A look inside the crowd-funding phenomenon that is Chris Roberts’ Star Citizen.
X-Wing. Tie Fighter. Wing Commander. Privateer. Descent. Freespace. The mid to late nineties was a heyday for space flight combat simulators. Let others have their Jane’s flight games, and their Microsoft Flight Simulator games with their realistic modeling of actual jets and flight physics. For me, the HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) setup on my desk was there for one thing and one thing only. The final frontier. The big empty. The black. For a kid who was weaned on movies like Star Wars, The Last Starfighter, hell, even The Black Hole, my imagination was always turned to the stars, and my gaming habits reflected that. While my sister played Pitfall on the Atari 2600 and my brother destroyed everyone at Pac Man and Barnstormer, I was playing Starmaster until my wrist hurt. When the NES era came along, I branched out some into platformers like the Ninja Gaiden series, sidescrolling shooters (Contra, anyone?) and military flight games like Top Gun. For a while, it was enough. I was in high school with extracurricular activities and homework, so gaming took a back seat. Also, my hormones were double parked, which didn’t help. Hard to focus on games when you’re thinking about that cute cheerleader who sits in front of you in your math class. Don’t get me wrong. I still played games, but nowhere near as much. Once I got to college, though, the world of PC gaming grabbed hold of me.
My first experience was the X-Wing series, courtesy of a friend who lived down the hall from me. I was hooked. He had a nice (for the time) flight stick, and I spent several hours each week taking turns on his machine shooting down Tie Fighters with gleeful abandon. When I wasn’t actually playing, I was sitting behind him watching the game. Physically, I was in a cramped dorm room, sure. But mentally, I was out there. The seeds planted in my childhood were still there, growing every time I locked my blasters on an unsuspecting ship and blew it out of the sky. As the years went by, the games got better and better, with improved graphics, better control schemes and actual multiplayer, but the best of them all had one thing in common. Chris Roberts. The Wing Commander series (including Privateer), Starlancer, and Freelancer were all on my hard drive for extended periods of time. After 2003, space sims saw a drastic decline. Publishers were focused on first person shooters and racing games with more arcade like physics. The era of the hard core sim was declared dead. Roberts left the industry and began producing movies. While other companies occasionally released a game here and there, they were not well received. The X series was just about the only game in town for space flight. It was OK, but didn’t really scratch the itch.
For a while, I played other things. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Call of Duty 4, the Unreal Tournament series, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and the Half-Life series all had their turns. All were fun and took up plenty of hours of my free time, but I still missed flying in space. I played Eve Online for a couple of years during that point (or as my wife likes to call it, “Space Trucking”), but while the setting was right, the controls weren’t there. For a strategic game, Eve’s great. For twitch based reaction times and seat of your pants flying, not so much. Still, it was space, and it was (and still is) a successful game. My hope was that publishers would see that there was still a market for space sims, and release something that could take advantage of modern PCs. Publishers had other ideas though, mainly centered around high grossing yearly iterations of established games. For the better part of a decade, the space simulator genre languished. Now though, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Cloud Imperium Games.
Founded in 2011 by none other than Chris Roberts, himself, CIG began work on a new game. On October 10, 2012, they launched a crowdfunding campaign from their website, http://robertsspaceindustries.com. The original goal was to raise between two million and four million dollars for a space sim game. This would show investors that there was indeed a market for the genre, and would hopefully get them to provide the additional funding to produce the game. At the time, Roberts estimated that he could create a AAA quality game for around 18-20 million dollars. On October 18th of that year, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to run in conjunction with the website’s campaign. Inside of a month, over 6.2 million dollars was raised. Two million from Kickstarter, and the rest from the RSI website. Every single stretch goal for the campaign was surpassed, and video game crowdfunding records were set for both number of backers for a campaign and total dollars received. That’s not the amazing part though. Though the Kickstarter campaign was over, Roberts decided to allow people to continue to back the game from the RSI website if they wished. By his estimates, if they could raise 23 million dollars, they could do the entire game in-house with no need for angel investors. Over the course of the next year, legions of gamers made their pledges, gaining ships, access to alpha builds of the game and other perks. On October 18, 2013, the stated goal of 23 million was reached. Since then, it has continued to garner new backers. As of February 25, 2014, the game has reached over 39 million dollars in funding, making it the most crowdfunded project in history, according to Time Magazine. Currently, the target for all stretch goals to be reached is 40 million, and I have no doubts this milestone will be achieved as well. But what does all that money buy? To say this is an ambitious project is to do injustice to the term ambitious. A fully fleshed out single player campaign with multiple different ship models, each with their own weapons and unique flight characteristics, an open world persistent sandbox environment for multiplayer gaming, capital ships (Think Battlestar Galactica), new star systems and more. The full list can be found here.
Currently, the game is slated to be released in 2015, but backers can already access the Hangar module where they can interact with the ships they’ve bought. And I do mean interact. Since the game is being built on the Unreal engine, the developers decided to give you the freedom to actually walk your character around your ship, test fire the guns, and monkey around in the cargo and storage areas. In April of 2014, the Dogfight module is slated to be released. This will allow players to get out there and see how the ships they’ve bought actually fly. Player feedback in this stage is crucial, and Cloud Imperium will be tweaking the game based on what their players tell them they want. Later on in the year will see the Squadron 42 single player campaign being released, and after that the open universe multiplayer, with a player driven economy, piracy, bounty hunting, mercenaries and everything else I could possibly want to see in a sandbox style game. There will even be full support for the Oculus Rift VR headset. My only dilemma right now is which package I want to buy. I haven’t thrown my chips into the pile yet, but based on the level of involvement that Roberts and CGI have shown, with the sheer amount of updates, lore and even ship commercials that have been developed already, I’m going to. I just have to get the wife to approve the expense and I’ll be strapping into a 300i, an Aurora, or an Avenger in no time. I’d love a Hornet, but I’m pretty sure she won’t go for that one. All ships will be unlockable in the game once it comes out though, so I’ve already got a goal in mind for gameplay. Go me!
So that’s Star Citizen. By all indications, it’s the space sim I (and apparently the rest of the internet) have been waiting for. If what you’ve read so far hasn’t made you as excited as I am, here are a few ship videos and a brochure to whet your appetite.
See you in the black!