This weekend, I opted to put aside No Man’s Sky. I’m going to publicly blame the fact of having played it too often and too quickly because that seems to be a pattern with me: if I play a game a lot in a short amount of time without a break, then I tend to burn out quicker than if I play it a little bit over a longer period of time.
The reason why I play hard and fast is usually because I feel that there’s something buried in that game that I want to dig out. In the case of NMS, it was the potential realization of a promise unfulfilled since the days of Wing Commander: a large, open universe where I could fly to wherever I wanted, and do whatever I wanted, with whomever I wanted. This is kind of the holy grail of space-sims, because while getting into a cockpit of a starship and flying a combat mission is nice, we’ve all been raised on media that’s never been so narrow. Star Trek. Star Wars. Even Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Books, magazines, TV, and even toys have always been about human’s expansion into unlimited space.
The problem with NMS is that you get the scope, you get the freedom, but you don’t have the purpose. I’ve written here that the purpose of a sandbox is what you make of it, and that’s still true…to a point. My realization is that while NMS has several “quadrillion” places to visit, that’s a meaningless number because one person can’t visit all of those systems. If anything, that many places serves only to ensure that everyone who wants an original discovery can have one. Beyond that, it’s an impressive marketing point because it sounds like there’s more than enough breathing room for us to realize our space-faring dreams. Of course, in order to even make a dent in this scope, you’re going to need drive, and that’s where the sandbox paradigm has traditionally been hit or miss. A good sandbox doesn’t just give you the sand and the box, but also a bunch of tools for you to make something for yourself. This is where NMS falls down for me: there’s nothing I’ve found that’s any different a week later than what I was doing in my very first hour, and it certainly doesn’t fulfill my dream of being part of a living, breathing universe.
If there’s anything else to blame, it’s this:
Yes, that’s Star Citizen, the Duke Nukem Forever of the space-sim genre, except that this video is 50 minutes of their latest in-house build which expands on what we currently have available to us who backed the project.If you have any interest in space-sims, I urge you to watch this video. It’s long, but if you’re a fan, it’ll be completely worthwhile.
I know some of you might be thinking that we’re talking apples and oranges here. For one, NMS is what it is: a stylized game of mystery that plays out across the universe, with the ultimate goal being to reach the galactic core. It has the hallmarks of a space-sim because you can buy a space ship and fly through space, but at the end of the day you’ve got a mechanical task (reach the core) punctuated with the option for exploration limited in that it’s basically its own reward. For another, SC has become so massive and so controversial that many people don’t take it seriously 364 days of the year.
The Internet being what it is, I know that there’ll be people who are going to subjectively find something negative to say about SC, but for me (a backer, who has a stake in this), this video is proof that despite rumors to the contrary, the game is moving along, and beyond that, 3.0 is starting to show the ambition that explains what their astronomical bankroll is going to, and why it’s taking so damn long to get this game finished. That the version being shown in the video is significantly different from the one I have installed at home assures me, at least, that Roberts and Crew aren’t sunning themselves on the beach, compliments of our funding.
This all sounds like boosting one game that I’ve invested in in order to crap all over another, even when the two share only tangential similarities, but this isn’t about the quality of either game, or the availability, or the budget, or the public opinion. What it is about is getting what I have always wanted from a space-sim game, and who fulfills the promise better. EVE Online currently does the best job but comes with baggage. Elite Dangerous does OK thanks to the realistic visuals, but lacks long-term purpose, same as No Man’s Sky, which takes a more arcade-like approach in favor of giving everyone their own slice of the universe to explore. At the far end of the spectrum is Star Citizen as seen in the video for their 3.0 edition. They’ve got the visuals. They’ve got the freedom. They’ve got the purpose. They’ve got the promise of creating a living universe that you can actually live in. This is what I want. This is what I have always wanted. Having seen the progress (currently) culminating in that video above, I don’t know that my psyche will allow me to accept anything less, even though I can’t currently have more.
I am reinvigorated about Star Citizen although I am tempered by history. I pay attention to naysayers with only half an ear, but it’s still half an ear: yes, it’s possible for SC to collapse under it’s own weight, although their progress shows me that they’re not just blowing smoke up our asses. It’s possible for the project to pivot because they run into an insurmountable technological hurdle that means they can’t make good on promises, but with over $300 million dollars, time, and talent, they’ve taken what was an abysmal demo that I saw at PAX East a few years ago and have morphed it into this multi-situational scenario that contains pretty much everything they said they wanted in the game: multi-crew space flight, ground combat, and a sense of immersion that no other space-sim has been able to provide. While I would really like for CI to announce that the game is done really soon, I would rather they continue along their current trajectory and provide as much of their original vision as possible. Right now, I don’t have a PC that would run the game, so I’ve got time myself. Meanwhile, I don’t think I can accept anything less than what I’ve seen in this video. Other games are good for what they provide, and I’m not knocking them in the least because really, they’re not trying to do what Star Citizen is trying to do. For me, though, they were always stepping stones in a general direction of what SC is aiming for, although before SC (especially this latest video), I was never sure we’d ever get there in any way. In that case, “some” of what I wanted would have to have sufficed. Now, I’ll have to while away my time until SC releases with whatever I have on hand, although I know that I’ll always be thinking about what’s missing after seeing what SC is aiming for.