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Stick and Rudder: How complex is too complex for Star Citizen?

Jef Reahard

I've taken a little while to let Chris Roberts' recent flight model manifesto marinate. In that time, my opinion has run the gamut from "funk yeah, simulation!" to "hmm, I hope I'm able to enjoy this title" and back again.

I waffled because as much as I'm salivating over Star Citizen and everything it represents, it's still one game out of dozens that I'm following. And as much as I'd like to, I can't realistically devote all of my free time to a single title!

I'm not saying that I don't want complexity, though. Far from it. Space sims are my bag, as are sandboxes, so marrying the two of them seems like a recipe for my own personal gaming nirvana. I'm a meatspace commercial pilot, too, so I'm anxious to see how all that underlying geekery plays out beyond pre-alpha talking points.

There's a big difference between pilot and aeronautical engineer, though, just as there's a big difference between a theorycrafting gamer and a gamer who uses theorycrafted data. While some pilots are engineers and vice versa, you certainly don't have to be one to be the other. For example, my eyes glaze over when faced with math more complex than a fuel burn calculation or a weight and balance worksheet.

Similarly I have no desire to crunch numbers or study forum novellas in order to competently fly an internet spaceship. God bless the people who do because I'll certainly take their conclusions into account, but I'll turn in my SC wings and concentrate on the economic game if I'm forced to spend more time in the virtual classroom than the virtual cockpit.

I guess it boils down to where Star Citizen falls on the sim-vs.-game scale, and I'm really curious to see just how far Roberts and company are willing to go for the sake of realism. For example, we're going to have to know how swapping out thousands of ship parts and various mods will affect the performance of dozens of individual ship systems. In the real world, modding your airframe or your powerplant even a little bit could result in a suspended license, hefty fines, or a pretty horrifying death.

With that complexity in mind, how much time and thought does Cloud Imperium expect players to put into ship loadouts and refits? Will enterprising players come up with best-practice ship builds that are basically required for certain situations, or will twitch skill and experience trump all that?

From my perspective, SC is shaping up to be not only a space sim but a space sim and a mechanic sim, possibly with a bit of an engineering sim thrown in for good measure, which is awesome. (It would be even more awesome if players could fill those three dedicated roles and work together). But I hope the last two are optional and not prone to hindering those of us who simply want to kick the tires and light the fires.

I'm also curious to see how far Roberts carries the realism and the sim aspects as they pertain to PvP. Real aerial combat is pretty difficult. Deflection shooting, situational awareness in rapidly changing conditions, and dealing with mechanical failures all add up to a nightmare of complexity that only a very few people in the history of this planet have ever handled well. There's a reason that ace status is "only" five kills, just as there's a reason that people like Richard Bong, who flamed 40-something planes over the Pacific in World War II, are held in such high esteem by fellow pilots. Numbers like that are extremely rare, and they're the result of both incredible skill and incredible luck.

Missiles and computers of course made things easier both in the real world and in Star Citizen's universe, but the game seems to occupy that particular flight sim niche that glamorizes the World War II/Star Wars aesthetic, so I'm betting there will be a lot of close-range gunplay.

Is Star Citizen's lust for realism going to translate well with PvPers who have been trained to expect gaudy kill counts? Will Star Citizen aces have to work for weeks or months to achieve five PvP kills like real-world aces did, or will that happen in the course of a single engagement? Will that be "fun" for most players? And that's totally ignoring the can of worms that is time-to-kill.

It's all about options and moderation, I guess. I'm OK with PvP kills being hard to come by, provided that's offset by rewarding PvE and plenty of it. Also, a bit of engineering and wrench-turning sounds like a blast. I spent hours upon hours fiddling with spaceship parts in the Jump to Lightspeed portions of Star Wars Galaxies. And I spent even longer crafting them and selling them to my fellow pilots.

I'd much rather have those options in the game than not. I do want them to be options, though, and I feel for CIG's designers and balancers who have to make all this stuff deep enough to matter and simultaneously prevent the game from becoming a learning cliff that will turn off significant portions of the public and perhaps even some of its hardcore backers.

Roberts has stated several times for the record that he intends Star Citizen to cater to both hardcore tuners and casual pilots. Whether it actually can or not is going to be fascinating to watch!

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 Sunday during the run-up to alpha, beta, and beyond.

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