Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The $750 Wake-Up Call About Star Citizen

Over in Star Citizen, Cloud Imperium in holding its annual Invictus Fleet Week event and ship sale. The ship I see mentioned in all the YouTube videos is the Polaris. Below is an example from one of the best Star Citizen content creators, Space Tomato.

I watch a lot of videos about Star Citizen to follow the project's progress and to see if revenue will reach $1 billion before players can play Squadron 42, the single player game. But it wasn't until I heard the word "capital" that I woke up to just how niche of a game the vision of Star Citizen's truly is.

I normally don't think of a corvette as a capital-class ship. According to Wikipedia (yes, I know):

A corvette is a small warship. It is traditionally the smallest class of vessel considered to be a proper (or "rated") warship. The warship class above the corvette is that of the frigate, while the class below was historically that of the sloop-of-war.

The modern roles that a corvette fulfills include coastal patrol craft, missile boat and fast attack craft. These corvettes are typically between 500 and 2,000 tons. Recent designs of corvettes may approach 3,000 tons and include a hangar to accommodate a helicopter, having size and capabilities that overlap with smaller frigates. However unlike contemporary frigates, a modern corvette does not have sufficient endurance or seaworthiness for long voyages.

The same type of thinking influenced the design of the corvette in EVE Online. The EVE University Wiki describes the corvette thusly:

Little more than slower, armed shuttles, corvettes (formerly known as "rookies", "rookie ships" or "noobships") are the basic ships that new pilots start with. You can acquire your faction's corvette by clicking the "Board my Corvette" button whenever you are docked. It will be fitted with a civilian weapon, a civilian mining laser, and a civilian afterburner. If you already have a corvette in that structure, you will board that one, and its fit will be the fit before you entered it. While corvettes aren't suited for serious combat, people field fleets composed entirely of corvettes, more for their comedy value than for their effectiveness in battle.

Corvettes can be used to move around - they are better than flying just in a pod.

  • There are only a few other ships that have only a role bonus and no bonus based on a skill. You can fly them with minimum skills.
  • They are good only for the beginning of the tutorial - you should use other ships immediately when you get them and do not look back to the corvettes.
  • Corvettes have the same assembled size and repackaged size as frigates. Replacing frigates with them doesn't save cargo bay space.
  • Corvettes have very poor speed and align time. Despite they look small, they are in fact very slow and frigates are better options for travelling.

All four corvettes can carry at least one light drone in their dronebay. The Gallente Velator can carry two

I'm going to make an assumption that in Star Citizen parlance, the term capital ship is used as a synonym to proper warship. At least, that's what helps me wrap my head around the concept that Cloud Imperium is selling corvettes for $750.

The price of the smallest capital ship in Star Citizen

The cost didn't provide the wake-up call. After a decade I think everyone expects any ship considered decent to cost three figures. No, what opened my eyes were two things, the size of the ship's crew and the ship layout.

The Polaris has 5 manned turrets

The Polaris has a minimum crew size of 6 and a maximum crew size of 14. Looking at the hardpoint display, I can see why the minimum crew size is 6. The ship contains 5 manned turrets. When I think manned turrets, I think of the bubble turrets in old World War II B-17 and B-24 bombers which inspired the turrets in the Millennium Falcon. So the crew of 6 represents a pilot and 5 turret gunners.

Of course, a ship needs additional crew to engage in engineering game play to repair damage to the ship and perhaps a medic or two to repair people. Given Star Citizen will also have boarding actions, having a couple space marines riding shotgun probably is prudent, even if they may just sit doing nothing during a major space battle.

And that's when the realization of just how niche of a game Star Citizen really is. Not only is Star Citizen a science-fiction based MMO with full loot PvP mechanics, but in the really big space battles, only a minority of player will fly ships. The rest of the participants in the battles will sit around waiting for things to do.

Is there any other large-scale MMO with player-crewed ships? Games with 4-player co-op do not count. Sea of Thieves ships are limited to 5 ships with up to 16 players crewing those ships per server. Cloud Imperium's plans blow those limits out of the water.

Which makes Star Citizen an incredibly niche game. As far as I know, players looking for player-crewed ships only have one place to go: Star Citizen. And with what I know now, would any publisher want to touch a game that would cost $1 billion and over 15 years to develop? Especially back in 2011 or 2012? But until I actually dug into the layout of the Polaris, I didn't really get the concept.

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