Ascent’s lead dev offers insight on the Star Citizen controversy

Last week, the Massively OP podcast hosted guest James Hicks, the developer behind impressive indie space sandbox MMO Ascent: The Space Game. You won’t be surprised to learn that the kind of insane dev who takes on a sandbox MMO solo — and prospers to grow his team and lead a successful Kickstarter — is also the kind of insane dev who has a deep understanding of the technical issues facing MMO developers, particularly of the internet spaceships variety.

In response to our community’s criticism of his comments on Star Citizen on the ‘cast, Hicks wanted the opportunity to expand his thoughts on Star Citizen beyond what we had space for on the podcast, so we are happy to publish today a dev blog penned by him on that very topic. Read on for some measured insight from a developer who considers both Chris Roberts and Derek Smart his personal heroes.

On the status of the Star Citizen project: A professional opinion from Ascent: The Space Game’s James Hicks

The technical concerns

In June this year, Cloud Imperium Games made an offhand announcement to the effect that it had almost finished getting its game engine to operate in 64bit 3D space. To CIG’s fanbase, this sounded like a cool new development (which it sure is!), but in Florida it set alarm bells ringing in Derek Smart’s head, here in Australia it made me very concerned, and I can guess that somewhere in England, if he heard it, David Braben responded with something like, “Come again?”

With the absence of such an announcement until that time, I had been assuming CIG either wasn’t going to need 64bit 3-D space or had done it already and wasn’t going to announce it.

If 64bit 3-D space is something you need, and you don’t have it, it’s a complete project killer. Without a solution for 32bit vs. 64bit 3-D positioning, your engine will not have enough accuracy to display spaceships in a steady position within a large environment. This is one of the core reasons games usually avoid truly huge environments, and if you are going to “go big,” you run into problems immediately. Between frames, objects will appear to shift positions. Close to the game engine’s “0,0,0,” the effect is so small you can’t see it (less than a pixel). Get a little further away and your spaceship will seem to vibrate a little. Further still and it wiggles. Further again and it’s jittering all over the place — ugly and unplayable.

On the other hand, with 64bits to work with, you can be accurate a huge distance from “0,0,0” — big enough, depending on your implementation, to work with a full-sized star system like ours, as a matter of fact.

The problem is that GPUs are crap at 64bit calculations. You either need to accept hideous performance (accept the unacceptable) or need to be painting a 32bit picture for the GPU, a snapshot based on the larger 64bit picture your game engine has… every frame. If this sounds complex, that’s because it is. Deciding to go 64bit has ramifications all down the line of your project. It complicates absolutely everything that comes afterwards.

And that’s why announcing that you’re almost ready to do it, six months after your initial projected completion date, sets off alarms in the heads of people who’ve been through this issue before.

Frankly, right after the announcement, discussion about Star Citizen went right off the rails. It’s now devolved into name calling and “lawyers at ten paces at dawn!!!!1” and I’ve got no interest in that. Chris Roberts and Derek Smart are two of my heroes. Listening to them fight, I feel like a child hiding while his parents scream at each other. It’s ugly, it’s off message for both of them, and I wish they’d cut it out.

So below, I’m going to continue the discussion from where it left the rails and talk about the technology challenges Cloud Imperium are tackling and what I can say about the project, as a somewhat informed outsider.

Ascent: The Space Game

Who am I to judge?

I’m the developer of Ascent: The Space Game, an indie space MMO with a vast procedurally generated galaxy and a massive sandbox construction “endgame” that includes player-made cities with over 100,000 structures and player-constructed jump gates that are co-op megaprojects.

Ascent deals with many of Star Citizen’s technical challenges particularly with respect to going big, and we made design decisions that considered many of SC’s design parameters, so I’m in a position to evaluate its project status, to an extent, based on publicly available information.

The largest project I’ve managed to date was $3 million, and the most staff I’ve had is 18. So while I’m not the perfect choice to comment on a 260+ staff, $90 million project, I’ve still got some ability to make rough judgments there as well.

What’s my angle? I’ve got a few here, and I’ll be upfront with you about them. First, yes indeed I am taking time away from development, testing, bug fixes and customer support to write this dev post because it can give Ascent some publicity. No free lunch here.

Second, if Star Citizen does collapse in a heap, it will, to a large extent, take crowdfunding for computer games with it. And that’s something I need to avoid because I’ve successfully used crowdfunding before and would like to have the option again for our next game too.

Third, I want to play Star Citizen one day, and I’m not alone. Many of my own customers are also SC backers.

And if the negativity and noise kill off SC’s funding, that adds risk to the project, and makes the doomsday scenario more likely — if you will, a potentially self-fulfilling prophecy. So my interest here is in bringing the discussion back to reality and less… screaming.

So, now you know my potential biases, let’s get back to…

Going big

Once you’ve solved the 64bit issue, however you solve it (and there are a few options), you quickly run into the next problem.

GPUs, and therefore game engines, have a limited draw distance. This is called a “far clip plane.” Generally this will stretch, at most, a few kilometers out. You can push it further, but GPUs use even less accurate math to deal with depth, a pathetic 24bits of information. You can stretch the information out by changing the “near clip plane,” or how close the game engine will display things, to go out a little further.

But in Star Citizen, you need to be able to see your hands on the controls less than a meter in front of you and a gas giant that could be a million kilometers away.

I can’t tell you for sure how CIG has solved that problem, but I can tell you it looks like the studio has definitely solved it, based on its most recent gameplay videos. In Ascent, especially when you disembark your ship, you need to be able to see your hand having in front of your face as well as faraway objects like planets and suns, and we solve this issue by having two cameras (near and far cam), giving us double the accuracy. But this comes with all kinds of its own complications and issues.

Without a solution, objects that are near to each other in depth within the scene will clip into each other and flicker. We call this “Z-fighting,” and you can see it in many games actually. Anywhere you’ve seen the water at the shoreline wiggle and flicker where it gets very shallow, you’re looking right at Z-fighting.

In Ascent, we need to display oceans from hundreds of kilometers above the surface, smoothly all the way down until you splash into the water. We avoid Z-fighting with our shorelines by fading the water layer in when you get close enough to see the waves clearly, and our water shader fades out at the shoreline where it calculates that it’s too shallow to display without Z-fighting.

It’s not clear to me how Star Citizen will implement planetary landing; however, based on CIG’s “designed” rather than “procedurally generated” approach and a separate “Planetside” module, I believe that rather than smoothly fly down from space through 100km of atmosphere to the planet surface, you’ll likely get a “loading, please wait” screen, and this eliminates many of the problems, effectively making SC easier and cheaper to complete. This is a good design choice in that regard.

Next, even with a very far “far clip plane,” you still can’t draw an object 150 million kilometers away (that’s how far away the sun is from Earth, for example). Not with two cameras; not with 10. Star Citizen has also seemingly solved this issue. Once again, I don’t know how, but for Ascent we solved it by shifting the objects into view range and shrinking them proportionately for the camera. In much the same way the moon appears to be the same size as the sun, even though it’s much smaller, we can make an object appear to be further away by shrinking it. Beyond about 100 meters, human binocular vision can’t tell the difference, so this will work even with an Oculus Rift. If that’s what CI is doing, it’s got this problem sorted out too.

Lastly, rocky planets need detailed terrain for when you get in close, and land. If you’re going Earth-sized, they need a lot of terrain, and it needs to be spherical. No game engine comes with a terrain engine like that; you’re stuck with coming up with your own solution. Kerbal Space Program did it by making a six-planed cube that mapped into a sphere with stored height map data. We do it the dumb way: We wrote a spherical, Earth-sized terrain engine with procedural generation to give us a trillion or so unique Earth-sized terrains with a high level of detail. Star Citizen is likely to avoid this issue completely by having a “loading, please wait…” screen and then a designed planet surface scene for you to appear in — that is, I believe, the premise of the “Planetside” module.

The reason I think this is that all of Star Citizen’s cities and star bases are hand-built by artists and designers, and there are a limited number of these scenes. It simply isn’t viable, even with $90 million, to draw out the terrain for 100 planets by hand. Imagine every single terrain feature on earth, times one hundred. So I expect CIG will have a loading screen, and then a jaw-droppingly beautiful cityscape and terrain scene for you to land in and interact with. This is a good design choice for Star Citizen.

Ascent needed the huge planet terrain because we have one artist and one developer. We can’t make cities by hand at all; all of our cities and star bases are built by players in a sandbox construction system, so we’re stuck with the more complex solution that will never, ever look as good.

Derek Smart’s “technology panic”

In order to understand the level of technology panic Derek Smart experienced, as a backer, back in June, you need to take all of these problems into account. Why? Because he solved them in the early 1990s, before the game engines and tools we take for granted today were even thought of. To get inside his head, you need to imagine the June announcement roughly translating as, “We have now begun development of Star Citizen!” Hopefully, this brings his angry “they don’t have the technology” rants into focus.

If you were going to run into all of these problems, virtually every piece of code written prior to that announcement would need to be at the very least put under a microscope, if not refactored or even rewritten. To understand why that could’ve been the case, we need to talk about the game’s overall design.

But Smart’s vehemence is less baffling than David Braben’s apparent silence, and the gaming press either neglecting to ask him for comment or failing to elicit comment. If anyone outside CIG is in a position to judge the challenges Star Citizen faces, Braben’s name would surely head that rather short list.

My own view is this: There are many factors that can actually reduce Star Citizen’s cost, and it comes down to selecting a design that meets the mad vision but that CIG can afford to actually build. As near as I can tell, that is exactly what CIG has aimed for.

Star Citizen's Starmap

Tightly integrated vs. loosely integrated

If Star Citizen is to be a single contiguous, seamless first-person experience, with no “loading” between scenes except perhaps for jumping between star systems, I would have to join the “can’t make it for $90 million” camp. You can probably have 100 Earth-sized planets with high-resolution terrain that also contain gargantuan handmade cities. But the cities will look terrible from 200km away, or framerates will be slideshow-esque and the terrain will sure look empty — like Earth but with only one city. Or you could hand-make all of that terrain too, but I can’t even begin to estimate the cost in time or dollars or what possible gameplay value all the empty terrain could have.

Whereas, a hundred or so large hand-made planetary landing scenes is at least in theory possible on a budget of tens of millions of dollars. It will be an extraordinary challenge and an extraordinary achievement if CIG can deliver so many environments with its extremely high standard of visual fidelity. But not impossible.

Similarly, the various modules of the game don’t all need to be jammed into the same environment, or even the same engine code. Squadron 42 can meet its specification without taking place within the Persistent Universe. It could be, in theory, a completely separate game, with PU citizenship and any other rewards being assigned via Steam Achievements, or at most a web call to the PU database.

The same can be said of the FPS module, to an extent: Placing SQ42 and Star Marine into the PU means all of their code needs to solve the 64bit problem, whereas if they’re kept separate, this can be avoided.

Loosely coupled modules can share code where it benefits the gameplay of the individual modules but otherwise avoid borrowing each other’s problems. What first-person shooter can possibly need to think about distances of 1 million kilometers? Why lump the Planetside module with all of the PU’s requirements or vice versa? What benefit does the end-user experience, in exchange for what cost?

The tighter the integration, the more coordination is required between the different studios and steams in different locations and time zones. Loose integration suits such a distributed production.

Tightly integrating these modules such that they actually run within the PU, rather than switching to them from the PU where appropriate, will add complexity, cost, and risk to the project, and probably has little to no value to the user experience, unless the goal is…

“And now, we shall tick the ‘MMO’ box!”

Another potential panic point, at least for me, has been the various allusions throughout Star Citizen’s ballooning scope to things like an MMO-like persistent universe. There are many good reasons most games studios don’t attempt an MMO, and why all of the advice to indies is to avoid it like the plague. Basically? Because it’s the plague.

An MMO is the most expensive and complex design choice you can possibly make. In some ways it makes the 64bit problem look like a school project. Moving from single-player to multi-player adds complexity. Moving to large numbers of players who expect to be able to interact with each other en masse, chat, trade, work together, work against each other, connect any time of the day or night, never lose any saved data, never have their accounts hacked, never lose out to a cheater or a scammer, and never be abused in chat by a troll… well, it’s games development in “Extreme difficulty” mode. “MMO” also makes people think of complex character sheets, and massive, massive, massive replayability.

Right now, Ascent has a review up on Steam by a player who logged over 2,000 hours in the game. And he gave it a thumbs-down. When you say “MMO,” people will expect a huge amount of “content” and varied gameplay. We’ve got sandbox empire building and procedural generation to give us that content — wacky math and the players themselves build all our environments for us. We couldn’t meet content expectations making it all by hand without spending tens of millions of dollars doing it.

Ascent is a tiny indie production with one developer (soon to be two!) and one artist, and yet we’ve got two separate replicating database clusters, one for property data, one for meta and environment data. We’ve got a very complex data model that shifts between traditional tables and tables of blobs (some of which are compressed) depending on the kind of data being stored and how they might be retrieved. I spent weeks agonising over our data-locking model, only to change it – twice – since we began early access on Steam. We’re using a distributed global caching system so that when you visit someone else’s gargantuan colony, you load it not from the game servers but from the same kind of system Netflix uses to distribute movies. We’ve got a load-balanced front-end server cluster, which is what you connect to; we’re using shared memory for interprocess communication; and I had to write our own ultralight client-server encryption system (because nothing off the shelf was fast enough) and extend libraries to work with it in three different languages. We do server updates live (no downtime) to meet player expectations. We can’t do resets. Not of anything, not ever. We have three kinds of backups into three separate locations to protect players’ data and property. I routinely restore test these onto our test sever, which by the way is a complete duplicate of production because those live updates need to be backwards and forwards compatible and atomic enough that I can roll them back if something goes wrong on the live system.

Now, scale that up to Star Citizen, today running at almost one million accounts. Imagine even 30% of them want to log in at once?

Now, imagine that even I can’t imagine all of the things they’ll need or the issues they’ll face.

Now you understand why my number one concern with Star Citizen is that it’ll bring the various components of the game together, and then say, “And now, we shall tick the ‘MMO’ box!”

If you’re making an MMO, you need to start with that on your very first whiteboard session and carry it through every day of design, development, testing, and production, and then years of fixing and adding content thereafter. It blows out your technical scope and risk, and it puts huge pressures on your business model.

However, at no point (that I know of), has Cloud Imperium actually called Star Citizen an MMO. MMO-like and persistent universe imply many of the same things, but hopefully, for the sake of the game, not all of them.

What I think Star Citizen will do is not stretch itself to try to meet all of the usual MMO expectations — only those that fit the game’s core design. The amount of content will be large, but limited. To balance this, it will be of extreme quality, something no MMO universally achieves with all of its content. Think Skyrim vs. Elder Scrolls Online, but picture what ESO could’ve been if Bethsoft had stepped back from the “MMO” cliff and just said, “You can play Skyrim with your friends, trade stuff in towns with everyone else playing at the time, and even join big battles against boss dragons!” Or, you know, a better compromise design that took more than 10 seconds to come up with, something that combined the best of both worlds, and only where the advantage was to the end product.

“More than multi-player” does not have to mean “leveling and upgrade treadmill with a raiding endgame.”

The important thing to understand, is that to meets its scope as described, Star Citizen doesn’t have to cast itself bodily into the MMO abyss. Its various modules can have differing levels of multi-player elements, as appropriate to their design and where it benefits the end product. SQ42 and Star Marine could have limited, instanced co-op and/or PvP battles, with the PU acting essentially as a (mind-blowingly beautiful and immersive) lobby for them, allowing you to “zoom in” to the battles — a model that has worked beautifully in many other games. Only the PU’s property database needs to be necessarily unified and slugged with the crazy bank-like data storage and locking/transaction requirements. Planetside can be instanced and sharded to keep costs down and frame-rates up. This alone is complex enough!

Star Citizen: Star Marine module promo

Technical conclusion: Yeah, it’s possible

I’ve spoken to a lot of games industry people about Ascent and about Star Citizen. Purely from a technical standpoint, obviously both games are “possible.” And hopefully, if you’re still reading at this point, you’re at the same conclusion.

But the technical possibility, in my view and theirs, was never really in doubt. The questions usually raised are:

  • Can they deliver on that scope with that budget?
  • Can they deliver something that lives up to all the hype?

And that comes down to project management, and, well, Avatar, the film. We’ll get to that in a moment.

I spent years studying, getting qualified in, and then practicing project management, so I’m qualified to tell you what an unmitigated trainwreck software project management is, has always been, and hopefully will not always be. I’ll spare you the theory paper and say that the bits of a new project I look at when evaluating it that are relevant to Star Citizen are risk management and scope management.

Risk management: Star Citizen carries a lot of what we call “Technical Risk,” loosely translated as “Stuff we have no idea how to do yet.” Much of that is because nobody’s done it yet, but some of it has been done before. What I’d look for comes down to two things:

  • Moving all the risky stuff to the beginning of the project, to find out how bad the damage is and get the schedule and cost settled down ASAP, and
  • Researching how the things that have been done before were done before, and hopefully, if you can afford it, going and finding the people who did it and getting them to help.

CIG, from an outsider’s perspective, appears to have failed comprehensively on both fronts (64bits in June 2015 reads like a miss, and apparently Smart offered them help at the outset and was ignored — also a miss), but the company has now paid for that failure by doing everything itself. We saw a bit of chopping and changing on the engine front and a few other painful- and expensive-looking things, and going 64bit a few months ago definitely appears to have untangled the log-jam and finally allowed some more tangible progress. So while risk management to date, examined by an outsider with hindsight and a complete lack of knowledge of what’s actually gone on inside the company, looks clumsy and expensive, it doesn’t appear to have killed the project, and hopefully the worst is behind us. Unless we’re about to leap off the MMO cliff with no MMO people on staff. Don’t do that.

Scope management: The other thing that kills any project stone dead is failed scope management. This can include

  • Feature creep (what everyone seems to be labeling as Scope Creep at the moment – the blatant adding of whole features as we go along), and
  • Scope creep, which is more normally what we call the scope increasing in nefarious ways, such as discovering pre-requisites we didn’t think of, stumbling over technology issues, gold plating, and people sneaking scope in when you’re not looking.

Star Citizen’s official scope has stopped growing, in the sense that new “stretch goals” are no longer being added. This is good… this potentially means someone has crash-tackled Chris Roberts and convinced him that CIG should release a product before adding more features.

However, the scope is still expanding, and it will continue to do so until release day, and then it will expand some more. No plan survives first contact with the players!

Scope creep

Looking down the list of stretch goals, I think it’s clear there’s little correlation between the money raised at each point and the scope added. At $57 million we’ve got the Endeavour ship with a whole host of modules and new game features attached, and at $58 million we’re giving everybody 10k space bucks, something the database administrators can do with an hour or two’s work at most.

Some of the items on the list look as if they might cost more than one million to implement; others, less. But what is clear is that based on the short paragraph each, there’s a lot of room to interpret the scope and the potential for things to cost more than we might expect. Usually in software projects, things cost more than we expect, and that presents risk to the project.

The Endeavour’s a good example. How will we attach and remove the modules? Where will they come from? How does science work? How does medicine work? The answers to these questions can either simplify or complicate the project’s scope.

Something that will happen — often, and moreso the more complex, tightly integrated and MMO-ish the project gets — is that designers, developers, and artists will find scope hidden between the lines of the existing scope. Some possible examples:

  • “Dammit, now we need to make a spherical Earth-sized terrain engine!”
  • “Hey, these complex face animations cause very low framerates in the 64bit PU engine!”
  • “Who knows how to network 300,000 computers together?”

And a zillion other little details that pop up with even the most mundane business software projects, let alone computer game projects, let alone the most ambitious and crazy computer game ever attempted.

Depending on how much money’s left in the bank, scope management on this project is acceptably loose (after all, players want as much scope as possible) or a ghastly failure that’s about to kill the project or something in between. If I had to guess, and I don’t, I’d guess something in between, mostly because that’s what usually happens.

And that’s the kicker. Because the other half of why Derek Smart is so terrified for the project is that he claims to have emails from people claiming to work or have worked at CIG and know the financials, and he claims they claim that there’s $8 million left in the bank.

And if that’s the case, it’s very hard to see an acceptable outcome from here.

But if — and I find this somewhat more credible — they haven’t just driven themselves sideways into such a financial brick wall, we’re still likely to see a product, and an excellent one. But can it ride its own epic hype-train all the way to the end of the line?

Avatar

And this is why I’ve brought up Avatar. Avatar is a singularly excellent film. The acting is solid. The story is hardly original but perfectly adapted, the script is tight, the sci-fi is mass-market but the very top of that class, the visual effects are utterly mind-blowing, and it’s got Sigourney Weaver. But when it came out, most people I know derided it as inferior piffle. You probably did too. Do yourself a favour and watch it again now. You might find it to be… an excellent film!

Star Citizen runs the same risk. It’s now been hyped to such an extent and had so many people’s disparate hopes pinned on it that sometimes it’s hard to see what, if anything, could live up to the hype. If SC releases, and fails to MELT YOUR EYEBALLS WITH AWESOME, it risks being savaged by press and gamers alike.

Conclusion: This looks like every other big experimental game project ever

Over the weekend, I watched a Star Citizen video that included some really neat-looking stuff (which is normal) that was beginning to look like it might be a coherent game in the not too distant future (which is not), along with a new angle on Chris Roberts’ vision of the game. The Squadron 42 cutscenes look to be played out more like the friendly NPC encounters in Skyrim — fully interactive with dialogue trees and quite natural interaction (at least at first; the 507th time my wife thanked me for bringing the claw back to where it belonged, I googled “Skyrim divorce”). Suddenly, all the big celebrity names and expensive facial mocap made sense. Squadron 42 really is shaping up to become the modern incarnation of Wing Commander that everyone dreamed about… with the kind of NPC immersion Skyrim delivered but with Mark Strong.

And the demo of the PU was not only beautiful but began to really show how the game’s big ideas can be brought together into something entirely new. It also showed me CIG has largely sorted out, worked around, or completely avoided the “Going Big” technical issues.

In conclusion, here is a short list of things that virtually every ambitious computer game ever has had to do at least one of to ship a product at all:

  • Needing more time, and then yet more time
  • Needing more money, and then, more money
  • Cutting scope, as most deliver 50-80% of what’s initially proposed
  • Downsizing the studio to complete the game on budget
  • Shipping an initial “minimum viable product” and adding the rest of the cool bits with expansion packs and DLC.

The question is not will Star Citizen need to do any of these but rather how many?

And can its fans cope with that?

And can its detractors be fair about it?

We’d like to thank James Hicks for his detailed analysis of the Star Citizen project and invite you to comment below. If you’d like to hear Hicks explain his position in person, the relevant recording of last week’s Massively OP podcast is still available. His MMORPG, Ascent: The Space Game, is in early access on Steam.

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574 comments
malakieusn
malakieusn

Would love to see someone update this article with the truth now... Especially since the first iteration of the working game is in the backers hands and they are updating new things constantly even though it is still in Alpha stage.

It is amazing how so many detractors made comments that were just blatantly false, lacked any knowledge what so ever of what CIG was doing nor had any idea of what they would actually come up with.

But I suppose a working game engine now in 64 bit, working multi-crew, EVA, AI, procedural generation and more is not viable to those same detractors of the game.

You know what this all looks like to me?   Jealousy.  Plain and simple.   Something others could not do, did not do or were too lazy to do and now because CIG has actually accomplished some pretty cool things, a few people are getting all bent out of shape over it.

Every game out there has its good and its bad.   Whether it be D Smarts Games, j Hicks games or C Roberts games.  And to have developers coming out bashing other developers because they got more money or did something better or did something they did not do to a level players want, looks to me like nothing more than someone whining over the fact someone else one upped the playing field.

I make my decisions on two things when it comes to my money spent.  First is the SUPPORT of customers and how the developers treat people over all.  The second is the content of the title.   Above and beyond that graphics, bug fixes and so forth then are something I look at but they are not the most important aspects to me.

CIG was able to convince a lot of people to fund this project.   And guess what?  MOST of them have and are still there supporting it.  Don't you think had all the 'scare tactics' and people making comments that were not even close to true, been true CIG would have lost a lot of support by now?

Here is MY suggestion to anyone that wants the truth.  Don't read all the garbage.  Don't talk to others.   Download the game and play it free on one of the many free play periods they have usually every month after a major update.  THEN after you have tried the LATEST current version, then make a decision.  And if you have tried it but not for a few months, you have no idea what you are talking about either because it has changed so much from then already.  In fact within the next month, another major upgrade is being released with even more capability... and here we are still in ALPHA development.


Jacra
Jacra

I'm not interested into SC or any of these types of games, solid PvE on the ground fantasy fan here hehe (well, ok, Wildstar ...) but that was even for me a very interesting article and I'm grateful for the time, clearly thoughtful analysis and factual, calm addition to this so far rather soap opera. James Hicks if I ever look for a space game I'll have your name noted!

FeriteKnight
FeriteKnight

Planetside module is just Alpha. Rather than a loading screen, I expect a pseudo-cutscene landing from first person with your ship, from your PoV, and possibly some exterior cinematic shots of you entering atmosphere and landing, much like they did with the Connie in an Earlier Demo. I'm pretty sure that's the intent; at least initially anyway.

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@FeriteKnight 

From 1.1 to the newest 1.3, they've worked pretty hard on directly streaming content, like level geometry to crunch the loading times. It's especially visible when moving from the hangar to any electronic access part. I remember back when it came out it took closer to 1 and a half minutes loading the tutorial, now it's less than 5 seconds.

FeriteKnight
FeriteKnight

@Kanakotka I haven't tried the tutorial in awhile, but I noticed Arc Corp popped in a lot faster this time. The thing is, we're not actually in the Zone system yet really, so we'll see a lot of changes with the Mini-PU when that actually gets partially implemented.


The intent of the Zone system being to eliminate load screens and loading times as much as possible, where transitioning zones streams in content, such as we'll find with landing in stations, entering them, etc.. Same reason you can walk around inside the station and watch people take off and land on the landing pads through the windows, and I suppose even get in firefights and have battles.


The hangars themselves.. I'm not sure yet where they are going with this, but the Asteroid hangar is designed to exit directly into space, (much like the tutorial hangar exit). However, player numbers limit the possibility of having every hangar a unique identity and location on a surface map, and were that possible, they'd be spread out significantly. There are obviously going to be some limitations there.


For areas that require some transition, the loading can be done in the background, like with many other games, and the activity and environment of the transition area/action will allow for the Zone left to be dropped, and the zone entered to be streamed in in the process. i.e: Jump Points, Elevators from the hangar to the surface, etc...


It's a work in progress, and many of the little features and transitions have yet to be worked in; something which I think we'll see with the upcoming Mini-PU


Vikingr
Vikingr

@FeriteKnight 

Well, the landing scene with the Constellation was not a cutscene, it was rendered in-game. There won't be a pseudo-cutscene either, at least not inside the ship, in which you can walk around and do stuff while landing. As it is now, only a brief animation of the clouds is shown while the landing site is loaded.

I fully expect this to be seamless in the future, so no loading is visible at all. It's not that hard to predict what comes next, when you're closing in to a planet and ask for landing permission. The program can then load the landing site in the background while you fly closer to the planet. It can also be done in other ways, but map / scene prediction is relatively easy to do.

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@FeriteKnight 

Technically speaking i think it'd be possible to have hundreds of said asteroid hangars in a single asteroid belt. All you'd need to do is spawn it at location X Y Z and eradicate any procedurally generated asteroids within its clipping box and an exclusion zone around/in front of it. Technologically it's not too different from how vaults work in roguelike games (predesigned elements of the map), just with the mild added complexity of 3D.

I think pirates certainly would want to have hundreds of potential places to have their hangars in, but we have no info on how player piracy might function at this point.

FeriteKnight
FeriteKnight

@Vikingr @FeriteKnight  It being a cutscene doesn't imply it is rendered outside the game engine. It can be done either way. Why I called it a pseudo-cutscene, is because CR's idea is to allow players to move and act, even within what might otherwise be a cutscene, such as where the story unfolds in SQ 42. The narrative still occurs, but you are not bound to it and restricted from other actions.


At some point, it may be as you say, but I suspect that will not be until the procedural tech is delivered. Until then, we will have game controlled, (cutscene), landings where we may or may not be able to walk around our ships and do things, because we won't have the ability to conduct the planetary landings ourselves. Not until that is brought into the development pipeline, the tech built, and released to us. Probably this won't be until sometime after launch, but the procedural tech is a necessary part of that.

FeriteKnight
FeriteKnight

@Kanakotka Maybe, but could you imagine looking at it? Say, if 400000 players had Asteroid hangars, and 250000 decided to park them in the same place, (Spider for example)? It'd be an eyesore, and completely ruin the quality of content. Even if it might actually be somewhat realistic; or as realistic as building 400000 homes within 16 square miles anyway.


If they limited the locations and interspersed them in an asteroid belt surrounding a star, I think the result would be much less annoying and disruptive, and likely more practical given the size requirements. But that doesn't preclude the requirements of doing the same on a planet. You'd need a lot of replicated structures for that, and while that is technically possible, it does have the result of creating significant repetitive structures.


Maybe something they might look at when procedural tech is done, but at this time, they'd have to place every one of them planetside, and fit them in, group them around landing pads, and repeat that across a significant portion of the planets surface.

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@FeriteKnight 

Well, technologically speaking, that too is quite easy to work around, simply make a second exclusion zone around the hangar that prevents other hangars from being in close proximity to it... or, have a hard cap on the amount of asteroid hangars possible by having a limited amount of viable asteroids placed in the asteroid belt.


Well, they have procedural planet gen in testing phase right now. Cities will be procedurally generated from a set of buildings and pre-assembled areas (with procedural elements in them too), and the planet terrain, as well as asteroids will be procedurally generated aswell.

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@FeriteKnight 

The idea is that planetside landings will be forced autopilot to facilitate higher amounts of traffic and guarantee security of the planetside colonies and other traffic. This was on of the talking points in one of the 10 for the designers or 10 for the chairman i believe. Technically speaking it wouldn't be a cutscene, your ship manouvering controls would just be locked on approach and departation, not in dissimilar fashion to engaging the landing autopilot otherwise, but without the possibility to turn it off.

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

A (not very proficient) Unity developer using specific Unity terms to try and explain away programming issues in a completely other framework in completely other programming language and depth. Sorry, i've worked with Unity for close to 3 years, i love the engine and their general open-endedness and accessibility, but it's not comparable in any way to a product where the developers get their grubby mittens to fiddle with the inner workings of the engine. 


Many of the problems he explains, specifically texture overlap flickering, is fixed even in Unity by simply using Unity 5 and its excellent texture overlapping utility, or simply by shifting the affected planes by fractions of a coordinate, a script to do this is simple, and even the basic water shader in Unity comes with edge-shader.


He is confusing 64 bit information and processing with 64 bit graphical processing. These are worlds apart. If i have objects A,B and C and an observer X, it doesn't matter if i place the object A and B besides eachother at the edge of 64 bit world co-ordinates and then put C overlapping both slightly toward the camera, if they're big enough, they're drawn in the correct order. This is basic interpretation of whether or not an object is in front of one another, also known as "rendering queue". Rendering queue only checks whether or not an object is in front of another, it doesn't matter how far that object is, even in Unity.


I have also played his game, which is ambitious, something i very much like, and quite fun to boot, but on the technical levels, there are so many wrongs i can confidently say that he is not exactly qualified to be spotlighted to comment on the matter. For instance, he doesn't understand how to asynchronously stream content, which is kind of the very first hurdle of making your space game immersive. It isn't even very difficult in Unity, as they have a default asynchronous loading implementation.


It'd be much better if an opinion of someone who is actually qualified would weigh in on this. Right now i can't help but to facepalm at this receiving such a spotlight. All the good to the developer(s) of Ascent, and no hostility toward them on this end, of course. It's a benefit to everyone if both projects succeed and come out as good games.

JamesHicks3
JamesHicks3

@Kanakotka Some points:

Z-fighting is between geometry, not textures. Objects that are close enough in depth or even clipping into each other (like shorelines and water) do this, and it does have to do with 24 or 32bit Z buffers.

I'm not confusing 64bit positioning, this is a real issue and you can replicate it in any engine by placing an object and a camera far enough out (try 1M units and go from there) from 0,0,0 and pressing play. The object will jitter around like crazy. This is caused by 32bit floating point error.

FYI Ascent has used Asynchronous streaming of content, not to mention multi-threaded Async procedural generation since 2013.

So, no need for that face palm after all.

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@JamesHicks3 

Unity 5's standard shader has a preventing for this whole flickering you talk about with real-time renderqueue adjustment of the offending materials being made possible with a simple script, i use the word "overlapping" (it's not, really) because it's understandable to the majority of readers, it is a functional term you're using though, i might steal it :)


Well, the problem is that with near and far clip plane you're referring how Unity's default camera works and how it renders the scene. You're not taking into account numerous ways to work around it even in Unity. For instance, at a reasonable distance, you could always use another(or more) cameras to render actual distant game geometry to texture in real time and then display that in the skybox... this is something i used in a game i recently worked on. This is especially easy in space games because you do not have to account for stitching between real geometry and fake geometry regardless how fast the camera moves across the terrain and how many cameras you're using. It's the same trick as with LOD, play a bit of a street magician and swap in the model when the player either isn't looking or its too far to see the difference.


I honestly think if you give me a week (and if i had the time to put into such a thing, which i honestly don't) i could pretty much whip a Star Citizen style cockpit controlled tech demo up in Unity 5. Of course, Unity 5 won't use 64 bit distances, but it's the exact same hurdle with 32bit to 24bit as it is with 64bit.


Well, last time i played Ascent (earlier this year) it was long loading screens through every jumpgate, and the largest thing i had to wait for, with a little bit of poking around the system, was the other players. Implementation of asynch loading would not really necessitate those, as the players and networking isn't important to have "right this instant" when loading a new scene. You can smoothly fade them in a bit later. :) 

Like i said, all the best and no hostility, but i think after reading what you said, you're neither well enough informed on what's going on with SC(such as the fact that he talked of using doubles and 64 bit before the kickstarter), nor know enough of the actual technology to accurately weigh in on the matter. In this day and age, the question really isn't whether or not the technology can handle it, it can. The question is whether or not the team can pull it off. That remains to be seen. I sure hope they can, it's a very exciting project.

JamesHicks3
JamesHicks3

@Kanakotka @JamesHicks3 No, once again, Z-fighting has nothing to do with materials, or textures. It's something geometry does. A shader can have a limited impact by biasing one object over another, but that's about it. Ultimately it's not solvable except by dealing with the z-buffer in the various ways described.

No, near and far clip planes are NOT Unity specific terminology.

I don't think live render to skybox is a workable solution for either SC or Ascent... any space game really that has planets, stations etc, except of course for things like nebulae, star fields etc (which can be rendered to a sky box on scene load, something we do). It would cause some nasty issues with earth sized planets, for example, and to render extremely far objects, you would need quite a lot of cameras. How are you going to display a sun even one AU away,150 million kilometers?

All Ascent scene loads are async, have been since 2013. Waiting is pretty minimal as the scene is loaded in the background while whatever jump sequence plays.

I imagine you could get a cockpit going and a nice space scene... and if only it were that simple. You will run into the 32bit limitations as soon as you try to make that a very large scene and move any serious distance within it - and then you would really understand what we are discussing. As I say in the article, a lot of the tech challenges come from going big, and most games developers either never have to deal with them, or (sensibly) avoid them.

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@JamesHicks3 

I'm afraid that you're a bit wrong. If what you say were true, we couldn't display basic decals anywhere, nor could world space UI exist. The Z-fighting as you call it happens when 2 materials of the same rendering priority overlap :) If you tell either of the offending materials to be higher priority render, the rendering queue will always give it a priority and hide the portion of the other one appropriately even if they're overlapping at the exact same level, or even if the higher priorty object was below/behind. This is how rendering through opaque walls works in any game that utilizes it (spotting for instance in Battlefield games)... but we're straying a bit far from the topic, hopefully i've explained it clearly enough. Direct poking of rendering queue is not everyone's cup of tea, so i'm not surprised you're confused by this.


While you're correct that near and far clipping plane is not unity specific (some 3D modelling programs do use it too), CryEngine does not use such a function. Cryengine only uses viewdistance, which works in a similar(but not exactly the same way) as far clipping plane, but it does not have implemented behavior for a near clipping plane. It's still entirely possible to squeeze an entire solar system's worth of stuff within even 500 coordinate units and seamlessly swap from background cardboard stand-ins to models, regardless of the size of the object. Especially large planets would be rather indistinguishable, as you wouldn't see the actual geometry until very very close. Another one-man-project; Space Engine for instance manages to do this completely seamlessly, i really don't see what the technical problem could be.


How would i display a sun even one AU away? The same way EvE's done it since 2003. Or really, the same way any game with a sun has done it. Big glowy light, made appropriately smaller due to its distance. It doesn't need to be -that- far away in the actual rendering scene, it just needs to be appropriately sized and voilá, you have your practical illusion. Game programmers are little more than virtual street magicians at heart :)

JamesHicks3
JamesHicks3

@Kanakotka @JamesHicks3 Z fighting... When it occurs, you can't solve it with rendering queues. If your water is clipping in and out of your shoreline and flickering, you can't just force the water to be in front of the shoreline... If a tree's leaves are clipping in and out of each other or those of another tree and flickering, given that they're most likely in the same queue...

CryEngine does a lot of cool stuff, but I'm not convinced it isn't using a near clip plane (or something analogous) under the hood. That would be wacky.

Making a whole star system within 500 coord units: try it and see. You will have exactly the same problems. By shrinking your environment you haven't removed the 32bit FP limitations and a long way (500) from 0,0,0 your microscopic spaceship will be wiggling about like crazy. It may only be wiggling about by like 0.000001 units, but that is a huge distance in that environment.

Last para: That's how we do it (sort of!). But we need a 64bit matrix to record where the sun should be, or its position in the sky (especially at great distances) will shift around too much. Worse, it needs a REAL position, not just an apparent one, and that has to be very accurate. Especially considering the sun itself is vast, considerably bigger itself than 99% of game scenes attempted to date.

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@JamesHicks3 

I can safely say i've never seen what you describe as Z-fighting with water. However, i can feasibly understand how you could run into that problem with actual moving water, such as water4 in Unity. I don't have experience with dealing with such water systems, but i do believe what you said in the article, edge-fading, is the cure for that issue... which sort of should be there anyway, as water's more translucent the thinner it is :)


Trees' leaves i am familiar with, however. They often require special care and a semi-translucent shader to work around the problem described there, it's a lot more words than should be blurted out in casual conversation about the subject! Though, making them more mobile is the usual fix. The Z-fighting won't happen visibly for more than a frame or two if you add a bit of wind to the scene.


I have somewhat limited experience with newer CryEngines, but i can safely say Crysis did not use a near clipping plane, and i couldn't find anything supporting that CryEngine 3 uses one either. There's probably a roundabout way to produce the effect with a semi-simple script.


You misunderstand my star system thing. It's a play on perspective. 500 units, is less than standard of the draw distance of Unity Engine's camera (800 by default i believe). I can position anything and everything within that 500 distance cube i have, and artificially make them appear to the player to be very far away by making them appropriately smaller. Let's say i have a gigantic space banana, of appropriate spacey size. If i view it at a 0.01 AU distance, it's visible of roughly the size of a normal banana, so, i put it in scene inside the viewing distance of the camera, and simply make it smaller. How much smaller is going to take some maths, which i won't go to. It's not overtly complex, but dull. When i move toward this space banana in the scene, i instead keep it at appropriate distance, but start enlargening the model until i'm close enough to have the full detailed view i need. This is just one of the many ways of doing it, and i can't be certain, but i believe this is how EvE does the trick. The player doesn't actually even need to move from the coordinates they're situated in, they just need to be made believe they're moving. 

What i'm saying here, is that within reasonable limits of memory and space, you could have the entirety of our solar system seamlessly within a singular scene, contained in a small cube, which would be within the processing capabilities of less than 16 bit maths. Remember, just because i say 1AU doesn't mean it's equivalent to 149,597,870,700,000cm. We don't need to work with big numbers. We can put an arbitrary stop at 999,999km and then swap onto another integer that shows the range between 100,000,000,000 and 1,000,000 et.c. Remember the score counter in Super Mario Bros? They certainly didn't have access to 32 bit integers, in fact, they probably used bytes! :) Big numbers just look better, even if they're really not!



Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@JamesHicks3 

Hahaha, damnit, now i just might. The only problem you feasibly deal with giant space bananas is appropriate understanding of what's behind the giant space banana, because visible stuff is contained in such a small cube. It probably wouldn't be overtly complex a project, though!

Well, a thing you very quickly learn (for anyone else following this seemingly insane debate) is that position and rotation is a very 4D thing. Euler and his angles just don't always cut it and do what you need them to do, and X Y Z is so passé. 

More accurate is always more accurate, but simplifying is feasible, especially in factors of 2! If i think i could feasibly do it, and actually had the resources and manpower to bend 64 bits to my will, i'd jump at the opportunity to do so. I think it is well possible, but it is brave (and somewhat insane, but aren't all good things? I mean, you're making a largely one-man MMO!) to attempt. What we've seen so far, however, is promising as heck! This is the largest hurdle they will face, and i think it's the "make or break" one.


I can't wait to get my grubby mittens on Alpha 2.0 to see how they do the whole open-ended thing. I've just lately picked up on the whole Star Citizen thing and soaking absolutely every tidbit of information on it like some sort of a mutant data-sponge. They just today released more patch notes, and there are 4 things that they marked as blocking their progress. If i were crazy enough to throw a guess, i'd say we're looking at less than a month:


https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/transmission/15024-Development-Update-Star-Citizen-Alpha-20-Star-Marine


I dunno, there's just something about Star Citizen i get this fuzzy kind of good feeling over. I'm giddy like a little girl with a lollipop, and i want it to meet every damn goal and idea that crazy Roberts-man has in his head, because if he pulls off even half of them, it'll be groundshatteringly awesome.

JamesHicks3
JamesHicks3

@Kanakotka @JamesHicks3 You need to make the giant space banana game. Not so much as a learning experience but because I want to play the giant space banana game.

However, what you're describing is only part of the solution. Showing a scene is one thing, being able to navigate through the scene and view it from any point, any angle and have it all display correctly is another. Shrinking stuff will get you a still image that looks right. To move through it in 4D space, even if it's shrunk to fit, you are also shrunk (unless you are the size of a small moon, in which case it's time to stop eating giant space bananas), and we're still stuck with 32bit FP (in)accuracy.

And I say 4D deliberately there... things need to be right in every frame and from frame to frame. If all you're getting is a snapshot, 32bits might be enough. Otherwise, unless you're always moving at some c-fractional velocity, you will notice objects aren't pinpointed in space in a consistent manner between frames.

SyrenCaban
SyrenCaban

Your Derek Smart comment at the end is ridiculous.  He spent years lying about support, shifting blame to other people, leaving the game LITERALLY unplayable for months, and suing anyone who said otherwise.

breetoplay
breetoplay moderator

@SyrenCaban Whom exactly did he sue? From my personal experience on Old Massively and here on MOP a few months ago, I've come to realize he likes to imply he's going to take legal action to scare people, but he doesn't actually do it. I'd be curious to hear about specific actual lawsuits.

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@Vikingr 

This kind of shows in no unclear fashion the man has completely lost his marbles. 

Just look at the formatting and the fervor these things have been written in a fit of anger and resentment. A psych student would have a field day with this stuff.

He also says multiple times, like some manner of a mantra, that he's going to get them in a legal fashion... probably in response due to receiving a cease and desist letter from Roberts. He figured he can't go after Roberts, so instead, he'll go after the fans.

I honestly don't think he has spoken to any lawyer or anyone else. There's proof his previous claims were complete bullshit:

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CPRiLVvUAAAYvvG.jpg

syberghost
syberghost

@Kanakotka @Vikingr actually that proves no such thing.


One of the statutory exemptions to FOIA is alerting a company that they're under investigation if they have not yet been informed. So from the moment an investigation is started until a determination is made whether or not to indict, you'd get the same thing out of them as if no complaint had ever been filed.


I'm not saying his claims aren't bullshit, but this isn't evidence of same.


Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@syberghost 

I find that quite suspect, do you have anything to back that up? Preferably from an official source. Not saying you're lying or anything of the sort, i'm just being cautious in simply taking people's word for matters of law and authority especially.


Also, from what i remember, D Not-So-Smart claimed to have filed the complaint in early to mid July, pretty much immediately when he started raising a big stink for not getting his pledge back.

Darkwalker75
Darkwalker75

@syberghost @Kanakotka 

Exemption 7 was one of the things that among others DS brought up, and there was allot of debate surrounding it, but this was since dismissed as not being valid in this case.

I cant remember right now where this was said, but  I suggest you read up on it.


As for long an investigation takes, that is completely irrelevant because regardless of how long it takes, they would still have to say there was an investigation.

The issue is not about how long, but whether or not an investigation was done or ongoing, and it was reported that there was no investigation at all.

syberghost
syberghost

@Darkwalker75 @syberghost @Kanakotka I've read. Didn't agree. Remember, government agencies act on what THEY think the law means, not on academic theory regarding it. Under-compliance with FOIA requests is a hallmark of this administration.


They do not have to say there is an investigation if saying so would reveal to those being investigated that they are being investigated, before they're ready to reveal this. That's straight up the intent of the law. Otherwise mob figures and the domestic mouthpieces of terrorists would be constantly filing FOIA requests as fishing expeditions. Cost isn't prohibitive at their levels.

syberghost
syberghost

@breetoplay @Vikingr which makes me wonder if RSI's threats to the press are being followed with an ill-advised lawsuit, or if cooler heads have prevailed over there. Unlike Derek, Chris has some folks around to tackle him.

Lethality
Lethality

@syberghost @breetoplay @Vikingr Nothing ill-advised about it. They should go after Smart strong and hard. The claims he is making about the company but also persons at the company cannot go unchecked.

syberghost
syberghost

@Lethality @syberghost @breetoplay @Vikingr not talking about the one against Smart I'm talking about the one against The Escapist. That is a road best not traveled.


Although if they're trying to keep their books out of public record, suing somebody for claiming they're not in order doesn't further their cause either.

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@syberghost 

Thanks for the source, and... my lord, whoever designed this website to load up all the videos should be made an example out of. I've never seen anything hitch a browser like that. Flash didn't even crash, it just decided it needs all the cpu cycles forever.

I'm not entirely sure which of those would apply, though... These go reasonably close:

  • 7(A). Could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings
  • 7(E). Would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions

The 7A i'm not entirely sure about. Knowledge of an investigation happening or a report having come in couldn't reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings... i can't at least find a logical reason why.

7E for much of the same reasons on both questions of "why".

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@syberghost 

They're well within their rights to press libel charges. They first asked politely, and then there's word (unconfirmed) that they slapped the freelance journalist with a well earned C&D. I don't know whether or not to believe that, i dislike rumors and spreading them. Either way the effect was that Escapist is licking its wounds from a (objectively) wrong choice and are just continuing the spiral of losing traffic (if Alexa is to be believed, at least.)


I don't think whether or not they do so to be in any way harmful... or beneficial to their reputation. I think Roberts even acknowledging the existence of the nonsense on Escapist with a reply was a mistake, though. It reeks of yellow media and scandal journalism, and the public found out the "anonymous sources" of the escapist pretty quick to be little more than posts on glassdoor. The Escapist also went to claim that they vetted one (1) of their sources to have an employee ID... something that current employees of CIG claim they don't have.

Vikingr
Vikingr

@Kanakotka 

LOL! Thanks for the link. No way I'm going to read all that - and especially not in bed.  I read a fantasy novel in bed ATM, on my reading tablet with e-ink paper. Much nicer than reading about DS. :)


However, I did read the beginning of it, and I didn't know he was a hacker and virus maker as a kid. But when I think of it, it adds up nicely to how he's behaving now, and is most probably a result of bad upbringing.

syberghost
syberghost

@Kanakotka @Vikingr there is a natural human tendency to assume any disagreement has a good guy and a bad guy. The sad truth, however, is that sometimes it's assholes all the way down.


Darkwalker75
Darkwalker75

@Kanakotka @syberghost 

Correct me if I'm wrong here.

DS wanted the FTC to do an investigation of CIG because of what he claimed to be mismanagement of funds.

Now if the FTC where to do such an investigation would not CIG have to open their books to the FTC for them to look into?

If that's the case then CIG would already know an investigation into their finances was ongoing, in which case I don't see how exempt 7 could be considered valid, as the investigation is already known.

And in that case I don't see how disclosing the fact that an investigation to an outside party, which they are required to do on request, would affect the investigation or any other proceedings in any way.

syberghost
syberghost

@Darkwalker75 @Kanakotka @syberghost here are a few plausible explanations as to why an FOIA wouldn't find anything yet:


1) Derek is full of shit and didn't call anybody.

2) Derek called somebody, but they didn't care about a meager million people potentially being bilked on a video game and didn't bother to record it as a substantive conversation. Not every phone call log goes into a database and shows up in searches.

3) Derek called somebody, they cared, but the paperwork didn't make it to the right place to show up in a search yet, because the FTC has horrible systems. It might show up later.

4) They cared, and intend to do something, but it's super low on the priority list and will sit for months or years before anybody acts, during which time it would routinely be held as an active investigation they wouldn't want to disclose.

5) They straight up screwed up, due to incompetence or awful systems.

6) The person who said he filed an FOIA request faked the output of said FOIA request.


I have no evidence that any of these are what happened. They are merely plausible reasons why the documentation we've seen would say what it says. I am in particular not accusing anybody of anything in regards to #1 and #6.


Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@syberghost 

More often than not, yes. I believe firmly that there's good and decency in all people, and there's no such thing as an "evil person" (imagine airquotes here). There are very... disagreeable people, however, i'm not just talking of people who are infinitely adamant in their opinion, or bad at socializing. 

I'm speaking of actual genuine shitheels who do little more than badmouth other people and criticize them constantly while having a gigantic blindspot about themselves. I'm starting to believe, the more i know about Derek Smart, is that at one point or another he turned into one. He might've been screwed over by the whole Take Two ordeal, or he might've just been woefully incompetent. We really don't know and it's pointless to take guesses on that.


The fact that he's done this whole thing before, close to 2 decades ago, for years at a time just baffles me to no end.

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@Darkwalker75 

I'm not even 50% intimate on FTC:s actions, but if it is anything like Finland's equivalent, they will first perform a preliminary study/investigation on the actions and credentials of the company to determine if there is anything suspect, and they will verify whether or not the report is abusive.


If it is not found to be abusive, and there is something found to be suspect, then they will ask to see the books.


I do not think the functions of FTC would be too much different than that grossly simplified example.

Geoff Dassad
Geoff Dassad

@syberghost @Darkwalker75 @Kanakotka Soo


1) Is possible

2) Unlikely, as there would have been more than just Smart phoning the FTC, there are supposedly lots of other people who have reported CIG as well.

3) Highlt unlikely, If the FTCs systems were crap there would be lots of issues finding other things and investigations would be compromised due to crappy filing.

4) Possible, though I would like to think they're not going to wait years before acting (more on this below).

5) No, can't see that being an option

6) No, because if he had then he's provided the world with evidence that he's impersonated a federal agent and faked federal documents. That isn't exactly something that gets taken likely


Some other options though

A) The FOIA request didn't contain relevant or correct information so the response doesn't actually pertain anything related to SC (As far as I know a copy of the original request has never been shown, so no-one commenting actually knows what information was used to guide the search.)


B) At the time of the response the FTC hadn't received any actionable information, or had insufficient data, complaints to warrant an investigation.


C) Something else we haven't mentioned or thought of


However, if there was information that fell into section 7, then I would have expected the FOIA response to look a lot more like the one attached. 


So assuming the information in the request was accurate for Cloud Imperium Gaming, then as at 11 Sept, I would agree that the FTC didn't have an active investigation. However since I don't actually know what was in the request, I am sceptical. 



Geoff Dassad
Geoff Dassad

@Kanakotka @syberghost They might be within their rights to press charges but I don't think any of them will stick. TE followed the requirements, haven't seen anything about a C&D but unless it applied to the entire company someone else there could take over and look into it. 


TE seems to have been shedding views for quite a while (from the figures I've seen), so not sure if the SC article made any difference to that. I don't actually have a problem with the article TE published, the spam folder excuse was poor but not unbelievable and was rectified pretty quickly. I have more issues with the followup podcast. Mostly I find it sad that someone who is marketing themselves as a person who wants more ethical practices in journalism and then doing the basic requirements for an article and allowing incorrect information to be given as fact during a followup podcast (I'll also point out there were 3 others in the podcast, none of them corrected the mistake, which means either they were happy to mispresent information or none of them did proper research into the topic they were actually discussing).


Now, if CIG did issue a C&D then I have a problem there. If a journalist is talking crap, prove it's crap, either in court, get a payout or outside court, get a full retraction and in both cases the reputation of the journalist will be affected. But telling a journalist not to look into something that is news worthy is the wrong thing to do. No exceptions.


breetoplay
breetoplay moderator

@Vikingr @breetoplay Thanks for that link. Somehow I'd forgotten that one. I knew about the mess with Alganon too, but wasn't sure whether there was specifically a lawsuit. In regard to us, the closest he's ever come is messaging the legal team (or suggesting he will, more recently). There have been threats (or as he usually does it, insinuations -- because directly threatening the press would be bad) about more recent stuff, I just hadn't seen anything materialize outside of his business dealings. I wasn't saying that to support him, just the opposite -- I think I realized during his last round of attacks on us that he's almost entirely bark and zero bite.

apmartinez765
apmartinez765

A well thought out and interesting article, I like it even the parts I didn't agree with ...) I would not mind having him do a column every once in a while maybe when Jeff is on vacation? 

Hyper1
Hyper1

@syberghost @JimGriffiths @malakieusn yeah but one of those was just building the prototype to help sell the kickstarter(basically all of it has been changed)


and another was basically used to build the comany up from about 10ish peole they had in the begining only really been in full swing of development for 2 years.

syberghost
syberghost

@Lethality @syberghost @Hyper1 @JimGriffiths @malakieusn so, you believe that "Finished game", which is what the Kickstarter said was estimated to be delivered in Novermber of 2014, means an alpha of one module? Seriously, man?


I am not at ALL saying that times can't slip, or even that two years isn't reasonable; but you cannot say that Chris Roberts said the game would release in November of 2014 but people who backed all knew it wasn't going to be anything close to that, or that anybody thought "finished game" meant "an alpha of one module". Come on, man.

Lethality
Lethality

@syberghost @Lethality @Hyper1 @JimGriffiths @malakieusn What he actually said was the PU Alpha would become available in 2015. He said this in the actual Star Citizen reveal at GDC in 2012. So based on that, they are on track. You can see the video I linked above in these very comments.

No one in their right mind would have expected TWO next-gen games... one single player triple-A and a persistent online world the scale that has never been attempted... to be fully developed and released in less than 2 years. Dates were always about reaching "playable" states.

JohnT_NC
JohnT_NC

@syberghost @Lethality @Hyper1 @JimGriffiths @malakieusn You should be aware that the proposed Kickstarter product (aka vision 1.0) has been completely superceded by a product with a lot more ships, star systems, game systems, higher fidelity, etc. (aka vision 2.0), and the timeline has shifted to support that.  Using the Kickstarter information at this point is essentially referencing a work of fiction.  Currently, the Squadron 42 component (single-player) is scheduled for 2016.  The Persistent Universe will ... take longer.  However, it should be playable as it grows, starting soon (tm).

syberghost
syberghost

@JohnT_NC @syberghost @Lethality @Hyper1 @JimGriffiths @malakieusn yep. And the folks who gave money for Vision 1.0 ought to be offered the opportunity to seek a refund if they desire, and the folks who have backed the ever-shifting Vision 2.0 ought to be offered the opportunity to ensure that their money is being well-spent, just as a conventional financier (who we have taken the place of) would be offered that opportunity.


I'm $140 into this (not counting a t-shirt I'd possibly have purchased even I was waiting until launch to buy the game). I'd like to know that my money wasn't wasted. I'd like to have some assurance other than Chris' personal word that I'll see value for it. Frankly I'd like to give a LOT more, but I've held off because I don't have those assurances. I spend a couple hundred a month on games, but I've passed on more SC purchases so far.


Because I service the games industry and talk to developers all day every day, and hang out with them all weekend running a guild that caters to and was started by game devs, and the majority of them don't consider his word to be what it once was.

davidknowles2
davidknowles2

@malakieusn At one stage CIG actively look at Infinity Battlescape game engine but turned it down. I personally wonder where Star Citizen would be if it had started out with an engine design and from the looks of it clearly capable of doing everything they wanted in the first place rather than taking Cryengine and try to force it to do stuff it was never really designed to do in the first place.

syberghost
syberghost

@SyrenCaban @syberghost @JohnT_NC @Lethality @Hyper1 @JimGriffiths @malakieusn that's why I don't count the shirt when I say the amount. :)


But I don't want a refund; I want accountability and responsibility, followed by an awesome game. If the first happens and I'm satisfied, I'll buy more spaceships. The Gladiator sure looks swell.


In between my last comment and yours, a member of my guild who has purchased several thousand bucks worth of SC stuff decided not to fund Descent precisely because he's waiting to see what happens with Star Citizen. An anecdote, to be sure; but it's proof they're taking at least SOME of the oxygen out of the room.

Lethality
Lethality

@syberghost @SyrenCaban @JohnT_NC @Lethality @Hyper1 @JimGriffiths @malakieusn And here's where it falls apart - you're not entitled to any of that. It's a private company. You are not a shareholder. You are just customer. 

For most backers, they are nothing BUT accountable and responsible and the amount of progress made is more than satisfying.

You can leave, go get your money back, but you sure are not entitled to anything beyond that.

Darkwalker75
Darkwalker75

@syberghost 

I see people throwing that term accountability around and demand to get it.

But what people who use that term and make those demands don't seem to comprehend is that we are getting just that.


I'm well aware that when people as for accountability they mean insight into CIGs financial situation, which as @Lethality says is something we are not in any way entitled to and will never get to see.

They are giving us daily updates on what they are doing and their progress, which is all the accountability we should need.

But if that's not good enough then I simply do not understand why you(I mean both you in general and you specifically) gave money to this project in the first place.


I frankly do not understand why some people are so obsessed with knowing how CIG spend their money.

We know they are spending x amount on computers, x amount on servers, x amount on salaries for developer, etc, but it frankly goes beyond any and all comprehension, what good it would do anyone to know the specific numbers.


Unless people are some kind of accountant or financial analyst, those numbers will mean absolutely nothing.

And given how some people are just looking to find fault with how CR is managing the money, showing those numbers to the public would not do any good.


First of all they could harm any potential future negotiations CR or CIG might make with potential investors/sponsors.

And second, anyone looking to find fault with CIG, not just go quiet when/if its shown that they money is not mismanaged, instead they will just pick apart those numbers and use anything they find against CIG

If they find something, they will take whatever they find and blow it far out of proportion, and if they don't find something they will make something up, take something out of context or twist it to suit their agenda.


Instead of asking for accountability from CIG, you should ask for accountability of the big publishers such as EA and Ubisoft, which year after year releases the same regurgitated crap and in a in a more and more unfinished, buggy and unplayable state for each year.

And not only are they charging a premium for that half finished crap, in many cases they take out some features from the game, features that should be part of the game you paid for, and sell them as day one DLC.

In other words they sell you a game with some missing features at full price, and then charge you extra for those missing features.


Its like trying to sell a car without the doors windows and seat, and then try to sell those as extras.


syberghost
syberghost

@Lethality @syberghost @SyrenCaban @JohnT_NC @Hyper1 @JimGriffiths @malakieusn you keep saying those are the only two options, Lethality, but they're not; they never have been. There are several other options besides "get a refund and go away" and "buy more spaceships and shut up about how the money is being spent."


One of those options is not give them any more money, and continue to discuss the matter in public forums in a calm, rational manner, with some occasional interjected humor. I'm curious as to why you feel this isn't a viable option?


Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@syberghost

An ETA is not a promise of release. Check the definition of the word "estimate". Otherwise you end up looking a bit stupid, as you have now. I sure hope that wasn't your intention.

Also, work on Star Citizen, as it is now, began in late 2012, by any stretch of the imagination, that's 3 years.

As a somewhat comparable project: EvE took 6 years and a few months, so if CIG releases it before end of 2018, they've made faster progress than CCP.

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@malakieusn While impressive on the ambitious scale, i see nothing on the video that most, modern game engines can do, Unity included.


The only real question is not whether the technology can do it, it's whether or not the team can do it.

malakieusn
malakieusn

@syberghost @Hyper1 @JimGriffiths @malakieusn  That is one thing that gets me about the uninformed..  He was talking about the ORIGINAL kickstarter campaign pledge... to create a SINGLE PLAYER game, Squadron 42.   Very quickly however, things took off into an entirely new direction because of the support and it evolved into not only the SP game but a whole new MMO online persistent universe as well...


That one point so many detractors seem to ignore..

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@davidknowles2

Half-Life 2 runs on Quake 1's engine and uses more than 30 year old programming language.

Let that sink in for a moment :) 

Just because an engine is immediately not designed for something doesn't mean it can't be made to work on that stuff. Cryengines have always been built for 2 things, graphical heavy lifting, and massive environments, i think those both count toward CIG's needs.

Armsman
Armsman

@syberghost Seems your reading comprehension is a bit of, as (taken directly from the Starcitizen KS site):

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cig/star-citizen/description


"12 months in, we will allow the early backers to play the multiplayer space combat Alpha, and then 20-22 months in they will get to play the Star Citizen Beta, adventuring around the huge open galaxy, well before the general public..."

^^^

This was before the expansion of scope too.  Arena Commander launched in June of 2014 (the hangar Module in August of 2013); and that was the start of the multiplayer space combat Alpha which was 7 months late BUT in December 2013 - CR put a poll up asking backers if they wanted AC released in December, or if they wanted to wait until CR thought it was ready; and the vote was that Backers were willing to wait.

Currently, yes, CIG is about a year behind in it's estimate of when the open universe alpha (baby-PU as it's referred to today) - but it also will have FPS which was NOT part of the original KS pledge; and was added as the scope expanded.

Still, my main point: I went (and have provided a link) to the KS page with the original trext, and NOWHERE does CR state "he "finished game" will be released in 2014.

Darkwalker75
Darkwalker75

@Armsman @syberghost 

I would say your comment is incorrect in regards to the FPS.

They added ship boarding actions already at the $3.5 million goal and further expanded on it at the $5 million goal.


$3.5 million:

Ship boarding – learn more about how Star Citizen will allow players to conduct boarding operations.


$5 million:

Enhanced boarding options: melee combat, heavy weapons, zero gravity simulation, suit HUD options and EVA combat.


https://robertsspaceindustries.com/funding-goals

syberghost
syberghost

@Kanakotka @syberghost keep in mind I was using the estimate to indicate that Chris Roberts thought the date was possible, in rebuttal to claims every backer knew it wasn't possible. Either Chris thought the date was possible, in which case backers were perfectly reasonable to agree with him, or Chris didn't think the date was possible, in which case he was lying. Which was it?

Lethality
Lethality

@syberghost @Armsman You realize they actually BEAT those dates, right? Your ship was flyable earlier in 2014. And as stated in the original announcement video, the alpha PU was estimated to hit in 2015. On track for that, too.

I'm not saying they didn't make some optimistic estimates, but that's game development. 

Darkwalker75
Darkwalker75

@syberghost @Armsman 

And it says in clear and no uncertain terms, ESTIMATED

What part of estimated is it you do not comprehend?


Estimate

verb (used with object), estimated, estimating.

1. to form an approximate judgment or opinion regarding the worth, amount, size, weight, etc., of; calculate approximately

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@syberghost 

(Silly 5 minute edit timer)

Of course, anything is "possible" in the feasibilities of the word "possible". I estimate it's entirely possible for me, to make the entire game of EvE as it is now with a group of let's say 3 dedicated people within 6 months... providing we never ever hit one issue or have any bug whatsoever. Arguing the possible is a waste of time, and claiming that estimates could be trusted is the exact same. The two things that can be surely said of any software development is that estimates (especially long term) of development will never be met, and that you will face numerous obstacles.


An estimate can never be attributed to a lie. It is by definition(which i told you to check), a rough guesswork. It is not a promise or expected time of release.

malakieusn
malakieusn

@syberghost @JimGriffiths @malakieusn Yep and based on that, if they release the PU 2.0 update any time in the next few months, they will be way ahead of the curve when it comes to AAA game development because most AAA games take an average of 5-7 years before even getting close to any kind of release...

Kanakotka
Kanakotka

@syberghost 

Worry not, i did read all the replies, i can make a point-by-point reply, however. 

A couple is practically as many as few. It is still correct to claim that they had been working on it for "a couple of years", as that is an undefined, small number, like 3 for instance.

I do not quite understand how anyone could, in their right mind, state that the original kickstarter campaign could claim that it'd be impossible to accomplish it within 3 years. 

2014 was well within acceptable timeframe of development for Squadron 42(which was the original kickstarter campaign), which i must note, had a roughly a year development hiatus to wait for progress on the main game, and is using the same engine and framework, so it is irrevocably going to be delayed on a technical level despite having largely unique content in comparison.


The delay happened because of the modular development of the framework of the game requiring additional work to stitch together. This delay wouldn't have happened if Squadron 42 was the sole project. The delay was also made longer with the initial bumps they hit in development of the FPS module, which' basic functions will now come attached as a part of Alpha 2.0.


I'm not sure what the point you're arguing here. That Roberts said he could possibly make it at an early guesswork of an ETA and the ETA he gave didn't coincide with a larger project that wasn't initially even planned? If so, you're correct, have a cookie. We have established that the kickstarter estimate is an estimate. Star Citizen has no estimate, and hasn't had one since 2013, when Squadron 42 was announced... which also doesn't have an estimate.


Also, if you want to nitpick about estimates, shall we make a note that all the estimates feature alpha access? As Lethality said, the backers got alpha access in 2014.


Here's a close look at how video game release estimates are made, and what they contain in terms of reliability, as well as how accountable you should hold people for not meeting their initial guesses:

http://bit.ly/1RidDU2



FeriteKnight
FeriteKnight

@Armsman @Darkwalker75  This might be a little misleading. The entire game is First Person, and all ground zones will be first person. The actual difference between hostile and non-hostile contact in a First person environment, is whether or not you can engage and physically harm another player.


Making that difficult, or creating environmental systems, or AI systems to hinder or even stop that, is actually more work than letting players do it anywhere. Example: Arc Corp automated defense turrets which incapacitate players who arm weapons and engage other players in some areas.


Alternatively of course, you could just prevent all weapons from operating within these zones, or disarm all players on entry, and rearm them on exit, but it still requires somewhat more effort, and will either result in weapons disappearing, or require players to hand them over at Customs personally, (which could allow players to block an entry indefinitely).


But, as far as actual FPS areas go, these are still going to be limited. This means content and maps/levels designed for FPS engagements. Social areas, or ground level or station zones intended for restock and resupply, storage, picking up contracts, etc.. will simply have it by default and require measure in place to prevent it from becoming a problem, dependent on the actual area in question and the law abiding/imposing nature of it.

Vikingr
Vikingr

@Armsman @Darkwalker75 

Actually, you're both right. @Darkwalker75 is right about ship boarding and FPS combat inside ships - although it doesn't explicitly say "FPS", but melee and EVA combat, which implies FPS in a first person game - and @Armsman is right about the later ($20M stretch goal) FPS on ground:

"First person combat on select lawless planets. Don’t just battle on space stations and platforms… take the fight to the ground!"


We can conclude that FPS was intended to be part of the game in the original campaign period, and later FPS on the ground was added.


So those saying "This is not what I pledged for!" when FPS in Star Citizen comes up, are clearly confused about the game's vision and scope.

syberghost
syberghost

@Kanakotka @syberghost did you join the discussion really really late and not read the OP to which I was replying? I'll recap:


Jim said the game had only been in development for a couple of years. I reminded him Chris Roberts himself had said it started in 2011. Hyper said a 2014 release was impossible and everybody knew that from the start. I pointed out that Chris Roberts had at one point ESTIMATED a 2014 release, meaning that on that date, Chris Roberts felt a 2014 release was POSSIBLE.


Not guaranteed. Not promised. POSSIBLE.


Everything since has either been people arguing that they know more than Chris Roberts about how long it would take to make his game, AT THE SAME TIME as claiming nobody else in the gaming industry can possible make ESTIMATES that differ from his, or people claiming no such estimate ever took place, and resorting to insults when provided with evidence of same.


Since my entire premise was that Chris Roberts was capable of making a competent estimate, and that there was nothing wrong with people believing him, I am flabbergasted that you folks are alleging I don't know what an estimate is. Your post only makes sense if your position is that Chris was lying or incompetent.


Armsman
Armsman

@Darkwalker75 The original goals for FPS stated "FPS is some areas" <--- That was expanded top include EVERY ground zone in the game (and NOT without in game consequences if you did it in a tightly controlled area); but again it went to "a few areas where FPS will happen: to "the entire game world will have FPS".

^^^

That's the expansion of scope I'm referring to and probably why CR has started calling SC a "First Person Universe".