Meet Star Citizen, Wing Commander's 21st-Century Successor

Somebody needs to get the US President, Mitt Romney and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a room and show them the next game from the creator of Wing Commander. Because the awesomeness on display in Star Citizen is a brilliant argument for why mankind needs to be in space.

Star Citizen isn't anywhere near done yet. But Chris Roberts's ambitious project is already capable of awing you with its sense of scale and detail. And, if you're a PC gamer who fondly remembers Roberts for the Wing Commander and Privateer games, you'll be happy to hear what he has to say about his newest venture. "If I was making Wing Commander today," he told me during an interview in New York City last week, "Star Citizen is what I would do."

For the past year, Roberts and his dev team have been crafting a sprawling, new online universe where players can become part of a decaying cosmic empire in the year 2942. Star Citizen — which will be free-to-play — takes ancient Rome as its inspiration, ushering players into a society where people have to earn their citizenship rather than having it automatically granted to them. In the game's online world, you gain that citizenship status by fulfilling certain roles. You can be a merchant who earns enough money to buy citizenship or doing civic deeds that buff your reputation to the point where you become a citizen that way.

Or you could sign up for military duty in Squadron 42. That's the military space sim that's a game-within-a-game inside of Star Citizen. Most of what I got to see last week came from the in-progress version of Squadron 42. It looks amazing.

Roberts talked my ear off about the millions of faces and polygons making up the huge space carrier that fighter ships were launching off of. All you need to know is that the level of detail on that carrier, its launch bays and the pilots inside rivals anything I've seen in recent years.

Roberts believes that high-end visuals are the best tool to create deep immersion in games and he's putting his money where his mouth is. For those wondering about the tech, Star Citizen is being built on top of a heavily modified version of CryEngine 3. You can see the seams on a pilot's uniform or the scrapes and weathering of a fighter's exterior, moving naturally and reflecting light sources with beautiful precision.

Squadron 42 places players inside the decline of the empire of Earth, and has them fighting with hostile barbarian extraterrestrials or exchanging goods with friendlier ones.

And if you said that those one-winged ships in the trailer look like homages to Wing Commander's Kilrathi race, then you'd be exactly right.

The former wunderkind is proudly planting Star Citizen's flag in the PC gaming landscape. "What we want to do with Star Citizen wouldn't be possible on console," he said. "No one's really carrying the PC torch anymore, except maybe Valve or Blizzard. It used to be in the '90s that the coolest stuff you could see was on the PC." For Star Citizen, Roberts plans to have constant micro-updates of fresh content — like new, unannounced solar systems to stumble into — all year long. These updates will riff off of what's happening in the game, with missions that might involve swinging the balance of power from one faction to another. He also wants to have player-hosted servers open to modding and a string emphasis on creation tools. Those servers will run a more limited version of the Star Citizen universe but will let you customise the experience in unique ways.

One idea that Roberts cited while talking about Sq42 multiplayer was the idea of Battle Instances that spawn when two players are simultaneously crossing the same solar system. Not only that, but the design automatically holds slots in the instance open for friends, who can jump in to help turn the tide of battle.

Star Citizen will implement a dynamic economy that rewards non-military achievement too. So, if you're an explorer who finds a jump point — folds in space that let travellers take advantage of to travel faster — you can sell the route and get naming rights. That might sound like something out of EVE Online. Roberts says the comparison is apt. "My kind of game is more first-person, action-oriented, in-the-cockpit," he said. "[EVE] is pulled back, more strategic. It's just a different playstyle. They wound up taking on some of the concepts I wanted to do in Freelancer but couldn't."

Late 2014 is when Roberts hopes to launch Star Citizen. All of this is going to take lots of cash, of course, and Roberts says that he's got investors lined up to help fund this huge project. But first, players will have to contribute to a crowdfunding site at Roberts Space Industries. Doing so essentially lets you pre-purchase a ship of varying size and attributes. Once the funding reaches a certain amount, those investors will kick in their pledged cash to RSI. The crowdfunding is a way of proving that there's still a sizeable PC gaming audience out there that's hungry for the next evolution of what Roberts created in Wing Commander years ago.

Roberts comes back to game development after a stint in Hollywood, where he notched producer credits on films like Lord of War and The Punisher. Based on what I've seen, gamers of all persuasions have good reason to welcome Roberts into the fold. He wants to take us back to the deep wilds of outer space, after all, and bring a generation of players back to a place that we never should've left.


    OMG YES *faints*

    I will comment on this when I am able to pick my jaw up off the floor. Now off to start planing my next PC to run this baby :)

    I have to say that while it looks damn good, I was really hoping for a game that incorperated single player as well as multiplayer, rather than a purely online (and free to play) game. Still, No judgements just yet...

      The Squadron 42 component is more of a traditional SP campaign, although it looks like you can invite a friend to fly with you and replace your AI squadmates.

      Looks exciting!

      From what I've read it's both. There is the single player campaign, which is Squadron 42, and once that's finished there's the open free universe of space to do what you like. Or you can go straight into the open world and become a free lancer like in Privateer.

    Oh please god be like Freelancer.

    I was excited until I saw free-to-play :( Wish they'd just bring our a single player campaign. Looks awesome.

      There is going to be offline single-player part of the game called Squadron 42.

    Kilrathi smashing time

    Hrmmm.. no FMV acting? No Mark Hamill? No single-player campaign?

    Have to say though that the idea does bring back a lot of fond memories.. I think WC was the game that I bought my first PC joystick for.. Obviously I'd had joysticks before, like the Atari 2600 but they were nothing like using a proper analog joystick with trigger and all that..

    Question though.. which pledge site do we need to go to? the US one or the EU one? Does it even matter?

    Last edited 11/10/12 10:00 am

      There is a single player component called Sqd 42 (as mentioned above by sir_travelot. As for pledging. I'm sending them an Email first about Australia having servers and donating to the game but the main site is down due to too much traffic :-( I'll be donating $$$$$ to them for this game that looks great and so detailed

      Last edited 11/10/12 12:28 pm

        I hope they do include an aussie server. I'll be donating $125 I think.

    Wc3 was my favorite of the series, to the extent i even went out and bought old copyies of 1-2 and such just to play the story through. Will be defeintely keeping an eye on this

    Battlestar Galactica anyone? Cylon raiders out of the asteroid field? SCAR?

    Someone call 000 I've fainted in disbelief. Wow!

    Awesome GDC with Chris.
    May answer some questions.

    All I can say is WOW! I cannot wait for this.

    I think the positivity of comments says it all. Welcome back space sims! :D

    Actually think I might wait for this rather than pledging.. I've overpledged lately.. got 5 projects backed and pending...

    MMO Privateer / Freelancer was the game I always wished existed. Now it looks like it does. I'm sold.

    Yessssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. Have been feeling the lack of space sims for a while now. The vid looks bloody gorgeous. I am excited!

    Space ship designs I like!? Maybe will have a look at this

    Chris Roberts is back! Woot, looks F*n awesome!

    Can't wait to get my hands on this game.
    I grew up on the Wing Commander series.

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