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Stick and Rudder: Star Citizen is standing on the shoulders of genre giants

Jef Reahard

It's confession time, folks. My Star Citizen fandom has been on the fritz. It's not that I'm less enamored with Cloud Imperium's sci-fi sandbox opus; it's just that the interminable waiting coupled with a pretty severe case of themepark MMO burnout (help me, ArcheAge, you're my only hope) has conspired to foul my gaming mood of late.

Fortunately, CIG read my mind and pulled me back in with its gangbusters Gamescom reveals.

If you missed the post-Gamescom 10 for the Chairman, go watch it as soon as you're done reading. It's meaty stuff, and I was particularly keen on hearing Chris Roberts reiterate the fact that item decay is an important part of Star Citizen's core design (fast-forward to the vid's 10-minute mark for further details).

Prior to that (around 9:00 on the clip timeline), he fielded an interesting question on the viability of avoiding spaceships altogether and playing Star Citizen purely as a ground-pounder. Roberts hedged his response a bit, as he should at this early stage, but he also said that "there will definitely be an opportunity to focus much more on FPS" gameplay. He mentioned functioning as part of a multiplayer crew as well as the possibility of styling your character as a boarding specialist who exists to capture and hold opposing ships, space stations, and the like.

Another noteworthy announcement this week was the $53 million stretch goal. It sounds basically like a gamemaster, and it will be a staff position at Cloud Imperium that will involve moderating in-game player disputes in some sort of immersive fashion.

Initially I feared that the position might end up as an analog to EVE's player-run Council of Stellar Management. The more I thought about it, though, the fewer parallels I saw, at least given what we know about the CIG position right now. There's always the potential for abuse depending on what sort of player is picked to fill the position and what sorts of guilds, if any, hold sway over said player. Given Roberts' focus on immersion, though, I doubt he's keen on turning Star Citizen into an EVE-style metafest where all of the interesting stuff happens outside of the actual gameplay.

The week's biggest news was of course the co-op crew stuff centered on the Constellation, and my first thought while watching it was wow, badass! My second thought was, hmm, that's fairly Star Trek.

I've never quite grokked the geek fascination people have with Roddenberry's work and its various spin-offs, probably because I grew up as a card-carrying member of the Star Wars generation (literally, I still have a couple of those 1980s Lucas Fanclub membership cards stuffed in a drawer). When I finally sat down to power through Star Trek's original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager a few years ago, I finished that marathon wondering what all the fuss was about.

Don't crucify me, though, because the one thing I did take away from Trek -- and the thing which is more or less absent from Star Wars -- is the notion of a crew and the bottomless pit of dramatic shenanigans that it provides. Oh sure, Han had Chewie, Luke had Artoo, and so on and so forth depending on your Expanded Universe knowledge. But a galaxy far, far away rarely offers the sort of extended family interaction that typifies every Trek show. Star Wars is basically about ubermensch doing ubermenschy things, and to me at least, it's the setting that's fully developed and fascinating as opposed to its cliched protagonists.

Tangentially, one reason I loved Star Wars: Galaxies so much is that it ignored game (and film) industry conventional wisdom that states that heroic stuff is the only stuff worth doing. This is probably why SWG failed to resonate with dudebros, but whatever. It didn't thrust me into the role of yet another savior-of-the-galaxy. Instead, it functioned as my travel pass to that galaxy and respected my imagination enough to allow me to exist there as I saw fit. This is what every MMO sandbox should aspire to, and I see the makings of it in Star Citizen.

Anyway, it wasn't until Firefly came along that I fully appreciated how appealing the family-on-a-spaceship thing can be, particularly with Han Solo/Mal Reynolds as the patriarch! Firefly borrowed the crew concept from Star Trek, but crucially, Whedon and company divorced it from Trek's cheesy production values and godawful CSI-style dialogue and transplanted it to a believable future universe (believable as in, hey, there's still money and humans still generally don't get along with one another).

I loved that Firefly gang and the galaxy they explored, and I ached to be a part of it. And that sense of belonging -- and yes, immersion -- is a thousand times more powerful when paired with Star Wars' (and now Star Citizen's) greasy, plausible aesthetic.

Star Citizen is borrowing from genre heavyweights, and I couldn't be happier about that since from my perspective it's borrowing the right things from the right genre heavyweights. The more I study the game, though, the more I think it may be borrowing the most from a cult classic that died before it could become a genre heavyweight.

Firefly could be pitched as classic Star Wars minus Jedi or Star Trek minus cheap visuals and stupid screenwriters. Star Citizen gives me the same warm fuzzies, and I can't frickin' wait to help crew a Constellation and go where no gamers have gone before.

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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