In keeping with tradition, here’s my breakdown of this year’s CitizenCon 2952. I assume I’ve been doing this; it feels like I have. If not, this is the inaugural post. I’m getting old.

10 Years

Part of Chris Roberts’ original Kickstarter pitch video. High fidelity!

Star Citizen has been “in development” for 10 years this month! Normally milestones are something to celebrate, but seeing as how this is Star Citizen, it’s probably an attachment point for many people’s scorn and sarcasm. 10 Years is a long time for a game to be in development. The FPS hangar module, which allowed backers to walk around a ship hangar, was released in 2013. This was followed by Arena Commander, a dedicated dogfighting mode, in 2014. 2.0 was released in 2015, 3.0 — when the game became usable by the majority of people — happened in 2017. The first planet, Hurston, was released in 2018.

Now, with version 3.18 on the horizon before the end of the year, there are four planets, several moons, several city-sized landing zones, dozens of outposts, an unlimited number of dynamic missions, and, of course, a whole lot of spaceships.

This CitizenCon was dedicated to the upcoming 4.0 patch which will introduce many new features, hopefully culminating with the release of “server meshing” at the end of the cycle which will blow out the current 100-player-per-server cap. Heralding the wealth of upcoming updates in 4.0 is the game’s second star system, Pyro. It’s the dominant, most concrete feature that people have been waiting for.

Planets (and Moons) of Pyro

Pyro is (in current Star Citizen fashion) a lawless system that has been strip-mined of all of its valuables and abandoned. Although actually named for the first corporation to discover and attempt to exploit the system, Pyro is visually “on fire”, with burning red nebulae and dense clouds of stellar dust and debris, making it the perfect place for criminals to hide out.

The first presentation this past weekend showcased several planets and moons of this new system. CIG has put a lot of emphasis on their planetary presentation technology through the years. We have planets of rock, dust, and a few lushly vegetated worlds with climates ranging from insanely hot to temperate to snowy to violently cold. The planets and moons of Pyro look to continue to diversify the offerings somewhat; most of them are still rocky, mountainous, and primitive, but this time with more features.

Many of these landscapes were featured in last year’s CitizenCon, and one played host to the annual “gameplay demo”.

Because me, I am not super excited for Pyro, except in the hope that it syphons off all of the PvPers who are currently plaguing Stanton (there’s a lot of station camping going on right now). Planetary tech is always great to see, and each reveal is a little testbed of features that we’ll be seeing throughout the game later on.

Underground Facilities (UGF)

As of 3.17, underground facilities usually showed up as the set-piece for “bunker missions”. To tackle these missions, players would need to approach a “bunker” on a planet or moon, avoid the turrets (if it’s that kind of mission), enter and take the elevator downwards, and either help defend, clear the facility of hostiles, collect boxes, or destroy drugs. It’s important to know that none of these bunkers, no matter where they are, differ very much in geography. The best we get is that the two-floor layout flip-flops, so sometimes we start on the bottom floor, and sometimes we start on the top. I’m sure this makes for expeditious development, but it makes all bunker missions a one-trick pony. Senior art director Ian Leyland mentioned in the above video that the current iteration was thrown together before a previous CitizenCon, but has yet to meet the standards they want for the final iteration; like a lot of “tier-0” releases, underground facilities were put into the wild to get them out there, with iterative development promised in the future. It seems that the future is coming in 4.0 with an overhaul of these subterranean zones.

On the left: current UGF. On the right, concept art of the improved presentation.

According to Leyland, a revised UGF aims to provide at least an hour’s worth of activity, which might be “active” activity, but is more likely exploration and traversal activity. He breaks down the new design into four different zones.

The first zone is the external and initial internal presence. In the concept art of the exterior above on the right (subject to change), we can see official landing pads on the side, and behind those we have two on-foot entrances. Whereas the current UGFs offer just one, the new designs will offer several to allow for different approaches to infiltration.

This zone would also be the one that authorized visitors see. Branding and possibly layout variation would depend on which corporation owns the facility. In another video (and also one of the email newsletters, I believe) it was mentioned that the AI is being tweaked to identify players, allowing for disguises and official uniforms that let players “waltz right in” depending on the quality of their get-up. I could see lobbies like this being where that kind of stealth might be appreciated.

The second zone would be the elevator. Yes, the elevator gets its own zone. If you look at the screen capture above, you can see reference people added to give the scene scale. Leyland mentioned how they wanted elevators to be a “play space”, which I assume to mean that they wanted to allow for “action” to happen here, and for the area to play into the “visual narrative” of the place. Having elevators large enough to accommodate action, it’s easy to see how players could get into a firefight that plays out better than just shooting in close quarters.

One of the things Ian kept talking about was how they wanted this iteration of the UGFs to offer multiple ways to get through. The current version only allows for a single path: through the door, down the elevator, and between floors via short stairwells. In the new version, players will have opportunities to walk through like they own the place, let their weapons introduce them, or even take stealthier avenues off the beaten path. Each section should allow players to take lesser-used catwalks, to climb along industrial pipes, or to sneak through ventilation shafts in efforts to avoid detection, should that be the way a player chooses to roll (or if the mission requires it).

The third zone is the “working” or “industrial” zone, which would be where all of the work happens in the facility.

This zone would probably be the largest in the facility. As soon as players step off the elevator, they could turn left to go to the processing wing, or right to go to the logistics wing. Each wing, then, would be a series of corridors and rooms of potentially epic scale.

Because Star Citizen errs on the side of simulation, one of the features they want to work in is a believable and actionable design, like a “loading dock” which would allow for cargo ground vehicles to deliver and extract goods from the facility. Leyland casually mentioned that stealing cargo from such a facility, via such a port, could make a really cool mission that they would want to support. Just so long as I don’t have to walk a single box all the way out the front door!

The last zone would be the “unfinished” caverns. Naturally these facilities aren’t going to close themselves off from future expansion, so the edges of the facility might open to natural caverns and contain excavation equipment and the less desirable machinery that keeps the facility running. I can envision that since Star Citizen has missions which send players to find missing NPCs in caverns, these unfinished spaces might even offer an alternative entrance, should players wish to visit the facility in reverse order.

Next Time…

In the next post, we’ll be talking about the upcoming changes to ship speed and how that’s going to affect dogfighting and fleet combat. Bring your flame-retardant underwear, because I have Opinions on this one.

Sound off!

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