Star Citizen Free Fly Goes “Pffft”

It’s my brother’s fault.  He has followed SC with great interest the last couple of years, and tipped me off to the free play “alpha” a few weeks ago.  I asked him why in the world I would do that, and he said to trust him.   Well, if you can’t trust your brother who can you trust?  And he was right, it was worth every minute, but not in the way you think.

First of all, I want to say that even though this is an “alpha” the game has been in development for over three years, with the best and brightest designers money can buy.  So while the label says “alpha,” I (and you and everyone else) should expect more than the usual “alpha” experience.  Especially since they opened it up for everyone to come try, in hopes of completing the SpaceBalls Quest For More Money.

That said, I also want, right off the bat, to tell you that the game is very, very pretty.  Gorgeous, epic visuals that should be the standard for any space game.


Also, I’m going to give you a little mea culpa – it took the second night of gameplay to figure out that I had to spawn my own personal starship on the landing pad.  I ran from ship to ship, trying to get into a cockpit, waving my arms in frustration.   I will say thought that this is a completely understandable mistake, given that 1) lots of other people were making it and 2) there is absolutely no indication in game that you need to  go to the control center and spawn a ship before you can fly it, and 3) I was actually able to board a ship that wasn’t mine on my first attempt.   I’m not sure if that was a bug or someone “unlocked it” by getting in and then out without taking off or what.   But I got into at least two different ships long before I figured out how to get my own.

Finally a ladder I can climb.  Sort of.

I do not regret this mistake though, as it led to some of the most interesting moments in this not-yet-ready-for-primetime alpha.  I was so bored in the beginning that I actually jumped off the edge of the space station and accidentally discovered EVA.  I used this to fly to another platform and eventually get into a ship that wasn’t mine.  This would come in handy later – the EVA part that is.

I have no idea what’s going on in this picture.  UFO?

So I finally jumped on board one of the larger ships.  And I was fiddling with buttons and I found out, you can totally use the toilet in this game!  That was wicked awesome, functional toilets!  Well.  Sort of functional.   In SC, you can sit down to poo, but you can’t get back up again.  Literally.  You have to log out to leave the toilet.  Which is, you know, kinda apropos I suppose.  Log.  Log out.  To finish on the toilet…

You know what I’m sayin’…

Anyway, after I finished up there and ran around awhile longer, I managed to get aboard another starship.  I ran for the controls this time, but some dude beat me there, and a third guy ran up the ramp right after me.   Three of us, in a starship, about to fly!  This is the bomb.  This is what this game was made for right?

So the pilot takes off and we have a “punch it Chewie!” moment where he hammers whatever passes for an accelerator in the SC universe and the ship is jamming off fast.   So fast.   So incredibly fast.   So incredibly fast that me and the other passenger start sliding backwards through the ship.  And our journey did not end at the tail of the ship, oh no.  We clipped through the damn walls of the ship, and our journey ended 12 kilometers from the space station, granting us our own private Major Tom moment.

This is gonna take awhile.

I checked the controls and found that they had implemented a respawn/kill yourself button.  And given that the EVA got me a half a kilometer over the course of 5 minutes, I decided that was the way to go.

Did I mention by the way, that my 12 year old daughter was watching at this point?  She loves all things space, and so she was intrigued.  And then she started laughing.  And then she said, “this has to be the worst game I’ve ever seen you try to play.”  Right on so many levels honey.

The laughter and the last bit were prompted when I hit that mercy killing button.  You see, it doesn’t work.  I was mashing it over, and over, and over again.  I had to log out to get out.  Only this time, there were no clever puns to salvage the experience.

Having had enough of space for awhile, I decided to spawn on the planetary level they were showing off, to see what was going on there and if maybe they would let me fly a spaceship from there, since at that point, I still hadn’t had any success on the actual space station.  What could go wrong on the planet right?  Not like I can clip into space there!


Random death.  That’s what can go wrong.  You can just be walking and all of a sudden, you keel over dead.  Virulent space disease perhaps.  I respawned.  Again.  And I went looking around the way-smaller-than-I-expected-it-to-be city.  There was a medbay, where I spawned.  There were a couple of other shops, some of which you could actually go in.  And there was a sign for a spaceport.  So, after checking out a shop, where I couldn’t sit in any of the chairs or actually buy anything, I headed for the port.   And I found a spaceship!


The only problem was that the doors don’t actually open.  At all.  There is a spaceport there, but its not for you, dear user.  But by now I know the dirty secrets, and I am determined to get out on that landing pad.   Yes, its time to clip my way to success!

Haha! I win!

But then there was another invisible barrier and then I clipped through the building and fell to my death.   Well, not really, I fell to my entrapment, and then had to log again.  Because dying only happens at random, not by falling hundreds of stories into ray-traced block land.

Eventually, of course, I did get to fly a starship, and I can tell you the experience was very familiar to me.  Because it was just like this:

the other sc

That is the other SC – Star Conflict.  It hasn’t raised millions of dollars in pledges.   It hasn’t recently announced that it would divide itself into two things.  Its not years off its projected development cycle.  But it does offer you the same gameplay experience.  For free.  And if you do decided to sink some money into it, you can buy two star ships, a fat wallet, and a permanent 10% xp gain for less money than you can buy a starter ship and half of a game that’s not yet finished. But don’t worry, I’m sure it will be totally worth the $60 or $115 or $275 or $15,000 you dropped on the game when it releases.

in stock
You should probably buy one now, before they run out of stock.

And by then they will probably have all the clipping and stuff worked out.  And the camera bugs.  Did I mention the camera bugs?


For what it’s worth, it was the best time I’ve ever had in an Alpha.  But at this point, I’m not sure that’s saying a whole lot.

Ultimately the game seems to suffer from what I call the MechWarrior Online Failure of Unclear Priorities, or MOFUP.  In MWO, when the game launched, some of the most basic systems and balancing were not even in the game yet.  Some were not even in the planning stages yet – but you could change the interior lighting in the cockpit of your Mech between four ambient brightness levels.  Someone had spend hours and hours programming cockpit lighting instead of modeling mechs, or balancing combat, or even just touching base to see if things were, you know, FUN.

Same problem here in SC.  Gobs of development time has been vomited onto the tiniest of details while the big pictures looms alarmingly unfulfilled.  If that doesn’t change (and I don’t believe it will), all kidding aside, this game is in for a serious implosion of the $100 million plus variety.

And I, for one, am getting my lawn chair and popcorn ready for that show.

Cue the hater’s in the comments section…


22 thoughts on “Star Citizen Free Fly Goes “Pffft”

      1. Zeppy

        That’s not a problem I’ve ever seen in almost 2 years of walking around my hangar.

        3 years isn’t even the amount of time in development another typical triple-A would be announced, let alone playable by the public. All of the stuff happening now? You wouldn’t even see in another game.

      2. There’s nothing happening in this “game”, that’s what is so funny. Every other triple A title that I have run alphas for has been more functional than this one, and all but one of them did it with less funding.

      3. Zeppy

        They have built entirely new technology but the skeleton is all there now. There is quite a bit of emergent gameplay to be had as well. But if you need a spoon-fed experience, and it sounds like you are, it’s not ready.

        Again, you would;t even *see* another triple A game before 3+ years of development. We’re talking just announcement, not playable.

    1. I repeat, you have no experience with triple A gaming if you believe that to be the case. I have been in multiple triple A alphas, all within 3 years of the beginning of development. I don’t know of a game that hasn’t had an alpha within 3 years of development.

      And all of them had more than a skeleton in place, or they wouldn’t have invited people in to try out their game.

      The kind of experience I want is irrelevant, since right now the only experience SC offers is comparable to a F2P Moba developed by a small independent studio on a shoestring budget. Maybe once you get that emergent gameplay actually in the game, we can talk about if its my cup of tea or not.

    1. Sylow

      Same here. It was an amusing read. Of course it’s easier for me, I haven’t dropped any money on SC yet, but will rather wait how it turns out. If it surprises us all and actually becomes an acceptable game, I will buy and play it. If it doesn’t, it won’t hurt me directly, but I will still feel bad for all those indie developers who could actually profit well from crowdfounding, would SC not only have burnt the fields but also plastered it with several meters of salt.

  1. What intrigues me about Star Citizen, and why I’ve given them real money, is the seamless environment they are trying to create. Name one game where you can go from office, to hanger, to launchpad, into ship, take off, fly somewhere, shoot something, exit your seat, open an airlock, get out of the ship, jetpack to the wreck, loot it, jet back, open the airlock, get back into your shop, walk to the cockpit, get in your chair, fly back to base and go to the bar for a beer – all without every getting a single cutscene, zone change, or any of the other various mechanisms games have used in the past to offload processing from one node to another? It’s hard to come up with a game isn’t it? That’s because it’s never been done. Screw the final game that may or may not happen, this is more an R&D project for me than a game development effort. I almost never start up SC on my PC. I play Elite Dangerous because it’s a finished product, and also gorgeous. But it has zone changes between every system, and getting out of your ship, which you can only do on a planet, after a zone change, and getting out of your ship means only in a little rover, and only on certain moons, because load issues. If RSI can develop just a game engine that does away with all those offload mechanisms it will be worth the $100 million. It means the future of gaming will be the virtual reality we all really crave. YMMV. Thanks for the nice write up though. I too chuckled a few times.

    1. Hear, hear! Many just don’t understand what they’ve undertaken – and are proving. Even if it somehow never finishes, it has without a doubt pushed the industry forward and I’m perfectly fine with paying for that.

    2. You realize that four developers working in a basement with no budget have already accomplished more than SC has in developing a seemless, zoneless universe right ('s_Sky)?

      I will admit I’m always a bit skeptical, after 25 years of gaming, when someone tells me that this is “finally the game we’ve all been waiting for.” I hope, for the sake of all the people who invested so much money in this, that it doesn’t turn out to be vaporware.

      1. Sure, I’ve seen it. Four people in a basement? That’s debatable. Even the wiki article says they had to bring in more developers, though rejected any from Sony. And the game sounds… rudimentary is they kindest word I can think of. It certainly seems to have little chance of spawning a new game engine for future games IMO. But hey, you named one as yet unreleased game that may be zoneless. Congrats. I may even give it a try when available. It will certainly be cheaper than SC. Thanks.

      2. I don’t mean to offend, but you don’t seem to have any experience with game development. Being “in an alpha” is not experience.

        What No Man’s Sky is doing is awesome, but they are not creating technology like Star Citizen is. Never mind at the level of fidelity. Never mind 2 triple-A games being developed simultaneously.

        Anyway, my real gripe with cynical gamers is – why be that way? Why not approach *every* project with hope and possibility? After all, don’t you like playing games? Don’t you want to see more of them? Why rip it apart when it’s legitimately trying to to something different that wouldn’t even be attempted otherwise?

        Again, triple-A MMO-style games after 3 years are not even revealed to the public let alone playable… so consider this a day 0 announcement for Star Citizen.

      3. Lethality almost major MMO has had a playable alpha within 3 years of the beginning of development – SWTOR, Rift, Warhammer just off the top of my head. The latter two I personally played, the former was announced.

        I understand you are excited that SC is working on what amounts to a new engine. Again, No Man’s Sky, Space Engineers, and probably others, already have engines that can do the same thing. And they’ve done it with far less funding and in far less time. I understand they may not have done it with this level of graphical intensity, but that is exactly the problem, as I see it. Death by minutiae, so to speak.

        I’m not sure I understand the exasperation around cynicism. Its a matter of track record. Game developers, as wonderful as they are, consistently over promise and under deliver. Have you thought about how SC is going to under deliver and what aspect of the game that might be in? Because it will happen, and you might want to brace for it!

      4. Sadly, I don’t have the time to correct all of your misinformation…

        However, I can speak factually on games like SW:TOR, for which I happened to run a major fan site pre- and post-launch (Ask A Jedi, still up, not maintained).

        The game was publicly announced in September of 2008. It had already been in development since early 2005 (source: Bill Dalton, BioWare tech director at the time.) There was absolutely no alpha available to play on announcement day, and in fact, no kind of testing that the public was privy to began until 2011 – which is the year it released, and almost 7 full years since development began. And they were not creating new technology like Star Citizen is. So that’s just one example.

        The tech behind what Star Citizen *did not and does not exist*. Creating a map or level that size is unprecedented. And graphical fidelity (visual fidelity) honestly has little to do with it… getting all of the “sim” parts right with those large distances are the trick.

        I don’t mind if Star Citizen takes 10 years or never releases… because I am backing a studio bold enough to try ideas and create new technology when no one else is. Someone has to show the industry there’s a way beyond WoW, and in fact that’s the only way the genre will survive.

        And that’s why I’m pretty tired of cynical entitled gamers. They’re punching the gift horse in the mouth.

      5. The only misinformation that needs correcting is yours. Development started in March 2006 with the founding of Bioware Austin. LucasArts said Bioware didn’t approach them with the pitch until mid 2005. But most importantly you are wrong about the announcement. There was a playable alpha shown to to journalists at the announcement in October of 2008. Even if development began in 2005 as you claim, that’s still three years later. All of that is public information, easily available with a Google search. And again, its not the only MMO to have that timeline.

        But SWTOR is a good parallel to this discussion. When the studio opened in 2006, they announced that their MMO would be launching in 2009 – three years. When SWTOR launched nearly six years later, it was a tremendous disappointment that had over-promised and under-delivered.

        When the Kickstarter began in for SC in 2012, they announced that “development had already began” and projected two years left in development to finish the game (2014) “with your help.” Three years and three months later, all they have is a barely functional alpha and a MOBA that is nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary. So, though they begin with an even more overly-optimistic projection, they are currently about on the same development path as SWTOR. But as you point out, they are working on something supposedly far larger in scope. So, at best, I think you will see your finished project in late 2018 or 2019.

        As to your optimism, I can only stand in awe. That you survived the Bioware trainwreck blaming nobody but your fellow gamers speaks favorably of your ability to weather the coming storm. I wish you well, I truly do.

      6. Uh, I was a journalist at the announce event. I spent much time at BWA and also LucasArts Letterman. You’re going to want to fact check your timeline 🙂

        And regardless, there was no public alpha testing happening on public announcement day, and that’s the point – so don’t move the goal posts.

        Star Citizen is only NOW at a comparable point… and I can assure you what SW:TOR was back then was not in any shape like this. And don’t forget, CIG is making TWO triple-A games.

        Again, don’t be a cynical jerk… what they have done is amazing, and the timeline they’ve done it in is unprecedented. If you don’t have anything constructive, just pipe down until it’s successful or crashes/burns.

      7. Uh, no I don’t think so. I’m not going to buy your made up internet glory stories eight years after the event. I’ll take the word of Gamespot and other reputable media outlets who reported on the day of. Posting privileges revoked on account of being a big fat liar.

    3. Sylow

      “But it has zone changes between every system, and getting out of your ship, which you can only do on a planet, after a zone change, and getting out of your ship means only in a little rover, and only on certain moons, because load issues. ”

      Just a few corrections on that statement:
      – Yes, the zoning between systems exist, but is “covered up” with the jump animation. According to the videos of SC, they also have such animations, they technically do the very same? So why is E:D bad and SC good here?

      – I have absolutely no idea why you claim that the limitation to using the rover or to only certain planet and moon types would be connected to load issues.

      – The rover is there because it is the only reasonable first step. Do you really want to start exploring the surface on foot, walk for a few hours for everything you do, and later in a future expansion get a vehicle? I rather have the vehicle now, and get the option to take a stroll around it in the future. That’s no load issue, only a more logical road of development.

      – The very same is true for the limitation to a specific kind of planets and moons. (Sorry, but once you tried to land on a planet with 7G, you can’t claim that it’s “moons” any more. ) The reason for that is quite different: formerly moons and planets simply had a skin. You were unable to get closer, the skin was sufficient. With the seamless landing we have (yes, there also is a loading phase in between, which is covered up with the glide phase, similar to how SC according to a preview video also plans to do it) this is not good enough. Not only did the game now need a seeding system, which creates surface structures, those structures have to be “normalized” enough to be plausible, varied enough to give different landscapes (the existence of valley racers and so on proves that this worked), and interconnectable with the rest of the game, so you can have the seamless transition.

      As these requirements were already quite high, it would’ve been insane to demand that to be applied to fully colonized habitable planets right away. So from a development point of view it was very reasonable to limit this to places without breathable atmosphere first and expand upon this with future expansions.

      I still worry about inhabitated planets and am rather certain that if it’ll ever be possible to land on Earth, this will be a painful letdown. A seeding system like the one E:D uses is perfectly fine for “out there, where no man was before”, but is unable to recreate a known place. While a seeded environment can be very diverse, it’s basically impossible to use it to create an accurate enough reproduction of an existing environment. Thus including Earth at acceptable quality and accuracy into E:D would require an excessive amount of modeling work. The costs for that would almost certainly be higher than for the complete rest of the game, so I am sure that this won’t happen.

      That’s one of SCs biggest advantage: their universe is completely made up. There are no RL standards they would have to meet to while having no realistic chance to do so. For E:D, full planetary landing will come, albeit probably in a few years, just before the launch of SC, and Earth will very certainly be very disappointing.

      But that’s nothing which should worry anybody of us players already now. 🙂

      1. One part is incorrect. SC’s universe is to scale… there are no “animations” to hide loading a player to another place. Their character and ship are physically moving through the open universe while in quantum drive at the speed of .2c. The visual effect is there for the same reason it is in Star Wars – because its awesome 🙂

        But you are correct – landed on a believable organic inhabited planet like earth is going to be hard. And in a way Star Citizen is at more of a disadvantage that way, since they have dozens of such planets… while, as far as we know, the Milky Way has only one 🙂 And whatever other ones Frontier wants to make up.

  2. I think you got off lightly here suggesting as you did that the actual user experience might trump vision, “creating technology” from scratch, and the dread “alpha” word. Seriously, how dare you think of yourself when so much else is at stake! Drink the damn Kool-Aid already!

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