The perpetually in-development Star Citizen just held its biggest event of the year, CitizenCon 2949, on Saturday in Manchester. No, that isn’t the tired joke about when developers Cloud Imperium Games will finally finish their enormous sci-fi starship showcase. I have some semblance of standards. Gathered fans sneaked a peek at upcoming features, including news systems, planets, and (of course) giant spacecraft highlighted in a two-part, on-stage demo. They also launched another ‘Free Fly’ trial event starting today through December 5th.
A pair of videos crowned the weekend celebration, delivering an extended demo highlighting a number of in-progress features. Some, like new server tech that prevents items and resources from simply disappearing if you travel too far away, will go live with December’s 3.8 build. More extensive goals like server meshing and persistent universe states will take a year or more to implement, according to Cloud Imperium.
It starts aboard an Anvil Carrack, where the demo driver grabbed a cup of future coffee before hopping in a shuttle and into space. If you’ve stumbled into this piece with barely any knowledge of Star Citizen, it’s worth watching just to appreciate the developer’s dedication to detail. The crowd first cheered when the shuttle slowly, slowly lifted out of the top hatch of the Carrack and again when it dropped onto the icy planet MicroTech, atmosphere burning blue off the fins and wings.
The presenters narrated a slow flyover of metropolitan New Babbage with factoids regarding better mapping of pine trees and an improved no-fly zone. I half-listened, more caught up in a feeling of digital tourism as I watched the snow-covered towers and hangars stretch beneath the ship.
The second demo brought the audience along on a mission to steal data from a supposedly secure server station, but we all know how those situations interminably shake out. I admit that Star Citizen loses a lot of its pie-in-the-sky charm once it trades the slow grace of piloting space boats for very standard video game actions like crouching, stealth and dialogue choices. The crowd seemed to agree, paying more adulation to the weather-induced hypothermia and the demo player’s plodding escape through a howling blizzard.
Then came an extended section that, more than anything else shown or said, convinced me to download and play this ambitious project while it’s offered for free. Two players pilot the Carrack to a warp station, watching for nearly a full minute as the massive metal ring slowly spun up. The vessel crawled forward into the wormhole, a writhing tunnel of bent physics with a stream of particles running down the middle. The pilots careened through it to the new Pyro system on the other side, ending the demo on an impressive shot of a blasted, lightning-streaked vista.
If critiques that Star Citizen is an overzealous and underbaked concept perpetually stuck in alpha development have scared you off of trying it, I can’t blame you. But their Fly Free event might be the best sell, yet. Pop into a frankly silly number of spacecrafts, jet around the planet city of ArcCorp, and see if there’s enough meat on the bone worth chewing. They even provide handy guides for explaining the game and its universe.
Cloud Imperium handed a sizeable list of promises to players, along with a detailed timeline. Considering their past, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone leavening their hype with a healthy dose of scepticism.