Monday 23 October 2023

Ultra-expensive video game SQUADRON 42 becomes feature-complete, moves towards release

Cloud Imperium Games have confirmed that their epic space game Squadron 42, the single-player component of their Star Citizen franchise, is now feature-complete and entering the polishing and testing phase ahead of release. The release is not imminent - the similar polishing phase on Bethesda space RPG Starfield took two years by itself - but at last light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.

Back in 2010, Wing Commander and Freelancer developer Chris Roberts decided to make the space game to end all space games: a vast, multiplayer game featuring piloting, space combat, first-person movement and combat, trading and exploration. The game, Star Citizen, entered full-time development in 2011 and by 2012 had raised a modest $2 million via Kickstarter. Cloud Imperium also allowed direct funding via its own website, which quickly dwarfed the funding from Kickstarter. The original plan had been to have a Wing Commander-esque single player campaign included within the overall Star Citizen title, but this was spun off into its own game, Squadron 42, quite early on.

As funding for Star Citizen and Squadron 42 increased, so the scope for both games increased dramatically. Fully-voiced and mocapped sequences starring major actors were added, followed by dynamic physics for everything from planetary orbits to the sheets in your pilot's bedroom. Cosmetic upgrades and even entire ships were sold at premium prices via Cloud Imperium's website, leading to accusations of being a scam. However, Star Citizen also released fully-playable game modules and steadily expanded these over time, showing there was a game being developed (albeit over an almost-unprecedentedly long period).

As of today, Star Citizen and Squadron 42 have been in full-time development for well over twelve years, raising over $616 million in funding from just under five million backers and investors, making this comfortably the most expensive video game project of all time and the most successful crowdfunding project of all time. By some metrics it might be the most expensive entertainment product ever, with twice the budget of the most expensive movie and the previous most expensive-ever video games. Several rivals and sort-of rivals to Star Citizen were announced after it but launched far earlier: Elite: Dangerous in 2014, No Man's Sky in 2016 and Starfield in 2023.

The trailer shows your player-created character (gender and appearance fully customisable, as you'd expect from a modern game) chewing the fat with Gillian Anderson, boarding a derelict space station alongside Mark Hamill, watching Gary Oldman give a rousing speech and being guided through a mission by your man-in-the-van John Rhys-Davies (resuming his collaboration with Roberts from multiple Wing Commander games and Freelancer). The game features space combat and dogfighting, exploration of vast alien structures, ground combat, stealth, boat-driving and physics puzzles. The game engine boasts of the ability to seamlessly transition from walking around on your carrier to flying your fighter to flying over the surface of a planet, landing, jumping out, fighting and taking over vehicles (contrasts with Starfield's endless array of loading screens have been made).

Given the gigantic scope of the game, bug-fixing, tech optimisation and polish will likely take a good year or two (possibly more), but it looks like Squadron 42 is finally moving towards completion. How long it will take for Star Citizen itself to follow remains to be seen.

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