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A Personal Exploration of Star Citizen

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00:00   |   Apr 29, 2019

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A Personal Exploration of Star Citizen
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  • When I told people I was doing a video on Star Citizen, a common theme among their reactions
  • was confusion as to what the game actually is.
  • Is it a space combat game?
  • Is it a first person shooter?
  • Is it a virtual ship gallery that costs thousands of dollars to access?
  • Is it Star Wars?
  • Their confusion is understandable, and can likely be attributed to the fact that media
  • coverage of the game has seemingly become less and less frequent the further we get
  • from the game’s original 2014 release date and hundreds of millions of dollars past its
  • initial Kickstarter funding goal.
  • The occasional reports of management issues stemming from the project’s unexpected success
  • or the rather odd ways the game was making its money post-Kickstarter were all less shocking
  • to me than the fact that this is the most a game has ever made from a crowdfunding campaign,
  • and yet, from where I’m standing, barely anyone has been talking about it.
  • Combine with an official website whose rather wonky layout hides such an absolute bombardment
  • of community updates and podcasts and event info and the like, that as admirable an attempt
  • as they are to keep people informed of project status, actually end up making the search
  • for real, definitive information on where the game is at a fairly tedious exercise,
  • at least through the official channels.
  • In short, their messaging on this stuff has been a little messy, and it’s resulted in
  • a general lack of understanding as to whether Star Citizen is even a going concern at this
  • point.
  • And honestly, I was in the same camp for a long time; choosing to maintain distance between
  • myself and the game thanks to the simple fact that we live in a post-No Man’s Sky world—I’ll
  • believe it when it’s in my hands.
  • For as many legitimate issues I have with No Man’s Sky, and for all the comments I
  • saw about how this will be the game No Man’s Sky was meant to be, providing a full universe
  • while avoiding the dearth of curated content that plagued that game at launch, it didn’t
  • change the fact that at least Hello Games shipped a game; something you simply can’t
  • predict with such certainty about Star Citizen’s rolling alpha.
  • And then I saw a train.
  • It was October of last year.
  • Enough time had passed between any real news I’d heard on the game, and a glossy thumbnail
  • led me to click on 85 minutes of new gameplay from Citizencon 2018 (a discrete fan event
  • set up by the developer).
  • Far from merely flying through space to land on a distant planet that had largely formed
  • my exposure to the game up to that point, I saw the player emerge into a residential
  • area filled with NPCs.
  • I saw massive, sunkissed cityscapes giving off a Blade Runner vibe (similar to the kind
  • CD Projekt Red were showing in their recent Cyberpunk trailers).
  • There were bars, activities, shops; not mere window dressing but apparently fully explorable,
  • interactable; full of intricate clockwork systems all interlinked and designed to feel
  • as organic as possible.
  • And one of those systems?
  • A train that connected disparate parts of this vast city and crucially, ran in real
  • time; one that, if you missed, would require you to physically wait for the next one.
  • I heard people cheering at this inclusion and perhaps weirdly, I totally got why.
  • This wasn’t merely about space flight or combat or grandiose fantasy featuring Hollywood
  • actors anymore; here I saw a full world, mundanity and all, being realised in excruciating detail.
  • It showed that the developers were as concerned with the minute as they were with the epic;
  • they wanted to create a world that would seemingly exist whether the player was there or not.
  • That was exciting to me.
  • But almost all of it looked too good to be true.
  • I thought Star Citizen at this stage involved players looking at very, very expensive clusters
  • of pixels that I guess they could maybe call… their own?
  • This seemed like an actual game and the more I thought about it the further I fell back
  • into that cynical daze; you know, wake me up when I can actually play this.
  • Well, according to one commenter, I wouldn’t have long to wait—this was from the then-imminent
  • update.
  • And that was when I knew I had to look into this a bit deeper, so I turned to the internet
  • to find out if this was true, and more importantly if it was worth it.
  • With Star Citizen coverage being as infrequent as it is, it’s easy to forget that with
  • the game’s wild crowdfunding success inevitably comes an incredibly large community to go
  • along with it; one that I found to be… surprisingly level headed.
  • A lot of users rather patiently responding to people asking the same question of “should
  • I play Star Citizen now?”
  • being quick to highlight the game’s alpha state; its relative lack of content and wild
  • technical issues on anything other than super high-end machines but that, if you could keep
  • that in mind and could justify the cost and see the vision beyond all of that, you might
  • just find something to get excited about.
  • And at that point, despite my internal logic screaming at me to do otherwise, I had to
  • put aside any preconceptions I might have about this thing.
  • I was aware of the potential shortcomings; other people had discussed the controversies;
  • I wasn’t interested in some kind of Star Citizen Exposed piece; I was just interested
  • in seeing for myself what it’s like to experience the game at this stage in development and
  • see what potential it might have for the future.
  • And so after navigating the aforementioned site layout, the strange wording of the ship
  • descriptions that gave me a little cause for concern and the fact I’d be paying around
  • ten pounds extra in order to gain access to the game’s much touted story mode that was
  • apparently more “in development” than the rest of the alpha given that at the time
  • of writing the mode only has a beta planned for next year, I managed to pick up a basic
  • starter ship pack.
  • I installed the launcher, sat through a good deal of updates, held back my surprise that
  • it even ran and began exploring the game’s modular design; with the first-person shooter
  • and space race modes relegated to individual instances to be selected from a menu.
  • I was here for one thing though—the universe mode, in which I had been informed you could
  • explore the worlds currently available in-game and perform the odd fetch-quest contract here
  • or there.
  • And after crafting as close an approximation of a crust punk as the game would allow and
  • sitting through an ungodly amount of loading, I woke up; I was now playing Star Citizen…
  • albeit at a framerate that, well, to call it a slideshow would be generous.
  • But that’s OK, I could look past that, it eventually became… playable, and I began
  • to explore the station of Port Olisar; a starting hub for new players.
  • Or rather, I would if I could figure out how to open the door.
  • Turns out the key to your interaction with Star Citizen is the interact mode, activated
  • by holding F, allowing the camera to zoom in and more closely examine the door, which
  • then allows you to select the open door option from an in-world drop-down.
  • OK, not sure why just pressing E wouldn’t work, but that’s fine, we’re exploring
  • now.
  • Goddamn, that frame rate is chunky.
  • Then I realised I had no idea how to access the ship I paid for.
  • I ran aimlessly around different facilities and landing pads and found nothing.
  • And so began one of the definitive aspects of my time with Star Citizen; a game of trial
  • and error as step-by-step I looked up solutions online to almost every little issue I came
  • across.
  • That is to say, this game’s onboarding isn’t great.
  • Tutorial prompts occasionally appear on screen, but for the vast majority of your interactions,
  • you’re on your own, with nothing but a less-than-optimal keyboard graphic to guide you.
  • Like the game’s website, it could do with something of a UX overhaul.
  • From there though, with the help of the internet, I discovered that the process is as follows:
  • you first have to retrieve your ship which involves going to a specific screen and interacting
  • with it, at which point your chosen ship will be sent to a specific landing pad.
  • Once you’ve found your pad through a combination of markers and in-world signage you have to
  • find the specific part of the door your ship allows you to enter with, then interact, then
  • select the option that ultimately starts the process of opening the door, unfolding the
  • ladder, slowly climbing up, falling through the landing pad a bunch for some reason, then
  • when you’re in your ship you highlight the pilot’s seat and interact with it to enter,
  • then interact with the correct panel (all of this, mind, will be slightly different
  • for every type of craft) and navigate the various stages of ship readiness to get to
  • the point at which you can even begin to think about flying… at which point I was informed
  • that my ship was being sent back to storage.
  • I respawned with a crime penalty for taking too long to figure this stuff out.
  • Eventually though I got my ship in the air, retracted my landing gear, got to grips with
  • the surprisingly weighty-but-intuitive flight controls, figured out the mandatory hyperdrive
  • mode (this is a space sim after all) and before I knew it I was making my way towards another
  • planet.
  • After a lengthy approach impressively illustrating the scale of what I was headed towards and
  • by the seat of my pants, I landed—I’d made it.
  • I got out and immediately fell through the planet, only to die and requiring I restart
  • the process over again.
  • And scene.
  • It was a messy set of events, but one that I actually learned a good amount from.
  • Namely that, despite the game’s onboarding issues, as I grew more accustomed to the way
  • things worked, I began to realise that at its core and aside from the almost inevitable
  • tech issues, Star Citizen is actually a fair deal less complicated in its mechanics than,
  • say, Elite Dangerous, where getting your ship off the ground and navigating your way out
  • of the space station can act as a legitimate brick wall to entry for some players.
  • As involved as that process I just listed out might seem, in reality there’s almost
  • always a more streamlined option.
  • You can select open door, unfold ladder, climb ladder, or you could just select enter ship
  • and turn your engines to flight ready mode.
  • Once I’d gotten it down the first time, that procedure that originally took multiple
  • attempts was now a matter of a few clicks and I was in space.
  • I just wish it was all tutorialised a little better up front, because honestly, retrieving
  • my ship and getting it off the ground was a satisfying experience.
  • Approaching a physical screen and feeling like you’re navigating more than just a
  • pause menu is just one more thing convincing you that there is life going on beyond that
  • screen.
  • Following in-world signs gives environments a feeling of consistency, makes it all feel
  • less game-y, and requires just a little more of you than typical games would.
  • It wasn’t impossible, but it was inherently more tactile than almost any process found
  • in something like No Man’s Sky for example , where the ease with which you can do everything
  • – the way you magnetise to your ship, take off and land at the press of a button with
  • little fear of crashing or running out of fuel renders genuine exploration somewhat
  • redundant; like you might as well be (and after a while literally are) selecting planets
  • from a menu. it’s not clear to me, on a mechanical or
  • systems level, why you would want to simply open the door to your ship and nothing more.
  • But crucially, the option is there for those that want the process to feel more involved.
  • And you know what?
  • Sometimes you want a little bite back from games that claim to be simulative in nature.
  • You want that tactility.
  • This is the potential grand vision of Star Citizen as I could see it, past the bugs of
  • course; exploration of a universe and the systems propping it up in exactly the way
  • you want to, on whatever level of depth you feel comfortable with, whether that be getting
  • straight to the point - blasting away bandits and monsters on a grand space adventure - or
  • fawning over every little bit of tech available to you in order to carry out your mundane
  • space errands; not so concerned with taking over the universe than establishing an understanding
  • and mastery of your own universe.
  • In this vision, Star Citizen could eventually bridge the gap between the ease of No Man’s
  • Sky, and the intimidating intricacy of Elite Dangerous; with features that, given the current
  • discussion around accessibility options in games, actually seems like a fairly prescient
  • move on the part of the developers—you end up choosing your difficulty on the fly, depending
  • on how involved you want to get.
  • This is your game essentially, your path, whatever that happens to mean to you, and
  • that’s kind of great.
  • As my experience went on, though, this vision gradually, creepily began to slip further
  • and further away, until my predicament could be described as the complete polar opposite
  • of defining my own path; morphing into some kind of Kafka-esque nightmare going far beyond
  • Elite Dangerous’ complexities and venturing into the downright hostile, hell borderline
  • horrific.
  • My vision of success after tens of hours with the game had changed; it wasn’t merely getting
  • my ship off the ground.
  • It was literally getting an elevator to load in properly so I could escape.
  • And it wasn’t all bad.
  • But allow me to explain—it all comes back to Lorville, home of that stunning cityscape
  • that so drew me to this adventure in the first place.
  • It was the game’s North Star for me.
  • And after landing on a couple more planets, performing a couple of contracts here and
  • there, I figured I was ready to make the pilgrimage to Hurston, the planet on which the city was
  • located.
  • I plotted a course using the galaxy map and began what felt like an entirely new step-by-step
  • puzzle figuring out this particular journey, repeating that trial-and-error process once
  • more, but this time with the increased stakes of a far greater time investment given the
  • huge distance I’d need to cover.
  • I’d spend upwards of ten-fifteen minutes in hyperspace to get to the planet, then begin
  • the slow descent to the city, only to miss the briefest of windows alerting me to Lorville’s
  • no-fly zone and be shot down.
  • I’d do it again and realise I had to use the game’s communicator to request landing
  • permission.
  • The hangar doors would open and I’d descend below the planet because something hadn’t
  • loaded in properly.
  • But after all of that, I finally touched down in Lorville.
  • I wandered round the impressively grimy industrial complex before me, with not quite the level
  • of interactivity I was expecting, but hey, I was just happy I’d made it.
  • And after following the signs, I finally found it—the train.
  • I was the only passenger on this weird transit system, but I was finally viewing that cityscape
  • for myself.
  • It wasn’t quite the vista I’d seen in the trailer but ya know, alpha build, I was
  • on low settings, I could understand.
  • As far as I was concerned, I had completed my mission; I’d beaten Star Citizen, I guess.
  • And I’m honestly not kidding when I say it was satisfying; this felt like an actual
  • achievement.
  • The effort I’d put in, the struggle against the game itself made this view all the more
  • rewarding.
  • Then I began to walk around the bars and shops, all seeming emptier than I’d been shown,
  • NPCs didn’t quite know what to do, there wasn’t the messin’ with the set dressin’
  • I may have expected from the demo.
  • In all, it didn’t seem like there was a whole lot to Lorville in itself, and I was
  • probably ready to be done with it.
  • I turned the game off and decided to leave it for a while.
  • I’d seen what I’d come here to see.
  • Fast forward to getting pickup footage for the game, expecting to wake up back in Port
  • Olisar to begin quests anew, instead I woke up in a completely different place; this was
  • the residence from the demo.
  • Weird, I hadn’t considered that this was its own separate area.
  • This is neat, but I’d kind of like to leave now.
  • I managed to find the elevator and after a good minute or two wondering why my commands
  • weren’t responding, I was presented with it—I was staring directly into the void.
  • A black, endless expanse.
  • I stepped inside to see if the textures had failed to load in, fell through the world
  • and ended up walking on what I can only describe as the city itself, dying and returning to
  • the bed.
  • The void appeared again, with no other way out of the residences.
  • Then the game crashed.
  • I tried again.
  • I had a feeling my trip to the hangar was going to take a while.
  • I had no idea what was causing it, but this seemed to be something of a spark; marking
  • the gradual process of the world falling apart around me.
  • Commands were becoming less responsive.
  • Ships would rarely spawn and when they lurched into existence it was at an agonisingly slow
  • pace.
  • NPCs started to flip out more; their voice clips would glitch along with their animations,
  • leading to a series of interactions with terrifying husks of humanity.
  • Doors would open telling me to get onto a train that wasn’t there.
  • Sometimes it’d spawn in as I took the leap of faith; increasingly it wouldn’t and I’d
  • be left on the tracks from which I could never emerge; the world now feeling far less organic
  • than I was led to believe.
  • Over the countless failed attempts to get on my ship and explore anything else, it all
  • became some kind of macabre commute; I was doomed to wake up in that residence, doomed
  • to wait at that damn elevator to see if I’d be trapped this time; taunted by the game
  • at every turn, “just jump on the train!
  • It’s right here!
  • It’s going to leave if you don’t!” only for me to fall into the void once more; wandering
  • through the same broken world time and time again that was all the more unsettling now
  • for how its vision of a living, breathing colony failed to match up with the truly alien
  • vibe it gave off.
  • I’d get inches from Olisar before the game crashed and the grim procedure began anew
  • (which, might I add, can take upwards of half an hour).
  • In such a gargantuan universe, I was beginning to feel the walls closing in.
  • I wasn’t choosing my own path here; I was locked in an eternal cycle of death and rebirth
  • like I was in Cyberpunk Sekiro or something.
  • I was navigating an illusion and what’s more, I was totally alone.
  • And this was when I realised, what No Man’s Sky was hinting at through text boxes and
  • quest design - the decay of an uncaring universe and the solitude that came along with it - I
  • was experiencing organically through Star Citizen’s broken technical state.
  • This world felt more hostile than anything I had come across in No Man Sky’s procedurally
  • generated infinity; I felt like the only conscious being in the entire universe—I was lonely,
  • and in an age where everyone and their dead authors are talking Barthian literary theory,
  • that idea that you could convey that crushing sense of dread purely through mechanics, however
  • unintentional, was kind of meaningful in its own way.
  • Meaningful enough, at least, to warrant me coming back to bang my head against that wall,
  • to confront my Sisyphean torment for hours on end; with each void consumption giving
  • me a surreal peek behind the curtain at just how much this world is held together with
  • tape.
  • Pulling that tape apart might just lead to some weird, unique experiences that at this
  • point in development and in a universe so vast, you might be the only person to see.
  • Likewise, there’s an unparalleled sense of scale to these often gargantuan ships that
  • you have to physically navigate just to get to the pilot’s seat.
  • They can be full-blown environments unto themselves; towering over you as you approach and walking
  • through those halls gives off a real Nostromo vibe—opening up the possibility for sets
  • of missions or stories taking place within the confines of one ship; there is potentially
  • that much physical space to work with.
  • It’s also hilarious to me that the reason I know this was because in my original confusion
  • in trying to find my own ship, I ended up messing around; jumping on top of someone
  • else’s, only to find myself somehow glitching into it before wandering the halls—much
  • to the confusion of its owner.
  • As draining as it was to spend so much time attempting to do one thing only for the game
  • to bug out on me and reset everything to zero, these experiences weren’t only weird and
  • cool in their own way, they were often funny in the same way most b-games are; as someone
  • who gets a lot of joy out of trying to navigate that specifically broken type of game, that’s
  • appealing to me.
  • I’m daft, I know.
  • Which kind of brings me to my ultimate point.
  • I went into this piece hoping to answer a question myself and many others I’d spoken
  • to had about Star Citizen—namely, what is it?
  • And honestly, after playing for tens of hours across almost six months, I’m only a little
  • closer to knowing that for myself.
  • Or at least I thought I was close, and then the game started collapsing before my very
  • eyes.
  • All I can say for sure is that I had experiences in Star Citizen that I haven’t had in any
  • other game—there’s just maybe a reason most games don’t go there.
  • For what it’s worth, the game is still expanding; even at the time of writing there are new
  • city planets being added and the alpha build past this one is being detailed, and I don’t
  • blame you for being invested in that process, for weeding through the less than optimal
  • messaging and getting excited about the potential for this game.
  • I don’t think you’re stupid or misinformed on any of this; there is very real potential
  • in almost everything Star Citizen has to offer.
  • I also don’t blame anyone for being highly sceptical at this point that said potential
  • will ever be realised.
  • It is wild that this game, through crowdfunding alone, has achieved a budget higher than almost
  • any other video game, has been in development all this time and I was able to use the phrase
  • b-game to describe it.
  • And let me be absolutely clear—I don’t think you should buy into Star Citizen right
  • now, at least until vital technical improvements are made and a more definitive path to release
  • is made clear.
  • I could justify the time and money spent to see the potential of this game as a professional
  • expense (as daft as it sounds to say that).
  • I don’t think mere curiosity, for what you get and don’t get at this stage (namely
  • a stable experience on anything other than military grade hardware it would seem) could
  • serve the same justification.
  • You know, Elite Dangerous runs really well.
  • But I also can’t deny the times at which that instability specifically contributed
  • to the atmosphere of my playthrough; I can’t deny the genuine awe I occasionally felt at
  • the scale of my surroundings, even if it was often coupled with some kind of hilarious
  • shenanigans; and ultimately I can’t deny the satisfaction that came from getting my
  • ship off the ground and landing on some faraway planet, even if it was a result of having
  • to directly fight against the game.
  • These are all valuable, meaningful, memorable experiences, at least to me, however unintended
  • and broken they may have been.
  • So I hope you enjoyed my piece on Star Citizen.
  • I also sincerely hope that whatever side of the Star Citizen… debate you fall on that
  • you didn’t feel personally attacked by this video or anything; that absolutely was not
  • my intention going into this.
  • I just wanted to provide you all with my own insight on the game based purely on my experience
  • and I hope that came through.
  • I’d also like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank my patrons for absolutely
  • making videos like this possible.
  • Demonetisation is unfortunately becoming more of a concern so if you feel like joining the
  • names on screen and directly supporting the work I do by heading to my Patreon, you will
  • absolutely be helping me to continue doing it.
  • Special thanks go to Mark B Writing, Rob, Nico Bleackley, Sivaas, Artjom Vitsjuk, Mlemonides
  • the Unwise, Dallas Kean, Spencer (iruleatgames) Geller, William Fielder, Ali Almuhanna, Timothy
  • Jones, Spike Jones, TheNamlessGuy, Chris Wright, Ham Migas, Zach Casserly, Samuel Pickens,
  • Tom Nash, Shardfire, Ana Pimentel, Jessie Rine, Brandon Robinson, Justins Holderness,
  • Mathieu Nachury, Nicolas Ross and Charlie Yang.
  • And with that, this has been another episode of Writing on Games.
  • Thank you so much for watching and I will see you next time.

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Support the show on Patreon - http://patreon.com/writingongames

Podcast (iTunes) - https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/writing-on-gamescast/id1124674245?mt=2

Second Channel - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1xxfS_HILi09yaELQdmV1A

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In which I attempt to put my scepticism to one side as I take the plunge into the increasingly enigmatic Star Citizen—judging the game as fairly as I can on its own terms. Come with me as I document my exploration of Star Citizen's universe—one of trains, glitches, Barthian literary theory and finding potential in the strangest of places.

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Intro text animation by Draz - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCd3x2o76QHYNy4Vh6rkRtfg

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ArcCorp planet footage from Gizimoo86. Thank you! /watch?v=89v9Y8CpiQE