Star Ci­ti­zen Al­pha 3.0

Al­pha 3.0 is one small step on the path to Star Ci­ti­zen’s next gi­ant leap.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Christo­pher Liv­ingston

I’m about to be the first per­son out­side of Cloud Im­perium Games to have ever landed a ship on the sur­face of a moon in StarCi­ti­zen. I hope. I’m play­ing the lat­est build of the al­pha, ver­sion 3.0, in a con­fer­ence room at CIG’s stu­dio in Los An­ge­les, Cal­i­for­nia, and the room is filled with CIG staff mem­bers, in­clud­ing founder Chris Roberts, all watch­ing as I slowly, hes­i­tantly de­scend to the moon’s sur­face. I haven’t played Star Ci­ti­zen in months, and with all eyes on me, this feels like a lot of pres­sure. I re­al­ize I’m hold­ing my breath as I inch closer to the moon. “Please,” I think. “Don’t crash. Not here. Not now.”

It’s not easy re­strict­ing my talk with Chris Roberts, nor any­one else at CIG, to only what is com­ing in 3.0. The con­ver­sa­tion, like the crowd­funded space sim it­self, keeps sprawl­ing far­ther and wider, to what will be ar­riv­ing in ver­sion 3.1, 3.2 and be­yond. One mo­ment I’m be­ing shown the mas­sive scale of the planned uni­verse—stars and plan­ets, as­ter­oid belts and space sta­tions— and the next mo­ment I’m in­spect­ing sub­tle changes to spe­cific sec­tions of player ar­mor on an artist’s mon­i­tor as they demon­strate the ef­fects of dirt buildup or tiny scratches and dents from wear and tear. I look at a new cap­i­tal ship so huge play­ers will be able to land other ships in­side it, and then I’m peer­ing at an­other screen as I’m shown how Mark Hamill’s nose was slightly al­tered on his char­ac­ter’s face. Star Ci­ti­zen’s de­vel­op­ment, which be­gan in 2012, is both about the big pic­ture and the tini­est of de­tails.

I’m shown to a desk where a mem­ber of the de­vel­op­ment team is fir­ing a weapon at a ve­hi­cle to make sure it breaks apart re­al­is­ti­cally, then we pause out­side an of­fice where a room­ful of writ­ers ham­mer away at thou­sands of lines of di­a­logue and hun­dreds of pages of lore, be­fore we con­tinue on to an­other desk where the fab­ric of a new out­fit is be­ing tested as the char­ac­ter wear­ing it jumps, runs, and crouches. Like the uni­verse it­self, ev­ery­thing about Star Ci­ti­zen is in mo­tion, from the same char­ac­ter’s ear­rings—which swing and sway be­liev­ably as she moves her head—to the or­bit of the moon I’m try­ing to land on.

Touch­down

My ship’s land­ing gear gen­tly con­nects with the sur­face of Del­mar, one of 3.0’s three new moons. The land­ing gear re­acts as I touch down by com­press­ing down and then back up, in a con­vinc­ing dis­play of hy­draulics—an­other new fea­ture of 3.0. I let out a re­lieved breath, pleased to not have crashed in front of the au­di­ence of ex­pert pilots watch­ing. In­side the cock­pit, in first-per­son mode, I swivel my head down to look at my con­trol panel, then shut the en­gines off with a mouse-click on the cor­rect con­sole but­ton. That’s an­other tweak com­ing in 3.0: The abil­ity to not just turn your head in freelook, but to also in­ter­act with ob­jects while do­ing so. I can open and close doors, cy­cle air­locks, ac­ti­vate con­sole but­tons, even click, hold and drag to ad­just my ship’s power dis­tri­bu­tion be­tween shields, weapons, and en­gines, pre­vi­ously lim­ited to but­ton presses. This feels like a blessed ad­di­tion, free­ing me— an in­ter­mit­tent-at-best Star Ci­ti­zen player—from hav­ing to mem­o­rize ev­ery sin­gle bind­ing or keep a guide

open on my sec­ond mon­i­tor. It also adds a more im­mer­sive qual­ity to the en­vi­ron­ment, the feel­ing that I’m re­ally in­ter­act­ing with my sur­round­ings by pok­ing a se­lec­tion of but­tons and touch­ing screens with an in­vis­i­ble fin­ger­tip.

An­other wel­come ad­di­tion to Star Ci­ti­zen sounds mi­nor, but it’s won­der­ful: The abil­ity to change your move­ment speed while trav­el­ling on foot by scrolling the mouse wheel. It was one of the first changes I got to see in 3.0, and I played with it for a while—prob­a­bly too long, con­sid­er­ing I was sup­posed to be ex­plor­ing moons, not pac­ing around the in­te­rior of a space sta­tion—grad­u­ally mov­ing from a slow walk, to a nor­mal strolling pace, to a quick­ened walk, then to a jog and fi­nally to a run, all by sim­ply rolling the mouse wheel for­ward. Be­ing able to pick in­ter­me­di­ate speeds be­tween a walk and a run makes move­ment feel much more organic (akin to us­ing a con­troller’s thumb­stick for the throt­tle in a rac­ing game), and the an­i­ma­tion smoothly re­acts as I change my pace from walk­ing to run­ning and back. You know those games where you’re ei­ther slightly slower or slightly faster than the NPC you’re fol­low­ing around, and you have to keep switch­ing be­tween a walk and a sprint? I can’t see it be­ing a prob­lem here.

With my ship now pow­ered down, I climb out of the pilot’s seat and stroll (at a pace of my choos­ing) through the ship to the cargo hold. I lower the ramp, then walk down it and exit onto the sur­face of the moon of Day­mar. It’s nei­ther a small step nor a gi­ant leap for me, but more of a medium-sized hop, since I’ve landed on un­even ter­rain and the bot­tom of the ramp is sus­pended a few feet off the ground. Still, I did it. I landed on a moon, and I’m now stand­ing upon it, fi­nally feel­ing like a true as­tro­naut in a game that has had, un­til now,

Like the uni­verse it­self, ev­ery­thing about Star Ci­ti­zen is in mo­tion

only a space sta­tion to stomp around on. A few dozen me­ters away lies the wreck of an­other ship, shattered into sev­eral huge pieces. That’s what I’ve come here to find.

Pro­ce­dural as­sis­tance

As other space games have demon­strated, there’s a chal­lenge in de­liv­er­ing play­ers into the mas­sive gam­ing arena that is an en­tire uni­verse. With kilo­me­tres of a sin­gle planet’s sur­face to ex­plore, and hun­dreds or per­haps even thou­sands of plan­ets to some­day be added to Star Ci­ti­zen, what will make those plan­ets in­ter­est­ing and worth ex­plor­ing? Pro­ce­dural gen­er­a­tion, as we saw with the vast uni­verse of No Man’sSky, can show you some­thing slightly dif­fer­ent each time you touch down some­where, but there’s no guar­an­tee that those dif­fer­ences will al­ways (or even of­ten) pro­vide an in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“They built a sys­tem,” Roberts ex­plains of No­Man’sSky’s de­vel­oper, Hello Games, “and then they just let the num­bers, the math do the talk­ing.”

CIG isn’t just leav­ing its moons and plan­ets up to an al­go­rithm. Sean Tracy, Tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tor of Con­tent, calls it “pro­ce­dural as­sis­tance”, where math does most of the talk­ing but the team of artists can add their own touches: They can carve canyons, paint fea­tures, al­ter ter­rain, add flora. I watch as Tracy plants in­di­vid­ual trees onto an arid land­scape with a brush, then he zooms out un­til most of the planet is in view and paints great swaths of forests with the same move­ment. On Star Ci­ti­zen’s moons and plan­ets, cer­tain lo­ca­tions will be ran­domly gen­er­ated, while oth­ers will be de­lib­er­ately cre­ated. The maths will get plenty of help.

As the uni­verse of Star Ci­ti­zen ex­pands, play­ers—who cur­rently clus­ter around the game’s mas­sive space­port—will be­gin to drift apart from one an­other, so NPCs will need to take on a big­ger role in the drama. A Shad­owofMor­dor- style Neme­sis sys­tem for NPC en­e­mies is in the works, to lend AI op­po­nents more per­son­al­ity, per­sis­tence, and men­ace. PVE will also ex­pand with more sur­vival el­e­ments than sim­ply wor­ry­ing about oxy­gen. A stamina sys­tem is be­ing added in 3.0, and play­ers will even­tu­ally have to eat and drink as well, which means mak­ing sure they stock their ships with enough sup­plies to keep them­selves fed and hy­drated on their long jour­neys across the uni­verse. Homesteading will be a pos­si­bil­ity, some­day: Play­ers could seek out a re­mote, un­ex­plored world and set up their own re­source-gath­er­ing op­er­a­tions or even farms on a planet’s sur­face, carv­ing out both a life and an oc­cu­pa­tion.

Sur­vival aboard ships will also be­come more com­pli­cated. Roberts’ wish is to em­u­late the sit­u­a­tions Han Solo found him­self in dur­ing space bat­tles, which didn’t just in­volve fir­ing at other ships, but also hav­ing to run around the Mil­len­nium Fal­con dur­ing the dog­fight, hur­riedly mak­ing re­pairs, restor­ing power, and fix­ing or re­plac­ing ship com­po­nents. And, like Han, you won’t be fly­ing your ship in a bulky ar­mored suit with its own oxy­gen sup­ply—you won’t be able to sit in the pilot’s seat with­out first

BE­LOW: With the uni­verse ex­pand­ing, you’ll want to bring some friends along.

It’s not just the ex­te­ri­ors of the ship that look great in StarCi­ti­zen— the level of de­tail in­side these ves­sels is ex­tra­or­di­nary.

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