Chris Roberts Talks Star Citizen, The Last of Us, Broken Age, and More
If it all sounds terribly ambitious, well, it is. The gaming industry has never seen anything like it, especially when you dig into the details of what Roberts’ team is actually creating. Star Citizen is massive, and actually two games in one. The first, optional single-player adventure is called Squadron 42. It will cast players as pilots in the United Empire of Earth (a sci-fi version of the Roman Empire) Navy in an epic campaign Roberts likens to the scope of Wing Commander. Star Citizen will then open the Squadron 42 universe up to players, allowing them to do whatever they please in one seriously massive multiplayer space sim that already has 115 star systems and counting. One hundred and fifteen. Star systems.
It will take the best of Wing Commander and Roberts’ open space sim, Freelancer, and elevate the entire experience to new heights, thanks in part to the lessons Roberts learned directing and producing films. (He directed the live-action cut scenes in the Wing Commander games, directed the Wing Commander movie, and produced a number of movies, including The Punisher and Lord of War.) The biggest lesson: the devil is in the details.
“There is such an attention to detail,” Roberts said of his time in Hollywood. “You build a set in a contemporary movie, and it looks like a real location. If you don’t, viewers will lose that suspension of disbelief. That’s a level of detail games haven’t gotten to quite yet. All those little details that help immerse you in that world.”
They’re getting there, though. While Roberts was impressed and inspired enough to get back into games by the level of detail in Fallout: New Vegas, Uncharted 2, Dragon Age: Origins, and Demon’s Souls, he said he has been absolutely floored by Naughty Dog’s latest, The Last of Us. So much so that he labeled it the “height of the art form at the moment.” From the smallest bits of debris in the ravaged world, to the largest, most hideous infected monsters, Roberts said The Last of Us allows players to become completely immersed and invested in Naughty Dog’s game world. It’s a bar Roberts is aiming for in Star Citizen, a level of detail that can already be seen in the pre-alpha footage of the space sim’s instrument-laden cockpits and thruster-covered ships.
But Roberts isn’t satisfied with simply hitting that detailed-immersion bar. He hopes to raise it, with a little help from a new piece of technology: the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Complete with head tracking and amazing 1080p 3D visuals, the Rift can bring players into game worlds like never before, and Roberts’ team has been implementing VR mechanics into Star Citizen since its first days of development. As a result, players will be able to look around the sci-fi world, their cockpits, and even target enemy ships with the headset. Roberts also hopes to use the Rift in new ways as a storytelling tool. Want to have a conversation with an NPC? You’ll have to look them in the eye. And if you become bored by their tales and look elsewhere, they won’t keep simply keep rambling on, they’ll stop talking and consider your disinterest rude.
“It’s another level of immersion. You’re not just playing the game, you’re managing relationships, you’re actively engaged in conversations with characters, looking them in the eye. You’re not simply clicking on them and then walking away. It’s a good example of what I can do now in a game versus what we could accomplish with live-action cinematics back in the days of Wing Commander. The movie business is 100-plus years in, the game business maybe 30. Look at the film biz 30 years in and it was fairly basic compared to what we see today. Ultimately, I think games will be a medium that’s more emotionally engaging than a movie’s traditional linear narrative purely because it’s you; you’re the person doing the action. But we’ve got a long way to go before we get there. And that’s part of the reason I wanted to get back into games. I wanted to apply a few of the things I learned in film.”
Backers will get their first early look at Roberts’ first foray back into gaming when the standalone Star Citizen Hangar Module launches on August 24. They’ll put those pretty space ships through their paces when the Dog Fighting alpha goes live at the end of the year (yep still on schedule). They represent just a snippet of what Roberts, the iconic game designer turned Hollywood director/producer turned ambitious game industry game changer, has in store.
“I view Star Citizen as a many-, many-year project. I’d be happy if, 10 years after launch, we still have a large and active player base. As long as people support it, I’ll keep working on it.”
Mike Sharkey is a former GameSpy (RIP!) editor. He’s currently contributing to Game Front while working on his Wiffle Ball home run trot. Follow @mjsharkey on Twitter.