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Controversy Over Star Citizen Continues To Capture The Limelight

Posted Jul 18, 2015
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Recently an individual, and independent developer, Derek Smart, had received a full refund of his money that was used to back Star Citizen during the initial Kickstarter. Smart’s allegations of vaporware and feature creep helped him secure the refund, but the controversy doesn’t stop there.

Star Citizen continues to garner controversy around Derek Smart’s allegations and now his Kickstarter backer refund.

The refund was in response to allegations that Smart was using Star Citizen as a platform to boost interest in his own video game, Line of Defense. His account was disabled, digital property in the game revoked and all access completely suspended. The controversy is just beginning, however, as Smart is dedicating time and money to prove that he was correct in seeking answers to the questions he asked.

Smarts allegations are concerns that are spoken openly by the community and are commonly discussed. Essentially that the games scope is near impossible to achieve. That the feature creep and high aspirations are not possible utilizing CryEngine 3 nor have they delivered on their original promise of releasing the core game by 2014 as stated in the Star Citizen Kickstarter. That it’s vaporware in the making.

It’s certainly true that there have been considerable delays in the development cycle of Star Citizen due to the scope becoming ever larger, it seems, with every crowdfunding milestone met. It’s an absolutely huge vision that, if handled properly, might get released at some point within our lifetime. It is certainly cause for concern. And we all want at least some kind of accountability for the promises being made to us.

It can get very frustrating to feel as if money is being wasted on something that doesn’t seem to be tangible in the slightest. Certainly Derek Smart’s concerns are valid. He wants that aforementioned accountability. A reasonable explanation as to why we haven’t seen the original ship date as promised. Explanations about why we haven’t seen any real progress translate into the released modules. And quite frankly, he wants the game, and he wants it now.

Feature creep is also a valid concern. If not properly handled, the focus can shift from what was previously important to the new greatest feature as a way to promote it. They want so much that it could be quite difficult to keep the entire project on any sort of realistic timeline, or even to keep people on-task generally. Arguably the inclusion of more ships and more content can be seen as feature creep. There is so much art and modeling being done that it almost seems impossible to think that it could ever be done on time. high quality content takes a lot of time to actually complete.

The problem lies in the fact that your donations don’t drive the company’s direction. That’s true for most private companies. Chris Roberts has an overall plan for what he wants to do, which does change as it would in any company. They also communication about these changes, and they excel at it, but you don’t dictate where it goes and how it gets there.

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And they do communicate. Regardless of whether you personally perceive the explanations given from Cloud Imperium Games on Star Citizen as being reasonable, they still do have explanations for the delayed development process. You may not like that there are delays happening, but they are still quite candid about the future of the game. Communication is far more clear here than nearly in the history of game development.

The little game engine that could

Oddly, in his original post he talks about the limitations of CryEngine as an FPS engine and mentions how a game dev studio wishing to build such a game as Star Citizen might want to just create their own game engine. He also states that “Nobody is going to license UE4 to develop a flight sim.” Interestingly, someone actually has done just that, and it looks quite good given the fact that it’s an FPS focused engine. But I digress.

Custom game engines are fantastic assets for a company to have, though not always realistic for everyone. Frontier Developments has a quite the winner with their COBRA engine, which is capable of many different types of environments from the mostly static scenes in Kinectimals to the dynamic space faring vistas of Elite: Dangerous. StarWraith 3D Games uses a custom engine for Evochron Mercenary that relies heavily on procedural generation that allows for a small game package and a humongous scope that’s very much in line with (and already includes) much of what Star Citizen hopes to.

Cloud Imperium Games certainly has the capital and talented developers to create their own. But if they have indeed been working on Star Citizen for as long as claimed, then the decision to simply start from scratch might not necessarily make sense. CryEngine 3 might be limited in its ability to provide the full promised experience, so the questions he raises are valid as the engine has to be modified more and more. But isn’t that also how new engines sometime spawn?

Herd mentality or taking advantage for his own sake?

I suppose that the issue boils down to our expectations regardless of how well a developer is handling it. If someone is mad and angry enough (and has a propensity to do such things, based on his own statements in the past), then it doesn’t matter what you say to try to defuse the situation. They’re going to react to what you’re saying in whatever manner they please, whether negative or positive.

Some people may not listen to reason and might have a more emotional response based on real or perceived wrongs. Sometimes it seems that the message coming across is more of: “We want something, and we want it right now!” A not entirely reasonable request given that game development is a most difficult task. It’s hard to make a game, let alone a good one.

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Perhaps he’s mad because Chris Roberts has an idea that will likely surpass anything he’s ever created. Or maybe he really does see lying and misinformation and wants to crusade for us. As an aside, because he directly compares Star Citizen to his own game, Line of Defense, it does indeed look as if he’s promoting his own game at the behest of Star Citizen. There are plenty of other examples that could have been used had he wanted to (Evochron Mercenary or No Man’s Sky anyone?). There’s no need to bring your own IP into this without it seeming like there’s an ulterior motive of some sort, regardless of how it’s handled. It does look like a PR grab from a certain angle.

But there are definite real concerns hidden in Smart’s posts, and they resonate in many different people. There are reasons to like Star Citizen and reasons to abhor it. We like it for the idea of what it might become. We hate it because it’s not here yet and we can’t truly know if it ever will be completed until the time comes. It’s scary to back any project like this. Just as its scary to invest in companies futures or gamble, or anything of the sort. There’s an uncertainty surrounding it that has become the locus of attention, and rightfully so for those that have spent a lot of money on an unreleased game.

I’m still excited

Personally I don’t know if Star Citizen will ever get completed. I’m not expert enough on the subject of game development. I just know that I enjoy Arena Commander and that I’ll be spending countless hours in the other modules as they become available. I also feel that my paltry $225 donation doesn’t feel, to me at least, as if it’s for nothing. It still feels worth it. But perhaps that’s because I’m a little more patient than others.

Just remember that if you aren’t a backer of Star Citizen yet, you don’t have to be. You can wait until the game releases and just buy the game itself. There’s no need to spend money on ships unless you want to donate to the future of the game. The cheapest package that lets you play is $45, and you can still fly all the ships in the Arena Commander module.

That isn’t to say that more transparency wouldn’t be a good thing. Because it would be great for everyone. But flailing your arms and yelling might not be the best way to get the proper attention you want.

 

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