I’ve been trying to log in an stay connected to the public test universe for Star Citizen’s 31.5 patch, but the 30K disconnects are rampaging through the servers at a frightening pace. Instead, I’ve been spending more time on Spectrum, the game’s live-chat-slash-forums where people leave their feedback and general behave like your typical Internet citizens are wont to do.
It’s interesting to read these threads, as if provides a glimpse into how “the other half lives” so to speak. I’ve learned this morning that people are (unsurprisingly) abusing the new medical gameplay by overdosing each other without consent in the armistice (read: no combat) zones. Medical gameplay is new for this patch, and includes a personal “medigun” which is intended to administer life-saving drugs in the field. Instead, people are dialing up the doses and are injecting people at stations and planets who are trying to use the ASOP terminals to pull their ships out of storage.
Another issue — which isn’t really an issue, but rather a “come to Jebus” moment — deals with the first pass of the physicalized inventory system. Prior to 3.15, inventory was nebulous and accessible from virtually anywhere. We could carry an infinite amount of weapons, armor, and ammo, and could summon ships from any ASOP terminal, assuming they hadn’t purposefully been stored at a different location previously. Now our personal inventory is limited. We can store items on our person only if we have armor and/or a backpack with cargo capacity. The rest of our goods are stored by default at our “home location”, meaning we can pull whatever we want out of thin air but only if we’re at our home station or planet. Ships are now physicalized as well. They can only be summoned from our home locations, which makes switching between them anywhere else in the Stanton system impossible unless we somehow fly and store them at a different location. And since we can also move inventory from our home buckets or personal inventory to our general ship inventory, we might have goods inside of a ship which is inaccessible as it’s on the other side of the system.
This is bringing to light a whole host of “headaches” for long term Star Citizen players. The big caveat here is that the systems that we’re used to were never intended to be the way that the game works. They were behaving thusly because they were relatively quick to implement, and provided the least amount of barriers to getting the players testing the systems. As development progresses and systems start trending towards their final forms, we’ve got growing pains.
The medigun controversy is one. If a player needs medical attention while at a station, then it makes sense that another player should be able to get them back on their feet. Worst case scenario is that one player can literally drag another’s body to a medical facility, but considering most planetary medical facilities require a tram ride from the space port, dragging a player seems like a stupid option in the face of just injecting them with enough drugs to let them get there on their own. But gamers will be gamers, and folks have found a way to abuse the system.
The inventory system is a bit more problematic. A user on Spectrum pointed out that if they die, they lose everything on their body. This isn’t unheard of, of course, but with the physicalized inventory, Tony Z’s “Quantum” AI system, and the changes being made to shops, obtaining replacement gear isn’t going to be as simple as rolling out of the medical facility and down the street to the local arms and armor store. Instead, a player’s preferred loadout might only be available on the other side of the system, or worse: a rifle at Microtech, half a suit of armor at Loreville, the other half at Orison, and a pistol at Area 18. Right now on the PTU, the way around this is to buy multiple of an item to get the item into the local zone’s “home inventory”, summon a ship that’s available at that location, and then drag items from the home inventory to the ship’s inventory. That way these replacement items are on the ship instead of all over the solar system.
Of course, if you die, your ship is still where you left it, but you probably won’t be able to retrieve it if you fly back to it. Or if your ship blows up, so goes your cache of inventory. Or if you were killed by another player, maybe they took your ship and all of it’s inventory. Who knows?
The result, right now at least, is that the game is about to get a whole lot more tedious — and this is by design. It doesn’t make real-world sense that we could just summon ships from anywhere in the system and have them magically appear from the location they were stored at. It also doesn’t make sense that we all have a “void of holding” into which we can store an almost infinite amount of inventory that somehow follows us around at all times. It does make complete sense that all of our “stuff” is “at home”, and if we want access to that stuff we need to “go home”, otherwise we would need to A) bring it with us, or B) re-buy it where it’s available. But we can only fly one ship at a time; taking a ship from, say, Everus Harbor/Lorville to Olisar/Orison means we will only ever have that one ship. We can’t send an NPC back home to collect another ship for us. And yes, we will have to buy multiple items when we can, store them in a single ship, and then summon/store ships to distribute items across our entire fleet (assuming we have an entire fleet, which is a problem for most alpha participants, but probably won’t be if/when the game releases).
This is a first pass, though. It’s going to be non-optimal for a while as CIG starts bringing other systems online for first iteration testing. The worrisome part is that CIG is leaning heavily into the “simulation” part of the project which flies dangerously close to removing the “game” part of the…game.
I touched on this with my two previous posts on “Death of a Spaceman”. While I like the idea of cumulative damage effects on our characters, will this mechanic be “fun” or will it be “realistic”? Physicalized inventory is a must-have, but as it’s already a PITA to traverse Stanton — and Pyro is set to be much, much worse in terms of time and obstacles, apparently — what’s it going to be like if the items we need to re-buy aren’t just on the other side of the solar system, but on the other side of the galaxy? I quit Elite Dangerous because the need to fly from point to point was just so damn tedious; I don’t want to find that Star Citizen doubles down and makes 90% of the gameplay traversal and 10% swearing at having to deal with the logistics of getting to the point where we can actually start playing the game we want to play.
There is some sense that CIG is already hedging their bets on several fronts. As far as the medical gameplay goes, there are several ships which can serve as field hospitals should we get injured, like the Cutlass Red, the RSI Apollo, the Anvil Carrack, and probably a few more now and later down the line. These ships will allow players to bind to a mobile bed, and if they die, they may be able to respawn there instead of back home, and they can of course receive competent medical care from these ships while on the go. In what is either an odd coincidence or a carefully orchestrated bit of synergy, this year’s CitizenCon made a point to talk about the Banu Merchantman, a massive, flying marketplace, and they also announced the Anvil Liberator, a “pocket carrier” that can load up a few smaller ships, ground vehicles, inventory, and some cargo for long-haul transport. Both of this can help alleviate the need for individuals to make long trips back and forth, but they do require that players “know a guy” who can supply these services, or that they put their trust into other players to not screw them over. Considering what’s going on with the medigun right now on the PTU, I’m not holding my breath for the latter.
Some of these changes on the PTU are simply growing pains. People are complaining on Spectrum that the way things were is not the way things are going to be, and they usually get an “Internet-gentle” reminder that the way they were was never how they were intended to be in the end. There are also people on Spectrum jumping the gun and asking for features of the current iteration to be “fixed” in certain ways, implying that these people don’t quite grasp that these systems aren’t yet in their final states, and that “fixing” something that’s both intentionally broken and obviously unfinished is just wasting breath.
Some of the changes that CIG is making, however, might be erring a little to hard on the side of simulation; I’m actually surprised that we haven’t yet heard about upcoming features which will require our characters to use the bathrooms, but considering how ubiquitous toilets, sinks, and showers are in every ship, port, and planet, I’m fully expecting it to be announced at some point. It’s no secret that Chris Roberts is a very big fan of making Star Citizen “his” game first and everyone else’s second, meaning that he’s going to do what he wants to do come hell or high water. If he wants players to band together, then he’s going to demand mechanics that make operating as a solo pilot even for a little while as painful as possible; I weep for the players who will only own an Aurora, Mustang, or Hornet at launch, as they’re going to be severely limited in what they can do with their small, limited range ships unless they get a dedicated corporation to help them out from day one, because at this rate, they won’t be able to even leave their starting system, let alone partake in any of the simulated systems being designed.
Granted, there will be people out there who thrive in this heavy-simulation environment. Personally, I have enough ships to make a go of almost any gameplay I might want to undertake. I can ship cargo, move small boxes of stuff, dogfight, infiltrate bunkers, and explore the universe. I have friends who have several ships that fill in blanks, and am a member in a fantastic and involved corporation. But I also know that my time, as always, is going to be limited. If it takes me 30 minutes to fly a ship to a destination, 45 minutes to load cargo (per Tony Z’s talk about physicalized cargo), another who knows how long to fly the cargo to a viable destination, and another who knows how long to unload the cargo, and that’ll be pretty much all I have time to do in one sitting. There are others who will be in this boat, not to mention all of the people who will be so happy to get a decent-capacity cargo ship only to find that it takes over 2 hours just to fly one simple route for moderate profit.
At some point I suspect that something is going to have to give. We loved the idea of Quantum, the AI simulation that will route goods from place to place, introduce pirates and police, and will dynamically shuffle resources around the universe, but that all needs to be done in service of making the game fun for a wide variety of people. I fear that Star Citizen is going to end up being very much a niche product for hardcore simulation fans after it scares away all of those who cannot or will not devote huge swaths of their time to meager advancement and low-hanging goals.