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THE WAITING GAME
Four years ago, Star Citizen occurred with a Kickstarter campaign to conquer. $ 141 million later, we can look together with project chief Chris Roberts back on turbulent times and fathom why patience is still a virtue.
To climb a high mountain, even using the most modern technology is not a walk. Fitness, good planning, an iron will and a lot of patience are essential for the climber. The development of the mega project Star Citizen has become a similar challenge: After the project was initially a not necessarily small but manageable survey, it has now grown to eight thousand, both in terms of volume as well as the technical challenges.
Bookmakers Chris Roberts might but in 2017 in front of the summit: If all goes to plan, episode one of the single-player campaign is Squadron 42 delivered and the update 3.0 is the first to see a complete game from the multiplayer universe Star Citizen. We spoke with Chris Roberts in an interview at length about the challenges of development, have coaxed him details of technical solutions, drawn information on emissions and Housing from the nose and of course asked about the state of affairs concerning Squadron 42nd
We can look back with him to four years of development and look a bit into the future. We explain why Star Citizen is a real puzzle and why we believe that the wait could really pay off in the end.
A dream takes off
After a long break from the game development and a thoroughly successful foray into film production ( "Lord of War," "Lucky Number Slevin"), the Wing-Commander-father Chris Roberts anno 2011 decides to return to his roots.
He wants a game after Minecraft model develop: produce an alpha version, sell them and use the proceeds for gradual improvements. As engine selects the CryEngine 3, the prototype for its new space game he can develop from freelancers and friendly studios. The cost it pays out of pocket.
Originally Roberts wanted to win with the prototype the usual investors for the project. With the advent of Kickstarter but his enthusiasm begins for crowdfunding, ie the financing through many small contributions from private supporters. He first tried it on a website that breaks down promptly after the announcement of Star Citizen in October 2012 under the onslaught.
Shortly thereafter a Kickstarter campaign built from the ground: After 30 days, Roberts has over two million dollars taken by the Kickstarter source and again four million on its website. If the match can be developed without investors perhaps? About any additional objectives (so-called stretch goals) comes in more money, at USD 22 million announced Roberts complete independence from any investors.
From 65 million will be no further Stretch Goals more awarded, the feature list is long enough. At present, and after about four years of development more than 140 million dollars have been collected. But that does not mean that the project Star Citizen always went like clockwork.
Austin, we have problems
Was initially a manageable project with classic space dogfights, and a single-player campaign (Squadron 42) planned, the steady stream of money will soon generate a rapidly growing extent. Chris Roberts: "When we took more and more money, we said: Hey, we now have the ability to do it the way we really want to do it. The challenge was to get everything together to create a reasonable workflow. "That should be more difficult than thought. Cloud Imperium Games must establish from scratch a complete studio structure. Next to the studio in Austin come 2013 Locations Santa Monica and Manchester (United Kingdom) to do so. In addition, Roberts relies on contract studios as Behaviour Interactive ( WET , 2009), IllFonic (see box) and Moon Collider (Kythera-KI).
The multi-pronged development of single-player campaign, multiplayer universe and the live operation of the playable modules (hangar and Arena Commander) requires far more specialists than are present. We are looking for highly experienced software developers who are familiar with the CryEngine and write tools for designers. But which are then few and far between, which causes delays in operation. Often the required tools are simply not available in time. Only with the decline of Crytek UK relaxes the situation on the personnel front: After Crytek in April 2014 can no longer pay salaries, engages Cloud Imperium Games there from a number CryEngine specialists. End of 2014 CIG already employs around 180 staff. However, pushing once other structural problems in the foreground.
IllFonic worked since 2013 with the development of Star Marine, the first-person shooter module for Star Citizen. As their work with levels that were built directly in CIG, should be merged, a catastrophe occurs: IllFonics assets have the wrong scale and do not fit into the CIG-Level!
"Although it looked as if it were almost ready, but did not work the last 20 percent at the end, and we had to unravel it all over again and start from the beginning," explained Roberts. The throws back the entire development. CIG draws conclusions and begins to unite most of the elements of the development under their own roof. This includes the shooter module and the AI that at Moon Collider was in work to date and is now further developed in the new Frankfurt studio.
Additionally begun better to delegate powers and responsibilities. Foundry 42, the CIG Centre in Manchester, is developed in the Squadron 42, serves as a role model. Chris Roberts' brother Erin and some of his colleagues had previously worked for years at the lego game and knew how efficient studio structure works. Their knowledge is gradually applied to all studios of Cloud Imperium Games.
At the same time the shortage of skilled labor decreases slowly: "We've got some really great people, for example, the Frankfurt studio is obviously very good for us have been. There we had a lot of people who were familiar with the engine and have contributed much to the planet technology and other things, "explained Roberts. "We now have a really strong team, which is at least as good as any team in the games industry."
Extensive Engine Changes
Having a good team is one thing, the appropriate technical basis the other. Roberts was and is scolded by media and critics repeatedly for his choice of CryEngine: She was not meant for multiplayer player of this magnitude, so the frequently voiced criticism.
Basically, that's not wrong. The originally planned Star Citizen version had a much smaller scale and significantly fewer features. However, with the financial encouragement by the fans grew the possibilities many times over - and thus the demands on the engine. This makes extensive revisions to the CryEngine necessary.
One of the biggest restructuring on the CryEngine is the conversion to 64-bit double-precision, culminating with the release of Update 2.0 end, 2015. Until then, the CryEngine runs with 32-bit precision, which only a few square kilometers allows big maps.
"Most engines work with 32-bit," explains Roberts 2015 compared to the British magazine PC Games Network. "This works well for a first-person shooter or an Overlap shooter where you have only a few square kilometers of areas. But we are in space, we are thousands, millions kilometers. "
This precise travel within such gigantic maps is possible, the engine must be adjusted to 64-bit. In addition to this construction site and the network code is newly reissued (the work it continues to this day). Around 50 percent of the engine had been previously adapted to individual needs, gave the Frankfurt studio boss Brian Chambers in an interview at the Gamescom 2016 Protocol.
Although this work required a lot of time and effort, but results are already visible today. Already in the persistent world of current Star Citizen-Alpha (around the planet Crusader), players can explore an impressive 400 quadrillion cubic kilometers Space (official figure). Of course, the majority of "only" empty space, but the technology behind it seems to work fine - apart from some serious server lags.
With the complete Stanton-star systems in the Alpha 3.0 the card size should even grow. But all these basic work costs much more time than originally planned. And that is reflected especially in the public perception down - no player like delays.
Despite a largely open development, which is accompanied by a detailed monthly reports from the studios and weekly video formats, not tearing the partial unobjective from criticism. Non-compliance with deadlines and the development time can be found again and again in the crossfire.
In the original Kickstarter campaign it was then: "After twelve months (which would have been starting from campaign statements the end of 2013) we will allow the early supporters to play the multiplayer Space-Combat-Alpha and other 20 to 22 months (ie the end of 2015) they are the Star Citizen Beta play [...] "And do not forget. Squadron 42 should also be delivered already the end of 2014 to the supporters. The Arena Commander, so the multiplayer Space Combat module appears, in June 2014, six months after the original target date. Already at this point it is clear that the originally mentioned dates can be reached in no way realistic, because the millions of dollars raining for some time in a weekly cycle on CIGS accounts and allow much more features than originally planned. Roberts is considering shortly after the release of the Arena commander to refrain from further Stretch Goals and provides the public with reaching the 46-million-dollar mark for grabs.
Some 35,000 supporters from voting, 55 percent are for more Stretch Goals, 26 percent opposed and 20 percent other it does not matter. The desire of supporters there are correspondingly more so, in some cases very complex objectives as detailed AI activities and improved modularity for spaceships. Only when the 65-million-dollar mark end of 2014 draws Roberts a definitive line under the Stretch Goals. Had Roberts against the supporters might have to make clear that will significantly extend the waiting time for a finished Star Citizen through more content? "If I go back and would not change a thing, then, that I would say much more clearly: The more Stretch Goals and features are in it, the more complicated it is, the longer it will take," Roberts shows insightful.
"Looking back, I would have time to much more energetic point out," The boss can develop it but even not go fast enough. "I'm a bit like our Supported and a little impatient," he says. "I wish we had a few things much further.
"It might like to go a little faster, but we have a great team, and when I look around, I see people who often work longer because they are with heart and soul into it. So if it takes longer, it is not because that is not working hard, but in the development process of a project with this scope and complexity. "
Dates called Roberts Although no longer as free from the liver away like a year ago. But now and then he is still (much more carefully formulated) data in views that do not work in the end and the impatience of some supporters fueling yet - as the review of the 2016 shows.
Price of Progress
The many small and large restructuring of 2014 and 2015 have an effect. The end of 2015 published CIG the first big update for Alpha. With version 2.0 Crusader comes into play, a huge map with various stations, the first missions and basic shooter mechanics that work even in the new EVA mode (Extra-Vehicular Activity, Activities in zero gravity). The Multi Crew feature shown only in August is also attended and players can at service stations carry out repairs and replenish ammunition.
Update 2.0 is at that time the largest and most important date update the evolution of Star Citizen. It lifts the previously available only in single modules existing game to the level of a true alpha version with many basic features that come together in a small (not persistent) part of the Universe.
The persistence, so the server-side storage (purchased with the new Alpha-currency) objects and marine and player states will be integrated in June 2016, version 2.4, which represents a further technological milestone. Outwardly this is not a very headline-grabbing thing for the development itself but extremely important: the back-end functionality is complete, the universe starts for players finally continuously to exist and no longer begins with each new login from the beginning.
A big PR coup succeeds Roberts with the presentation of the procedural planet at Gamescom. In it he shows the approach to a planet, landing both on the surface and in a new landing zone and, based on an impressive, complete story mission. There are gun battles in zero gravity, vehicle hunts over the surface of the moon, and briefly is the interactivity of objects to see (a cargo box).
Planets and their exploration were originally intended only for the period after release. But the Frankfurt studio has made extreme progress in the technology - so far that it on the CitizenCon are few weeks later another impressive presentation of procedural planet, including weather effects and a giant sandworm. All these things make 2016 more than 36 million dollars in funds for supporters financially most successful year for CIG.
No Squadron 42
Victims of this positive development is Squadron 42. The entire 2016 passes without there to see something new on the single-player campaign. On the CitizenCon an almost one-hour demo should be shown - shortly before the event but will be deleted . The reason is CIG to problems with the new AI and animations.
"We want the crew pursues normal duties on a vessel and you can interact with them," Roberts tells us. "That's the AI page. But now we need to ensure that the behavior is associated with smooth animations, for example, if someone goes to a table, sits down, eats, gets up and goes away.
There should be no change choppy, but a liquid movement pattern. But that will take longer than planned, and is one of the reasons why we have the demo not shown on CitizenCon. We're trying to achieve just the right level of detail, and that is definitely a big challenge. "
Roberts suggests after CitizenCon that the demo would eventually refilled later. But even the latest live stream in 2016 goes by without news about Squadron 42. The impatience of many fans makes many, partly unobjective articles on Internet air. What is Roberts to when it massively hails criticism?
In this project, things go very fast, even if it does not appear outwardly as if it would go ahead quickly. One constantly has the feeling: We need to finish getting this thing, we need that raushauen, people waiting on it. The community is awesome, but you already feel that they have a huge appetite for everything they can get. And if times a while nothing comes, then they are a bit grumpy. "
Roberts adds:" People say, 'I want to have it now, I do not care if it is not working properly' And if you do them then. would show or give, they say: 'Hey, that works not at all, which does not look good "But apart from that it annoys me sometimes, I think that we have a very passionate, caring community that. provides us with valuable feedback. "
Details need time
Besides AI, the desired level of detail is another reason for shifts, even if the team is making good progress, as Roberts states. "Our goal is that you have while walking around on the Idris or in interactions with the crew, the quality of a cut scene. And there are, for example, problems with the lighting. We want to achieve a cinematic lighting and therefore we must highlight and shadow - and there are quite alone on the Idris thousands - adjust to achieve the right effect
Another point is Object Container streaming, "Roberts says. »Squadron 42 takes place in a complete, open the solar system, in which you can travel freely between the planets. But you can not have all the data at once in memory, but you need so-called containers containing certain areas. "
The streaming is also run always in the background, so that the player does not notice it, if a new field (or a new object container) is loaded into memory. "However, we need this technology not only for Squadron 42, but also for Update 3.0."
Ever seems Update 3.0 and the associated features to have had a significant impact on the displacement of the single-player campaign at 2017. While the story of Squadron 42 with more than 1,250 pages of dialogue text already completed and the motion capture of high-profile actresses cast (including Gary Oldman, Mark Hamill, Gillian Anderson) are turned off, it is not merely the fine work that can last for anything longer.
Technical advances such as the procedural planets are in fact also play a role. If you consider that the first major demonstration of the planetary art takes place only in August 2016, one can imagine that the implementation is in the single player campaign is not too long in labor.
And then there's Item 2.0, a system that Roberts explained in our interview in connection with Update 3.0 (see box). This system will 42 raise the interactivity in Star Citizen and Squadron in to a whole new level.
Quo vadis, Star Citizen?
With the update 3.0 is to perhaps the greatest milestone in the history of development of the project. This Star Citizen would in fact be a full-fledged game, have implemented all the basics and provide enough content so that players can employ in the universe long first time (see box on the planned content of 3.0).
On the CitizenCon 2016 Roberts makes this update again one of his now infamous date statements - even if vague: At that time there is, CIG would try 3.0 still bring out the end of 2016th Ultimately, they provide at this time (disrespectful words) "only" the release of Update 2.6 with Star Marine (see box).
On the question of the status of Update 3.0 grins Roberts and raises both hands defensively, "I will no timetable or an assessment for an appointment rausgeben, but there is still much to do. For 3.0-Star Citizen is something like a complete game with all the important corners. "
Then he goes into detail:" The main ingredients are all in work, but there are still a lot of minor things that need to be made, for example, air traffic controls over landing zones. There are only a certain number of landing zones and it can not land a thousand people at once. Therefore, to a meaningful system to be written, like a real airport. . Such things are not necessarily difficult, but a programmer needs for maybe three or four weeks, "
Even things like boarding and security talks on Roberts:" At the moment, each a door open to a spaceship. With Item 2.0, you can close the doors of your spaceship. Then, when someone wants in, he must chop or break the door. "
"So there is still this or that detail, and a multitude of other little things that all must be brought together," Roberts concludes. That does not sound like a release in the near future.
"We've looked at 3.0 and said. We need that and that and that and then we found: Damn, that's more than has so many complete game. Therefore, we develop a detailed plan for all tasks and subtasks. If that is done, we will share this plan with the community. This is expected to be the case at some point in January, depending on when the production team the information gets from the project managers. "
Thus, the time until then completely goes by without new content, there should be between updates, for example, improve the performance. Among other things, it is planned to increase the number of players who are adapting to a server in Crusader. Most of the work on performance and net code is published only with 3.0.
The biggest challenge
Because so goes according Roberts also perhaps the greatest challenge in the whole process along: "Probably the network setup and the network code are the biggest challenge, because the CryEngine is not really designed for a multiplayer game.
In addition, it is very difficult to find good network programmers in the games area. Meanwhile, we have a good team, but for a long time we had a few people who have worked on it. And then added that we make a game that has a level of detail and accuracy such as Crysis, but as a multiplayer game and a much larger scale. "
The importance that the CIG attaches a stable and powerful network that can be good at surprising Engine conversion to Lumberyard (see box) can be read, which has the connection to the global server system Amazons integrated directly.
Roberts & Co. It is not enough to use traditional technical ways and improve. During the optimization of the network codes rather part of normal daily life in the development and maintenance of multiplayer games, CIG is constantly looking for ways to further develop the technology.
The physical grid in Grid technology, the multi-crew mechanics makes it all possible (whereby, for example, a player in a spaceship stands quietly on the spot, while the ship itself in space flying wild maneuvers), is a good example.
Item 2.0 is another example of how Roberts explains in detail: "Among other things we are working on a kind of entities Planner and -Updater. Actually Item 2.0 is more an Entity 2.0. Entity is in game development is a collective term for any object in the game, it was a spaceship, a player or a weapon. In the new implementation, which is introduced with Item 2.0, these entities have their own components. You take just one entity and packst various components in, for example, a physics or graphics or radar component. "
The entity spacecraft can thus for example, a physics component are attached, allowing gravity inside the ship. "So we have rewritten the engine based on the components, which you take individual functions're stuck on an entity and thus determine what this entity can. And that is updated quite different: Some components are updated every few minutes, others second.
Thus, the outputting of information is much more efficient. In the old version, each entity has been updated in each frame, which is totally inefficient. And therefore, we have revised the basic systems, which now coincides more with modern engine development. For these changes, we focus on 3.0. Some improvements can be found being observed at 2.6, but the majority is planned for 3.0. "
Lots of space, lots of content?
In addition to improving performance, this system allows especially even more opportunities for developers to fill the gigantic worlds that are to open up in the Star Citizen universe. Even the Homestead demo of the CitizenCon impressed us with a huge planet, with almost unlimited amount of space. Each audience shot involuntarily the question through my head: How can this massive room, these many planned giant planets are filled with meaningful content?
The creation of a complete planet to the designers, if all tools are completely finished, cost no more than a week's work. "The goal is to have templates for specific ecosystems, such as mountain ranges or deserts. From this range of templates, the artist can then a planetary environment "painting", for example, as Tatooine or Hoth.
Based on this, we work alongside the major landing areas like Area 18 ArcCorp of modular sets of outposts, which can be composed differently from the artists depending on the environment, such as a settlement, there a few farms. Based on these sets the area is then automatically populated, unless the artist overrides the manual. "
Part of the content and quests is generated from the respective ecosystem. The emissions system also includes procedural influences, for example, certain resources and, based on a specific freight line. "Then pirates may appear that in turn make escort for cargo required and so on. There will be a kind of complete set of rules between AI and players, making it permanently are ways to make money and to do some stuff. "
In addition, there should be on all planets and some stations special missions that are offered depending on the player's reputation and availability of Quest. Such orders are made composite by designers blocks and should be clearly distinguishable from the things that make the player normally.
"The idea is that you run around and all that are doing what you normally do, for example, be. And if things go well, certain issues are eventually available, something like Super missions. The do not you ever do or more but succession thereof. There are special missions, specific features, in addition to the normal activities with other players or the AI. "
Home, Sweet Home
Presented from the order to constantly have motivational content before and become long-term commitment to the game? Roberts enough that - surprise! - not. And that is why Star Citizen will sooner or later offer a complete sandbox, including housing. Goods initially maximum apartments planned in cities or in stations, the new technology around Item 2.0 and the entities system makes a lot more possible.
. Chris Roberts: "There will be the opportunity for players to build their own homes or outposts" How is that possible, it leads immediately afterwards technically made "freight - ie crates or boxes, which are made for example in the cargo hold of a Freelancer - is stored in a persistent database.
»The same technique is used when a player discards important items at a location on a planet. You can go away and come back later and the items will resurface because they are stored in the online database. For us there is no difference between a rifle, a box, a room or home - these are all items in the same item system ".
Item 2.0 is to allow not only a more efficient flow of information on the technical side and higher interactivity on the gameplay side ie, the system thinks much larger: "One of the plans is to allow players with their ships to fly somewhere and build a home , For example, to portray a small power plant, and then perhaps to protect a radar jammer, so it is not detected.
"Then, the power plant is connected to a turret, so it creates its own small base. When Tony [Zurovec, responsible for the persistent universe in Star Citizen] talked about farming it was, in principle, exactly that, somewhere to have an outpost and there to plant things and to harvest. "
Of course there will be limitations, who does what where and how much must build. "Finally, not every player his own Megacity pull" quips Roberts. "But I can imagine organizations somewhere build a small base, perhaps near some resources that break them down or sell me. And then listen to another organization of and attacks them with space ships and land vehicles. "That sounds a bit like the EVE-online dynamic that always brings forth by dominated by players systems and stations major conflicts, involved in some thousands of players are. In this way sandbox contents to be inserted, which do not require emissions but just happen. "Once all the parts are developed and introduced for the players will be able to create their own content. That's one of the rules in the development of Star Citizen that the systems are flexible enough to allow such things.
Of course, this is also one of the reasons why it takes longer, since such systems must be built in a certain way. But ultimately I think about the game and the game is better in the long run. Because we give players a sandbox and say: Hey, you always wanted in a science fiction universe to live? Here it is!"
A big cauldron boils slowly
With this we are at the core of this patience game that Star Citizen called: It is not the game that 2012 was touted in a Kickstarter campaign. Had it remained with the few million dollars from October 2012, then Star Citizen would probably already finished. However, we would then get only the things that would have been possible with the traditional technique.
About 1.7 million supporters have the financial framework, now with $ 140 million but such reamed that Roberts "ballpark" Star Citizen simply no longer comes into question. Meanwhile, from a technical summit become, the less intended, after all nothing more than to lie absolutely the best space game ever. Even if Roberts does not explicitly say, you can tell him with every word, with every gesture. There's someone here with enormous passion. Someone who only the best is good enough.
One may accuse Roberts megalomania, however, speak his previous technical success for him. For more and more playing on safety games industry that rarely even take a risk or something truly groundbreaking new venture, the project is certainly much needed breath of fresh air.
Whether it really is as good in the end, as the Roberts would like, we will find out all probability even, perhaps even this year. However, as with a rise in the unknown regions of a high mountain, we a significant degree will it still have to be patient.
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