Letter from the Chairman: On Dogfighting
The Dogfighting Module!
When? Is the question on most of your lips!
The initial plan was to release a preliminary build for feedback towards the end of this month. However after much deliberation I’ve decided to push this back.
As I explained during the live stream, we’ve been debating internally what would be the best use of time and resources for the overall development of the game, to keep as close as possible to our original schedule of the Alpha of Star Citizen’s Persistent Universe towards the end of 2014, and the “public” release 2015.
The incredible surge in funding this year has helped the long term picture. We have been able to ramp up sooner and wider than we originally thought. This means more features and content will be in the game at launch. We’re further along than originally planned in building the tech for the persistent and instancing server backend which will ultimately drive Star Citizen. Both Squadron 42 and First Person Personal combat / boarding have full teams working in parallel, in addition to the teams in Los Angeles, Austin and Montreal working on the Dogfighting and Planetside components. We have smaller groups of people supporting these efforts from CGBot in Austin & Monterrey, Mexico and Void Alpha in San Francisco.
Long term, this is great for the game, but in the short term, getting multiple teams up to speed has definitely taken some bandwidth from myself and the initial team members.
Which brings us to the Dogfighting module;
Originally when I first started this journey I didn’t dream that we would be entirely community funded so early so I thought that if I released an early dogfighting build it would help drum up interest in the project and get some good community feedback on the player versus player fun and balance. I knew this had some drawbacks, the biggest being that we would have to use the built in CryEngine netcode and not our intended persistent and massively multiplayer capable system that we are architecting to handle the large amount of players we hope to have with Star Citizen.
As time has progressed I’ve become more nervous taking the down and dirty route with the initial dogfighting build, especially as our numbers grow. With so many people in the Alpha we need a whole other level of backend support, which would require serious work on CryEngine’s existing multiplayer structure – a lobby system, spinning up servers to handle each session – all things that we are building the new Star Citizen backend to handle. Unfortunately the server backend technology will not be ready for prime time for a couple more months. But this is really what I would like to run the dogfighting on, as it will link into your hangar, friend’s lists, chat and so on.
We had considered just going single player and having a few combat scenarios available for the first stage of the Dogfighting module, but ultimately we decided this will not be beneficial as even the single player part of Star Citizen, Squadron 42, is built on the multiplayer backbone and is intended to have cooperative play out of the box. And even in this scenario with AI only we would be creating a lot of throw away content as we had always intended for the dogfighting module to be more about head to head than player vs AI.
The hardest part of dogfighting balance is to make it fun and challenging between two players. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the various systems and dials you can adjust to add a whole level of strategy / skill to dogfighting as we don’t want it to devolve into an endless turning battle with little chance of turning the tables on your opponent.
Outside of having the dogfighting use the proper backend there is a lot of finesse and detail that needs to go in to get the dogfighting ready for the community’s consumption – The HUD, Damage states, various FX – these are all in progress and look very promising but in my personal opinion aren’t quite ready for prime time.
I feel that the Dogfighting module, especially with Star Citizen’s greatly increased profile, needs to be more polished than a typical “alpha”. There are a lot of eyes on the game, and more than a few people wanting us to fail. Because Dogfighting is the first module that will involve significant gameplay, it has to be good – I don’t feel that we will get a pass just because it is pre-pre alpha.
So we had two choices: either fork development and spend time building something that would involve throwing away work in order to meet the December deadline and deliver something that wouldn’t have the level of polish I’m happy with, or stay on course to build something that would lead directly into the finished game.
A modular release schedule, which we delivered the first of with the Hangar, was not something we promised in the original funding campaign. Delivering the game in a modular fashion was an idea we hit on after the initial crowd funding campaign when we realized just how impassioned and engaged this community was. It would help the project and involve the community: you would be able to follow our work and help us improve Star Citizen to a level never before experienced in game development. If releasing dogfighting were to mean throwing away months of work and give an experience that doesn’t advance the final vision of Star Citizen, for the sake of meeting a deadline, we would be poor stewards of the funding which has been entrusted to us by the community.
On top of this, finding a new space for the growing team in Austin has taken a lot longer than originallg anticipated – we are now scheduled to move in on Dec 28th! As our backend and network ops is run out of Austin it would be pretty risky trying to push out a module that relied on this over the holidays.
So rather than force the team to crunch through the holidays chasing something ‘good enough,’ I am going to make the tough choice to delay the dogfighting module for a couple of months to allow us to take our time and deliver something special.
Our goal isn’t just to make Star Citizen good enough. Big publishers make games that are good enough; this is about creating a game that matches a vision. The beauty of crowd funding is that it allows us the creative freedom to do exactly that… and the one great downside, is that I feel your disappointment in a way I never would otherwise. I don’t just want to make a great game… I want to play and live it. But even more than that, I have come to find myself a part of the Star Citizen community, in a way that I never expected.
However, as it is the holidays, we’re not about to send you off home without a few treats. There’s going to be an update to the Hangar at the end of the week with some fun new functionality. But better than that the team and I invite you to join us Friday, December 20th to show you some of the dogfighting work that is in progress; you’ll see us fight in a multi person fur ball, and hopefully appreciate some of the detail and care we’re adding to truly push dogfighting in Star Citizen to a level beyond anything achieved yet in a space sim.
We think you’ll be happy with what you see!
So please join me at 9 AM PST on Friday, December 20th for a special Christmas two hour livestream that will have updates on Squadron 42, The Hangar and Dogfighting!
— Chris Roberts