But there’s a little truth behind every joke. Robert’s team is huge – now over 300 strong – and many think they do not have enough money to deliver on four massive game systems, which include a space combat game, a massively multiplayer online game players and a first-person shooter. And given their aggressive development schedule, this game should be released commercially next year.
So how does it look now? In a word, extraordinary.
The playable Module now available to all donors is called Commander Arena. It is an air combat simulator that allows for free flight, running, fighting against ships controlled by the AI and multiplayer dogfights. With a high-end graphics card, it looks amazing. A card is held in high orbit around a planet mars and the sense of depth and detail in the box below gives me a real sense of vertigo.
The first barrier to entry for me was to set up my checks. The presets for my staff during flight and accelerator, system Saitek X-55, were buried in menus. I actually had to reach technical support to help them find it. Then there is the decision by default the yaw axis for the movements of the left and right of the flight stick and card roll twist the stick – the exact opposite of a terrestrial flight model. For those used to steal virtual planes, it will feel a bit like rubbing your stomach while patting your head, but it’s fairly easy to fix by remapping the axes in the control panel. It took a few days, but once I’m locked in I was out of the race.
What is immediately apparent about Star Citizen is his sense of inertia. You can not turn on a dime in space, and violent changes in direction will cause you to drift. What this means, however, is that conventional space opera Battlestar Galactica as maneuvers are relatively easy to remove. Load in one direction at full speed, press a switch to kill your thrust forward and you can spin up, pulling back in the direction you came from. Any time your avatar is shook back subtly changes in the g force and small pieces of space debris are bang in front of your awning, everything to help you better experience the flight direction to an otherwise stationary screen the computer. The effect is impressive.
The other unique aspect of Star Citizen is the dynamic motion picture camera. The default view is inside the cockpit, through the eyes of your avatar. With a hat switch that you can lean your entire body left and right to see around the ship. Add IR trail system and you can actually move your head inside your space helmet, giving you finer control of where you’re looking. But then, with the tap of a button on your controller, you go to a hunting camera outside and behind your boat. Tap again and you’re perched on his nose, looking back. Once more and you are inside the cockpit behind the HUD, looking back to your avatar. The transitions are seamless and the effect is dramatic.
The most impressive of the game, for me, was the ability to land on a platform in orbit and out of my ship and walk around. I looked down on the edge of my feet and the planet below … and down. Instead of falling, I floated and soon found that I could maneuver in weightlessness. I had a jetpack.