This weekend in Manchester, England, Chris Roberts hosted CitizenCon, the annual convention for backers of the crowdfunded spacefaring simulation Star Citizen. After very publicly missing the release date for Star Marine, the sprawling game's first-person shooter module, Roberts took the stage to detail the upcoming release of its massively multiplayer persistent world module.
That update, he explained, will essentially include the promised features from the Star Marine module. Following a live 20-minute, eight-player demonstration, Roberts gave no release date.
"I don't want to give you dates," Roberts said while standing on a stage erected beneath a retired Concorde supersonic jetliner at the Manchester Airport. "Everyone gives me shit for giving you dates, but let me say it's in the near future.
"We're not very far away from being content and functionality complete," he said. "That will be in the near future, by which I mean inside... soon."
While details on its timeline were held back, the demonstration itself showed for the first time the grand scale of Star Citizen's multiplayer ambition.
"Everyone gives me shit for giving you dates, but let me say it's in the near future."
"Just to give you an idea," Roberts said, fumbling for a way to communicate the sheer massive size of the upcoming release, "the playable area on the large world map that we're currently using is one million kilometers by one million kilometers by 200 kilometers high."
We reached out to the Star Citizen team for clarification and it seems that Roberts actually understated the size of that space. The goal for the release stands at a space that is actually 400 kilometers high, a volume of 400 quadrillion cubic kilometers.
The playspace Roberts' team is currently working on, an area around a planet called Crusader, is clearly many, many times larger than The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and other, even bigger games.
"To give you an idea, we were trying to figure out other games, and the biggest game that we could find online was The Elder Scrolls 2, which was meant to have a 161,000 square kilometer map. And then there was Lord of the Rings Online, and I think that was a 71,000 square kilometer map."
The demonstration, played live from a pit filled with high-end PCs just off stage, began with players spawning into a spaceport and calling up from storage a Constellation class ship outfitted for a combat role. (Polygon readers may remember that ship from a tongue-in-cheek tour we did of a secret asteroid base earlier this year.) Three players stepped aboard and used their quantum drive to move towards a communications outpost that was in need of repairs.
Due to the sheer size of the proposed persistent world, the team at Star Citizen has had to take concepts like relativity into account in order to move players around the map effectively.
"I do realize that a full solar system is much bigger than a million kilometers wide," Roberts said. "Though on some level we will do some compression of play spaces because you don't want to be even at point-two speed of light you don't want to be sitting there for 3 hours. You want quantum travel.
"It's a huge play area. No one's going to feel compressed here. And that's what we're putting you in."
The upcoming release will features a playspace with a volume of 400 quadrillion cubic kilometers.
When players arrived at the communications outpost, AI-controlled pirates ambushed them. Players stood up from their seats on the bridge and moved to gunnery positions on the top and bottom of the massive Constellation ship. The scene was reminiscent of the escape from Tatooine in the first Star Wars movie, or from classic portrayals of the ball turret gunner in World War II-era B-17s.
At the conclusion of the battle one player simply opened their canopy and floated into space, using their jetpack to maneuver towards and then inside the massive communications array. The seamless transition elicited cheers from the crowd.
The demonstration concluded with a gunfight at a "security control point" elsewhere in the Crusader system, a hub for some of the release's more than 30 planned missions. In the course of the battle the friendly Star Marines were summarily executed by a team of four outlaws, who proceeded to fly off with the Constellation as their prize.
Throughout the demonstration, especially in indoor environments, the CryEngine-based game seemed to struggle. Screen tearing was common, and character animation seemed stilted at times. Small flourishes abounded, however, including wisps of propellant from directional thrusters deflecting off landing pads.
Roberts said the working demonstration was only a week old.
In conclusion, he stressed how integral the FPS module was to the vision of Star Citizen. He said that the update, whenever it arrives, would be worth the wait.
"We decided that FPS is really integral to the whole experience, so our focus is we're going to give you SC Alpha 2.0 with all that."
For more on the challenges facing the team at Cloud Imperium Games, both internal and external, see our feature story. Below, we've embedded a version of that same demo edited for the press.