Saitek X56 Rhino Review By Erris
The Saitek X56 Rhino is
the most recent HOTAS offering from Saitek, one of the larger
Joystick manufacturers around. A larger controller setup, the Rhino
retails for around 330$ Canadian. It has switches, toggles, buttons,
triggers, LED lights, the works.
The fate of Saitek is
currently up in the air though. Formerly a subsidiary of MadCatz, Saitek
were recently bought out by Logitech. The Rhino was designed and
manufactured while Saitek were still with MadCatz. This review was performed before Logitech bought Saitek, and the joystick was provided for review by Saitek.
How does it feel:
Let’s start with how
the Rhino feels. The stick portion feels solid enough, and while
constructed of plastic, it feels sturdy, it doesn’t have much give,
and even during my most frantic, flailing attempts at flight, it
stays upright. The stick is large as well; even with a riser on the
wrist-rest, my hand didn’t rest on it. Not that its size is too
much of an issue; all the triggers, buttons, and hats are easily
Unfortunately, one of
the triggers on the stick, the pinky trigger, feels… weak. And it
is weak, as I’ll detail later in this piece. It just doesn’t feel
On the other hand, the
Rhino’s throttle feels even better than the stick. It feels somehow
more solid, while still sporting the same plastic
construction. It feels weighty in a way, and all the switches, hats,
and toggles on the throttle just feel… right. The only issue with
the throttle is a very minor one; the throttle is a ‘split’
throttle, and when it’s in its split configuration, the two halves
rub against each other slightly. It’s so minor a complaint I’m
almost hesitant to mention it, but it does appear to be a strange,
and intentional, design decision. I just don’t get it.
Inputs on a joystick
are important, we all know this. Your hands are more or less glued to
the controller, and having to move to press shortcuts on a keyboard
is pretty much out of the question, so a lot of inputs on the HOTAS
itself are pretty key.
Thankfully, the Rhino
has plenty of switches, toggles, triggers, hats, and buttons.
Seriously, they’re everywhere. The throttle itself is the best
example of this, with two hats, two swivelly things, an analog
thumbstick, 7 switches, two dials, and more. It’s got a lot.
Seriously. And most of those switches are pretty easily reachable.
Remembering what you’ve bound each one to is a different matter,
but that’s more an issue with me being a horrible pilot; nothing
the stick can do to remedy that, sadly. Needless to say, I’m a huge
fan of the throttle.
The joystick on the
other hand, has the aforementioned flimsy pinky trigger as its main
standout problem, and then it has three hats at the top of the stick
that just… they don’t feel right, personally. Neither does the
thumbstick. I feel like in including so many hats, the joystick
misses out on things like triggers, or a missile toggle, that I feel would feel better.
Sure, the hats provide a lot
of customization options, but I don’t feel like the stick needs
three at the top. One hat, and some other buttons, would likely serve
That said, aside from
the pinky trigger, all the hats, triggers, and buttons on both the
stick and the throttle feel good. I don’t like the
thumbsticks yet, but I might get more used to them with time. All in
all, the stick does fairly well, input-wise.
First off, what is the
plural of axis? Weird word.
Aside from that, not
really much to say on the axis question. The Rhino is standard. The
throttle provides forward and back (or just forward, if you’re
simple like me), pitch, yaw, and roll. Anything else you’d have to
bind to hats, thumbsticks, or dials. No fancy six degrees of flight
Axes: 5/10? 7/10?
How do you rate ‘standard’?
Profile software is an
important part of any advanced joystick solution. Unfortunately, I
have almost no experience using profile software, and I sometimes get
confused when using internet browsers, much less complicated HOTAS
That said, the software
appears to be very detailed, with both basic options for plebs like
me (I’ll pick a standard acceleration curve, thank you), and with
more advanced options for people who can actually fly.
Confusing, but clearly
regular games (War Thunder)
So, lets talk about how
the Rhino performs in actual games. Here it gets a bit more difficult
to figure out what to talk about. Things are less concrete, and even
more of a personal opinion.
Still. The ‘regular
game’ (read – not space game) that I played most often was War
Thunder, because I like the game, I put a lot of time into it with
keyboard and mouse, and it has a fairly detailed ‘realistic’
In War Thunder,
atmospheric flight seemed to work really well, and the joystick
didn’t reduce my skill too much. It was definitely more difficult
to fly and be accurate with, but flying just felt better. I did have
some issues with keybindings; anytime I used the pinky trigger the
game would open the ‘pause’ menu, and I still have no idea why
that was happening, but overall the stick just… worked like you’d
expect a stick to, really.
Regular games: 8/10
Performance in VR
(War Thunder, Elite: Dangerous)
In VR, I tried out two
games, War Thunder and Elite: Dangerous. Both games, in VR, looked
amazing, and flying with a throttle and stick while looking around
just felt… it felt amazing. Dizzying, exciting, thrilling, and
really just a whole lot of fun.
But that’s down to
VR, and to the games. The Rhino felt good in VR, its sturdiness
lending a bit of credence to the VR illusion, but it was also plain
hard to work.
The stick and the main
portion of the throttle are easily accessed; you know where your
hands are on them, and you can find all the input options they offer.
The base of the throttle though is virtually impossible to use. All
the switches feel the same, and trying to put down landing gear
rather than abandoning ship proved…
Lets just say I ended
up suiciding more times than I would normally prefer to.
Now, this isn’t
necessarily a problem with the Rhino exclusively. Any current HOTAS
will have the problem. But it’s a space that joysticks could use a
lot of improvement.
VR is great for flying
games. Where VR suffers in FPS games, due to inducing dizziness when
moving. In driving and flying games, you’re stuck in your seat, and
can fully enjoy some truly jawdropping visuals. I will want to play
any and all flying games in VR from now on. And honestly, I’ll want
to play them with a HOTAS. The extra immersion added is perfect for
VR, since that’s what it’s all about.
For serious VR
implementation, though, next generation HOTAS’ might need to start
considering ‘trackers’, so with a system like the Vive, a vague,
shadowy overlay of the HOTAS could be displayed to you. So that you
can move your hands from the joysticks and still have awareness of
where they are.
It’s a complicated
suggestion, and might not make sense if you’ve never played a game
in VR, but… if Star Citizen ever becomes a VR game, this is
something that joysticks will need.
VR performance: 5/10
Performance in Star
Again, the Rhino feels
pretty solid in Star Citizen. While the thumbsticks on the throttle
and stick don’t control gimbals too well, they’re better than
nothing. In Star Citizen, the stick really suffers from the same
drawbacks it did in other games. The stick itself has too many hats,
making it impossible to bind all weapon groups and missiles to
That said, Star Citizen
has a lot of control options, and all of the toggles and
switches on the throttle give a lot of options for things like
ejecting, self destructing, turning on lights, power management, etc…
Overall the stick
performs well for Star Citizen, but as the probable predecessor to
the Star Citizen HOTAS, there’s a lot about its design that should
probably be improved.
Star Citizen: 7/10
Here’s where we get
to the fun part. A while ago, when the Star Citizen HOTAS was first
announced, I wrote an article theorizing that Saitek’s QA might
have improved, based on recent improvements by Madcatz, and based on
the knowledge that Star Citizen would probably be a huge market.
The first stick broke
within the first two days. The pinky trigger, the one I’ve said a
few times before is very wonky, simply stopped working. That pinky
trigger, to me, is the worst feeling and most worrisome part of the
whole stick. I don’t know why it’s there, and I don’t really
think it should be.
On the other hand,
aside from that pinky trigger, the joystick, while plastic, feels
solid, and the throttle honestly feels amazing.
acquired Saitek from MadCatz. Now, Logitech hasn’t made joysticks
in a while, not since they tried to create a force-feedback joystick
that failed miserably, but before that ill-fated attempt, Logitech’s
sticks were a standard for superior quality. That’s all to say
that, with some luck, Logitech’s QA process (fun fact; my most
recent mouse, a Logitech G700, has lasted me longer than any other
mouse I’ve ever owned. I normally go through two a year. It’s a
problem) will bleed over to Saitek’s, improving the quality of
Logitech’s acquisition of Saitek, it’s unclear who will be making
the Star Citizen HOTAS. We don’t know if the contract for it was
with Saitek or with Madcatz, or even if the contract will carry over.
What does this all
It all means that,
overall, the Rhino is an okay stick. Its QA is worrisome, and some of
its design decisions don’t make too much sense, and don’t bode
too well for the Star Citizen HOTAS, but the recent acquisition of
Saitek by Logitech throws a shadow of doubt on, well, everything.
I haven’t tried other high-end sticks yet. The Thrustmaster Warthog
is supposed to be the pinnacle of HOTAS excellence, but it’s also a
fair bit more expensive. If you’re looking for an all-around decent
HOTAS, and can come to terms with possibly having to RMA it a few
times, then the Rhino will serve you well.
Overall Score: 6/10
Oh hello, I’m glad to see you all today
Stay a while, and listen, just… don’t go away.
Before our show starts, I’ve a story to tell
Of a cold night in Space, and some ne’er do-wells.
‘Twas the night before Chris-mas, and all through my ship
Not a Vanduul was stirring, not even a bit.
The shotguns were stacked up by the door with care
In the knowledge that Pirates might soon appear.
My crewmates were nestled, all snug in their bunks
With visions of shore-leave, keeping them up.
And I in my Captain’s chair, wearing my cap
Staring out at the void, and loving the black.
When from all the sensors, there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter.
And so to the comm-suite, I flew like a flash
Twisting some buttons, tapping the dash
The silence and darkness of deep, empty space
Shone off of the monitor, and lit up my face.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a small radar blip, sounding quite near.
I punched on more knobs, dreading the quiet
Till the Radar confirmed my worst fear: pirates.
More rapid than Hornets, the Cutlass it came
My intercom buzzing a frightful refrain
You’ll die, oh you’ll die, painful and slow
We’ll rip off your limbs, and break all your bones
We’ll take all your cargo, but leave you alive
Then blow up your ship, with you still inside.
I dry-heaved several times, then woke up my crew
And we all gathered our shotguns, plus a pistol or two
The silence, interminable, the wait it seemed endless
The anticipation, cruel. Our fear left us breathless.
And then, in a burst, I heard from the hold
The sealed docking collar, being ripped from its post
As I stuck out my shotgun, and aimed down the corridor,
The first of the Pirates, like a madman, came closer
He was dressed all in red, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished, with ashes and blood
A brown burlap sack, he held clenched in one fist
A sawn-off double-barrel in the other, no less.
His eyes how they steamed, his scars, how angry
His cheeks were all pitted, his teeth were quite lacking
His sharp, angry mouth, was drawn up in a sneer
In his beard, bits of food, weeks old I fear.
The blade of a knife he held tight in his gums
And his feet they were bare, his toes withered like plums
A squint of his eyes, and a crack of his neck
Made me sure one of us soon would be dead
He said not a word, he just roared, and then charged
So I blew off one arm, and his charge faltered hard
Blood slowly pooling, he collapsed to the floor,
As two more bloody pirates, leaped through the door
We said not a word, just went straight to our work
The shotgun shells flying, body parts piling up
And then without warning, without word, without hint
The last of the pirates turned and ran, at a sprint.
He sprang to his ship, to his crew gave a cry
And away they all flew, or at least they tried.
For I dialed up his comms, ere they were all gone
Saying ‘Missiles locked and away; Merry Chris-Mas you scum’
Alternate Reality - The Past, Present, and Future of Relay's Community
Now, this is a very unimportant, somewhat personal blog post, so if you're not into that stop reading now. But I wanted to talk about the events leading up to Relay’s launch, as well as what we're going to be doing going forward on the community side.
Everyone is now likely aware of the viral marketing leading up to Relay’s launch. But for those unaware, on Monday, November 28th, I made this tweet:
Slowly but surely, more and more people shared it and it spread like wildfire across twitter, and eventually Reddit. A lot of people were confused, thinking it was CIG doing this, but one thing was sure: All eyes were on it. From there, more images popped up, along with twitch glitches:
CLICK HERE FOR GRAYHEADEDGAMER'S CLIP
All of this eventually culminated into the unveiling of Relay, with this video from our new Twitter account. As we planned out our new site, our team worked tirelessly for weeks preparing, coding, and writing. While they did that, they gave me one task: Make sure people see. And I think, with all the good and bad, it was a success. But I'm not here to pat myself on the back. The real reason I wanted to bring all this to your attention is because of the enormous support from people in the Star Citizen community. Including our team, nearly 30 content creators worked together to make this happen, and it wouldn't have happened without them. Please follow every last one of them if you aren't already.
The true significance of this group of people is that they're from all corners of this community. From YouTube to Twitch, from TEST to Redacted, from Bad News Gaming to the Base, thank you all. We all came together and did something awesome.
And that’s going to be the philosophy of the community front of Relay going forward. We want to showcase as many people as possible. All the amazing things the Star Citizen community does every single day. We want to bring creators together to collaborate on amazing new things, just like we were able to do with the ARG. So if you're doing something awesome, throw me a ping. Tag me or Relay in your posts. I want to see it all, and share it with everyone. And that's only the beginning. We will never stop finding ways to bring us all together. That's what you can expect from Relay.
Thank you all for your overwhelming support. We wouldn't be able to do any of this without you. See you in the ‘Verse.
Holiday Livestream Postmortem
It took me a few days to write this. There are a couple of reasons... initially I just wanted to let things settle in my mind. Then I got sick, so here we are on Monday.
Prior to Friday, the Holiday Livestream was looked upon with great anticipation by many in the Star Citizen community, while a significant contingent of other fans were taking a wait-and-see approach.
The fans excited for the stream were looking forward to seeing the vertical slice of Squadron 42 and/or expanded 3.0 gameplay. Originally both Squadron 42 and Star Citizen Alpha 3.0 were expected and announced for 2016 so it was not ludicrous to expect to at least see the progress on these portions of the game.
Unfortunately what we actually saw on Friday was not only very little new content, mostly restricted to the MISC Razor and expanded details of the Vanduul race, but also a very poorly done livestream.
Throughout the 160 minute runtime of the livestream, there were a plethora of audio issues, missed cues, flubbed transitions, and general disorganization. Adding on to this was a myriad of reality TV style cringe-worthy skits, and equally bizarre and stilted voiceover of the "Emergent Gameplay" video.
Even worse was that most of the skits were introductions to pieces of content that very few in the community wanted to see. Just 4 weeks ago we got to see a live competition in 2.6 - there was no reason to repeat that content.
Well, perhaps there was. What became quite obvious throughout the livestream was that they obviously didn't have anything else to show right now. So why didn't we know that going in?
CIG has been very open in terms of development in some ways, however, in other ways they are frustratingly closed-off.
After the Squadron 42 vertical slice narrowly missed being shown at CitizenCon, according to CIG, we were assured it would be shown soon. With two events left in 2016 and nothing planned for 2017, the natural conclusion was it would be shown during the Anniversary or Holiday livestream. What we learned 10 minutes before the livestream on Friday was that not only would it not be shown in 2016, it sounds like it was actually scrapped quite some time ago. Why didn't we know that beforehand?
After we made the decision before CitizenCon that the Squadron 42 vertical slice wasn’t ready to be shown publically, we spent some time on reviewing how far off we were and what we wanted to achieve in order to be comfortable showing a full chapter of S42 gameplay. After all the effort we expended for CitizenCon, we didn’t want to spend additional developer time polishing intermediate solutions if it wasn’t going towards the final product. A slick demo isn’t that helpful if it pushes back the finished game, so we decided that the priority should be completing full systems over getting the vertical slice into a showable state.
Chris Roberts, Friday December 16 Newsletter
Additionally, 3.0 gameplay was shown off at Gamescom and CitizenCon. Surely it has made some progress from October to December - so why didn't we see it? I heard from a fair number of fans who would have been much more content with the Livestream if it had been spent exploring procedural worlds.
This seems to be partly answered in the newsletter as well, with indications that 3.0 became a #3 priority internally behind 2.6 and Squadron 42:
Since CitizenCon we’ve been working towards 2.6 as our priority, with Squadron 42 core tech being second priority, followed by 3.0 development. Almost all Squadron 42 core tech is also needed for 3.0 and the aspects that aren’t, like Networking, have their own team who don’t get distracted by Squadron as it’s a single player game.
Chris Roberts, Friday December 16 Newsletter
While this makes sense, it would have been nice to actually know this earlier.
CIG has two weekly shows where they could easily share this kind of news. Something like this would have worked nicely:
"We also wanted to mention that we are examining whether to continue work on the Squadron 42 vertical slice. We have discovered we may need to create some interim solutions that wouldn't contribute to the final game. We'll have our decision for you next week."
"Last week we mentioned that we were internally examining whether it was worthwhile to move forward with the vertical slice for Squadron 42 and we have determined at this time that we would prefer to rededicate our efforts to finishing the final game. We can't wait to show you all we've been working on but unfortunately it will need to wait. Thank you for all of your support."
Note: These are both hypothetical statements but I believe they would have defused the expectation that we would in fact see Squadron 42 soon.
The last part of Friday's newsletter I would like to address is this:
One thing that I think helps to understand the challenges of working on such a big complex project in the open is the visibility into our internal schedules. Sharing the 2.6 schedule was an experiment that a lot of people internally were very worried about but now everyone agrees it was the right move as transparency helps build trust.
Chris Roberts, Friday December 16 Newsletter
He's right. Transparency does build trust. So why half-ass it?
The community has been incredibly supportive of the increased transparency CIG has shown in some areas (showing more of the game in ATV, production schedule for 2.6, etc). So why keep it under wraps, until 10 minutes prior to your highly anticipated Holiday Livestream, that you are working very hard on 2.6 and therefore can't deliver demos of SC Alpha 3.0 and Squadron 42?
It's pretty frustrating, from a fan's point of view.
The combination of poor content, disappointments, and a very poorly executed livestream led to a torrent of discontent throughout the community.
This was, however, stemmed somewhat by a Friday-night release of 2.6 to the PTU, for the 1st wave of PTU testers. To be frank, 2.6 is good. It's a significant improvement to the playable Star Citizen product. Star Marine plays well and is fun. Arena Commander, in my opinion, plays better and I enjoy the new flight model. There's even some new goodies in the Crusader map. Better graphics, better animations, better UI, better FPS combat, better space combat, and vastly improved load times.
That said, I am rather concerned about an upcoming vacuum of content and news simultaneously. It seems unlikely we will see 3.0 any time soon and there are no scheduled events for at least 8 months. I would highly encourage CIG to schedule some sort of event between now and Gamescom 2017 once they have notable content to show. The PU Townhall event in 2015 was fantastic - do that again.
In closing, congratulations to CIG for what they've accomplished in 2.6. We still have a lot of faith in the developers working on Star Citizen. They are doing an incredible job in creating a pair of games that push the envelope, and we would like to take a moment this holiday to thank them.
However, the great work by the developers doesn't excuse the mess on Friday. Communication and event quality must be improved. Clean it up CIG.
November Monthly Report Summary
NOVEMBER MONTHLY REPORTCIG LOS ANGELES
Progress on the vehicle system and flight controlLaid groundwork for further development of the item systemImproved first person radar mechanics should allow for new gameplayFirst version of atmospheric volume system rolled outContinued work on systems that support/control interactions and tools for designers to flesh out the universeTech Design
Dividing efforts between Star Marine, SQ42 and PUShip team put finishing touches on the Caterpillar Moved onto Drake Buccaneer making progress on whitebox and now greyboxCharacter Art team worked on planetary fauna to add to the many landscapesUpdating and working on humanoids by improving textures on the Outlaw and Marine BDUsSeveral new clothing items that will be in the shops soon in the PU Tech Content
Focused on cleaning up the animation streaming system and unified the character assetsCharacter items revisited and improved, setting the stage for inventory system yet to comeNew scripts and pipeline tools will allow for artists/designers to bring even more to the ‘Verse in coming buildsAsset and profiling fixes led to zero asset build errors in the gameNarrative
After last month’s motion capture shoot, the team worked with the editor to review footage to put together selected footage for Chris to reviewIn anticipation of the November Livestream, helped script some of the events/segmentsContinued to tackle 2.6 needs, the vast catalogue of items being created and working away at 3.0Will and Adam faced each other in the Electronic Access InvitationalQuality Assurance
Primary focus was supporting local developers, providing QA support and participating in November Livestream This involved a number of Star Marine and Arena Commander playtestsLooked at the latest Afterburner and flight balance changes, also new missile systems John Pritchett was working onEarly looks at the new slate of ships for SC alpha 2.6.0: Caterpillar, Herald and extra early look at 85XNew tester joined the team, Andrew Hernando from Turtle Rock StudiosCIG AUSTIN
Looking ahead to 3.0.0 for majority of the month Rob Reininger went to LA to discuss various topics such as Shop Entity setup with Chris and Paul ReindellPresented latest iteration on Shopping kiosks designs to ChrisReviewed upcoming design requests for Character Team with Josh HermanHas been working on another iteration of the Shopping Kiosk and working with the UI team to get some good mockupsExperimenting with ‘Shop Archetypes’(archetypes establish fundamental parameters every shop within a certain ‘type’ will follow)Parameters include specific metrics that need to be followed such as: types of NPCs, prop requests, animations and any gameplay considerations that need to be taken into accountFirst batch of Shop Archetypes addressed are: ‘Bar’, ‘Clothing Shop’, ‘Security’, ‘Personal Weapons Shop’Pete Mackay focused on economy as it relates to 3.0Tweaking his Price Fixer tool which takes varying gameplay aspects into account to generate value for items/componentsThese will help inform final in-game pricing for items/shipsHe’s also been defining aspects of the ‘Commodities’ list, distribution of said commodities and how this informs the establishment of trade routes within Stanton SystemArt
Chris Smith putting final touches on the Hornet refactor Josh Coons in the middle of Greybox pass for Drake Cutlass refactorBoth also worked on creating variants on the Hornet and Herald, the Wildfire and racing variants respectively Emre Switzer working at lighting the Star Marine maps, OP Demien Station and Echo Eleven Animation
PU Animation team supporting SQ42 by implementing animations for various Usables that have been set up in the Idris by DesignBryan Brewer and David Peng worked on Idris Deck Crew sequence, splitting up various roles within Deck Crew to be operated completely as AIDavid and Vanessa incorporating what their calling ‘lego piece transition’ animations into existing animation sets These pieces captured at Imaginarium Studios and once stitched in to various animations allow AI characters to interact with Usables at more angles than previouslySpecifically working on stitching these into the Mess Hall and Sitting Console animation sets Ship Animation team wrapped work on Drake Caterpillar and Origin 85X in preparation for 2.6 releaseJay Brushwood moved on to improving the G-forces animation in various cockpit types, taking into account improvements in other tech like Eye Stabilization Daniel Craig finished implementing all updated enter/exit combat speed animations Backend Services
Tom Sawyer fixing up bugs to help smooth out lobby/matchmaking services Also supported the UI team in implementing new Frontend Refactor of the Lobby, Matchmaking and Leaderboard screensCreated a new Leaderboard service that grabs info from the website leaderboards and posts them in the new in-game LeaderboardsIan Guthrie at Wyrmbyte helped implement new admin commands that will help LiveOps and Customer Support teams better navigate servers and identify problemsQA
First half of the month testing focused on Star Marine and Arena Commander to ready for November Livestream Second half, focus on testing 2.6.0 and supporting multiple deployments to Evocati Worked with Turbulent in a series of destructive tests of the new Spectrum website Michael Blackard, Elijah Montenegro and Dash Wilkinson tasked to assist Animation Dept with special projects Justin Bauer joined the team Player Relations
Newly created encompassing three areas: Game Support, E-Commerce Support(formerly Customer Service) and Community Support with Will Leverett as Director of Player Relations overseeing global department out of Austin and Ray Roocroft managing the UK teamWorking to combine US/UK support teams into single organization that can expedite support for backersLater part of the month preparing 2.6.0 to go to Evocati, special thanks to Proxus, Mac and George for their efforts in managing test environmentsIT/Operations
Paul Vaden and Mike Jones spent time on LA with Dennis Daniel preparing for November Livestream eventFor this event, IT team coordinated to build and deploy 12 gaming class systems that were used in the head to head matchups between Team Anvil/AegisAlso built new live streaming solution capable of switching and mixing all players into live stream plus cameras LiveOps/DevOps
2.6 huge focus preparing all servers and publishing systems for Star MarineCompleted several publishes to Evocati, deployed countless publishes internally for QA teams across all studios to test onSpecial kudos tp Ahmed and his team, Andy, Nathan and Jeffrey for all their work on the publishing pipelineFOUNDRY 42 UK
Big focus was the Prowler Also worked on the 85X, MISC racing ship and Caterpillar promoWork started on Vanduul StingerMajor lighting pass on the Idris to make sure characters look amazing in the ship’s interior environmentSeveral more rooms checked off the Javelin, only a few left til interior is complete!Three new FPS weapons in conceptTon of previous work for more Klaus and Werner energy weaponsAdditional work with Knightbridge Arms ship weapon family and fleshing out modular barrelsPushing to close out 2.6, particularly Star Marine maps OP Station Demien and Echo Eleven Further work on visual development of ‘surface outpost’ set and planetary surface assets for vertical slice level Team Behaviour focused on adding life to the three planets they’re working on Each planet evolved from whiteboxed to textured and modelled environmentsMore work needed on the texture and composition thoughHurston: Two main areas, interior streets and vista shots of the planet. Wanted to go for an oppressive feel to the place.Interior streets: Added obstructed skylines, narrow alleys covered with machinery, ever present security checkpoints and expressionless statuesMicrotech: Focused on one dome only in an effort to make the planet a more feasible endeavour while maximizing visuals Crusader: Worked on utilizing building silhouettes and gaps between buildings to present breathtaking vista shots Spent time on background buildings to complement the planetary vistaVFX
Full pass on two of the new ships going into 2.6 including 85X and CaterpillarStar Marine: Completed final optimization pass for Demien/Echo Eleven maps including destructible props and surface type impacts, implemented new VFX pass on energy shotgun and did initial pass on dead player fadeout VFXClean up of ship and FPS weapons, implementing new projectile shader and improved missile effects to tie in better with new missile assets Cleaned up library of generic particlesDesign
SQ42 designers working out of the Frankfurt office in an effort to work efficiently as possible with system designers that are helping with Subsumption implementation Tech still being developed but they are starting to get behaviour types into the gameVertical slice level enabling them to prove out gameplay mechanics that allow designers to polish up the greybox missionGuys working on 2.6 are fixing bugs and last second polish actionsAudio
Heavily focused on Star Marine and 2.6 needs 2.6: Finished up audio for Caterpillar and 85X including everything from thrusters, moving parts to extensive work on internal ambience Star Marine: Created and implemented ambient and environment sounds for levels, weapon sounds, player sounds and ambient musicExtensive work also done to include announcers for the teamsSQ42: Developing their outsourced editorial pipeline to handle massive amount of dialogue that’s been recorded, optimizing AI battle chatter code, working on ambient and cinematic music PU/Arena Commander: Overhaul on Announcer and Ship Computer Systems including implementation of a Ship Computer Verbosity setting into options menu, fixed some issues where sound was dropping out during Quantum travel and during some weapon fireUI
Continued implementation of the new front-end menus and Electronic access lobbiesEntire front end mostly in functional stateArtists working on further visual polish and animations for each screenWorking on Star Marine and Arena Commander loadout interfacesShip customization: 3D holo-objects rendering in the UI with smooth rotation and zooming This work will eventually serve as base system for revamped in-world holotable interfaceAdditional headway on Star Marine game HUDIncludes better AR callouts for friendly players, offscreen icon boundaries, improved rendering of 2D UIDesigned 3D icons for in-game pick up items in Arena CommanderStarted work on insignia designs for Star Marine and Arena Commander leaderboard rankings Programming
Working on all the features and polish for 2.6 and FPS for Star Marine gamesArena Commander: Now implemented missile and ammo pick ups, work on new camera system including the new spectator cam modeWork on Arena Commander mega mapMost work required for dynamic gamerules has been completed and it’s at the testing stage to find out what isn’t workingLobby refactor means they can now connect/disconnect to a server without have to completely load/unload a whole mapProgress with message queue rewrite, serialized components, lobby refactor and entity bind culling Graphics
Depth of field effect getting a complete overhaul to improve its speedFine tuning shadow system to achieve greater shadow resolution and many more shadows through introduction of static shadow maps for environmentsFocus on achieving cinematic quality lighting on SQ42 in-game rather than just in hand crafted cut scenesMajor upgrade of the bounced light system(global illumination), first step being GPU acceleration of reflection/cube map captures to remove previous offline/CPU systemAnimation
Supporting upcoming Star Marine releaseContinued work on AI combat animation assets so design/programming team can get core functionality implemented and ready for next round of animation iterationAll existing base weapons have been through a second animation passReloads/hand positioning improved, and various other tweaksFurther work in previz for next round of weapons due to come down the pipelineLegacy weapons spruced up for initial Star Marin release with improved hand positioning/firing animationsProne animation set being looked at to make some improvements Core poses will be updated and transitions to/from different stances are prepped and ready to be worked on New animator based in Frankfurt studio mainly going to be working with design/code team on getting AI functionality looking/feeling goodProgress on player combat signals and AI reactions to danger/soundsQA
Team was split into three groups to prepare for live stream: SQ42 testing, Arena Commander and Crusader testing, Star Marine testingWorked on filling servers to ensure they had a steady platform to push to Evocati shortly after live stream For live stream, they tested new flight balances put in by tech team and the new shipsFOUNDRY 42 FRANKFURT
SQ42: Work on video comms, several conversational scenes, cleaning/editing required animations and setting up and lighting them Experimented with camera/character based lighting rig as some conversations can happen in dark alcoves/corridors/other non-controlled situationsCompleted the 10 separate ‘Galactic Tour’ segments for Anniversary Livestream Used a modified Tier 2 character head and only had some basic animation cleanup done for body and face due to timeFor Expo: Built the ex-Navy airbase and hangars that got converted into show floor halls and different manufacturers for a 3D version of their logo including Drake, Aegis, Anvil and RSIVFX
Focused on polishing effect for 2.6 release Including full environmental VFX passed on several levels, some effects created specifically for the FPS aspect of the game like new variations of blood impacts for when a player is shot, screen effects for player damage triggered via flowgraph and a new MK4 frag grenade explosionQA
Focus on Star Marine, SQ42 and testing new engine-side featuresChris Speak and Glenn Kneale worked on Star Marine ad-hoc testing and regressionGlenn also tackled SQ42 testing and AI sync meetingsParticipated in multiple playtests ranging from dev playtests to cross studio playtests with UK/ATX/LAChris worked on creating various test levels for the dev team to use for their own feature testingMelissa Estrada working closely with Chris Bolte te test newly developed integrated page heap for Game Dev builds that will allow them to capture more robust crash core dumps for engineers These will provide much more info for an engineer to use to resolve low reproduction crashesMelissa also spent time learning/testing Sascha Hoba’s planet editor together with Pascal Muller in order to formulate a new checklist that will specifically check the planet editor’s core functionality to ensure it’s in working order for environment artistsEnvironment Art
Senior staff spent some time getting new hires acquainted with internal processes Primary focus for existing team was procedural planets tasks, defining/creating bespoke ecosystems(ex:canyons, mining pits), improving blending of terrain materials to get more detail, and iterating on tools to make workflow more efficientWorked on various megastructures for SQ42 level including modeling, UV mapping and making prefabs out of components for designers to placeTech Art
Focus on 2.6 and SQ42Worked with designers and updated a large amount of animation for FPS especially improving select/deselect/reloadsUpdated and re-exported numerous weapons/gadgets to accommodate new left hand grip post which is functioning using runtime IKCompleted new weapon pre-visualization pipeline enabling their modelling dept to test their WIP weapons directly in a game for quicker review and identify any problems with the weaponEngineering
Engine Team: Improvement on Physics, Shader system, Texture Array Streaming, Animation Ragdoll and Terrain/Ecosystems One of the tools allowed artists to punch holes in planet terrain for smoother embedding of large mass structures Switched to multi-threaded memory allocator which will improve efficiency but also unify the use across the engine, game, tool and editor Improved reprojection based occlusion systems by cleaning up previously existing code and converting it to pure SSE2 SIMDFixed some aliasing problems inside occlusion code which results in a more stable frame during movementMassive clean up of their Zone transition code, making zone transitions more stable This was also synced with physics which should fix the cases of players being teleported to space when entering/exiting shipsImproved low level memory redirection functionalityChanged their core system allocators, they went with JeMalloc Working on their Area systemAreas are special mark-up used by game designers to give rooms or areas some specific context, they have now extended this system to track the overlapping status of all entities within all areasThey moved the old system directly into the zone system to allow them to reuse spatial information for a much more efficient algorithmWeapons
FPS weapons artists polished weapons/gadgets for upcoming releases, built prototypes for a range of new Kastak Arms guns, spent some time making modular irons sights for P8 weapon family Completed first pass for new re-worked ATT-4 laser rifleStarted same process for Arrowhead sniper rifleShip weapon team has been blocking out a new range of ship weapons base on the updated Knightsbridge Arms manufacturer style which will include a more modular designLevel Design
Working on locations required for 3.0, building out space station and archetypes and satellite variants as well as a few surface outposts Looking into supporting the art team on larger planetary landing zones, also progressing on a modular approach for locationsSatellites and surface outposts passed onto art teamSystem Design
Busy setting up usable records for SQ42, which will lay groundwork for cinematic scenes and player interactions, adding background conversations between AI and in general making AI feel a lot more alive and natural in environment Worked on finalizing Mercenary and Bounty Hunter careers for 3.0 and breaking these careers into their component systemsProgress on AI skills and stats system which should allow each AI to have an individual personality/needs/wantsBased on these skills/stats, AI will change priority of their Subsumption behavioursThis will encourage players to crew ships with AI who have a variety of skills for every situation AI
Completed first pass on Mission Functions and Mission CallbacksA mission in Subsumption will first start with an Init function and will end with an Uninit to allow designers to both prepare and clean up their logic Subsumption: New improvements to the Combat behavioursFor combat/non-combat environments they introduced an ‘Emotion component’ to allow the ability to control facial animations based on the emotion of the NPCWorked on improving animation flows to allow proper blending between states and make sure characters feel more fluidWork on ground turrets to make sure that they can easily be controlled by the AI and execute proper behaviours Progress in improving stability and fixing existing bugsTURBULENT
Spectrum Alpha v.0.1 to members of Evocati test groupAnniversary sale, older ships made a comeback but also new variants and was capped off by a two day Grand Finale ---
Holiday Livestream & Sale - Past and Present
The big feature of Holiday season 2012 wasn't a sale or a livestream but the introduction of the ability to give Star Citizen as a gift.
The 2013 Holiday season was marked by a 2 hour livestream including a dogfighting demo, which illustrated precisely why Arena Commander was not ready for release.
This period also featured the opening of Foundry 42 Manchester, the introduction of the famous Drake hoodie, and the addition of Star Citizen gift cards to the pledge store. On top of that was Hangar patch 10 which introduced an update Avenger and the Cutlass to the Hangar Module - accompany this the Cutlass also got a game package in the store.
A 4.5 hour livestream punctuated the 2014 Holiday season for Star Citizen. This was one of the largest transcription projects I have ever personally taken on and my complete notes on it can be found here. Highlights were some great gameplay design information from Tony Zurovec, an early prototype of the Starmap, a lot of interesting thoughts for the future of Star Citizen, the Consolidated Outland Mustang commercial and introduction, the Pegasus Escort Carrier unveiling, new website reveal, new Idris images, as well as the Imagine trailer.
This period also featured the release of Arena Commander 1.0.
In terms of the sale, the Mustang series were on concept sale and 200 Idris Frigates were sold. In addition, there were a few new top tier packages created.
This occasion also marked the introduction of some new physical merchandise (mouspads, dogtags, Squadron 42 shirts) and the introduction of their new method of selling merchandise - pre-orders and then manufacturing/shipping.
2015 featured a 3 hour livestream which showed off procedural planets with a live demo as well as the famous From Pupil to Planet video, the ship pipeline in two parts (part 1, part 2), a blockout of the Javelin Destroyer, and a behind-the-scenes as well as an interview with John Rhys-Davies. Notes for the livestream can be found here. You can find the Holiday Livestream Ship Gallery here.
Of course Star Citizen Alpha 2.0 was also released to Live around this time frame on December 11th (the livestream was on the 16th), and was followed by SC Alpha 2.1 release to an all-player PTU on December 24th.
In terms of ship sales, one of the main features was MISC Reliant variant sale which began on December 16th. Also on that day there was limited availability of the Idris and Javelin, 5,000 discounted ($30) Starter game packages, as well as availability of the Sabre. In addition, pre-orders began on the 16th for Jump Point Volume 2.
The Holiday Ship Sale began 8 days later on December 24th and ran through December 28th. In addition to the continued availability of the Reliant variants and Sabre, this sale featured: Endeavor, Carrack, Cutlass Blue, Caterpillar, Herald, Gladiator, Super Hornet, Retaliator & Retaliator Modules, Starfarer & Starfarer Gemini, M50, 350R, Mustang Delta, Khartu-al, Merchantman, Reclaimer, Starliner, Orion, Aurora LX, Freelancer MIS, Constellation Phoenix, Hull A/B/C/D/E. In addition to THOSE ships there were also these new ships: Crucible, Avenger Titan, Avenger Warlock, P-72 Archimedes, and the Vanguard. Some Master Packs were also available, including many ships.HUGE, right?
Well, there was an extenuating circumstance. As of January 1st, 2016 they were updating the Euro exchange rate to be more reflective of the changing value of the currency. This sale was held as a last chance to get the "old" rate before it changed.
So what does all of that history tell us about what will happen tomorrow?
I think some rather obvious conclusions are that the livestream will be long (2-4 hours), and will show off some interesting things. CIG has a shown off a lot in the past two Holiday livestreams.
The official party line is as follows:
"Join us on our Twitch and YouTube channels for our Holiday Live Stream next Friday, December 16th at 11 AM PST / 7 PM GMT. Expect to see 2.6 gameplay and features, a friendly international competition, more details about an alien race, a new concept ship and details on our upcoming Holiday Promotions."
You could also draw the conclusion, and CIG have themselves mentioned, that it will be somewhat less formal than their other recent livestreams.
Now, I am going to go out on a limb here (not very far in my opinion) and guarantee that CIG also has a fair amount of additional content for the livestream that they are not talking about.
Today Sandi Gardiner tweeted out an image that includes what looks like a drill instructor featuring a Star Marine logo on his hat - so look towards seeing a cutscene or trailer for Star Marine.
The elephant in the room is obviously the Squadron 42 demo/vertical slice. I personally believe that we will in fact see this tomorrow. The livestream is certainly long enough to house that kind of content - the vertical slice was reported to be about an hour long. In addition, when I met the Roberts brothers at CitizenCon they both seemed confident that although it was not shown at CitizenCon that it would be shown by the end of 2016.
I also expect we will see an update on Star Citizen Alpha 3.0, an update on the progress of Spectrum, and probably some unexpected goodies.
Now - what is the new concept ship?
There have been some hints recently that it may well be a "space motorbike" of sorts - a competitor for the Dragonfly. The original source of this speculation being Chris Smith's hint during RTV 2.16: "One little thing in between... I'm actually not sure if I can even announce it yet but... it's gonna be a 'vroom vroom' *mimics revving a motorcycle*." This speculation has also focused on the name Nox - brought to light on Reddit by /u/bar10dr2 - which was mentioned in an Empire Report on December 13th:
"People think that riding a Dragonfly or a Nox means partying hard, but that’s just wrong. It’s about being who you are, you know?"
In the clip from RTV Chris Smith also mentioned he has been focused on Anvil ships - the work he did on the Hornet as well as the F8. This leads me to believe we may see the Anvil Aerospace Nox tomorrow. However, this is all of course just speculation.
Regardless of what precisely happens tomorrow, the Holiday livestream is always a great time. I encourage everyone who can tune in, to do so.
Relay will have a pre-show live on Twitch.TV/Relay_SC at 10 AM PST (6 PM UTC). Once CIG goes live (scheduled for 11 AM PST), we will host the official livestream so you can watch from the relative quiet of Relay's Twitch, and then once CIG is done we will have a post-show as well to share our reactions.
The Neverships of Star Citizen: The Never Endeavor
If you follow Star Citizen then you are quite used to ships changing drastically between their concept phase and actual implementation. Usually this works to our benefit as ships tend to grow as they are worked on and usually come out the other side with more features than the original concept. The Starfarer might be the best example, or the Idris. Both grew monumentally between first concept and final implementation.
When we get a concept ship sale, the art that we’re given that isn’t the first or last version by any stretch. We can watch what the ship turns into as CIG is pretty open about the changes being made as they progress through the pipeline. However, everything from a full redesign of the concept to little tweaks BEFORE it’s first shown off are not something most people are familiar with.
Today we are going to be talking about the MISC Endeavor. Not the Endeavor you are familiar with, but this one:
This 2001-esque nightmare looks nothing like the Endeavor of today, but you can see a lot of similar design elements that took it from this… thing to what it is now. Let's start in the rear of the ship with one of the most important elements: engines.
This old concept didn’t have the linear engine block of today's Endeavor, instead it had articulating engine blocks in a ring pattern. If you thought this design looked somewhat familiar you would be right because a slightly modified version of this appears in everyone’s favorite massive cargo hauler: the Hull-E.
The Hull-E and the Endeavor don’t just share MISC as the manufacturer but the concept sales were actually only 5 months apart, with the Hull concept sale on the 25th of April 2015 and the Endeavor sale in September of that same year. While the engines do differ slightly it is cool to see the similarities in the design. Who knows why CIG scrapped the articulating arms on the Endeavor. It’s possible they simply thought that the flexibility in the engines would be more valuable in a cargo hauler with a lot of mass to push around, maybe they simply thought it would be too visually similar.
Looking further up the ship we see the heart of the vessel. No matter the concept, the Endeavor was always intended to be a scientific research platform. You can start to see radar dishes and telescopes... even if they do seem to be directly blocked by the rest of the ship.
This middle section is where the most iterations on the Endeavor concept take place. I am pretty sure they reached the same conclusion looking at this middle section - the thing is just too cluttered to be effective. So what is the solution to the space issue? Platforms!
There are tons of different variations of the modular Endeavor platforms.
The majority of these all appear to be variants of the same idea, modular pods on a spindle that would expand out from the ship.
As they progressed they started solving issues with the original design. Hey! Those dishes aren't blocked anymore, progress!
Eventually the whole pod idea started going away but the modularity did not. Experiments with something a little more form fitting started cropping up and we are left with something very similar to the final version today.
The move away from spindle pods to modular components slotting in along the frame of the ship was a big change. The Endeavor went from something that could satisfy any form of scientific itch the crew had, to being something a little more focused that would instead be outfitted with a specific goal in mind. This step is what really turned the concept ship into what it is today.
The Endeavor is a truly intriguing ship that offers a variety of interesting twists on MMO gameplay - research, exploration, development, observation, farming, health care, etc. It’s been refined from a very open-ended idea to a very focused yet customizable vessel. The evolution of the Endeavor is somewhat unique. Some ships fundamentally change as they are concepted but the Endeavor has always remained true to its core idea: Science.
(and drugs) But seriously - Science!
The Value of FriendShip: On Maximizing Efficiency in the 'Verse
During my playtime of Planetside 2, I was most commonly a platoon leader, meaning I would lead up to 48 people at a time. My favorite maneuver was to strategically have the women and men under my command spawn a massive column of tanks to siege bases, support infantry, and smash spawn points. When preparing the troops, the question often arose: is it more powerful to have everyone spawn their own tank, or to have half of the people load into the turrets and give each tank more power? The answer was almost always simple: more tanks means more power, and two tanks would usually beat one tank with a turret. The equation looks like this: [MORE = BETTER]. This seemingly simple fact carries over to most other games, which is why I did a double-take when I first saw that the Super Hornet, the UEE's beefy fighter, had two seats instead of just one. Even if the second pilot only had an Aurora LN or something similar, wouldn't it be more worthwhile to have them in their own ship rather than in the co-pilot seat?
To truly answer this question, the concept of resources in multiplayer games must be understood, and I don't just mean minerals and Vespene gas. In any multiplayer game, there are two fundamental resources: players, and the tools they're given. These are provided in varying degrees depending on the game; fighting games limit the resources to one player on each side and one character to each side, while games like Battlefield, on the other hand, set the player count much higher while scaling the resources accordingly. Typically, these games give the players equal access to resources in the interest of fairness. (Some competitive games, such as Evolve and Natural Selection 2, have attempted to create balanced asymmetric experiences, but their limited success is testament to how difficult this balancing tends to be)
With limited resources, however, comes the question of opportunity cost. For simplicity's sake, let's look at Battlefield. At the beginning of a match, each side is given a limited number of tanks, so the problem of how many tanks to spawn doesn't exist as it does in Planetside. There is a holdover, however: is it worth it to put a gunner into each of the tanks? Well, a player in the gun of a tank means there's one less pair of boots on the ground, so the opportunity cost of putting a player in a tank is equal to one footman. Typically, a secondary gunner in a tank is worth more than a ground pounder, so the answer is usually, “absolutely, I want that gun manned.” But when applied to Star Citizen, this problem becomes more complicated.
Suppose there's a band of five pirate fighters attacking a small orbital station, and they're calling for aid from the planet surface. You, your buddy Sally, and a ragtag group of three other do-gooders decide to answer the call. You have a Super Hornet, while Sally has herself a rugged Gladius. This situation is much more like the Planetside question: each player has a potential vehicle of their own, but there is also the option of both players hopping into one ship. So what's the best course of action? Here, we can designate the opportunity cost of the copilot equal to one Gladius, but the benefits of a copilot in a Super Hornet are fundamentally different from those of a gunner in Battlefield or Planetside—rather than simply adding another gun, the copilot is able to boost the overall efficiency of the ship, moving power in case of damage and setting shield regeneration priorities. Right now, many of the systems that will be in the final game don't exist yet, but we can estimate the impact of that person on a fight. For the sake of simplicity, let's be generous and say that adding that co-pilot extends the Super Hornet's lifespan by 40%. In this case, the co-pilot allows the Super Hornet to put out 40% more damage than it would otherwise be capable of doing, but this assumes that the pirates will fire at the Super Hornet at all, and anyone with thirty minutes in Arena Commander knows how futile it can be to attack one. (I've taken to calling them Space Bricks) So if the Pirates make the oldest n00b error in the book and attack the tank first, only then does that 40% come into full effect. Adding another Gladius to the mix, however, will provide something closer to 60% or 70% of the Super Hornet's damage output and survivability, making the choice clear—again, [MORE = BETTER]. So, off each pilot goes in their own ship to save the day, hurrah.
But this doesn't take into account other factors. After all, Star Citizen is an MMO, not a traditional multiplayer game, and so other factors have to be added to the opportunity cost. Suppose Sally's Gladius is old, and one of the guns has been jamming from time to time, thus reducing the value of that fighter. Or maybe the structural integrity of the Gladius was compromised in a previous act of interstellar heroism and she hasn't been able to scrounge up the money for repairs. What if the quantum drive was damaged and may fail on the jump to the station? Suddenly, the opportunity cost has changed.
This Robin Hood-esque example is straightforward thanks to its similarity to other multiplayer games, namely with the limited supplies and players, but maybe you're not looking to put together a band of merry men (and women). Let's suppose that a man named Mr. Moneybags messages you and says he's willing to hire your services to protect his Orion [© RSI] while he mines in a particularly dangerous part of an asteroid belt, and he is willing to pay you handsomely. Now it's time to start talking cash. As a completely arbitrary number, let's say he's willing to pay your firm 100,000 UEC for this job. With a couple of $$s in your eyes, you accept. Being the money-grubbing individual you are, you don't want to spend a single cent more than you have to—after all, you're in the business to maximize profits, and you'll be damned if anything is wasted. But you also know that pirates will be watching from the shadows of massive asteroids, and if you come underprepared, they'll swoop in. The asteroid belt is far away from where your ships are docked, meaning that your ships' quantum fuel tanks will be nearly empty after a round trip. Asteroid belts also tend to put wear and tear on your ships, which will increase the cost even further. Let's apply another arbitrary number and say that the repair, refuel, and pilot salary cost on each of those ships adds up to 3,000 UEC. To send three ships, you'll be spending 9,000 UEC. That's already a sizable dent in your profits, but three pilots in three Hornets just isn't enough.
This is where that second seat comes in. The ideal scenario is that you send as few ships as possible to minimize the cost while maximizing the efficiency of each of those ships. The opportunity cost of hiring a player (or NPC), however, stays mostly flat—let's suppose the average cost for each copilot is 700 UEC. Going off of our numbers earlier, each Hornet gets about 40% more efficiency for having a co-pilot. That means that, for 3,700 UEC, you're getting 4,200 UEC worth of combat effectiveness. Altogether, you're getting 12,600 UEC worth of Hornets for 11,100 UEC, an increase of 1,500 UEC in value. Suddenly, those co-pilot seats are starting to look pretty nice. Though these numbers are probably not representative of the real game, the optimization process will likely look quite similar. These same principles can be scaled up or down appropriately, all the way down to two buddies who don't want to pay for two ships' worth of gas and repairs. This is one of the fascinating things about MMOs: the resource limit on players doesn't exist as it does in other multiplayer games, and so dynamic decisions may be made based on this fact.
But the Super Hornet wasn't designed with profit maximization in mind.; it was built for military purposes. So why, in-universe, did the military give it that second seat?
It must be understood that many UEE fighters, such as the Hornet, Sabre, and Gladius, were not built for long-distance travel; they're generally meant to be launched from a platform, perform their function, then return to that same platform when their work is done, and the most important and prominent launching platforms are the carriers. These carriers, though large, have extremely limited space, and so their fighters must be as efficient as possible, and one way of increasing efficiency is adding another operator. This allows the pilot to concentrate solely on piloting duties and fly undistracted. Compared to a fighter, an operator takes up far less space, and so it's more cost-effective to bring another UEE soldier rather than increase the size of the carrier.
This design choice hints at an underlying characteristic of Star Citizen's universe: materials are much less plentiful than people. After all, a co-pilot could probably take care of most of the Starfarer's functions on his own while most of the turrets could be made automatic, unless some sort of Butlerian Jihad-style AI rebellion had taken place between 2012 and 2946. With people in shorter supply, it only makes sense to build ships which can utilize the talents of multiple people, thus increasing the efficiency of the available resources. After all, if you have a Super Hornet and your buddy only has an Aurora, you both can benefit greatly from letting your friend into your second seat. (Just keep in mind that he might want to be paid for their services)
But besides all of this, there is one more reason why you may want to bring along a copilot, and it may be the most important reason of all: it's fun to play with friends. I can tell you exactly why I upgraded my Aurora to a Reliant—because I want to go space truckin' across star systems with my brother, Cory, or maybe retrofit our ship and go exploring with him.
Star Citizen will be a much more complicated game than either Planetside 2 or Battlefield, but the patterns that govern decisions in other multiplayer games are still present; these patterns simply have more variables than most, and opportunity costs must be considered carefully. These costs are much more nuanced than simply trading a ground trooper, for a bigger gun, and available resources will be different in every situation. Critical thinking will be key to making effective use of players, the most important resource in almost any game.
After all, space is a lonely place—you may want to bring some friends.
Home in the Verse pt. 2: Homesteading
Player housing: in the world of massively-multiplayer online games, it’s often a divisive topic. Some players simply don’t care, and find the idea of having a “home” for their virtual identity so much unnecessary fluff. For the players who do care, though, a game that can give its players a place to feel at home can help not only to create a sense of connection and belonging in the game world, but it can also foster long-term enjoyment of and commitment to that world.
Whenever the topic of player housing done well comes up, for many gamers three letters come immediately to mind: SWG. Star Wars Galaxies featured one of the most robust housing systems in the genre, even allowing players to build and populate complete cities. Most players of the game have extremely fond memories of their time as members of the various virtual communities there, even if they took issue with other elements of the game.
We don’t yet have a great deal of information from CIG on their plans for player housing, or as they have referred to it, homesteading. In addition, as with many things during the course of Star Citizen’s development, some of the things we did know have changed. Ten for the Chairman episode 46, from November of 2014, featured this statement from Chris Roberts on the subject:
“We're definitely going to let you acquire real estate on planets/locations, not sure if it'll be on every one, but maybe just the developed planets at first, like there might be a hangar you can buy on a nice planet, or a penthouse with a view or something. Longer term we want to have procedural new areas on planets that might be habitable, a settlement might get started, and might grow over time sim-city style. Longer term players might be able to have their homestead on it and stuff, but that's not day one. Definitely longer term we'll be doing this, it'll be quite fun!”
Chris Roberts, YouTube
It seems fair now to question the portion of this statement that indicates that these plans are “longer term” and “not day one” - in light of the changes to the plan for procedural planets since this answer was given, is this still the case?
At Gamescom 2016, Chris Roberts said
“ ...the planetary tech that we’re rolling out, the v2 stuff I’m really excited about -we’ll show you at CitizenCon - is allowing a lot more opportunity for different play experiences, as you can see here, so it’s not just dogfighting - there’s a whole bunch of other stuff and it also doesn’t always have to be about combat. Ultimately in the future I think if you wanted to go find a little spot on a planet and make a little homestead, we’re gonna let you do that. I mean we’ve got a huge amount of real estate now to play with.”
Chris Roberts, YouTube
As we know, plans for the CitizenCon presentation were altered considerably in the days leading up to the event, and while they still sometimes referred to the demo shown there as the “Homestead” demo, what we saw - while very impressive in other aspects - gave little clue as to CIG’s current intentions for players hoping to own a piece of all that real estate.
October’s Monthly Report did offer one tantalizing glimpse at what appears to be modular buildings, but it’s unknown whether these are intended to eventually become part of the homesteading system.
Obviously, player homesteading is on CIG’s radar. While it certainly shouldn’t yet be their primary focus while so many core gameplay systems are still deep in development, we know from past experience that allowing players to have a space that is “theirs” fosters both a connection and commitment to a game, and knowing that homesteading is in CIG’s plans is reassuring to those of us who value that sense of connection and, yes, immersion.
So just what might we eventually expect from this system in the future? We know that the ability to own hangars both aboard space stations and in cities is coming, and there have been multiple mentions of the possibility of apartments and other such spaces in the game’s hubs. Once players are able to stake their own claim in the wilds, though, what exactly might they be building? If you’ll indulge me in some theorycrafting:
Living spaces - Somewhere to hang your hat... and your trophies, your model collection, and your space plants. While many will choose to make their spacecraft their home, those who want to live a more grounded life will need a place to call their own.Landing pads/hangars - If you’re going to have a home base on the ground, you gotta park somewhere. What, you expect me to put my 350R down on the dirt?Warehouses - Bulk storage. MMO gamers are packrats and we’re gonna need somewhere to put all those things that you’ll definitely be glad you kept. Someday.Office space - Okay, so there probably wouldn’t be much difference between an office and a living space, as far as game mechanics go. But maybe you want somewhere posh to meet that new client and your space yacht is in the shop. Besides, who doesn’t want a secretary?Farms - Already mentioned in the roadmap for Alpha 3.3, CIG plans to have farming in the game long before the Endeavor, the only ship we know of that can support such a thing. Does this imply terrestrial farming is in the works? Oh boy - I’m gonna need a brand new combine harvester!Factories/refineries - Owning “production nodes” has long been discussed as something players might be able to do, so why not incorporate them into our homestead? Just don’t build your living quarters next door.Workshops - Ah, the joy of tinkering late into the evening on that reclaimed engine you’re sure you can get back up to snuff. I can hear the rockabilly coming from the garage radio already.Storefronts - Now we’re talking. Sure, in reality maybe nobody’s ever going to bother coming out to your backwater junk shop to buy your refurbished spare parts, but they could. And that’s what matters. Bars/clubs - Roleplayers rejoice! With the existence of the 890 Jump and Million Mile High Club, we know that CIG isn’t opposed to creating spaces for players to simply hang out, have a drink, and pass the time. I’m sure you can think of many possibilities not listed here. Once you start thinking about the options that might be available in a system like this, it’s difficult not to get excited about the prospect. Of course, there are countless details yet to be determined: How do we acquire plots of land? Are they first come, first serve? Once we have them, do we pay rent? Could we charge others rent for the use of them? Will we be able to congregate close together to create towns and cities? The list goes on, but if CIG’s history can tell us anything, it’s this: if they’re going to do it, they’re going strive to do it well, and they won’t take shortcuts to get it out the door. We can be certain that Chris Roberts and company will work to make homesteading in Star Citizen a robust and well-crafted experience. And that it’ll be ready… when it’s ready.
Home in the Verse pt. 1: Procedural Planets
There‘s no question that the scale of Star Citizen’s development has evolved and grown a great deal since its inception in late 2012. Detractors like to characterize this change in scope as “feature creep,” but Chris Roberts sees it as one of the advantages of working without a traditional publisher - being free to explore “the better idea” without pressure to deliver a locked feature set by a certain deadline, and unable to change plans when a revolutionary idea falls in your lap.
One of those revolutionary ideas that has drastically altered the scope of Star Citizen is its procedural planet system. Fully rendered and explorable planets were never part of the original vision for the game; the intention was - until relatively recently in development - that players would be locked to a handful of predetermined landing zones on each planet, perhaps only one or even none on less populated worlds. Think of these landing zones as “hubs” from a traditional RPG, such as Mass Effect’s on-foot areas. Arriving at these hubs would involve a scripted landing sequence where a pilot loses control of his or her ship as it is guided down to the appropriate parking spot, after which you would be free to explore the area on foot before leaving again - presumably via a scripted launch sequence that would return control to the player once they were safely away from the planet.
The idea that players would be able to navigate the surface of these planets outside of these landing zones (and perhaps a few hand-crafted “exploration” areas, chunks of wilderness created to host missions) was not in the cards, at least not for Star Citizen’s launch. Fans who speculated about roaming across vast planetary surfaces were quickly corrected by those of us who knew “better” - myself included. As I said on multiple episodes of The Base’s Friday Night Show, allowing players to navigate outside of landing zones and predefined mission areas was simply not feasible in a game like Star Citizen. It would not be reasonable to maintain a satisfactory level of fidelity across a space so vast - not to mention fill all that empty land with content for the players to interact with.
We were right, at the time. One of the crowdfunding campaign’s stretch goals, the 41 million dollar goal to be precise, was funding a Procedural Generation R&D Team. By reading the text pertaining to that goal, reached in April 2014, we can see that at the time CIG viewed procedural planets as a goal reserved for the far future of Star Citizen.
“Procedural Generation R&D Team – This stretch goal will allocate funding for Cloud Imperium to develop procedural generation technology for future iterations of Star Citizen. Advanced procedural generation will be necessary for creating entire planets worth of exploration and development content. A special strike team of procedural generation-oriented developers will be assembled to make this technology a reality."
In September of the same year, Chris Roberts reiterated that despite having met this goal, procedurally generated planets were not something he was planning to tackle at this stage of the game’s development. On episode 39 of Ten for the Chairman, he said “ ...when we do PG for the planet, we'll have different levels of this, so sometimes we'll have a fully designed and constructed environment, then other times we'll have pieces of this environment designed and maybe placed by PG, then even further down the road we might have areas planetside that are completely PG'd but that's not going to be V1, but it’s definitely in the pipeline.”
Over the next year however, things changed dramatically. By December of 2015, plans for the use of procedural generation had completely changed the scope of the game’s planets to the point that they would indeed be just that: fully realized, fully rendered and fully explorable planets. On the Holiday 2015 Livestream, Cloud Imperium Games shattered expectations with its “Pupil to Planet” video, followed by a live demo featuring a player transitioning seamlessly from a space station to the surface of a planet, all without any loss of control, and the freedom to move wherever he liked. This change had huge implications for nearly everything players could participate in inside the Star Citizen universe. Full, explorable planets were going to be a reality - and not at some theoretical point in the far future of the game’s life cycle. They were coming now.
Since revealing their intention to include procedurally generated planets as one of the core aspects of Star Citizen’s development going forward, we’ve seen a number of updates that highlight the technology. At the German gaming event Gamescom in August of 2016, CIG showed a demo of the upcoming Alpha version 3.0 which featured a Freelancer crew undertaking a story-based mission which took them from an orbital space station to a planet, back into space, and finally to an out of the way outpost on a nearby moon.
Then, at CitizenCon 2016 in October, we saw a presentation of what CIG called Procedural Planets v2, which included a flyover of a complex and beautifully rendered planet with varied landscape features and culminated in a first-person adventure in one of the planet’s desert-like areas. This demo also included planetary weather in action as a sandstorm forced the player to take cover for its duration, as well as one of our first looks at fauna we might find in the universe, as a giant, Dune-inspired sandworm appeared to threaten the player and the NPC nomads populating the area.
Now that we know that fully realized planets are part of the plan, what can we expect from them? As with many aspects of Star Citizen’s future, this is very much an open question. In the Procedural Planets v2 demo we saw a variety of Earth-like environments - grasslands, rolling hills, mountains, oceans, and deserts to name a few. From other demos we’ve seen rocky moons and more exotic environments such as a planet pockmarked with steaming, sulfurous pools. These examples only scratch the surface of the variety of locations CIG’s artists and designers will be tasked with creating, though - take a quick browse through the ARK Starmap and you’ll find descriptions of enough drastically different and challenging environments to make any artist rethink whether creating this sheer amount of content is possible within a reasonable time.
So, how will they accomplish this? The easy answer (relatively speaking) would be to plug in some variables and let the computer do the work, creating “pure procedural” planets. We have a recent, and for many, painful example of how this approach can often produce less than adequate results, however. When No Man’s Sky released earlier this year, players quickly discovered that while the game’s procedural engine could on occasion create stunning vistas, more often than not the results ranged from simply uninteresting to ugly and nonsensical, with most planets turning out to be little more than barren rocks with very random landscape features and cut-and-paste outposts plopped down with no rhyme or reason. For the sake of disclosure, I’ll note here that I purchased No Man’s Sky and enjoyed it for what it was, but ultimately requested a refund because of what it wasn’t.
CIG’s solution is to blend procedural generation with an artist’s touch, taking the raw procedurally generated planets and customizing them to their liking. As we saw in the CitizenCon demo (jump to 1:56:40 for a demonstration of these tools in action) CIG is creating a suite of tools to allow their team to tweak and customize the planetary environments to their liking - whether that means literally moving mountains and shifting entire landmasses or individually placing buildings and carefully managing the exact orientation of a single piece of rock.
Their chosen method does have some limitations - one that they’ve spoken of is the choice to use heightmaps rather than a voxel-based system. As heightmaps are limited to a single Z axis, this means that whenever the design calls for a more complex vertical space such as a cave, overhang, or any environment with multiple levels of depth, an artist will need to create those assets by hand. Even so, this combination of procedural and artist-driven creation should ensure a coherent and pleasing result, and is many times more streamlined than crafting every inch of a world by hand. When you take into account the number and variety of worlds they need to create, though, it’s still a startling amount of work.
One question CIG hasn’t yet answered is how all this will apply to dense, heavily populated planets like Earth, Terra, and ArcCorp - in this last case, the entire planet is supposedly enveloped in one gargantuan metropolis. It’s one thing to allow players to traverse sparse worlds that may have a few cities and the occasional outpost in between, but is it realistic to expect the same from more populated worlds that should contain an extreme amount of developed land? My prediction is that these planets will have “airspace regulations” and remain restricted, functioning more like the originally planned model - allowing players to land at designated sites, and disallowing travel outside of those locations. As I documented earlier, though, I’ve been wrong about planets in Star Citizen before, and I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong again.
So now that CIG has embraced procedural technology and provided its artists and designers with the tools to craft these worlds to their liking, what exactly will they fill these worlds with? Aside from the aforementioned “city planets,” how will they manage to fill an entire planet with compelling content for their players - and not just one planet, but hundreds? Some of the available space will obviously be taken up by cities, and other areas will be set aside for mission or “quest” content. But if it’s not realistic to expect these hand-crafted areas to take up the whole of the available space - and, it’s not - then what does go there? What keeps the vast majority of Star Citizen’s planetary real estate from being empty, meaningless land devoid of content?
We’ll explore one possible answer to this question in the second part of this series: Homesteading.