Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 31, 2015

Star Citizen’s investment bonanza demonstrates the impact Roberts has had

Wired has a great article up on Star Citizen. Go read it. The included videos are also quite delicious.

I really wish there was more written about Wing Commander in the business side of gaming. 1990 has to be the best year ever in gaming. 1990 was when Super Mario Brothers 3 was released in North America. 1990 was when the Super Nintendo was released in Japan. There was much going on at the time.

There are a few games that really rattled PC gaming and altered everything. Doom is such a game. Ultima Online or World of Warcraft is such a game. Minecraft is such a game. But Wing Commander is that game. I think Wing Commander is perhaps bigger then them all.

Video games used to be designed based. There were many old school developers who hated Wing Commander because they said, “Origin is just buying marketshare with it.” Wing Commander was an expensive game at the time. However, Wing Commander wasn’t so much a design based game but a production based game. Do you even know what other PC games Wing Commander was competing with at the time? Oh reader, prepare to have your world rocked.

Above: King’s Quest V

Above: Railroad Tycoon 1

Above: Alpha Waves

Above: Captive

Above: Ultima VI: The False Prophet

And then Wing Commander comes out, and you witness your computer doing this:

The speed is a little too fast and the music is synthesized midi, but you get the idea. The game is shockingly bold. While other games were getting graphically better, with very pretty colors, Wing Commander felt like a movie. Remember, this is 1990. This is the 8-bit Era for consoles where NES still reigns.

I haven’t paid any money for Star Citizen, and I will not until the game is released. It is not that I think Chris Roberts is a thief (I mistakenly typed his name as Christ Roberts which seems appropriate), it is that I do not think he has the experience to BALANCE such a game. Chris Roberts seems to be building a 1990s game with 2015 technology. This is awesome if you are a 1990s Era gamer. However, I think it is off.

How Roberts will pull off this epic is using the old game developer trip of modular systems talking to each other. The example is the RPG World x Dogfight Module x On Foot Module and so on. Wing Commander, or even Privateer, had different modules talking to each other to create an epic game.

Consider the old RPG. There was the overworld map. When you entered a city, you went to a city map. When you hit a random enemy encounter, you went to the battle screen. Older games got around the technology by having different modules talk to each other. Much gaming progress since then has been in eliminating those modules. Ultima VI, for example, has no separate ‘mode’ for city or overworld or battle. It is all on one screen. Meanwhile, Chris Roberts was still using modules talking to each other. Wing Commander III and IV had the game mode of the dogfighting talking to the movie module. The game took you back and forth and the modular modes talked to each other.

Other examples of such design would be Zelda 2 and Star Control 2. Zelda 2 has the overworld map and then the ‘side view’. The two modules talk to each other to create an epic game experience. The issue with such modules talking to each other is that it doesn’t age very well. Star Control 2, one of my favorite games, has modules stacked on top of modules. You have the melee mode of the ships as one mode, you have the overworld map as another mode, and you have the dialogue screen as yet another mode. You can even add in yet another mode with the planetary lander when you collect resources and aliens off of planets. All these modes would talk to each other and create a very epic experience despite the game (Star Control 2) being made by only two people.

Chris Roberts is relying on what has served him well. He is relying on these different modes that will ‘talk’ to each other to create the feeling of an epic game. He is not actually DESIGNING a universe like a MMORPG. This is how he pulls it off. He designs modules that talk to each other and create the ‘universe’ through such game conversation.



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