Star Citizen: How Long Does it Take to Build a Universe?

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You might have seen articles about how Star Citizen funding has surpassed $200 million dollars (pcgamer – star citizen shoots past dollar 200 million in crowdfunding ahead of free week). Star Citizen is the largest crowd funded project ever, and the funding is still flowing in. Why? As noted in the article from PC Gamer, Star Citizen sells the dream of the perfect space game.

Star Citizen started in October of 2012 by Chris Roberts. Chris Roberts released space games in the 90s, including the Wing Commander franchise and the Privateer series. In 2003 he, as part of Digital Anvil, released Freelancer. People who’ve played his games in the past have a faith in him regarding producing Star Citizen and Squadron 42, the single player story game from the Star Citizen universe. People like Mark Hamill have worked with Chris Roberts in the past. Because of these things, people have confidence in the projects.

But then there are the other people, the skeptics, the trolls, the haters. Those people talk about how the project is the biggest scam in the world. It’s been more than almost 6 years since the start of the two projects. What’s taking so long? I did some research regarding time taken to develop some of the most acclaimed games in the past decade.

To quote Kotaku, “CD Projekt RED recently said it cost $81 million to create and promote The Witcher 3 over three and a half years of development.” Skyrim took approximately four years, and cost around 100 million dollars according to Quora. You can check out a list of other game development costs here:

List of Most Expensive Video Games to Develop

PC Gamer didn’t get into comparing other game development costs and development times. Roberts Space Industries includes two Games, not one. Star Citizen and Squadron 42. That neither game has been released yet shouldn’t be a concern when considering the time it’s taken to develop other games, and in consideration of the scope of the games when compared to others. We’re talking about something far larger than Skyrim in both quests and exploration area – not just open continent on one world, but open universe. Conceptualize that.

No other AAA game development has been so open with process. Star Citizen project management gives the supporters the ability to pick the prioritization for bug fixes through the issue council. This is something that No Man’s Sky could have used to avoid their launch troubles. They’ve still not fully recovered from that bomb.

Some other games have tried to fill in the space game market, like Elite Dangerous, but fall short of what people want in an open-universe space game. Star Citizen and Squadron 42 open project management will ensure that the supporter enthusiasts will be able to create the exact game that so many have been looking for, or will it?

In many people’s eyes nothing stated so far justifies why it’s taken so long. People want to know where Foundry 42 / Cloud Imperium Games have spent the money that they’ve pledged. People also want to know what’s going on with Squadron 42. Yesterday that information was published in this article from You can find the financial information here on the official site: historical financials with the roadmap to Squadron 42 here:

This new information relieves some of those who’ve been concerned, but others might continue to hold a doubting Thomas perspective, maintaining there’s not enough empirical evidence. So, again, why has it taken so long to develop these two games?

I’ve heard rumors that Foundry 42 started with ten people working on the projects. While I’ve not found any validating documentation to that statement, I can agree that it takes time to grow a company to almost four hundred employees (established through research on Foundary 42 and Cloud Imperium total employees shown through linked in: 394). I’ve heard statements made that there’s currently over five hundred employees, but I can’t validate that number.

Now I’m going to take you into the complexities of development. Generally devs don’t get into the details of their development challenges because it’s often very hard to put the issues they face in relate-able terms for the audience. However, my development experience and my strong interest in linguistics has given me the ability to do a translation of sorts in that area, so here goes.

You’re sitting in front of the tv in the morning with a cup of coffee sitting on the table next to you. While watching tv, you reach over and pick up that hot cup of coffee and take a sip, only briefly moving your eyes from the tv to look down immediately when you move the cup to your lips. You looking at the coffee takes less than half a second. The rest is done almost on autopilot.

Think of all the motion that happens during the time it takes to reach for the cup, pick it up, move it to your lips, then angle the cup to pour coffee in your face. If you move your hand too far when reaching for the cup, you knock that hot cup of coffee over onto the table. if you don’t close your hand around the cup in the right place, or tight enough, then you again spill the coffee, perhaps onto yourself as you pull it to your lips. if you don’t tilt the cup at the right time, you end up spilling the coffee again. So many details to keep track of, but we do it almost without thinking.

The one thing we have that the game doesn’t is a built-in managing system. We have our muscle memory, which is essentially a ton of stored animation calls. And we have a command manager, which includes telling our muscles when to do actions, thereby tilting that cup of coffee after bringing it to our lips to drink. In multi-threaded game development, the developers must create those same managers from scratch because multi-threaded programming is still relatively new in game development.

What’s all this have to do with why development for Star Citizen and Squadron 42 has been slow? Star Citizen started off using Cryengine. Cryengine at the time still used Lua as a scripting language, which doesn’t handle multi-threaded programming, thereby sparking an internal re-write of the engine by Cloud Imperium Games while using Amazon’s Lumberyard for networking infrastructure. (Cryengine has since moved away from Lua, to move toward multi-threaded functionality using C++). I’ve done some research about Lua, finding that while Lua does have multi-threaded functionality, it’s not developed enough at this time for intense gaming.

In short, Cloud Imperium Games decided it needed to write features from scratch. It takes quite a long time to develop a well designed game engine. Look how long it’s taken Unity to get where it’s at now, and Unity started off with a focus on developing the engine. Cryengine came from Crytek needing to develop technology for the Crysis games, published through EA. They were in the business of producing games. They weren’t focused on making a well polished game engine.

Now i’ll briefly talk about the complexities of creating 3d models. These videos show the process for Blender Character Modeling. As you can see from this, it takes quite some time for just the 3d mesh itself, without texturing, mapping, animation rigging, weighting, and texture unwrapping. And again, even more time for the animations themselves.

You might think, “but a space ship doesn’t take that much to make.” Yes, it does, and more because you’re making many many moving parts that interact with each other through physics in some cases (like elevators, chairs, doors, etc). The scale of some of the ships both games include is staggering to consider. And then we get to the big thing called space. Thinking about what goes into rendering a universe in real time for game play at sixty frames per second without any loading screens can be staggering, and requires multiple skill-sets to create.

If at this point you’re still stuck on “Why isn’t Star Citizen done yet?” or “You’ve still not proved to me that it’s not a scam.” or “I still don’t see enough details showing that they didn’t use the finances only for the game,” you’re being cautious, which is fine. You want to see the Universe unfold. I was that person until recently. I remember where they were when I first created an account. I remember where they were when I checked in last, almost a year ago. I see where they are today. We each decide what risks we’ll take in life, and I decided I want to be a part of helping shape the future of Star Citizen while I can.

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