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Stick and Rudder Extra: Chris Roberts on Star Citizen's persistent world PvE, PvP, and more

Jef Reahard

At first glance, Star Citizen is a game about internet spaceships. Extremely high-poly pardon-me-while-I-pick-my-jaw-up-off-the-floor internet spaceships, but internet spaceships nonetheless. If you look deeper, though, you'll see a sim that aims to be just as immersive outside the cockpit as in, thanks in no small part to a diverse set of gameplay options wrapped around a dense player-driven economy.

Creator Chris Roberts says this was the plan from the beginning. Actually, it was the plan as far back as 1999, when Roberts first spoke publicly about Freelancer and his grand ideas for a persistent universe title. Fast forward 14 years and Roberts sits in the captain's chair at Cloud Imperium, presiding over a small army of talented gamemakers and a ravenous horde of fans who've made Star Citizen the most successful crowdfunding project in history.

Will the finished game live up to lofty expectations? I recently interviewed Roberts in an attempt to find out. Join us after the cut as we talk PvE vs. PvP, the passage of in-game time, and much more.

roberts interview
Massively: When you passed the $10 million funding mark, one of the stretch goals realized was the in-house motion capture studio. Can you clarify the need for mo-cap stuff in a space sim that some casual observers might assume to be confined to cockpit environments? How detailed are you planning to get in terms of human-avatar-based boarding actions or out-of-ship destinations like space stations or port cities and the like?

Chris Roberts: Motion capture is a critical element in making Star Citizen as immersive as possible. Much of what you mentioned is going into the game: a ship-to-ship boarding mechanic that will need detailed player and NPC animations, and the ability to interact with other players' avatars and NPCs planetside, on space stations, and in other areas. There's also Squadron 42, our single-player campaign, which in the spirit of Wing Commander needs to have a real narrative and emotional connection.

High-level performance capture like Jim Cameron used in Avatar was absolutely one of my goals to achieve this. Having a dedicated setup, including a virtual camera and full face capture rigs, allows us to capture a lot more of this than if we were just contracting with a mo-cap house. Plus it allows us to add animations and in-engine narrative scenes on a fluid basis, which will be critical for the living continually evolving world of Star Citizen's persistent universe.

roberts interview
Along the same lines, the recent economy blog/video opened some people's eyes, I think, with regard to the fact that SC is aiming to be quite a bit more than spaceships. Was that always the goal, or did the detailed economy and the out-of-ship stuff sort of grow as the interest and crowdfunding windfall grew?

This has been a dream for longer than Star Citizen has been in the works. You can see the first hints at it in Privateer and Freelancer. I talked in detail in 1999 when I first unveiled Freelancer about my goal of having a player-driven dynamic economy for Freelancer Online (which was going to go into production after the single player game before Microsoft bought Digital Anvil).

"What has surprised us most is the fact that players are as interested in seeing [a complex economy] happen as we are."

Today, with Star Citizen, we finally have technology that's advanced enough and a playerbase that is sophisticated enough to appreciate a fully simulated economy.

What has surprised us most is the fact that players are as interested in seeing this happen as we are. It was always in the spec, but it was never something we thought would bring people into the community. I think this is one of the major strengths about Star Citizen: There is no one play path; you can focus on combat, trading, exploring, or building an economic empire.

roberts interview
You had some interesting comments relating to traditional RPG mechanics on the recent 24-hour livestream. You said something like it's not really necessary for a computer game to simulate tabletop RPG mechanics like levels, but developers do it because it's expected and it's basically the easiest way to constrain players. Can you expound on that a little bit? Is Star Citizen going to be more of a free-form advancement thing where players can do what they want without jumping through a bunch of grindy hoops? Will the ships or ship equipment have levels?

Star Citizen is, at heart, a skill-based game. There's no leveling up your character until he becomes especially good at space combat. Your character is as good as you are with the flight stick, mouse, gamepad or keyboard. What that means is that anyone can join the game at any time, and if he's good, he can stand up to players who have been around forever.

Of course, your ship and quality of equipment will have some impact on a space battle, both players being equal in skill, but we are consciously designing the game to have a very rock/paper/scissors mechanic for the various ship types and how you equip them. There will be no one perfect build. I actually expect the more dedicated players to have several equipment packages for their various ships that they switch in and out based on the mission role -- a brawler build, a nimble quick build, a stealth build, a max cargo build, and so on. You will continue to upgrade and outfit your ship with improved weapons and modules over time, but a bad player in an expensive ship can be taken down by a skilled player in a cheaper ship.

roberts interview
The game is doing some insane crowdfunding numbers. Every day when I look at the website counter it's gone up. Are you including the proceeds from the monthly subscriber packages in that number? Have the recent $13 and $14 million milestones been driven by new blood or is it more from upgrades from existing backers?

More than 60 percent of the new funds raised are coming from new players joining the ranks of existing backers. Since we launched the 300i commercial, we've had more than 30,000 new backers, which I think bodes well for our goal of making Star Citizen fully community funded.

There is only so much the existing community can (and should) do to achieve the goal of $21 million. [This is an approximation that would eliminate the need for outside investors. -Ed.] We'll need to bring in new players to the community. We have amazing support from our existing fan base, and we want to continue to offer things of value to them as I think there is a sizable segment of the existing community that is having fun with the process and the openness of development and doesn't mind contributing additional funds to help ensure the game will be as good as it can be, especially if people can have some fun by collecting cool ships or items along the way.

Having said that, the great increases over the past month have been from new players joining Star Citizen. With some deadlines coming up, like lifetime insurance and the last of the alpha slots, a lot of people who were on the fence have decided to support the game.

roberts interview
The passage of time is something that most MMOs avoid like the plague. With such an emphasis on lore, history, and current events on the website, do you foresee SC having a dynamic universe that actually advances along a timeline, perhaps with GM-run events or things of that nature? Or will it be more of a traditional MMO-type thing where the world and timeline are static and the player characters and/or their ships are the only things that really change?

One of the big draws of Star Citizen is the fact that the universe will evolve and change, and part of making that happen is that time will pass. One day in 2014 is one day in 2944 in our universe, and the game universe will record changes and accomplishments within that frame of reference. GM-run events from the live team will be essential to our world's continued growth. We want to differentiate from traditional MMOs by having these on an ongoing basis -- smaller, weekly publishes instead of major annual add-on stories.

"One of the big draws of Star Citizen is the fact that the universe will evolve and change, and part of making that happen is that time will pass."

And everything has to take into account the players' actions. If players discover new jump points or overthrow governments, we are going to be reactive and inclusive rather than prevent it. Beyond this, I really want your player character in the game to have a sense of mortality and lineage. Characters in the game should show the wear and tear of the dangerous lives they lead and be lauded for heroic or dastardly achievements, and when they finally take one too many laser hits, they should leave their mark in the lore of the world that their next of kin can try to add to.

I outlined my thoughts on this mechanic in the Death of a Spaceman post, and I'm quite excited to see how it plays out in the game. I have a feeling that it will enhance the attachment and sense of pride in your characters' actions as there will be risk with any significant achievement.

roberts interview
A substantial portion of the sandbox fans in our audience are hungering for a game that doesn't force them to PvP but still features a dynamic, player-driven world, co-op opportunities, and opportunities for both economic conquest and exciting/meaningful PvE. Is Star Citizen the game for those people?

Yes. Star Citizen doesn't shy away from PvP, but we're not building a game around it either. We want experiences for everyone, from loners who do not want to play a multiplayer game at all to large squadrons who want to tangle with each other in major galactic warfare. So you'll have everything from distant stars to be discovered on your own to Vanduul invasions to be fended off.

"Star Citizen doesn't shy away from PvP, but we're not building a game around it either."

We're creating different experiences for different kinds of players, and then we're wrapping them up together in the same world. My dream is to have both PvE and PvP players in the same persistent universe, with both of them feeling that they inhabit a dynamic living universe with plenty of opportunity and challenge without feeling that they are giving anything up. I kind of see it like a swimming pool with a shallow and deep end: Players can venture out as far as they want, at their own pace. They aren't thrown in the deep end at the start, but they also don't have to stay in the shallow end if they want more of a challenge.

That's the concept of the slider and the different levels of law and order in the various systems. If you want to make a nice steady living being a trader in the heart of the UEE, you don't have to worry about being attacked by other players, but if you're looking for more of a return or score and are willing to take some risks by venturing into unregulated space, we have that for you too. This way the player can choose dynamically during his play session what he's interested in -- it could be a dynamic blend of the two types or just PvE or PvP, but it will be contextual and make sense in the lore of the universe rather than an artificial construct like asking a player whether he wants to be on a PvE world server or a PvP server.

roberts interview
Some new fans aren't necessarily aware of how the pledge ships work, and I've seen some grumbling about the prices on certain items (the Idris, etc.). All of the ships will be available to earn in the finished game, regardless of whether you pledged for them, yes?

Absolutely. Every ship you can pledge for (including the Idris corvette) will be available for purchase with credits earned in the game. The goal behind selling them during the pledge campaign is to fund the game, not to give any player a special advantage. We've always been very clear about this when launching a new promotion: You're buying a different experience, not paying to win the game. Our ship designs use a rock/paper/scissors mechanic that is much more about giving the players different roles than advancing into increasingly better ship hulls. Pledging for a corvette doesn't mean you'll handily defeat every less expensive ship; it means you'll be crewing a large capital ship instead of exploring the universe in a one-man fighter.

Lastly, can we still expect to see some playable form of the hangar module before the end of the summer?

Stay tuned for a big announcement at Gamescom later this August.

Awesome, thanks for keeping us in the loop!

Guides Stick and Rudder Roberts on Star Citizen's persistent world PvE, PvP, and the passage of time
Whether it's interviews with Chris Roberts and the Cloud Imperium team or tips and guides for pushing your ship's performance envelope, Stick and Rudder is your inside source for news and commentary on the world of Star Citizen. Join Jef Reahard every other week during the run-up to alpha, beta, and beyond.

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