Transparency and Star Citizen

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Transparency and Star Citizen

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  • Funding ladder which lays out how much they have collected, and what each tier “unlocks”
  • Monthly studio report which explains what got done and is pulled directly from their internal work-tracking systems. The report is broken down by sub-studio and details work both accomplished and what’s setting them back (Note: link was to the report current at the time of posting).
  • Production schedule report lists the next steps in development which will eventually become the subject of a future month’s studio report.
  • Letter from the Chairman which is Robert’s platform to talk about what got done and what’s still left to do.

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Sadly, almost 2000 words into this post, and with all of the material that RSI is putting out to show people that they’re not all just partying in Cabo with the money, people are still going to be angry and accuse them of shady dealing. These people don’t like RSI’s funding method. They don’t appreciate the fact that stupid amounts of money can’t dilate time and make things happen faster (remember, RSI tried to bring tons of people on board to move quickly early on, and it was a disaster). I suspect a lot of people are upset because the game is too ambitious, and these people think that RSI is just throwing more features onto the pile as they accomplish previous milestones. These people will readily point to Elite Dangerous as how to get a space sim game out the door on schedule and without rampant feature creep, although really this is a false equivalency considering what little Elite does in release and what SC does already in alpha. Maybe some people are even just pissed that this system seems to be working despite people’s best efforts to stay mad at it. They can’t back down now lest they lose face in their communities.

This is the nature of the Internet, circa 2017. Progress is being made on Star Citizen, full stop. Its there on their website in several forms, on YouTube each week, and is something everyone who pledges can get their hands on in the form of the alpha client. As someone who is in for a pound I’m in the group that would really love to have the game right now, of course, but as someone who is in for a pound I don’t want the game as is; I want the game as promised. That being said I’m also flexible; I know that Roberts and team(s) have a massive amount of knowledge on game design and development, and have been learning more as they go. If they say they can’t do something that was promised, I’m OK with that. I’d rather they focus on what they can accomplish or what they think they can accomplish rather than holding things up as they stumble through possible solutions just to tick boxes on someone’s contract. The good news is that they seem to be accomplishing a lot of what they did promise, even when they admit that it was a difficult problem to solve. Even better, once this project is done and their studios disband (as all game studios seem to do), this knowledge will disseminate into the larger development pool so that other teams won’t have to struggle with the problems that RSI is working on. A “good” Star Citizen is certainly not cheap, and it’s certainly not fast, and I’m OK with that especially now in light of their frequent updates being made available to everyone — not just those who have backed the project.

I’m sorry if you can’t understand where I’m coming from. I’m not using 2500 words to try and convince myself that I didn’t waste money. I check in on their progress every week and because of it, I feel the momentum of the project which can’t be felt by those who stopped paying attention once they had made up their mind that the project is a failure or a scam. If you’re on the fence, dig through the RSI website; unlike a lot of game company sites their front page is filled with updates, behind the scenes, and lore entries. There is literally a ton of information from behind the screen doors of the company being put out there for anyone who wants to look at it. I do urge you to look at it, especially with an open mind, if you are skeptical or otherwise have no horse in the race. I can’t predict the future, of course; this project may absolutely crash and burn, but that’s the same risk any company takes and none of them are bulletproof. Most, however, go down in flames without the kind of transparency that RSI has adopted, and if you want to understand where the company is going, do your own due dillgence and don’t rely on groupthink. Read the articles. Watch the videos..

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The Black Box of Decision

Posted by on Apr 14, 2017 in Editorial

In the days when all we had were newspapers and magazines, radio, and TV, we had to wait until the morning, evening, or late evening to find out about them. Because of the timing aspect we that we didn’t know stuff but we also knew that if there was anything to know, we’d get around to it eventually when publications arrived on our doorsteps or we tuned into the 6 AM, 6 PM or 10 PM news broadcasts. The Internet changed that and receives a fair amount of legit criticism for being too “on” because broadcasting something as it happens doesn’t give us the time to figure out what it means, why it’s happening, or reflect on the lasting impact.

This is why I find it really bizarre when companies are so obtuse. Even though I’ve spent most of my life without the Internet (although that will change in a mere few years), I have become so used to getting important information and reasons accompanying my news stories that when I don’t the stories seem stupid, pointless, and nonsensical.

Case in point: Nintendo, the great Cypher of Reason in the games industry, has opted to discontinue their short-lived NES Classic all-in-one retro console. This was a big hit with gamers when it was announced late last year and was impossible to find for the Holiday season. In fact, it’s still in short supply, unless you really want one and are willing to pay scalper prices on eBay. When news of this discontinuation came across the ‘tubes yesterday, people were pissed. The sentiment was pretty much the same: Nintendo doesn’t want a slam-dunk sale, and they must hate both money and customers. Of course, we don’t really know why they decided to look at the demand and step back; they claim that this product was never intended to be a long-running thing and that this announcement was always in the cards. But Nintendo is notorious for either misunderstanding demand, purposefully shorting their own supply chain, or just being monumentally incompetent and tone-deaf. While we get some kind of excuse, the reason and outcome are so idiotic that we can’t help but think we’re being shafted in some way.

In thinking about this I was also reminded about a product that I used to use called Forge. This is an app that silently records your gameplay and allows you to carve out clips of up to 30 seconds in length that you can share with friends. I say that I “used to” use it because while I really liked its initial incarnation, the decision-makers changed it once to compete with Twitch (didn’t work), and then again into some other kind of chimera that’s not fully realized. To me, the Forge team has no idea what the heck they want their product to do, and because of that can’t convince me why I should use their product. I’m not bitter about removing features I liked or their attempts to enter a saturated market with essentially no ammunition; I’m just confused about the indecisive direction changes and am not willing to put effort into supporting a product that’s all over the board. If the Forge team could tell us what they wanted to accomplish, and actually stuck with that plan, I’d be willing to give them another shot, but there’s been little to no communication in this vein as far as I’ve been able to see. They’re either playing it by ear or are purposefully keeping their plans close to the vest, which in my opinion is hurting them more than it is keeping them safe.

Commercialism in the 21st century has become a game of one-upmanship where the consumer is a spectator who doesn’t understand what he or she is witnessing, and no one involved in the game is willing to explain the rules. Companies are paranoid that someone is going to beat them to the punch before they can file a patent or trademark, so lips are sealed…yet we’re expected to get hyped over scraps of information that *surprise!* may or may not actually make it to the final product — if we get a final product at all (thanks, Kickstarter!). For the most part, we play along because we’re dazzled by the fancy footwork and the roar of the rest of the crowd, but how many of us have been left with a feeling of unease and even remorse once we’ve had time to digest what we’ve been a part of? That sucks. I think the relationship between the consumer and the producer is heavily weighted in favor of the producer, which is a problem we as consumers have gotten ourselves into with eyes wide open. Technically there’s nothing pushing companies to change; Apple doesn’t do focus groups, and yet people work themselves into a consumerist coma and are grateful for the privilege of buying whatever the company produces. So I call it wishful thinking that companies were more transparent and up front about their reasoning behind some of the decisions that they make. I know it would help me feel better about entering into a relationship with a company, and I think the company could feel better about customer loyalty that didn’t involve underhanded tricks like proprietary hardware, walled gardens, and patent trolling.

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Oops! And Other Tales from Stellaris

Posted by on Apr 12, 2017 in Featured, Scopique Plays, Stellaris

Oops! And Other Tales from Stellaris

Stellaris is a 4x Game of Unusual Size (4GoUS — F’go-us?) and like a lot of 4x games, no scenario is ever over quickly. I firmly believe that short of treating utter defeat as the first item on your to-do list, a single game will last for several hours whether you like it or not. Considering the point and the attraction of 4x games is the strategy of expansion and neighborly relations, you’d better like it.

Willfulness aside, it is possible to back yourself into a corner where the game becomes painfully difficult to the point where you might wonder if you’re looking down the barrel of an embarrassing defeat. For me, 4x games tend to devolve into an arms race where my neighbors know all the right levers to pull to get ahead, while I’m hanging out in my backyard tossing the football around without a care in the universe. That leads to people showing up on my doorstep with armaments that I can’t hope to defend against, and I inevitably end up losing.

Playing Stellaris last night I found myself behind the 8-ball in terms of resources. My energy budget was at 0 or occasionally in the red. Suddenly, my food supply tanked and we were living off rations. I had more than enough minerals, and while I wasn’t gaining influence, I wasn’t using it either. What all this means is that I had the minerals necessary to expand — to build ships and outposts and such — but I didn’t have the maintenance currency — energy — to keep it all running. That meant I was holding off on doing much of anything. Occasionally I’d get brave and would send construction crews out to other solar systems to construct outposts and mining platforms where I could score some additional energy income, but it was a balancing act: everything I built required upkeep, so I had to do ugh-math to ensure my projects would net more e-credit than they would cost.

About 15 minutes before I knew I had to shut down, lest I find myself unable to wake in the morning (I am immune to the dreaded “one more round” disease), I was looking into my food shortage. In Stellaris, planets are divided into tiles. Each tile is either empty, a natural producer of food, energy, minerals, or other resources, or is blocked. Your people (called “pops”) will be “born” or will migrate into open tiles. You can drag pops around to put them into tiles that you want them to work. My focus was on ensuring that all my food tiles were populated and that the farms in those tiles were sufficiently upgraded to the best produce-enhancer I could build.

Wait…

Something wasn’t right. I was upgrading hydroponics labs in food tiles, but…there were tiles producing natural food which didn’t have hydroponics labs in them. Placing a machine in a tile with a matching resource type increases the output of that resource type. Here I was, starving and every-deficient because I hadn’t been placing even the most basic producer buildings on my natural resource tiles. I had been spending pretty much the entire game operating a growing empire with no more resource production than what I found laying around on the ground. That’s like operating a government funded only by the loose change found under seat cushions or in the street gutters.

Now, however, I have two other colonies which I need to start upgrading, but I have reached the food storage ceiling despite cranking out more crops. My neighbors have become belligerent and the diplomacy screen shows them as being technologically superior to me. I fear that my remembrance on how to play this game has come too late to save my ass, which wouldn’t be a bad thing necessarily as a looming defeat would allow me to start up a new game where I could do things correctly from the start.

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