Last week I published a literal wall of text about my feelings on the state and future of Star Citizen. I don’t think that I promoted strongly enough the point that these thoughts and feelings were coming from a place of personal reflection. The post wasn’t about ACQB’ing CIG’s decisions, operations, or track-record; it was all about me trying to articulate to myself, through the therapy of writing public blog posts, my relationship with this game that takes up so much of my mind space and which I have convinced myself would be my “forever game”.
For those who aren’t aware, I don’t edit my posts. Shocking, I know! I sit down with a nagging idea and type out the whole post in one sitting. I may re-read it, maybe out loud, and I might fix things that don’t “sound right”, even though I wrote them and if they sounded right the first time. This method often results in long posts which can be incoherent, at least as far as Strunk & White are concerned. I also tend to go off the rails, following any new impetus brought on by each sentence written, making my posts a much better view into my personal stream of consciousness than a way for me to make a point that I had originally sat down to make.
Consider this post an edit, then, with a side of mea culpa. I’ll try to be more direct, more focused, and less editorial than last week because I feel there are things I want to say about the subject of of Star Citizen, especially now that I have a finger on at least part of the pulse that drove me to slap that other post together.
I’ll start by recounting an experience that I had this weekend which helped illuminate some reasons behind my opinions on the whole “Simulation Citizen” thing. I had decided to jump into the game solo and tackle some bunker missions. These are FPS quests that require players to take out hostile NPCs while not taking out friendly security forces. These take place in underground facilities (UGF) and while they pay pretty well for the work they ask us to do, the real payout is the loot we can steal from bodies and crates. This is the best way — and sometimes only way — to get arms and armors without paying for them.
I took a bunker mission that resulted in my death. This is actually unusual, for many reasons, the absolute least of which is my skill in FPS gameplay. Bunker AI can be glitchy, with friendly AI not recognizing enemies, and enemies not recognizing players. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between friendly and hostile NPCs because of lighting or, in the case of 3.18, because CIG changed up some of the armors that enemies wear.
It was because of this confusion that I met my demise. I had entered into the bunker and was proceeding as I normally do, but I suddenly found a Mystery Entity in the foyer. I say Mystery Entity because I still don’t know if it was a player or an NPC. I wasn’t exactly hidden, and this entity certainly saw me as soon as I rounded the corner, but it didn’t actually make any moves until I attempted to cross the foyer to another cover location. Then, it opened fire, killing me almost instantly. At that point, it proceeded to do nothing. It just stood there as it had been, and I lay bleeding out for a while as I considered my situation.
I ended up logging out and doing something else. I was a little angry, but not about dying, even if it did come to pass that I had been killed by another player brazenly standing there in the middle of my mission area like they owned the place. What I was actually angry about was the simulation that I had to deal with before I ended up dead.
Let’s back up. Last week I ranted on about how I thought that the amount of simulation currently in Star Citizen was unnecessary but tolerable, and that the second profession — the engineer — promised more simulation that could be fun on its face. My concern was that as more systems are introduced to the game, and the more details that arrive with those systems, the more painfully overwhelming the sum total of these simulations would be on those who might just want to get into the game and play. I likened a chain of simulated systems to “another job” and flippantly listed off a bunch of tasks a player might find themselves having to tackle before they could get to the gameplay part of Star Citizen, including watering plants, refueling harvesters, and repairing ships.
Almost as if someone at CIG had read my post, last week’s Star Citizen Live addressed some tangential questions surrounding the engineer reveal, the most pertinent being that engineering is, of course, completely optional. Players can choose to tinker with their ships themselves, or just take them to the NPC mechanics (shout out to the original repair drones in the hangars) to get things fixed. Players who elect to play the part of an engineer, specifically during tense combat situations, will certainly help their ship last longer than those who choose not to play that minigame, but that’s a choice — not a mandate — that CIG gives to the players. This leads me to wonder “when is an option not actually optional”, but that’s a rant for another post.
Still, looking back at my weekend death, what bothered me wasn’t that I died, but that I had spent over a half hour unknowingly getting prepared to die. The death took less time than it takes to open a beer (can or bottle, I don’t care), but I had spent time getting out of bed in the hab after login, making my way through Lorville, getting armed and armored, choosing a ship and leaving atmosphere, and traveling to the bunker location, and in the end all I had to show for it was a 2-second event that resulted in a wake-up call in the Lorville hospital.
When I opine about too much simulation being too much, I’m not talking about the cost in a/UEC, or in resources available in game, or about PvP interference (directly), I am talking about it being too much of a time sink. Time sinks are old hat, and are usually present in games to keep players from consuming all the content in a weekend (how’s that working for you, game devs?). In this case, the current level of simulation in Star Citizen is really just a barrier between the time we log in to the time we get to starting on our goals. A little simulation is great, even welcome, but I really do have to ask “how much is too much”? I don’t think we’ve really reached the point of “too much” in Star Citizen, but I am also afraid that forests aren’t being seen for the trees.
The bit about the “tier-0” mess was, I think, subconsciously tied to the fear of never getting to the game for want of a simulation. Right now, it seems that CIG is releasing more new systems than they are fixing or improving the existing ones. Even when they release a “tier-0” feature, it seems to bring even more bugs to the game. 3.18 has introduced some doozies, and I don’t expect them to get fixed in a way that means we’ll never see them again; they’ll get fixed in a way that we can “work around” them so we can do what we need…just not as well as we should. But of course, this is alpha! Some Citizens hate to hear that because it sounds like it excuses CIG’s buggy releases, but it’s true! Now is the time for things to go wrong, and we know that they will get better over time.
My frustration with long-standing bugs and the reminder that every quarterly patch seemed to introduce a new “tier-0” feature made my brain do irrational math by putting two and elephant together to get beach sand. “If CIG can’t manage the ratio of new bugs to old bugs as they release new features,” I stupidly countered myself. “What chance do we have that the balance between simulations and everyone being able to play how they want, when they want is going to be achieved?”
I won’t say that this concern isn’t totally invalid, but this is not the time for such questions. That we can play this game at all in its current state is a small miracle, and that it does do the things that it does at this point — ship combat, FPS combat, dozens of ships and ground vehicles, mining and refining, cargo moving, and now salvaging — really impresses me when I think about it. This is not a simple project, to be sure, and the folks at CIG seem to be smart people who have a lot on their plates. The broadcast set that is used for Star Citizen Live and Inside Star Citizen is modeled after the inside of a starship, and this fictional starship is named “The Only Constant”, as in “the only constant in [game] development is change” because…well…it seems to be (again, not a game developer so I can’t argue with that). The game is not balanced, and will not be balanced for a long time, and possibly never will be, but the hope is that it won’t be so unbalanced that we’re expected to endure more busy-work than event engagement, as this lopsided dichotomy would only lead to disappointment that certainly no one wants.
The light at the end of my tunnel comes from the fact that CIG is going to eventually sit down once the project reaches late alpha or early beta and have to confront the unconvinced player experience they have created. This time will give them the distance they need to really see what the game looks like once they stop adding new systems and tweaking older ones. Adjustments made during this current phase of alpha responding to player feedback is important, yes, but there are still a lot of players in the “wait and see” camp, and they probably won’t come sniffing around until beta at the soonest. Those are the people that CIG needs to worry about, not those of us who have been here for the long haul. I won’t ever leave Star Citizen in part because I’ve invested way too much, and because I want it to succeed so badly. But you might not be convinced yet, especially after a weekend of (admittedly deserved) scaremongering over the state of the 3.18 update. You’ll need a much more coalesced picture in order to see if there’s anything worthwhile in Star Citizen for you, and that’s going to be on CIG’s shoulders to provide. I feel that they have an uphill battle ahead of them at that point which they cannot or will not see right now when they’re still relying on “Death of a Spaceman” and a rabid PvP-focused community to egg them on. But that’s an aside; like any online game, or any game at all, finding the balance between tedium and excitement is important. We all need downtime in our games to decompress and relax, and I’d venture to guess that we all appreciate those times of intensity that that CIG sees as their version of “risk versus reward”. My hope is that when all is said and done, I won’t care about the ratio of time-spent-preparing to time-spent-doing because that ratio will be so small as to be unnoticeable. That’s when we’ll be able to lose ourselves in the experience and thank Star Citizen for the privilege.