Stick and Rudder: Everything we learned from Star Citizen’s CitizenCon 2022 presentations


I’ve lost five hours so you don’t have to.

This year’s CitizenCon event for Star Citizen was definitely something, and while a great deal of it was interesting as CIG detailed what it called its “Road to 4.0,” every second of interest and intrigue that the show built up was pretty much vaporized in the span of two hours. I’ll elaborate on all of that in just a moment, but I’ll be breaking down each portion of the show piece by piece much like I did last year. Also like last time, the individual titles will link back to the full video portions that debuted during the show.

Is everyone set? Then strap in for a long and winding ride.

Planetary Pyro

The panels opened up with a look at six destinations that make up the Pyro system – five planets and one moon, specifically. The planets and moons themselves don’t have individual names like the bodies in Hurston do, likely owing to the fact that the Pyro system is still basically a Wild West frontier.

This package offered in-engine flythroughs of these locations and a general rundown of each of their features.

  • Pyro 1 is a location slashed by solar flares with a surface that’s covered with large spiky rock formations and crystals.
  • Pyro 2 is mostly a sandy planet of reds, browns, and bone whites with long draw distances and calcified trees
  • Pyro 3 is primarily a yellow planet covered in dense moss with rocky, coral-speckled shorelines.
  • Pyro 4 features rocky areas, immense rock formations inspired by the Scottish highlands, and an immense crater.
  • Pyro 5C is a moon that features an immense scar of obsidian on its surface.
  • Pyro 6 is a dusty world pockmarked with craters and some blue oceans.

Most of this package was show first, tell second, which I appreciated, and while not all features of the planets are in place such as volumetric clouds, there does look like a lot of work done for these locations.

Design Brief: Investigations

Star Citizen has combat missions and delivery missions by default, but investigation missions are meant to be a different beast that requires players to use their brains and deductive reasoning over their guns and hardware. This series of missions is very deep in its early concept phase, so a lot of the talk was about plans and ideas than actual gameplay, but it at least sounds interesting on paper if they can be pulled off.

In short, investigation missions are meant to task players with going to locations, finding clues that are scattered around, and solving a small mystery. A lot of noise was made about player agency and player choice, as they can elect to come to their own conclusion about a case they’re tracking and submit their findings, though carefully rooting out the most effective clues will lead to a larger bonus. All of this sounds neat – I appreciate that Star Citizen wants to add more narrative-driven missions here – but it also all sounds like a lot of work needs to be done to even make these kinds of missions possible.

The New Underground

Once again we are high in concept with this one. The devs take us on a tour of revamped underground structures and locations that they want to build, with a focus on creating mission locations that are diverse and multi-faceted.

The plan here is to have players arrive to an upper area or corporate reception region, then head below ground and move through corridors, larger logistical areas or manufacturing zones, transportation routes, and even some abandoned or naturally occurring areas. Many of these underground locations will have various sizes and points of entry, and they will be broken up in-between by bulkhead segments so as not to make these facilities feel like long and winding slogs. To put it another way, these sound a bit like SC’s take on dungeons, though that’s a bit too much of a synopsis and kind of goes against the general MMO gamer’s idea of a dungeon delve in terms of design, and they can be used for infiltration missions or deliveries as well as just straight-up combat.

The thing that stuck out the most about all of this was the liberal use of the word “maybe,” as the video package was mostly all concept art and vague plans. That said, it did close out with a rough in-game render of what some of these areas look like, so perhaps they’re en route to something interesting here.

The Need for (Multiple) Speeds

The devs who make up the vehicle feature team think they’ve cracked the problem with space combat and travel speeds. They admit here that the solutions they’ve tried before haven’t really made the impact they wanted or changed player behavior, as most people just go full speed and get into jousting matches, but the solution appears to have come in the form of what’s called Master Modes.

This boils down to ships entering one of two capacitor modes: Standard Control Mode (SCM) or Quantum Control Mode (QCM). SCM is basically your fire-ready mode, limiting top speed to around 200-300 meters per second but also allowing shields to boot up and weapons to deploy, while QCM could be termed as high speed mode, trading defensive and offensive capabilities for access to quantum travel and a new quantum boost that lets players reach straight-line leaps of up to 1,400 meters per second. Switching between each mode will require some spool-up time, so players will have to choose how to approach a situation.

This sounds like a pretty standard solution to a problem that’s been plaguing SC for a while, but sometimes obvious solutions are the best kind. We’ll see just how well this actually applies, but the devs definitely seem confident here.

Lorville Redux

With all of the sexy new landing zones added to Star Citizen’s alpha build, revisiting and improving the industrial hellscape that is Lorville makes complete sense. The watchword here is about adding more to the location as opposed to wholesale changing it, as most of the main locations players are familiar with are going to stay, but there will be much more cityscape, a lot more buildings – some of which will have interiors to facilitate missions that take place in the city – longer train lines, and the end of the area’s no-fly zone, allowing players to zip around the city as recklessly as they dare.

This was easily one of the more interesting portions of the show for me. Having entire sections of the city blocked off by a giant glowing yellow net that meant you would be blown apart for getting near it was pretty obnoxious. Also, Lorville is kind of grimly beautiful. Consider me fully on board for more of its brand of mess.

Power Play

Once again we are entering concept phase territory, but there also is an intriguing series of wrinkles being considered by the team here. This video offered a deep dive into the various power systems, relays, and the overall power network that will handle things like life support, gravity, and systems operation for ships, buildings, and stations alike. There was a lot of big talk here, noting how these systems will allow for things like multi-crew ships with dedicated roles, player homesteading, the ability to disable or sabotage enemy ships instead of blow them to smithereens, and more diverse mission types and ways for players to complete existing missions.

So where is this all now? Mostly in prototype format. However, these prototypes are actually operational, with in-engine demonstrations of the way players can vent oxygen to rooms, disengage gravity, or muck with a capital ship’s power systems to shut down a shield and allow a friendly attacking ship to damage its hull.

Once more, this sounds like there is a lot of work to be done here, but the demonstrations offered were absolutely interesting. The biggest problem I see with these systems is whether this enters levels of complexity that end up being more busy work than fun.

Talking Ship

If there’s one thing that always gets an SC fans gears churning, it’s new ships, and CitizenCon had some lovely toys to show off.

  • First off we we see the Crusader Spirit, a ship that’s similar in size and ability to the Drake Cutlass or MISC Freelancer but with more speed and agility. The Spirit will come in three different configurations: the C1, which is a cargo hauler that has 48 CU of space; the A1, a fast-moving bomber able to field size 5 ordinance; and the E1, a luxury cruiser with panoramic windows and an on-board bartender.
  • Next we see the Drake Corsair in action, a four-person dedicated exploration ship that also manages to field a nasty assortment of firepower. This one is pretty much done and will be flyable as part of the game’s IAE event. It’s also a damn sexy ship, but I dig Drake’s style.
  • Finally, Greycat is introducing a high-speed, racing-minded off road buggy called the STV. This zippy, sporty little four-wheeler has some cargo space for those who are mission running or handling deliveries, but its built with speed in mind, and should be available to zip around in now. This portion also showed off concept art of the UTV utility vehicle and a redesign for the existing PTV.

Squadron 42 update

This is where things got challenging to witness. Creative lead Jared Huckaby promised viewers there would be a surprise after a video package all about outlaw location visual updates, and if that surprise was for viewers to lose just over two hours of their lives, then CIG delivered.

Chris Roberts and Richard Tyler, two men who are wildly unfamiliar with the concept of brevity, were brought on set to talk about updates made to Squadron 42 and subsequently managed to suck all of the oxygen out of CitizenCon. It was the broadcast definition of “this could have been an email.”

If we boil things down to the most condensed form possible, both devs mentioned that the team is focusing on making SQ42 features operational and functional first, and then bringing them forth to the MMO portion of the game afterwards – features like the new flight model, power systems, and improved UI are examples of things that are built in SQ42 first.

To that point, there were video previews of improved enemy AI that tries to tactically approach players and more intelligently investigate rooms, new locomotion animations for vaulting ledges and climbing ladders, improved EVA animations complete with the ability to clamber on any surface in space, hover trolleys, and minimaps, along with some talk about a skills system that will let players improve physical attributes to improve things like how much equipment they can carry, their stamina drain, or their ability to withstand g-forces in flight.

Once more, this was all drawn out by two men who would just not stop repeating themselves or get to a point, destroying anything interesting that might have been teed up to showcase. About the only thing that kept me sticking around was Huckaby’s facial expressions and body language as he realized the Pandora’s Box he was watching open before his eyes, as well as the stream chat wailing in agony for the segment to end or begging CIG to #FreeJared.

Final Thoughts

Last year, I remarked that the 2021 edition of this showcase lacked “wow factor.” This year, I cannot make the same claim, as a lot of the things shown off, while conceptual in most cases, were also extremely interesting. Still, that final portion of the show was hell. I literally felt like my soul was siphoned from my body, and whatever interesting things may have been prepped for this segment felt like they were pretty much ignored by most viewers.

Of course, readers should bear in mind that not all of these things will be in 4.0 itself – many of these features will arrive in the 4.x series of patches – but assuming these concepts enter playable and stable states, Star Citizen 4.0 could be interesting indeed, assuming their claim that SQ42 development means better PU features holds true.

It’s a big wide universe out there, and the MMO industry is busy filling up the space between the stars – with sci-fi MMORPGs! Join the MOP team here in Stick and Rudder for intermittent voyages into all the big space-trucking, dog-fighting, star-flighting MMOs of the moment.
Longtime MMORPG gamers will know that Star Citizen was originally Kickstarted for over $2M back in 2012 with a planned launch for 2014. As of 2022, it still lingers in an incomplete but playable alpha, having raised over $500M from gamers over years of continuing crowdfunding and sales of in-game ships and other assets. It is currently the highest-crowdfunded video game ever and has endured both indefatigable loyalty from advocates and immense skepticism from critics. A co-developed single-player title, Squadron 42, has also been repeatedly delayed.
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