Saturday, May 4, 2019

Something In The Air: Star Citizen

I've always been fond of mass transit systems in MMORPGs. I think the first I ever saw was the underground train line in NeoSteam. As I recall, that one was nothing more than a loading screen but it still impressed me enough that I remember it even now.

The best-known is probably the Deeprun Tram that runs between Stormwind and Ironforge in World of Warcraft. That's a proper train (it really isn't a tram, whatever the gnomes say). It travels through a tunnel and gives you a good sensation of movement before pulling up in another station in a different city.

The metro in Lorville is like that only more so. The station serving Teasa Spaceport is clean, well-lit and orderly, as it should be considering the extraordinary number of heavily armed guards Hurston Dynamics employs. Digital boards announce arrivals and departures and everywhere civic posters and murals exhort responsible behavior with a scarcely concealed "or else".

As an introduction to the prevailing corporate culture it's worrisome. Hurston is a private planet, owned by a corporation of some kind. There's a quasi-military air to the place that smacks of despotism.

I wanted to keep moving. It felt like a bad place to loiter. I was feeling very conspicuous in my spacesuit. Everyone around me was breathing normally so I took it off.

As Pete mentioned in the comments, the street signs in Star Citizen  tell you, accurately, where to go. I followed them. Soon I was standing on the platform, waiting for a train.

A digital timer ticked down, indicating when the next was due. I'd picked the Commerce Line, which goes to Leavesden by way of Central. I figured there might be a shopping mall. I never found out. Something bad happened.

As the train arrived I heard myself start to cough. I stepped into the carriage and turned around to watch the view out of the window but as the doors began to close I coughed again. I think some warnings may have popped up but I didn't have time to read them. I keeled over and the screen went black.

I woke up confused. I had no idea where I was. In some kind of room. Hospital, maybe?

I sat up. I was lying on a bed, fully dressed. Around me I could see all kinds of things - a chair, a screen, something that looked like a refrigerator. There were bottles and books and utensils scattered around as though someone lived here. Someone none too tidy.

Out of bed I wandered around, picking things up and failing to put things down. Star Citizen seems a long way from simulating realistic interactions with objects, yet. After a while it dawned on me who lived there: I did.

Reconstructing what happened later, when I had a little more information, I realised I had, in game terms, "died" in the train carriage. That coughing fit wasn't ambient soundscaping; I was choking to death.

There are warnings all over Lorville, advising citizens to "wear respiratory protection". They aren't just flavor. I remember reading something about Hurston on my mobiGlas before I flew there. It said the planet was heavily polluted. Seems they weren't kidding.

Just as, when you die in space near Olisar, you wake up in your pod, in Lorville you wake up in your Hab. I didn't know I had a Hab but it seems I do. It's a big step up from the pod, with good headroom, a full-length bed and room to swing a cat. Not that I have a cat. No pets in space, not that I've seen.

Once I understood where I was, naturally I wanted to leave. I opened the door and stepped into somewhere very different from the Lorville I thought I knew.

My Hab was one of many on a filthy, litter-strewn corridor.  Outside my door was a pile of junk: a plastic crate, a broken monitor, a yellow mop. Trash lay everywhere, piled in corners or against the walls. The air was filled with a miasma of dust.

From the window at the end of the corridor I could see Teasa Spaceport. Recalling how I'd never been able to find my pod on Olisar after I left it, I made a note of my Hab number: C2. Then I set off to explore.

The Habs are in the Workers District. Conditions there are a very far cry indeed from the austere sterility of the Spaceport and the station. Everything is worn, used, uncared for. Torn posters and graffitti mar the walls.

People stand around, or sit, looking bored, defeated, lost. In rec rooms off-duty workers play pool, drink or just stare aimlessly ahead. One massive digital display stutters and cracks with static. No-one pays it any mind.

In the smarter part of town I saw wall commercials offering jobs. I guess this is where you get to live if you take one. Or, as I've discovered, even if you don't.

Like everything I've seen on Hurston so far it's convincing, authentic and depressing. If this is the future I'll pass, thanks. Or maybe I won't. I wouldn't want to live here but what was it the man said? Cheap holidays in other people's misery.

Wandering the hallways taking snapshots of the locals, eventually I came upon signs for the metro, which was when I demonstrated that I learn nothing from experience. Not the first time, anyway.

I was waiting for the train when I finally remembered the signs I'd seen about the condition of the air.
The train pulled up, I got on and began to cough. History repeating. I don't know if it was co-incidence, whether I'd been exposed for the same length of time, or whether the arrival of the train triggered a response. I knew what was going to happen, though.

My brilliant idea to stop myself from waking up in my Hab again was to grab for my mobiGlas and try to stuff myself into my undersuit before I coughed myself to death. Predictably, as the train moved off and I frenziedly issued commands, everything slowed to a slideshow and the game crashed.

I can't remember where I was when I got back in. It was either on the platform or the train. I also wasn't in my spacesuit but I wasn't choking and I wasn't back in the Hab so at least I hadn't died. 

I rode the train to the Business District and got out. It was just another part of the city but it could have been a different world. Golden statues thirty meters tall, pristine, shining surfaces, smartly-dressed men in suits. There were even plants.

No air quality monitors, though. Not needed. No exhortations, no veiled threats glaring from the walls, only motivational quotations from the Founders. Everything was rich and pure. But mostly rich. 

It was worse than the workers' slums. Far worse. I'd seen enough of Lorville to know I'd never want to live there.

Too tired to train it back to my Hab I settled on a seat in the atrium and stared out of the vast plexiglass windows at the skyline. Somewhere out there, beyond the city, I'd heard there was a real world.

Maybe I'd find it. I'd come this far, after all. Why stop now?


  1. Bhag, I have to tell you. I'm really not appreciating your last couple of posts on Star Citizen. Here I am trying to be all grumpy, jaded, in general all around cynical about it- and you're making it sound amazing. ;)

    More seriously, I backed this game way back in the day, and I have tried a few of the alpha builds to date. I hadn't been planning on making a return for 3.5, but I may well have to rethink that.

    I'm still incredibly concerned about Roberts and Co's actual ability to deliver a finishing product here, but my God if it ever eventuates I'll be all over it with bell's on!

    1. I've been very surprised by how much I've enjoyed it but I would have to say it realy does feel like an alpha build. The graphics are fantastic and the worldbuilding is amazing but plenty of the systems and mechanics are very clunky, when they work at all. My mobiGlas, for example, for some inexplicable reasons sticks to my feet so it looks like I'm kicking it along the floor and as I mentioned it's all but impossible to do anything useful with anything you can pick up. The controls for flying ships are much more manageable than I was expecting but the way you access them is primitive. And so on and so on.

      As for gameplay, I have no idea. All I've done is explore. There are plenty of missions but I doubt I'll do any before the Free Fly ends. I'm impressed by what Chris Roberts is trying to do but I'm still doubtful he'll succeed. What's changed for me is that now I hope he does whereas before I didn't care. If he can pull it off before he goes bankrupt it's going to be a hell of a game!

    2. And I suppose therein lies a large part of the difference in our approach and resulting satisfaction with the game.

      I'm looking for a game experience out of this, which Exploration is a key part of to be sure. But if that's the only solid aspect in a sea of otherwise mediocre (at best, from last time I was around) systems then overall it is still, to me, a disappointment.

      I do keep meaning to try out Elite: Dangerous at some point again too. They launched with a fairly barebones setup, but it was a solid core. And while dev speed has not been huge, it does sound like they've been chipping away at it, adding in more, including some story content even over the last little while.


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