Is it just me, or does a new PvP-vs.-PvE fight break out on the Star Citizen forums every five minutes? In fairness to everyone involved, the jousting we've seen over the past few months is pretty typical of every early adopter MMO community. There's plenty of preening, pseudo-intellectualism, and outright trolling on both sides of the aisle as two player groups make their preferences known early and often in a blatant attempt at influencing game developers to develop something more to their liking.
With Star Citizen, though, and with the all-PvP-all-the-time crowd in particular, I'm constantly left wondering whether these people have bothered to research the game they're backing.
First off, Star Citizen's design makes extensive use of instancing. Consequential -- i.e., meaningful -- MMO PvP works only in an open world setting, and while SC's persistent universe will purportedly live on a single shard rather than your typical collection of self-contained server communities, there's still a 100-player cap on any given sector. While we don't know exactly how large said sectors will be, it doesn't really matter because thousand-player EVE-style ship battles won't be possible regardless.
Given Star Citizen's absurd visual fidelity and the fact that each individual player ship contains dozens if not hundreds of user-configurable options and data points, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the instance upper limit shrink a little bit after Cloud Imperium gets a few thousand testers into alpha cockpits.
Secondly, there's that pesky PvP/PvE slider thing. Though Chris Roberts has explained the mechanic on a number of different occasions, it's still difficult to know exactly how it will play out without seeing it in action. In a nutshell, Star Citizen's AI is going to be heavily involved in terms of filling out the persistent universe, and it will step in and provide coverage when there aren't enough players around to accomplish a particular goal. Said goal could be anything from transporting goods to and from a production center to fending off a Vanduul raiding party to cleaning a nest of pirates out of an asteroid belt.
Similar tech will be used to allow players to set their preference for PvE or PvP encounters. So if a player who'd rather PvE decides to accept the aforementioned mission to transport goods, he'll set his PvP slider to the lowest possible value and -- if I've understood Roberts correctly -- he'll then have a very low probability of encountering player-controlled resistance during his mission. It's also worth noting here that SC will have a lot of PvP-free safe space, though whether PvP will be disallowed entirely or strongly discouraged is unclear. In either case, PvE vs. PvP probability will depend upon the mission's location relative to safe space or lawless regions.
Conversely, a player who prefers PvP can set her slider to the highest possible value and would then expect that any mission interference would come in the form of players introduced into the scenario via CIG's matchmaker magic. It's all pretty murky at the moment, but the takeaway is that CIG is making a concerted effort to allow PvE players to avoid PvP altogether and still affect the persistent universe.
Everyone probably knows about Chris Roberts' extensive history as a designer by now, and yet it rarely gets mentioned in these PvP vs. PvE cockfights. So let me be the one to point out the fact that Roberts has never made a PvP game. He's instead chosen to focus on storytelling, cinematic production values, and complex simulation-style mechanics coupled with deep immersion.
That's not to say he can't make a PvP game, and certainly some of CIG's staffers have worked on them. But why would Roberts change his M.O. now, as he's working on what he's referred to as his dream title?
Immersion remains Star Citizen's reason for being. And you know what's the opposite of immersive when it comes to video game narratives and heroic wish fulfillment?
Especially omnipresent and repetitive death of the kind that happens in typical combat-lobby multiplayer games. It's not much of a leap to posit that pervasive PvP and the constant deaths that result from it aren't high on the list of wants for the Wing Commander crowd that gifted Roberts and company nearly $40 million.
Much like the PvP slider, the Death of a Spaceman mechanics sound like a good -- even great -- idea to make player death more immersive, but it remains to be seen how effective they'll be once the usual for-the-lulz crowd gets its hands on the game and attempts to reduce it down to the usual meaningless fragfest. Fortunately, I suspect Roberts isn't one of these roflcopter players, judging by the immersion-heavy design history that I mentioned earlier, so expecting Star Citizen to deviate from that in favor of no-holds-barred PvP is without justification.
Finally, the most important of the five reasons why Star Citizen isn't a dedicated PvP game is that Roberts has said it isn't in no uncertain terms. Sure, there will be PvP elements to the game because no developer in his right mind would turn away additional audience members who may spend money because spaceships.
But when I point-blank asked Roberts last summer whether Star Citizen was the immersive, full-featured sandbox that PvE fans who've grown out of open PvP are looking for, his answer was an unequivocal yes. He followed that up with a quote that you're probably familiar with if you've read this column in the past.
"Star Citizen doesn't shy away from PvP," he said, "but we're not building a game around it either."
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.