Official : Comm-Link [EN] | Letter from the Chairman

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Star_Citizen

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Sep 6, 2020
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The Best of Times, the Worst of Times


Hello Citizens,

2020 has been a momentous year in more ways than one; we blew past $300M in crowdfunding and even though we’re just over three quarters of the way through the year, it is already our biggest year in terms of revenue, players and engagement. We’re on track to have close to one million unique players this year while a quarter of a million new players have already taken their first steps in the universe of Star Citizen during these past nine months. And you all, the best community in gaming, have welcomed them with open arms, showing them around, helping explain the mechanics and even lending them ships to try out!

It has also been a very trying year for everyone around the world. I was expecting to be standing on a stage at the Los Angeles Convention Center giving a keynote to a couple of thousand community members in person. Instead I am writing this from my home, having not been into the office for six months. People’s lives have been upended by the dangers and challenges of COVID-19. We transitioned all five of our studios to work from home in March, which was no easy feat. Thanks to our IT and operations teams we had minimal disruption in people’s ability to continue to develop Star Citizen and Squadron 42. We are lucky to be in an industry that can still work remotely, and while we are thankful of this, our thoughts go out to everyone that are not as fortunate.


Happy Birthday Star Citizen!

It’s been eight years since we started this journey together. It is times like this you reflect on where you started, how far you’ve come and where you are going. The journey has not been short, and our destination has grown in ambition with the increase in everyone’s support to build a universe to a level of detail and scale that no one has even dared to dream of.

In looking at all the incredible milestones, technology and content we’ve created so far, and the features and content we still have to go, I think of John F Kennedy’s speech at Rice University on September 12th, 58 years ago;

We chose to build a game of Star Citizen’s complexity and ambition, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. We are building a game that I, and I dare say all of you, have dreamed about since we first started playing games, a game that I never imagined could be possible due to the economics and technical challenges.

Together, as a community of developers and gamers, we are creating a fully immersive first-person science-fiction universe where you can seamlessly do anything and go anywhere, without compromise. We are building it as a shared communal experience where friends can meet, or new ones can be made; developers and players interact and riff off each other; and geographic boundaries and language barriers fall as the Star Citizen Community plays and bonds, welcoming both old and new pilots alike. If you haven’t yet, take the time to watch today’s newly released “One Community” Video, which conveys the powerful connections and friendships forming in the SC Community every day. It is these connections that bind us all together, not just as gamers, but as people. And in times like these, this is more important than ever.


And like Man in Kennedy’s Moonshot speech, we have achieved a lot already in our quest for the stars; 64bit mathematical precision, allowing our game to have both millimeter detail and billions of kilometer scale, something no other commercial game engine has. Our planet tech allows us to render and simulate entire planets and moons down to the smallest rock or flower. If you can see it, you can travel there! The procedural tools we’ve developed allow our artists to “paint at scale” to create stunning and very specific environments. We can seamlessly transition between different physical simulations like local gravity in spaceship to the zero G of space, to the gravity of a planet rotating on its axis with our Physics Grid technology. The item port system allows us to break functionality into discrete components like power plants, shield generators, life support, doors, seats, thrusters, turrets, guns and many more, allowing systemic behavior in our spaceships, vehicles and environments. Our unified actor rig allows us to have the same animations and details in first and third person allowing for the richest possible multiplayer experience. We can arbitrarily stream in and out the universe around the player in the client or the server with Object Container Streaming, allowing us to only display and simulate the parts of the universe we need to. Our DNA facial tech allows you to blend different scanned human features together realistically to create believable human heads for your in-game character. Our Face-over-IP tech allows you to drive the facial motions of your in-game character as well as put your voice diegetically into the game.

No other game has all this functionality at once, done to the level of fidelity that we deliver.

Along the way we have built a company of over 640 people, split between five studios across four time zones, no small feat when we started with no office, zero employees and a few collaborators eight years ago!

Looking Forward

While we’re well on our way to the Moon, metamorphically speaking, we’re not there just yet. We still have some key technologies to complete to round out the seamless universe;

iCache, which will allows us to record state on any dynamic arbitrary item in the universe, so you could touch down on a planet, drop a coffee cup in a forest on some remote planet, leave, and come back a month later to still see the coffee mug where you left it. iCache opens up true universe persistence for Star Citizen and enables what we are calling “Physical Inventory” where you no longer will have a magic bag of holding; you will be limited to the items you can physically carry or equip, or that you can store on your ship or hab. With Physical Inventory, item and resource management become much more important. What you take with you on your ship is important. Traveling to a hostile environment? Better have room to store an environment suit. Ship choice and availability of equipment / resources becomes much more meaningful. We have made great progress on iCache and are hoping to have it in a live build by Q2 of next year (“hoping” not “promising”).


Server Meshing is another big technical milestone ahead of us. It’s dependent on iCache, as that allows the various servers in the mesh to utilize a unified snapshot of the state of the universe, but we have been working on this over the past few years and hope to have the first iteration in players’ hands by next year. This will allow us to greatly expand the number of the players beyond 50 to thousands concurrently in the same “instance” as the tech will spin up additional servers to handle the simulation load in an area as the player count increases. This is when Star Citizen becomes a true Massively Multiplayer Game.

The last big technical initiative is the background universe simulation, what Tony Zurovec has dubbed “Quantum” at last years CitizenCon. Tony and his team have been working hard on the backend services to communicate between the individual game servers and the overall universe simulation that takes state from the game servers and uses it to affect the global universe simulation. This creates cause and effect in prices of commodities, missions created and AI objectives based on the player population’s actions.

These three key technologies will round out the major technical pillars that will enable us to deliver a dynamic and seamless universe with incredible detail and scale. All are well into development and the question is no longer “if” but “when”.

When this happens we can start to open the floodgates in terms of locations and content, something we have been gearing up for by focusing on improving the planet tech and its procedural creation tools while we wait for server meshing to come online. We’ve taken the creation of a planet from months to a couple of weeks, when we have the appropriate biomes and assets. We’ve been focusing on tools that will allow us to build landing zones and settlements at scale when we have the modular pieces.

Along with these last few major tech hurdles, we’ve been making a point to improve the quality of life and stability of the game. We created the Vehicle Experience Team, to focus on the feel of space flight and combat, and we have similar upcoming initiatives on the Actor (player) side, focused on the Player Interaction Experience. Some of this you’ll have already begun to appreciate with the release of 3.10, which brought the first round of flight and turret experience improvements. 3.11 is continuing this with improvements to missile and countermeasure gameplay. We believe that this focus on stability and QoL has helped and can be seen in our increased user engagement this year.


We’re not stopping there. We already have the professions of other space games right now in 3.11: exploration, hauling, trading, mercenary, outlaw, bounty hunting and mining. We have big plans for salvage, repair, medical, data running, farming, and manufacturing / crafting but if we just took the time to finish the existing professions and polish them, Star Citizen would have no rival. Part of the “there are no gameplay loops” comments I see occasionally stem from the fact the base professions often are incomplete in their functionality, like effectively being able to collect cargo from a ship you just waylaid as a pirate. This along with an occasional game-breaking bug and lack of polish gives an impression of much less than there actually is. Rectifying this, along with improving the initial user experience, are core to our upcoming “experience” initiatives, with Cargo, Piracy and Bounty Hunting being high on the list to receive the extra love and attention to make the professions fully rounded and fun.

And it’s not just about our destination, it’s about the journey, and along the way we are aiming to make it fun to play and support Star Citizen while it is being finished around you. The Fleet Week event back in May was just the first of many dynamic events we are planning. This year’s Intergalactic Aerospace Expo moves to an all-new location built from the ground up at New Babbage on microTech, and there’s been some disturbing transmissions coming from Pyro…

Like our tech hurdles, its not a matter of if Star Citizen will ever reach critical mass but when. The future gets brighter quarter by quarter, as every release is an incremental and tangible step to the fully dynamic first-person universe sandbox that we have all dreamed of. You better bring shades!

The Roadmap

We have a lot of exciting features under development from large to small, but I will leave the detail on these to the new Public Roadmap we’ve been working on that we gave a peek into back in August. The big difference between what we have been sharing up to now and the new format is that you will see what every member of the development team is working on, even if they are working on something that doesn’t have a deliverable any time soon.

I know a few people wonder why it takes so long to revise a roadmap, but it’s much more than that. We’re displaying fundamentally different information than previously shown, and we need a system that doesn’t require a lot of manual upkeep. It is a huge challenge to organize and display what everyone is working on with such a massive project. We have FIFTY EIGHT individual sprint teams that range from 3 to 4 people up to 20.

Having a high-level view of what 500 developers are working where you can scope down to what individual resources are working on is not as easy as throwing a Trello board together for a 20-person development team. We want you to see a version of what we use and see internally. As such there is a lot of engineering on the web platform for both display and data acquisition from our JIRA database. Depending on Turbulent’s progress we are hoping to have the first iteration of the new Public Roadmap for Star Citizen and Squadron 42 to go live towards the end of this year.
Squadron 42

Today we are releasing the first installment of “The Briefing Room” which is planned to be an in-depth quarterly show on Squadron 42, that will discuss what the team has achieved (kind of like a really, really big sprint report) and deep dive into a feature and or piece of content. The first episode doesn’t have the visual quarterly report (that will be in the future installments) but it is one hour and eighteen minutes, so set some time aside to watch it!

I know there has been some frustration since we announced we were not going to be updating the current Squadron 42 Roadmap until we had reconfigured how we display progress on Squadron 42.

It is very important to us to deliver a game that will be the pinnacle of the single-player story space adventure, a game that lives up to the legacy of Wing Commander and breaks new ground in interactive storytelling. Much like Star Citizen, Squadron 42 is how I always dreamed of being immersed in a riveting story where I was the star of my own huge space epic. Back when I was building the Wing Commander series, there were always technical limitations, so I had to pick and choose my battles. But with Squadron 42 I can finally immerse you as a player into your own adventure to rival any big budget movie you might see on the big screen, interacting and forming relationships with characters played by some of your favorite actors and navigating battles and set pieces that would make any Star Wars film proud. I could have stuck to the original, much simpler game that was proposed in 2012, but with the increase in scope for Star Citizen I felt I needed to build a single-player game to rival Star Citizen’s multiplayer ambition. With the amount of love and effort that has been poured into Squadron 42, we aren’t going to release it until it’s fully polished, plays great and packs an emotional wallop.

This is a very different approach than Star Citizen, where we iteratively release functionality and content every three months, and so tangible progress can be seen and played. For a lot of Squadron’s content, it’s very hard to call it “done” as we’ll be polishing gameplay, environments, characters, props and ships until we release. So, we felt that refocusing the roadmap more on what people are working on rather than individual deliverables per quarter would give people a much better idea of where we are at in the development of Squadron 42, as well as how hard everyone is working.

Any one of our Roadmaps are only a snapshot of where we are, what we think we have left, with our estimates of how long they will take. But they are just that, estimates, and so can be wrong and often are. We are constantly looking at how we tracked on our previous sprints, what went well, what didn’t and how we will improve, and we factor this new data into our future estimates to try to make them more accurate. As we close out the required functionality and content of Squadron 42, the more accurate the estimate of when we will finish becomes, as there will be fewer unpredictable elements in the roadmap.

I know everyone would like a definitive date on when Squadron 42 will be done but the best answer I can give you is that it will be done when it is done, and that will not be this year. But starting this December you should have more visibility into what the team is working on, what they have left and with The Briefing Room you’ll get much more in-depth visual dives into what we’ve done and features and content we can share without spoilers.

I want Squadron 42 to be finished and played by all of you, more than anyone. I can tell you that the team is in “close out” mode and we are actively looking to burn down our remaining tasks and focus on polishing gameplay. It is going to be a game that is worth the wait, and one that the team and I, and you the community who supported its creation, will be proud of.

The Community

Without all of you and your tireless support and enthusiasm – the backers that dutifully play each Evocati or PTU release to help find bugs, the content creators who create the most amazing screen shots or beautiful videos, the streamers who play the game daily showing just how much fun Star Citizen can be even in its early state – we wouldn’t be where we are today.


Star Citizen and Squadron 42 are games without compromise, with ambitions without parallel. There is no other situation in which I or anyone else could swing for the fences in such a manner. No publisher wants to invest the time and money to build something like this. It is only possible with the support of the best community in gaming, one that doesn’t care about or quarterly profit numbers but values quality and scope over all else.

With Star Citizen you can see and play the progress every three months, and even if a certain feature or piece of content that you are looking forward to hasn’t been delivered yet, you can’t look at the game today and not see the huge progress since we took the first baby steps into the Persistent Universe back in December 2015.

With iCache and Server Meshing on the horizon, combined with a focus on polish and quality of life, Star Citizen will become a game with no equal that will slowly grow and evolve over many years. Eve and World of Warcraft are still going strong over a decade later and my vision for Star Citizen is far longer. As long as people want to lose themselves in another universe to play with their friends and make new ones, as long as people love science fiction and the fantasy of traveling the stars, we will be here to provide an escape like no other.

I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have done and all that you continue to do,
Happy Star Citizen Day to us all!

-Chris


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