“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke
The TL;DR recap on how I got involved in this farce
UPDATE1: Hours before this blog went live this morning, CIG released the 2.4 build to the PTU and sent out 5000 invites. It’s as bad as those in the Evocati were saying. Some of the festivities. Enjoy.
UPDATE2: Less than 24hrs later, they started allowing paid ($10 per month) channel subscribers access to it as well; thus leaving out a swath of backers with no access to a game they’ve already paid for. Yeah.
UPDATE3: Want to see how bad the game is, five years and $114 million later? Great! This is a 5v5 streamed session of this 2.4x build. Bearing in mind this was built on an engine designed primarily for FPS. And they somehow managed to pull off this travesty.
THE LAW OF DIMINISHING RETURNS
A little over a month ago, I wrote the Extinction Level Event blog outlining recent and upcoming events which I have reason to believe signal the continued decline and inevitable collapse of this project. My opinion remains the same. The project is FUBAR. And there is seemingly no recovery in sight. And it’s as if CIG are completely oblivious to the fact that almost 500K backers and private investors (not to mention tax benefits, bank loans etc) have poured over $114 million into this project. Either that or the execs continue to exhibit the levels of arrogance that gamers tend to reserve for their most despised developers and publishers.
It has been rumored for sometime now that the primary focus of the development has shifted to the Squadron 42 game being developed by the Foundry 42 studio in the UK. That focus, aside from the fact that they have already proven without a shadow of a doubt that they can’t develop Star Citizen as pitched and promised, inevitably puts the larger Star Citizen game in a sort of maintenance mode. That aside from the features which have been cut, still left to implement etc.
And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Back in July 2015 after the media started picking up on my blogs in which, among other things, I was going on about scope creep, Chris wrote this lengthy missive. Here’s a lovely quote:
“You all know that already; you’ve lived that. You’ve seen Star Citizen evolve and start to come together. You’ve watched our atoms form molecules, our modules form a real, playable game (that you can boot up and play today!). There are people out there who are going to tell you that this is all a BAD THING. That it’s ‘feature creep’ and we should make a smaller, less impressive game for the sake of having it out more quickly or in order to meet artificial deadlines. Now I’ll answer those claims in one word: Bullshit!
Star Citizen matters BECAUSE it is big, because it is a bold dream. It is something everyone else is scared to try. You didn’t back Star Citizen because you want what you’ve seen before. You’re here and reading this because we are willing to go big, to do the things that terrify publishers. You’ve trusted us with your money so we can build a game, not line our pockets. And we sure as hell didn’t run this campaign so we could put that money in the bank, guarantee ourselves a profit and turn out some flimsy replica of a game I’ve made before. You went all in supporting us and we’ve gone all in making the game. Is Star Citizen today a bigger goal than I imagined in 2012? Absolutely. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not: it’s the whole damn point.“
And in April 2016, less than nine months later, he’s talking about a Minimum Viable Product instead of the full product that backers already paid for and were expecting back in Nov 2014. This is the huge Red flag that has seemingly gone largely unnoticed by the die-hard Star Citizen backers who, stuck in Sunk Cost Fallacy and Cognitive Dissonance, find nothing wrong with this sudden turn of events. Again, backers paid for a $100 box, but are now going to get – at best – a $10 box. Without a lid. When you look at the padded features list of what’s playable now – five years and $114 million later – it’s clear to anyone with a pulse that the project is doomed.
On the question of what has happened to the money, some are quick to point out the four studios worldwide, all the people working there, that they are building a game etc. Here’s the narrative that’s missing in that big picture. Even con, every scam, every fraud, all had one thing in common: the promise of something great. There have been elaborate schemes which were not only global, but which also had the appearance of a legit enterprise. Until it all fell apart in spectacular fashion. To be clear, as I’ve stated before; while I don’t personally believe they set out to commit fraud, let alone do I have any evidence of same, it remains my opinion that this, for what has gone on thus far, remains nothing short of a long con. All that aside from the morally ambiguous action of selling pictures of ships for a game that i) simply doesn’t exist ii) they know they can’t build as promised.
In videogame development, the law of diminishing returns is a real threat the longer a game takes to develop and release to market.
Get this: even with over 300 people now working at these four studios – last reported – Chris is still complaining about the inability to hire talent. Internally of course, they’re blaming that on me. Which is hilarious when you think about it; but sources tell me that’s the narrative. Of course, as ludicrous as that sounds, it’s the arrogance, hubris, and the fact that the entire project has all the makings of train wreck, that’s probably keeping top talent from either refusing to come on board, or causing them to bail. This is a close knit industry, and everyone is less than six degrees from the next person. So it’s safe to say that word gets around, and we all know precisely what’s going on. And with that knowledge, unless you really need the paycheck and have no options, why would you want to go work there? Heck, I have heard reports of people who are just pulling a paycheck while not having any meaningful work to do! And yet, others in the dev team (e.g. Jared aka Lando) are touting new hires of late.
And it’s not just about attracting top talent. The current state of the project, coupled with the lofty promises that Chris has made, ensures a spectacular failure for anyone attached to this project in any way, shape of form. There was a time when backers were confident that setting up Foundry 42-GER was going to automagically solve all the game engine problems. Well, that was almost a year ago; and one trip to the game’s changelog shows that’s not the case – at all. Heck, forget about getting a working game, consider the very nature of the tech they’re trying to build. As I’ve said in my first blog back in July 2015, there is no way – on this God’s Earth – whereby they ever build the game as pitched; let alone anything resembling the promises made.
DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS
For Star Citizen, the elephant in the room in terms of tech, is this notion that somehow a twitch-based game designed to be instanced, and which can’t even get more than 10 clients in a session without very bad things happening, is going to turn into an MMO. But back in Nov 2012 (when he was seeking funding for the project) when Chris Roberts wrote this missive about multiplayer and instancing, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that this guy – who hadn’t made a game in almost 15 years at the time – really believed that what he was writing and dreaming about, was in fact possible. Hint: it’s not. Like over 90% (at last count) of everything he has said/promised about this project in order to get funding, it’s pure and utter horse shit. And back in July 2015, one of the devs actually added his own thoughts which then made it painfully clear that not only were they winging it – which is the basis for R&D btw – but that they also had absolutely no clue how they were going to actually do it.
As of this writing, not much has changed since then; neither in the underlying network architecture, nor the instancing part of it.
As an experienced software engineer, I can tell you – flat out – that inter-instance communication described in this manner – and for the game pitched – is not only improbable, but it’s also the sort of thing that fairy dust is made of. And we’re not talking about the ability for a database in one server instance to talk to another database (e.g. user) in another instance. That’s pretty trivial (we’ve done just that in Line Of Defense btw) and rudimentary. No, we’re talking about the ability for one game instance (A) with players, to communicate with another game instance (B) that also has players. As that is the only way that you’re ever going to get Tom on A to see/communicate with Harry on B. Before you even go that far, know this, in order for that to even work, you need to have a unified and persistent universe that acts as the “play” area for Tom and Harry.
Before you say Eve Online has done it; don’t – they haven’t. If you’re a programmer, go ahead and read up on the EO architecture (1, 2) – which btw has been drastically improved upon over the years. That EO bespoke architecture was built from the ground up as part of the engine and for a specific game. A game that’s not twitch-based or anywhere near the fidelity of the seamless architecture that Star Citizen is shooting for.
Simply put, without a seamless inter-instance communication backend, there is no Star Citizen MMO. Like ever. And while Chris was flat out of his depths and just making shit up, Alex on the other hand outlined how it could be done. Theoretically. See the difference between those two accounts of the same thing? While you’re at it, this is the list of games made with CryEngine. Count the number of standard MMO games which have actually been completed and released.
As I write this blog in the middle of May 2016, not only do they not have a persistent universe to speak of, but they still have serious issues with instances hosting more than 10 clients. Not only that, as an instanced game, the chances of you and your buddies to be in the same instance are next to impossible. This is not a game whereby you fire up a server browser, join a server, then tell your friends to come to that server before it fills up. Nor is it a game whereby you can spin up your own private server – which they also promised btw.
The sad part of all this? They were never supposed to be building an MMO to begin with. Somewhere along the line, despite saying it wasn’t an MMO, Chris decided they were going to build one after all. Just like that.
When Line Of Defense was designed, right off the bat we knew what our Wide Span Global networking architecture was going to be like. We also knew that we wanted to have the flexibility of having either a standard MMO architecture, or a standard server browser based option for consoles – in the event that I allowed players to host private servers. And the world – in both cases – would be 100% persistent. In fact, it was designed in such a way that redundancy was key. We have client limits not only based on specific scenes, but also on an entire cluster which runs a single world. We did this so that if one scene (e.g. Heatwave on the planet) in the world goes down, it doesn’t take the whole game world/cluster with it. Instead, everyone on Heatwave would be kicked out and they could immediately rejoin the game and go to another scene (e.g. Frostbite) while Heatwave came back up. And all the scene links (via jumpgate and DJP) are intelligent enough to prevent access to a dead scene; while allowing it as soon as the scene was back up. So if you are in Frostbite or in Lyrius space, you can’t get to Heatwave if it was down; but you have the rest of the game world to play in.
So essentially, unless a cluster of servers running a world of 13 (4 planets, 4 space, 4 stations, 1 carrier) scenes suffers a catastrophic collapse, there will never be a case whereby people can’t connect to and play the game. And the beauty of it is that we can spin-up entire clusters as-needed.
And we have hardware servers – not cloud instances (Amazon | Google) – because not only is the game not instanced, it was 100% persistent right off the bat. We just built a “game” on top of it. We didn’t try to shoehorn persistence as an afterthought, long after critical engine work already done, would make it an insurmountable task. Further, hosting our own servers for a twitch based game, makes the most economical sense because for these types of games, because leasing or doing server co-lo, ends up being cheaper and offers the most flexibility.
This design also means that you and your friends can always meet anywhere in the game world; and even if a cluster is at peak – or is down – you can always join up on another cluster because for LOD, “server transfers” are a non-issue: you can take your character to any server cluster, and at any time. All you have to do is logout, and log back in. Boom! You’re playing.
These are all the reasons why, when I designed the game world, I partitioned it as I did. I opted for redundancy and up time, over fidelity and seamless (oxymoron) bullshit. And if the game does well, not only does this design allow us to add more scenes to the current Lyrius planet, but also any planet or any space sector. This would also allow us to eventually build out the entire game world that the IP (used in my Battlecruiser/Universal Combat/All Aspect games) is based on, while later adding staple features from my previous games, such as trading and mining, with the addition of capital (transport, cruiser, carrier) ships needed for those features.
First rule of game development: choose or build an engine specific to the game you’re making; not the other way around.
MMO OR NOT, IT’S CONDITION RED
The “game”, five years and almost $114 million dollars later, remains a broken mess of a tech-demo that doesn’t even qualify as a pre-Alpha in any way, shape, or form. And now whatever it is they are doing and passing off as the “start of persistence”, just reeks of the same nonsense. For one thing, these “features” in 2.4 are not in the vein of persistence.
- Item Purchases
- Hangar Configurations
- Ship Loadouts
- Character Loadouts
- Crusader Reputation (Criminal and Defender)
- Ship Ammo and Missiles (Crusader only)
These are standard gaming features which are no different from any game that has the capability to save state, progress etc. Heck, any single-player game that you can resume – or even from a manually saved game state – can be described as being persistent if you take this CIG meaning into account. Going by the above, Star Citizen is as persistent as Counter Strike, Team Fortress 2, and their ilk.
It’s pure and utter bullshit.
The fact that the game itself is instanced, completely throws most of that “persistent” notion out the window.
Then there’s the on-going Evocati nonsense which has ended up shutting out the vast majority of backers from the “persistent” test build.
Previously, it used to be dev -> PTU -> Public. This process allowed a closed testing of a build before it goes public. Most of us devs do this; but since we’re self-funded, we have valid (e.g. costs) reasons to limit the size of our “focus test group” before making a specific build public. In the case of this crowd-funded game, which has been paid for many times over, they have no plausible reason to restrict backer access. None.
Problem is, due to the fact that they – foolishly – decided to build a twitch based MMO on cloud (Google Compute) instances, coupled with the fact that they are pushing an average of 30GB (!) updates (they’re not patches in the proper sense of the term) per user with each update, means huge bandwidth and cloud instance costs. And when you take into account (run a Wireshark analysis with the game and see for yourself) the size of the packets they are sending back and forth, it’s easy to see just how ridiculous this whole architecture is. Like truly, and utterly horrid. And he has admitted this as recently as last month in one of his 104TC self-own sessions.
So now it’s dev -> Evocati -> PTU -> Public. And the Evocati part is basically just another PTU, but with an NDA (!) attached, and a smaller set of invite-only backers. Seriously, they attached an NDA to a crowd-funded project. A project which only backers who have already paid for the project, have access to anyway. More on this later.
UPDATE: Streamer’s epic rant at CIG for not having 2.4 PTU access. Includes transcript.
So those cloud computing/storage costs alone, are the primary reason why they are not going to be able to keep this Star Citizen game running for the long term. Unlike leased and/or colo servers, cloud costs are very high. For a quarter of what they are paying each month, they could have bought or leased servers, and saved a ton of money. Which appears to be what he said back in 2014.
And they could have stuck with the original plan and let backers spin up and host their own game sessions, while CIG only hosts some first-come/first server official servers, and a master server which allows game sessions to talk to each other, and populate a server browser with available games etc.
So now, without the ability for backers to spin up their own game sessions, this means that once CIG folds – as I’m 100% certain that they will – the game can no longer be run. Which is pretty much the same thing as when publishers pulling backend (master server) support for multiplayer games after a few years.
This should be a major concern for backers; but most aren’t even thinking about this objectively, so they really can’t see all the problems that are coming.
Also, before Chris decided that he was making an MMO after all, despite statements to the contrary, the game was looking like a standard session based game as I described above. Meaning that any player could spin up – and host – a game session and allow others to join via a server browser. Just like most games – which are not MMO games – do. Heck, even Line Of Defense supports both types because a standard MMO style client-server is a bit more difficult and involved, on consoles. But of course, seeing as he had already started selling a “persistent universe”, he pretty much increased the engineering debt and subsequently tanked the Star Citizen (aka PU) project. Simply put, you cannot have the “persistent universe” as described, with instanced client sessions. Like, at all. Heck, right now, they can’t even get more than 12 people in an instance, without the game choking, glitching, crashing etc.
As another example of the disconnect, earlier this week at yet another AtV broadcast, neither Sandi (the famed head of marketing since she was a little girl), and a dev, Forrest Stephan, didn’t know that the current test cycle was even called Evocati. Note that this Evocati nonsense was public over a month ago; and I even wrote a blog about it.
“Forrest: “Yeah I heard they’re doing an awesome job. The issue council reports are blowing up and so thank you everybody that’s involved, I hear it’s going awesome.”
Sandi: “Yeah that was actually what I was mentioning before [laughs]. But I didn’t know we called them the Evocati.”
Forrest: “I didn’t know that until either, Evocati. I tell you what, I won’t forget it now.”
At the end of the day, Star Citizen (PU) as has been described, will never – ever – see the light of day. As I have said before, they’re going to keep putting in crap designed to make money, removing and/or scaling back promised features, while focusing on SQ42 because that’s what Chris (who wants to be a movie director, more than he wants to be a game designer) wants to focus on; and because it’s the only aspect of a “game” that is capable of being delivered as a “finished product”. And once that happens – if it happens – he’s going to bail.
“I am starting to wonder weather CIG can pull of this grand idea of a space mmo. If after 5 years of working on this project, they can’t even produce a stable platform in which 16 ships fly around a spherical arena, without constant drop out issues, lag, spawning dilemmas just to state a few of the many unstable characteristics in arena commander, then can they really make a game as in depth as they claim they will? 5 years is a long time to have not achieved some of the basics needed for a game of this scope.
I hope they can achieve their goal.” – a concerned backer on RSI forums
You really want to be shocked? OK try this latest farce: Back in 2013, they advertised and sold a JPEG of a ship, the Caterpiller…
In an AtV broadcast from Oct 8, 2015, they showed the ship in progress. That was seven months ago. And this is what it looked like then…
In today’s AtV broadcast, they again showed the ship’s work-in-progress. This is what the interior looks like now…
I am going to say it again, this whole project is FUBAR and there is simply no saving it. And the gamers, as well as the engineers who have worked so very hard on it, are going to be the ones burned the most; while Chris, his family, and exec friends at the top of the food chain, would have personally benefited financially from it all. Though the risks were always there, at the end of the day, the backers, private investors, banks – everyone who has ever put money into this shit-show, stands to lose it. All of it.
CIG vs BACKERS – THE LEGAL WALL OF DOUBLE STANDARDS
While CIG has repeatedly broken its promises to backers, even as it breaks its very own ToS, the fact that they saw it fit to attach an NDA to a product that backers already paid for, is remarkably arrogant. Backers having paid for this game – in full – and given their ‘open development‘ (that nonsense is already out the window), every backer is entitled to the game; and at all times. Legalities aside, allowing some backers, and not others, to access the game, is a decision made by people who are morally bankrupt. You know, the same people who frequently make promises they can’t keep, write-up a ToS they have no intentions of abiding by – and which they get to abuse without reason, have a habit of lying to backers – incessantly and with impunity. These are the people backers gave over $114 million to build this game.
Ponder this if you will: Locking this game behind an NDA, and making it accessible to only a few backers, implies that CIG is willing to take legal action against its own backers. If not, how else can they enforce an NDA? Through fear?
Yes – it’s perfectly normal to tie an NDA to a closed beta test. However, in the case whereby those very testers have already paid for the game – and are thus 100% entitled to it as they have always been – there simply is no reason for doing that.
So far, they haven’t addressed repeated queries about why they saw it fit to attach an NDA to a test build. A test build which, btw, still resides on the same Public Test Server that backers already had access to in previous builds. No, instead, they’re touting the Evocati build as – surprise (!) – a cost cutting measure, and less noise. Which is particularly laughable when you read something like this being communicated as somehow being a good thing.
“It’s a great example that sometimes less is more: we’re getting the same volume of bugs reports from the larger past waves, but with higher quality and repro rates, and with less noise and administrative headache.”
Note that even without an NDA, they can terminate your account for breaking the ToS. Which makes it clear that they needed to send a stronger message and threat; hence the NDA.
So it seems to me that the only reason why they would attach an NDA to this, while locking out the vast majority of backers, is to prevent those backers from creating screenshots and videos of a game they already paid for – in full, and also to stifle any on-going discussion of just how shit it is. Well, someone didn’t care about that, and posted about it anyway. And what he posted is line with other scattered reports. Here’s the thing: even the most staunch supporters are ashamed of even talking about it. And given that the game is now the laughing stock of the gaming community, that too explains why the hype is dying down…along with the frantic cash grab.
So, having said that, if CIG is communicating that they are willing to sue their backers for breaking an NDA, it should come as no surprise that backers should now understand that the only way they’re ever going to get accountability and/or refunds for CIG failing to deliver on promises, is to take legal action. After all, courts have repeatedly ruled against one-sided ToS agreements. Especially ones which are unilaterally modified by the plaintiff in their favor, and on a whim.
And it just so happens that the current ToS v1.2 expires on May 31st. That date will mark exactly 18 months from the promised Nov 2014 date of delivery. You can read more about that over here. And The Escapist also covered it in their article from Oct 2015.
UPDATE2: One original Kickstarter (2012) backer who was upset that he wasn’t granted access (via Evocati) to the game he paid for, contacted them. If you’ve seen their previous customer service actions, one of which involved Sandi, then what happened next should come as no surprise. Remember back when they released the shoddy v2.0 PU and started using it as an excuse to stop giving refunds? Well it’s like that.
SQUADRON 42 – A MEANS TO AN END
I wrote a blog about the split of this product into its own entity a few months ago. The only thing that has changed since then, is the fact that sources tell me that this is the primary focus of the development now. Which makes sense, considering that by all accounts the larger Star Citizen game is on life support.
But here’s the thing, aside from this Godawful “tour” from Oct 2015, backers have yet to see any gameplay from this game. In one of the several mo-cap session videos one of the devs made this comment about what had been shown at the time.
“The cast and Chris have done an unbelievably great job. It’s going to kick other games in the ass!“
Right. About that. This image below is what Squadron 42 looked like in Oct 2015. And sources say it still looks precisely like this – today. Which could explain why they still haven’t shown any actual gameplay footage.
So, not only is there now no release date for either Star Citizen or Squadron 42, but now reports remain consistent that, unless they cut and rush, it would take a miracle for even SQ42 episode one to see the light of day before mid to late 2017. Let than sink in.
To add insult to injury, with all the different broadcast shows that they have, not only have they not shown any gameplay footage to backers, but now word is that they are going to be showing a “reveal” trailer at the upcoming PC Gaming Show or failing that, they will show it at the end of June. Yes, instead of showing backers what they have already paid for, they’re going to instead do the reveal at a third-party gaming event. That is how much respect they have for backers who made this whole thing possible.
Sources say that the trailer is about 2:30 mins long, will feature segments (you’re a turret gunner) from the first mission showing both Hamill and your commanding officer, Kelly, in some Godawful scene; and with dialog that makes even the shitty Vandul sequence look like an Oscar worthy performance. Oh, and apparently the only combat sequence is of a Starfarer under some sort of attack and lasts for all of about 30 secs. So basically, the majority of the trailer is of mocap bullshit that has no relevance to gameplay. Essentially, it’s just Chris justifying his expensive mocap shoots and equipment, live actors – and a shitty script that reports say is as cringe-worthy as you could possible expect from the guy who made the Wing Commander movie and a string of horrid movies thereafter. All of which, in case most have forgotten, were buried in yet another failed venture. NOTE: They will most likely change the trailer now. But that’s fine because it’s highly unlikely they will change the game script because of a minor trailer leak. Then again.
…the worst thing to the Shitizens isn’t even “Roberts was wrong” it’s “Smart was right”
With increasing pressure from a slew of upcoming Triple-A games which feature space combat, such as Mass Effect Andromeda, Call Of Duty Infinite War, Star Wars Battlefront 2, a rumored Bethesda reveal of a space-faring game, not to mention the fantastic Elite Dangerous updates; as well as indie offerings such as No Man’s Sky, Infinite Battlescape, Line Of Defense etc it is safe to say that, assuming it actually ships, Squadron 42 is as good as dead. Completely. But here’s the thing, I am of the opinion that this is actually their end game: ship Squadron 42 in whatever form, abandon Star Citizen in whatever state, then bail and/or fold.
And while you’re pondering that, take a look at two guest posts (1, 2) which shed even more light on just how screwed this whole thing is. And you should definitely read this rather balanced, albeit optimistic, article as well.
Here’s the thing: in gaming, we’ve seen this movie before. Eventually it all falls apart. Horribly.
When all is said and done, millions would have been wasted on a “dream” that became a nightmare for backers and investors who would have poured and lost millions into this train-wreck. Since nobody else is doing it, I will continue to write my blog updates as things develop, and all the way to the inevitable collapse.
“Long ago I stopped looking at this game the way I did when I worked for a publisher who gave me a fixed budget to make a retail game. I now look at our monthly fundraising and use that to set the amount of resources being used to develop this game. We keep a healthy cash reserve so that if funding stopped tomorrow we would still be able to deliver Star Citizen (not quite to the current level of ambition, but well above what was planned in Oct 2012). If you combine our in-house staff and outsourced developers, we now number more than 280 people. Your support has created a significant number of jobs in the gaming industry. (And no matter what you might have heard, only a small number of our team is tasked with designing new ships!)”
– Chris Roberts, Sept 2014