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The Future Persistent Universe

Red Thomas Posted:
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Perichoresis

Missions in Star Citizen will also be way more complex than you’d find in most games, and way more engaging from a roleplaying standpoint.  Tony said they’re still too early in the development of that component of the game to really give specifics about how they’re going to do anything, but I talked him into giving a bit of the theory behind it.  I thought an idea of “the commander’s intent,” to borrow an old phrase from my Army days, would tell us a lot about what to expect.

“The basic high-level objective is going to be to present the players with a practically infinite amount of content, that is far more interesting, far more challenging, than you’ve seen in the MMOs that have come thus far,” Tony said.  “The fundamental problem with [the standard] approach is that once you’ve done that sequence, it’s far less interesting.  The alternative is to go with the completely hand-crafted mission sequence, which is incredibly design-intensive.”

There’ll be some persistence to the nature of NPCs inhabiting a specific area, but there’ll be some changes based on fluctuations in the economy, as well.

 “What we’re trying to do at a conceptional level, is strike a balance between these two extremes,” Tony explained.  He went on to talk about how they plan to attempt that by algorithmically combining the different mission elements together.  The example he cited was a situation where the player might be flying through space and pick up a distress call.  Distress calls in the past might have required the player to board a ship or enter a facility to rescue a hostage, or possibly hack a computer core to retrieve critical information.  There’s every possibility this one could be completely different, possibly a combination no one in the game has experienced yet.

Tony likens it to a thread, and “as you pull this mission thread, additional sub-objectives related to the previous objective and connected algorithmically will become available.”  How far you continue down that dynamically-generated mission path will be up to the player.  “The point of all this is that when you respond to a distress call, it’ll be completely different.”

The advantage to this is that each of the sub-objectives can be much more heavily designed, and capture the depth that typically hand-crafted mission have.  By dynamically linking those shorter missions together, you get something much larger, which in the greater scope feels less repetitive, and lends itself more to building that living universe.  There’s also that little point about the game being really modular and there being a strategy that involves continuing development.

“Mike, try and stay in my line of sight, will ya? Every time we do this, you act like I can shoot around corners.”

Tony mentioned that other players will see elements of the mission unfolding, a freighter under attack for instance, but because they haven’t been part of what lead up to it, they won’t know what the context is.  If you think about it, that’s a lot like real life, as well.  We spend all day seeing things like the guy limping past on crutches or the car with a dent in the trunk, but we never know the story of how that happened.  It’s just one of the many things around us that’s out of the norm and adds color to our experience.

The idea behind the system also means you can invite your friends in to join you part way through a mission because things are getting too hot.  Michael Weston never had to wait on Sam Axe to go through talking to NPCs and getting himself “caught up” in the quest.  Mike just made a call and Sam showed up with the appropriate hardware.  If the system is implemented the way it sounds, it means being the friend with lots of toys that go boom may be a completely viable way to play Star Citizen, and that’s another mark in their favor.

Confession

So in my last article, I took a hard look at Star Citizen.  This time, I really wanted to highlight some of the things I think they’re doing right.  In a way, it wasn’t really what I expected, because I’m such a fan of empowering players to do what they want with the game that I really expected to be pretty opposed to their economics on rails approach to the in-game market.

When I set aside what I personally want, and take a hard look at what would be best for the game, I can’t help but acknowledge that their current approach is probably the best solution I’ve heard of with any MMO.  Tony admitted that it wouldn’t be exactly impossible to impact the market like I’d wanted to, just that it would get progressively harder.  To slaughter an old expression from college physics, as X approaches the objective of Y, Red gets increasingly frustrated.

One thing I suspected and confirmed on that visit though, Tony Zurovec is an unbelievably intelligent guy.  He’s also never getting away with another emailed interview again, because it doesn’t do him justice.  Tony doesn’t just answer questions, he verbally deconstructs them and assembles an applicable demonstration of the science behind what he’s doing, which has the side benefit of answering the question you asked.

If anyone can keep up with the tide of ideas Chris Roberts rolls into the list of deliverables, it’ll be the android disguising himself as Tony Zurovec.  What’s more, the guy will likely figure out how to make it work even better than Chris had intended.  I still can’t say it’ll be the Star Citizen I expected when I backed, but I do think it’ll be a pretty bang up version of it.

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Red_Thomas

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.