Let’s get two things out of the way upfront: I love space combat sims, and I love Chris Roberts’ work, specifically. The original Wing Commander games are some of my all-time favorites. With that said, development on Star Citizen’s Squadron 42 — that’s the single-player component of the title — is, to all appearances, a train wreck.
Fans and backers of the game have been requesting an update on where Squadron 42 stood for months. Cloud Imperium Games, the developer behind Star Citizen, publishes regular monthly diaries that offer some insight into the single-player game’s development, but offer virtually nothing in terms of an over-arching roadmap.
Cloud Imperium wants its users to know that it has heard their issues loud and clear. That’s why the company is promising to publish a roadmap for its roadmap.
No, really. That’s what they’ve promised. CIG intends to deliver the following:
1. Give an explanation of the goals of our new Roadmap and what to expect from it
2. Show a rough mockup of the proposed new Roadmap
3. Share a work in progress version of the Roadmap for at least one of our core teams
4. Transition to this new Roadmap
This entire issue arose in March, when CIG admitted in a forum post that its existing roadmap doesn’t properly show the progress it has made on its own game. As a result, it wants to overhaul how it communicates its progress to players. Nothing wrong with additional transparency — provided, of course, that it’s eventually delivered. So far, all that’s been released is a literal roadmap for the development of a roadmap. The four bullet points above apparently took five months to write.
While the various monthly updates contain a fair amount of information, the information isn’t presented in a context that allows the reader to draw conclusions about how much work is left to do in the game or when the title might actually ship.
Is Doing Everything the Best Idea?
Whenever we discuss Star Citizen’s delays and development time, certain fans are quick to leap to its defense with the argument that no game has ever done anything like it and therefore the entire situation is reasonable and fine. In reality, it’s been a decade since Star Citizen began development, eight years since its Kickstarter, and five years since Squadron 42’s original release date. It’s not unfair to be asking if Chris Roberts can ever deliver the project he promised.
Star Citizen famously wants to be a game with unparalleled depth and scale, but at a certain point, it’s worth asking if smaller, more targeted projects would yield better results. One of the biggest reasons for Duke Nukem Forever’s endless delays was a combination of feature creep and aging engines. As the delays stretched out, 3D Realms had to port the game to new engines more than once, delaying the product even more.
Many of the milestones listed in the CIG development diaries suggest core systems of the game are being overhauled for exactly this reason. There are multiple references to the ongoing work being done to add Vulkan support, for example. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with supporting Vulkan, but the API is only four years old. If Star Citizen had hit its initial launch dates, Vulkan support would’ve been an aftermarket addition. Instead, the company is developing a Vulkan renderer, dubbed Gen12, now to keep its own product current. Except, that effort actually launched in 2017, so why isn’t the renderer done yet?
“We will publish the full roadmap to Squadron 42’s release in December.”
That quote is from CIG, but it’s dated December 2018. Needless to say, the “full roadmap” the company promised never materialized. If Star Citizen cannot figure out how to communicate its development schedule in a simplified form to its backers, how is it going to handle the incredibly complex task of integrating all of the features for the game?
Waiting five months to tell fans you’ve written a roadmap for a roadmap is a bad move on CIG’s part. Best-case, it paints CIG as incapable of effective project management. Worst-case, it raises questions of whether the various teams are in effective communication with each other.
If you can’t build a game in a decade when handed $306M, perhaps you shouldn’t be making a game in the first place. Not, at least, until you’ve got a better idea and an actual plan to deliver the product.
Squadron 42, like Star Citizen, has no release date. Perhaps when CIG is finished with the roadmap for the roadmap, they could give us a timeline for the timeline. I love Chris Roberts’ single-player storytelling, but I don’t have much faith in his ability to bring Star Citizen’s disparate parts together in the cohesive whole he’s promised his fans. I’d have sooner had a smaller Squadron 42 with several mission packs or full-blown sequels out of that $306M than one single uber-simulator that may never function as intended due to the sheer complexity of its own design. You don’t have to think Chris Roberts is a scam artist to believe the project has gone badly off the rails, and he wouldn’t be the first game developer to get stuck in the weeds this way.
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