Preview

Star Citizen

Interview: Chris Roberts Charts A Course For Star Citizen
by Matt Bertz on Mar 13, 2013 at 01:30 PM
Publisher: Cloud Imperium Games
Developer: Cloud Imperium Games
Release: 2013
Rating: Rating Pending
Platform: PC

Once a glorious genre filled with popular titles like Wing Commander and X-Wing, space combat simulators have fallen on hard times in recent years. With no game offering the kind of experience he and other fans crave, Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts is taking it upon himself to resurrect the genre. After a decade-long haitus from game development, he recently left his Hollywood pursuits to jump back in the cockpit of a starfighter. He built a prototype of his dream game using the CryEngine 3, formed the Cloud Imperium Games Corporation, crowdfunded an operating budget for an new studio via Kickstarter, and raised additional venture capital funding to fuel the creation of Star Citizen, his space combat simulation comeback. 

We recently sat down with Roberts to discuss why he came back to video games, the freedom of the crowdfunding model, the ambitious game ideas contained within Star Citizen, and the PC specs the game may require. 

I've seen you around conferences like D.I.C.E. the past couple years. Were you pitching your game before you decided to go the crowdfunding route or were you just kind of re-integrating into the business?

Definitely not with Star Citizen. That seriously was never something I wanted to pitch the traditional route because I didn't see the benefit of doing it with the EA or something. It's not necessarily in their DNA. Riot Games wasn't pitching League of Legends to EA. 

I worked for a year on a prototype and I was spending a lot of time looking to find out what I wanted to do when I was reentering. I had a very serious conversation about coming back, but I ultimately decided I didn't want to go the traditional route that you would expect me to go, because I felt like it was a real opportunity. There's a whole aspect to moving more digital, and it felt that was open and a lot more like the early days of the industry when you had to make the rules as you went along. 

It was kind of exciting, like we did mission packs for Wing Commander when nobody was doing that. That was basically a precursor to DLC. It only happened because I built Wing Commander and I couldn't fit it all on a floppy disc. So I had to cut some ships, and Wing Commander was this big hit but the next one was going to take some time. I thought, "Well, I've played D&D and there's all these campaigns or modules, so why don't we think of packaging up a bunch of ships, doing 10 to 12 missions, and selling it as like a little pack?" Not full price - whatever it was, $20, and the sales and the marketing guys were like, "That will never work, you can't sell something that cheap into retail." We eventually persuaded them to go for it, and we thought maybe we'd sell like 10,000 copies or something. I think we sold 400,000 copies, which back in 1990-91 was pretty crazy numbers. 

I kind of feel like there's a lot of that right now, a new frontier so to speak, with the digital frontier. There's an ability to connect directly with your player. [With] the old retail model you didn't because you would work on the game off in your own little world, then after finishing it it you'd throw it over the fence to the marketing and sales guys who'd get it out there. You would see people responding to it in time, but then you'd be off working on the next thing. I like this idea of directly having more of a live connection to everybody that's playing the game. 

[Taking into account] all of those things I just spent some time considering my options. I came very close to doing another Wing Commander, but ultimately this was sort of what my end game was going to be. Even if I didn't do another Wing Commander I wanted to use that to build the technology that would become Star Citizen and I sort of decided, "Well, if that really is my end goal, and if I have the opportunity to start there instead of end there, let's do that." Originally I was thinking Star Citizen would be a combination of VC-funded and crowd-funded, but more in the Mojang Minecraft way. Not necessarily as I've done it now, but maybe something that is a part of the functionality and you release it and people pay a less amount of money and then ultimately you use that funding to keep you going. Then when crowdfunding became more of an accepted thing, the people sort of said, "Ooh, it's not scary or anything," I thought that could be a better route to get this done. 

I'd already spent six or seven months on the prototype. Then from that February to maybe October I was finishing the prototype and laying the groundwork for the campaign, because it wasn't - maybe there are some campaigns that throw something up and see if it sticks, but I treated it like a proper launch. I worked really hard to have a great demo lined up, did a whole press tour before to make sure there's a bunch of press that broke at the same time, did the live streaming event, and actually had a teaser site live before I did the announcement. We also aggregated a bunch of Wing Commander, Freelancer, and Privateer fans, so a lot of work that went into the marketing and the launch platform. It wasn't like, "Hey, I'll put something up and hope people discover it." Crowdfunding is a lot of fun, but it's definitely a lot of work. 

In the traditional publisher dynamic, developers respond to one entity that has a general, clearly articulated vision outlined in a contract. With crowd funding, you potentially have hundreds of different perspectives, all of which might be demanding something different. Is that a scary master to have for a developer?

It can be scary, but I actually prefer having that direct communication with the people that matter, because all a publisher does is says, "I think a lot of people would buy the game so I'm going to fund the money for it because I'm going to sell it to millions of people down the road. Because I'm funding the money, I'm going to keep the majority of the profits and I'm going to control it." 

By not having that, you get some control back, but in the end, you're not delaying all those people out there [from forming their opinions]. Ultimately people are going to have their opinions, so I would rather engage in a conversation sooner than later. The way I look at it is I know I'll never make all the people happy all the time - it's impossible. So I just use the feedback as a barometer. I use it to help inform me, like what are the areas that people care about, what are the areas that people think are important, and what are the things that people hate about certain games or whatever. I use that. But I'm not really doing it like listening to one individual, especially on forums because there are a lot of loud people. You always find that people make the mistake and think this is the majority of the opinion, and then and you run a poll. We run a lot of polls on our site and you find out it's not the majority.

Yeah, the loudest person doesn't always represent the real concerns.

Yeah, so we do a combination of listening to what people say on the forums, throwing ideas out there to see how people respond to it, and running in-depth polls. We never use it to ask them how to design anything, because when you design stuff you always have these issues where you have this limited amount of resources. For me it's like, "Okay guys, what's more interesting to you - more ships or more systems?" You can say, "I can put some resources here or I can put them over here." I can see how they could go for both of them, and one or the other isn't going to change my vision for the story, so and that's the best scenario. With the community, you get a good gage of what they find really important. It's probably the best focus group you can get. These are people that care so much about this kind of game that they've given money two years before they are going to play it. That's better than a marketing focus group where they found 30 people on the street who say they like this certain game. 

That's kind of what it's used for. As long as you treat it that way and know that there's always people like - "Chris Roberts, I thought he was going to build this and he's building this. F--- him." That's just what it is. You're going to get some of that. The way I like to respond to people like that is, "Hey listen, why don't you wait to play it. If you still don't like it, that's cool, but don't make assumptions." Because there are always a lot of assumptions. You say, "Okay, here is the mechanic," and someone takes that and spins it off into the worst possible disaster scenario, then of course everything's going to be bad. You generally have all that; I just think the difference is a lot of developers just ignore it. 

Even if you go on the Blizzard website, there's a lot of people angry about Diablo or whatever. There's a lot of complaining, but on the Diablo site the customer service employees see all that, and the developer is probably not even paying that much attention to it. I think that always exists, it's just whether you're deliberately paying attention to it. I want to pay attention to it. On my team, everyone has to spend an hour a day in game and an hour a week engaged with the community, forums and chat rooms, so they feel like they are interacting with the community and talking with the community so they know these developers actually exist. 

It's been roughly a decade since you sold Digital Anvil.

Yeah, Microsoft basically completed the purchase in the beginning of 2001. 

What about game development did you miss during your hiatus?

When you make a game, for me anyway, you're creating a universe and creating a world. That's really fun and satisfying. When I felt like I was missing that, that's when I decided I wanted to come back. There was a time when I was sort of burnt out and I wasn't happy at all. I was always playing games. I actually ended up playing more games when I wasn't making games than when I was. But the moment that I started replaying games I started to get the urge to make my own - I feel like I'm missing this kind of game and I want to see this, and this could be cool if you did that - when all that's stuff was running around in my head, that's when I said I want to come back and I'm ready to do it. I got my energy back, I got my enthusiasm back. It's never been about - hopefully you can make lots of money doing this but I think it's always been doing something I am interested in. That's what gets me up in the morning. Like Star Citizen - I'm making the game I want to play. I have a vision of this game in my head and I want to make it a reality so I can play it, not so much that I want to make it a reality because people will buy it, play it and I'll get rich. There's a world I want to be in and it doesn't exist right now so I'm going to make it. 

A lot of things have changed in the backend of developer technology, like multi-threaded processors and software tools. How are you changing your approach to production?

Actually quite a bit. Even while I was out, I was always checking the tools out and playing with the hottest PCs and the newest platforms. One of the other big things I liked coming back was I felt like the technology and tools have matured. With media the clichéd example is, in the old days you had to build your camera before you could shoot your movie. Now, there's a lot of really good options. In the movie business, you basically decide am I going to shoot on an Arri or a Panavision. You just choose your tool and get your story. 

I feel the tool base is much better because now you spend more time creating your world, and if you are going to do technical stuff for that world, you are basically enhancing the technology or you are building on top of it. This is the first game that I'm starting with technology someone else has done. All my other games, I built the engines and did it all. This is the first time I haven't essentially done it in-house. The problem is one of the problems with Freelancer: The game took six years to come out. We worked on it and about a year and a half or two years into the project, it was all software rendering and then hardware came out so we had to shift to hardware. You know it takes time; if you want to build a really cutting edge engine, it will take two years of time. For me, I didn't want to spend two years building a 3D engine when I could work with CryEngine or Unreal Engine 4 or whatever. My engine, maybe it's five percent better, but it will take me time to get there.

And you can always supplement the engine.

Well that's the thing, my engineering time - there's a whole bunch of customization I've done to the CryEngine. You're not starting from zero; you've already got a base so you can spend your time on the bits that are important to you. It's like the analogy on the programming side is nobody rewrites the basic C libraries. No one says, "I don't like the way it handles strings. I'm going to redo that." Every programmer just assumes that they work with the tools they use, and they build on top of it. I think the business has come to a point where it's mature enough on those tools. You can do a deal with Unreal and Epic, or you can do a deal with Crytek, or Unity, which is another really cool engine. You just build on top of that stuff and you add your own secret sauce to it. 

That was exciting to me because I felt like I could come back and for the first time in a long time, even I could [program]. The prototype that we did, I did most of the programming, which I hadn't done in a long time.

One of the questions I see frequently posed by readers in relation to Kickstarter game pitches is the chasm between the experience the game promises versus the requested amount of funding. For instance, you have raised $7.5 million, and your Kickstarter page claims Star Citizen is going to be a high-end game. The typical budgets for games in that category are much larger. It's rumored that Grand Theft Auto V is going to cost Rockstar over $100 million. How is it a realistic expectation that you can match that level of production value with a fraction of the money?

Star Citizen is not being made with $100 million. It will be about $20 million. One of the big differences between Star Citizen and a lot of the other crowd-funded games is that we're really building something that is competing with triple-A publisher titles. I can build it cheaper than I could if I was in house at EA or Activision just because I have [less] overhead. I'm like the CEO and the project leader. I don't have all these other sales offices around the world. You know, that makes a big difference. When Digital Anvil was bought by Microsoft, as a developer you always sort of figured out what your per-person cost per year is. Back then in 2000 or 2001, it was $110,000 per year. That's not what everyone was getting - people were getting $60,000 or $70,000, but once you added in rent and all those kind of things, health benefits, it was that. The moment we were bought by Microsoft, everyone was $200,000 a year. It was the same people, and they didn't get pay raises, but you had to get your allocation of the overhead from corporate. So Freelancer overnight at that point basically doubled the budget. 

Now that is part of the challenge. We were lucky that we raised as much [money] as we did. I have other private equity investors, but the good thing about the fact that we've done so well is we still get $7,000 to $10,000 a day. It's great, because people see it, discover it, and want to be a part of it. I think by the time we actually come out, obviously we would have generated more from the crowd, and we have invested money in building something that will be really deep and rich with a lot of features that people will want to experience.

How big is the development team right now? 

Right now, there are about 26 people with full-time salaries. Then we've got about another nine or so people on contract. A lot of things like conceptual art are done with people that you hire. Like, if I'm on a movie I hire a conceptual artist and I give them a weekly or monthly salary. So, I guess we have about 34 people working on stuff right now and we're still ramping up. Austin is going to have about 25 full time people. L.A. will probably have about 15 or so and then we'll have a lot of the conceptual guys and the movie guys who will there locally. Then we're going to do some stuff in Montreal, which should be about 20 or 30 people.

It's been a while since you written a single-player campaign. How is your approach to narrative changing? What tools, techniques, or perspective shifts have you acquired during your absence? 

I definitely think that my time making movies was really good and useful. Sort of having to reshape textured detail in a way that I don't think I have before. The thing that is interesting about film is, in most films the stories are very basic. It's not nearly as complicated as a novel, like Die Hard as an example. Stop terrorists from taking over a building - I mean not a lot is going on there, but it's told with a lot of detail and texture. The thing I learned from movies is all that attention to detail sort of makes a much more immersive world and that's what I feel the game side should be more about. I like the Uncharted stuff, the Naughty Dog guys really have an attention to detail.

If you look at Uncharted, look at the basic gameplay and you look back at the Tomb Raiders, there's not that much more to Tomb Raider, but the different was the fidelity, the details, and all the little stuff, the animations. It just adds to that world. That's the big thing for me. One of the core tenets of Star Citizen is trying to have that crazy level of detail like when you are in the cockpit and you are flying around everything moves and works. If I'm on my gamepad and I'm doing something with my targeting system, I should actually see my avatar reach across and hit the buttons. It feels like it's all very detailed. I think texturally having more of that makes the whole world more immersive. Obviously I did a lot of live action in the old days, but that was at the time I felt the best tool given what I had available to do narrative and have some level of connection. I don't feel like you really need that. I feel like now you are sort of at the avatar level where you can use some of the motion capture, the voice stuff and digital characters and it's pretty good. That way you are not breaking from one medium into another medium. The overall feeling is more immersive. The character I am flying around in my ship is the same character walking around aboard the ship and having conversations. I would say that having that attention to detail and acknowledging the fact that you are in an interactive medium so you have to embrace what's good about it. You don't want to be making a movie that you are playing throughout the game. I hate things that take away player agency.

Like a 45-minute Kojima cut scene.

Yeah - I mean I love the Metal Gear stuff, but do you have to tell me about nuclear war again? Even in Uncharted, which I really had a great time with, but there were a couple of times where my choice was taken away from me. In the second one there was this goody-two-shoes blonde journalist and the dark haired girl that was more trouble. You had to make a choice, and it made the choice for you and I was like, "I wanted to make that choice!" I don't think it would've had that much of an effect on the game either way, but hey it's your fault for being in a war zone and getting shot, I'm not going to take you to the hospital, know what I mean? 

I sort of feel like you have to - even though you can use parts of things that are cinematic -you have to embrace the nature of the medium you are in. It's about player choice. The challenge with that as a designer is how to deliver that and still do it in enough of a contained way that you don't have to build this incredibly wide environment that no one is ever going to see all of. 

Given the dearth of space combat games in recent years, what are you doing to modernize or revamp the genre? 

The way I'm kind of approaching it is top down it's still pretty easy to get into it Wing Commander style - fly with a joystick, where you don't have to tweak everything. But we are simulating everything underneath the hood, so it's a full physics system that's running the ship. When you want to go left or right, you can give that input, but there is a flight control system underneath it all calculating all the impulses the thrusters need to give on the body of the spaceship to do that rotation...it's all simulated correctly. Where in the old days it was just "Okay well, we've can go 30 degrees per second left or right and you would turn that way. This way, you actually have to apply the force. The top end for the player feels the same, but the bottom end there is a whole system doing it, and the advantage of that is if bits of the ship are damaged or changed, it will just fall out of the system. Players themselves could maybe go in and turn off things or tweak things. The idea is that at the top level is still pretty simple, but if you want to go into there and really tweak it you can. The analogy we use is the PC gaming enthusiasts who build their own computers. Think of the ship as the PC case, and what motherboard people put in and what GPU they put in, and what cooling solution, and how much they overclock it - those are all up to the player. So people in the game would be able to customize their ships even with the same hull, in whole different directions, whether it's dogfighting or smuggling.

So it's similar to a game like Forza, where you get to tweak all the different parts of your vehicle?

Yeah, definitely, and to a point even more so. You know in Forza you are still tweaking the stuff still for the BMW 3 series. This is like you can be adding cargo modules and all the rest. You can tweak that, and you also have the ability to manage it. You don't have to, but if you want to you can tweak the power distribution. Take less stuff to the shields, and put more to your thrusters so you can get out of and turn in a tighter circle. And obviously there's trade-offs - if you drop your shields a bit you are more vulnerable. There is just going to be a whole level of extra detail. What I'm hoping is there will be all these different strategies that have evolved and yeah so it will almost become e-sport in combat. It won't be just straight, boring, turning battle thing. You can have fun and go in and play and be easy, but you know whether you want to get deep and have everything hotkeyed up, this hotkey turns off this thruster and this one adds more power over here or whatever, you will be able to do that. I just think the surface will be the same but we will just have a lot more depth and nuance. 

Let's talk a little bit about the persistent world of Star Citizen. What kinds of activities are going to be available?

Within reason, pretty much most stuff. You can trade, you can be a pirate, you can be a bounty hunter, you can be a mercenary, you can even be an industrial manufacturer and build stuff. You can be a smuggler, or assassin. It's a pretty open-world setup. I'm trying to do things in the world that are different. I think two days ago I sort of had a big write-up about a game mechanic I had been thinking about for a while, which is basically how the death mechanic is going to work. That's always a big issue for me; I have problems in MMOs. First of all, it feels like I could die a million times and just respawn. [My idea] is something that I think does a good balance of giving a sense of history and mortality to your character. 

The idea is that your character that you start with in the game eventually will die in the game. Not right away, but if I'm fighting a dogfight, and I eject when my ship's about ready to blow, I will be floating in space. I'll be okay and I'll be beamed in and shuttled to the nearest planet, and the insurance company will put my [ship] hull back out there and I can head out the front gate. But if I don't eject in time when the ship blows up, I get shot in the head when I am storming another ship, or someone shoots my pilot while he's floating in outer space, I essentially lose a life. But it's not like your character is dead right there. Maybe they thought you were dead but you had just a tiny bit of life left and you wake up in the med bay and now you have a cybernetic arm, or you have happened to have an organ replacement. The idea is almost taking the old school idea of lives and translating it into -

- Into your mortality?

Yeah. And after a while, after so operations or limb replacements, basically your body's going to give out. When that happens, you'll be there at the funeral of your character, from the point of view of the beneficiary. You start a character in the game; there is a male and female washroom door. Whichever door you go through determines what sex you are. When you walk up to the mirror you can see your face in the mirror. If you rub the mirror to get rid of the steam, every time your face changes. That will determine what you look like. 

When you walk out, you are in the recruitment office of the United Empire of Earth. When you fill in your name, you say who your beneficiary is going to be in case of death. The beneficiary is essentially going to be your next character. The thing about Star Citizen is what you really work to do is build up your ship. That's really your character - and your assets that you earn, your credits. That always passes along, so it's not like you've lost everything like you would a true permadeath. You keep most of it, but you definitely have an allegiance to this character. When you are in the bar, you should see the scars on characters. You feel like they've been to a war zone and they've got some miles on them. 

In MMO, there's always like the evil baron in his castle and that's a quest that spawns all the time. You're playing with millions of other people, but they are all doing the same thing. In single-player games I don't mind it, but it sort of cheapens it for me when I thought I killed the evil dragon, but everyone else did, too. We're going with this concept where there are things in the game that only one player will get to do, like discover a new jump point or whatever. We're going to do the same with super high level bosses, where there's only one Dread Pirate Roberts, and when he's dead, he's not coming back. Now there will obviously be another pirate [who may] come along because that's the way of the world - someone always steps into their shoes, but they are basically unique achievements that only one person or one group of people will ever get. 

When you pass on, you will see it on your tombstone, like, "Here lies Chris Roberts, the discoverer of the Orion 5 jump point, and slayer of the Dread Pirate Roberts." Your achievements during the lifetime of the avatar or character of the game will end with their life. There will be some sense of risk when you are flying out unprotected. Not risk like "Oh my god I could lose everything, therefore I am never going to go up to space," but there's enough where you will panic a bit when your character that you've done all of these adventures with passes on. That's a very different way of handling death in a persistent world. 

It's my solution to try and make it have the thing you would in a single-player game - you know the funeral sequence in Wing Commander was always one of the cool bits of it, but make it fit in a universe where you have lots of other people playing. You aren't too punishing, but you also have some sense of risk or loss because that's my biggest issue with a lot of modern game design. There's almost no sense of achievement for doing things because it's auto-saving every two seconds. 

Speak to me about how players get together in Star Citizen. Do my friends have to join the same server as me?

The idea is that everyone is in the same universe. There aren't going to be shards in the same way, because when you are in one world in World of Warcraft you have to shift to another world. But of course, we can't have like a million people all in the same instance, so what happens is basically, dynamically instancing stuff depending on where you are, what your friends' list is, or how many people are in the space station. But all the instances are kind of temporary. Whenever you move somewhere else, its always dynamically reallocating instances. If you arrive on a planet and there's more people on the planet than one instance can handle properly, it will have a list of like "Okay who are your friends - are there any of your friends on the planet? - they are in your instance. Who are your enemies? Who are your persons of interest? What guild are you a member of?" It has a rating list that matches things together. 

In space it never fills the instance up, but always leaves slots available for friends to jump in. If you were getting attacked you could say, "Help me out." If they are anywhere close, they could warp in. 

I am very focused on having a lot of stuff for people to play together. I'm a Battlefield player versus a Call of Duty player, because I like the collaborative nature. I work in a team, and I feel like Call of Duty is lone wolf, but I feel like Battlefield is more collaborative. I am very focused on thinking of things that get people to come together. 

I am also trying to make it so you don't always have to do that. You can fly this like you would an old-style privateer, but maybe if you are a trader you could hire a couple mercenaries to be on your wing to protect you. You can enlist the AI or you can hire other players you don't know to do it. 

There will be squadron roles?

Oh yeah, absolutely. That's part of building the site that we have right now - getting that community together so people can form their own squadrons and clans. They are already doing it. They haven't been playing the game, but there are people gravitating to piracy and merchants and bounty hunters. They are all figuring out what the alliances are going to be.

The other thing about Star Citizen is it's going to be very focused on creating a sandbox environment, where the players themselves generate 70 to 80 percent of the drama or narrative. I think it's impossible if you always have to provide scripted content to keep up with the player base. Any MMO that has tried that, basically everyone blasts through to the top level and then they are bored. The Old Republic's biggest problem is it's basically a really well-done, scripted single-player game millions play and they all get through it. Generating more content is backbreaking, so I'm more focused on building a world that has systems and rules in place that puts people in opposition and makes people work together and then you as sort of the person running it, like the dungeon master so to speak, sort of stirring the pot here and there. You're adding some scripted stuff in and some nice little cherries on top. The majority of the narrative and the action are being generated by the players themselves. 

Can you talk a little bit about the out of cockpit experience? When you are invading a ship or visiting a planet, is it like a third-person shooter?

You should think about Star Citizen as first person. It's first person in the cockpit, it's first person when you are boarding another ship on the shooter side. Occasionally, we will sort of cut to a third-person view for an establishing shot or something, but mostly it's all first person. The first-person action, the boarding is going to be more tactical. It's not like Call of Duty where you just blast enemies. A lot of places will be other players sometimes with the NPCs but you will be fighting a crew of 20 or 10, so it's going to be much more of about finding cover. It's going to be slightly more realistic on the shooter side.

You mentioned when you were talking about the guilds that there are allies and enemies?

Different groups are going to be natural opposition. For instance, merchants and pirates will be against each other. The merchant guild will probably be a pretty good customer for the mercenary guild because the merchants have to hire mercenaries to protect them. If the pirates getting out of hand in one system, they'd be like, 'OK, I need you to go and take out the pirate base over there.' 

We're focused on building this sort of dynamic. But groups online have already gravitated to that. We haven't announced what the guilds are or anything, but people are already forming the pirate clans, they're forming the merchant clans, they're forming the mercenary clans, they're forming the bounty hunter clans, and recruiting the other players in the community. It's all quite cool.

It's happening organically. 

Some people like to do certain things. Some people like to be traders. When we run polls, like what you intend to do in the game, it's always pretty interesting. Being an explorer is actually the number one thing most people want to do, and being a pirate is actually much lower down than you'd think.

I get the exploration. I'm one of those guys who can load up Skyrim, and five hours later I haven't done any quests. Last question I have is in the Kickstarter pitch you said you actively want to push the boundaries of what you can do in a game. Can you give me some specific examples?

There are examples on the technical side, and there are examples on the design side. The technical side I'm definitely pushing it beyond like what traditionally you would do on console games, or even a lot of PC games, by sort of saying I'm not so worried about, "okay let's make this work for mid-level PC."

I think we may very well be 8GB, DX 11 only, 64-bit OS only. It's like we'll have 2K textures for this, and ships will be no less than 300,000 [polygons] for the fighters. So on a technical side, like number wise, we're definitely bringing it. 

On the design side I kind of want to try some stuff, to give you an example, the death mechanic. I could take the safe route like the way EVE Online does it, which isn't a bad mechanic, it's just when you die your player comes to life again and everyone's basically immortal. You're not going to get this sense of history. 

You could achieve a lot within your life, whereas someone else is burning through characters. It's like the real world. If their father did this, their father did this, and they're driven to try and do something. So I definitely want to do some game mechanic things that are not necessarily like everything else. I mean of course there's lots of things that are informed by the games I made before. But I kind of want to be slightly out of the comfort zone. My personal taste as far as an online game is not what I would consider an MMO style game today. I've always had a hard time really getting into World of Warcraft or whatever. There is lot of grinding, especially in the beginning, and then if you really want to achieve anything you have to have a group together, and it has to be a group of a certain combination of people. There are a lot of hurdles to actually doing cool stuff. 

I want a game that let's you do cool stuff in a way that you could in a single-player game, but gets enhanced if you're doing it with your friends. So it's sort of like a hybrid, and that's why like I use Demon's Souls as an example. I felt they did a really good job. It's basically a single-player game, but it's got this multiplayer element where other people can leave clues and hints for you, and places to hide out. They can come and help you kill a boss monster, or they can come and invade your world. It's a like a hybrid of a lot of single-player things, and some multiplayer things in a way I hadn't seen before. That sort of felt to me like it was sort of moving the art form forward, so to speak. 

I'm interested in trying to not look at how it was done before, and go, "Okay, yeah that's the way we'll handle death instead of that way.' It's, "Okay, what do I miss? What would I like? Would I like a sense of history? Would I like this?" and then give it a try. We'll see. That's the beauty of having a big community testing it out. If things don't work I'm open to changes, but I don't want to be beholden to following the same old path, and same answers all the time. 

What is your target release window?

 Hopefully you'll be playing the end of 2014. You'll at least be playing the beta. At the end of this year we're going to have a dogfighting alpha, which is going to let you get into space, matchmake, and play with the ships you've already pledged with. There won't be an existing universe or a story but you'll be able to fight. Basically we're getting space dogfighting down. So think of it like World of Tanks functionality. So that will be the end of this year.

We'll also be releasing other modules to help us balance. We'll be releasing like the planet port stuff, the social side of things like going to a bar and talking to people. We'll probably have that rolled out before we roll out the full game. The idea is we're going to sort of release these different modules. The first one we're going to roll out in Gamescom time [August - Ed.] is the hangar module. Essentially it will be a virtual hanger that you walk into and you can see all the ships you bought. You can invite some other friends to hang out with you and look at them all in 3D. 

What I want is our community to have bits of the functionality of the final game to play around with while they're waiting for final game. It allows us to road [test] it, battle test it. The multiplayer dogfighting one is good because that's how we'll figure out how many people we can have in an instance and make it fun, and to balance the weapons and ships out. By the time we get to the final game where all these things are in it, we will have tested most of it. Hopefully it will be a little more polished and smoother in the very end. 

My goal is to have people have fun during the process waiting for the game. I really want people that if they backed it, they feel like the experience of the making of it was they got their money's worth. And then play the game at the end of it.

You can read more about Star Citizen here.