Highly detailed ships. “Real time” flight. Body-part level medical gameplay. Hundreds of armor pieces. Hundreds of weapons. Space-to-atmosphere flight. As-good-as-its-gonna-get flight physics. With all of this simulation you’d think the CIG would be happy to provide the most immersive, most engaging space-sim experience ever, but Chris Roberts never met a line in the sand he didn’t immediately blow past without giving it a second thought.
Resource management is…not insignificant addendum to an already deep set of systems. In a simpler world, Star Citizen could do without the level of engagement that this mechanic offers and could easily get away with a simpler system that would please everyone, but we do not live in that world, so we get this instead:
Behold the resource network for what I believe is a Hammerhead (based on the context video, and the rough shape of the nodes in that spaghetti mess on the left). Before we get into discussing the presentation, though, let’s go over what “resource management” means in the Star Citizen context.
Everything is a Resource
First and foremost, Star Citizen is a game about spaceships and the reasons to fly them. Although there’s rumblings of player-owned facilities, there’s been no (recent) word on whether or not there’ll be actual, honest-to-goodness crafting in the game the likes of which we’ve seen from other MMOs. In this light, “resources” doesn’t entirely mean “things used to make other things” — at least not entirely. Instead, we’re talking about the virtual resources needed to “make things work”: your ship, a space station, your homestead, or an entire city.
Engineering a Role
Being a simulation, CIG is looking to add a layer of “maintenance” to operating a ship.
Most of these bullet-points mean more to larger ships, and that’s intentional, as engineering gameplay is a massive part of the “multi-crew” design. According to Dan Trufin the Assistant Design Director for Persistent Universe Content (or ADDPUC, if you like acronyms), the captain of a multi-crew vessel will eventually be allowed to assign roles to players on-board which will allow them to use the multi-function displays (MFDs), some of which will have permission to work with the ship-wide resource system.
When a ship is operating normally, out of the box, the ship’s resource network will be pre-configured to work just fine. As time goes on, however, and wear through use and combat take its toll, engineers may have to literally re-route pathways around the ship to move power, water, oxygen, and other resources to maintain efficiency. Several of the components that are already in the game (shield generators, quantum drives, and so on) will have sub-components like fuses or even buff-modules that help the component operate above the green line. It will be an engineer’s job to keep tabs on these systems, to know what nodes do what and at which levels, and to repair or replace anything that’s broken down.
Combat is, of course, the most important time for resource management for several reasons. Opponents will be able to target sub-systems in order to cripple — not destroy — a ship, and that translates to damaged components. Engineers and repair crews will need to scramble throughout the ship in real time to reach the affected areas, repair or replace, or even re-route systems or adjusting resource flow priorities to maintain critical system features to enhance survivability.
On the flip side, crafty attackers might find a way into a larger ship, and rather than risk fighting an entire crew to gain control, could dismantle key parts of the ship’s resource network to, say, take down shields or open doors.
As mentioned, atmosphere control is part of the resource network, and once again, the line of sanity has been left behind. Star Citizen will have legit atmospherics per room, everywhere, although it’s never more important than when flying around in a multi-crew ship in the depths of space.
In the presentation, Dan showed several examples of this at work, using testing stations set up for this purpose. The dot you see above is an indicator of the O2 levels in the room. Normally, a yellow dot means comfortably oxygenated, but when the door is opened to a vacuum outside, all of the oxygen is sucked from the room, turning the dot black and killing the NPC (trust me; it’s hard to show in a still image).
While this opens up all kinds of avenues for concern, it’s not all bad, as you can see above. Shipboard fire is a feature that CIG has been proudly talking up and is something that maintenance crews will need to deal with from time to time. Although there will be fire suppression methods available, a quick and dirty option is to just…open the doors to space.
There were other examples given, like how internal ventilation between rooms can be used to provide atmosphere or take it away, and the video is pretty interesting from a development perspective if you’d like to check it out.
One of the interesting aspects of this presentation is how the team talked about how resource management will “allow for player-owned structures” in the future. I don’t see how it will “allow” it
Thoughts (And More Than a Few Prayers)
Is resource management necessary? Absolutely 100% fumoggin not. Is it cool? Absolutely 100% fumoggin is. Is it overkill? Yes. Yes, it is.
I think the phrase “multi-crew gameplay” for larger ships evokes scenes of players seated at consoles on the bridge, a la Star Trek, where every station has a role. But then again, also like in Star Trek, engineers aren’t content to sit down, even during combat. They’re running around, checking on systems, making adjustments, and providing the power and resources that those seated folk need. In that respect, the resource management system is insanely cool and I can imagine scenarios, post long distance travel, where a captain is touring his or her ship, passing friends and org-mates (or NPC hires) who are opening hatches and carrying components throughout the ships, sparks flying as panels are being welded and repairs being done. It’s a microcosm of gameplay that moves with players while other, completely unrelated gameplay is happening somewhere else.
Then the reality sets in. What multi-crew gameplay of this size means is that anyone without an org, and without friends (not a judgement call, but I know many folks play MMOs without a support network), and without enough cash to hire NPCs, is going to have a very hard time because of this system alone. It’s going to mean that the prevalence of large ships (even starting with the Drake Cutlass series, which is a two-person crew) currently owned by wealthy or long-term backers is going to get whittled down as players find that it’s impossible to get enough people on-board at once to serve as crew. After all, everyone wants to use their own ship, and everyone wants to be a captain of their own ship, meaning a whole lot of people are going to be needed to just make the ship work during periods of the most traumatic parts of gameplay. Ships that can muster those kinds of numbers will have a significant advantage over ships that do not, and while it’s cool that those players will undoubtedly have a hell of a time living the spacefaring life, their opponents will quickly rage quit. I suppose that for new players who don’t have a large ship, and who are finding it difficult to make their way in the ‘verse with just a starter package, taking a wage to be a member of a crew is actually a pretty cool way to onboard with the game; but again…it’s Star Citizen, not Star Employee.