Star Citizen Persistent Universe Demoed at CitizenCon

ramon 2015-10-12

Star Citizen’s own convention, CitizenCon, wrapped up yesterday with a presentation from Chris Roberts. Highlights included the unveiling of a new ship, gameplay, and a star-studded cinematic from Squadron 42, along with a look at the fledgling multiplayer persistent universe alpha of the game, which Chris Roberts says will be released “very soon.”

The presentation kicked off with a not so brief recap of the history of Star Citizen and Cloud Imperium Games, starting with the original announcement at Game Developers Conference 2012, through the release of the Hangar and Arena Commander modules, all the way to the present day. Each milestone was accompanied by numbers showing the growth of staff and backer accounts. As far as these things go it was kind of average, but seemed to serve the purpose of amping up the crowd that was already chanting Sandi Gardiner’s name following an emotional, personal address.

This segued into CIG Head Honcho Chris Roberts’ keynote. Roberts began by thanking his team’s hard work for making the game possible, and talked about the plans for future Star Citizen releases, beginning with the upcoming Alpha 1.3 release. Star Citizen 1.3 should be internally tested next week and in backers hands shortly afterward. In terms of features, the next release will have two new weapons: the size 4 Behring Ballistic Cannon, and the size 2 Apocalypse Arms Mass Driver. It will also have more emotes, a character loadout selection in the hangar, Arccorp additions (most notably, the ability to drive buggies around the multiplayer zone), improved chat and augmented reality, an increased player count, and better netcode.

Star Citizen Alpha 2.0

But all this pales in comparison to Star Citizen Alpha 2.0, “the beginning of the full Star Citizen Universe.” Roberts says that they’ve made a decision that instead of the multi-crew and persistent universe modules being part of Arena Commander, they will take place in the actual Star Citizen universe and “everything’s gonna be in”: space flight, EVA, FPS, social, and missions.

The play area will be a slice “one million kilometers square and two hundred thousand kilometers high” centered around a single gas giant, Crusader, with three main stations: the safe “Port Olisar transit hub” starting zone, the shady “Security Post Kareah” that will serve as an FPS battleground, and the recently abandoned “Covalex Shipping Hub” ghost station. The Crusader system will feature a number of points of interest, and thus content, including communication arrays, research satellites, and service platforms (for repair and refueling, which will be a mechanic in the game at this point), as well as 38 different missions that send players off to them in both co-op and competitive tasks. Connection between these zones will be seamless.

There will be four flight modes in 2.0, which should be familiar to anyone who’s looked at Elite: Dangerous. The slowest flight mode is reserved for landing, the current Arena Commander flight model will be faster and used for dogfighting, a cruise speed for medium distances, and a “quantum drive” for warping between points. Those last two will require fuel.

Much of this is shown in the live demo below:

In the demo, players spawn in the bunks at Port Olisar and request a ship from the station, which are delivered to the landing pads. They jump into their ships and shoot off to an encounter with an AI-controlled pirate trap. The demonstrators make short work of the pirates, EVA into the encounter site’s communication hub, and push a button to turn on the communication uplink. They then warp to a repair station and get repaired by a swarm of drones (these repairs will cost United Earth Credits (UEC), which will be earnable in Alpha 2.0). The demo ends with a foray to the PVP station, in which the team we’ve been following so far gets wiped by the other team in a hail of small-arms fire, and has their Constellation stolen.

Roberts is hesitant to give a date, knowing that he has received criticism in the past for too easily offering and missing deadlines, but he says that 2.0 is in the “near future, we’re not very far away from being content and functionality complete.”

The ARK Starmap

The ARK Starmap, in the works for a while, was demoed at CitizenCon and has now been released to the public as a web app. The map’s demo shows the tremendous promised scale of the Star Citizen universe: Crusader is one of four planets in the Stanton system (ArcCorp, Hurst, Crusader, and Microtech), and the Stanton system is only one of many. Some systems are conquered by the Vanduul, while some lie unclaimed, developing, or pirate-infested. Heatmap overlays for population density, trade, and criminal activity provide information that will be useful when the map is accessed on ship computers, and as a mobiGlas app in the final game, where it will be used to plot waypoints for journeys. In the demo, they plot an example trip to Earth, which will have New York, Moscow, and Shanghai as landing zones.

The Million Mile High Club and the Joystick

The Million Mile High Club was an early pledge goal that some backers may have access to. It is a private lounge for hanging out with your friends that can be entered through any elevator on ArcCorp, with a personal doorman, bartender, juke box, and pair of aquariums. Players can show off their trophies and invite organizations or individuals to see them. It will support up to 25 players and is scheduled for a “2015 release.”

Star Citizen-branded hardware developed by Saitek was displayed: a HOTAS (throttle and stick), a numpad keyboard, a normal keyboard, and a mouse. One selling point is the modularity of these peripherals, which can be mixed and matched and plugged together at will. A high-end HOTAS with an integrated OLED display was promised, but not yet ready to be shown.

Cross Chassis Upgrades and the Referral Program

Cross chassis upgrades are live in a new, automated system that will let backers “chop and change” their ships without the need to involve customer service.

A new referral program was announced, rewarding recruiting new backers to Star Citizen. Exhorting the fanbase to “Help us reach the one million backer milestone and grow the Star Citizen Community!”, the program offers prizes such as 15,000 UEC for 3 referrals, an Aurora DX Package for 10 referrals, and a Gold Ship Model Set for 25 referrals. As a rough estimate, assuming each of your recruits purchases a $30 aurora package, you’ll need to sell $750 worth of spaceships with your referral code to get all the rewards.

The Aegis Saber and Military Ships Sale

Aiming to provide a counter to the dogfighting dominance of the Hornet, the Aegis Sabre was announced as a dedicated dogfighter that leans on stealth and agility more than brute strength. There isn’t much more information available on it right now, but it’s on concept sale for $170 with lifetime insurance until October 19th. Also on sale are a variety of military ships. For 48 hours there is also an “Armada Pack” that includes all the military ships, the Sabre, and the Idris-P frigate for $2,500.

Squadron 42

Last week, the Roberts Space Industries website posted a lot of in-universe news dispatches about Vanduul raiding and decimating the Vega system. The Squadron 42 section of the presentation followed up on this lore with a cinematic from the game in which Admiral Ernst Bishop, the “Hero of Vega” who repelled the Vanduul there, gives an address to the UEE Senate proclaiming that the empire is already at war with the Vanduul, and that survival depends upon victory in that war.

Admiral Bishop is played by motion-captured Gary Oldman, sounding a lot older than his character model, whose face is captured in extreme detail. A featurette following the cinematic boasts of the lengths to which the developers have gone to do good facial animation and motion capture (at one point Oldman compares Roberts to George Lucas), but the rest of the cinematic looks kind of unfinished. There are repeated hairstyles and even models in the audience, some right next to each other, and these models are rubbery and barely at the quality one would expect out of an early ’00s game like Freelancer, much less a Cryengine game. However, it is “100% rendered in real-time in Cryengine”.

That said, the acting talent they’ve procured for Squadron 42 is still quite impressive: in addition to Gary Oldman, the billing lists Mark Hamill, Mark Strong, John Rhys-Davies, Jack Huston, Ben Mendelsohn, Andy Serkis, Harry Treadaway, Liam Cunningham, Rhona Mitra, Ian Duncan, Sophie Wu, Gemma Whelan, Craig Fairbrass, and Gillian Anderson. At the end of the cinematic, a title card says “2016.”

But that’s not all. A gameplay demo spins up afterward mostly showing the player walking around an Idris-M and listening to a chatty Irishman give a gossipy tour of the ship’s facilities and crew. The Idris is huge and pretty on the inside, and it’s crazy to imagine walking around one of these while it flies.

Happy Birthday

The presentation ends with a birthday cake for Star Citizen. Roberts thanks the backers for their support and they sing happy birthday. Roberts has a crisis of confidence over the right way to cut the cake, and another member of CIG took over.

Overall, the Star Citizen persistent universe looks quite promising. While the presentation had a few questionable moments, the game demo largely earned its applause, though it remains to be seen how far off the “near future” release date is, and how the persistent universe will fare in the hands of players. TMC will be covering the release of Star Citizen’s persistent universe module, so stay tuned.

At the time of writing, Star Citizen has raised 92 million USD.

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