Star Citizen Q&A - Electronic Warfare, Espionage, Mantle, More with Chris Roberts

By Published April 19, 2014 at 11:51 am

We've been following Star Citizen fairly extensively since its 2012 campaign. As journalists, part of the job is "discovering" games before they make it big; I always task writers with dedicating some portion of our time at PAX to discovering indie games, the hope being that one goes mainstream after we've made it in the door early. I vividly remember Star Citizen hitting the $800,000 mark on Kickstarter and feeling like I'd missed the boat for journalistic success -- it was at the height of its campaign and everyone else had already started talking about it. Even still, we linked up with CIG CEO & Chairman Chris Roberts to discuss technology in-depth (lots of hardware conversation in that link), which had been entirely unexplored up until that point. It's still one of my favorite articles I've worked on, and much of that content remains relevant through today. Funny how much I've learned since then, too.

Months later, we caught up with Roberts at PAX East 2013 shortly before a discussion panel (filmed). Fast forward to July, and we found ourselves at the Cloud Imperium Games office in Santa Monica. At this point, Roberts' next major goal was $21 million; that'd allow him the freedom of ditching private investors in favor of crowd-sourcing the entire game, he told us, and it was no longer a pipe dream to do so. Everyone in the room knew the funding target was on the horizon, it was just a matter of when. I don't think any of us could have told you that Star Citizen would be sitting at $42 million -- more than double our July meeting -- less than a year later.

And to think, I thought we'd missed our opportunity when it was at $800,000. The journey was just beginning for Chris Roberts and his rapidly-growing team; they wanted $2 million for a prototype to secure investors, but at over twenty times that initial demand, the scope has expanded substantially.

We just recently published an extensive look at Star Citizen's FPS mechanics and gameplay from a top-level (interview / discussion, no footage yet) that stemmed from PAX East. Just prior to that, we covered CIG's dogfighting module (DFM) unveil and Chris' post-presentation thoughts. In today's video interview, the last of our CIG coverage from PAX, Roberts answers several community questions on various development topics.

Star Citizen Community Q&A - Mantle / Dx12, PBR & Graphics, More 

You'll find a simplified list of questions, answers, the times they were asked, and the users who asked them just below.

In Case You Missed It: Star Citizen FPS Interview 

All of our Star Citizen Interviews up to Now 

For those who haven't been with us since the start, here's all of the major Star Citizen coverage we've published in coordination with Roberts thus far (chronological order):

Today's Community Q&A - Server Architecture, Mantle/Dx12, Multi-Crew Combat 

We had fifteen minutes left after the FPS interview, so in making good use of time, we shot this second video to run through a list of community questions. I threw a few of my own hardware questions in there (we are a hardware-oriented site, after all) for those of you interested in Dx12 and Mantle from the perspective of a large title developer. This is following-up on nVidia's recent aggressive efforts to invalidate the new AMD API by touting its Microsoft partnership.

Time Question Summary of Answer
0:28 Can you update us on the server back-end? CIG is still planning to use multiple server nodes to handle content delivery. The plan is to have a player data server, a system server, an instance server, etc. More below. All custom.
2:41 What are your plans pertaining to Mantle & Dx12 for development? CIG will be using both and has no particular allegiance to either API, they just want to bypass as much overhead as possible. General discussion on why Dx has been an issue in the past.
5:15 Can you put polygon count into perspective for us? As discussed previously, CIG is heavily-invested in high-poly modeling and will continue to use LOD'd high-poly models. Character models are 90k-100k polys, something like the Hornet is 300k+, Constellation is 1.5 million, etc. In CoD, you'll find that a lot of character models tend to be closer to 10k-30k polys.
7:23 You showed off a first-pass of PBR at the unveil... CR talks about physically-based rendering, graphics solutions in Star Citizen, and high-fidelity visuals.
7:45 Any plans for electronic & information warfare? Yes! Multi-crew combat on larger ships will likely involve support from an officer working on a battle station that has electronic warfare capabilities.
9:13 How are you making multi-crew combat interesting? See above. You'll also be running around to close off sections of the ship, make repairs, etc.
12:00 Will power diversion / repairs be handled through a UI or... Discussion on the above -- how most of these repairs and conflicts will not be automated.
12:25 Any thoughts on espionage? It will exist. There are plans to make espionage a possibility in-game between competing organizations.
12:40 Thoughts on population count & how players drop-in / drop-out? Discussed more heavily in the FPS video. Currently testing with 11 active players in the same conflict, but will expand as testing goes on. Drop-in / drop-out is handled on the instance server level and is based on several settings (as already discussed).


You'll get everything you need from the video interview. I've dropped in the 'current question' in the bottom left to facilitate video seeking. Let's recap a few interesting points.

Servers & Hardware 

In a previous discussion with Roberts, the concept of multiple server nodes configured in a similar fashion to a frontloaded CDN was discussed. The idea, at a top-level, was to frontload the central servers with region-specific servers, ideally eliminating at least some of the latency issues experienced between region-separated players. Now that things have progressed and funding has quadrupled since that discussion, the team has a better idea of how the server back-end is being built.

The plan is still to use multiple servers. Working top-down, we start with a cluster of persistent universe (PU) servers that can be thought of similar to website database servers. These servers hold all of the player data attached to the account: likes, dislikes, general status, information about that character and player, friends, and general items. Below this, the "system servers" deal with star system components and matchmaking players as they cross paths. Once players have crossed paths and been matched up (whether that's for PvP or just to have someone real to fly past), they'll pop into a local instance server together where all combat and interactions are resolved. All of this is custom and does not exist within CryEngine natively, though CIG is still using the netcode that ships with CryEngine.

On the side of APIs, Mantle and DirectX 12 are both being used (or will be used) by CIG. The team isn't picking sides in what nVidia wants to become an API war -- they just want the code to run as close to the hardware as possible and with minimal overhead. Roberts notes in the interview that Mantle gave Microsoft a kick in the pants to get moving on Dx12 and show us that it's alive and advancing, something that's good for the entire industry.

A Few Recapped Points 

I'll leave you all to the interview for the in-depth stuff, but we can quickly recap some key gameplay points below. Some of these were not discussed on camera -- like funding.

In the usual casual conversation after the interview, I asked Roberts for an update on funding and population count. It was just below $41 million (now past that) and had over 400,000 backers, each contributing an average of $100. "That must feel pretty good," I offered. The game's visionary agreed, telling me that he's excited to work with a model where he's got no creative stifling coming from above; Roberts is still ultimately making a game for himself as much as he's making one for Star Citizen's supporters, which I think speaks well to the personality of CIG as a company. Even with all this funding, they're still genuinely trying to make "the best game [they] possibly can with no compromise."

Most of the gameplay discussion was left to the earlier-linked FPS video, though we touched on a few things here. One interesting mechanical component was that of multi-crew combat, which I'm told will feature manual repairs and power diversion in the heat of the fight. We've already known about moving "power to shields" in Star Citizen, to steal from a popular show, but it was news to me that players would be running around the decks to replace fuses, manually close off sections of the ship, and make other repairs (containing a hull breach) in conflict. Roberts wants multi-crew combat to be one of the most engrossing gameplay components and is working to ensure battles don't get dull.

We also touched on electronic and information warfare. There wasn't much specificity to be had just yet, but Roberts did state that "in some ways, the big ship combat is almost like another game," highlighting that stations will be present for electronic warfare on larger vessels. Espionage is sort of along the same lines, but all we know now is that there will be some in-engine means for players to infiltrate competing organizations.

I brought up the topic of 'program creep' at one point. With web development experience and having worked with programmers, we often refer to a slow building of feature requests as "feature creep" or "program creep." This is normally applicable when you've got a hard deadline for delivery and the client asks for "just one more small thing." Then another. Then another. And eventually, you've given dozens of hours of work for free and have possibly sacrificed software integrity as a result.

With the funding growing and the list of features expanding in turn, I asked Roberts if he was concerned at all about "program creep" in Star Citizen. He mentioned that it's not really as much of a concern for two reasons: One, Star Citizen is being distributed online over time. A lot of the features being discussed now may not be in the game until post-launch in the form of patches, expansions, and updates. The core game still takes priority. Two, Star Citizen's team carefully analyzes each new stretch goal and feature to ensure it's achievable within budget (time and money).

A Reminder: This Game Isn't Done 

It's easy to get excited about Star Citizen. The game has some incredibly talented team members who've played major roles in the development of AAA titles, it's got funding, it's got vision, and it has a large community backing it. The ingredients for success are present -- but ingredients aren't enough to guarantee a good game.

At the $42 million point, with over $100 per backer on average, I want to take the opportunity to remind everyone that Star Citizen is still a game that's being made within technological and human (time, organization) confines. Just be careful how much you invest and don't get too hyped; no game can live up to the amount of hype that some players invest into them, so in interest of protecting your heart, just be cautious how deeply invested you are. Monetarily and emotionally. We've got a long way to go before Star Citizen is done.

That said, it's certainly shaping up to be one of the biggest productions in gaming's history.

If you've got questions for Chris and the team, leave them below and I'll check the comments before our next meeting. It could be a while, but if you leave them now, I'll add them to the list.

Find out more here:

- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.

Last modified on April 19, 2014 at 11:51 am
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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