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Star Citizen’s fan convention introduced a planet-sized city right out of Blade Runner

“This is pretty much Coruscant”

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

During the fourth annual CitizenCon, a fan convention for backers of the Star Citizen branded game projects, creator Chris Roberts was on hand to deliver a lengthy keynote address. It included an hour-long demonstration of the next phase of development, including a planet-sized city that looked straight out of Blade Runner 2049.

The Star Citizen project is, in reality, an effort to create two massive AAA experiences simultaneously. The first piece is a single-player game called Squadron 42, billed as the spiritual successor to the Wing Commander franchise. No new footage of that game was shown during the keynote presentation.

Instead, developer Roberts Space Industries focused their efforts on the persistent universe (PU), an MMO-like adventure game with spacefaring and first-person elements.

The demo began with the silvery, urban landscape of Arc Corporation, a planet that has been part of the game’s early alpha for about two years now. This revised version was much more expansive, including a procedurally generated, planet-sized surface landscape.

“This is pretty much Coruscant,” said Roberts, referring to the center of both the Galactic Republic and the Empire in the lore of Star Wars movies. He also made allusions to the Blade Runner series, and inferred that both the lighting and the content of the demo had been heavily inspired by Blade Runner 2049.

Of note was the fact that the PU does not include skyboxes, elaborate window dressings traditionally pasted into the sky of most games to give the illusion of depth and an artificial horizon. Roberts stressed that everything that the player can see is an in-game location — including stars and a nebula visible in the sky.

The surface of Arc Corporation, while interesting, isn’t intended for players to interact with in-game. In the future, Roberts said, Arc Corporation may include more than one location where players can land their ships and engage with vendors and quest givers in a fixed, social hub with other players. But, for now, the goal is to design an interesting landscape and nothing more.

The demo included no combat, no quests and no traditional, linear narrative of any kind. It was effectively a demonstration of environmental storytelling.

The conclusion of the demo included an eight-minute long, light-speed velocity trip to another planet called Hurston. The city there, called Lorville, included flora and fauna unique to that destination. Roberts said that its gravity was accurately simulated based on the player’s distance from the center of the planet, and that the goal was to provide, “Crysis-level of detail for the environments that you’re in, but ... procedurally and at a planetary scale.”

Another goal, Roberts said, was to have a non-player character population that is nine times larger than the player population.

Star Citizen began with a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 and has gone on to become the largest single crowdfunding endeavor of any kind, for any thing, on any platform. It is still in an early alpha state.

The 3.0 version of the project’s PU is currently in an advanced testing stage, and is expected to be in the hands of backers imminently, though no release date has been given.

After the 3.0 update, Roberts said his team would be focusing on “date-driven, not feature or content-driven” updates in order to give the community a “more regular experience.” Neither the Squadron 42 single-player game nor the Star Citizen PU have a release date of any kind.

The next level of puzzles.

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