The moment all Star Citizen backers have been waiting for, including myself; this year’s Gamescom presentation. In years past these have been hit and miss, from the giant sandworms at last year’s event to Chris Roberts’ inability to fly his own ships. In good old CIG fashion this year’s stream was once again delayed, starting an hour late. Where the hell was the long-suffering Jared when they needed him most?
After some awkward filling, the playing of incorrect ship trailers, and terrible jokes, it was time for the main event. The pre-show team were relieved of duty and a trailer for the 600i ship was shown, followed by some more footage of Daymar and planetary based scenes.
CIG’s Sandi Gardner started the show once again with the usual salutations to the avid German fans who have completely bought into the Star Citizen experience. Sandi then introduced Chris Roberts to the stage.
With Star Citizen 3.0 having been delayed time and time again, and a cut-down version of 3.0 being shown on the Gamescom show floor, we expected Chris Roberts to show a more fully-fledged version of 3.0 with more stuff turned on. Of course, that doesn’t mean 3.0 is any closer to completion. Like previous years, this was intended to be a carefully choreographed display of what should be coming to backers.
This year Chris jumped straight into a demo showing 3.0, as well as some additional features that will get added at some point in the future. He mentioned that there may be bugs in this demo. This is what is known in narrative circles as ‘foreshadowing’.
In 3.0 there are three moons: Daymar, Yela and Celin. According to Chris, 3.0 now has proper persistence so when players return to the game after leaving it, the ship will be in the same state you left it. In 3.0 all characters will utilise a modular clothing system, so any combination of clothes can be applied including armour types. The Mobiglass feature, which was disabled on the show floor demo, was then demonstrated. It’s a holo-UI display thing that tracks personal data, atmospheric data, missions and more.
In Star Citizen 3.0 there are said to be around 26 different mission archetypes and a “large amount of procedural missions”. In the future, players will be able to make mission offers to other players via the offers tab on the Mobiglass. The Mobiglass is basically the main interface to the game outside of ships.
The mouse wheel can be used to control movement speed, and a hint system has also been added in 3.0 for new players. Moving around Levski, the main difference between this year and last was the presence of AI populating the area. 3.0 features basic AI and Roberts says it’s “just the beginning”. This year all the shops in Levski are now populated, and in 3.1 ships will be available to purchase too.
Miles Eckhart was the NPC we saw last year and this year he’s back to dish out another demo mission. Eckhart sent the mission detail to the player’s Mobiglass; a trip to retrieve a black box.
Next, something which is not going to be in 3.0. ‘Face Over IP’ will mimic the mouth movements of players as they talk into the mic and show the same movements on the character’s face. Player’s voices will sound more distant the further away they are from another player, and it’s also directional. CIG has been working with a company called Faceware to add their SDK into the game to make this possible. The crowd lapped this up with cheers and Chris moved on to demonstrate how this works. It will work with a standard webcam. Not only that, the camera will track head movements which will be translated onto the character in the game.
This section was a little weird because it was partially scripted and ad-libbed by the guys doing the demonstration. The script writers should be fired.
It was then time to seek out the third player, John (a pilot for this black box mission), and pick up some ship items. Heading upwards in the station an Ursa rover was summoned and suits were applied to the characters via the Mobiglass. Once the suit was on, the voices changed tone as it was all being filtered over comms inside from the helmets on the characters.
Entering the Rover you get a good look outside of the station and it was also time to demonstrate what would happen if a player removed his helmet on the Mobiglass readout. The Mobiglass was then used to call another player, who appears in video form in the Comms section of the Mobiglass, which was a nice immersive touch. The Rover then meet up with John in his Constellation ship as it landed on the surface. John lowered the cargo for the Rover to enter the ship.
With the three players now aboard, they took their positions in the cockpit and flew away from the asteroid surface showing how much Delamar has improved from last year’s demo. According to Roberts, one of the craters on the surface of the asteroid could fit the entirety of Skyrim inside it (no comment on whether it would fit all of Skyrim’s functioning gameplay mechanics). Delamar is one of the smaller planetoids in the game. It doesn’t really matter how big it is if there’s nothing in it though.
Crash alert! The game suddenly crashed and the pilot was disconnected from the game. Whoops. Another player then had to step in and take the controls of the ship and try and recover the demo. Roberts came up with a few suggestions to try and salvage the demo eventually suggesting they should “roll it from the start” and messaging down the mic “do not show the loading screen”. Roberts paced up and down the stage mumbling into his headset. Oh dear. We have to do it all over again, but thankfully without all the terrible dialogue between players.
This took some time with Roberts issuing orders such as “Paul, please get off the loading screen” as he continued to pace the stage, covering his mic. Sadly it wasn’t a hot mic because Jared or another minion was probably getting told to get shit together.
The stream cuts out to a ship trailer to save any further embarrassment should anyone be tuning in late.
More minutes pass…
Finally, we are back! The demo team now rush through the demo as fast as possible dispensing with some of the chit-chat to get back to where they were.
OK, back to the ship. To try to avoid another crash the two players did not take to the co-pilot seats in the cockpit this time. This was obviously a factor in the last crash for some reason. This time the jump worked. The demo could continue.
The crew and ship moved slowly toward the planet, and this was when we could actually see some planetary landing action. The ship broke the atmosphere right above where the mission wreckage would be, which of course was no coincidence.
Once on the surface, the Ursa Rover was deployed from the ship and it moved out toward the wreckage to find the black box. Equipping weapons, the two crew moved through the wreckage of the ship. Ta-da! A big red box is found in the middle of a corridor which was picked up and carried by one of the players. But wait! Surely something was going to happen? Aha! An ambush as first the Ursa rover comes under fire, and then John’s ship. John is now toast. He’s gone! Noooo. RIP John.
Meanwhile, the guys in the rover are driving away as fast as possible with the back door open while one of them tries to shoot down the pursuing ship. Yes! With a couple of very suspicious looking shots from a much-discussed Rail Gun the ship down. While all this is going on Chris Roberts continues to drop hints that perhaps they should call for some help. Help is now on the way as an aerial battle above the surface continues. Help arrives, the enemy is down, and all is well again in the universe. The mission is saved and their ride has arrived. It’s the first capital ship that’s working in the game; the Idris.
No wait! Disaster! For some reason they can’t pilot the rover on to the ramp of the Idris. After three attempts it literally falls apart at the foot of the ramp. Oh dear.
We also just noticed that they have left Melissa behind because she must have died in that unscripted rover accident. What bastards.
Where is the black box? Did the mission properly end? We have no idea, but the demo was a bit of a mess.
Roberts returns to the stage to try and explain why some things are broken. But getting a rover up a ramp is not exactly “pushing it” as Roberts implies.
3.0 Details and Facial stuff
The 3.0 update comes with a new launcher with UI improvements; now downloading will be faster for everyone. They are still working on the Spectrum stuff which Roberts says is the backbone for face and voice data.
A Faceware video was then shown, explaining the tech behind the facial animation features. This also means CIG can sell their own webcam that, apparently, is super at capturing facial expression in low-light environments and at high framerates. What a happy coincidence. Another way for backers to burn their money ahead of release.
There’s no doubt it’s quite impressive technology but is it really that important? We have seen Star Trek Bridge Crew use a similar idea for mic and lip syncing which does not require a fancy camera.
Back to the demo
Roberts moved back to the Star Citizen demo on board the large Idris capital ship. Oh look! Melissa is alive somehow. Resurrection tech confirmed.
The captain sets a course for Yela and Grim Hex. It looks like the mission is still on despite the rover crash, Melissa dying, and the black box which mysteriously vanished. Apparently, the black box was stolen by the captain of another enemy ship. Nothing makes much sense any more, but it’s time for some space combat so who cares?
The gun turrets are manned and a low FPS battle ensues between the two ships. It’s a jerky experience at times and not that enthralling to watch from the outside of the ship. The ship landing inside the Idris looked good though, and was probably quite difficult to do.
Wait! There’s more
The same battle was then going be replayed, but this time any side could win (“no Stormtrooper shooting,” says Roberts). While we waited for the hamsters to replenish themselves inside the demo PCs, Roberts said that they have only had capital ships fighting each other for about a week. Roberts was asked how long it would be until players could do this. Roberts did not respond.
To conclude, this was another rehearsed and choreographed Star Citizen game demo that at times looked impressive and at other times looked an absolute mess. With 3.0 supposedly just around the corner, there’s obviously still work to be done on much of what was shown. Roberts has been very careful not to say when features that were shown on this demo would appear. Even in this demo, the game looked juddery and framerates must have been dropping below 10 FPS at times. This is a shame because it can look great when it actually works. Yes, it’s still in ‘alpha’, but let’s not forget that we are now five years into this project.
The facial tracking is an interesting addition, but is it really that important considering how much foundational work remains to be done? Still, it’s a good way for CIG to rake in extra money on selling webcams and, presumably, pick up some investment from Faceware.
The bottom line is this: the die-hard Star Citizen fans are going to lap up this Gamescom demo, but the more skeptical will have hoped to see something a lot more polished.
If you missed the stream you can watch it below. Because the game crashed there was a long period of nothing and a re-run of the same content. To save time, we have edited out the rerun which featured no new content or commentary. This should save you around 20 minutes or more viewing time. If you want to watch the full thing, re-run, crash stuff etc, watch the second video.