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Wing Commander creator returns to game dev with new space sim
 Wing Commander  creator returns to game dev with new space sim
October 10, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

Industry pioneer Chris Roberts, who created the seminal Wing Commander and Privateer franchises, has returned to game development after a more than decade-long absence to release a new CryEngine 3-powered space sim, Star Citizen, announced at GDC Online on Wednesday.

Roberts is best known for creating popular space combat titles during his time at Origin Systems. He left the game industry not long after selling Digital Anvil (Starlancer, Freelancer), a studio he helped found after resigning from Origin, to Microsoft in 2000.

Burnt out by the game industry, he spent the last decade working as a producer and director on films like The Punisher (2004) and Lord of War. But he is now seeking to crowdfund a new game project that's reminiscent of the space titles he used to produce. Roberts said the game is also funded by private investors.

"I was frustrated with the technology that was available to express the vision I had in my head," he told GDC Online attendees in Austin. Production cycle lengths were also getting longer and longer, and he was "fairly frustrated with that" as well. The game industry was getting bigger and bigger, and he became disillusioned with how corporate the business had become. "It was just a couple years ago when I felt like I had something to say again," he said.

Already 12 months into production, Star Citizen will release for PC, and is under development at Roberts' new studio Cloud Imperium Games Corporation. The developer was founded in April 2012 with Roberts' business partner and media attorney Ortwin Freyermuth.

Roberts showed a highly-detailed trailer that was rendered using the game's engine. He also took control of a real-time prototype that showed off impressive detail in characters, space ships and environments.

Star Citizen will have online and offline elements -- players can take part in a single player campaign, and friends can also jump in and be wingmen. "In today's world where you can be connected and build a world with constant updates, it's a totally different equation."

"I'm going to build a universe," said Roberts of Star Citizen. "Citizenship is very important in this universe. You have to earn it." Player earn citizenship by performing business, military service or civic duty. Players also don't need to be a citizen, if they want to live in a gray area of society.

Star Citizen's gameplay will feature space combat and adventure in a persistent open universe. Roberts says he wants to capture great things about the open adventuring and entrepreneurship of Privateer and Freelancer but also inject elements of Wing Commander.

Though many game industry veterans have transitioned to mobile or social game development, Roberts says he wants to stick with PC for Star Citizen. "The PC is still incredibly capable of presenting an experience that doesn't take a back seat to any other platform out there, including consoles," he said in a press statement.

"In recent years, game designers have stopped innovating and pushing the boundaries of what you can do in this genre," Roberts added. "I plan on bringing that kind of development mentality back into PC gaming and space sims in particular."

He said during his session, "I want to say hey, you know what: PC games are cool, space games are cool, and I think it's kind of a community. ... I want to pull a community together and build a great universe and build on that relationship."

"I feel [genre fans are] underserved. I can play ports of console games.... I don't feel like people are pushing the PC like they could. ... A lot of PC gamers, this is my guess, is that they want something that pushes new hardware."

"Most of the big publishers aren't interested in building a PC-specific game, or a space sim game, because it's a genre that hasn't been big for the last 10 years or so," he continued. "I think the genre can be as compelling and vibrant as it's ever been."

He doesn't expect Star Citizen to ship for another two years, but fans who contribute to the game's crowdfunding campaign early will be able to play an early build of the game a year from now. The final game will feature microtransactions for ship customizations and other items.

Near the end of the session, he was passed a note that said his website was getting millions of hits and was down -- so interest in PC-based space sims does still seem to be there.

Gamasutra is at GDC Online in Austin this week. Check out our event page for the latest on-site coverage.

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Nooh Ha
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Pleaes make it more Privateer than Wing Commander, Mr Roberts.

Andrew Grapsas
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What, no Kickstarter? :)

EDIT: Ahhh, it's crowdfunded (yeah, I didn't read the article, I watched the pretty video).

Benjamin Quintero
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No you are still right.. It looks like he reinvented Kickstarter/IndieGoGo. I'm not sure how I feel about that. $2M sounds kind of crazy and I don't know what will happen to all of the donations that contributed if the campaign fails. If he feels that $2M is his bare bones success number then I guess he'll just pocket the money and try harder next time? Just seems weird.

John McMahon
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People have the option of being reimbursed if the goal is not met. Unfortunately, it's not selected by default. But when investing money, people need to do research and should not make assumptions.

Cyrille de Nervaux
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Best news ever!

Mark Rostien
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I have a hard time taking him too seriously after all the horrid movies he made.

E McNeill
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A man after my own heart.

Harold Myles
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Avoiding kickstarter and cutting out the middle man seems smart, but not if your 'solution' doesn't work. Their site is down, making them look incompetent, and makes me question their whole process.

Considering the amount of press this has gotten, and that they only have gotten $36k at this point, seems to indicate making their own site was a mistake.

Anyway, hope it works out. Looks cool and space sim is always welcome.

Benjamin Quintero
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yeah i had to refresh a couple of times to get onto the site. They are probably getting slammed right now and they are using a beta crowdfunding software. Probably not the best choices.

Joao Beraldo
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$108.650 now, and the site has been up for a couple of hour, tops

If server instability at release was a sign of incompetence, WoW wouldn't be around today

Jakub Majewski
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Almost $160,000 now. Yes, $2 million is a lot of money - but in all likelihood, he'll get it with ease. This may turn out to be the biggest crowdfunding success to date.

Michael Wenk
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Chris Melby
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This makes me SO FREAKING HAPPY! :) Well, not the microtransaction part, but I'm assuming it's all optional, just like multiplayer and needing to be online! :)

And I'm with others, More privateer than Wing Commander!

I'm so glad I bought a new HOTAS setup the other year for DCS A-10. This game better support my TrackIR 5, if not, I'll have to kill... well, just pout... And, I'm going to have to invest in that new VR headset now, as this game compels me.

Anyways, this game looks absolutely fantastic! I honestly have not been this wowed by any game for a long time. Space sims are a big part of my early gaming years and something I've really missed.

OK, must give money!

Joao Beraldo
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During the GDC presentation Chris said you dont need to play the single-player 'wing commander'. You can just play the online 'privateer' if you prefer, or play the single, then join the 'privateer' as a mercenary, with later releases of single-player campaigns if you like.

The best of both worlds!

Maria Jayne
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Looks impressive, however I never enjoyed Wing Commander games because of how they looked, it was always the atmosphere and mood of the interactions between the space combat that made those games so enjoyable.

Focusing on the PvP multi player first tells me there is no hope the single player experience, bolted on at a later date would be anywhere near as deep or emotionally engaging.