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