Dark or Light

Persistent Development

Gareth Harmer Posted:
Columns 0

Possibly the biggest update to Star Citizen so far – Patch 2.4.0 – has been released to the public at large. The most significant change introduces persistence to the universe, meaning that currency, loadouts and more will continue from one play session to another. For the faithful that have followed since the Kickstarter days, it represents a significant step forward.

The first chunk of that persistence is in currency. Alpha United Earth Credits (aUEC) are now being handed out for completing a new batch of missions, or for salvaging wrecks in one of the conflict zones. And just to make sure those credits actually mean something, a clothing store has been completely decked out with new threads to pull on. Focusing on a feature like this does make me question the studio’s priorities a little when there’s so much more of the game left to build, but it also makes sense as an easy way to test and make sure that transactions are being handled properly.

Apart from the cosmetic store, there’s another side to persistence, and that’s tracking ship and character loadouts. As Star Citizen builds towards a unified persistent universe with space combat, exploration, and first-person experiences, it needs a glue to bind them all together and provide continuity from one to the other. Persistence is the underlying technology that provides this, and will gradually be developed as further features are added.


Then again, this wouldn’t be a Star Citizen update without having new ships for sale, and Patch 2.4.0 brings in the flight-ready Starfarer as a mobile fuel platform. Weighing in at a wallet-pounding $360, this also begs the question of whether Star Citizen is a pay-to-win game, where those with the biggest credit cards can pick up the most powerful ships. There’s a constant counter-argument that that ship ‘pledges’ as they’re known will vanish once the game actually launches, but even so, the player with the black AMEX is still likely to have an advantage while everyone else grinds up the credits.

Which comes back to the question of how much cash is needed to finish the game, and how heavily invested those fans actually are. According to the studio’s own tracker, Star Citizen has raked in over $115 million, including over $30,000 from a single fan. It’s clear from the regular monthly studio reports that there’s plenty of work going on across four office locations, but I’m concerned that Cloud Imperium Games may have become reliant on the continued goodwill of backers in order to complete the project.

Ultimately though, CEO Chris Roberts has made no secret that additional cash from store purchase (including ship pledges) goes into funding development of the game, and that his ultimate goal is to strike a balance between those with plenty of time or money to spare. However, with that eventual launch date still far in the distance (some estimates put it at two years out), there’s a significant wait before we’ll know how it pans out.

Tech Rattles

Further out, there’s a few interesting technology hurdles that CIG is steadfastly crunching through. One is how to fill up the vast emptiness of space, without leaving it, well, empty. Enlisting the current industry technology darling that underpins No Man’s Sky, procedural generation has been called in to start building planets. Unlike the ancient planet-builders of Magrathea, CIG’s tech sounds as if it’ll be mostly automated, apart from a few guiding parameters here and there. Interestingly though, artists will be able to go in and manipulate the result, for example to support a mission.

While building the ‘Verse is one thing, presenting it is quite another, and there’s been some anxious noise about just how modern Star Citizen’s final visuals will end up. Released in 2009, the CryEngine 3 technology that underpins CIG’s efforts emerged when DirectX 9 was the mainstay.  It’s subsequently been updated to support DirectX 11, but the latest wave of graphics cards support even newer visual tricks. Unafraid of getting their hands dirty, CIG has already famously ripped apart the engine to fix issues (the biggest being client-server netcode) and ensure it meets their needs. According to the latest ’10 For the Developers’ question and answer session, it sounds as though the graphics rendering pipeline is getting a similar treatment to prepare it for new technologies, such as DirectX 12.

Even so, the pace of development is not without any casualties, with the increasingly inaccurate and outdated tutorial finally being removed. It leaves Star Citizen in a Minecraft-style sort of limbo, placing a huge reliance on the community to help newcomers with the currently fragmented game. While CIG mulls over when it can spare the resources to build a new introduction, anyone looking to get into space should start reading up the various beginner’s guides and videos – you’ll probably be needing them for a good while.


Gareth Harmer

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.