• 21, November, 2017

Looking at the tech behind Star Citizen

Space games have seen a resurgence over the past 3 years. Titles such as Elite Dangerous and No Man’s Sky making their way from concept to full completion. Elite dangerous was successfully crowd funded and is now a great space adventure with emphasis on piloting, exploration and discovery. No Man’s Sky was a more experimental procedurally generated game that gained much criticism over its release due to un-kept promises by its developer. In both cases, those games attracted enough crowds to make them a success. However some of us have been patiently waiting for another game to make its way out of alpha stage: Star Citizen.

What is Star Citizen?

Star Citizen is a very ambitious space game lead by Cloud Imperium. It started as a crowd-funded project, but unlike some other kick-starters, Star Citizen has reached a point where the funding has completely exceeded expectations; racking in $150 million by May 2017 and completely overpassing its original target. As a result, the game developers have raised their ambitions and are creating a game which will go much further than its intended scope. It won’t be just a spaceship battle game, but instead a fully-fledged multi-player universe where players can combat, explore planets, mine resources; and so much more. The game was originally slated for release in 2014 and whilst some have been worrying about the development taking so long; most people are actually happy that the developers are not trying to rush a product out of the door. Instead, the developers are focusing on making it the best game they can.

Modular development

The team at Cloud Imperium is using a modular approach to their development. Development focuses on one specific area of the game, then moves on to the next. The first module to be created for Star Citizen was the Hangar Module; creating hangars for the spaceships so that the players could actually visit and explore their ships from a first person point of view.

The second module is called Arena Commander. Backers of the game could pilot their ships and engage into combat both in PVP (Player vs player) and PVE (Player versus environment). This was a great way to get people to test multiplayer combat, as well as testing the AI (Artificial Intelligence) of the game.

The third module in development is called Star Marine, and focuses on the FPS (First Person Shooter) aspect of the game. It also introduces gravity features for first person combat, as well as other physics features to simulate the space environment outside of a spaceship.

The fourth module that is being worked on and has been said to make its way through version 3.0 of Star Citizen alpha is Planetary Landings. It will introduce the possibility of landing as well as mining planets for resources; along with more features to that effect.

This modular approach to development allows Cloud Imperium to stay focused on specific aspects of the game. It also allows the games backers to test those features and report on any bugs, along with suggesting improvements. Rather than spreading the development team too thinly around countless tasks, there is instead a focus on those particular areas to make sure that they are made right. As Star Citizen is such a wide and ambitious project, it is great to see that the development stays concise. This modular approach allows the production not to get lost into countless development cycles.

A change of engine

Star Citizen was originally developed using Crytek’s CryEngine. This gaming development platform is known for its high visual graphics and was made popular through the early Far Cry games as well as the robust Crysis series. The original Crysis was a challenge for many computers to run upon its release, and the later instalments of the series are still being used today to benchmark modern hardware. To put this into perspective; Crysis 3 was released in 2013 and yet tech tubers still use this game when measuring modern GPU performances.

However due to the issues faced by Crytek in 2016, Cloud Imperium decided to switch development onto the Amazon Lumberyard platform. This platform is based on CryEngine’s architecture but licensed by Amazon. It might sound strange to hear that Amazon is into game development, but after all they do have their hands in as many pockets as they can. In this particular case, Lumberyard is made to allow developers to use Amazon’s servers as a way to build and host their games. Furthermore, those servers also serve as a host for Twitch streaming.

With the current gaming climate, it is no surprise that Cloud Imperium changed to a more bankable platform provider. Using Amazon’s fast servers for online multiplayer and streaming does make a lot of sense. After all, streaming games is probably one of the best ways to have your game publicised with few costs on the developer end; instead relying on YouTubers and Twitch streamers to pass the good word around. This also goes in line with the plans for making Star Citizen a persistent universe, and using Amazon’s online servers will save a few headaches further down the line.

APIs and future optimization

At the current time of writing, Star Citizen runs on the latest versions of Windows (7 to 10) and is available for PC only. It currently only supports the Directx11 API (Application Programming Interface) but the developers have announced that they plan to implement the new Directx12 API, as well as the Vulkan API.

It would be great to see the implementation of Vulkan, especially with the game’s demanding engine. Vulkan takes out less overhead than the more popular and used OpenGL as it offers more direct control over GPU and CPU usage without having to go through many layers of software. Essentially Vulkan can take place at a hardware level; thus removing those overheads. This implementation should allow users with mid-ranged PC to have a more playable experience. We hope this will be the case because at the moment, you need to be sporting a good rig with a GTX 1070+ to get some good visual fidelity and some decent framerates out of the Star Citizen Alpha.

An expanding team

Starting from a small developer studio led by Chris Roberts, Cloud Imperium now has studios in Los Angeles (U.S.A), Austin (U.S.A), Montreal (Canada), Frankfurt (Germany) and Manchester (United Kingdom). It is safe to say that a lot of work is being put into the game, and the expansion of the team only reflects the increased budget that is available. Cloud Imperium does not want this to be another failed Kickstarter, they seem determined to deliver the best game they can whilst showing a great understanding of how to work with such large-scoped project. The evolution of Star Citizen shows ambition, ideas, but also a technical understanding of how things work in the gaming development industry. The developers are keeping their promises whilst managing their backer’s and fan base’s expectations. In this case, a slow but steady curve is the right approach.

  • Yonas

    Great article. Well researched. +1

    • Jean Lewis

      Thank you Yonas, we hope to be doing more research on the game in the
      near future, no doubt there are other interesting elements to be covered
      🙂

  • AStormApproaches

    If you would like a refund for this failed videogame project, follow these simple steps:

    1) Create an offline copy of your hangar log and other account details. CIG may close your account at any point in the process.

    2) Calculate the expected refund amount. Subscriptions, tickets to events and shipped physical items are not refundable. Notice that if you have received any gifts, CIG will refund you only up to the amount you have spent yourself.

    3) Request a full refund via email. Be polite but firm. Include your RSI account name and the expected refund amount, and give them a reasonable deadline (two weeks is fine).

    4) You may receive an email asking you to reconsider. There’s no need to argue your position, simple “I would like to proceed with my refund” will do.

    That’s it!

    • Jean Lewis

      Hi AStormApproaches, thank you very much for the info, it will come in handy for backers who feel unhappy about Star Citizen. We can totally apreciate your point of view. Feel free to let us know what makes you feel that way, It’s always good to have a balanced view on things 🙂

      • Scion

        Please note, this guy’s entire account is dedicated to slamming Star Citizen. Check his post history and you’ll see this individual is on a personal mission to attack the project on any news article about it.

        • Jean Lewis

          Hi Scion, thanks for sharing this. Ultimately all points of view are good to hear, it takes a bit of everything to make a world; or in this case a whole universe 🙂 We need both sides of the equation, even if that can lend to a few extreme opinions. Ultimately, there is a lot of passion for Star Citizen; and it can create emotional responses but that’s all good; freedom of speech and all… 🙂

          • Scion

            I fully agreed that multiple views are critical towards greater understanding. That zealotry, in all it’s forms, is not healthy to debate. Someone who has spent nearly a year dedicated to discrediting the game is a flag for ill intentions.

            AStormApproaches’s post is clearly just using this article as a springboard to further his message of refunds to your readers rather than discussing the article itself.

            Hence my post, to let others be aware of that. 🙂

          • Jean Lewis

            Thank you for making us aware of this; and yes I agree, I prefer a healthy debate myself. Maybe the person will explain their point of view in further depth, or maybe not. But either way, your comment helps us and readers to understand the nature of the post better; so thanks for the heads up 🙂

          • Carl Weatherford

            condisdering the doxing,death threats and slander cig/chris and his family have recived from multiple people just like AStormApproaches you should be careful who you thank.

            on a more positive note good article!

          • Jean Lewis

            Thank you for the positive note! I appreciate what you’re saying here. A ‘thank you’ is not as much a form of endorsement as it is a way to say ‘thanks for sharing this with us’. I can’t obviously associate everyone who feels negatively about the game as being capable of sending threats. So far the person is just being informative / not flaming others / not directly antagonizing people. Every game has its haters; but I feel it’s okay to hear both sides. It’s a shame some people will go to some extreme lengths like sending death threats; or even dedicating all their to a slander campaign. It’s something that happens with books, music, movies and games. But as long as people stay civil here on the comment section, then maybe we can discuss those things and try to understand each other better 🙂

          • dolkensp

            At some point – you have to recognize that someone that has spent a year following a game, just to attack it every chance they get, probably doesn’t believe what they’re saying.

            If they truly felt that the game had no hope of ever coming to fruition, then they would have moved on.

            Instead, they’re still around, trying to self-fulfil their prophecy. And perhaps, just maybe, truly just hoping that they were wrong all along.

        • AndrewLB

          I wonder which publisher he is an employee of…

          And before anyone says it, there is absolutely no conspiracy here. Video game publishers see Star Citizen as the biggest threat to their existence they’ve ever encountered, and they’re not going to sit idly by and let Star Citizen succeed or fail on its own. Identifying these individuals is not very difficult because they all stick to the same talking points about the game being a scam, they’re out of money, and how it will never be released. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people out there who post similar complaints and aren’t shills for game publishers. They largely fall into the category of social reject who hates seeing others go above and beyond the status quo to achieve greatness because they themselves never will.

          About a year ago, a great youtube video popped up explaining far better than I have, these people whom the narrator describes as “poppycutters”. Check it out:
          https://youtu.be/qUddm0S3LRI

  • Blazed Always

    Great write up, cheers fellas!

    • Jean Lewis

      Thank you Blazed Always; we will try to follow up on this article!

  • Godin Intaki

    On the request of a good man, I’m going to examine this article. This should be good 😛

    “Titles such as Elite Dangerous and No Man’s Sky making their way from concept to full completion. ”

    This is somewhat of an odd sentence considering that both of these titles are out, but you’re not wrong, in the sense that both titles are currently glorified Alphas.

    “Elite dangerous was successfully crowd funded and is now a great space adventure”

    This is a really odd statement given that what makes adventures in any form of media good is the journeys, which E:D is terrible at. E:D is all about destinations, which is partly why I refer to it often as “Screenshot simulator”.

    “racking in $150 million by May 2017 and completely overpassing its original target. As a result, the game developers have raised their ambitions and are creating a game which will go much further than its intended scope.”

    This is another odd statement, as how it reads, the missing of the estimated release date was the reason why CIG expanded the scope, when that’s halfway incorrect (there’s really a multitude of reasons why they have, some of which, like how they had the community vote on it, weren’t listed).

    “Development focuses on one specific area of the game, then moves on to the next. ”

    That’s not really why “modules” were created, or how they are developed upon; modules were created to setup test beds, focused areas to more easily make design changes with certain aspects to the game (ex. the 2.0 and 2.6 flight changes coming out of AC). Additionally, CIG pretty much works on them at the same time, not just “develop and move on to the next module”. CIG makes iterative changes to them in order to eventually connect them how they should be properly connected in The Verse’ (ex. SM and AC are accessible from in the PU as mini games).

    Also, if you’re going to order them, it’d make more sense to order them how they came out, which would’ve had the PU as the Fourth module (You forgot about the “Social Module”, aka Area 18, Arccorp).

    “Rather than spreading the development team too thinly around countless tasks, there is instead a focus on those particular areas to make sure that they are made right. As Star Citizen is such a wide and ambitious project, it is great to see that the development stays concise. This modular approach allows the production not to get lost into countless development cycles.”

    Considering that CIG’s over 400 strong and growing, on top of having several employees covering these specific fields, this isn’t really an issue.

    “The original Crysis was a challenge for many computers to run upon its release”

    This is a myth. People could run Crysis or any CE game, it just scaled REALLY well (in that you could play on low and get pretty decent frame rates and such, but max the settings, and you better have the power to push it).

    “and the later instalments of the series are still being used today to benchmark modern hardware.”

    Though they aren’t really good benchmarks anymore, given that for CPU’s they don’t really utilize modern advancements, nor GPU advancements from any brand.

    “However due to the issues faced by Crytek in 2016, Cloud Imperium decided to switch development onto the Amazon Lumberyard platform.”

    The issue with Crytek had nothing to do with why CIG “swapped” over to LY. In fact, even if LY existed, CIG wouldn’t have been affected anyways, as they haven’t gotten another build from Crytek since 3.2

    This is the real reason:

    “While based on the same baseline technology as Star Citizen, Lumberyard is specifically designed for online games, utilizing the power of Amazon’s AWS Cloud Services and their Twitch streaming platform. Amazon’s focus aligns perfectly to ours as we’ve been making significant engineering investments into next generation online networking and cloud based servers. Making the transition to Lumberyard and AWS has been very easy and has not delayed any of our work, as broadly, the technology switch was a ‘like-for-like’ change, which is now complete.

    As an added benefit Amazon AWS data centers are spread around the world from North America to South America, Europe to China to Asia Pacific, which will allow us to better support the many backers across the globe as we scale up Star Citizen.

    Finally, Amazon has made Lumberyard freely available for anyone building their own game. That means that technically-inclined members of the community can have a better view ‘under the hood’ of our game than ever before. It’s also a great path for anyone interested in game development professionally; I fully anticipate that in the coming year we will be hiring programmers who have taught themselves using Amazon’s Lumberyard resources!”

    TL;DR: CIG “switched” because it’s insanely scalable, and Amazon says that they’re willing to work with CIG on things.

    “but licensed by Amazon.”

    Amazon bought a license saying that they can distribute LY any way they see fit, just like CIG did. However, Amazon doesn’t license LY; in fact, Amazon says that it’s completely free to use.

    “but the developers have announced that they plan to implement the new Directx12 API”

    DX12 will no longer be supported, CIG’s currently going for full Vulkan support.

    “Essentially Vulkan can take place at a hardware level”

    It’s not quite “hardware level”, that would be insane for compatibility.

    “because at the moment, you need to be sporting a good rig with a GTX 1070+ to get some good visual fidelity and some decent framerates out of the Star Citizen Alpha.”

    This is due to

    1: Nvidia seeming to be terrible at unoptimized software

    2: There being a issue with, what seems to me network throughput being bad, inherent to the netcode, which could be caused by legacy code being bad.

    Considering it was mainly designed for singleplayer games (CE that is), that isn’t shocking.

    “Starting from a small developer studio led by Chris Roberts, Cloud Imperium now has studios in Los Angeles (U.S.A), Austin (U.S.A), Montreal (Canada), Frankfurt (Germany) and Manchester (United Kingdom).”

    Montreal isn’t CIG, that’s Turbulent, a different company helping CIG out with web design stuffz.

    And that’s about all I can personally find. Take all of this however you please 😀

    • Jean Lewis

      Hi Godin Intaki; thank you for sharing all this info with us; great research skills. This article was looking at a certain certain surface level, so I can really appreciate all the depth you are going into. Your comments goes a long way into explaining things in more depth 🙂

      • Godin Intaki

        np 😀

  • Essen

    Thanks for putting this together, and to the knowledgeable backers contributing clarifications, corrections and perspective.

    • Jean Lewis

      Thank you Essen, and I fully agree, thank you to Godin Intaki for bringing corrections and more depth to the article

  • R0bJoy

    One small correction I noticed right off regarding API.
    CIG officially stated that they are going to skip DirectX 12 entirely and fully focus on Vuklan, because they want to be able to support Windows 7, 8 AND Linux.
    Also, they are dropping support for DirectX 11 at that.
    So only Vulkan.

  • Tufao

    Sorry Jean. The only thing that they have been doing is create excuses to make it take longer to deliver meaningful features that would give to people a better insight of how this game would play. In other words, they sell hype and people who are paying for it, or does not know the history of this development and dev lead, and his past failures, or are on it confusing reality with theorycrafting, much of this caused by their entertainment shows performed in a weekly basis and their forums.
    Their whole focus is to milk whales, feeding their dreams and their need/wish more to theorycraft things than play an actual game, otherwise, they definitely would see and act differently.
    That’s why this game have to sell JPEG’s of ships with ticket prices like 250 dollars, 1500, 2000 dollars and so on. It’s not diffiicult to see that many could be using just as money laundering.
    Such ridiculous prices for non-existent in-game assets of a non-existent game (all that exists is a tech demo with 0.5% of the features promised there, and those still not finished) is the ultimate proof that this game is sustained by a few, while all the rest just felt in one of their marketing traps, shows, drop some money, and then figued out the level of clows that they are, always failing to keep their promises and to deliver on time, and uninstalled or asked refund.
    It’s not hard to notice that just very people follow them and how their numbers in dollars grow, by an average of 2000-5000 whales buying their stuff or paying for their subscriptions.
    The game already achieved an impossible level of feature creep that jeopardized its original design entirely, just to try to catch up on features and universe expanded of Elite Dangerous, NMS and others.
    These white-knights have no brain cells anymore and just repeat all that the SC marketing says. Sometimes, they even make claims like “Oh, ED have planets to explore and nothing to do, SC is much better because have more focus in what matters”… and then, after Roberts pursuited NMS and ED the same people said “Oh, SC is so awesome, can’t wait to explore planets” LoL
    They abandoned ideas that would make this game, actually, feasible. Now, its just a show for a few desperate fans suffering of sunk cost falacy, buying 2500 dollars capital ships that never will have a purpose or work in the game in the MMO env and level of fidelity proposed.
    It’s a consumer scam. Nothing more than that. Roberts would have to cancel this failed project, wasn’t by these insane salesl of JPEGs.
    THAT IS FACT!

    • Godin Intaki

      I’d like to see you try and prove these “facts” in a court.

      • Tufao

        Basic mathematics? They sell very very expensive JPEG’s and their money comes from it. If more people bought that, instead just a few whales, they would have billions, not 150m dollars. But I guess you need a “court of law” to know about basic mathematics?

        It’s also know that 0.5% of the game is in the people’s machine. They promised 100+ systems. There is not even one there. And all the features, even the basic ones are not there yet. Just barebones and things that cannot be considered finished. They say “Alpha”, “everything is subject to change”. They don’t say: “This is finished”. For anything that was “delivered”. And that has been after 6 y of development as Roberts himself confirmed that worked for an year before the crowdfunidng, when made claims that had a “pretty advanced prototype” with “most of the features” that were needed to make a Wing Commander type of game. His words said in 2012, in more than one interview, to convince people that he could be able to deliver all his promises in two years. He also said that the stretch goals meaning, was to make sure that the game was delivered in two years. Three years passed that schedule, not even 0.5% came out.
        Its pretty much a joke… all this project. A full party of false advertising, deceptive marketing and a few desperate whales holding the whole thing by themselves, spending thousand and thousands of dollars, in general, to pretend that this is “successfull”.
        Wasn’t by it, by these insane JPEG sales that just a few buy, they wouldn’t have been even funded.
        In other words. This has been a fail masked by a few rich desperate whales as a “success” from the beginning and continue to be.
        Different from games that just kickstarted by people, selling basic packages of usual market prices and that’s it. And were fully funded and were already delivered by the way, and in the case of ED for example, made this project a total shame.
        Those are successfull stories.
        This one is just an abuse of crowdfunding and a total disrespect to consumers in general, who believed in the words of these clowns.
        They have 150 million dollars in debt and while the game-as-described never will be released and just something else will be, Roberts and Sandi couple spend a good time watching the GP of Monaco, probably at the cost of backers.
        Meanwhile, the 3.0 patch promised for December of the last year, never came out and now, repeating the approaches used before to keep people tied and believing, they built a fake public schedule that obviously, is not respected at all, and its just a joke, since each week, they add another week of delay to the top of the previous delays.
        And besides all that, there are possible leaks that a different internal schedule exists and it claims to have a release of SQ42 and SC only after 2021. And that is still is just a hope, because they have to figure out solutions that still does not exist to support what they promised to do and was set and advertised in the past.
        But to solve that, they usually try to rewrite the past and say that what was said in the past was different. They lie without any shame, considering that most of their lies can be noticed by those who check. Of course, as it is a game and most of people don’t check, some still give them a pass, instead stopping to give pass to obvious consumer scammers like these.

        • Joe_Blober

          To Readers. Tufao here below posting comment, also known as “Manze” is a “broken soul” seeing Jpges everywhere… but not able to see the team and amazing techs behind those moving jpges called… Alpha 🙂

          A guy… with an hater agenda since he was banned from CIG 4 years ago. The first banned in history of CIG! for being toxic against CIG staff and Community, beyond any reasonnable level. The guy even have his own “Manze – Encyclopedia Dramatica” on internet 🙂

          Since then, him and a few guys rush on every single SC article to spread their Prophecies of Doom 🙂 So be prepared to see also a few other well known trolls popping out anytime soon 🙂

          Meanwhile CIG is providing and delivering quarter after quarter. Backers are the one to help build something no publishers will ever do… while some few others enjoy try to soil or destroy stuff… Sad people with poor behavior. trying to stop a train of +600.000 backers 🙂

        • Godin Intaki

          Oh, and I hear you like discussing VIOP?