There were three tech-heavy demos that impressed during Gamescom. One was Crytek's Return to Dinosaur Island 2, its emphasis on subtle interaction and scale of environment renewing our faith in what VR could accomplish. Another was Crackdown 3's city destruction presentation that lent heavily on cloud-computing for its number-crunching, and got the industry talking. Third was what Cloud Imperium Games was cooking up with its sci-fi title Star Citizen, making us appreciate not just the tech, not just the thinking that goes into making it work, but how everything in this confident take on a sci-fi explorative title comes together.
Star Citizen's Gamescom presentation wasn't staggering, but it was powerfully suggestive. Maxed-out PCs painting high-definition, if currently empty, spaceports that look lifted straight from science fiction art books, and will serve as hub for weapons and missions. A view switch from third to first person with camera set at eye rather than chest height and its movement catering for character's weight and roll irrespective of whether you can see them on-screen or not ("We really want the players to be invested in their characters, so when they get into FPS combat it should be more meaningful," Roberts said in an interview earlier this year. "The idea is to be more in the direction of a game like Demon's Souls, where your character and life mean more to you, so you don't want to get killed") Building a fully explorable universe and ship-specific gravity fields through a concept that's not that dissimilar from a Russian doll: zones within zones within zones. Multi-crew and multi-ship expeditions to asteroid belts to reclaim ghost craft and engage in PvP amongst the stars.
It's another glimpse into a project that'll be a half-decade old come next year. A crowd-funded effort that's being releasing in parts as they're ready for backers to try out, individual 'module' experiences that form part of the whole that Star Citizen will be. As much as Elite: Dangerous has impressed, Star Citizen's own persistent universe with space exploration and third/first person shooter elements looks to define its own corner of these new star wars and happily run concurrently the other genre pioneers.
Prepackaged and polished as most event demos are, you tend to forget the work behind them. That's not the case here as Wing Commander creator and now Star Citizen director Chris Roberts walks us through the pre-prepared demo on the room's main screen, discussing the multiple systems his team (lined up in front of PCs to the room's sides and ready to interact in the demo when needed) need to create to just make the whole experience work.
We tour the space station, walking through the different districts (waddling, almost, due to our equipped heavy armour) pointing out bars to relax in, back alleys to do shady deals. The gun seller reminds of a futuristic version of GTAV's - its a porn emporium for weapons. As we enter the spaceport proper, the rest of the team turn and gesture on command to show a wave and a laugh may be more fun than typing up in optional chat window. But we make a beeline for the dock where a number of multi-crew ships - the highlight of Gamescom's demo - await. A multiplayer shooter session has to be set aside due to time constraints - as with most things at the show, things have overrun, and even with a quick rescheduling of our next appointment, time's getting away from us.
Ships need boarded, multiple roles decided prior to unlocking bay doors or calling down cockpit ladders. For smaller vessels, some can clamber up a few rungs and nestle into a seat. For us, we have to open the rear hatch of our craft, climb up and through the interior and settle in the front cockpit. Other players can choose to man turrets or simply fraternise in the galley. Piloting is seemingly not on the level of a true flight simulator, but this need to board and take off properly (warning signs flag as another ship drifts too close to us) increases immersion and makes the transfer from foot to ship feel properly connected.
Taking off from the space station, Roberts turns the camera outside the cockpit to highlight a comrade walking by his avatar's seat as he starts to lazily spin the craft in a spiral as they jet into deep space. It plays like a scene from Nolan's Interstellar, and there's likely as much processing power pumping into the shot. Roberts mentions overcoming the hump of localised gravity within the confines of the craft while everything outside this ‘zone' - in fact just a much larger ‘zone' in itself - is dictated by its own set of rules. He then points craft towards a distant point in the galaxy and commences Citizen's own jump to light speed, pointing out locations as we slide by. We get a brief tingle along the back of our necks as our team's ships come out of warp a few seconds apart, and performing fly-bys. Very Battlestar. Or Star Wars.
Soon enough his team open the rear door and leap into the vacuums to slowly float towards a derelict ship. The casualness of the sequence and our narrator's voice seems at odds with the quite background hum of tank-like PCs shouldering the job at hand. It's a good reminder of the colossal effort it takes to render such fantastical landscapes and the technical knowhow that's powering them. There's no loading to be seen as we enter the craft and exploring it to activate life support and its systems. Soon we're underway and the camera pans to an exterior shot as the ship starts drifting through the asteroid belt it's been hidden in.
At this point another player team is to appear and an attack to break out, but, we're told, that's being saved for a full presentation tomorrow. Besides, our time's nearly up, and we've a lot of questions to ask. The interview time ends before those questions do (you can see that full interview on the site shortly), but we're left somewhat dazzled by what's on display here. We'll be watching the continued development of the game very closely and hope to hear - and see - more in the very near future. For the moment, check out the full multi-crew demo from Gamescom below.
Loading next content