Welcome to The Relay’s newest segment, the State of the Game Report.
Each month, The Relay writers will analyse the most important pieces of news we’ve had in the past month. The analysis will include a summary of the news, and the opinions and ‘what it means for the game’ analysis from each writer.
This month, as it is our first issue of State of the Game, we will be doing a more encompassing ‘Year to Date’ edition, where we will discuss all of the most important new tidbits from January 1, 2015, to today!
So take a look below. We hope you will enjoy, and we hope you’ll join us next month, and every month after that.
This month, our analysts are myself, Nehkara, and Dolvak.
Summary: The Persistent Universe Townhall was a backer event on January 23rd, 2015 in San Antonio, Texas. The event consisted of four panels and a fifth keynote presentation where Chris Roberts, Tony Zurovec, Mark Skelton, and others showed us the progress on development of the Persistent Universe and discussed ideas for the gaming going forward.
Nehkara: I think this is undoubtedly one of the most important events so far this year. We learned a ton, we got to see the mobiGlas in action and a pre-visualization of jump point traversal. We were also given a pretty good tour through Arc Corp and saw a lot of the stores. All-in-all it was an information-dense and exciting day for all Star Citizen fans.
Erris: I agree. And it was a full day of information, and really helped to affirm CIG’s plans for the PU. We know much of what they talked about now, but at the time, the PU townhall contained almost entirely new, and extremely important, information.
Dolvak: If nothing else, the PU Townhall was the hypest moment of this year. We got to really see the vision of what CIG is going for, and it’s hilarious how much farther things have come since this was shown off. CIG knows exactly what to show to make us foam at the mouths a little.
Summary: The starcitizen interface has come a long way since its inception. On January 30th, CIG posted a design document outlining the mobiGlas system and detailing how it would function in-game. Instead of being a standard interface mobiGlas is an in game item that allows you to interact with the world around you in a natural way. It can be damaged, upgraded or even hacked to supply the user with a personalized experience.
Dolvak: It is one of my personal favorite design docs as I love Interfaces that are built into the world. Sure, having an ammo counter magically in your face is useful, but when games like Metro: Last Light have totally integrated the interface into the world it pays off massively for player immersion.
Erris: I have to say, I visited Behaviour early this year, and being able to talk to them about how excited they were about what they were doing with mobiGlas was amazing. I think mobiGlas is likely to be the most exciting thing about the Social Module, and I can’t wait to finally feel how the mobiGlas integrates with shopping and the rest of the world.
Nehkara: I think the beauty of the mobiGlas is that they’re creating an operating system within the game that has apps running on it which allow you to do different things (organize missions, navigate, hold data, manage cargo, etc). This means that there is essentially limitless ability to expand and modify this UI in the future simply by designing new apps that plug in. Between that and the Augmented Reality mode which overlays information on tons of objects in the game world… it promises to be an excellent interface.
Erris: I still want to see fiction.mG, a mobiGlas app that collects fan-written fiction and puts it in game to flesh out fiction in the ‘Verse, give people something to read on those long journeys.
Dolvak: I want to have a mobiGlas addon API so users can make and sell mobiGlas apps, scripts and hacks.
Summary: When you think of a battle between starships you think of a captain yelling for his forward shields. This is the experience that CIG wants us to have and they are well prepared to deliver. In this update they talk about everything from various shield generator manufacturers to power routing features on larger ships.
Dolvak: When it comes to shields I am mostly interested in how power routing will work on large ships. They show several screenshots of a social interface allowing areas of the ship to request more power from the power plant and that really appeals to my inner Scotty.
Erris: I agree with you there Dolvak. I’m hoping that shield tech is a valuable and entertaining job, both on Capital ships, and on smaller vessels.
Nehkara: I think it is important for this job to be engaging as you are definitely going to want your crewman in charge of shield management to be alert. I am intrigued by the discussion near the end of this document of advanced and active ways to manage shields (like direct projection where the shield management officer is directly aiming the shields against incoming fire). It is nice to see some of these multicrew station designs coming out now as they will all need to be ready for later this year. Perhaps we will see something about scanning/power systems/engineering soon?
Erris: I definitely hope we see something about the other crew stations soon. I do have some concerns that things like shields and weapons, while you’ll want one person on each during combat, if you’re not in combat they just won’t be needed. Maybe if you have a four person crew, you’ve got a pilot, and someone who switches between say weapons and communications? Shields and navigation? Engines and, well, no, engines are important.
Summary: REC, or Rental Equipment Credits, is something that the community asked for for a LONG time, and CIG finally gave us in February of this year. In short, it’s a system where, instead of having to buy ships and weapons with real money, you can rent them with REC, which are earned in-game, through racing, dogfighting, Vanduul Swarm, etc…
Erris: While I have yet to actually use any REC myself, it’s always seemed like a good idea, a way to even the playing field, and make sure everyone has a chance to fly with (almost) every ship. I know there were some complaints early on about the earning rate for REC, but I haven’t seen many complaints about that lately. I can’t wait to see how it’ll be implemented into Star Marine.
Dolvak: It’s a good system but something about its existence bothers me. From my understanding REC will have little to no useage in the PU and is simply a feature to further the testing of AC and other modules. Is this system really necessary? Sure it’s nice and it works well but should time and money be spent on something that is almost exclusively for testing?
Erris: I’m sure a lot of people agree with you there Dolvak, and I think that’s one of the reasons CIG didn’t put it into the game earlier. But the community asked for it so ferociously, that they took the time to put it in.
Nehkara: At least they plan to keep it, it won’t be a complete waste. It will persist into the final PU for both Star Marine and Arena Commander as the way in which you earn credits in those games to buy new stuff in them. I think REC is a good thing as it certainly levels the playing field and gives players a chance to try out all sorts of ships and weapons. Despite the issues around the time of release for this feature, it seems to be a solid part of Arena Commander now and hopefully will serve well in Star Marine as well.
Summary: On February 20th, 2015 Tony Zurovec released the design for the Mining career in Star Citizen. Unlike most space sims, mining in Star Citizen will be an engaging and involved affair requiring multiple crewmembers to perform efficiently.
Nehkara: This design post exemplifies Star Citizen. It pushes the boundaries of gameplay further than they’ve ever been pushed in a space sim. To me, it’s exciting. I love mining in space sims but this just sounds so much more involved and active. The whole job of the scan operator who launches and controls probes aboard missiles and injects them into asteroids to determine their entire composition is such a neat mechanic and I can’t wait to see how the whole thing plays out in the game. In addition – and I a realize I’m gushing a bit here – but I love the Orion.
Erris: Gush away! To me this document was important for two reasons. First, it was a great look at more or less our first career design, showing us what detail other careers will likely go into as well, and second, it affirmed something CIG have said for a long time. They’ve been saying since the beginning that at no point will you have to simply point and click to mine, or point and click to travel, or point and click to kill things. This isn’t an MMO. And this doc, to me, proved that.
Dolvak: Jobs like this in the ‘verse make the distinction between space sim and first person universe. The fact that mining is more that “fly to rock and hit collect ore” is what puts Star Citizen on top of the rest. I don’t want to shoot rocks with lasers for two hours I want to MINE. I can’t wait to see what else CIG has in store for us in the mining field.
Erris: And not just the mining field. All of the fields that they choose… the mining design doc just gives me a lot of faith for the other job types.
Summary: In a game where one of the focuses is visual fidelity, this was a big design. March 7th, 2015 the design post was released for the new damage system in Star Citizen.
Nehkara: I can’t say enough about this system. It runs faster, it is easier on the artists (takes less development time per ship), and it looks much better. The perfect trifecta. It’s likely we will see more iteration on the damage system in the future but I think this is definitely a good path as it has helped significantly improve Star Citizen’s performance and will continue to as more ships are converted to the new system.
Dolvak: The new damage system looks and feels fantastic. I hate the idea of plinking away at a health bar on a spaceship and this new system really makes it feel like you are ripping parts off your targets ship, or the horrific otherside of having your ship fall to pieces around you in the vacuum of space.
Erris: I can’t do much but agree. I mean, better looking, more resource efficient, and easier for them to build with… it’s like a trifecta of awesome that is too good to be true, except we’ve seen it in action. It’s perfect.
Summary: PAX East was a pretty important show, back in March. It was the first time a number of backers were able to try out Star Marine, however early a build it was, but PAX East gave us more than a few limited backers being able to try Star Marine. At PAX, Arena Commander patch 1.1 was released, we got Gimbal mount changes, REC, our first look at the new damage system (which premiered on the Gladius), and a whole ton of information about Star Marine, its goals and such.
Erris: Unfortunately at PAX we were also told that FPS would be released in ‘just a few weeks’, which we all know didn’t happen. Still, PAX East was a great time for the game. Lots of new backers came on, and we were shown a lot of new technology, a lot of promise about where the game would be going in the next few months. We were also given a schedule for release dates for Star Citizen, which… well… Not so much, so far
Dolvak: I think it is important to note that really the only thing from PAX that has not changed or been overhauled in some way is the new damage system. Deadlines have been missed and we are all aware of this so taking a look at systems that are final and are being implemented at this point is a good indication of how far along we are with specific systems.
Nehkara: A great event at the time with some hiccups in hindsight. The release schedule was obviously too aggressive here. It was great to get a better understanding of what Star Marine was going to be though. My hope is that they will be able to play catch up to some extent with this release schedule. I would very much like the social module to release within 6 weeks of the Star Marine launch. Also keep an eye on Arena Commander 2.0. I think they will need at least 2 months of AC 2.0 testing prior to launching Squadron 42, so if we don’t have AC 2.0 by about the time of CitizenCon it will likely slip to 2016.
Erris: I still believe they can pull off SQ42 this year, but yes, their original release schedule was a bit too optimistic.
Summary: Before the weapon mount update design post, weapon mounts were a… confusing topic. There were many inherent problems with the old system, not the least of which saw Gimballed mounts giving a large advantage to players using mouse controls. With the weapon mount update, mounts and weapons were standardized, and various systems were put in place to balance the game. In short,
Erris: I still think this update was one of the best things CIG could have done for Arena Commander at the time. Before this, weapons and weapon mounts were truly confusing, and having a size 2 weapon work gimballed or un-gimballed as the same size… the system was unbalanced and hard for even the most ardent SC supporters to understand. The update was great.
Dolvak: Balance is something that has to be constantly iterated on to find the perfect place for everything. I guarantee you things will be overhauled again at some point either before or during PU alpha. It was necessary at the time and showed CIG can fix what needs to be fixed in a timely fashion.
Nehkara: This was a great step in a long process to bring balance to Star Citizen’s dogfighting. As Dolvak says, there will be much iteration. I particularly like this system because it all makes sense and at the same time helps balance – well done.
Summary: The SXSW Trailer might appear to be mostly recycled footage, but CIG snuck quite a few new things into it. Notably, rag doll in FPS makes its first appearance and while we have seen the arc corp environment before, this is the first time we have seen it populated. Not only is it populated, but the NPCs seem to actually be doing things. Police are patting down scummy figures in the alleyways, workers are carrying boxes around, and people generally seem to be doing their job instead of standing around looking pretty. We also see a slick take off animation of a pilot leaving arc corp.
Dolvak: While I was impressed with some of the things in the trailer I was sad to see footage that is very old. Hell, we see footage from the original campaign trailer with the old hornet cockpit that looks nothing like it does currently. This confuses me a little as the current cockpit looks much better in my opinion and the only reason I can think of to why they did not reshoot or generally find more footage is time restraints.
Erris: Time restraints are often a big issue, especially where CIG is concerned. I’d imagine they just didn’t feel like they had any other cinematic-quality shots of the cockpit to use. I mean, the first minute and a half or so of the trailer is just old footage from various commercials. It’s not until the commercial hits 1:30 that you start seeing ‘new footage, but then it’s pretty good. Everytime I rewatch it I’m amazed by how much I like rewatching the FPS footage without the incredibly awkward Illfonic talking over it. It works so much better without. And it’s really at 2:20, when the video is talking about ‘the future’, that it starts getting interesting. I mean, we see an NPC walking and using the mobiGlas. That’s pretty amazing. I mean, a populated Arc Corp, with NPC’s, environmental effects, (even though it’s raining inside at 2:58), it’s all in game, and it’s all much further along than we’ve been showed at any point till this trailer, or really at any point since. Even just the number of animations shown impresses me. I mean… I could go on, but I guess what I’m saying is I want it all.
Nehkara: The issue with this trailer is that it wasn’t just meant for backers. You can never please everyone. In this case their main focus was to try and show off the game, and hint at where it had come from, to entirely new people while still also providing something for existing backers. I truly enjoyed the ArcCorp and FPS aspects of this video… like Erris says there’s a lot here we hadn’t seen. I am loving the behaviours of the NPCs, especially for this early state. Keep in mind it has been 3.5 months since this video, so I expect that ArcCorp and its NPCs are looking better than ever. Another great moment in this is the ragdoll shown in the FPS footage after the explosion – looking great (again… 3.5 months ago!).
Summary: Star Citizen 1.1 was an incredibly big and important patch, the first patch that was big enough to talk about in the year. It added the flyable Gladius with its new damage states, it added the Retaliator to the Hangar, and free-flight in multiplayer. It also added the landing / takeoff system, and REC. In short, it was the biggest, most important patch to date this year.
Erris: Patch 1.1 was a big one. I remember listening to The Relay team play on the PTU, and being really excited to hop in myself. Of course, then it launched, and I was too busy working on The Relay stuff to play for a good week, but when I finally hopped in and tried out the landing system, I loved it. It was really just a good patch, all around.
Nehkara: This one was big and awesome. Love the new landing system and I can’t wait to see it iterated into something smoother over time. Also: The retaliator is gorgeous. This sort of highlights the predicament CIG finds itself in currently, however… with the inability to update Arena Commander to show off all of the work they have done it robs the entire project of a sense of momentum and progress.
Dolvak: Free flight multiplayer is a great addition to the community as it allows content creators much more freedom and at the end of the day that is really what Star Citizen is all about. The landing system works well although I wish it was a little more in depth, however it is still much too early to pass judgement. I may be slightly disappointed if this makes it to launch as is. SC smokes Elite: Dangerous in every way but the way Elite handles landing is slick and feels involved and skillful. I will be disappointed if I have to put a point on the board for Elite, but competition is always good!
Summary: The FPS Stances and Breathing design doc was a great look into how FPS will work in the ‘Verse, detailing… well… stances and breathing. It goes through the three stances (Lowered, Ready, Aim Down Sights), and how they work, and also touches how breathing will affect aiming. The post also touches on how stamina will work in the ‘Verse, explaining how breathing will change based on the amount of stamina you have, and how stamina regeneration will be affected by armour types.
Erris: I really liked this post. It covered a lot of worries people had with the game, and told us a lot about what we can expect Star Marine to feel like. I like that movement speed will heavily depend on what stance you’re in, and that accuracy in aiming will severely reduce mobility. I was also very impressed by the breathing mechanics they came up with, mainly that the amount of time you can hold your breath for will vary wildly based on how much stamina you have left. It reads very much like the choices they’ve made here will slow the game down, keep it more methodical and meaningful. You won’t be able to run in guns blazing or, if you do, you’ll be incredibly inaccurate, tire out in a number of seconds, and be torn apart by enemy fire. Just the way it should be.
Dolvak: We all know the depth to the flying mechanics and it’s heartening to see that CIG plans the same for the other side of the game. If star citizen is to be a 10 year game then it has to have a level of depth that rewards players for mastery of the systems. There is a reason that older tactical shooters still have player bases.
Nehkara: Yet another example where Star Citizen has excellent depth to its gameplay. As Dolvak says, these kinds of details are key for creating a game universe that will be around for a decade or more post launch. he most impressive bit of this design for me is how breathing affects aim… and the realization that skilled players will be watching and listening to their character’s breathing pattern to determine exactly when to fire.
Summary: The big changes for this patch were the addition of the Gladiator to the roster of ships flyable in Arena Commander, the enabling of some ship turrets to allow players to begin experimenting with multicrew arrangements, and the change to Star Citizen’s version numbering.
Nehkara: The Gladiator is a great ship to fly. Feels kind of like flying a lethal school bus. She doesn’t turn very gracefully or maneuver very quickly but if you’re in her sights, you’re dead. I think the change in version numbering was important here too. There had been some concern with the name change to Star Citizen 1.1 which could be misleading for some folks who haven’t been following the game. After consultation between the players and CIG the decision was made by Chris Roberts to refer to the versions from here on out as Star Citizen Alpha 1.x.x. I just think it’s a smart move and will lead to less confusion among newcomers to the Star Citizen community.
Erris: Agreed. Star Citizen’s core fans know that it’s still in early alpha, but sometimes the rest of the gaming community seems to forget or ignore that point. Changing the version numbering to make it more obvious is an excellent move. Also, I can’t explain exactly how much I want a Gladiator, because it is so much. Someday… someday it will be mine.
Dolvak: I am a bit contrarian here. I very much dislike the Gladiator. Sure it’s has a buttload of weapon systems but I would take speed agility and generally being able to do more than fly in a straight line then have overwhelming firepower. I feel like the Gladiator is more like a rock paper scissors ship than something to be skillfully piloted. Don’t take this to heart it’s just my opinion and I know someone out there will be able to use the Gladiators flight model to their advantage and totally whoop me. And yes I know how hypocritical this sounds from someone who’s favorite ship is the super hornet, a flying gun with a ship attached to it.
Summary: The Cargo Interaction post closed a lot of loops on little things. While small, they all come together and will be important for creating a cohesive experience in the ‘verse. This is the first time we see grabby hands in action, a system that dynamically creates animations to fit the situation and object in question. This saves a lot of development time and is generally cool as hell. The design post also goes into detail on how cargo systems will work with full manifest systems and the like.
Dolvak: Of all the things shown off this year I honestly think grabby hands is my favorite. Small technical feats like this really impress me and really drove home to me the attempt to innovate at CIG.
Nehkara: This was just a superb design post. So much here, including great images. Honestly cargo is a huge part of any space sim and for a game like Star Citizen that intends on having a dynamic, living universe… well it’s pretty important that cargo mechanics be excellent and deep. There are a lot of good solutions here that answer a lot of questions about how cargo is handled but in the end I’m with Dolvak… grabby hands is fucking cool.
Erris: I promised myself I wouldn’t say it, but as exciting as grabby hands is (and it’s very, very exciting) early images of the new greyboxed Freelancer are what really got me here.
Summary: The big splash here is the introduction of the Tutorial Mode to Star Citizen which walks new pilots through how to control a ship and dogfight.
Nehkara: While clearly a first iteration of the tutorial, it is really cool and gave us great insight into more and more of the game systems. We finally got to fly out of a hangar door and get bossed around by an NPC. Look closely at this and you can see hints of where we’re going.
Dolvak: I agree with Nehkara, specifically with how we can take a look at how thing are going to be down the line. Squadron 42 is just around the corner and it shows with the professional voice acting and (minus a few bugs) a flawless scripting system that does it’s job damn well.
Erris: Definitely. There’s not too much to say here, except that while the tutorial is short, it’s still worth doing. Whether you’re an expert pilot or a brand new one, it gives a good oversight of the game mechanics, and gives a great first look at how missions in SQ42 might work.
Summary: The first Star Marine FPS update was a massive effort, with multiple studios weighing in on the progress made since we first heard that Star Marine was delayed, covering improvements made to characters, animations, art and development, SATABall and zero-G, jukes and movement transitions, as well as matchmaking, audio, and technology in general. The post was an excellent overview of the status of the Star Marine module, and everything that would be going into it. In the conclusion, CIG promised regular updates on the comm-link and on Around the ‘Verse, until FPS was ready to ship.
Erris: While I loved the detail of this post, and I went into a lot of detail for my analysis thereof, I… I don’t think we ever got those ‘regular updates’ on the status of FPS that we were promised. In fact I think we went about a month without any update more than ‘it’s being worked on, there are blockers’. While I fully understand the reasons why Star Marine still has yet to launch, the post was filled with so much promise, so much talk and video of amazing things that I really can’t wait to play, and I feel like it was really kind of just a giant tease.
Dolvak: I agree with Erris in that the whole post feels like a big tease. Not much else to say other than we all know it’s coming… and it’s coming.
Nehkara: In some ways I think the failure to deliver on the regular updates following this update was due to the fact that Chris Roberts was away and busy shooting Squadron 42. That said, I don’t think it’s a great excuse. The weekly updates that we are now getting in July should have started in May. I would like to say, however, that this update itself was great and was packed with amazing visuals.
Summary: The recent Star Marine Update is a short but sweet update from CR himself letting us know what the Status of the FPS update is. The TLDR version is that it’s coming, netcode is a problem and the roadblocks are NOT slowing development of other sections of the game.
Dolvak: Anyone who follows the development knows as much but it’s good to hear it from the big guys mouth. I am glad nothing else has been pushed back as this means we are still on target for S42 episode 1 and the PU alpha. It’s a testament that CIG is striving for quality and that pleases me greatly.
Nehkara: This is where Star Marine has now become a problem for CIG. They have to get it out because they don’t want to move on to showing of the Social module until it’s out. In addition, the lack of a Star Marine release is pushing back their timetable on concept sales for new ships as well, as they would prefer not to offer new ships for sale when it has been so long since they have been able to show tangible advances in the state of the live game (over 7 weeks). In this vein, Chris mentions they may attempt to push out a release for Arena Commander to demonstrate all that has been done on it in the past two months, with Star Marine disabled. I suspect this very much depends on how Star Marine internal testing proceeds. Either way, this was a great letter and helped to address a lot of my concerns. It’s great to hear from CR again.
Erris: There’s not much more to say, really, other than here’s hoping FPS comes sooner rather than later, and that I look forward to finally having weekly updates about the status of the module.
Summary: Once again Tony Zurovec outlines another career and a somewhat esoteric one for a space sim. This design post outlines how transporting passengers around the Star Citizen universe will work – how the gameplay is designed and what you will be doing. It includes choosing the layout for your Starliner, obtaining a license, finding a suitable route, pricing of your tickets, stocking your Starliner, providing service to your passengers, keeping them safe, and earning a good reputation.
Nehkara: To be entirely frank I absolutely love this design post. It really highlights and reinforces CIG’s commitment to creating a living, breathing universe in Star Citizen. I have a personal affinity for this kind of gameplay – Aerobiz Supersonic on Sega Genesis is a game I absolutely loved… and I’ve even played it again recently with an emulator my PC. There are some aspects of this design that I’m sure some players would rather not bother with, but the beauty of it is that you can hire NPC flight attendants to do the parts of the job you’d rather not do yourself. I look forward to seeing more career designs from Tony.
Dolvak: As I said with about the mining design document we need things like this to move past being a space sim and to be a first person universe. I want to discover new systems and take people on tours…Or take groups of terrified players straight into the nearest star.
Erris: Dolvak, you scare me. But I agree. While this sale has been much less popular than some of other sales, I feel like the Starliner is infinitely more important to the game universe as a whole than something like the Vanguard. I can’t wait to see how the Starliner works in-game.
Hey everyone! Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for a much shorter version of the State of the Game post each month from now on.
As well, if you have any thoughts, comments, or suggestions, please let us know in the comments below!