Industry pioneer Chris Roberts, who created the seminal Wing Commander and Privateer franchises, has returned to game development after a more than decade-long absence to release a new CryEngine 3-powered space sim, Star Citizen, announced at GDC Online on Wednesday.
Roberts is best known for creating popular space combat titles during his time at Origin Systems. He left the game industry not long after selling Digital Anvil (Starlancer, Freelancer), a studio he helped found after resigning from Origin, to Microsoft in 2000.
Burnt out by the game industry, he spent the last decade working as a producer and director on films like The Punisher (2004) and Lord of War. But he is now seeking to crowdfund a new game project that's reminiscent of the space titles he used to produce. Roberts said the game is also funded by private investors.
"I was frustrated with the technology that was available to express the vision I had in my head," he told GDC Online attendees in Austin. Production cycle lengths were also getting longer and longer, and he was "fairly frustrated with that" as well. The game industry was getting bigger and bigger, and he became disillusioned with how corporate the business had become. "It was just a couple years ago when I felt like I had something to say again," he said.
Already 12 months into production, Star Citizen will release for PC, and is under development at Roberts' new studio Cloud Imperium Games Corporation. The developer was founded in April 2012 with Roberts' business partner and media attorney Ortwin Freyermuth.
Roberts showed a highly-detailed trailer that was rendered using the game's engine. He also took control of a real-time prototype that showed off impressive detail in characters, space ships and environments.
Star Citizen will have online and offline elements -- players can take part in a single player campaign, and friends can also jump in and be wingmen. "In today's world where you can be connected and build a world with constant updates, it's a totally different equation."
"I'm going to build a universe," said Roberts of Star Citizen. "Citizenship is very important in this universe. You have to earn it." Player earn citizenship by performing business, military service or civic duty. Players also don't need to be a citizen, if they want to live in a gray area of society.
Star Citizen's gameplay will feature space combat and adventure in a persistent open universe. Roberts says he wants to capture great things about the open adventuring and entrepreneurship of Privateer and Freelancer but also inject elements of Wing Commander.
Though many game industry veterans have transitioned to mobile or social game development, Roberts says he wants to stick with PC for Star Citizen. "The PC is still incredibly capable of presenting an experience that doesn't take a back seat to any other platform out there, including consoles," he said in a press statement.
"In recent years, game designers have stopped innovating and pushing the boundaries of what you can do in this genre," Roberts added. "I plan on bringing that kind of development mentality back into PC gaming and space sims in particular."
He said during his session, "I want to say hey, you know what: PC games are cool, space games are cool, and I think it's kind of a community. ... I want to pull a community together and build a great universe and build on that relationship."
"I feel [genre fans are] underserved. I can play ports of console games.... I don't feel like people are pushing the PC like they could. ... A lot of PC gamers, this is my guess, is that they want something that pushes new hardware."
"Most of the big publishers aren't interested in building a PC-specific game, or a space sim game, because it's a genre that hasn't been big for the last 10 years or so," he continued. "I think the genre can be as compelling and vibrant as it's ever been."
He doesn't expect Star Citizen to ship for another two years, but fans who contribute to the game's crowdfunding campaign early will be able to play an early build of the game a year from now. The final game will feature microtransactions for ship customizations and other items.
Near the end of the session, he was passed a note that said his website was getting millions of hits and was down -- so interest in PC-based space sims does still seem to be there.