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    Star Citizen: Chris Roberts’ ambitious space project enters a critical year of development

    The majority of crowdfunded games have a hard time raising their modest funding goals. But when Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts announced plans to fill the void of the largely vacant space combat simulation genre, it proved to be a secret recipe for raising money beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

    Since its announcement in 2012, Star Citizen has collected more than $72 million in pledges from 745,000 supporters and counting, with expectations that its funding will cross the $100 million mark by year’s end as players continue to stockpile ships and back new stretch goals. Cloud Imperium isn’t attacking development with a fighter squadron of devs; this budget gave it enough resources to tackle this project with a constellation of talent that now spans six studios spread across four countries. 

    By the end of 2016, Roberts envisions Star Citizen as a gigantic persistent universe spanning 130 star systems. The signature space combat of games like Wing Commander and X-Wing serves as the core of the experience, but the game will eventually support first-person combat, a robust economy powered by supply and demand, planetside bases to explore, and a campaign dubbed Squadron 42 that will play out over the course of a trilogy. 

    The 745,000 backers aren’t just wildly spending cash to fuel this dream; they’re also helping shape the kinds of activities players can expect. “You would think because this is space combat that everyone would want to shoot each other,” Roberts says. “But no, when we had a poll of what players wanted to be the most, 67 percent of the people wanted to be explorers…Based on that, we have a lot of nonviolent roles that you can do like mining, trading, and exploration. We’ve also got other things like rescue and recovery.”

    The next year is critical in getting this Death Star-sized project moving toward the full commercial release. Speaking to Roberts at D.I.C.E., he gave us an update on the various modules that backers will experience in the next 12 months.

    The Star Citizen Road Map
    Set Your Blasters To Alpha
    The first batch of new content coming to backers this year is the first-person shooter module. This proto-type features two modes that pit two groups of eight against one another. The first is your classic Team Fortress-style skirmish that takes place in the Gold Horizon space station. The second takes combat into a zero-G battle arena much like the competition in Ender’s Game, where players must master push and pull mechanics to navigate the battlefield. Both modes are supported by a progression system and versatile loadout options that allow players to customize their equipment. Look for this module to be introduced at PAX East, followed by a release to backers in the following weeks.

    Star Citizen Meet And Greet
    Following the FPS module, Cloud Imperium plans to release the first planetside social module in April. This update introduces a new environment for players to visit and also allows them to invite others into their hangars to show off their ships. At launch it will support chat and emotes, but the long-term goal is to incorporate live facial animations. If you have a webcam and a mic, your on-screen avatar will move its lips when you speak.

    Expanding The Universe
    Roberts says the first playable element of the persistent universe will likely launch mid-year. This early module only allows players to take off from one planet and land on another, but another more serious update toward the end of the year should introduce five planetary systems and some of the mining and trading functionality.

    Enlist For Squadron 42
    By autumn, Cloud Imperium hopes to launch Squadron 42, the story-driven campaign that takes place in the Star Citizen universe. A callback to the glory days of Wing Commander, creator Chris Roberts says Squadron 42 currently features 70 missions that focus on space combat, but incorporate planetside missions as well. “It’s pretty awesome to seamlessly go between flying, exiting your ship, getting into a firefight, running away from some pirates, figuring out how to crawl through the duct system, and coming out on the other side taking off in another ship,” he says. “That gives you a good sense of the fluidity of the gameplay experience you are going to have. It feels really liberating that you can do all of that stuff.”

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