Star Citizen is in Alpha, and it’s likely to remain that way for some time – it’s already been ten years, in fact. While the game is already in a very playable state, this game is also very incomplete. Today I want to touch base on the current state of Star Citizen from the perspective of someone who backed it on day one and then shelved it until just recently. There’s no doubt that I’m going to miss a million things about this game, both good and bad, because I’ve not been playing every single patch since the first day. That said, everything I’m about to say is from this point in time, and is very likely to change. Strap in, Commander — let’s check in on Star Citizen.
I guess the first question to answer is the hardest — “What is Star Citizen”? It’s challenging because Star Citizen is a lot of things, all at once. Let’s start with the single player component. There’s a single player game called Squadron 42 that you got as an included element if you purchased the game early in development – it’s a separate add-on if you jump in now. It stars the likes of Mark Hamill, Gary Oldman, John Rys-Davies, Liam Cunningham, Gillian Anderson, Rhona Mitra, Andy Serkis, Mark Strong, Sophie Wu, Ben Mendelsohn, and many, many more. The incomplete list on IMDB is a staggering wish list of amazing actors and actresses, and each has been captured in loving detail. Over two years ago the team put together a cinematic teaser using nothing but in-engine assets (hard as it is to believe — it looks that good) giving us a small taste of what we can expect. It’s light on story elements, as most cinematics trailers are, but watch it for yourself and I think you’ll agree — this rivals a Hollywood movie.
Three options present themselves when you open the game – a combat module for first person combat, and a dogfighting module. The third is the Persistent Universe. The first two were critical to the game when it opened to the public Alpha as it was the only way to interact with those elements. Now they represent a somewhat vestigial tail that I suspect will evaporate as those modules are now just a regular part of the game. Still, they represent a stress-free place to practice your skills, including racing, horde mode-style dogfighting, and more.
The other side of the coin is the Star Citizen Persistent Universe. The PU, as it’s commonly called, is a completely open world – no, a completely open universe – waiting for you to explore however you see fit. It reaches back to the development team’s time working at Origin Studios, where creating living worlds players can inhabit was the most important goal. That said, this time is a little different, and it’s truly what separates this game from others in the genre.
At its core, Star Citizen is a universe simulator. Roberts Space Industries has employed physicists, NASA engineers, and all manner of technology and futurist consultants to build what they envision as a future where space is home. It means modeling things that have never been done before, and creating from scratch all the ways that we can make the logical leap from our timeline to theirs. How would a light fighter craft maneuver? Nailed that down? Ok — how would that same light fighter operate in low gravity, or near a large starship capable of disrupting the gravity well as they launch into hyperspace? How would that fighter handle re-entry? What about hitting escape velocity to escape the planet’s surface? Now do all of that again for the 250+ other ships that we know about so far. And it doesn’t stop with ships.
Let’s Talk about AI:
Right now there is a major sea change with the economics of Star Citizen, and much of it is driven by a more macro approach to AI simulation. Most economies in games are driven by players who zip around the world, and the NPCs that wait motionless in their stalls to buy and sell. Star Citizen is pushing to instead give the AI motivations, behavioral traits, and interconnection with the universe at large. What if an AI pirate could be given decision power to choose how they engage other AI-based traders? Maybe they are risk averse, so they hang out adjacent to shipping lanes and pick off unsuspecting and undefended freighters. This would trigger the law system (more on that later) to flag them as a pirate, and if they killed anyone on that freighter or blew it up, also add a murderer charge to their rap sheet. It would drive the bounty up on their head, incenting players to come and deal with it, but what if they failed and the player was killed? Now there’s another murder rap on their sheet, and they are starting to gain some heat. They collect their winnings and head to the local bar. A player who couldn’t take them in the sky could certainly end their reign of terror with a blaster in the bar. You explore on your own terms, but if the upcoming patch manages to deliver on the 50,000+ AI characters being actively simulated in each region, so will they.
All of this disruption to the trade routes, the bounties, mining (and any piracy that could happen there), and even galactic war will have a disruptive effect on the economics of the universe. When war breaks out, food and medicine prices will go through the roof. That’s economically advantageous if you happen to have a hull full of food and a fighter escort to help you deliver it. If you are a pirate, it could be advantageous for you as well, if you are lucky or smart. There is a 40 minute video talking about Quantum (the new AI system) and the implications of it — even if you are new to Star Citizen, it’s a massive change that could be a game changer for this genre, but a new high bar for game behaviors in general.
The video below is from Q1 of 2021, and finally in Q2 2023 we are starting to see the initial bits of Quantum being added to the game’s simulation engine. Why did this take so long to get across the finish line? Well, that comes down to scale and integration. Within each entity in the game there are AI components that govern their actions. That can be running an NPC’s navigation system, flight for a refueling tanker, or just the backend for how trades are initiated based on proximity, risk, and other factors as it flows into the overall galactic economy. One small example might be how food may be a stabilized and normal price on one planet, but another one with a nearby pirate fleet blockading entry might see their food price skyrocket. Sure, it’d be easy to write scripts to make that sort of thing happen, but it’s so much more organic when the AI can do this dynamically, also spinning up and enabling a black market economy at the same time. Putting true intelligence behind the slick veneer of Star Citizen is a daunting task, as you’ll see in this video below, and doing it in an entirely automated fashion is staggeringly difficult.
It’s worth noting that there are two terms you’ll want to understand in the video above – Quantum and Quanta. Quantum is the overall AI engine that drives the AI simulation, and Quanta are the AI entities in the game. Using the example from the video above, you might have a pirate Quanta who has decided (via the AI, not engineer scripting) that he’s going to try to set up a run along an undefended hauler corridor. Quantum has provided this pirate Quanta with stats and capabilities, along with some initial proficiencies that can grow as this entity runs rampant. These proficiencies can be things like combat, manufacturing, trading, piloting, and others, which helps define what this character is good at, as well as their profession. This, combined with a personal preference trait system, can give that Quanta some actual personality. For example, you might have an AI entity from a planet where they’ve learned to be highly proficient in factory work, but they look at the risk of that work and decide they aren’t being paid properly. Their perception of risk vs. reward causes them to decide to take a more aggressive approach to their life, nabbing a ship and taking up piracy – a high risk, but high reward career path. Morality and aggression levels vs low and high aggression, combined with a staggering number of additional inputs, makes up the personality of this would-be pirate. Fast forward a bit and you might get a notification that this person is causing trouble along that aforementioned shipping lane. You take the mission to investigate and eliminate the target only to find that he’s not there. The Quanta has decided that, because several players have attempted to take him out, he better lay low for a bit and has holed up at a nearby pirate-friendly outpost to spend his ill-gotten gains. You can wait him out and catch him in his ship as he eventually exits the station, but more interestingly you can also land at the station, find him at the bar, and simply shoot him right there. Undoubtedly there will be an arrest mechanic added to the game at some point as the Quantum engine forms the perfect backbone for an amazing bounty hunting system.
Currently there are a handful of defined mission types to earn money beyond piracy. Mining, hauling, trading, as a bounty hunter, a mercenary, and even operating a successful taxi service are viable career choices. Want to fly a massive luxury yacht for the ultra-rich and powerful? The largest civilian craft at the time of writing is the Origin Jumpworks GmbH 890 Jump, and it’s every bit a luxury liner. Even in open alpha, there’s no shortage of ways to earn a living in Star Citizen. There are already medical ships, combat drop ships, transports, and more in the game, just waiting to be hooked up to military support missions.
Let’s talk about ships:
If you are reading this, you are likely a ship jockey who just wants to get out in the universe and cut down some bad guys. There’s no telling how it’ll work at launch, but at present there are two primary starter packs which grant you a Mustang Alpha or an Aurora ES. They also grant you a digital copy of the game, a hangar, 1000 UEC walking around money, and 3 months of insurance (more on that later). Let’s walk around both of those ships so you can see what that $45 dollars will get you.
There are a number of additional pledge levels (it’s still in a crowdfunding campaign state to support continued development) with tiers beyond the starter packs granting different ships. These can range anywhere from $60 all the way up to an eye-watering $1,100. In the Alpha state the game will be periodically wiped, so any ships you buy with in-game money go with it, but ships you buy with real cash are yours to keep forever. It’s worth noting that Squadron 42 is now an add-on that you can buy as a stand-alone product for $45, or as a bundle with the Persistent Universe for $65.
With the money thing out of the way, let’s test out a few of these starter craft. You already saw the Mustang Alpha and Aurora ES, so let’s leap into the Avenger Titan.
If you want to get out into the universe with friends, you might look at my daily driver — the Cutlass Black. This ship supports two crew members and has a cargo capacity of 46. It also looks fantastic in black.
If you’ve got a slightly larger crew, you might all pitch in for a Freelancer. The minimum crew on this ship is two (though you can actually fly it solo – it’s just a bit more difficult to do it efficiently), with a max of four, but it has a larger cargo capacity of 66. The commercials for these ships are like modern day car commercials. Even if you never buy this ship for yourself, having Lance Hendrickson talk you through the features really sells you on the features. They’ve even got snappy catchphrases and “folksy” music.
Get out of bed, pilot:
We’ll get into the inky black in just a few here, but the first thing you’ll need to do is get out of bed. At present, every time you log in you’ll be laying in bed. Hopping out of your bunk you’ll find your snug little apartment is filled with everything you’d need to at least catch a shower, make a meal, and get back out to your ship. There are a few places you can call home (we’ll get back to that later), but some planets are nicer than others. Waking up in an ultra-modern station is very different from bunking in the bowels of a refinery.
Heading out of your billet you’ll hop an elevator to the main portion of whichever station you’ve called home. Depending on the station, you’ll either be right at the deployment hangar, or not far from it. You might find a hospital nearby, you might need to take a train to get to the hangars, but there’s one thing that’s consistent across the board – you won’t find a loading screen. Ever. The world of Star Citizen is seamless after the initial load, and there are no fade to black moments unless you die. Let’s see it in action:
Selecting your craft from a station menu, you’ll be directed to head to a hangar. Heading over to the elevator (which is more like the elevator from Willy Wonka as it goes in ALL directions) will take you directly to where your ship is currently docked. For most ships that’ll be inside a hangar, and for the largest that won’t fit, you’ll find these sitting at the end of a dock. As you saw in the videos above, you’ll have to unlock your ship and get inside. That can be via a ladder, an elevator, a rear hatch, a side hatch, or a ramp, depending on the size of the craft.
Aboard your ship you can’t simply jump in the pilot’s seat and roar off into the inky black. Either tapping a button in the ship (many of the buttons, knobs, and switches you see are functional in your ship), or by hitting a key on the keyboard you’ll make your craft flight-ready. This brings up the engines, turns on the power plant and generators to begin to charge shields, and readies your weapon systems. With the ship powered, you’ll next need to contact Air Traffic Control (ATC) to request permission to launch. With permission granted, they’ll open the hangar doors for you (or release the umbilicus and docking clamps on the larger craft). Your journey begins, and this is the first step…
Of Rivets, Repairs, and Refueling:
One of the features I’m most excited about is all around you on your ship, but not fully yet implemented – something you’ll see frequently throughout the game as it stands today. There are no low-resolution junk skins on these ships, nor are they greybox models of what could be. Instead, each one is lovingly crafted down to the rivets and bolts that hold your panels in place. Every cockpit is different, and no two ships are exactly alike, even when they are variants of the same chassis. To that end, you’ll find panels labeled Life Support, Oxygen, Engines, Power Plant, and many more. On some ships you’ll be able to crack these open with a button press, revealing the subsystems of your ship. Being an Engineer on a ship is as critical a profession as the pilot, so some day there will be a purpose to all of these. I look forward to that day as I’m a terrible pilot, but I’m an awesome Engineer.
I do have a calling until Engineering is completed, however – I can run an intergalactic gas station. Boarding the Starfarer, a refueling tanker, I can bring millions of credits worth of refined fuel out to the middle of the system and provide a service to those who need it. Sure, the system is rather small right now, but at some point in the future this could be a viable job. Best of all, it’s fully baked already. While it is extraordinarily expensive to fill this tanker (making it extraordinarily valuable and vulnerable to pirates!), you’ll be able to refuel any ship in the ‘verse. It involves heading over to a panel in the rear of the ship, getting the pressure and mix set correctly, and having the pilot line up their drogue basket (the refueling arm) to get fuel flowing. It’s a complex process and I’m here for it. It also speaks to just how complex the team at RSI wants to build for this universe. Being a refueling operator is not a simple task, and one that requires a bit of training and practice. I can’t wait till this level of detail is applied to every other system in the game.
What about worldbuilding?
Right now there is only one galaxy in the game, with several areas you can select to call home. The newest one, Orison, is a cloud city above the planet of Crusader. It has bars where you can grab a drink, clothing stores where you can buy civilian and military clothes alike, a gym with a cardio room, weights, and punching bags, various aircraft dealers, restaurants, parks, and everything in between. There’s also what has to be the most American-inspired convenience store I’ve ever seen. It’s full of snacks, plush toys for the kids, and an impressive array of guns for sale. I suspect this store was the brainchild of the Austin, Texas, arm of RSI. It’s a full living city with all the trimmings.
And then you see the NPCs…
The NPCs in Star Citizen are a confused lot. Often standing on the furniture or staring ahead dead-eyed, they don’t seem to be wired to their own AI most of the time. When you see somebody moving, it’s probably another player. They’re also a little sparsely populated, though that’s probably fine given their current state. That said, they are as meticulously detailed as the planes themselves. Guards are armed to the teeth, shopkeepers are wearing uniforms, as are nurses and doctors. When you head to a museum or dealership you’ll see folks appropriately dressed for the gig. Space stations are massive and sprawling, with Orison being a good example of what’s to come. It’s so large and dense that it has “Where am I?” directories with maps. Just like the panels, all the pieces are here to make this amazing.
I mentioned that one of the locations you can call home is a refinery. Well, more to the point it’s an entire refinery town. There are shops, but they are a tad more grimy, as is the rest of the station. Stairs and gantries are littered with junk and clothing. Grease stains and flickering lights are not uncommon. It makes the entire space feel more like a working station. Once again, the pieces are here…waiting.
There is one area where some of the pieces are starting to come together – crime. Drug smuggling and piracy are rampant in some areas, offering a target rich environment whether it’s in the air or on foot. Bounty Hunting can be a lucrative, if dangerous career, but it’s actually not off limits to you as a player to play the other side. Should you decide to go rogue and start cutting down other players or NPCs, you’ll find yourself with a bounty on your head. Just inside of customs as you exit the hangar, you’ll have the opportunity to clear up any fines you may have accrued as part of your ill-gotten career, lest you be unable to land or otherwise engage in any commercial activity. I suspect this will become a full-featured part of the game, with customs and other such activities at some point.
If you fail to pay your fines, there’s also a very real possibility that you’ll be captured and sent to jail. You’ll be stripped of your gear and given the job of busting up rocks in a mine using a hand tool. It’s miserable and slow going. There is the potential for escape, but I’ll leave that for you to discover.
As things currently stand, there are currently 50 people on each server. Static server meshing (not unlike Ultima Online back in the day) is the current approach versus modern methods like Dynamic or Elastic server meshing. In an upcoming patch this will shift to the latter method, allowing the servers to be built and shuttered based on the traffic, spinning up and down in an automated fashion, and seamlessly to the player.
All of the server work comes from a tech the team is calling Entity Graph. Entity Graph is a concept that I’ve used in enterprise server hosting in my professional career. I’ve dubbed this method colloquially (and somewhat crudely) as the “cattle, not pets” approach. In the traditional server hosting environment you have a server that hums along and does its thing until it becomes unstable. At that point, an Engineer is brought in to spend dozens of hours trying to nurse it to health while players are unfortunately knocked offline. You are essentially treating the server like a loving pet, trying to keep it alive at all costs. In the cattle approach, you instead have a “farm” of virtual servers all accessing the data on a redundant external device instead of locally, and if it becomes unhealthy you simply “shoot it in the head” (hence, “cattle”) and bring another one just like it online, with the player being none the wiser. It’s a crude analogy, but a necessary step towards creating a truly persistent and seamless world that can be scaled dynamically as it’s essentially streamed to the player. It also has implications beyond stability as this means that dynamic events can be more easily injected into a specific place that would draw additional players. As more players arrive, more servers are automatically brought online to handle the additional player load. When the event resolves, the virtual servers spin back down as players leave the area. This also enables true object permanence, meaning you can leave an object hidden on some distant rock and leave instructions for your friends, and when they arrive they’ll find it right where you left it. In its current state, players are operating on the former model, with each server supporting 50 players. Betas of universal persistence and various levels of dynamic server meshing have been tested, so this is something we will see arrive in the immediate future.
Star Citizen’s mesh system is applied in a similar fashion, but at a level far beyond just spinning up virtual machines. Because the team is aiming for an eye-watering nine quanta to every one player (that’s not 9 NPCs, that’s 9 AI entities, which could be NPCs, the trade engine, the nearby mining outpost AI, etc. – you aren’t going to see 9 NPCs per 1 player), they needed a way to control that sprawl lest they end up with unrestrained data center costs. Their server mesh engine allows the persistent AI to only “spin up” when it’s needed, downshifting when there aren’t local folks around. Going back to our pirate example, when there is another player in the vicinity you’ll get the full Quanta experience, complete with the AI showing off the piloting skills, combat, trading, or whatever else the simulation decides would be the appropriate reaction. When no players are around, the game instead switches to a “lightweight virtual AI”. This AI is low-power, focused more on executing the logic and spitting out the results rather than actually “doing the thing”. Quantum doesn’t need the pirate to actually attack other Quanta-driven ships in the area, but simply to tell the simulation to execute the logic and log the outcomes. This is highly efficient, requiring just a fraction of the computational power needed to fly those missions in real time, and it is done in a completely seamless fashion.
In practice, this seamless mesh combined with the advanced quantum-driven AI, will allow the NPCs you meet to develop and evolve beyond simply standing at a kiosk until the stars burn out. They will instead develop relationships with other people with similar interests and traits. They will utilize the same systems that players do, such as buying food or flying from one place to another. Fully autonomous trade routes where an AI can collect a number of boxes from a warehouse on one planet, load those boxes into their ship in the hangar, take off, break atmosphere and fly to another planet, descend, call for a landing, unload those boxes, and walk them to another broker becomes possible. That broker may appreciate an on-time delivery, looking at that Quanta more favorably in the future. If nobody is observing this action, it’s handled with a lightweight virtual AI (VNPC), instead having the simulation “know” that they are traveling and doing these things. It’s only when a player comes into contact or observes this action that the AI switches to the “subsumption AI’, bringing them to life with the full simulation package. Ambitious hardly covers it.
Where in the worlds is Star Citizen going?!
The systems I’ve described are incredibly complex and fairly unheard of in the industry, but where is any of this going? Right now there are a handful of rich and detailed planets to explore, with more than a few destinations to visit, such as space stations, mining rigs, and more. To handle hundreds of thousands or even millions of players would require a far larger universe, and that’s where I predict all of this is going.
If you are building a game – let’s call it “No Person’s Horizon”, and you want to populate it with a near-infinite number of planets. Arguably, even if you procedurally generate all of those planets, few of them will feel unique or different enough to visit without having a developer hand craft a reason to exist. Sure, you can provide the player with some tools to allow them to keep themselves busy, but there’s no way to give a bespoke experience to everyone. As such, you either end up with a very empty universe, or at best a very generic one where the quests are various derivations of fetch, deliver, kill, or all three. By building complex AI that can make meaningful decisions, and at a scale where it actually matters, you could populate procedurally generated planets with AI that will simply…live. They’ll go about their lives, and the game will react to the stimuli of the player. A stable community might go on mining and carrying on with their simple lives, forming a tight-knit bond. Throw in a player that drops in and forms relationships and suddenly some of those AIs might decide that their future is more suited to the stars. Another player that decides that the valuable minerals need to be liberated by force might instead change that community into one where the AI decides they want to staff up a security detail. Those folks have to be paid, reducing the overall income of that mining community. People become disillusioned with their simple life, and suddenly you’ve got a revolt. All of these things and much more could happen without a developer pulling a single lever. Roberts Space Industry is trying to build worlds where the NPCs are not just standing around waiting for you to arrive – they have their own lives. Generating thousands of such worlds without having to do it all by hand becomes possible, and I can’t wait to see it come to life.
What about Pay to Win?
If you read the scuttlebutt about Star Citizen you’ll eventually stumble across people suggesting that the game is pay to win. They say that people can buy their way to ships that would be insurmountable in battle. To those people I say “You’ve clearly not played the game”. I’ve seen people with very expensive ships that they purchased with real-world money get blown out of the sky by nimble and skilled pilots using the advantages offered by ships they earned after just a few days of busting rocks with a mining laser. I’ve also seen the community police problem players on their own when they’ve simply purchased a big ship and start harassing other players in the persistent universe. Even at this stage of the game, the ‘verse seems content to handle problems locally rather than involve the law. Upcoming patches for the game will flesh out more of the AI system to also police a little more effectively, raising bounties and incentivizing players and even the other AI ships to handle rising threats, so just buying your way to victory, or just being a thorny problem and pad-ramming other players could end quickly and decisively for the unruly.
There have been suggestions that only a limited number of ships will be available post-launch, and from the rotation I see that could easily be the case. If I had to guess, we’ll see various ships available seasonally, with second chances to buy them hitting during the annual Fleet Week celebration. Even now, however, there are plenty of ways to earn ships. Before you buy, however, you can rent.
In nearly every larger station are dealerships where you can try out various ships in the game. Like a car dealership, you’ll find specific brand ships at each. Renting a ship lets you take it out for a period of time, doing whatever you’d like, including taking it out for a mining run to try for a big score before you’ve gotta return it.
While the economy is far from tuned at this point, there is currently no barrier to players simply doing the work. You can grind from your starter ship to something fairly formidable over a weekend, and before any real balancing. Buying material and moving it from one place to another, acting as a courier to deliver packages, hunting pirates, or being a pirate yourself are all very viable paths to earning your own berth, though each comes with its own challenges and dangers. There are criminal ratings and bounties and a whole law system to deal with if you decide to try to screw other players or take on the piracy route.
Not everyone is going to be the captain — larger ships need crews. Perhaps take a job in a gunner seat or as a navigator to earn your way in the ‘verse. Capital ships are an investment, but one that can be shared with a group of players who’d like to crew it together. Even medium ships like a hammerhead can be a fantastic craft for a small crew ready to strike out to make their own path in the universe.
RSI continues to fundraise with fresh players joining the Persistent Universe every day. They’ll also be funding development with real money to continue to fund future development, but despite testing over 100 ships over the last few weeks, there is no world where it’s in any way “Pay to win”.
Let’s talk about Insurance and Death
The universe is a very dangerous place, and eventually you are going to meet your untimely demise. Whether it’s a re-entry that came in too hot, or pirates that catch you out mining without an escort, however it happens, you are going to end up dead and thinking about your insurance premiums on your shiny ship. During the Alpha, all ships have unlimited insurance without the need to renew it or pay any sort of upkeep. It covers the ship itself, as well as any equipment you have mounted on it. Simply head back to a ship kiosk and submit a claim for your destroyed vessel. The kiosk will tell you how many real world minutes or hours you’ll have to wait to retrieve your ship. You can pay an expedite fee using in-game credits to get it instantly, but ultimately it’s not a penalty.
There are several insurance types that’ll take effect once the game goes live. Some ships carry lifetime insurance, keeping the hull and default components safe without any expiration date. Others have a two, three, or six month policy that will need to be renewed when it expires. It’s likely that we’ll see limited hull coverage, or temporary insurance policies, but currently it’s not a worry. Given that there have been more than one instance where my ship suddenly and unexpectedly exploded for no reason whatsoever, that’s a good thing.
Patches, Patches, and more Patches
As I was writing this article, patch 3.19 has headed out to the public test server (there is a secondary staging before it goes “live” for folks to test stability and such), and like every point release before it, it’s a doozy. I’m not going to give you a rundown of every patch, but here are some highlights from just the last few.
3.14 brought with it a wealth of improvements and reworks, including volumetric clouds, a brand new landing zone, and most importantly, a complete overhaul of the ship power balancing systems. Using a triangle on your multi-function display (or the hotkeys if you prefer), you are able to now easily shift power to your various ship systems — shield generators, thruster capacity, and energy weapon ammo regeneration. Rather than a ‘pool’ of energy from which to fire your various energy-based weapons, they now have an ammo counter, and your weapon systems regenerate that ammo. It seems like a minor change, but it has major implications when you are unloading on enemies.
Similarly, there is a more holistic whole-ship coverage approach to shields – a “shield bubble”, if you will. Smaller ships will likely have a single generator, so they’ll have a single bubble that can be adjusted to the cardinal directions. Larger ships with multiple generators have multiple bubbles and can often cover all four directions. It makes coordination necessary, giving far more purpose to ships like bombers. I’m reminded of the Pinpoint Barrier System on the SDF-1 in Robotech, but I’m a dork that way. Torpedoes also got an overhaul in this patch, becoming less dumb-fire and more of a nuanced ordinance type. While giving them independent controls is just scratching the surface, it does give us a glimpse into a more submarine-like approach to these weapons. I could see capital ships needing a whole battery of gunners to operate their missiles and torpedo arrays. It’d be cinematic as hell for Squadron 42, and it could be a lot of fun to play, so here’s to hoping this evolves over time.
Once the virtual dust clears, you might avail yourself of the new higher-tier medical center at Orison General. This first pass lets you access a pharmacy and take a look around the massive sprawling hospital. There’s a genetics lab that is currently closed, but one can imagine all sorts of procedures here. There’s an insurance office, no doubt to sell you insurance should you get injured or blown to smithereens when that’s implemented in the future.
Heading to the industrial platform, you can see a massive Hercules ship being built. There’s a tour facility, a cargo area complete with automated conveyor systems, shops, and more. Like any proper city space, it’s all very sponsored by the Crusader Industries company, so their branding is everywhere. It very much makes it feel like a real space, as odd as it is to say that about corporate sponsorship. This area looks like a showroom where the RSI team could build jobs like Engineering, ship construction and customization, and more. It really speaks volumes to the intricate details that RSI is jamming into every single corner of this game.
3.15 brought similar improvements, allowing the player to suffer in new and interesting ways. Individual limbs can now be damaged. You can get a concussion which impairs your vision and cognitive abilities. Players can be revived using medical equipment, but overdosing is now possible. Reviving in the field is now a more viable solution, making fights on the ground less of a grind if you bring somebody in a support role. When you do tackle missions, you’ll find a new inventory system to fill with dynamically-generated loot. Containers that can be picked up and taken back to your ship began appearing.
To go along with torpedo improvements brought by 3.14, the Crusader Hercules Starlifter A2 was introduced, bringing bombing to the game. With this high-speed ship, you can hurtle past a target, dropping bombs as you whiz past instead of locking on and firing a slower-moving torpedo.
3.15 also brought us Improvements and expansion of the hospital gameplay, allowing players to rest and restore themselves in the case of injury. Looting also received a bit of polish because, let’s be clear, the previous system was awful. It also brought the aforementioned refueling tanker, as well as a handful of new mission types.
Patch 3.16 brought a rework on an event called “Jumptown”. It’s now possible to join forces with local law enforcement as you duke it out on the planet Stanton, or you can side with the pirates and attempt to smuggle out a ton of drugs, which leads to the next improvement – bounties. Bounty targets are now able to hide at various places all over Stanton, or even sitting off-planet but in the atmosphere to avoid capture. To help track down these criminals, a new ship was introduced – the Drake Cutlass Steel. This heavy-armed transport ship is able to deliver 18 people, complete with door-mounted guns and missiles, directly to the battlefield. Planetside, you’ll now find derelict spacecraft, complete with puzzles on how to unlock them while avoiding traps. These derelicts are navigable by the AI thanks to a dynamic planet-wide navmesh system, so keep your eyes peeled for traps, troops, and tangos.
3.17 expands greatly on the aforementioned medical systems, opening up clinics all over the galaxy for player medical needs. These clinics will be more randomized, so each will feel more bespoke. Another full-sized hospital has opened on the planet Lorville. Maria Pure of Heart will feature medical treatment, regeneration (which suggests more damage to individual limbs in the future – ouch), making imprints (a full “backup” of your DNA and experiences – a respawn point from the sounds of it), and the usual assortment of medical supplies.
Beyond medical fun, NPCs will now buy and sell goods, a fresh crop of new deployable mining gadgets have been provided, and when you are stranded out in the ‘verse, a fresh ship-to-ship refueling system has been introduced. By adding this last item, an entirely new profession emerges.
The most important update that came to 3.17 is the introduction of a coffee shop vendor. I’m not expected to sit here and turn big rocks into little rocks without my cup of joe, right? Well, you’ll need to head to microTech for the opening of this new store, which will also have hot and cold drinks, as well as your usual assortment of caffeine goodness.
Joking aside, there’s also a new element being added to planetary ecology – rivers. Harvestable nodes are now available near these bodies of water on the planet microTech, with this single river being a test node to be added to other planets in the future.
3.18 was…well, let’s call it straight, shall we? It was a mess. The Persistent Entity Streaming technology implemented in this keeps track of every entity in the game, including NPCs, players, and everything in between struggling to function. It was supposed to include a cargo system refactor, persistence of objects in the environment (e.g. you put down a candy bar on a planet, it stays there until somebody picks it up), and the beginning of salvaging activities for ships. New cave systems, a new space station, expanded prison missions, and more joined the list, but suffice it to say it’s one we’ll eagerly forget.
3.19 is effectively a do-over for the team, introducing things like persistence, salvage contracts, a rebuilt skyline for Lorville, a new tractor beam with towing capabilities, and the usual load of bug and balance fixes. There are even a few ships to keep us busy.
The most exciting and recent development, however, is the road to Alpha 4.0. There are TEN videos showcasing just some of the new features coming to the game in this massive milestone. I doubt the team will wait all the way to CitizenCon, the convention for Star Citizen, as that’d mean waiting until October 21st of 2023.
RSI is re-evaluating all of this as we go, so it can and will change before launch, but honestly you could say that about any game couldn’t you? Star Citizen is slated for…whew, excuse me while I take a deep breath here – 2027. That’s a very long way away. Squadron 42, the single player component, is supposed to come out prior to that, but at the pace of development and the complete rejigger of the scope of the game, it’s hard to say if that’ll happen. I do know this, I’ve gone from disinterested to poring over every detail about AI improvements, scripted battle sequences, and pickups of motion capture sessions that keep me freshly stocked with “copium” while we wait for each of these massive updates.
I’ve saved the last big question for last, and honestly it’s probably the toughest to answer – “Is Star Citizen a scam?” RSI has provided us with a webpage offering up funding information in near real time. The game has clipped past 568 million dollars raised with 4.6 million players pledging their financial support, making it the most expensive game ever made. What gives players, including me, pause is that the stretch goals stopped at 65 million. Everything after that is a bit murky, and that’s frankly something that RSI has failed for years at this point to address. That’s half a billion dollars unaccounted for.
Headed to the Progress Tracker you can see each of the various systems in the game and when each one is expected to land. Each has tasks and deliverables associated with them, and therein lies the next problem – they all end at Q4 2023. Now, it’s very likely that at CitizenCon in October we’ll see the next set of objectives appear, but shrouding a game this high profile with enough money attached to fund Grand Theft Auto V nearly four times over without any associated tasks is problematic at best. At least what is spelled out here is coming very shortly and gives us a lot to get excited about. It’s not a scam, but it’s very easy to want a bit more clarity on where all this money is going.
The Let’s Play video above is just a taste of what’s on offer in the current iteration of the game. It also represents the start of an ongoing series for Gaming Trend. Hit me up on our Discord and let me know what you’d like to see in our upcoming episodes. We’ll soon be opening up a digital hangar with a walkthrough of EVERY ship in the entire game – something we’ll keep up to date with each new ship. While I can’t promise I’ll always have a grip on all the things going on in Star Citizen, as a player and a backer, I’m excited about what I see.
If you DO decide to join Star Citizen, please punch in this referral code at the referral site (STAR-63WQ-T327) – it helps the site, helps me continue this series, and you get a free 5000 UEC for your efforts!
Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.
Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.
Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 27 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).