I'm certainly not complaining, mind you; it's just that Cloud Imperium's game is doing a damned fine job of turning a cynic hardened by years of sub-standard MMO releases into a wide-eyed game-loving kid again. So let's talk after the cut about the Aurora, our new space suits, and lifetime insurance, shall we?
The big news picked up by all the major gaming sites this week was Star Citizen's latest monetary milestone. The title has now garnered an obscene $9.2 million from fans and continues to move the crowdfunding bar ever higher. The $9 million plateau led to the fulfillment of the lifetime-ship-insurance-for-all-current-backers stretch goal, and it was helped along by the Aurora reveal and an associated promotion that resulted in over 2,000 game sales and 1,800 Aurora LX sales last weekend alone.
Aside from the fundraising coup, the Aurora also represents tangible development progress, as it is one of the first assets to be shown in all its ready-for-prime-time glory. As Cloud Imperium says in the preceding link, "almost every shot you see in the brochure below is an in-engine render; what you see is what you play."
What I saw was flat out gorgeous, both the ship and the brochure. Cloud Imperium produced a glossy PDF styled after one of those spiffy car dealer foldouts designed to make you drool over the latest in automotive tech. Much like the old ship blueprints and pilot's handbook manuals included in Roberts' 1990s-era Wing Commander boxes, the Aurora brochure is an in-character marketing tool intended to both increase immersion and hype the game and its various features. Judging by all my new desktop wallpapers, I'd say mission accomplished.
The Aurora itself is a sleek little starter ship, available in a variety of models that resemble automotive dealership packages. When coupled with Star Citizen's modular ship upgrade capabilities, the craft will very likely see sustained use across a wide variety of game careers from pirating to trading to exploring.
Lest we forget that Star Citizen has plenty of human avatar customization options along with all of its ship-related bells and whistles, this week we got another reminder in the form of the new Roberts Space Industries space suit. The purpose of the suit reveal is two-fold: One, it exists as another early adopter reward and is intended to take a bit of the sting out of the lifetime insurance brouhaha that I'll talk about in a moment. And two, the suit is styled to match the theme of Cloud Imperium's upcoming website facelift.
As with the Aurora, there's plenty of in-character information on the suit specs (RSI is an in-game ship and engineering think tank as well as Roberts' real-world company, if you're wondering). The suit update also boasted some mechanical reveals, among them the fact that suits will be tweakable much like ships.
"Like ship upgrades, each suit will have a variety of different manufacturers, quality levels, upgrade options, etc. Suits will also have customizable colors, decals, etc., to increase variation. There will also be an array of player clothing separate from space suits," the update explains.
Of this week's news, the aforementioned lifetime insurance is the most concerning, and even though Roberts addressed it directly in his letter from the chairman update, it bears mentioning because a virtual world sandbox without any consequences isn't much of a virtual world or a sandbox. And if most of your playerbase is flying around in ships that cannot be permanently lost, well, I'm not sure there are any consequences.
To be fair, it's way too early to do much more than raise an eyebrow at this, and Roberts' reasons for gifting all current backers with LTI are sound (easing the customer support burden, which detracts from game development focus, and undermining the human filth who saw Star Citizen's viral referral program as an opportunity to gouge their fellow gamers at internet auction sites).
Roberts also says that the 200,000 or so ships that will carry lifetime insurance represent a tiny fraction of the "millions that will inhabit the universe." To my mind this is a pretty interesting quote. I assume that Roberts meant millions of ships instead of millions of players because despite Star Citizen's runaway crowdfunding success, I'm still expecting it to be a niche game. That crowdfunding success is the result of 168,004 fans (as of press time), which is a miniscule number for the AAA game that SC prides itself on being.
Yes, I know that early adopter communities are typically tiny, and maybe SC will indeed feature millions of players when it finally launches a couple of years hence. I certainly hope so, but I have my doubts as well as my concerns relating to game-changing exclusives like LTI.
The LTI issue is a thorny one and one that will become increasingly common as developers start to rely more on crowdfunding and deal with the expectations that it generates among rabid early adopter communities. Chances are it will be a non-issue once Star Citizen actually launches, and in the meantime it's a tiny nitpick in a sea of good news.