5 Key Future Developments in Star Citizen
Star Citizen is one of the most complex games I’ve ever seen. And many of the most complex systems that have seen years of work are months away from major milestones. While these won’t all be coming in 2022 in a major way, I would like to look at some of the biggest near-future developments in Star Citizen, when we might see them, and what they’ll do for the game.
Planetary Navigation Mesh
We start off today with a rather low-key consideration. I don’t know about you guys, but I get very bored when I’m walking around just outside of Lorville, or outside of an outpost on the moon, or anywhere outside at all, and never encounter anybody at all. It’s always felt a bit barren in Star Citizen, and while the cities have slowly built up populations, outposts have filled with derpy hostile NPCs, and outposts have their shop clerks who are just the absolute rudest, outdoors have remained sparse of human activity, or animal activity, of any kind.
The planetary navigation mesh, or Planet NavMesh, will allow for everything AI-related that happens indoor, to happen outdoors. And if you know Star Citizen you know there’s a whole lot of outdoors, Like…tens of millions of square kilometers. And we aren’t just talking about one map. These are areas with different atmospheres, visibility, gravity, resources, and more.
While fighting pirates outside will be a nice change, this improvement goes beyond that. This will eventually lead to interactive AI walking around outposts, tending to the mining equipment, and selling rare goods where you least expect them. This brings not just new gameplay, but a much-needed boost of life to planets. It will likely introduce new characters like the traveling illegal goods dealer, new mission givers, and even wildlife. While it doesn’t get much mention on its own, the Planet NavMesh is a very important possible addition in 2022.
Gen 12 Renderer
The Gen 12 Renderer, which was initially coined as the “modern renderer”, is a full refactor of the rendering system that the engine uses to create the game around us. If that doesn’t sound important I don’t know what to tell you. It’s been one of the most discussed and longest-running endeavors at the studio with mentions dating all the way back to as early as 2015 when Chris Roberts was talking about the same exact things we are seeing implemented into the game now.
Much like the server meshing, we’ll talk about later in the blog, this system required a lot of other sometimes unforeseen work that needed to be done beforehand, extending the time taken. But that’s a topic for another blog, probably a pretty long one too.
But why is this a big deal? Well over the course of several phases, the Gen 12 renderer will relieve the heavy load placed on the CPU and allow for player GPUs to pick up some of the load. This is a simplified explanation, but over time this renderer should help with the optimizations that so many players are waiting for to make the game run more smoothly.
The most important part, though, is when. Well, the bad news is probably not all this year. The good news is, it’s a process. The studio has already been implementing parts of this system with 3 public milestones standing in the way of better optimization for the game. I have no idea when we might see these milestones, but I’ll be sure to tell you when we do.
Server meshing is probably the most important feature of this game at the moment, and it’s another that has taken a long time to get here. I won’t go into too much detail on it, for that you can check out my recent deep dive into the feature, but I will say we’ve been seeing parts of this system added to the game since 2018.
Server meshing is what will allow Star Citizen to become a more connected MMO where you can deliver some noodles to your friend in another system without ever feeling like you’ve moved between instances. It’s a monumental task, but a necessary one for large games that feature huge amounts of empty space and small concentrations of activity.
These instance spaces will need to change the size to accommodate players as they move around, and will ultimately expand the player count of the game by quite a bit.
While we know a good amount about this system, there is still plenty that is up in the air, as CIG themselves are researching and developing the tech to push it as far as possible. So nobody truly knows what kind of difference this will make to the game, this probably acts as a great time to remember to mind our expectations.
This is also probably a great time to tell you, again, that this system will not be fully implemented in 2022. This will also roll out in phases, with the first in Half one of 2022. Each of these phases, just like with Gen 12, will likely have knock-on effects on the game, both positive and negative. However, we only have a basic idea of when more will arrive. We maybe possibly will see static server meshing in the second half of the year, which could bring increased player counts in the game, but that’s all we know. Dynamic server meshing, which is the end goal, is still well over a year away.
But these first steps towards that goal will no doubt change the gameplay style for many when implemented and will introduce us to the first new star system ever.
Map System Rework
Have you ever been frustrated with the star map? Wait, who am I kidding. Have you ever not been frustrated with the star map? Better yet, when have you wanted to travel somewhere while not in a spaceship and been completely out of luck?
We currently can’t see where cities, outposts, non-party players, or almost anything else is, if you aren’t in a ship. And when in a ship, well the experience is god-awful. In my opinion, this is one of the absolute worst parts of Star Citizen, and that includes the delays.
To understand the map system, you’ll want to understand the UI system, but since I don’t have the time for that here, we'll talk more in-depth about it later in the year. The important bit to know here is that up until now UI elements have been very difficult to build for the interactive and varied areas of the game. With a new creation system in place, we’ve seen several improved systems pop up over the last year or so. Now, this system can be applied to 3D assets for things like maps, holo tables, and other HUD elements.
In addition to this improved star map, we’ll be receiving an FPS map experience as well. Originally delayed from last year, this will give us local maps, radar, and scanning on foot.
While all of this is very important for the average player experience, since we all have somewhere to be, it’s exciting what this says about the next steps. As a wanna-be explorer and data holder, the idea of better scanning and detection systems smells slightly of data storage and transfer. An early experience can be had when sending targets from pilot to gunner in-game now, but being able to save a location and send it to a friend, even in the most rudimentary fashion, will be the first true application of exploration as a profession.
While the odds aren’t amazing for all of that to be available to us this year, I don’t think CIG can afford to go another year without improving the scanning and detection experience. Especially with the possibilities of on-foot NPCs, environmental hazards, and salvage locations right around the corner. We’ll keep a close eye on this one throughout the year.
I’m not really a cargo hauler, besides when there are tomatoes that need transporting. But I’m ready and willing to admit that cargo transportation and management of all sorts, is the most important profession in the game.
Without cargo or the ability to store, transport, and exchange items in the game, nothing really holds any meaning. But doing all of that isn’t the same in Star Citizen as it is in other games. Every item in the game is physicalized with properties that define how it interacts with the world. Guns attach to mounts, components fit in ships, multi-tools attach to tractor beams, and boxes go on carts. Cargo does not work like this. And seeing as how “Cargo” needs to be able to include all items, something’s gotta change.
In comes, the ever-evasive cargo refactors that we’ve been hearing about for well over a year that will change the way you interact with and ship all goods in the game. The groan-inducing space station cargo modules will likely have a use, your ship’s ability to quickly unload will have a use, and the time you have to load and unload from the said ship will be very important.
Suddenly paying others to assist you in hauling, boarding a ship to steal somebody’s gold stash, and hoarding looted goods to sell around the system all seem like completely menial, everyday tasks. It will be another key change to the game that carries a huge domino effect and could mark a pivot in gameplay for all players.
That’s not to say it’s for sure. This is a huge task that requires many other segments to work that we’ve seen over the years. Things like physics grids, push and pull functionality, and the asset management app. But, it most likely will get delayed, and could also be shipped in pieces, so it’s good as always to keep expectations down.
Regardless, this cargo refactor joins the navigation mesh, gen 12, and others as one of the most important near-term developments for Star Citizen. Each and every one of the features named today is crucial to the success of the game, and they are not unique. This only reasserts how complex the game aims to be, and how many places there are that it can fall short. It also shows how some features such as push and pull or object container streaming can have immediate benefits, as well as game-changing effects years down the line.
As always, it’s my goal to show you exactly how these features develop and change the game. I really hope you did learn something from this blog, and I’ll catch you in the next.