With the understanding that I haven’t written as many posts about CitizenCon 2953 as there were segments to write about, consider this my wrap-up post. To be quite frank, each day featured about 6 hours of non-stop video if you watch them end to end, and I really don’t have the mental bandwidth to re-watch them all, screenshot them all, take notes on them all, and write about them all.
The show started with an overview of the “Star Engine”, the heavily modded Amazon Lumberyard game platform that Star Citizen runs upon. We got a whole lot of updates about what’s going on behind closed doors, from visual effects to physics to new UI elements, planet tech, freakin’ cloth simulation, how server meshing is working now and how it will work later, and a bunch more. Things then branched out into specific segments talking about ship revisions, how we’ll finally be getting a better star map (and other maps) with the UI do-over, NPC factions, some new ships (of course), character creation, player housing, and stuff I’m forgetting. Even within each segment there were segments, and what we look at things from a 10,000 foot view, there was a lot of ground covered at a very surface level during this year’s 2-day convention.
We apparently have Squadron 42 to thank for all of that.
I was going to wait until the end of my post series to talk about SQ42 and its ramifications and expected to have one post per segment on-line before I got there, but I don’t have the blogging stamina I once did so we’re jumping ahead. The last item at the convention was a very well-designed teaser — the longest and most coherent one yet — for SQ42 which, as Chris Roberts triumphantly mentioned, is now “feature complete”.
This apparently means that everything that’s planned to be in the game is in the game, and the only thing left to do now is to clean up the rough edges. That may sound reductionist, but it makes no assumptions about how many rough edges SQ42 has, or exactly how rough those edges are. The assertion that the game is feature complete doesn’t mean we are months away from an alpha or beta, and it certainly does not mean a release date is immanent. It just means, I guess, that if Roberts can be kept away from it for a while, nothing new will be added.
For those not well versed in Star Citizen development cycles, the reason why this is a Big Deal isn’t because we’re actually closer to getting SQ42, which admittedly many Star Citizen players don’t even care about much. For many, SQ42 has been considered a distraction at best, and a complete deviation at its worst. As a single player game, it actually jives more with the legacy of Wing Commander, even down to the fact that Mark Hammil returns as a completely different character, but appears, nonetheless. If we had only ever been promised a single player Wing Commander-adjacent game, we would have been happy. Instead, we got tempted by an MMO Wing Commander which is really something that a whole lot of original WC players had always dreamed of even before large scale multiplayer games were even possible.
As CIG mentioned several times over the past few years, resources were diverted from Star Citizen to SQ42, which resulted in several quarters where the cadence of updates to the persistent universe (PU) went off the rails, missing or delaying deadlines. We were promised that the work done in SQ42 would eventually flow back into the PU once SQ42 is “complete”, but because SQ42 never afforded the level of transparency that Star Citizen demanded and Star Citizen got, we never knew how far SQ42 had gotten at any given point and had no measuring stick for how close we were to seeing any of these major updates in the PU.
If we consider that SQ42 is now in polish mode, which we might assume to mean that the tasks are being handled by people who know stuff, but not the core development group who has to make stuff, then that means everything we were promised would flow from SQ42 to Star Citizen will be coming in relatively short order (relatively for a game in development for over 10 years now).
“Suuureee we will,” people are saying about this no-time-given timetable. Well, a lot of what we saw in the Star Engine bullet-list at the opening of the convention was stuff we’d never seen before, in action or in stills, or at such levels of detail. I’m thinking mainly of everyone’s least favorite pain point, the star map, which has occasionally made the PU game frustratingly unplayable on its own. Not only was the mapping functionality shown at the top of the show new, but it’s so fundamentally different that we can’t even entertain the idea that CIG was just “holding it back” for Reasons(tm). This has to be a system designed for SQ42 that was shown in the Star Engine that drives Star Citizen, which results in the possibility that the SQ42 UI is in some version of Star Citizen in the bowels of CIG’s fancy new HQ in Manchester.
The above screenshot is from a Discord channel which collates news and info from official channels. The EPTU is a new set of testing servers that CIG has set up to test the really experimental stuff that will be pushed to the PTU (general test channel) and eventually the PU for all players to enjoy. As you can see, these notes indicate that Star Citizen is getting the full FPS AI behaviors that have been designed in SQ42. This is massive as it means we’ve got some level of parity between a feature-complete product and this long-suffering still-in-development product. It’s a bridge between something that’s been worked on and tested in-house and something that’s been begrudgingly accepted by the community at large. Like the mapping features, I suspect the jump from the wacky PU AI and the SQ42 AI is going to be quite the change. In addition, I don’t camp out at CIG’s planned development and release timeline page, but I don’t recall hearing about the imminent release of anything to do with tractor beams, yet here we are, with tractor beams being added to ships the way they were always intended to be. Was this planned, or was this another indication that as developers are leaving the SQ42 side of the house for the Star Citizen side of the house, bringing wheelbarrows full of the features that are best suited for quick integration, testing, and deployment?
If this sounds like breathless hype, well…after several dark months where I questioned my loyalty to this project, I’m OK with that. This is only the first patch, though, and I wouldn’t put it past CIG to drop some bombshells in patch notes that seemingly appear out of thin air in a show of “good faith” that things will be flowing from SQ42 down-stream to Star Citizen. The proof, of course, will be whether or not each subsequent patch brings similar enhancements. It was mentioned that every advanced content item we saw in the Star Engine demo would be released by the end of 2024, but we certainly haven’t seen everything we suspect that Star Citizen will feature. Aside from a brief look at the end of the SQ42 teaser, we haven’t heard or seen anything about the alien races in the game, for example. It’s entirely possible that CIG will pull the CIGgiest move ever and string out these updates well into 2025 or beyond, and that’s just talking about the items we saw during this convention.
So, the good news is that the heavy hitters of CIG’s development teams are scooting their chairs from the SQ42 desks over to their dusty Star Citizen desks that have been unoccupied for a few years. This hopefully means more new features, more bug fixes (please, gawd, please), and the always-promised-rarely-delivered faster development cycle. We can hope that this is what “Squadron 42 is feature complete” really means, but we also must take a tense “wait and see” stance as to whether or not CIG can meet the vague “end of 2024” promise, or if they’ll find some way to slip up again.