During the keynote address at CitizenCon 2018, the fifth-annual Star Citizen fan convention, Chris Roberts and his team showed off an elaborate, new, multi-part mission type. It included multiple groups of players fighting over the same objective, with an attack run by a new ground assault ship as the centerpiece. Most of what was shown in the demo will be playable once the new update, referred to as 3.3, goes live.
Past CitizenCon keynotes have generally provided Roberts with an opportunity to tout his team’s ambitious goals for Star Citizen’s “persistent universe” game, referred to as the PU. This year included plenty of flashy gameplay elements that developers say are right around the corner.
No release date for the 3.3 update was given. Since 2016, Star Citizen itself has not had a release date. Even after the new update goes live, only a small fraction of the project’s multiplayer game will be playable.
The backdrop for the demo was the city of Lorville, which looks a bit like the futuristic Los Angeles portrayed in Blade Runner 2049. With a diameter of 24 kilometers, Roberts said it was roughly the size of Austin, Texas.
When completed, Roberts said, Lorville will feature a high-speed rail network to ferry players from their homes to various points of interest. The team conducting the presentation narrowly avoided disaster at one point by slipping onto a train car with just seconds to spare. Since it runs like a real subway system, had the door closed on them there would have been a five-minute wait for the next one. Roberts joked that fans of train simulations should keep tabs on the game’s development going forward.
The nearly two-hour demo’s mission required a group of players to fly to a location on a planet for a gunfight against AI-controlled enemies, a first for the game. Later, a second group of players arrived mid-mission to blow up the first groups starship. To assist them, a third group of players was called in. That group was flying a close attack ship, not unlike a futuristic attack helicopter, which was able to pin down the enemies with powerful door guns.
That close attack ship, called the Anvil Valkyrie, is the first “straight-to-flyable” vehicle produced by developers. Traditionally, Cloud Imperium Games and Roberts Space Industries have sold ships years ahead of their release. The Valkyrie is currently available on test servers and will be available for owners to fly as soon as 3.3 is ready.
The ship, which does not include access to the game itself, is a stand-alone item that costs $330.
The Valkyrie is also capable of carrying a wheeled vehicle, which was shown leaping from the open cargo bay doors to assault an enemy fortification. The combined arms warfare on display during the demo brings Star Citizen’s feature set more in line with Arma 3, an infantry combat simulator, than with any modern spacefaring game.
The demo, played live, was plagued with technical issues, including one hard crash that required a system reboot to resolve. A highly anticipated new feature, face-over-internet-protocol or FOIP technology, utterly failed to work. The motion-capture tech is supposed to allow players to use a camera to provide lip synch and facial animation for their in-game avatars. However, it did little more than elicit jeers from the assembled crowd.
“We’ve been working very hard, and there’s still a bunch more work to be done to get the glitches and bugs out,” Roberts said, “but we’re really kind of excited by the beginnings of the possibilities of what [the 3.3 update is] going to provide.”
The Star Citizen project is, in actuality, an effort to create two AAA-quality games simultaneously. The first, referred to as the “persistent universe” or PU, is currently playable in an early alpha form. The second, a single-player game called Squadron 42, was also promoted during CitizenCon’s opening day.
With more than $194 million raised since 2012, the Star Citizen project remains the most-funded crowdfunding campaign of any kind. Cloud Imperium Games and Roberts Space Industries have endured many controversies since its inception in 2012, the most serious of which is an ongoing lawsuit by Crytek which alleges both breach of contract and conspiracy.