The Return Of The Space Sim?
So it turns out I have been somewhat prophetic in my Franchises That Need To Return article, just not in the way I intended. I listed X-Wing, Wing Commander, and Privateer as great games during the heyday of space combat simulation games, and expressed a desire for X-Wing to try again, as Chris Roberts of Wing Commander and Privateer had apparently forgotten he was a game maker.
Well, he must have hit his head, because he certainly seems to remember now.
He’s launched a website and is attempting to crowdfund his new game, “Star Citizen”, an open-universe space sim where you can carve out your own niche in the universe, whether that’s as a badass military pilot, a shrewd merchant/trader, or even a pirate, preying on the weak.
And I’d like to make fun of Chris Roberts some more for the terrible Wing Commander movie and for disappearing for ten years, but I can’t. I’m too busy applauding.
I have been waiting for a brilliant space combat sim for what feels like forever. No offense to the makers of Darkstar One, I liked it, but that game just wasn’t everything I wanted. And if X-Wing isn’t going to make a comeback – it still could, but I haven’t heard anything – then Chris Roberts would be my next best bet.
And I’m not alone – high traffic from PC gamers and space sim fans has crashed Chris Roberts’ website – making pledging rather difficult, unfortunately. Still, as of writing, they’ve managed to raise almost half a million dollars – a great start towards their two million dollar goal.
I’m not without skepticism, mind you. He’s not crowdfunding through any established platform, like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, it’s just done through his website. I realize that Kickstarter and Indiegogo don’t have perfect systems to keep developers accountable, but this has even less investor protection. Not that I’m saying Chris Roberts would defraud anyone – his passion for making games is undeniable. But it still gives one pause. Not to mention an established platform would be less likely to crash – at least I’ve not heard of Kickstarter or Indiegogo going down due to traffic.
And he’s also making the game a PC exclusive, which doesn’t bother me, because I have a great gaming rig, but I’m not positive it makes the best sense from a business standpoint. His video shows him controlling the ship with a gamepad, though I’d bet the game cannot be entirely controlled that way – I’m just wondering, how hard would it be to make the game available for 360 or PS3? I understand porting can be expensive, and by all means, make it a PC game first and foremost, I’m just saying, why ignore potential customers?
The graphics might have to take a hit, but so what? If the gameplay is solid, what does that matter? I haven’t played a single game yet where I went, “You know, 720p just isn’t high-def enough.” I know some people can be graphics whores, but they should be institutionalized. In the land of video games, gameplay is king, story is queen, but graphics are, at best, running the tourism department. I know Chris feels higher graphical fidelity will lead to more immersion, and he’s probably right, but I hope he won’t be so focused on it that gameplay or story take a backseat.
Which reminds me of my second concern. An open-universe game is almost by definition not going to have much of a story, and Chris said next to nothing about it in the video. Chris’ own Wing Commander games were stronger thanks to dynamic plots and characters. Admittedly, they occasionally overdosed on story, Wing Commander 4 having an absurd 2-to-1 ratio of cutscenes-to-gameplay, but too little story or a weak one can also compromise the game somewhat.
But, to be fair, I don’t play space combat games because I want a great story, I play them because I want to be or at least feel like a badass space fighter pilot. Wing Commander achieved this through a combination of story and gameplay, but Freelancer managed it through gameplay alone. So if the gameplay is strong enough, Star Citizen will get by just fine without a story as well – and could succeed by letting the players create their OWN story.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten my concerns out of the way, I want to talk about what excites me about the game. I love the idea of drop-in, drop-out multiplayer being included in this, co-operative and competitive options both sound like great fun. I can’t wait to fly through a massive dogfight in an asteroid field, scrapping enemies, hearing my friend say “someone get this douchebag off my tail” through my headset, and immediately heading to assist.
I love the dynamic ship control system, and the idea that damage will dynamically change and limit your ship’s abilities. I look forward to hearing or reading stories about how this or that pilot took out an entire wing of pirates “with two of my thrusters out.”
Also, if I understand correctly, players will be able to customize, or even create or design their own ships, submit them for approval, and then sell them in-game to other players if they wish. This sounds fantastic, and I hope they don’t limit it to ships. What if I want to create my own missions? What if I want to create my own story campaign, complete with voice acting and plot twists, and then share it with other players online? How many other creative choices will be available to the player? Will the game be moddable?
All good questions that I hope will be answered in the days to come. I’m going to back this project as soon as I have the spare cash, despite my reservations, because I want to see the space combat sim return to glory, and right now, Chris Roberts is the best chance for that to happen.