Next week sees the birth of a new universe, but it's not very big — in fact, it's exactly the size of a hangar.
"The hangar is essentially the super, super reduced version of the game," said developer Chris Roberts. "As of Thursday everyone who is a backer of Star Citizen will get their hangar and be able to walk around it to see their ships."
For those nearly 230,000 backers of the in-development online space trading and combat game, the hangar will be the first piece of the game they've been anticipating since last October. The hangar, which will hit Thursday morning, will come in three sizes, based on the level of a backer, and pre-loaded with some of the backers ships. It will deliver a chance to wander around inside a fully-realized, albeit tiny, piece of the game. Backers will be able to explore the hangar and climb into their ships. They can even sit down at the controls. Right now there is only one avatar, but eventually there will be avatar customization too.
More intriguing, though, is the idea that those hangars are permanent pieces of what will one day, years from now, be a robust, massive universe.
Moving forward, Roberts plans to release any and all updates through this first bit of software, slowly expanding the fictional universe he and his team are creating. Updates will come steadily, he said. The first revision will likely add a persistence to the hangars, allowing gamers to play with their ships build-outs using in-shuttle hologram displays and then saving that information. Major updates will hit every two months, micro updates every couple of weeks, Roberts said.
By the end of the year, the hangar will get simulators, a bit of code that will allow gamers to climb into their ships and sign into a virtual, virtual space to dogfight with other Star Citizen players. The simulator will stay in the game even as it builds out and eventually launches. It will be, Roberts said, a way for gamers to hone their skills in a ship without wasting fuel, ammo or putting their expensive rides at risk.
As the developers continue to construct the universe of Star Citizen it will roll out through those hangars. Eventually these player spaces will find homes in the planets of this blossoming universe, but for now they're 230,000 points in a vacuum of information, dislodged from time and space.
"They are not located on planets," he said. "When a player gets into the final game, that's when we determine where they start."
Sunday night, prior to the opening of Gamescom 2013 in Cologne, Germany, Roberts and other developers from Cloud Imperium Games mingled with a gathering of Star Citizen super fans, giving them a chance, before anyone else in the world, to wander the lonely steel corridors of their hangars. The hangars are the product of the team's first seven-months or so of work.
The party, open to those first to reply to the announcement, continues Cloud Imperium Games' push to reward backers and keep them informed. That's important for a game with such a long development cycle and that continues to raise money. The game hit $16 million in money raised today.
"We are delivering something to backers a year and a half to two years before they can play the game," Roberts said. "My goal for what we are doing is that I want people who backed the game to feel by the time the game is finished that they've gotten their money's worth and the game's just a bonus."