Author's note: This opinion piece was written in late September 2015 for the October issue of PC PowerPlay magazine, reflecting a perception of events unfolding at the time. I was not aware this would be published online now, and as such I had no opportunity to add to what I had written updating it to take into account the many subsequent events.
I stand by most of my crtiticisms of the game design process, and of course, personal feelings about ship design, but the important thing to bear in mind is that since writing this RSI has demonstrated an ability to release good playable content (Alpha 2.1), and surprise us with unexpected innovations (seamless planetary transitions). So - my doubting at the time that these sorts of things would happen in such a short time frame is of course now redundant.
In May one of the CIG developers, the now legendary Disco Lando, buggered up with aplomb by releasing a game screenshot for the community, but on a teeny part of the image was showing part of a URL. It didn’t take much guesswork to figure out the rest of the URL , which turned out to be a torrent address which contained 40GB of previously unseen game assets. Things like capital ships we didn’t know existed, including many intended for use in the Squadron 42 stand-alone game, so it can be argued that the leak was also a bit of a spoiler for Squadron 42 events.
In any event, instead of being potential disaster, in reality it was all actually a bit of a PR win. So what if we got to see many more spaceships? The fans loved it, no real loss to CIG, and thus the company’s first great stumble turned into a win.
Then, there’s Derek Smart. He’s on a very loud and very public mission to lift the lid on CIG’s alleged poor management, leading to the game being delayed. Instead of dismissing this with your usual Derek Smart ambivalence, consider that the man’s actually onto something.
Needless to say, Derek Smart is not welcome around the CIG forums, where pro-Roberts fanboyism still runs unassailably strong. Some of the die-hardests even started up a change.org petition demanding that Smart “desist in his ongoing actions against RSI and Star Citizen”. Meanwhile on the Star Citizen Reddit there’s a big important poll going on debating whether or not any mention of Derek Smart should be banned.
Smart is doing this because he wants eyeballs on his Line of Defense game. Which is a dick move. It’s a shameful, disgusting, cheap and dirty tactic, but it’s working. While almost all Star Citizen fans will stay well away from any game associated with Smart, and help spread the word against it, he has vocalised a growing concern many of us hold. Line of Defense is of course absolutely terrible and nothing can save it. There may even be a rigged Metacritic vote. That’s the depth to which this has sunk.
It is true, too, that Smart is addicted to the spotlight and when he figured out this golden ticket to internet fame was probably quite pleased with himself.
But it’s also true that Smart has some valid points. Star Citizen is late. It is blowing out with feature creep, taking it far from the core game that won it praise in the first place. Most concerning of all, the veil is being lifted on alledgedly alarming workflow practices at CIG.
All Star Citizen fans have seen the design studies that RSI post occasionally on its site. They show spaceships as they progress from concept art to 3D model. Weeks or even months of development of a single design is distilled into a tight dozen slides for us to enjoy, each annotated by key stakeholders having input. I remember at the time I saw the first thinking how meddling Chris Roberts was. All other team member’s comments were over-ridden by Roberts, and there was an unmistakable and uncomfortable vibe of ‘do as I say, or else’.
Last year a couple of relatively high profile designers left the company, and one of them wrote an in-house memo that was leaked online. In it, he describes an intolerable workflow process where Roberts not only must approve everything, but also micromanages every minutiae of the process. As an artist, he was particularly critical of the adulteration of the creative process. The artists’ initial concept should be sacrosanct, but Roberts allegedly changes so much in the process that it comes out with a completely different look, feel and vibe to what was intended, is an incoherent design-by-committee jumble of ideas, none of which look like they were designed by an artist, and not to mention that this all adds weeks to the process, and infuriates staff.
I agree. I’ve pumped over a grand into Star Citizen, and I’m in it to play the ultimate space game. But there’s not one ship design I like – and I, like most of you, love all spaceships. The only ones that are actually any good are those designed by the community in contests. In other words, the ones Roberts hasn’t had a chance to mess with. He may love spaceships, but he’s not an artist, and has clearly shown he has no artistic talent.
This apparently pervades the entire company. Nobody has the authority to sign off on any aspect other than Roberts – if the post is to be believed – and that’s what’s slowing the game down, and festering discontent within the company.
Chris Roberts needs to delegate and trust more. He may be living a dream, but he also needs to realise that his vision may be all-encompassing, but it can’t afford to be all-involving.