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Chris Roberts on the Final Frontier

Garrett Fuller Posted:
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While GDC Online may have seemed quiet to some, it was not quiet for Chris Roberts. Chris is a game design legend known mostly for Wing Commander, a very popular game in the late 1990s which many view as one of the top space combat games of all time. After much success Chris moved on to films for a while and got out of the game busthewariness. However, he confessed to us that he has never stopped playing video games on a daily basis. Now years later, Roberts is re-entering the galaxy with Star Citizen, an in-depth galactic world with ships, space stations, single player options, and massive online battles.  The game offers a lot to players and the opening cinematics we saw at the show are breathtaking. We got the chance to talk to Chris at GDC Online and were extremely impressed with what we saw of the game.

Chris began telling us how important the space combat aspect of Star Citizen is to him. With very large multiplayer instances and scalable worlds, the game takes players into massive combat scenarios. It also is a lot about adventuring and trading as well. Chris loved the idea that players go through military training as pilots after which they can go out on their own. You can become a stalwart citizen in one of the galactic factions, or turn rogue and become a crime boss on the outer fringes of the galaxy.

Chris said that he left games for a while because it was taking longer and longer to make them. Development cycles are now becoming much easier and the PC tech has never been better. Chris believes this allows you to push the suspension of disbelief. He very much wants to make an amazing game that challenges the current technology. As other companies are going mobile and tablet, it is very refreshing for us to see Chris making a complex PC only game.

The theme behind Star Citizen is the historical concept behind the fall of the Roman Empire. The galaxy is falling into factions and the year is 2942.  The Empire of Earth is breaking away from its other major planetary sister Terra, which Chris called a “super earth.” These two factions are beset by barbarian and alien races on the western borders of the galaxy that are looking to sack the empire. As a pilot you can earn citizenship in the empire through service or money of course. Once you have gone through the single player portion of the game, you are free to leave and go out on your own. You can become a trader, pirate, soldier, or merchant. You also will be able to play as members of the different factions. Side note: barbarian aliens was all I needed to hear and I was sold on this game.

When talking about money, Chris explained that he wanted a very dynamic economy. We all laughed about the job boards in Wing Commander that other players would post. The MMO aspects of the game definitely come into play when you are a Freelancer and on your own. This all plays into the economy and there is room in the game for a lot of different angles. He gave the example of a merchant setting up shop in a part of the galaxy close to Earth or Terra. There you would have a lot of taxes and rules imposed on you to operate in Imperial space. You could still make money but you have to play by the rules. The further out you go, the fewer rules on your business are imposed and you almost have to pay no taxes. However, you are open to possible raiders and attacks from other factions if you do. He explained that there was a lot of room to play both styles in the game.

The PC was a very important part of Chris’s idea to build the game. He said that PC gamers are not the vocal minority everyone hears. They are very much the quiet majority. The core concepts of the game feed into that audience. Chris very much wants to update the game with micro content on a consistent level. He plans to add new star systems and smaller story threads regularly rather than doing huge patches. The micro content idea will allow the team to update more frequently in a very Dungeon Master style design. It will also allow them to react to player involvement in the game. The example he gave was having a new jump point put into the galaxy which no one has found. If a player finds it first they can then sell the information of its location to others. They will also get the chance to name star systems that they discover first.

All of this exploration and economy is great, but let’s talk about some PvP. The battle instances will be from sixty to one hundred players. Also, if you enter a battle instance you get a few reserved spots for friends to come and join you. This way guilds and groups can work together.  Chris wants massive space battles to take place across the game and while you are exploring or making a delivery you may be prompted to enter one. Player battles are a core part of Star Citizen and Chris encourages groups of pilots to prepare to battle for territory.

You can also depart your ship and walk on decks and space stations. You will be able to move around on planets as well. There will be plenty of walking around in the game. You will not just be flying a ship. There is even a mission to storm a ship on the ground. All of these pieces are there to embrace the community and foster a true sense of a shared universe.  The main game is about space, but Chris feels it’s important to give players meaningful avatars as well.

Chris is also taking the ambitious step to allow players to create their own mods for the game. He said that if players do a cool design on a custom ship they would absolutely put it into the persistent world for everyone to use. Then other players can buy that design. They are still working out the death system in the game, but a lot of ideas were mentioned even just in our short interview.

Overall, Star Citizen looks and sounds amazing. It seems like something PC fans and sci-fi fans will crave once it launches. I love the idea of an immersive space game that I can play alone or with a group of pilot friends. We will continue to cover the game in as much detail as possible and look forward to our next chat with Chris about his new and brave venture into space. 


Garrett Fuller

Garrett Fuller / Garrett Fuller has been playing MMOs since 1997 and writing about them since 2005. He joined MMORPG.com has a volunteer writer and now handles Industry Relations for the website. He has been gaming since 1979 when his cousin showed him a copy of Dungeons and Dragons. When not spending time with his family, Garrett also Larps and plays Airsoft in his spare time.