It has been a long time since we’ve seen or heard anything substantial about the game that’s intended to be our first, single-player taste of the Star Citizen universe. It felt, for the longest while, like the silence on Squadron 42 was the surest sign yet that the entire Star Citizen enterprise was nothing but vaporware.
Then, at this weekend’s CitizenCon, a lengthy developer-led video threw the game back into the spotlight. Between its gorgeously rendered fleets of ships and immaculately digitized, star-studded cast, the new footage is genuinely and undeniably jaw-dropping; something that is made all the more exciting by the accompanying statement that the game is now “feature-complete” and “into the polishing phase”.
Surely this is cause for celebration then, right? Well, let’s not go that far. If we really are looking at an actual Squadron 42 launch in the next year or two, it might be worth taking a moment now to reflect on how we’re all talking about this game.
Video game discourse has always been split between two camps, and no, I’m not talking about the console wars. What I’m talking about are the people that buy into “the hype”, and those who don’t, especially when it comes to promises from developers.
The history of the medium is littered with the bold claims of ambitious creators – along with the frequently underwhelming games that follow in their wake, assuming they release at all. Remember when John Romero was going to make you his bitch with Daikatana? Or how about the time Curt Schilling was going to upend the RPG genre with Project Copernicus? Or how about the oeuvre of Peter Molyneux – Black and White, Fable, whatever that thing with the cube was.
No game of the past decade has evoked stronger feelings from either side as Star Citizen. The passion project of Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts aims to be nothing less than the ultimate persistent, online, immersive space simulator. A game whose own Kickstarter proclaims that it will have “10X the detail of current AAA games”.
Taken at face value, that’s an incredibly exciting prospect. But it’s also no small wonder it’s raised a good few eyebrows.
While it’s easy to feel cynical about… well, everything in our present age, there’s an opposite reaction that has many people optimistically embracing every promise of “the next big thing”. Surely, you might think, it is better to be hopeful – to believe that everybody has the best of intentions.
Unfortunately, for the past decade or so, there’s been a concerted effort to exploit these eternal optimist’s goodwill — especially in the tech industry. Whether it’s through bogus crowdfunding campaigns, early access shenanigans, or crypto nonsense, there’s been no shortage of avenues through which many a dollar has been extracted from the pockets of those who just want to support creative enterprise.
The reality is, however, that there are still cases where creators have absolutely used these new ways to market themselves or their product as an earnest method of reaching their audience, wherein they otherwise would not have been able to (not crypto though; that can do one).
Look no further than this year’s unexpected game of the year frontrunner, Baldur’s Gate 3, for proof that the Early Access model can work. Few people would’ve expected the finished game to have been quite as good as it was from the early access version alone. Crucially though, it wasn’t bad – rough around the edges, but promising.
Larian would no doubt have preferred to drop the finished, polished game into players’ laps without having them effectively QA test the game for them. And yet, if that’s what was required for them to ensure their financial situation was fit enough to see the game over the line without having to cede creative control to an external publisher, it proved to be a worthwhile trade-off.
Like Roberts with Star Citizen, Baldur’s Gate III was the culmination of years of work for Larian Studios’ founder Swen Vincke. It’s an ode to unwavering self-belief in your own creative vision and apparent proof that the future of truly great, original game-making is taking place outside the constraints of the ever-increasing monopolies that threaten to consume the industry.
Make no doubt about it, Star Citizen’s marketing — while not outright acknowledging it — will absolutely be looking toward that game as a north star in how it positions itself moving forward.
The association with Baldur’s Gate would be a welcome shift in perception for Star Citizen, where previously the game’s nearest equivalent might have been the aforementioned Schilling’s doomed fantasy MMORPG Project Copernicus. Not dissimilar to Roberts’ decision to announce a single-player experience to tide players over while they wait for the main attraction, Schilling released Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning as a means of introducing players to his new fantasy universe while also hoping to make a few much-needed dollars along the way.
That game was about as solid an 8/10 as you’ll get. Heck, it literally sits at 80% on Metacritic. It was perfectly fine, but hardly the sea change that it was touted to be. Still, as told in Jason Schreier’s Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry, it wasn’t so much Amalur’s “just okay-ness” that killed the Copernicus project so much as it was the sheer hubris behind it all.
Star Citizen has a lot of baggage. That would probably be inevitable for any game that’s raised so much money that it is, by a quite obscene amount, the highest crowdfunded entertainment product of all time.
Wherever you stand with regards to how it’s continued to find ways of enticing its devotees to part with more of their money, it’s hard not to feel as though developer and publisher Cloud Imperium Games hasn’t, at times, courted controversy as a means to further galvanize their most committed. This tactic of provoking your detractors to bolster your own agenda wouldn’t work quite so well, however, if the other side weren’t so quick to rise to the occasion.
It’s a sad state all around when the launch of what looks like a possibly very good game is instead reduced to a simple matter of which side is ultimately vindicated in where they’ve planted their flag.
Just look at the reaction to the latest footage across social media. There’s little focus on the content of the thing itself. Instead, there’s a smug posturing on both sides that the footage proves that, simultaneously, the game is not only really, definitely, for sure coming soon and will prove all those haters wrong, but also that it is just more bloviated posturing designed to keep the Star Citizen true-believers sufficiently fueled with copium.
The thing is, none of us know for sure where this whole drawn-out saga will end. For what it’s worth, I’m not invested in Star Citizen’s potential success any more than I am any other game. My bank balance is too low and my backlog is too long for me to worry about chipping in for games I can’t play right now, thank you very much.
As such, I was perfectly happy watching this latest footage of what will hopefully be a ripping good sci-fi game — assuming the thing does actually launch. Yes, it could’ve just been a really pretty vertical slice, and sure, there was still no release date given. But honestly, I really don’t care. Who has time to devise conspiracy theories about potentially faked games?
I’d rather hope that any group of people able to put together ‘faked’ gameplay footage looking that nice might actually be able to put together some decent ‘real’ gameplay. The truth is, none of us really know what’s going on at CIG. It’s a waste of time trying to speculate.
Given video game history’s many great disappointments, you’d be a fool not to approach a game like Star Citizen — and, indeed, Squadron 42 — without a hearty measure of skepticism. Assuming this game does come out though, I’m happy that my opinion stops there. I’d rather just enjoy a game than worry about whether I won a silly internet fight.
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