Star Citizen is a game that has the world watching for many different reasons. For one, it’s the largest crowd-funded project of all time and the return of space sims. Secondly, it’s the Roberts brothers, back together in gaming. Star Citizen is more than a singular game; it’s a universe. A universe with options for every type of gamer, from racing, to trading, fighting or stealing. Star Citizen seems to have something for everyone. With this much content, I knew I couldn’t go alone – Joseph Viola joined me while I spoke with Erin Roberts, Studio Director of Foundry 42.
Daniel: Firstly, one of the things that made Wing Commander and Privateer such amazing phenomena was the list of B to A grade celebrities, like Mark Hamill. Will Star Citizen be following in this tradition?
Erin: We are absolute planning one or two surprises there. Obviously, because we are doing performance capture and because it won’t be live footage stuff but all in-game, people might not recognise some of the returning cast – we’re absolutely bringing one or two people back, which I think some people will know.
Daniel: Excellent! There’s already been the announcement of the episode roadmap for Squadron 42, is there any chance of any additional episodes or new series being released afterward?
Erin: Yeah, we’re planning to finish Squadron 42 and then we’re going to another set of missions after that, which were promised in the stretch goals quite some time ago. Then, because Squadron 42 starts before the Persistent Universe starts in the timeline, once you’re in the universe there’ll be scenarios created. Like, a call to arms because there’s a fight with another race. Which, at that point you can re-enlist to go back into the fight. There also might be some black-ops type missions where you have to go behind enemy lines. We’ll also be creating some nice linear content for when we increase the amount of systems, you’ll get to go to new systems where you’ll find other things to do there.
Daniel: AWESOME! One of the things that I’m loving with Star Citizen is the level of customization, where we’re able to change every piece of our ships. Will Squadron 42 have that same level of customization or since you’re part of the military you’ll only get ‘that ship’ with ‘this load-out’?
Erin: No, you’ll be able to customize your ship for mission types. You’ll find out what the mission is, then you can choose how to deck it out. Depending on the mission, you’ll want to make some smart choices about what you put in there. You’ll want to try one load-out and try another. You might go in stealthy one time and the other time you might be trying to find something, so you’ll bring detection equipment or you might even go in heavily armed and weaponed up. But you’ll get a choice of how you load-out and also being careful with the missions may be an issue in the campaign – not trying to give too much away, but in the campaign you might be in times or places where you can’t resupply. You’ll need to be careful about what you use.
Daniel: (laughs) awesome, I’ll pass it over to Joseph.
Joseph: So will there the FPS mechanics be used in Squadron 42 or will it purely be dogfighting?
Erin: Oh no, the way to look at Squadron 42 and Star Citizen on a whole, it is basically an FPS game where you’ll use vehicles. So you’ll be in first person all the time, but you can use third person. The whole idea is it’s not like Wing Commander where all you did was fly your ship, land and go to a little room go to or a cafe to talk to people. You’ll wander around in “first person” you could choose to get into a vehicle like a space ship, you could fly a multi-crew vehicle or larger ship, that’s the whole idea behind it. It won’t be split up and you won’t be loading between these areas. You’ll seamlessly start in a location and walk around, get in a vehicle and fly somewhere else, then come back. That’s how the whole system will work.
Joseph: Cool, the areas that we’ll see and play in Squadron 42, will they appear in the Persistent Universe? Will they tie together?
Erin: Oh yes! Because in Squadron 42 you are in locations in the Persistent Universe. So when you play Squadron 42 you can go back to those locations in the Persistent Universe and retrace your steps. Some of them might be in deep, behind enemy lines, so those might be hard to get to…unless “Operation Pitchfork” works out well. But you can go back to these areas; we built them in Squadron 42 for the Persistent Universe, so everything we build isn’t just for what we do at the time, but also to make sure it’ll work in Persistent Universe.
Joseph: So how long has the whole idea of Squadron 42 been floating around for, before it became official on Kickstarter? How long have you been planning this?
Erin: Oh years. I mean, Chris originally wanted to do this back in 2008 or 2009. Before the Kickstarter campaign he basically he used to sit, because Chris is a programmer by trade and he still codes. But, basically, he sat down and put that whole demo together with one or two guys just because he wanted to get that out there. He got support from the Crytek guys, too. But he basically sat up and worked on it, because he’s passionate and he felt it was time that the PC was at the stage where it could do this stuff.
Getting back into it, he had already started thinking about it a lot of years before. He spent well over a year coming up with the pitch. Originally it wasn’t even a pitch for crowd-funding, literally all he wanted to do was: A) prove to publishers that there was still lots of support for the PC, and; B) Gain support to bring back something like a Wing Commander game. So, the whole idea was just to prove to the publishers that we can do all this stuff, then it go so much support that he never looked back. It’s such a better way of doing stuff, we didn’t need to go get investors in to finish the game because it just took off.
Joseph: Yeah, you’re still getting support from the community, every month you keep hitting stretch goal after stretch goal.
Erin: Yeah, it’s great; we run the company under the basis that the money we bring in is the money we then use to advance the game. Because we have so much support, it’s been fantastic. We’ve pushed into a lot of areas we wouldn’t have otherwise pushed into right away. So, we’d make a very basic first go at it and then keep improving the system after that. Because we got the cash, it means we can develop the FPS the way we’re doing. It means the ships are going to get a level of detail we never thought about doing before, and get areas up running faster. It’s been really good to us.
Joseph: Alright, back to Daniel!
Daniel: With the dog fighting and what we’ve seen in Star Citizen working with an Xbox controller, which was quite a big surprise to me. Has there been any thoughts to porting maybe just the Squardron 42 portion of the game to consoles?
Erin: We are a PC game first and foremost. The one thing we’re never going to do is compromise Squadron 42 or Star Citizen for a console. We’re going to basically make the game on a PC and then we are going to push it out from there. As you already know, you’re going to need a really good graphics card. Obviously, we haven’t done any optimisation passes or anything. It’ll run a lot faster than it does now.
Basically, we’re just getting stuff out there now, getting the feedback and then refining. But in the future, once it’s out on the PC, if one of the big console manufacturers came out and said “Hey, can you put in down on here?” It’d be something we’d think about. Because at the moment, what publishers do is they set out to make a console game and then they port it to the PC, it’s just basically a console game that works on a PC. We’re making a PC game and then at that point, if it ‘seems’ like a good idea, then we’ll try and get it on a console. But even the next generation of consoles will struggle with what we’re trying to do.
Daniel: Lord knows, I’ve spent tons of money just trying to get it to run smoothly on my PC. What has been the biggest challenge with just the Squadron 42 side of the game?
Erin: Squadron 42 is a set of everything we’re doing. “Arena Commander” is the space combat stuff, we got the “FPS” stuff which we’re showing on Saturday which is all the ground based stuff and we have to work with pretty much all the different teams in the organization. There’s like six large development teams, there’s properly around twenty to thirty other people working on stuff. That’s the biggest issue, it’s a huge communication issue trying to get all that to work together. When it works well it’s great, because we can use it to our advantage. We’re in the UK, we can write and hand-off an email to another team, they work on it in the US during their daytime and then it comes back to us for outs; so, that works really well. When it doesn’t work so well, if you miscommunicate, we have to wait a whole day. So communication has been the biggest challenge.
The great thing for Squadron 42, is we know the space combat stuff is going to be awesome. That’s what we’ve been finding out through “Arena Commander” now, then we’ll get the multi-crew up and about. We’ll put a new version out now, we’ll get feedback from that and then another one a few weeks later. By the time Squadron 42 comes out, we’ll have gotten all the space combat refined and the same with the “FPS” because we’ll putting that out. The challenge will be things like storyline and other mechanics such as the “emotion system” which is how you communicate with other people, the way they talk to you and react. We should have the “space stuff” and the “FPS stuff” at a point where it should feel pretty good, because we’ll have had heaps of feedback from the community.
Daniel: Anything that you guys have tried out that seemed awesome on paper, but just didn’t quite workout in practise?
Erin: All the time. But that’s development, right? The cool thing with the community is that everyone gets to see development, warts and all. Everything that happens, like when we change something or update something. All that stuff happens all the time in development, it’s just typically it happens behind closed doors, because that’s the stuff publishers don’t like showing. It’s risky development, so there’s a lot of times you’ve got to break a few eggs to get where you want to be. A lot of the stuff we put out there, we don’t get the balancing right for it and we get feedback. So then we need to do a few more things to fix it.
Like the Idris is an example of a ship; some design work went into it, but then we used the Idris in Squadron 42, when we got a hold of it in the UK, we had to make some HUGE changes to it. Now we’ve made changes we think are really good, but that meant that a lot of work that had been done previously was lost or changed. You know we had to redesign the Whitebox? It’s things like that, they happen and we just have to move on with things. Like I said, typically that happens behind the scenes, but we just share it saying, “You know this is what’s going on.”
Daniel: The biggest accepted secret that’s been going around the community is that the FPS team includes “redacted”, but I’ve always believed that biggest secret has been Squadron 42 – you’ve talked about it but haven’t shown anything. FPS is getting it’s big reveal, when is Squadron 42 going to get its own reveal event?
Erin: Well, the big difference with Squadron 42 is we’re not selling it or putting it out there like everything else. Everything else is put out there like “here it is, let’s get feedback,” like “Arena Commander” or “FPS”. Squadron 42 is going to go out as the final game, it won’t go out as a pre-alpha type of game. A lot of the elements in Squadron 42 are going to be very refined but players will have played “Arena Commander” and “FPS” so they’ll know how those mechanics work. But, yes, we don’t want to break the story and the story is a big kind of secret. No one is going to see any of that stuff till it comes out. We will be having an event for it, next year but right now I can’t say what the date will be for that. We will do a big reveal and announce when it’s going to be launched.
Daniel: Erin, once again thank you very much for you time.
Erin: No, thank you guys for coming over and asking about Squadron 42.
Would you like to know more? Check out the official website for Star Citizen here, their Kickstarter page here, or one of their trailers below!