Are We There Yet?

written by Alastrom

 

My parents were big road trippers. Specifically, we drove from one location to another over long distances, in case anyone had that confused with much cooler and psychedelically inclined progenitors. Add in a few siblings to the mix and I very rapidly became aware of the question “Are we there yet” repeated so frequently you could make a fire dub-step track out of it. It’s difficult to explain to children that sometimes it’s the journey, not the destination and apparently that trait carries over to adult hood in a select number of Star Citizens. Specifically the random variety that finds their way onto my ship after watching a few YouTube videos about the game. It all started with a new player to the game. We’ll call him “Dick” and I promise I didn’t choose that name for any specific reason. Dick wanted to see the ‘verse and the squad just got together for shenanigans in the 600i so we invited him along. If you’ve ever read “The Most Dangerous Game” that best described the crews feelings towards the young lad and it probably didn’t help that we were armed to the teeth. As for most of us “Are we there yet” rapidly devolves into “I swear to God I’ll turn this car around” and it’s at this very moment that I have a lot more sympathy for what my folks had to go through.

 

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So we decided a trip to Hurston was a good idea. The 600i can make the trip from Olisar faster than most ships in the game but still slower than whatever speed this guy was set to, which was apparently Sonic the Hedgehog after a few speed-balls (BAM! Demonetized.) About thirty seconds into our quantum jump Dick, the same (d)ick I mentioned above, asked how long we’d have to travel. I informed him about six or seven minutes. He audibly groaned to let everyone know that wasn’t the answer he was looking for but we shrugged it off because we knew how cool Hurston was. A very short time after he expressed that this was taking too long. A minute later he asked that age old question… “Are we there yet?” We were about half way through the jump before he decided this wasn’t the game for him and left, never to be seen again. If Dick left a bad taste in your mouth, you’re not alone. This is a rare breed of player but one that is becoming more common than any of us want to acknowledge.

 

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Now I get it, we didn’t all have fond memories of waiting for the shuttle to arrive in Star Wars Galaxies. Ten whole minutes of socializing with the people around you can seem like an eternal torture in this age of instant gratification. Fast travel is built into most games and many desperate developers introduce you to that mechanic before they teach you how to walk. But something about Dick really pissed me off. Star Citizen has been called a lot of things but at the top of that list is “universe simulator.” That’s a description I rather enjoy. Contained within those simple words is an idea that this game isn’t trying to force you to quickly move from one experience to another. Slowing down the experience isn’t the worst thing you can do, despite what legions of Cookie Clicker developers will tell you at your local community college. Hell, Arma 3 is a walking simulator and people seem to give that a fair shake. Chris Roberts insisted on physically realized elevators and train systems. These aren’t the actions of someone that wants you to bunny hop your way from planet to planet. We all knew what we were signing up for the moment the Star Map was released. I’d say it’s like EuroTruck Simulator with missiles but that title belongs solely to Elite: Dangerous. In the words of Douglas Adams “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

 

So why does this bother me so much? I have to be honest, I struggle to give an answer that doesn’t rival the words “my immersion.” I think a lot of it has to do with growing up playing side scrollers. Games like Mario on the NES gave you one direction: forward. That’s great if you need some life motivation but it doesn’t leave much room for lateral exploration. What’s the point of building a world if you’re not going to experience as much of it as is possible? Todd Howard, famous for exploring mountains that he could see, gave us fast travel in Oblivion but one of the coolest experiences I ever had in that game was walking to Cloud Ruler Temple with the NPCs instead of fast traveling like they suggested. Many of us have played Skyrim enough to claim to have seen everything the game has to offer but playing without fast travel I’m still discovering locations I didn’t know existed years after my first play through. Immersion (damn it) in large open world games are as much of the selling point as the featured content and to cut that out by speeding up the whole process feels like throwing away the experience.

 

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I’m not claiming travel is always going to be interesting in Star Citizen. I spend a lot of time in game with my org mates and we could make drying paint interesting if we tried. If you’re not in the same figurative boat we are (SHAMELESS ORG PLUG) I understand if you feel different about the subject. But the potential to make that experience enjoyable for everyone is certainly there. To their credit, most players don’t act like Dick. But that hasn’t stopped a vocal minority from complaining about how long it takes to get to Hurston or the time it takes trains to arrive in the station once you’re there. Multi crew ships represent an incredible opportunity to give players a chance to really take advantage of travel times. The 600i ships standard with a pool table and an intergalactic television in the ship. Imagine filling a twenty minute trip across the galaxy by watching competitive racing or winning a few credits on a game of cards. Or maybe you and your friends fill the time by working on your ground vehicle while the bridge crew manages the engines. That doesn’t begin to touch on what can be done with the in game Mobiglass system (Space Invaders app for maximum irony.) Whatever you choose to fill the time with, these aren’t meaningless tasks that try to keep the players occupied during the “boring” parts of the game. They’re complex organic methods of world building in a universe that will quickly become stale if it’s boiled down to the base components.

 

Let’s face it, games are basically a bunch of collected experiences huddled together to convince you that you’re having fun. If a standard mission tells you that you’re having fun killing wave after wave of enemy and blowing things up, your mind starts to associate that with fun. Anything short of that “isn’t” fun by the same definition. I would argue that every experience shouldn’t be that one dimensional. I mentioned this last week, but Sea of Thieves found itself in similar waters at launch (the puns will continue, my dear editor.) Even for a game like Grand Theft Auto, whose ratio of killing to explosions is only surpassed by it’s ratio of killing by explosions, understands that players can enjoy driving around the city at the middle of the night or buying a new outfit with that sweet drug money profits. That isn’t the marketed content and yet it still makes up most of my play time when I log in. Both my spiritual teacher and personal trainer keep telling me life is about balance. Even if they are referring to my obscene consumption of bacon products I think the lesson can be applied to gaming as well. You can’t appreciate the epic moments without weighing them against the more relaxed ones. That’s something Star Citizen already achieves and it’d be a shame to see it thrown away.

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Gamers chew threw content at an alarming rate. We’re not the only guilty party. Netflix puts out a new series with twenty four episodes, each an hour long and you’ll have people asking for season two half way through the business day (send us money Netflix!) The world is part of the experience and if you keep ignoring it, you’ll find that experience cut drastically short. If you find that you simply can’t stand the time it takes to go from one place to another, maybe you’re becoming a bit like Dick. Dick may never get to experience the broader universe in Star Citizen and it’s in part because his brain is wired to flee at the first sign of anything that doesn’t deliver high octane dopamine distilled experiences. Having followed this project from the early days, I’d have to say that’s unfortunate. Maybe I’m just getting older and these are the final  words of a dying breed. Or maybe Star Citizen isn’t the game for everyone under the sun. I think I’m content with that. For the rest of us, I hope we can still find joy in those quiet moments drifting through the stars towards our next adventure.

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One thought on “Are We There Yet?

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  1. I really hope this minority of players does not influence the design, coming from someone who just started playing the game again after not logging in for over a year and a half the sure size and scope of the galaxy left me with hope and wonder about what’s out there for me to find. If there had been a more efficient way to get across the galaxy without that long travel distance I’m afraid I wouldn’t have had that seem feeling and would make the point of a large galaxy seem rather small.

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