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Star Citizen Column: Controversy and Crysis?

By Red Thomas on August 13, 2014

Star Citizen has had its share of detractors from the start, though you wouldn’t know it from the way their continuing crowdfunding campaign has been progressing.  While there have been questions about their open development model and potential feature-creep, fans have continued to be staunchly in Chris Roberts’ corner from the start.  There is one issue debated even among the fans, however.  That would be their use of Crytek’s CryENGINE 3 for the backbone of the developing game.

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Those opposed to the use of Crytek’s engine gained a new banner this last week as Crytek USA’s CEO and a number of their staff reportedly quit the company after pay problems over the last several months.  According to multiple news sources, problems have persisted since late spring, and while a proposed bank deal in mid-June appeared to get the company payroll caught up, it obviously didn’t solve the problem.

So the big question in everyone’s mind has to be whether Crytek’s problem will have a sudden impact on the development of Star Citizen.  When a backer asked in Star Citizen’s forums about Crytek’s potential insolvency, Erin Roberts replied with, “We did an outright buyout of the engine last year and have the source code, so while we hope all the noise about Crytek blows over, as they are great partners and friends to the project, if the worse happened we would be ok, as we’ve already branched the engine and have a large team that is adding features and supporting it every day here at CIG. So even in the worst case scenario we should be fine.”

Star Citizen also has Dan Tracy on staff, one of the geniuses behind the MechWarrior: Living Legends mod for Crysis.  Dan’s also not the only guy with CryENGINE experience they’ve hired over the last year, so they’re not short on talent.  Since they have branched their own copy of the source code and have people on staff who have experience working with it, any legal issues on Crytek’s end shouldn’t have much impact on Star Citizen.  At least, it shouldn’t in theory.

There could be some potential for splash-back, but I suspect the impact will actually be in the opposite direction for a couple reasons.  For one, Crytek USA has offices in Austin, and with some of those former experts walking out the door, it creates an immediate source of talent in CIG’s own backyard for their recruiters to pull from.  Not only would they be collecting people with the technical skills they need to build the game, but they’ll be recruiting folks with plenty of experience working in and supporting the very engine the game is being built around.

Additionally, there’s another win that’s not as obvious.  Walking round CIG on my periodic visits, I hear conversations in passing.  While the guys are very careful to talk about all their partners with a great deal of respect and never say anything disparaging, you get the impression that it’s not all roses when dealing with Crytec.  Other games have been developed off the same platform, and other developers aren’t quite as professionally stoic about it as the guys at CIG are.  Plus, I’ve worked in similar environments long enough to recognize that sort of frustration when I see it, and even more easily when I’m specifically looking for it.

You have to wonder if some of the delay with the Dogfight Module may have been due to problems getting support for the engine from disgruntled Crytek employees.  I’ve been in a very similar situation myself, and it’s not like you can go back to the customer and explain that your vendor is hosing you.  In this case, the customer being the backers.

I know, you’re probably wondering what’s wrong with me.  I blasted CIG for not being more open with backers about problems with the DFM development in a previous article, and now here I am applauding them for it.  The difference is in acknowledging problems, which I’m sure they have plenty of, and in playing the blame game.  I do still think they need to more open about their roadblocks.  It’s a big project and a very ambitious one.  I’m sure they have a ton of obstacles, but there’s a big difference between admitting to developmental glitches and throwing someone under the bus.  Even when they may deserve it.

With so many games out or under development that use one version or another of Crytek’s software, a number of their released games not doing too well, and obvious budget issues, you really couldn’t expect great support from them on the best of days.  A common trap in software development is waiting on the vendor to solve problems for you since they’re on the hook for it, but often those problems could really be solved more quickly in-house.  Should they find themselves empowered with more former Crytek employees, I think CIG will find engine issues addressed much more quickly.

The knee-jerk reaction might be to worry about Star Citizen in the coming fallout over Crytek’s internal issues, but if they have issues, that’s not likely to be it.  In fact, access to more developers who are skilled in CryENGINE should prove beneficial.  Also, the opportunity to support the product in-house, rather than relying on folks supporting your product alongside a dozen others could end up being a good thing, as well.  Like their engine or not, Crytek has been behind some pretty great games over the last few years, so I’m pulling for them.  It’s not because I’m worried about Star Citizn, though.  Those guys will be just fine.

Red Thomas / A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture. Follow him on Twitter:

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