that's what i think i'll do.

Avatar image for so_hai

Always talking of what will be...

Avatar image for cpuchess

@so_hai: Nothing wrong with that..

Avatar image for so_hai

@cpuchess: There isn't if you have confidence in them, but you'll still be waiting and waiting...

Avatar image for AyatollaofRnR

I don't think you shilled enough for SC in this article.

and Squadron 42, supposed to come out this year and no where in sight.

Avatar image for nurnberg

Even if this game eventually come out, we can't trust the reviews. The game has such an extreme rate of fanboyism that they'll no doubt make a campaign to give the game a good score. Star Citizen is basically a cult. For that reason, I'll never get the game, regardless of what the fanboys claim. The game could be a 3/10 piece of crap and the cultists would still claim it's GOTY.

Avatar image for askanison40

So let me get this straight Sparky? Anyone who likes something you don't like is a cult? You're all kinds of "special" aren't you? So in your small, limited world-view, are Star Wars fans a cult? Are Marvel and DC fans a cult? How about a specific Football team's fans. Are they a cult? People running around falling into manholes and crashing cars from playing Pokemon-Go is perfectly fine and sane but backing Star Citizen? Oh, there's something wrong with those people. WtF? When did really being into something change from being a hobby to a cult? I must have missed that memo.

To date, I haven't heard one (not one) ounce of constructive criticism toward Star Citizen. What I have heard for its 3 Years, 10 months of active development is a bunch of BS from people who know absolutely nothing about the game. And for some reason when someone like myself calls out the BS, I'm labeled as being in a cult. Huh? Every time, without fail, that CIG shuts up the naysayers, they find something else to complain about. No one wants to talk about the actual development of the game and the literally thousands of hours of in-depth development videos, Developer Q&A sessions, or the developer studio tours. Nah, let's not talk about the meat and potatoes of the game and instead let's focus on the development funds it's raised or why it isn't out yet.

First, it was "...It's a scam...". Then there was "...there's nothing to play..." And last but not least (and my personal favorite) "...Why is it taking so long..?", "...It's never coming out...". I mean I get it - You self-entitled, spoiled brats are so used to the cookie-cutter, rinse-and-repeat games that have dominated the market for the last two decades, that when a REAL game that actually takes pride in being patient and developing correctly comes along, you don't know what to do with yourselves. Because rushing a game to market has worked out so well for other companies (Tom Clancy's The Division and Watchdogs anyone?) You guys would be funny if you weren't so d*** sad.

Never have I seen so many people concerned about how others spend their own money. Paying $100.00 for a collector's edition pre-order of a game is just fine and dandy with you clowns but paying $45.00 to fund the development of a game that you can influence the direction of said development and play parts of it right now and have access to EVERYTHING in the final game - Oh no, we can't have that. It's a scam. Hahahhahaahahaaa... Yeah... SMH

Shigeru Miyamoto (I doubt most of you will even know who that is without a visit to Wikipedia) once said - "...A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad..."

Avatar image for kronox2

@askanison40: I like this minus the Pokemon Go comments. It is not the majority of people playing Pokemon Go that are falling into manholes or crashing cars. It was the most popular mobile game and a lot of people have hatred towards it, because of it's popularity. The news is a business not a service. Pokemon Go is the perfect thing to blow up into something horrible, because there are a lot of emotions surrounding it and a lot of people who for some reason I can't understand that get pissed off about people enjoying pokemon and can't wait for any reason to say pokemon is bad. The news feeds off the emotions of these people.

Avatar image for marius_arilius

@askanison40: THANK YOU! This sums up all my frustrations with people like him. Keep up the fight my friend!

Avatar image for deactivated-57bcc1891a93a

@nurnberg: k, stay silly.

Avatar image for Cillerboy

@nurnberg: Don't you have reviewers you trust? You can't judge the quality of a game based on how childish its fanbase may be.

Avatar image for DAOWAce

Release date for ambitions: 2025.

Release date to make money: 2017.

Avatar image for BadAshJL

Since no one has linked to the actual video of the presentation yet here it is:

This is a good indicator of where the game is going, This will be coming out by end of year with much more content than is shown in the video as well. Worth a watch.

Avatar image for dnsfw_jamus

considering how little is actually there (yes there's a lot of content, but there's not a lot of *differences* in that content) it shouldn't be difficult

Avatar image for suncato

Meh, the game doesn't look that good anyway. The hype is retarded.

Avatar image for DEATHWlSH

The graphics alone make this better than No Man's Sky IMO. But if it's not for consoles, it's useless for a gamer like me.

Avatar image for dnsfw_jamus

@DEATHWlSH: Isn't this coming out for ps4? i forget

Avatar image for ccgod

@dnsfw_jamus: Star Citizen if it would ever come to consoles would be the next generation the ps4 and xbox1 can't support the size of it

Avatar image for SythisTaru

@ccgod: I don't think it's that big lol. It's an indie game.

Avatar image for ccgod

@SythisTaru: The size is the quality the game can achieve its too advanced for current consoles. The estimated file size for this game at launch is over 300gigs. Star Citizen is an AAA production title its hardly the indie games you pick up off steam or NMS

Avatar image for dyshonest

@ccgod: lol "quality" of the game. What are you smoking?



Oh my god LOL.

Avatar image for ccgod

@dyshonest: ? the game is going to be the largest hand crafted game ever to exist and is going to deliver on what it said it would. I'm sorry console games are cut to pieces to resell as DLC and that NMS is an indie game that got sold as full price I'm sure that guy will take his money and run considering it has less content then they showed over 4 months ago

Avatar image for Jooj

A far fairer article might have been "How Sky Citizen doesn't do much of what No Man's Sky Doesn't and a lot NMS already does which Sky Citizen doesn't do either"

Avatar image for babaelc

You guys have to realize that as more assets are produced, the actual construction of new systems will speed up a lot. The initial phase is always the slowest.

Avatar image for baral-o

I must say it looks interesting but even if I had a strong PC, I would not play this since its a MMO, I prefer single player games with a good story problem is that I love games set in space with space battles and so on, but PS4 has non (good ones that is) I need a new colony wars

Avatar image for Fanible

@baral-o: So just buy the single player campaign, which the game has. You actually can do that, and at a discount price. You can buy Star Citizen as a whole, which includes a massive single player campaign and the MMO for $60, or you can buy either of these separately for $45. If you feel like getting the other component, you can upgrade for $15 at a later time. They give you the option to do this, so if the consumer is someone like yourself and has no interest in the MMO aspect, you can get a discount and just play the campaign. Alternatively, if you don't care about single-player experiences, you can just buy the MMO.

Most of the single player campaign's principal shoots have been completed, and includes actors like Mark Hamill, Gary Oldman, John Rhys-Davies, and Gillian Anderson (among many others). I'm hoping it will be good, fingers crossed. Video games aren't typically known for having great stories, but this is definitely one to keep an eye on if you're a fan of single-player games.

Avatar image for gladiator9

@baral-o: Well actually Star Citizen has a full single player campaign aswell called Squadron 42.

Avatar image for galla

Anyone registering on with referral code: STAR-2KZP-MKNK will automatically get 5,000 UEC (virtual currency) to spend in game.

Avatar image for luert

I must say this project is starting to become so big that by the time they finish it I might become grandad, meaning 20 years or so, now maybe I'm exagerating but I've got the feeling I'm not (=

Avatar image for ccgod

@luert: The first player part will be done much sooner the PSU will never be completed like any successful MMO it just keeps growing. Also modders will be able to play on their own servers which they could potentially make everything star wars or star trek if they wished.

Avatar image for samneric

@luert: I've told you a MILLION times to stop exaggerating :)

Avatar image for mohabnoto

guys you should be careful about what you are asking for , games with that scale will end up disappointing you , we don't need infinite number of planets ,we just need one single planet made well and full with content and I am happy with that

Avatar image for deactivated-57bcc1891a93a

@mohabnoto: a game about space with only a single planet?

Avatar image for merwanor

@mohabnoto: Well it does not have an infinite number of planets, read the article. It clearly says about 100 solar systems with about 5 planets each, give or take.

Avatar image for mohabnoto

@merwanor: I know that , I am taking about NMS . However , what I mean is that people most not focus on how big the game map is .