Well, At Least The Clouds In Star Citizen Look Nice

One of the things I hoped I’d be able to do before leaving this job was to play a finished, or at least fully released, version of Star Citizen. That’s no closer to happening according to all the info out of the latest CitizenCon 2951, but there is some good news: the clouds look really nice.

CitizenCon is the ongoing annual celebration for all things Star Citizen, or for everyone else, the annual event where everyone hopes they’ll finally get a release date for Squadron 42 or the larger, persistent multiplayer game. This year’s CitizenCon didn’t provide any such update, sadly. And judging by the quality of the new outposts and the amount of work into the clouds, I’m guessing I’ll need another PC upgrade and a PCIe 4.0 NVMe drive to enjoy the game the way the developers intended, especially if they keep adding stuff like this:

Image: Star Citizen (YouTube)

The above image is from a slice in the middle of the biggest Star Citizen panel of the weekend, which was an overall tour of the in-game universe. As part of that, the developers talked about the “cloud authoring process” and how clouds are rendered in different environments.

Part of the reason for all this work is to help create alien cloud formations, things that wouldn’t appear on Earth but might theoretically appear in particular planets or certain atmospheric formations.

star citizen clouds
Image: Star Citizen (YouTube)

Of course, that also means the developers can fuck around with the clouds in more memeable ways. Like shitty cat drawings.

Image: YouTube (Star Citizen)

There was a whole section on the rest of the planetary assets and creation, with a developer introducing themselves as part of the art team that just focuses on organics. Another explained the biome generation process in more detail, outlining how something like this:

star citizen clouds
Image: Star Citizen (YouTube)

Will eventually get transformed into something like this:

star citizen clouds
Image: Star Citizen (YouTube)

The amount of detail is actually crazy impressive, if you can put aside the whole part where Star Citizen and its developers are still talking about the project like its five years away from completion. Feature creep doesn’t even seem appropriate for the absurd amount of work and detail the Star Citizen team has put into seemingly gone into adding, optimising or just fundamentally rewriting every part of CryEngine to make it do … well, this.

Nice transitions, however, do not a game make. And I’m not trying to detract from the many real concerns lots of backers still have about whether Squadron 42 or its persistent multiplayer universe will start to resemble a more cohesive experience by 2023 or 2024. But as was the case last year, there’s a lot of real cool, interesting tech that’s going into Star Citizen along the way.

It hasn’t stopped moments where I step out of a building and my ship has disappeared for reasons unknown. And I’ve still got tons of reservations as to whether any other projects might ever get to benefit from all of these advancements, because they’re fundamentally built into an engine that the Star Citizen developers probably wished they’d abandoned six years ago.

For those hoping for more of a concrete update on Squadron 42, the singleplayer experience with Gary Oldman, Mark Hamill, and Gillian Anderson, that’s due out sometime later this year. CitizenCon is more about upcoming ships (of which there’s plenty), multicore rendering, and how server meshing is going. Which, judging by the panel, sounds like an absolute nightmare.

Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of Star Citizen. It’d be nice if Squadron 42 was playable in some form by then, but so many of systems sound like they’re still in the early ages of development. There wasn’t anything substantially new announced in the Gen12 + Vulkan update, beyond an appreciation of the deep complexity involved. Server meshing isn’t expected to launch until Star Citizen hits alpha 4.0, which is at least one year away given where Star Citizen is right now. And the amount of time spent expanding the planetary tools should at least help the expansion of the Star Citizen universe further down the road: being more feature-complete should help the devs make deeper, more vibrant planetary environments more quickly, so that’s always a huge win.

For what it’s worth, the current feature roadmap has work tracked out to July 2022, with two chapters — Chapter 5 and Chapter 26 — set to be finished by May 2022 at the latest. The rest of the Star Citizen roadmap always makes for interesting reading, if only so you can get a small peek into what the production management of a 700-person, half-a-billion dollar project looks like.


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