Wing Commandeered: Chris Roberts’ Star Citizen

By Richard Cobbett on October 10th, 2012 at 3:00 pm.

In space, nobody can hear you alt-text. Which isn't to say you should alt-text if you see the Alien. Just go straight to killing it with fire, or possibly shooting yourself so that you don't have to worry about facehuggers any more.
We sent Richard Cobbett to find out what the man who made Wing Commander is now working on. Turns out it’s a PC-only space game. And it looks incredible.

I’m sitting in a room, definitely not watching Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts playing a new Wing Commander game. No, it’s the brand new, totally original Star Citizen [the single player aspect of which is called Squadron 42, for some reason – Ed], and as I watch him fly a fighter with no resemblance whatsoever to the Raptor with a Broadsword turret out of a carrier’s launchbay and into the never before seen Vega Sector, I don’t for a second pause to notice how he totally isn’t flying past one of the Kilrathi’s asymmetric Dralthi fighters. Or anything else that might require an expensive license or getting into bed with EA.

In short, Star Citizen is absolutely not Wing Commander 6, Privateer 3 or Freelancer 2. It is however all of their children in a blender. In a good way, of course.

But first, watch this:

Everything in the Star Citizen demo is very obviously there as a nostalgic hook to Roberts’ longtime fans, to the extent that the logo for the space combat portion of Star Citizen currently uses the Wing Commander font. I’d be stunned if the final game follows suit though (not least because I can’t imagine EA letting it go unchallenged), and the actual universe underneath it is very different to any of Roberts’ past space games.

Here’s the hook. Instead of an intergalactic war, Star Citizen focuses on what’s essentially the fall of Rome on an intergalactic scale – in real terms, a dynamic online galaxy with barbarians at the gates, and you and your fellow players trying to hold off the collapse.

Crap, this ladder is nowhere near long enough.
The game’s name comes from the fact that in this universe, citizenship has to be earned. How you go about it though is completely up to you. If you want that Wing Commander flavour, sign up for a tour of duty in the military and you can focus on combat in a solo/co-op part of the universe. For more freedom, grab a ship and just do your own thing, Privateer/Freelancer style, only within a living economy and ever-expanding universe of mystery and intrigue, only with players instead of just NPCs and no one jerk getting to hog the Steltek gun.

As you’d expect, it’s not a safe galaxy. Police will deter, though not prevent PvP in safer areas, but there’s nothing to stop you taking a pop at anyone you don’t like whenever you think you can get away with it. Combat is set to be entirely skill driven, with no MMO style levels. You’ll be able to buy and strap better gear onto your ship, but it’ll usually come with a flip-side. A big gun may soak up power for instance, so you only get one shot, or a heavy shield generator may lower your speed and manoeuvrability and leave you vulnerable to a more nimble attacker.

Wait, we've got spaceships and jump drives, but we still need a guy to wave his arms so we know it's safe to take off? Can't we just rehire Sparks from Wing Commander 2?

And that’s just the start. If Roberts manages to implement all the features he wants, Star Citizen will be one of the greatest space games ever. You’ll be able to host your own universes for instance, as in Freelancer, mod or add your own spaceships and submit them to the main game for other people to buy. You’re never going to be able to sell the Starship Enterprise as a carrier in the main game, but in your own universe? Just don’t tell Paramount.

Back in the global world, things won’t just be a glorified economy, but a place to explore. Like Wing Commander, systems are linked by jump points. Not all of them will start out explored though. Find a new one and you get to chart it, riding the jump to program the galaxy’s autopilots, and naming it. Within reason, of course. Somehow I doubt there’ll be much interstellar exploration of Penis, Thrrrp and Panties, unless the moderators get bored.

Roberts Space Industries. RSI. Oh, if only there was a double-entendre in that, but I just can't get a grip on one...

I’m reluctant to keep on listing features though, because all this stuff is very much future tense. Star Citizen is still a couple of years away – at least – and as much as I’d love to see everything promised come to fruition and be amazing, I wouldn’t bet against more than a few bits being put on the backburner or falling through the Molyneux Gap during development. The single-player campaign in particular (which in keeping with Star Citizen’s slightly shaky grasp on what makes for a cool sounding name is called “Squadron 42″) seems like a great addition for Wing Commander fans, but distinctly snippable if pressed for time.

Roberts does however have working code, showing the space engine, and the parts I got to see were stunning – easily the best looking space sim in raw technical terms, and built to an insane amount of detail. Missile pods lowering before firing. Individual rockets tilting to provide thrust for the physics engine to convert into movement. Flying past the carrier, reminding me of how exciting it was to be able to fly through them for the first time in the later Wing Commander Games, showed it rendered in enough detail to be able to fly up and peer through the bridge windows at the command crew and their funky holographic ball-map thing.

You can't however peek through the shower deck's windows. That's for the next generation of space sims, or possibly DLC.

By far the most impressive bit though was the cockpit. I always liked the classic Wing Commander ones, complete with joystick waggling pilot. Now, that cockpit is fully interactive. Not only does he (and I’m assuming there’ll be an option for a ‘she’ in the actual game, but not being a games journalist, Roberts had opted for a guy in the demo) presses buttons, pushes pedals and actually uses the systems around him. It’s modelled to the level that if his hand is away from the main controls to press a button, you’re temporarily unable to do anything else that hand is responsible for. That’s awesome detail. Cockpit views are the best views.

Star Citizen is also firmly a PC game, with a capital PC. No console version is planned, allowing for all the 2-million poly cockpits and shiny details like hoses bouncing away under wings that the art team could possibly want. It’s also due to support the Occulus Rift for full immersion, and features out of the cockpit action too. Like Roberts’ previous games, there won’t be full planetary exploration, but you will get to wander a seriously high-polygon avatar around parts of carriers and hopefully representational slices of various far-flung destinations. In this tech demo, that was just a carrier dock – deserted, though due to be filled with ambient action later on. I’d love to see that expanded to proper social hubs themed around world types.

The most unrealistic thing about Wing Commander and its spin-offs was the taunting system. If you had the ability to send videograms to your enemies in the middle of combat, would you really send your *face?*

Roberts has funded the game thus far via private investors, though as suspected, there’s a crowd-funding element to Star Citizen as well. It’s not going to be through Kickstarter though, instead going for a more fictionalised form of funding – with real money of course – themed around the idea of pre-ordering your spaceship. Factoring in future inflation then, expect to have to stump up roughly $74,050,300 for early alpha access. Or, quite possibly, not.

At the time of writing there was no indication of how much Roberts and his new company Roberts Space Industries hope to raise, but a cheapie retro revival this is not. Star Citizen may be Roberts returning to his personal gaming roots after several years working in film, but it’s with a project that wants to take a firm step forward for a long stagnant genre. That’s reason enough to be optimistic and eager to see just how Star Citizen evolves from here, even if we will be waiting a couple of years to see it make its big shot for both the stars and stardom.

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155 Comments »

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  1. derbefrier says:

    This.. this is just exceptional. It sounds like the space sim I have always wanted to play. I have never supported a kickstarter or anything like it but this but this guy is getting my money as soon as i get home, now excuse me while i nerdgasm all over my keyboard.

  2. cronach says:

    Mark my words, space sims will soon be the new WW2/zombie game. I actually can’t wait.

    Anyone notice the name of the ships/systems in the long-version trailer?? Amazing. The name of the Bengali Class Carrier (same class as the Tiger’s Claw!!!!!) is the USS Paul Steed – awesome. RIP Paul.

  3. gschmidl says:

    Gentlemen (and ladies), start your credit cards.

    http://backup-eu.robertsspaceindustries.com/

  4. RakeShark says:

    Ah man, you were there too Richard? I was too, might have seen me with the block M cap, Banner Saga shirt and puffy vest.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      At GDC? No, I’m staring at grey skies from my study window. Saw a demo of it last week in That London, but was sworn to secrecy until the official reveal.

  5. PleasingFungus says:

    Wow, game that will come out many years from now promised to look great, play great, and have every feature under the sun? This is unprecedented! I am extremely excited by this piece of fluffy hype.

    It could be the best thing since Derek Smart’s Desktop Commander!

  6. Bob says:

    It’s early days but that does look amazing.
    As long as I can be unsociable and have a singleplay option I’m prepared to throw money at the project.

  7. Greg says:

    Wow, for a second I thought it was out today! Nevertheless, I’ve waiting been for a game like this since…the 90’s I think, no wait, that was 2003 with Freelancer. Coincidentally, another Chris Roberts game. The one thing that I still vividly remember about Freelancer is flying through these hostile star systems like with a neutron star and my shields would start degenerating the moment I arrived. I was absolutely terrified and not because I was being chased by baddies, but the by the immensity of the environment and comparative insignificance of myself in it. That is what a space sim should be about or at least incorporate, the natural dangers of space.
    Anyway, there’s probably an internet meme about me giving money for something, so just imagine that.

  8. The_Great_Skratsby says:

    My word.

  9. RakeShark says:

    See? I told you guys! SQUEEEEEEEE!

  10. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Do. Want.

  11. Blackcompany says:

    So its EVE, but with manual controls, no levels, skill barriers or grinding, & more freedom?

    I am sliding my plastic money card all over my intelligent phone thing, but nothing is happening.

    Sad.

    Still, sign me up please.

  12. Dr_Barnowl says:

    As of 1800 UTC, the main website was reporting $150,000 in pledges raised ; however, it’s not showing the figures from the backup sites they had to put up because their main server was swamped. My order number when I threw my cash in the ring was higher than the number of reported pledges (when it was at $50,000), so I’d guess they have at least double that number – they had a North American “backup” as well, so it may even be treble.

    Between $150,000 and $450,000 of funding in about 2 or 3 hours isn’t too shabby.

  13. Iskariot says:

    I really, really wanted this game…. until I heard that it is another one of those MMO’s.
    I am so disappointed. I want an immersive single player experience. I hate MMO. I want nothing to do with the masses. I want to be alone, with my bits and bytes.

    • Lev Astov says:

      You’ll have your singleplayer too, you non-article-reader/comprehender!

    • Apocalypse says:

      You are getting the guild wars approach. A single player campaign that can be done in coop mode as well, similar to Starlancer and a persistent world for multiplayer. Additional content will be sold as Episodes (aka DLC), again similar to Guild Wars and this content will include additional single player campaigns. Furthermore in the persistent world there will be micro-transactions which enable stuff that you can farm for as well.
      “These purchases won’t offer any advantage over someone who puts in the “game-time” to earn the same amount of credits. You might ask, why have “in-game” purchases at all? This allows us the resources to support the game on an ongoing basis as well as continually add content.”, from their FAQ.

      So much for their current plans. Some stuff may change while development is going on.

    • wodin says:

      The single player isn’t finalised. It’s main focus is an MMO. It seems the SP side of the game is more like a tutorial to the main event. Sad but true. The SP IS NOT S SANDBOX game.

      I also hear the SP game content all depends on the amount raised. Someone quoted 4 million before we get a fully fledged SP game in it’s own right.

      So take it from em the more I hear on forums the less faith I have in the SP game, and anyone who pledged already soley for the Sp side of things may have made a mistake.

      Thats why I’m holding out. Chris even says he wants to create a game where the AI is other players i.e no AI…an MMO. All because during research he saw that many loved Freelancer when he thought he’d be designing for old WC players..so he decided to got the multiplayer MMO route.

      Until I hear exactly what the SP game entails I wont pledge.

  14. Lev Astov says:

    So, who wants to help me mod this to have Homeworld ships in it? I want to be a part of the Taiidan fleet!

  15. abandonhope says:

    Oh hells to the fuck yeah. Is all I have to say.

    Edit: Welp, I tried. I wanted to go for the refund-if-goal-not-met option (Amazon), but the site degraded as I was checking out and the backup site doesn’t have that capability. By the time it’s back up I’m guessing that all the early adopter tiers will be sold out.

  16. Bart Stewart says:

    I’ve been hoping for a rebuild of the space sim for years now. This sounds generally excellent, and the eye candy does not hurt. Some takeaways for discussion:

    1. “I am a PC game.” And I am a PC gamer who thrills to somebody unapologetically targeting the PC platform. Even more so now that the next generation of consoles are trying to lock in AAA games as exclusive launch titles. Hurrah for expansive worlds!

    2. My joystick is so old it’s got a DB-25 connector. (Insert joke here.) Am I really going to have to pony up cash for a replacement peripheral that I will only ever use for this one game?

    3. I also thought the description here sounded like “you can play the military (shooter) career as single-player offline, but not the merchanter (economic) career.” Is that accurate? While I appreciate the difficulty of designing and implementing a fun single-player economy as primary gameplay, what if I really don’t care for PvP, especially the anywhere/anytime non-consensual kind? As another commenter pointed out, a complete and well-designed multiplayer game is not cheap — is that really where the money is for a satisfying space sim?

    4. I loved the sound of the setting. Choosing to resist what you can see as the coming of the Long Night — the decay and collapse of a starfaring civilization (as in Poul Anderson’s wonderful “Flandry” novels) — is a tremendously powerful concept for a worldy computer game. I’m surprised it hasn’t seen more use, and happy to see it referenced here. The “service grants citizenship” element is also intriguing. If it’s a reference to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers novel (not Verhoeven’s “America is fascist” movie of the same name), that’s even better. (The combination of these two elements suggests a certain political edge to Roberts’s new game. That could be fun. :)

    All in all, I’m cautiously eager to hear more about the pieces of Star Citizen. For now, put me down as “yesyesyes.”

  17. Shralla says:

    Sounds like a small-scale Infinity: The Quest for Earth. Considering the overall larger goals of Infinity, I find myself hard-pressed to be excited about this game that won’t be out any sooner.

  18. gallitin says:

    Just funded! Super excited to see where this game ends up. They need to release more fan site images though.

    http://forums.starcitizenbase.com/

  19. Lone Gunman says:

    Really hope they manage to live up to what sounds like a revolutionary game :)

  20. Hoaxfish says:

    Rosebud

  21. luckystriker says:

    The original wing commander was my first favorite pc game of all time. Even though Freespace 2 has since superceded any of Roberts’ space sims in my affections, this is an automatic blind purchase of up to 80 bucks for me.

  22. tkioz says:

    Cockpit views are the best views.

    A-Bloody-Men! “Just the HUD” views are just obnoxious. I’m super excited about this game, and I loved the opening to the video… or the one I saw… “They said I was dead, they said consoles were the future… PC SPACE SIM!!!”

  23. djbriandamage says:

    My children are in a blender and the slurry tastes so good!!

  24. ArrenDusk says:

    I dislike getting too hyped as it’s bit me in the ass before but, my god, this looks and sounds amazing as in something you’d gladly sink hundreds of hours into.

  25. Lemming says:

    I’m very tempted by this. Desperately want to play a space combat sim again.