Hey Citizens! Below is a great interview I got at PAX East!
I got the chance to sit down on Friday afternoon at PAX East with Travis Day – Producer at CIG Santa Monica, and Kedhrin Gonzalez – Creative Director at Illfonic Games. We talked at length about the FPS, received incredible insight on the continuing development of Star Citizen, and got to hear about a few things we have to look forward to! They were incredible and generous with their time, I never expected to get such thorough responses. Thanks so much to Travis and Kedhrin for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk with us, along with David Swofford and David Langeliers for setting everything up. They were all wonderful!
We are presenting this interview in three formats: SoundCloud streaming, audio download, and written transcript. We hope you enjoy the interview!
CmdrCruisinTom: Hello Verse! My name is Jake Bradley, reporting for The Relay, and today I’m sitting down with Illfonic and CIG to talk about Star Citizen’s upcoming FPS module, and just general development questions about Star Citizen. I’m here with Travis Day and Kedhrin Gonzalez. First of all, thank you for joining me! And for those listening who don’t know who you are, could you please introduce yourselves and let us know what you do?
Kedhrin Gonzalez: Yeah, hey! I’m Kedhrin, I’m the Creative Director at Illfonic. I oversee the FPS development, and make sure that things are dialed for Chris’ vision and works for the rest of the game.
Travis Day: I’m Travis Day, I’m a producer at the Santa Monica (CIG) studio. I lead the team in Santa Monica, and work with Chris and develop all things space. Space combat, space dogfighting, space exploration, anything space!
CCT: Awesome. Alright, we’ll start off with some FPS questions, since that’s what we’re here for at PAX East and that’s what’s been put on the table, so to speak. First of all, Kedhrin, how has working on Star Citizen’s FPS been different from other FPS games that you’ve worked on in the past?
KG: Some of the main components of the Star Citizen FPS involve the third person and first person animations being seamlessly put together. So they’re not separate, like most FPS games are. Most FPS games incorporate a system where the camera is, actually kind of like a free-floating thing. And the third person is representative of that camera, and all its really tracking is position. Whereas ours is, the first person and third person are actually in sync, and you’re seeing exactly what you’re doing. So if your gun’s not pointing in the direction it’s shooting in third person, then it’s not shooting there from the first person perspective. So everything has to be in sync, and that’s a really big challenge and that’s been the biggest component of what makes Star Citizen FPS and the experience very different.
CCT: So how much input has Chris Roberts put into the FPS side of gameplay?
KG: Since the very beginning, Chris has worked with me a lot on making sure all the stuff from the design stage to the actual implementation has been on point with what he sees is gonna be the thing he wants for the full vision. He’s definitely been more involved, especially from the beginning he told me, “hey, this is kind of how i want things to be.” And then I went up, we kinda just designed the high level features and concepts and bounced them back, and we’ve just been bouncing back ideas until everything has been put into production, so he’s been very involved.
CCT: You are building the First Person Shooter portion of Star Citizen, but Star Citizen is kinda special in that FPS is just a small piece of the larger puzzle. How does that change how you develop the game?
KG: One of the most important things about the FPS mechanics, because its part of Squadron 42 and the Persistent Universe and everything else, is it has to be able to adapt to every type of situation the players can encounter. So we have to develop everything almost from a sandbox-type approach, where anything can happen and the possibilities are limitless. So that’s been a lot different. Usually you develop with a kind of linear experience or a ruleset, players having to follow certain guidelines. We kind of developed everything for a more, like a “tool” approach, where we give players “here’s the toys for you to play with, and just in case anything happens, you’re gonna have to adapt and be able to handle the situation”. So it’s been very different from how you usually develop an FPS game.
CCT: So map sizes are often a big concern with FPS games, and given that the maps for Star Citizen are ships and space stations, it sounds like they’ll generally be pretty close quarters. How do you envision that playing out for people who prefer playing as snipers or similar long-range roles, and have you planned things like planetside locations or any other large combat areas?
KG: The levels in Star Citizen range in size, and you know, there’s definitely like the small spaceships where close quarters combat is like a big deal. But even in like medium and larger ships there’s things like hangars and stuff like that, like big kind of open spaces. Or even just a long hallway where the sniper class is still very important. But outside of that, there’s defintely a wide variety of environments. We’re planning/including outdoor planetside locations where combat is gonna be bigger and open. So you’re gonna have to be able to do long range weapon fighting a lot of the time as well. Some of the stuff you’ll see in the FPS module will really harness that. You’re gonna see, there’s a big open area in the Gold Horizon level that’s very much sniper-oriented if you’re inside the center, but if you’re not, there’s close quarter areas all around for players who don’t like that type of combat.
CCT: So to kind of build on that too, what other roles have you foreseen or even started to implement the mechanics for in the game, such as like a Lone Wolf or a Rusher, a Sniper, things like that. What have you guys been working on, or what do you foresee you will be working on?
KG: I think it’s important to say, you know with Star Citizen, it’s classless. So its really up to players to decide their own strategies. We don’t wanna make them feel like they have to play a certain style. So it really is gonna depend, every environment is gonna be different. We cater traditional level design and mechanics into, when like a level is built specifically for FPS gameplay, there will be those type of things in mind, like a choke point that’s better suited for players who wanna rush, or certain defending situations. But again, because the environment is very “sandbox-y”, you never know what you’re gonna run into. So we don’t wanna lock players down into thinking they have to play a very specific way. So its more up to players to really figure out, “hey this is the style I play”. But you know, its probably in their best interest to not only lock themselves into that style, you know?
CCT: So this is kind of a question for both of you, we know that there will eventually be an inventory system, obviously. Similar to they way mounts work on ships, but for characters. Will any of that make it in the first release of the FPS?
KG: So the first release of the FPS you’ll see, there’s not much inventory management in the beginning. You’re gonna be able to choose your weaponry from like a loadout screen when you’re going into the FPS module. But you will be seeing the weapons on the players body and stuff, and so things like the item ports and everything like that will all be there and present.
CCT: To kind of expound on that, for Travis, do you see any of that making it into the Planetside module when that comes out?
Travis Day: So I think that the Planetside module is very heavily focused, the PU guys are all focused on doing, almost exclusively focused on the AI and the mobiGlas and having other people, like the social interaction. So friends, chat, lobby, all these back end services that will build the larger Persistent Universe. I think as far as the attachment systems go, say for…like what we do on the ships, right? So what Kedhrin was talking about was the item port systems, what the character uses for defining all its mount points, the skill attachments. We built all of that for the ships initially, and now its being brought over to the FPS characters. It’s a holistic system. And so I think in the future, when FPS releases, what you’re gonna see is on-the-fly attachment management for different weapons, and sticking, we talked about flashlights, silencers, muzzle brakes, grenade launcher attachments. So you’ll see all these attachments, all the weapons for first person, similar to the ships, are being built with metrics, so that you can attach certain things on certain size rails. What Kedhrin was talking about earlier, you don’t have a class. Your items define your play style, your play style defines the items you pick. So that level of customization is important, both on the ships and on FPS.
CCT: Kind of on that subject, are there any interesting gameplay considerations that you’ve come up with for the inventory system? Like kind of what I was thinking of is, say you have an item that’s equipped externally, like an explosive. Can someone shoot that and have it explode? Things like that?
KG: Yeah, absolutely. Especially with grenades, you can shoot them. You’ll see them on the body, if you shoot it, it explodes. That’s gonna definitely be expanded upon, with all the various sets of items. There will be certain things that can happen with certain items, I mean even just making them not work, which is just as important as making it explode, you know?
CCT: We know that ship parts will be moddable/modular. How modular will the weapons be in FPS, how much will we be able to “overclock” gun parts?
KG: So there’s certainly a lot of, like what Travis was talking about, with being able to swap out certain parts of the weapons. A lot of weapons, not every weapon will have that ability, but the vast majority certainly will. They have right now currently planned six different spots you can swap out parts, like the barrel, the stock of the gun, underneath the gun, on top of the gun, all sorts of things, clip size… But for energy weapons, more importantly, there’s certainly gonna be little bits of tweaks you can do to put the gun “at risk” by kinda tweaking it. But that’s not gonna be in the first release, but yeah certainly down the road there’s gonna be a lot of that coming in to certain guns. Not everything’s gonna support it, because there’s definitely very exotic weaponry that you just can’t really do much to them.
CCT: So way way back, in your AMA on Reddit, you were talking about weapon types, and you said that FPS will have the standard weapon types, like assault rifles, shotguns, pistol…but that there will also be “unique” weapon types, and to build on the “exotic” weapon types you were talking about. If you are able to talk about it, what could we see? And to build on top of that, will there be any heavy weapons like rocket launchers, specialized melee weapons like blunt weapons…things like that?
KG: Yeah there’s certainly a lot of those planned, I mean not so much because we believe in the modularity of the other weapons and expanding on them, those have a high importance. But there’s certainly weapons, you’re even gonna see one in the first release that isn’t so modular, and its a weapon that shoots out explosives. Kind of like a rocket launcher, but its more dependent on the ammunition type. So it may not be an explosive you shoot out of it, down the road, but what we have being revealed in the first version release is gonna the explosive one. So you’ll certainly will see that type of stuff, and there’s also gonna be more crazy exotic weapons. I can’t really go into too much detail right now, but there will certainly be some very rare type of weapons. The core concept is, if you pick up a weapon from the 18th century, for example. Don’t expect to go to the store and put a scope on it. So there’s gonna be things like that, where you get something, its not compatible with everything, you have to take it as is.
CCT: Kind of like, I can’t remember if it was Chris who was talking about it in 10 for the Chairman or something, he was talking about how there will be just like “legendary” things scattered across the universe. I can imagine that there will be like a weapon on a distant planet, or something like that(that you’ll find). That’s cool!
Is there any randomization to the weapons, almost like Borderlands, or are they all handcrafted?
KG: I think its safe to say we don’t wanna lock ourselves into anything just yet with that, but most of them are gonna be something thats like, players are building them and customizing them. In a sense that like, you buy a weapon and swap out the parts. And if you’re exploring someone’s ship, you might find their fully customized weapon lying around. And you’re like, “Oh this is cool”. You didn’t even think about that combination that was possible, so there’s gonna be a lot of that stuff. But as far as how that works on the total PU level, I don’t think we wanna go into too much of that yet, because there’s a lot of possibilities and its just locking it down right now as we figure it out.
CCT: I can imagine like seeing a Super Hornet that has a tractor beam slapped on the side of it, you’ll find weapons that are just as customized eventually.
Oh, this is Nehkara’s question, I love this question. So people love their ships, and you can see that obviously every time you guys put out a new ship. They feel like its like their second home. Is that philosophy going into how you’re crafting weapons for FPS?
KG: I think where you’re gonna get that kind of feeling from a lot of players is how they build up their own armories. I’m sure players are gonna love their individual weapons, especially if they buy fancy mods and they get it dialed in to exactly how they like it, or if its some crazy exotic rare weapon that they were able to obtain. But I think the more of the focus is gonna be like a guy having a sportsman room in his house kind of thing, where he has his gun collection, and that’s where you’re gonna get more of that feeling of having a lot, and that feeling of “attached to you”.
CCT: I’m just gonna have a Cutlass with all my weapons, that’s it.
You had talked about this a little bit before in the AMA. So there’s a few things that normally kind of “ruin”, so to speak, regular FPS’s, like no-scoping, aim hacks. And things like in Battlefield or Call of Duty, once you hit that top rank there’s nothing to do, and enjoyment tapers off kinda quickly. How have you guys addressed that in developing the game?
KG: That’s one of the big things we wanted to tackle in the very beginning, and it goes back to the core design philosophy of the insanely high skill ceiling. There’s never really gonna be the guy that’s reached the top, because there’s so many different stats behind everything. The player, the weapons, the armor, the environment you’re in. There’s nothing that’s gonna be the perfect solution for everything, because there’s so many possibilities throughout everything. So I think, that’s kind of our main focus. We don’t want anything to feel like, for example in a game like Counter Strike, you have the AWP-ers, they just decimate everything. At this point in time, in the length of the career of the game, if they try add anything they’re gonna have to nerf things. And we don’t wanna get to that point. So that’s why theres so many stats and so many different things, and the skill ceiling is ridiculously high. So when we add and expand and grow the game, it doesn’t feel like we’re taking things away from stuff in order to add things. Its kind of like pushing yourself into a corner. So from the beginning we’ve been aiming to make sure that doesn’t happen.
CCT: So Zero-G! Zero-G combat is a huge part of Star Citizen’s FPS. What difficulties, expected or not, have you run into during development of Zero-G combat, and how have you solved them?
KG: From the development angle, its certainly been a really big challenge. And again, this goes back to what makes it so different (with the first person/third person animation), because now you’re not talking about a camera sitting on a pivot point and that pivot point just turning around. You’re talking about the camera being at the player’s eyeballs, and you’re trying to rotate a body in 3D space, and all the fun things that can happen with that, like your hands reaching out and touching walls and stuff like that. Its been a really big challenge for us, but I think we’re getting it down. And the controls have also been really challenging, because when you’re holding on, what we call the push/pull mechanics, of walking along, well, using your hands to crawl along the wall and jump around, and now you’re just floating in space and what does that feel like? But other than that, it goes back to that sandbox theory, where we never know what 3D space the player is gonna be in, because its just a big universe, you know? You could be inside a tiny little room with no gravity, you could be in your hangar, you could be outside your ship, you could just be floating around with nothing around you. So all that has to be fun and feel interactive, and we have some really good solutions to that, and I think you guys are gonna see that real soon.
CCT: This is a question for both of you guys. So the FPS portion is being billed as being a lot slower and more deliberate than something like Call of Duty. Do you have any plans to implement things, sort of in like Rainbow Six, like hostage situations, “terrorist” scenarios, things that take a lot more planning and execution in order to make it happen?
KG: From the very beginning, we always wanted to make death something players don’t take lightly in the game. It falls back to Chris’ essay, Death of a Spaceman. Boils down to that we never want the player to feel like, “I’m just running around, John Rambo, shooting around all over the place, not worrying about death”. My hope is that every single player, every single situation they ever encounter, always takes things like you would take a hostage situation. I mean players can, they can do whatever they want, they can Rush, but the penalties of doing so can be extreme. So its very much dialed into that experience, there needs to be that feeling of anxiety over dying. So everybody feels like they have to be very careful with how they’re shooting, and how much they’re exposing themselves because you’re always vulnerable.
TD: The important thing to note is that, you can rush and there are probably situations in which you should rush (guys reloading, you should rush up on them). So I don’t want people to get the idea that its slow, cause its actually very fast, when it unfurls. But its definitely, it requires much more strategic thought. It’s also inspired me to play a lot more Counter-Strike recently.
CCT: I guess “deliberate” would be a more accurate word, so that everything you do needs to have meaning.
It’s been talked about a little bit in the past, but has there been, if any, planning to make Star Citizen’s FPS venture into esports?
KG: It certainly is possible, with the skill ceiling being so high it’s definitely a contender. But at the same time, it feels like the esports scene, and the past projects I’ve worked on were heavily involved in esports, there’s gonna have to a little bit of acceptance. Again, we go back to, you’re living in a virtual world playing a character, versus something where were turning down the graphics to be blank grey walls, and the things that esports players want. I think that Star Citizen definitely has potential, but its gonna require a new frontier of players coming into esports. I don’t think that so much the traditional, hardcore…like, I think theyre gonna have a little bit of a tricky time getting adapted to it, but I think that the new players that come in and see the skill ceiling being so high, and all the situations they’re going to encounter, there’s a lot of possibilities for esports to definitely take off.
CCT: I want esports in-universe, that’s what I want.
TD: Something that Chris has always talked about, a vision that he’s had, is that you could watch matches on the website, you could watch matches from inside a bar on planetside, so he’s very much about the in-fiction. Some of the stuff that we’re going to be showing is kind of a sport. It is a sport, within the universe. Something people would play either at a hobbyist or amateur level, or a little bit at the professional level as well. And having those “telecast” or “webcast”, even within the game is something that we wanna do. So the idea of rendering a video stream to a texture within a bar, so you could sit there and be watching the World Series of this sport in the game, in the game. It’s like GAMECEPTION.
CCT: Kedhrin, is there anything else that you wanted to talk about, specifically FPS, mention to the backers, anything you wanna throw out there?
KG: I’m just gonna go ahead and say, I hope you guys enjoy having your mind blown by what we’re gonna show.
CCT: Kinda to shift gears, to some general Star Citizen questions that we’ve come up with. First of all, lots of ship work has been coming your way lately. How has it been adapting to the new modular ship design process?
TD: Its hard to say we’re adapting to it, because we designed it! So, we’re implementing it. I’ll tell you the origin of the modularity system, really. In the push to 1.0, we were experiencing a lot of, it was the first time we were trying to push a lot of ships through the pipeline at once, I think we added 14 flyable ships during that release. So there’s a lot of different issues we encountered. One of the things we noticed is that, with ships, it gets a lot more complicated when were actually modifying the hull structure or the body, and not designing the ships from the get-go with that in mind. So, for example, the Constellation right now is getting a rework, and with the rework, well it needed to be brought up to par, it was one of the original things we built. So with that in mind, we’re subdividing all of the larger (we call them subcapital/multicrew) ships into modular sections. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re all gonna be exactly the same. For example, we would take all the variants of the Constellation, and some of them have a larger cargo bay, some of them have a longer tail section, some of them have a slightly different nose. But if we break the ship at the nose, the neck, the bay, and the tail, and make those each separate attach points with a bulkhead and a slamming door, then we can build each piece of the different variants and plug them together. And so they have common joint points. And if you take that a step further, even on the interiors of rooms. In CryEngine there’s a concept of “pre-fabs” right (a collection of items stored in a single item). We use that system on the interiors, to then, say you wanna do…you have a box room, and it can only be a box room, for whatever reason. We want it to be a medical bay, okay we load the medical pre-fab. Boom, here’s your medical bay, here’s your cabinets, Oh no! It’s an armory now! Okay, load the armory pre-fab now. Two weapons racks, three lockers, and we do the interiors in the same way. So it allows us a much cleaner way of modelling the ships in a much more efficient way, and also more rapid generation of things that can be used over and over. It kinda ties in with the modular tier system that you guys designed, you guys being Illfonic.
CCT: Now that the 64 bit conversion is nearly complete, and progression on all parts of the game seems to be going pretty well, what do you think Star Citizen’s biggest upcoming challenge in terms of development is?
TD: 64 bit is in progress, that’s going well. Local physics grid, very talented people are working on voxelization of the ships for doing quick math for the interior physics grid. In my mind, the largest challenge, and I mean everything’s surmountable. It’s a matter of time, time and effort will overcome most any technological obstacle. But I think, on the path from here to the final vision, I think probably the largest thing is these large vast expanses with seamless server handoffs, with seamless integration of the economy system and the instant generation, with the matchmaker passing in between instances, with a lot of people. I think the biggest part is just making the game, a CryEngine built game (usually with discrete levels), load and feel like a completely holistic and organic experience without, without having to load I should say. Streaming, zone systems…and CryEngine aside, a really robust backend system that is architected well to handle that. We’re doing a lot of things that other MMO’s haven’t done before. It requires a new generation of backend technology. Its not as sexy or glitzy, its not a new ship or new weapon, its not a whole new module or anything, but the backend, the launcher, patcher, all that stuff is super super critical to the user experience, so the guys in Austin deserve a lot of credit for working on that.
CCT: Which coming ship, at least of the ones that we know about, that the community hasn’t seen yet, do you find the most interesting or innovative?
TD: As strange as it sounds *laughs*. When I was a kid I always wanted to be a pilot. At first it was a fighter pilot, then I realized I Was getting too big, so then it was a commercial pilot. So the ship coming up that I personally, for whatever reason, am most interested in, and I have a weird taste in ships, is the Genesis Starliner. It always in my mind reminded me of, have you seen The Fifth Element? When he goes to Fhloston Paradise, to me it looks like what I imagined the Genesis Starliner to be. And kinda coming up with the modular variants of that has been has been a lot of fun. What would the economics be? Like in real life, some airlines have more seats in first class than others because they determined that based on what they charge for first class, it makes it worth having that many people. So if you and I were to say, do a passenger run from Terra to Earth, there’s probably a lot of hoity toity type people, maybe we’d reconfigure our cabin to be all first class seats or maybe like business suites, because we will have NPCs, AI, and players willing to pay for that because we’re on a high economic world. But if you start going on to the fringes of the galaxy, you may start doing it like an Indian train car, and have just basically like little shelves for everybody. It’s interesting to me because its the design of the ship and the design of what the modular features of the ship will be. They’re the most heavily involved in the PU dynamics of the economy, and that’s something else that really appeals to me, so that together. I would say my favorite ship in general has got to be the Aurora, because its like the Vanagon. Our physics programmer, at the very beginning he made me like it. He’s like, its got that little bed in the back. He’s like, “if the Aurora’s rockin, don’t come a-knockin’”. I thought that was so perfect.
CCT: Kedhrin, what’s your favourite ship?
KG: Honestly, I like fighters. So, I mean, from the beginning it’s probably just been the Hornet. I like simple. I’m not trying to get something big and fancy. Like, my whole goal is I want to have something where it doesn’t seem like it’s that much of a threat, and then when I get near somebody I want to eject, and latch on to their ship, and then breach and board and kill ‘em.
CCT: Mine’s always been the Carrack, it’s the Enterprise for me.
TD: Another cool ship is the Endeavour. We’re very early in the concept stage for that ship but it’s fun because it’s kind of a floating version of the ISS sort of, it has very discreet modules that are user configurable, so you could have your weapons adjustment facility, your repair facility, you could have a research station, you could have a medical lab, and there’s kind of more options than there is room for it, but for each of these we’ve been designing the less-than-legal alternative, so there’s the idea that you could go in there and you could do your facial reconstruction, or you could do your equivalent of getting body modifications in real life, or some kind of elective surgery, and there’s also going to be that version of that, but sort of more the guy that switches out his eyes in Minority Report, you know what I mean? Oh yeah, chop off his limb and give him a cyber arm, or that kind of edgy thing, and there’s going to be research into pharmaceuticals and med-pack construction, but then there could also be sort of, you know, drugs. So you might find an endeavour floating outside of a place as a field hospital, or you might find an endeavour outside of an asteroid base making drugs.
CCT: I’m actually really looking forward to the Endeavour. We know that you can’t give any dates, that’s okay, but it seems that development is hitting milestones more accurately. How confident are you in the release schedule that Chris put up during his BAFTA presentation?
TD: So, we talked a little bit earlier about some of the larger technology challenges that we’re facing, but, the one nice thing is, early on I think we were building a company. Now, we’ve got a really strong team, they’re schooled up on the engine and how it works so they’re able to move quicker. The other thing is we’ve tackled a lot of the early gameplay implementation hurdles, and we’ve sort of laid a lot of these systems down to the core framework that we’re working on now, and it’s when you’re engaged in that kind of R&D it’s a little more, could be a week, could be six weeks, and you kind of find out as you go, right? Now that it’s become more iterative of a process, it’s much more scopeable, it’s much more mappable, it’s much more planable. But as far as the BAFTA presentation, so, I put those dates in the presentation, so I remember them well. And the important thing is, it’s not like we don’t want to give dates, because we like to be secretive or something, it’s really we don’t like disappointing people. So, we have internal dates that we’re shooting for all the time, we’ve got weekly goals, monthly goals, patch-driven goals, I mean, there’s kind of an ever ongoing cascade of goals and objectives to meet internally, but on the outside I just don’t want to disappoint anybody. There’s people in the past that took a week off work cause we expected to have this out, and I mean, you can’t help it, but you feel bad. It’s like…damn.
So, in the end, the BAFTA dates, yeah. That’s what we’re targeting. Those are 100% what we want to accomplish. On some of the larger stuff, whether or not we get there, it really depends on some of the development stuff, you know, how the team trends, maybe we decide there’s something else that’s a higher priority, but you know, part of the fun of this process is keeping the community so involved and so in the loop. I think if anything changes, just as we’ve done in the past, we’ll just tell everybody, hey, here’s what we’re doing it, here’s why we’re doing it, there we go!
KG: Soon ™ is for your benefit, guys.
CCT: Okay, this is my favourite question. So, we’ve seen planets like Terra and Helios that kind of have a singular theme around them. Heliosis a giant ocean, and Tat’Ko is a giant lava planet, Is kind of your design philosophy with planets kind of going with a singular theme for the planets, or are we going to see some planets that have a lot of variation kind of how Earth has a large number of varying climates…
TD: So I think what you’ll see, and again it depends on the number of landing locations right, if you go to New York vs going to Wyoming you might get a very different impression of the United States, right? So, there are some planets that yeah, for whatever reason, scientific background in the lore, it’s the lava planet. You know, the whole thing’s a hulking, smoking pile of lava, or it’s the water planet, just like we saw in Interstellar, right? But no, I think the idea is to be realistic, a lot of planets are going to be various. There’s going to be mountain ranges, there’s going to be lowlands, there’s going to be plains, and so to me, at least until we get full planetary exploration and full procedural generation of planets, and landing anywhere you want, it’s really going to be driven by the landing locations. So, one landing location on Terra might feel very different from another landing location, or landing in somewhere in China might feel very different from landing in New York, so I think it’ll be very driven by the landing locations, but no, it’s more realistic to have mixes, so I think we’re going to have a mix.
CCT: Speaking of which, we know, at least initially, that planets are going to be focused around these set landing zones. Can you give us an idea of how large or small those zones might be?
TD: So what’s cool is landing zones, they can expand over time. So, a great example of this is Terra. So, Terra right now is being built around this central tower that almost looks like the Burj Dubai, the big skyscraper in Dubai. So, in the background you will see all these other areas of the city, right? High, medium, low, the favelas where you get to think, this is where the janitors all live or work or something, that kind of thing, kind of a mix of high and low society, right? Terra has a monorail system. Those selective stops that we can add along the way. And, giving different feelings to it, it’s all very different. So, Terra has an area called the Blocks, which is much more like, the working class area. Or, in China, they have those old housing project areas, where all these buildings have merged into one kind of giant Unit, so, it feels much more like that. Much more working-class, more run-down, a little seedier. And so, you may come to the planet to do business on the Tower, you sell goods there, you work out your next deal, whatever it is that you’re coming to Terra for, and then you decide hey, I’m going to smuggle some drugs, so you go down to the Blocks, meet your contact at the bar there, and really, I think that…Stanton has gotten rather large, or Arc-Corp, it will continue to get larger as things are needed. You don’t want it to feel too small, but you also don’t want it to feel too empty, so I think you start with a building block, see how it feels, see how it feels with the player count, see the things you can do, and you just add things as the design calls for it.
CCT: Do you know, roughly, the largest of ballparks, how big the Arc Corp planetside is going to be?
TD: Actually I don’t, to be honest. Stormwind-ish?
CCT: Stormwindish? Okay, that’s actually pretty big. So, things like capture the Idris and Cargo-lympics have been talked about for Arena Commander. (I love cargo-lympics). What would you like to see as a future Arena Commander map, or are there any hints you can give us about what we might see?
TD: Absolutely. I think something that we might see in the future, hopefully for AC 2.0, I want to see larger maps. Like, significantly larger. It does require that we increase our player counts significantly, to make that fun, and feel full, but i want to see gamemodes that are more like, it’s hard to explain, but more like siege warfare, RvR warfare in some of the larger MMO’s. Capturing different nodes on the battleground has different effects, it’s basically capture and control, but say you capture a mining station, it gives your team more resources to push forward. These are kind of competitive modes I want to see.
Now, that grandiose vision I’m pitching, probably going to take longer than AC 2.0, but at least in the near-term what I want to see is much larger maps with things like 0.2c travel coming online, so different maps may play differently based off the ships, their ability to do 0.2c, their fuel capacity, so you might have someone in a Vanguard, who’s able to jump ¾ of the map right off the bat, where everyone else has to jump refuel, jump refuel, and it creates kind of a much different feel for each ship, and it creates much different tactics. So, if we have the abillity to have say a nebula and an asteroid field and a moon all in the same map, all navigable, and they have the effects on the signature system, and it gives the ability to creep up through the nebula, or you go through the asteroid field, all these different gameplay options become possible if you have that larger map and the ability to introduce all these other elements. So, that’s what I”m most looking forward to. That and a higher player count with greater ship diversity.
CCT: Have you ever played Battlefront 2? That on a bigger scale is what i”m looking forward to. Oh, this is a good one. Do you believe there is any avenue of gameplay that is underserved by the current roster of existing and planned ships, and if yes, what plans are there to fill in those gaps?
TD: So yeah, I think, currently one of the ones that we’ve realised is Mining. We have the Orion, it’s a 175 meter long ship, you need between 3 and 5 people to really run it efficiently. You’re going to be dealing with huge volumes, my goal at least is to have any of the professions, or things people would do in the universe, be accomplishable from the beginning. So I think one thing we’re missing is a starter and a mid-class mining ship. Something that’s very bespoke and focused on mining from the get-go, because I kind of like the idea that, almost like the small little fish on the belly of a whale, you’d have an Orion, but you’d have a bunch of these little ships go out that are out there doing the smaller more detailed work, like you’d have divers go out to do the small work, so that’s probably the area I’d like to see some expansion on in the near term. I think that as we get that online it’ll be a fun mechanic for people to play with.
CCT: I can kinda see a small, really fast prospecting ship just flying through an asteroid field. So, this is a question for both of you guys, what games and or sci-fi do you personally take inspiration from?
KG: For me, one of the biggest games that I based a lot of my theory on and pulled inspiration from was Planetside 2. Because, it has a lot of the same, just, sheer scope. Go anywhere, do anything type of rules you need to keep in mind when designing the game. And outside of that it’s the cliche sci-fi: Aliens, I like Star Wars and Star Trek. I’m not that big of a fan of some stuff like Firefly. I know a lot of the guys, especially the fans and the team definitely are but… for me I’m kind of more… I like violence. So, if it’s violent I like it.
TD: Kind of on that note. Starship Troopers, the book not the movie. Generally because it is, in a way, similar to our universe right? Citizenship must be earned, you have to join up with the Federal Services. I always really liked the Foundation series. Gordon R. Dickson has a great great series that’s all about the Dorsai, crazy universe and this warrior culture and all of the planets have kind of fallen into their own little niche within society. That’s interesting. It kind of makes me think about our economic simulator and kind of city-state factions. Star Wars obviously. I can’t tell you how many times when I was a kid I would sit at the table with a glass of milk, reach my hand out, and be like, ‘Come on… this time I’m gonna get it… force pull!’ Sci-fi, especially books, has always been my jam. Sci-fi and fantasy. There’s a great book too, I would recommend to anybody, called Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. It’s fantastic. Books, I like books.
CCT: Kind of a question for both of you:
Do you think that Arena Commander and FPS modes will be combined at some point before the Persistent Universe Alpha? Basically, the Capture the Idris mode… are we going to see that before the alpha?
TD: It really depends on the progress of both modules. Ideally, if we’re able to get the larger maps… the more interesting game modes we want to spec out. There’s going to be kind of a dynamic mission creation system that’s occurring all the time within the Arena Commander side that we want to start speccing out on the Arena Commander side as little scenarios. But, assuming the progress of all of these things that I think are a slightly higher priority move forward, and then Foundry 42 is building the Idris… [if] they have it ready for Squadron, we’ll need to do some modifications for it. So, when all of that lines up my goal would be by the end of this year but, again, there are a lot of dependencies on that and there are a lot of things that I think are well… less sexy, more important for the long term development. But, I would like to see that as soon as possible. Especially after seeing the recent videos of the Idris… I mean, that thing is going to be a badass place to have a fight.
CCT: More in terms of the actual job… CIG has an incredibly intense schedule over the next 8 weeks, can you outline how you keep the team engaged, focused – keep the morale high?
TD: Actually, this is probably the easiest job as far as keeping the team focused that I’ve ever had, because people are super engaged on this project. They’re super interested in it. You know, the other thing too is that the intensity – a lot of our team thrives off of the intensity, right? Because if we have intensity leading up to ship, that means we’re shipping something and that really excites people. One of the besting things about working on this project is we get to share as we go along and there’s not these big secrets. So, a lot of our artists love that – the ability to get stuff out there in the community’s hands. I mean, we’re all in the business of making games to have it shared with people, right? That’s the point is to have other people enjoy it, to love it, and to appreciate the work that we’ve put in. So, when we get into these times and these release cycles – that’s why 2015 is so great is because it’s really a year of development and delivery. The deliveries are really an exhilarating time for everybody on the dev team.
But it is… it gets exhausting, it gets tiring. But, you give ‘em high fives. You celebrate the wins. A friend of mine at Activision taught me a really good lesson about just celebrating the little stuff so, I mean even just around the office… like Okka, one of our graphics engineers, he got the custom deformation of normal maps working on the damage, right, so when you shoot a ship you actually see it curl in as the bullet penetrates. Very cool. Very little detail though and he’d been working on it for a little while and it’s like, “Hey, guys, come over here. Check this out.” You know… and everybody gets a little crowded and gathered around and they’re like: “Oh man, that’s awesome! Way to go dude!” And then people will walk by and be like, “What’s going in this thread?” and be like, “Oh hey! That’s cool!” You know, just kind of recognizing everybody’s accomplishments, everybody’s deliveries. You know, it’s fun and it gets other people fired up, even if they didn’t work on that thing. It’s not just about high-fiving the one guy, it’s about: ‘Hey, we’re actually, as a cohesive unit, making progress.’ and ‘Oh, I didn’t know Kedhrin’s team was doing that.’
So we actually were doing a big group play test of the FPS build the other day and a lot of the guys in the LA studio hadn’t played the FPS. And so, it was a huge attraction. Everybody’s running over like, “Oh this is awesome! Oh my god! This is so cool! I can’t wait for this to come out!” And then everybody goes back to their desk all fired up, you know, so it’s about sharing with each other and sharing the burden as well as the accomplishments.
KG: You know, with my team at Illfonic it’s been… for us we feel that we’re definitely a part of the CIG family. We talk to CIG all the time but we’re kind of isolated in Denver. So, for us, keeping up in the loop with everything is something we try to deliver to our team. “Hey, this is going on.” Because they’re in the trenches so much, especially with the FPS stuff going on, they’ve been crazy busy. For us, one of the biggest things, especially for our artists is… the visual fidelity of Star Citizen is so insanely high that it’s… let’s just say it’s not for artists that don’t want to push themselves. So, if an artist is on this project, he’s someone who’s interested in bettering himself or herself as an artist and really trying to get to a higher level in their abilities. I guess you could you say that with every designer, programmer, anything. So, for us, that’s where we’ve really been pulling motivation from is… “Okay, here is this insanely difficult game to make. Let’s make it. And say we’ve made it.” To us, that means the world. So, it’s really cool.
CCT: [Travis Day mentions he still has not been on Meet the Devs!] Ben. Get on that. Meet the Dev for Travis Day.
Who is one of your favourite people to work with at CIG that has gone undernoticed? Who you kind of want to give a shout out for what they do?
TD: Well, it’s hard because in LA we have a lot of the film crew, right? And Austin has had a lot of the film crew stuff. I think the UK guys work very very hard but they don’t have the film crew out there so they don’t get a lot of recognition, so I don’t know…
I mean for me personally, like on a personal level day-to-day, I work with a guy named Ricky Jutley every day. He’s a producer in the UK office. He basically is on top of everything and anything Arena Commander and he’s a really really hard working guy, a talented guy, nice guy… and I don’t think we’ve ever seen him on camera. Ricky is the man that keeps the patches coming out and keeps the Arena Commander development going. So, shout out to Ricky.
And Okka, our graphics engineer in LA. He’s very quiet but he’s very talented.
KG: Whereas for me… we have a pretty small team at Illfonic. So, definitely all of the guys, of course. They’re all amazing. There are too many words I could say about all of them. I guess, for this push, one person who has really been doing a good job is our lead artist Cole Gray. He has really been able to deliver this unbelievable visual fidelity. When you see what we’re going to show off… it’s breathtaking. And just… the manpower involved in making it was not that large. So, the amount of work they did with so few resources was absolutely breathtaking. Every time I see it, I’m just like, “Wow. I can’t believe you guys are doing this. It’s really cool.”
CCT: That’s awesome!
Now we’re going to do some hard-hitting journalism. Travis, who knows more about the game: You or Ben? So we know who to kidnap.
TD: Ben. For sure. By a long shot. Anything and everything, I would say go to Ben and Dave Haddock.
The space crab epidemic is a grave concern to the Empire. Do you foresee this menace possibly being the downfall of the UEE Navy?
TD: You know… it’s actually funny. We talked about that because had the escaping crab for awhile. And then the monstrous crab for awhile. And then the crabs made it on the show…
We’ve been talking about different fictional plaques that could be spread by the crabs, like the bubonic plague rats… which turns out wasn’t actually rats. Now they’re saying it was gerbils. Did you hear that? Yeah… the bubonic plague was… we’ve been blaming rats all this time. It was gerbils.
CCT: Travis, anything else that you want to say to the backers, to the universe
and everything else?
TD: Yeah, absolutely. The most important thing is… myself and all of the team, we come to work every day super fired up to work on this game. As Kedhrin mentioned earlier, everybody is on this project because they want to do their best work. So, having the opportunity to do this and share with you guys and to build this is all thanks to the community’s support and the community’s pledges. And so, we really appreciate it. Sincerely.
Like, we are going to make the Best Damn Space Sim Ever and we appreciate the community’s support and backing both financial and personal. Thank you very much. It really means a lot to us.
CCT: I can easily speak for all of us when I say thank you so much for everything that you guys do. The fact that you have such transparency with everything you guys do for all stages of development is so incredible to us, because in this industry we see so many cases of the opposite being true and a lot of disappointment. Just the incredible thing about it is that we feel like developers too and you guys make us feel like developers.
TD: That’s the important note, right? We’re on this journey together and that’s part of the fun part about it and I want people to realize too that the transparency and everything else that people really seem to dig and they always say, “Thank you for being so transparent”… that’s what we want. That’s fun for us. I don’t think there’s any game developer out there who is working at one of these big companies that has the very sequestered NDA… “Don’t talk about this, don’t talk about that… we have to wait until the marketing campaign”, or whatever. They all want to talk about it. Everybody who has ever worked on a game just wants to share.
Because, like I said earlier. That’s the whole point of making these games is to share them with people and share your passion with people, so… Really… Thanks for listening! Thanks for being engaged! You know? Thanks for caring when we put something out, because that’s really… that’s what it’s all about for us.
CCT: Thanks guys! Once again, this is Jake Bradley, CCT, signing off for The Relay.