Star Citizen 4.0: What is new in the upcoming major update?
We are currently deep into the 4th phase of Star Citizen development, which I talked about last year. Let's take a deeper look into what 4.0 is, what we should expect from it, and how the version numbers work?
What Is 4.0?
From the very first patch on August 30th until now, Star Citizen has been continuing through the version number, sometimes with weird naming conventions. And each major version, besides 1.0 marked a major advancement in the game. 2.0 in late 2015, Cloud Imperium Games, introduced the first version of the persistent universe, allowing players to journey together into the black following narrative missions, exploring space stations, and living out the earliest adventures in the verse.
More than 2 years later, Star Citizen 3.0 launched to shift what players knew of the game once again. Expanding on the original space available, the game immediately began unlocking further reaches for players to explore, introducing Planet Tech to the game in the eventual form of ArcCorp, Hurston, Microtech, Crusader, and their moons. This tech wasn’t initially planned for the game but it was such a monumental change that it merited a version number change.
Here we are, almost 5 years later, and on the cusp of another monumental change. But what exactly does that entail? First I’ll give you the major items, then we’ll dive deep into the details for a peek at what you’ll be doing in this major update.
The key component of 4.0 is Server Meshing, which is a key piece of technology that the studio has been building behind closed doors for over 5 years. It is the piece that links the entire game together to allow for a smooth experience across all of the star systems, and amongst the thousands of players in the game world. It will allow for the next major expansion of in-game space as well, the second-star system in the game, Pyro.
Just like 3.0 and 2.0 before it, 4.0 is not only a major change in the space of the game, but it is also the backend and underlying technology that will allow for previously untenable features to be accessed. Things like large ship battles, persistent resource deposits, populated points of interest besides cities, and more. This update is a signal that Star Citizen is continuing headlong into this new phase of development, and finally, we have plenty of proof to back it all up.
Let me explain!
Up until 2021, the studio behind Star Citizen, CIG, was transparent about their work to a fault. They would sometimes show work that’s very early and doomed to disappear, and they’d sometimes show stuff that’s coming in the next few quarters. It was hard to know what was going on.
Lately, the team has been great about coordinating their weekly shows to give us more insight into topics featured in the monthly report. The monthly report is a monthly document released to detail the progress made in almost every team in development. I cover these every month in my own video series. These monthly reports and the weekly shows have given us plenty of tangible evidence of the features set to come in 4.0.
What’s In Pyro?
Of course, a star system is going to have planets, but Pyro is due to have 6. Various planets of different compositions, and vastly different geographies. These planets are still fairly shrouded in mystery as the official lore for them has not been updated. Regardless, there are plenty more than in the second system, and when they are added, the total planet count in the game will be 10, counting the moons would make it 18!
We’ve also seen plenty of progress on space-based locations in the Pyro system, from concept art to full in-engine fly-throughs. These locations are largely different from what we know in size and composition. While many of our current locations are heavily asteroid-based, the team seems to have made much heavier use of gas clouds and SpaceScaping.
A great chance to prepare for the Coil in Squadron 42. We don’t know too much about these locations yet, but they feature some very obvious differences from the current star system, which is always good to see. We also should be getting new space stations, both abandoned and lightly inhabited. These locations will be more dangerous but offer new opportunities to explore the lost unheated hallways and the floating shanty towns nearby. Don’t forget the ruin station, the pirate-controlled space station that acts as the sole landing zone in the system.
One of the developments we’ve seen for the longest time, colonialism outposts have been shared in progress with the community since September of 2020. We’ve seen them go from 2D sketch to concept art to 3D sketch to 3D models to in-game and it’s been a ride and a great display of what it’s like to follow the game dev.
These outposts have turned into the focal point of the new update so far. Points of Interest have recently grown heavily in importance to the game, something we’ve talked about in recent monthly reports and member videos, and these outposts are the main points of interest in design.
Not only are these places going to be populated with NPCs, shops, and eventually missions, but they have also been designed with future systems in mind such as resource management.
Specific pieces have been labeled for interaction in the inevitable missions and tasks you’ll find at these frontier locations. These outposts introduce only the third of all architectural styles in Star Citizen, I’m excited to see what they bring in the long run, and what comes next.
While new outposts are what’s cool and all the rage, old outposts have all the fun. Ruins were introduced only this year as concept images, before quickly moving their way through development in line with the rest of Pyro development.
These areas, reminding me of Horizon Zero Dawn, act as platforming opportunities with more unique and interesting designs and possibly themed loot. I would also hope the narrative teams get heavily involved here to build in discoverable lore and missions. These ruins will also coincide with all the new derelict and derelict settlement developments going on, which have already begun to be included, and should be quite widespread by Pyro’s arrival.
Then there were the gangs...
Star Citizen already has a reputation system, it works to an extent, and actually allows players to progress through levels to get better rewards and perks for their work. The game also has governments, and even though these governments are corporate, they have their own trade divisions, security forces, and planets. You have to follow their rules, and stop when they say. They have a good relationship with the UEE, so the Navy will even back them up. Watch yourself. In Pyro, the gangs run the lanes.
You don’t (at least, shouldn't) land at a space station unless you know you’ll be safe. There may be no divisions in the authority, it’s just one person, so you better hope they like you. This will likely be the first real introduction of gameplay surrounding factions and how your rep with them affects your chances of making a living. This can be seen on the progress tracker, and will likely coincide with some of the professions we’ve seen teased are coming in the future.
All of these aspects will set Pyro apart from the first-star system, Stanton. But at the end of the day, the main difference between the 2 systems is the law. The lawlessness of Pyro will lead to different styles of gameplay, from refueling ships being essential, to dealing with traveling merchants, to combat escorts paying good money, to surviving the system-sized bursts of energy that damage ships, to valuable trade routes requiring a bit more risk. These differences in style will lead to the first major split in the player base as many players choose to remain in one system while others jump between. It will also change the conversation around piracy.
As the quantum universe simulation system creates the conflict and combat opportunity that exists in Pyro, it may attract more combat-oriented players away from some new player areas. This is actually a huge topic, one that I covered in a podcast earlier this year, but also one I’d like to make a video and blog on, as the law system needs some work, and the idea of being attacked in this game is a complicated one. But that’s for another time, let’s answer the most important question.
When is 4.0 Happening?
Recently Chris Roberts, the lead of this whole thing, came out and said the same thing they’ve been saying. Star Citizen 4.0, and Pyro, will both come when server meshing is done. Okay well, when is server meshing going to be done? We’ve recently received some, what I think sound reasonable, estimates. I have literally nothing to go off of other than calling them reasonable though, so…yeah.
In order to get server meshing started, we need to implement Persistent Entity Streaming or PES. This is actually the bulk of work going into server meshing, approximately 75% of the underlying services, and 18 engineers working over 16 months. PES is a very important piece of technology, and the best news is.
As of May 18th, it is confirmed to be working in a closed environment. So as that piece of technology is tested in the PTU testing branch for 3.18, the live servers that players are normally enjoying will move to a second 3.17 patch with new content. This will allow entity streaming to be tested as much as possible. This streaming service will allow all objects to persist long term no matter where they are, so you can imagine why most bugs would want to be ironed out.
After 3.18 goes live, preparation for 4.0 will begin, and by the end of 2022, if all goes to plan, (when does it ever) server meshing will be tested in the 4.0 PTU by Evocati members. So to sum all of what I just said up, the first semi-public wave of testing will begin on server meshing. The desire is for this to result in 4.0 going to live servers by the end of Q1, but I see this most likely happening in about a year, at the end of Q2. A disappointingly long time away, but it’s nice to see some evidence of an actual last stretch to static server meshing.
So, persistent entity streaming for long-term universal persistence testing this summer and releasing this fall, and server meshing testing this winter and releasing next spring. This is all the best-case scenario, though, and you should always stay cautiously optimistic.
Server meshing will be a feature that builds upon itself over time, the first iteration will not solve our problems. Persistent Entity streaming will be buggy, and likely quite frustrating at times, and the features that depend on this tech may end up being more buggy than usual shortly after. But Star Citizen does not become a game without server meshing, so here’s to what I’m assuming is going to be a crazy couple of years of development ahead of us.
If you are interested in Star Citizen or its development, I have created a much longer and more in-depth look into the details of Pyro including the various planets and outpost types we will see. This is available to supporters on any platform along with a new video every month. Join right here for access to this and more.