The Chris Roberts Theory of Everything

“Roberts said he wished someone had sat him down, forced him to pick four or five things that it was important to do well, and focus on those.”

ChrisRobertsTheoryOfEverythingHeader[Disclaimer: The contents of this article contained herein are for informational purposes only. It does not wholly attribute any criminal activity nor unlawful conduct to any particular individual mentioned in the piece.]

Chris Roberts wants to make the best game in the entire universe and he’ll throw as many dollars at it as possible, and as many employees to work on the technology as possible. He just needs time. If he has a limited amount of time, Chris Roberts is forced to make delays and compromises. Unlimited amount of time? Then the technology limitations come back to haunt him, and he has to throw money at the problems to make them go away. There’s no such thing as unlimited time. Eventually the budget runs out. Eventually the public or the publisher begins to ask questions about what’s going on.

That struggle is what really defines Chris Roberts.

The common belief about Chris Roberts was that he was the “guy who made the Wing Commander games,” according to most people. But that’s not the entire story here, and leaves out why some people today have concerns about Star Citizen as a project. Chris Roberts attempted to make a Wing Commander movie back in 1999, and the resulting catastrophe it turned out to be led him to leave the games industry entirely for a hiatus that lasted a little over ten years. Furthermore, if you analyze the events of Roberts past you get a better understanding of the project’s state of affairs today.

They’ve managed to hit both extremes at once by spending a lot of money and have nothing worth showing for it. Chris Roberts has amazing ideas, but Chris Roberts himself gets in the way of that. That’s what this whole thing is about. That vicious cycle that takes the expectations to final fruition.

From Warren Spector’s Master Class series at the University of Texas, November 26 2007. He and Richard Garriott talk about the management style of Chris Roberts.

Game design by decree. Which really was the way Chris Roberts operated, in many respects. The good part about Chris Roberts was when he had the vision for what a Wing Commander was going to be, and he came and sat down and pitched it to us all, we all went “Damn he’s right.” It’s gonna work. He could describe it in a way that you just knew he was right, and it was going to work. And so we invested in it. And he was right, it did work. The downside of that was, when you went to work with Chris Roberts, you did everything EXACTLY the way he said to do it, period. Or you were fired almost immediately. No second chances. He was very explicit with what he wanted, and you either did it that way, or you were not part of his team.”

I literally heard him say “make that pixel blue, not green”

So it was a place where only certain individuals could survive it. And they had to be  very talented, but on the other hand, they also had to be very subservient in their demeanor.

It’s undisputed that Chris Roberts was good at that. Making Wing Commander was one of the best things to happen to the Origin video game company.  He made a hell of a legacy back then. But what happened? After climbing back up to the top by Wing Commander IV, Roberts made the decision to step out from Origin and give the idea of running a game development studio a go. That’s where the story here begins.

This will be one of the longest Star Citizen pieces I’ve written up to this point. So far, I dodged diving into the subject head-on. This was due to the massive scope and nature of such an undertaking. In talking about specific aspects of it, I was able to better understand the core issues that are at play here. The main point of this is to explore the doubts people have about the Star Citizen project, and informational purposes. I recommend reading the exhaustive collection of links and making your own opinion on what you see.

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Normally it would be difficult to have an extensive internet archive of the distant past. Back in 1998, the world wide web wasn’t the same place as it is today. Thankfully, Ben Lesnick ran a Wing Commander fan site that happened to report on absolutely every last detail you can imagine about what Chris Roberts was up to back then.

By February 1999, Chris Roberts was at a career crossroads. Within the next month he was going to release his film adaptation of Wing Commander, according to an article post:

Twentieth Century Fox will release Wing Commander on March 12, announced Tom Sherak, chairman of Twentieth Domestic Film Group, in a statement to the press. The movie is based on the popular series of games of the same name. The series was created by Chris Roberts while he was at Origin. Roberts now heads Digital Anvil, but signed a deal with Origin that allowed him to direct the movie, his feature film debut.

Wing Commander will center around Christopher Blair, the “star” of the first four Wing Commander games. Blair is played by Freddie Prinze, Jr. Other roles being reprised from the game include Maniac, played by Mathew Lillard; and Deveraux, played by Saffron Burrows. Other stars in the movie include Tcheky Karyo, David Suchet, David Warner, Ginny Holder, and Jurgen Prochnow.

But a later portion of that same article reveals what Chris Roberts had intended to be the result of all this. He wanted his foot in the door of Hollywood and the movie industry. With big names like Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Matthew Lillard attached to the project, Roberts had gambled on the Wing Commander movie as what he hoped would be a surprise blockbuster.

Roberts and Digital Anvil have film and television rights to the first four Wing Commander games, so if this movie is successful, gamers may see additional movies. “We want this to be our first entry in the film business,” Roberts said. “Down the road we hope to be doing a fair amount of film work. If this film is successful we will probably be doing another, but we want to do other films besides Wing Commander.”

So what was it like making a feature film as opposed to a game? “The scale was bigger–there’s a lot more money involved,” said Roberts. “If you want to think about something for 10 minutes you’re burning money as you have 150 people waiting for you.” He added, “You really have to be prepared because there isn’t a lot of budget for reshoots.” Roberts also noted the different storytelling pace of a movie compared to the Wing Commander games: “There is an inherent difference between the 20 hours you get in a game to tell the story and the limited time you get in a movie.”

A venture of this size in itself is highly ambitious. Yet even so, Roberts had stacked more on his plate as this film production was underway. The bottom portion of the article blurb talks about Chris Roberts and Freelancer, an upcoming video game set in the same spirit and style of his Wing Commander games

Roberts hasn’t forgotten his gaming roots, though. He’s heading the development of Freelancer for Digital Anvil, a “massively multiplayer” space game set in an entirely new game universe. “It will be space adventuring, trading, and much more, with elements like feudal houses for players to be a part of,” Roberts explained.

Freelancer is a game that Roberts has been itching to do ever since he played Elite and designed Privateer. “I was a big fan of Elite,” he said. “With Privateer, we never fully realized some of what I wanted to do.” So that’s one of the reasons why Roberts wants to do Freelancer–to finally make the game he really wanted to create. He added that the game has been in development for two years now, and will be released in 2000. Roberts also mentioned that there’s a possibility of doing a film set in the Freelancer universe as well.

So here we are. Chris Roberts seemed to have two simultaneous projects going on at the same time. One of them was a big cinematic experience that was supposed to kickstart a film franchise, and the other was a video game filled with plans for unprecedented depth and content. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Star Citizen and Squadron 42 take roughly the same positions all these years later. The former being a “massively multiplayer” game where you can do anything as you explore the far reaches of outer space. The latter being a big budget film-centric production meant to open the doors of Hollywood for Chris Roberts.

But the man who was supposed to be overseeing the production of Freelancer still had time to give interviews to the media for his Wing Commander movie, nonetheless. Not small quotes either, but long biographical-like pieces. The big two that were released that month in January can be found here and there.

It all presents a very rare opportunity of foreshadowing how the Star Citizen project is ran and prioritized. All we need to do is trace the timeline of the past.

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Wing Commander

This is what Chris Roberts had put a majority of his attention towards in this crossroads era. Ben Lesnick’s Wing Commander fan-site covered the development of the movie very thoroughly, and by looking at his posts between August 1998 up through March 1999, much of what it went on behind the scenes is revealed. This young enthusiast of Chris Roberts would eventually go on to work for him, making his site an excellent resource of knowledge.

One of the main sources we have in understanding the earlier stages of the film is from a German magazine (that Ben Lesnick eventually got an English translation of) that had an inside look at things as they were happening. Not only were they able to tell readers the first half-hour or so of the movie’s plot, and that Freddie Prinze, Jr., Matthew Lillard,  and Saffron Burrows were some of the key cast, the article’s author had aptly described the location of where they shot the movie and other production related details. The movie was shot between February and April 1998 in Luxemburg. Roberts wanted to cut costs wherever possible, and for some reason it was cheaper to film there than the United States. Film Producer Todd Moyer cited the cost of the movie to be $25 million dollars.

Even Chris Roberts would come to reflect on this time of his life as a failure in retrospect. One of the answers he gave in a Reddit AMA went into detail as to why the Wing Commander movie failed, according to him.

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Keep those points in mind as we explore how things unfolded.

Starting around August 1998, a news byte in Playboy Magazine reveals some main cast members and further confirms that shooting for the project began in February of that year. Also in August they announced Richard Gibbs would be the soundtrack composer, but two months later he’s replaced with David Arnold and Kevin Kiner. Digital Anvil was tasked with the 3D rendering, and by October 1998 they revealed their decision to use a modeling program called “Maya” to make it happen. Today, that’s a widely known household name for game developers and designers. On the 15th of November an article came out that talks about how Chris Roberts is starting to show off early FX and trailer footage of the Wing Commander movie. That same day, there was a written interview piece with Freddie Prince expressing enthusiasm for his role, showing a lot of interest in the premise and set-up of it. When it came to the movie’s release date, it was frequently tossed around during the production process. In early Autumn, a source with connections to the project said there was no way it would be out in ’98. Another one said the date was somewhere in February of 1999. Roberts went as far as to make a novelization for the movie as a way to merchandise it. It didn’t stop there either. They went as far as to make action figures, toy spaceships, t-shirts, masks, and autographed posters – all byproducts of the licensing deals that were arranged. You can see some of these for yourself over here if you don’t think that they actually exist. It all goes to show how invested Chris Roberts was in making the Wing Commander film.

But even in the final weeks before release, there were indicators as to the overall movie being rushed at the last minute.

When early reviews started to come in, there was a mixed reception. One from somebody named “Sean” was posted by Ben on December 15th of 1998.

Unfortunately I have to say that I was greatly dissapointed in it. My first shock was that it was directed by Chris Roberts, and it shows. The film hardly exceeds the quality of the CD-Rom movies. The first half hour is a complete bore with nothing but a bunch of military/techno babble that only fans like us could understand, let alone enjoy. The names and faces of Blaire, Maniac, Taggart, Angel, and Towlyn are introduced, but almost nothing is told of them except thier military ranks in Confed. There is very little character development in Blaire and Angel. The chemistry is weak and thier romantic involvement comes near the end without anything leading up to it. Freddy Prince and the guy from scream are pretty good actors, but this movie shows very little of their talents. The black girl does a great job, as does French actor who plays Paladin (isn’t he supposed to be Scottish?). The English actress who plays Angel (they should have changed her name from Deveraux to Davis) is really cute, but she’s not the greatest performer. The producers must have assumed that the average American audience can’t tell the difference between any Euro accents. Another weird thing is that Tolwyn is nice and Paladin is an asshole (at first). The sets were TERRIBLE. I think they were trying to get that Das Boot feel with the ship interiors because they looked like submarines (and about as technologicly advanced). The computers and switches looked as bad as a 70’s sci-fi flick would today (i.e. Alien, Star Wars). They even used the new flat screen computer moniters and I could almost make out Sony on one of them. I think they would have something more advanced looking in the 27th century. The ships were all pretty good, except for that Rapiers (probobly because it was the only non-CG ships shown. They all have these big gatlin guns on the front, and guess what they fire – bullets! No mass drivers, no ion guns, just bullets. How lame. Aside from that, the Tigers Claw and all of the Kilrathi ships looked great, and they looked the same as they do in the game series. The BIGGEST disapointment in the movie is the Kilrathi. There are maybe two or three scenes where they talk, and they’re all less than 10 seconds. Not only that, but they look like hairless cat muppets with very little moving feature in the animatronics. Their mouths just open and close, no lip variation. Worse than Yoda or Kermit.

While it may seem like a bit of an amateur analysis of the film’s content, the theme of it lines up with the general critiques that other viewers would make later on. Chris Roberts took the time to address “Sean” in a reply. Chris explained that he showed an early screening of the film at an L.A. theater, and he argued that “Sean” was in the minority when it came to the ratings from that session.

We had a screening this weekend in Westwood in LA.

It went a lot better than this post seems to indicate – Over 80% people rated the film good or above.
A couple of issues. The style and look of the film is deliberate. It is meant to be WWII submarines / fighters / battleships. If someone doesn’t dig it or respond to something that stylistic I’m kind of powerless – Personally I like it, but I’m sure some people will hate it. But I must say that if you saw the trailer or any of the set photos you will have seen the sets and lighting / look of the film — I know a lot of people dig it. Some obviously will not. That’s life.
As for the Kilrathi, I do agree that they are disappointing in the film — They are the area I’m least happy with — I’ve never managed to get them to be as cool as they seemed in the first two games before moving to live action. I felt like they were overgrown puppets in the last two games I did (with live action). We tried in the film to make them “scarier” and more alien like, but made the mistake of building them up to be 8 foot tall (which isn’t the natural size of a performer) Consequently they didn’t move so well (especially in the tight Kilrathi sets). This being a fairly low budget sci-fi film prevented me from doing what usually happens in this case, which is going back and re-shooting the Kilrathi scenes with re-designed creatures or replacing them with CGI. The only option was to reduce their screen time.
I have to disagree over the character development (I am of course biased), as I do feel like this is a strength of this film – It’s more than just space ships blowing up, you actually get to know the characters, like them, become involved and so ultimately care about what happens to them and the Tiger Claw. That was a goal of mine when I started on this project, I think it is in the film (I’m too close to be truly objective) and ultimately it is somewhat disheartening that “Sean” didn’t think so. I’ve also heard people that really like the characters and people. Oh well. That’s what opinions are for. Hopefully “Sean” is in the minority.
I’m glad that “Sean” liked the CGI, as DA and myself are extremely proud of the work we did for little money on a very tight schedule. I feel like it stands up to the best CGI space stuff out there.
As for my directing — Go easy it is my first film 🙂 My next will be better (WC was not the first game I designed) I still feel like I was the best person for the job, and the one that would bring the spirit of the games across the best. The real problem with making something like WC for the big screen is that it will always get compared to Star Wars, Star Trek or other big budget affairs like Starship Troopers. It is tough competing with films that cost four times as much (which means more time to shoot, do reshoots, do the effects etc.) It’s kind of like other people competing with WC on the game front, but they only have 500,000 dollars to make the game vs. my 4-12 million. I think that WC actually stands up pretty well given the budget disparity.

The general theme that Chris Roberts gives off here is that the budget was limited, and the production schedule had them rushing. He goes on to make arguments about how the look and style of the film was deliberate, as a means of trying to explain away the fact that “Sean” thought the final product didn’t look too well-put together.

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But December and January, news reports and hype for the Wing Commander movie heightened more quickly. As Christmas began to approach, murmurs about an official trailer began popping up. An interview about how the visual effects people made the Kilrathi surfaced shortly after. Before year’s end we got one of the first comparisons by the media trying to a connection between Wing Commander and the upcoming Star Wars movie The Phantom Menace. This would become a more common and persistent tendency in the coming weeks.

With January 1999, media appearances (such as on that Hollywood Gossip Show, E!) happened on a more regular basis. The problem with that was the lack of a release date, which would inevitably get announced sooner or later. But that didn’t stop rumors from festering, like the fact the movie might be a straight-to-dvd release instead of a theatrical debut. This is worth noting as it demonstrates the lack of proper planning that went into the whole movie-making process for Wing Commander. Chris Roberts project management failures had a ripple effect even at this point in his career. It highlights the need for Release Dates in general, as the resulting unpredictability and public speculation takes a toll after a while. A post on January 19th attempted to shed light on that issue, with Lesnick reporting that Chris Roberts didn’t have the movie’s official website up because he didn’t have a release date to give. Could that have been Fox’s fault? Certainly. For that particular situation. But this whole time, Chris Roberts is the guy in charge of the Big Picture. He should’ve taken that into account, or hired someone else that understood the Film Industry more than he did.

FINALLY, at the start of February a release date is announced. Lesnick managed to post about the March 12th, 1999 release date a few days before an official press release confirmed it. That’s right. The public only knew about the movie’s release date for about a month in advance of it happening. Given the resulting failure of the film at the box office, situations like a short notice release date window are why that happened. To add to that, the website for the movie still wasn’t up at least a week after that release date happened. The story behind that is something remarkable in itself, but it’s pretty self-contained. Feel free to skip the below Aside section I made if you want.

(A side story that I’ve decided to include here isn’t entirely relevant, but it does shed light into the business of the movie production process. Someone named “Dan” ran another fan-site, and he was originally tasked to create the official Wing Commander movie web page. But over the course of August 1998 to March 1999, the amount of delays and changes made to the design were frequent. Dan seemed to work day and night on it, and by the end of October 1998 his part of the work was done. But time passed by without it going up, with a “Coming Soon” status happening through the end of that year. By mid February, it ended up not being used at all. Everything Dan did was for naught. If Digital Anvil payed Dan to make a site, they wasted money with poor planning. No matter what, the work that went into it wasted time. It’s an overall theme of Chris Roberts projects.)

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Remember that Star Wars and Wing Commander thing I mentioned earlier? That became more of a thing in February, and ends up being the second mistake made here. At the very start, it was reported that FOX had concerns about Wing Commander being released before Star Wars. But they did a complete U-turn when a rival studio apparently wanted to pick the film up for themselves. This leads to the change in strategy. According to a Lesnick post, FOX was later going to try and use the popularity of Star Wars to get people interested in Wing Commander by placing a trailer for the first prequel movie in the previews of the theater showings for the Chris Roberts picture. But forcing that comparison onto the viewing public massively backfires when it comes to the legacy of the Wing Commander film. By spotlighting Star Wars, FOX ends up making Wing Commander seem like a rip-off as a result. It wasn’t going to be a limited-run film release either, as a mid-February report from Variety had a ballpark estimate of 1500 screens for its circulation. That had great potential, but as another report makes mention of Star Wars, it’s obvious what people would actually be attending the theater for.

On February 17th, the official movie trailer for Wing Commander came out. The public had known about the release date for two whole weeks (that was actually still considered a short while, back in the era before social media). But by then it was quickly becoming the “movie with the Star Wars trailer in it”. No matter what promotional content they throw to the masses, be it: press releases, the upcoming movie score soundtrack, commercial after commercial. The official website finally comes up on February 20th, but how useful is it in getting the word out with only a few weeks left until the film’s release? Even Lesnick’s review of the official website thought it was poorly implemented, and didn’t have the same character as the earlier designs did. The only main thing this official website seems to be used for is throwing dozens and dozens of preview pictures on it.

On top of all that, the knowledge barriers of understanding Wing Commander‘s setting even cropped up a bit. Chris Roberts said Wing Commander‘s characters had histories to them, which means there’s a duty of explaining that in some form. But what if people don’t see the biographical picture cards explaining this information? What then? If you don’t think understanding the movie’s universe could be a problem, there’s at least one major recorded instance of it being one. Wing Commander is set in 2654, but even the official website can’t bother to proof-read their work and instead write 2564 and 2554. Small mistakes like this are fine on their own, but when coupled with all the snafus involved in the production of this movie? It heightens the effect of it.

March 1999 was Movie Month. Wing Commander had finally arrived. It was one hell of a slog to get to this point but nonetheless it made it. This is the point where all the “chips on the table” were being pushed forward. A slew of all kinds of media content had come out in the days leading up to the official release of the movie on the 12th. More commercials. More pictures. Merchandise pushes. More of the Media fixation on the Star Wars trailer (which actually became a focal point in interviews). The young 22 year old Freddie Prince, Jr. maintained his optimism through and through. Origin got in on hyping it up too, sending out a mass email.

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(That Wing Commander fan-site guy “Dan” posted a journal blog of his trip to the premiere, which is where the photos above come from. They’re included mostly to help show you what it was like to go to the first showing of the movie.)

So what did the reviews for the movie say? How much did it make at the Box Office? As for the latter of the two, Lesnick reported on the movie’s earnings for three straight weekends in a row. On release, he says they made $5 million. The second weekend brought in $2.2 million. By the third weekend it fell to $1.1 million. Even in consideration of the time period, those numbers weren’t as optimal as Chris Roberts probably would’ve liked.

We only need to look at the reviews to know why. Again, Ben Lesnick was helpful in compiling a list of every review of the movie he could find. Most of the sites he lists are either obscure or don’t exist anymore. But a few were recognizable.

  • Washington Post: “There is precious little action and only the stalest effects.”
  • Cinemax: “should have stayed put on the computer screen. Though it doesn’t look too shabby, it has nothing to offer beyond some generic special effects that will easily be eclipsed by STAR WARS: EPISODE I.”
  • Entertainment Weekly: “a preposterously dull and labored hack job. It’s enough to make you wonder if the geniuses at Fox deliberately decided to release a movie this lifeless.”
  • San Francisco Chronicle: “Plot is shallow, special effects weak”

You can see the theme that’s beginning to develop. But what does it all mean? What can we take away from this particular case of Chris Roberts having a failure to launch the film franchise he wanted to make from this?

Let’s flash forward to November 2012. Ben Kuchera of Penny Arcade (back when they did gaming news ala Penny Arcade Report), interviewed Chris Roberts about the failure of his Wing Commander movie. It’s actually a good summation of what I just went over above, giving a shorter yet just as effective glimpse into the project.

You had a first-time director dealing with a compressed pre-production schedule, and a smaller than average budget for the effects-driven science fiction movie. Roberts said he wished someone had sat him down, forced him to pick four or five things that it was important to do well, and focus on those. Instead he tried to do too much, and didn’t have the budget nor time to do any of it particularly well.

The Chris Roberts theory of everything, summed up in one sufficient quote.

Look at everything I’ve gone over here in this Wing Commander movie section. It’s a lengthy thing to write about, but even a bigger project to tackle. Chris Roberts made a go at it though. But did you remember what I said at the beginning of this? Chris Roberts was supposed to be working on Freelancer at the same time. Next, we’ll take a look at how that went.

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Freelancer

In short, Freelancer was a 2003 video game released by Digital Anvil for PC. It originated as an idea from Chris Roberts, and takes place in a different universe than his Wing Commander series. But the amount of involvement he would have in this Freelancer project went through an extreme decline during the years in which the game was developed. It needs to be clarified that this project wasn’t the only one in the works at the time. A companion title named Starlancer was being developed by Chris Roberts’ brother Erin.  Although for reasons that become known later, Erin is somehow roped into the Freelancer project in some form as well.

A March 2002 preview for the game is capable of explaining the basics of what Freelancer was promised to be.

The engine is gorgeous and capable of showing off the truly immense scale of space. Most games, for instance, will add nebula or anomalies in space to make things look pretty; in Freelancer, every phenomenon far in the distance is real and can be flown to. There are the conventional jumpgates that let you traverse large distances instantly, but if you wanted to, you could actually fly uninterrupted from one end of the game universe to the other (okay, so it’s not infinite). It would, er, take a while, though.The developers at Digital Anvil are also touting a massive, living universe of over 100 systems with thousands of people that can be interacted with. There are also four evolving factions that are broken down into over 50 subfactions, many of whom are involved in some conflict with one another.A reputation system is what lends itself mostly towards creating the illusion of a living universe. How you behave, especially towards members of various factions, impacts how you will be treated, what missions will be available to you, etc. For example, if you attack an enemy of one faction, they may warm up to you and offer to let you join their wing if you bump into them on future missions.Much like the Privateer series, Freelancer will have a linear storyline that progresses as you complete various missions – the pace at which you complete these is entirely up to you. All dialogue and cutscenes are played through the in-game engine, and these will actually include interaction with non-story related NPCs. So walking into practically any bar in the Freelancer universe will usually result in real-time rendered cutscenes and voice dialogue. When the main plot is done, the game theoretically will keep going forever with a working economy and hundreds of randomly generated freelance missions – whether things will get repetitive remains to be seen.

If it seems like Freelancer appears to have had many of the same lofty goals, just like Star Citizen does today – you would be right. Living Universes? Immense scales of space? “What you do is entirely up to you”? What you’re looking at is the Chris Roberts Theory of Everything in action, applied to the scale of what a video game’s limitations are. When you trace the development history of this game, it becomes clear that there was quite a few delays, hurdles, and changes of staff along the way.

According to a Summer 2001 interview with Digital Anvil developers, work on Freelancer began in 1997.

TLR: How many people where working on Freelancer in the beginning, and how many are working at it now? How many man-years have you used until now?

A: Back in early ’97 they where around 4 people till mid-98. Today we are around 35 people, and the game is getting close to around 200 man-years if you include the work of all the external freelancers as well.

This proves that the game’s development cycle intertwined directly with the production of the Chris Roberts Wing Commander movie. What made this all possible? A financial investment for Digital Anvil came  from Microsoft. February 19th, 1997 was when the deal was formally announced to the public. Microsoft was just starting to get their beaks wet in the gaming industry, and Digital Anvil seemed like a passionate team ready to go forth and make quality titles in return for the cash.

“Digital Anvil’s mission is to become a premier entertainment and software gaming company, creating innovative content, with a focus on making an immersive, movie-like game experience,” is what the press release said.

If you want to know how exactly the deal came together, Chris Roberts says he just asked Bill Gates directly, according to a September 1997 interview he did.

And it’s a lot easier when you’ve got a partner like Microsoft backing you up. “Since the last two Wing Commanders I did sold well overseas, it was very important to have worldwide reach,” he says. “We didn’t know anyone at Microsoft, but we had Bill Gates’s e-mail address, so we sent him a message. The next day we got a call from the general manager of his entertainment division. We just went from there.”

Tucked away in an old Gamespot interview from January 5th, 1999, Chris Roberts manages to tell the outlet his position on the Freelancer project. “On Freelancer I’ve got myself down to do some of effects and I’m heavily into the game design. I’m not part of the main programming effort,” he says.

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As shown by this Digital Anvil office tour with Ben Lesnick, Freelancer and Wing Commander work were both going on at the same time. Despite this, by May 17th 1999 Freelancer would achieve the title of IGN’s Best of E3. Based on what? Mostly dreams. It’s only after Chris Roberts releases his Wing Commander movie do we see more attention brought back to Freelancer. On June 27th, Lesnick reports about an article that Chris is quoted in:

Of course, one of the big questions gamers will have is how closely related to the Wing Commander series these games will be–after all, Roberts created those games, too. “Starlancer is a space-combat simulator just as Wing Commander is,” said Roberts. “What takes it beyond Wing Commander is the attention [to] and quality [of] detail. Missions are very detailed and are much more than just showing up at a nav point and fighting a dozen ships.”

OK, but what about Freelancer? “Freelancer is way beyond anything I’ve done in the Wing Commander universe. It’s going to be a fully functioning, living, breathing universe with a whole ecosystem. You can see the promise in something like Privateer, but this is geometrically beyond that game,” said Roberts. “It’s like building a city. Compared to Privateer, the scope, the dynamic universe–it’s all 3D–is much more interesting. There’s much more intrigue the player can get involved in. Everything’s rule-based vs. scripted. Commerce happens, trade happens, and piracy happens because of what’s going on in the game universe and not because of scripted events.”
So he set forth to try and make this dream game of his happen somehow. But could Chris Roberts live up to the hype and excitement he was trying to draw out of people?
Developer Diary from Digital Anvil programmer Ed Maurer, March 9th 2000. Digital Anvil put out a few direct developer’s diaries during Freelancer, and some of them were archived separately by fan-sites at the time. The source this came from exists, but the Wayback Machine didn’t read the page properly when copying it. What is written by this programmer may come as a shock to you, given the comparisons that could be made to things later said about Star Citizen. Ed’s ordeal is that he needs to make a multiplayer demo within a short amount of time, and have it ready for Chris Roberts and Bill Gates in the span of a few weeks.

Relaxin’ today, listenin’ to The Roots and thinkin’ about what’s come together over the last couple of weeks. I returned from a short vacation to find a note with the following text in my inbox:

“Rich, Lorin & Ed will be working hard at implementing the multiplayer code and, ideally, Bill Gates and Chris Roberts will go head-to-head for the press.”

What!? When I left a few days ago nothing like this was in the works. Now, on two weeks notice, we’re going to try to get a multi-player setup running that will be publicly played by the Wealthiest Man in the World? This is a very tall order for a body of code that hasn’t been tested lately. My thought sequence went something like this: This is an insane deadline, forget it…I guess that it’s a great opportunity for DA…If we did pull it off we’d boost our “can do” credibility…It’s gonna take some long hours to get this done…well, I guess it’s time to get to it.

Amazingly, as of this writing, a day before the demo, the software is complete and ready to roll, and the testing crew is continually playing it, looking for any possible pitfalls.

This shows how the development cycle of the game is extended due to the fact that these guys were putting together Press demos on occasions like this. It sets up some of the expectations and stakes that were made on this game. Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft. An incredibly successful businessman and entrepreneur, even at that time – decided to put some of the responsibilities of shaping the future of the company on the shoulders of Chris Roberts. The rest of the body in this developer diary goes into many of the technical obstacles that were associated with Freelancer at the time. Akin to Star Citizen deciding to put first-person shooter models and ships together in CryEngine, that ended up causing major conflicts between the two systems existing in the same space, Freelancer had many issues arise with putting singleplayer related optimizations and architecture into a multiplayer type situation.
If you don’t believe there’s a comparison to be drawn here between Freelancer and Star Citizen development, all you need to see is the last section of the entry to be sure of it.

After the script was in place and the show-stopping bugs were out of the way, it was time for polish and to clean up lower priority bugs. After one run-through of the demo, Chris R. proclaimed that the game was not cool enough to ask Bill G. to play it. Revision of the script, optimization, and AI tweaks followed.

Luckily, my work is related to the technical operation of things. I prefer working in the cold world of bits and bytes, not the subjective reality of cool. Anyway, the design team managed to pull together something that Chris was pleased with. So after a week or so of long hours there are still some shortcomings of the multi-player game, particularly server sluggishness when in a fire fight. The demo has revealed other issues of timing and showed that in some cases new algorithms must be found, but those issues can wait. Right now it’s time to lay back take pleasure in what has been accomplished and await the news of how things went at GDC.

Chris Roberts at the time is the main project manager in charge of what goes on in game development. He made his team stop from their regular duties in order to put together a demonstration for Chris to show off publicly, subjecting the team to his whims and forcing them to try and “please” Roberts. Look later in this article and find where I bring up David Jennison’s departure letter and read that over, and you’ll see not much has changed in the past ten years with how Chris handles things.

An August 2000 preview showed us what people anticipated the game to be. By this point it was a hybrid mix of hype, but in later months much of this same information would be regurgitated over and over again ad-nausea. For reasons that would be revealed later.

September 16th. A Freelancer fan-site complains about the lack of news to talk about.

Our apologies for being so quiet lately, but it’s not our fault. Really.From the start we’ve been a website focused on Freelancer. Unfortunately, the stream of news that existed earlier this year is gone. Digital Anvil has been silent for the past months. What does this mean? We don’t know. Just hang in there and enjoy the silence, while you still can.

These are fanboys that make sure to report on every last nugget of information they can find. If they couldn’t discover anything new to talk about with Freelancer‘s development, there’s a fair chance that it didn’t exist.

The last time Chris Roberts is recorded as being “involved” with the project is somewhere in November 2000, according to a PC Gamer interview snippet.

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If there was a defining snapshot of Chris Roberts involvement in the project at the time, this would be it. “Don’t believe your own hype,” is a very poor choices of words when compared to the fact that Chris Roberts built his entire video game legacy on that practice alone. In addition, advising up and coming game developers to set a plan and stick with it is ironic, as he would do the opposite instead in reality. It also overall further cements the whole “I should be working on a video game but I decided to make the Wing Commander movie instead” thing.

Microsoft ended up acquiring Digital Anvil entirely by December 2000. An official press release from that time made it seem like the move was made as part of a larger effort by Microsoft in order to gain more of a foothold in the gaming industry. Not only did they gain the rights to Freelancer, but an additional Xbox title that was in the works by Digital Anvil at the same time. Chris Roberts decided to depart from the company after this move was made (despite previously saying he thought Microsoft was a “great” fit there), stating that he would only now be a Creative Consultant on Freelancer moving forward. The only people were able to get a direct interview with Digital Anvil’s Chris Roberts and Microsoft’s Ed Fries was IGN. This piece would be published on December 4th. The basics of the interview dealt with what would happen to all the different video game titles that were in development by Digital Anvil at the time. When it came to Freelancer, Chris Roberts sounded like he had given up on the dreams that he had for the title, saying that four years to make the game a reality was too much of an effort.  Ed Fries on the other hand took the time to explain how Microsoft was going to take more direct charge of the game’s development, making sure that it got out of the door eventually.

December 6th. Chris Roberts “a bit too ambitious” according to Eurogamer.

In the wake of the collapse of Digital Anvil, co-founder and soon-to-be-former CEO Chris Roberts has spoken about his decision to leave the company he founded just four years ago. As we suspected, the company’s troubles were down to “wanting to develop not only hugely ambitious games, but too many hugely ambitious games”, leaving the company’s finances stretched after four years without a single game being released – the sole title to emerge with the Digital Anvil name on it was actually mostly developed by a small British company.

This was a game that Chris Roberts had previously said was his “dream game”, but after the acquisition he distanced himself? The ordeal didn’t make sense at the time that it happened, nor does it really add up even today. There had to be something more to all this. He made his intentions to move into the Film Industry next pretty clear.

But what next for Chris Roberts, the man who brought us the groundbreaking Wing Commander series? “I just want to see Freelancer out the door, and then I want to take some time to reassess everything. Taking three and a half to four years to build a massive title just seems like a huge amount of effort. There needs to be a better way to do it.” Rather worryingly though, according to GameSpot “he has expressed his interest to work in film and exploit broadband technology to us recently”. Oh please god, no! Anybody who has had the misfortune to see the truly appalling Wing Commander movie will be praying that Chris has a sudden change of heart.

I’m not just “making the claim” that Chris Roberts was too distracted with Wing Commander movie production to make Freelancer. Ten days after the acquisition announcement, that was said by the people running that Freelancer fan-site I mentioned previously. They write in a December 15th news post:

Microsoft unsatisfied with Digital Anvil’s lack of completed projects, bought them out. Chris Roberts has been removed, err, left the company, where he served as CEO and oversaw the development of Freelancer. He is currently acting as a creative consultant, but we believe this to be nothing more than a media ploy. He wasn’t doing a good job, he was occupied with his, ehm, flowering career in the film industry, and as a result, he’s out.

What does this mean for Freelancer? It means we’re very likely to get a dumbed-down version of what we were expecting. It means that we’re unlikely to get a Freelancer Online, at least the kind we were hoping for.

That was what the overall reaction in regards to Microsoft’s acquisition of Digital Anvil. Nobody really knew or understood for sure what Chris Roberts did on the project after that. You’ll see some people claiming it to be one thing, others will say differently. It wouldn’t be clarified until the game itself came out, and we would get a look at the credits section of the manual to see. But even the fans of Chris Roberts work seemed to be let down and disappointed here.

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January 24th 2001. In order to prove that the game’s progress that was known to the public hadn’t change much in this three year span, there’s a quote from CNET about what they saw from Freelancer from it’s announcement through the time of writing.

Last year we were chomping at the bit to get our hands on this puppy–Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame was given free rein to make the space game of his dreams, with Microsoft giving his Digital Anvil development studio tons of cash to do the job right. Well, we’ve seen the game at a couple of E3s, and what we’re seeing isn’t a whole lot different from what we saw when the game was first unveiled. Add in the fact that Digital Anvil’s Conquest was dropped by Microsoft, it’s anyone’s guess as to what’s going on over there.

Chris Roberts had a lot of big ideas, but he had difficulty taking what he described in words and actually making it happen in a game build.

February 6th. Microsoft is still trying to put this whole Freelancer mess in order. Another delay announcement came out, buying them some more time to figure out what end is up.

Microsoft Games announced today that they have moved the release of the highly anticipated space action game, Freelancer, back to spring 2002. This comes a year after it was moved to spring 2001, two years after it was moved to winter 2000, and three years after it was moved to spring 2000. We asked the now-deceased Albert Einstein what he made of this string of events. He stated “after graphing any system, patterns emerge. Let us examine your specific system.” Einstein went on to sketch a linear graph on the blackboard. “As you can see, with the current delays, we have linear growth, or possibly even exponential. Following this, yes, here, well, it continues to diverge.” So we asked him “Interesting, most interesting, but what does it mean?” And then we got our answer. “According to the laws of mathematics, this “Freelancer” will never be released.”

You can see how people were beginning to notice the delays piling up more and more.

According to Ben Lesnick, in April 2001 Microsoft was looking for a replacement to Chris Roberts that would head up the project. Even Ben knew what Chris was trying to do was nothing but dreams.

Microsoft has tapped Jorg Neumann to replace Chris Roberts… and that they plan on displaying the first post-Roberts version of Freelancer at the E3 in May. The entire Wing Commander community will be waiting with baited breath to see what changes have been made to Roberts’ original amazing — albeit technically impossible — vision…

Gamespot still made it seem like Chris Roberts was more firmly at the helm, when a May 2001 Freelancer preview came around. They slated the game was set to release “Fall”, showing the lack of awareness and anticipation towards delays there was.

The engine powering Freelancer conjures up a large-scale, richly detailed science-fiction universe revolving around space trading and commerce. You start the game by picking out a cargo space ship from a selection for sale by a dealer. After you buy and outfit your craft, it’s time to hang out at a space station bar, where you pick up leads on freelance assignments, which usually entail shipping cargo to and from planets. Other available jobs have you working as a mercenary to protect ships. Or you can go to the shady side of the law and engage in piracy or transport contraband. The most impressive feature of Freelancer is how much goes on in the universe, even if you’re not directly involved in things. When trade routes open up and there’s money to be made, you’ll see ships traveling between planets. This isn’t mere window dressing; each computer-controlled ship really is transporting items. Their actions, as well as your involvement (or lack thereof), affect the overall economy unfolding throughout the Freelancer universe. The reputation you gain during play can be an asset or setback for you. Engaging in piracy or taking on mercenary missions for undesirable clientele can lead to much bigger payments but also cause a price to be put on your head. You could find yourself with scores of bounty hunters looking to cash in on you. Being a good, honest trader can yield a more steady flow of assignments, but if you’re too much of a pushover, you could wind up as pirate fodder. This detailed level of persistence is meant to make you feel as if you’re actively taking part in the universe of Freelancer and not just being entertained by the computer.

If some of the descriptions and details in this article seemed familiar to you, there’s a reason for that. It’s the same thing that Chris Roberts is trying to accomplish with Star Citizen today. What these people are most likely describing is a preview build that they were shown directly, along with being fed the right combination of PR buzzwords from whoever was in charge of that at Digital Anvil. You can say the magic words of “Fidelity”, “Immersion”, and “Persistence” over and over again, but if you think about what that means in practice rather than theory? There’s a huge difference.

May 17th 2001. Freelancer makes a showing for the third time at E3, and the game now has a “Spring 2002” projection made for it. We don’t hear any information about the game for a long time, with the closest to a notable thing being a Nov 2001 letter about the motion capture work that was used for the game. Delay after delay sprung up, with the only solid look at the game cropping up by July 2002. A PC Gamer article remarks that the influence of Chris Roberts has disappeared almost entirely by now.

Then there’s Freelancer, which was the brainchild of Chris Roberts, the man whos Wing Commander series helped popularize outer space as a game setting. Hindered by myriad troubles throughout much of its development, including the departure of Roberts, Freelancer finally appears to be pulling together under Microsoft’s tutelage. And the results could be spectacular.

Things were “pulling together” after Microsoft stepped in and Chris Roberts was removed from the picture. The idea that he was mostly a guy with a vision, but not able to pull a project together, was starting to be more widely embraced.

December 23, 2002 had Ben Lesnick reporting on it after a trip to the studios in Austin. According to his summary, the game’s systems and layout were finally coming together. Even if it wasn’t in the shape and form originally intended. But more notably he says “Mr. Roberts hasn’t been with Digital Anvil for several years. The game credits him for ‘Original Concept’ and ‘Special Thanks’,” confirming the fact that Freelancer as a game and Chris Roberts were nearly complete separate entities now. Microsoft had slid him slowly into the background and began taking the reigns moreover after the fact.

The cheers that the game had finally gone gold by February 9th 2003, meant the game would finally be ready for playing and analysis by the fans.  Let’s see what some of the reviews said, starting with Gamespot. “while it’s not the revolutionary title it initially promised to be, it delivers the exact combination of addictive and accessible gameplay that the genre has needed for a long time,” one of the opening paragraphs stated.

The review was more than fair to the game, giving it an 8.3 score overall. But what caught my eye was the two closing paragraphs. They speak the most out of everything said in this piece.

Freelancer has had such a lengthy, bumpy development cycle that it’s not surprising that the game doesn’t entirely manage to deliver upon its initial promise. The gigantic capital ships and structures that were demonstrated in initial presentations of the game have been replaced by much smaller counterparts. The gaming world is nowhere near as dynamic or interesting as initially promised–factions don’t expand their borders, there’s no dynamic economy, and the only nonplayer character activity involves security patrols and transport convoys traversing scripted pathways. Despite the game’s extended development period, the graphics, music, and sound effects are all still very good, and the system requirements are very modest for a game that looks this good.
Freelancer deliberately abandons the complexity of most space simulations in order to offer a more accessible experience. It features a solid single-player campaign, simple but addictive RPG elements, and an open-ended gaming world that’s enjoyable to explore by yourself or with friends. While traditional fans of the genre may prefer the additional depth of more-orthodox simulations, Freelancer’s streamlined controls and simplified gameplay make it easier for you to immediately begin freely exploring an expansive star system and looting and destroying enemy factions. Some of the development team’s original, more-novel plans may have proved to be impracticable to implement, but even a compromised design has been crafted into a solid game.
 They’re basically saying the things that Chris Roberts had promised didn’t make it to the final cut, but Digital Anvil’s overall efforts with the game were still successful at the end of it all. Frankly, this proves that Microsoft was able to save the project by taking control of it at the Zero Hour.

By March 5th 2003, the long-awaited Freelancer game comes out after five years. But the distance between Roberts and the final product speaks for itself, as seen in the Credits section of the game manual.

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December 1, 2005. Digital Anvil Melted Down gives us details as how the studio Chris Roberts founded nearly a decade earlier was now being shuttered by Microsoft. Many of the employees were relocated to Microsoft Studios proper, but the overall legacy of the studio is described as follows:

In 1996, game designer Chris Roberts founded an all-new studio, Digital Anvil. Already renowned for his creation of the then-popular Wing Commander series, Roberts had grown restless after his employer, Origin Systems, grew in size. He told the press that Digital Anvil would be a return to the smaller studio system which he felt produced better games. However, it wasn’t until four years later that Starlancer (PC, Dreamcast), the first game to bear the Digital Anvil imprimatur, was released. Around the same time, the small shop was bought by one of the biggest companies around–Microsoft, which folded it into its internal Microsoft Game Studios system. Chris Roberts promptly exited the company, but would consult on several games in development.
But there was certainly more to this than that. Ben Lesnick gives his own obituary at the news. It was an overall ambitious operation that tried to do a lot at once. Their offices were filled with decorative memorbilia and props dedicated to the Wing Commander series, and the main staff members were talented and passionate developers. He takes the time to point out that Digital Anvil was in charge of both video games and the Wing Commander movie effects.

Many know that the studio assisted in the production of the Wing Commander movie; in fact, Digital Anvil was chiefly responsible for the two aspects of the movie that were universally lauded – the beautiful introductory sequence and the amazing 3D effects.

It’s pretty clear based on the statements and documentation in this Freelancer section that Chris Roberts wasn’t capable of project management when it came to this part of his career. He made the team take time to work on demos, and he ultimately failed to achieve his all-encompassing space game he set out to make originally. But did Microsoft realize they were paying for Chris Roberts to make a movie? They invested in the company with the intention that money was going to be spent on game development, yet Digital Anvil was also tasked with movie related matters too. Microsoft’s overall involvement in that aspect was minimal at best, and they didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the whole ordeal in retrospect.

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What was the budget for that Wing Commander movie? The answer according to a quick Google search makes it seem as if it’s $30 million, flat out. When you look into what both Chris Roberts says and compare it to other sources back at the time, something bizarre comes into focus. The numbers don’t add up. At all. Yes, Chris Roberts was under a lot of pressure at that time. Back in 1997, Microsoft was able to float Digital Anvil a princely sum of cash. By the way the movie turned out overall, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that was the real reason Roberts left by December 2000.

Chris Roberts admits to having a role with the digital effects work on the Wing Commander movie. But yet at the same time he lacked a lot of room in his budget.

We didn’t have a big enough budget (it wasn’t $30M like Todd claims – it was originally $20M, that crept up to $24M) to make this type of film properly.
The film was rushed into production as Fox wanted the film delivered by November 1998 so they could release before Star Wars. Consequently I had only 3 months of pre-production. Anyone can tell you that on a complicated movie that involves a lot of set building and VFX you need more than that. 6 months is a normal preproduction time, but it’s not uncommon to have 9 months on especially ambitious VFX projects. Issues like the Kilrathi, improving the script could have all been addressed if we had not been put on an accelerated schedule to fit into a “deal”. For an experienced director having almost no preproduction time is bad, for a first time director it can be deadly.

If Chris wants to dispute the assertion, he would be going against what his own movie’s producer was quoted as saying “In the USA we could have never made a movie like ‘Wing Commander’ for only 25 million dollars – here it is no problem at all!,” during production.

But then Moyers figure also ballooned. In a statement he gave for a retrospective on the project:

To be fair, it was a stunning deal – or rather series of deals – that jigsawed together money from all over. It began with a small domestic minimum guarantee from Fox and was followed by a Luxembourg tax incentive, some French investment, an Australian tax shelter, UK financing and foreign sales. In all, the independent production secured a $30 million budget. “At the time it was a tonne of money,” says Moyer.

I mean he even says “jigsaw” there. Come on! Roberts said the budget was $20 to $24 million. While Moyer says the budget was $25 to $30 million. One of these two men is mistaken in their movie budget estimates.  It would make sense as to why Chris Roberts decided to leave Digital Anvil after it was acquired by Microsoft, that would’ve had the same amount of wiggle room as EA’s Origin deals allowed him.

Millions of dollars don’t just show up in couch cushions. But for Chris Roberts to publicly deny the number cited by a Wing Commander movie producer is something else entirely. He would be one of the staff members that’d be privy to that type of information, and even though this all took place in the late 1990s it’s safe to say for certain a MOVIE’S BUDGET would be something more set in stone. The way this money could’ve been “misplaced” is through Digital Anvil’s work on the graphic effects of the Wing Commander movie. That same studio was making 3D models and assets for Freelancer at the same time. To put it another way – they very easily could’ve said to Microsoft they were working on Freelancer stuff, but when in reality they could’ve been focused on Wing Commander movie effects work.

Much later on in the response response to a biographical piece, Chris Roberts made sure to clarify he was responsible for the movie effects. The Kilrathi snafu brought up a budget problem:

I, not Todd, wanted to replace them with digital animation. Todd knew nothing about VFX – I was always the driving force on that front – its why Digital Anvil had its own effects arm that did 80% of the work on the Wing Commander movie. We went to Fox after we finished shooting to ask for more money to re-do the Kilrathi digitally and to shoot the original opening that was in the script but we had to drop for budget reasons and they told us no, we’re making money on this film even if its sucks due to the video & TV deals we have. If we give you more money that may not be the case anymore, so tough luck.

There’s coincidences. Then there’s one hell of another story going on here. I hope, if nothing else, the notion that Chris Roberts seemed to have used money meant for Microsoft games on his own movie, is cleared up by him. Chris Roberts own answer seems to not reflect the consensus made by the media reports for the movie, in addition to what his own producer had said.


What Chris Roberts intended to have at the end of his Wing Commander and Freelancer projects was the start of a movie franchise, plus another video game title under his belt. But he ended up with nothing to show for either of these things. His first film was universally panned by mainstream critics, and he had minimal involvement in the release of Freelancer.

A slide from Chris Roberts’ BAFTA presentation gives us a summary of events so far.

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But that didn’t stop him from trying again. Ascendant Pictures was founded in March 2002 after Chris Roberts left Digital Anvil. He, Christopher Eberts, and Kia Jam wanted their films to reach the international interactive entertainment market, so they had a large focus on foreign distributions. Chris actually made an honest go at the film making business. He was an Executive Producer on 2004’s The Punisher. By 2005, there was Lord of War, plus he was an Executive Producer on The Jacket and Ask the Dust. By 2008 and 2009 he added Outlander to that mix.

I’ll fully admit to being a fan of The Punisher. Not bad for an earlier Marvel movie.

One of the people that Chris Roberts met at this point in his life was Ortwin Freyermuth. As the CEO of Capella films (who did a lot of work with Mike Myers and Jim Carrey), the company was known for having multiple layers of business relationships in order to have more direct control over their production and revenue. Chris Roberts and Ortwin Freyermuth would eventually work together on Star Citizen, implementing many of the same focuses on loopholes and corporate structures as they did during their time together in the film industry. One of these loopholes was a German tax shelter that was in effect until some point until November 2005. The termination of which happens to line up with the legal controversy that Ascendant Pictures found itself in.

Between November 2005 and March 2008, Ascendant Pictures and Kevin Costner were in a legal battle. The subject of litigation was the claim that the Film company promised Costner that he would be able to star in a film called Taming Ben Taylor, about a bitter and divorced man who refused to sell his winery to the neighboring golf course. They promised him in December 2004 that the $8 million deal would go through regardless of production financing, but by June 2005 he was told that the movie wouldn’t be going forward after all.  The court papers state that Costner was misled about Ascendant Pictures ability to make the film, being strung along for several months of delays. In that interim he had to pass up on several other job offers. Ascendant Pictures later filed a cross-complaint that the Creative Artist Agency that represented Costner was the one responsible for misrepresenting the situation, and that they turned away actresses and directors that could’ve been involved, ending up hurting the financing prospects of the project.

Of course, the fact that Chris Roberts was sued for failing to deliver on a promise to somebody could all be coincidental. Washing his hands of the whole thing, Chris Roberts sold off the assets of Ascendant Pictures to Bigfoot Entertainment in 2010.


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What do the actions have Chris Roberts in the Wing Commander/Freelancer era tell us about the overall focus of Star Citizen as a project today?

If you were to look at some noteworthy moments in the overall development timeline of Star Citizen and Squadron 42, you see a pattern of certain qualities form that seem to have things in common with the project management style he had in his earlier years. Roberts might have learned a thing or two during his time in the Film Industry, but when he came back to gaming in 2012 he wasn’t that much of a changed man.

His vision from what he originally promised, ballooned in size to a huge scale over time. Roberts himself is quoted as giving a release date for Star Citizen’s different modules. Back in November 2012 during a Reddit AMA, he answered someone’s question about a timetable.

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The long and short of it is that a priority of Roberts time and focus is again spent on the Film-related project (Squadron 42) over that of the video game project (Star Citizen).  Within that general theme, many of the same character flaws he has appear. Chris Roberts is in charge of everything with this project. Full stop.

The foundation of the project itself is built on a “module” component system, that can be seen on the project status page of the website.

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“They’re over half way done!” you might say. Looks can be deceiving, as the amount of effort that’s needed to make each of these modules isn’t an even six-way split. Something like the hanger module is easier to do than Arena Commander, due to the fact that the former has you just looking at your ships, while the latter has you taking them out into combat. The amount of programming and play-testing that entails varies wildly. Now imagine trying to put these separate modules into the same system of gameplay. That was what Chris Roberts wanted to do, and he wouldn’t let the technology itself get in the way.

An example of this sort of problem the game has is the fact that Alpha players have to redownload all the data over again whenever they do a patch. To put it another way, if a base game build is 30 GB, and they make a patch with some changes? They have to redownload the entire base game build with each update iteration. That puts a lot of data load on whatever servers are hosting all of this, wasting more of the project’s money unnecessarily. While this may seem superfluous on it’s own, as recently as a few days ago it had an effect on Kotaku Australia’s ability to play the game.

From “Star Citizen Got Me Blacklisted From Our Office Internet”:

Our IT department is used to me downloading large files before. That’s pretty standard for video games. A 20GB day one patch here, 60GB of downloads there.

But we’ve got a nice fat fibre connection. Our office can handle that sort of stuff OK. So when Star Citizen wanted to download about 25GB in the middle of the day, I thought, sure. That’s nothing in the grand scheme of things. No-one will notice.

Problem is, people did notice. The whole office in fact — because not longer after the crowdfunded gargantuan space epic began patching, the internet for the whole office went down.

Even the programs that Chris Roberts is involved with want to do everything, down to the network level. As it turned out, the patcher made aggressive demands from too many network ports, causing the firewall to react.

But it all began with a Kickstarter/Crowdfunding proposal. That’s the source of both Squadron 42 and Star Citizen, so it’s important to keep that straight. He came out of his retirement and into the public light at GDC 2012, where he gave a presentation detailing his new project proposal and return to the gaming industry. What Chris Roberts intended to do was have all of his crowdfunding done via his website. What Chris Roberts didn’t expect was that his website could crash under a massive server overload. And it did. I go over the Stretch Goals, Feature Creep, and Project Origins in more detail here. But the long and short of it is that Kickstarter was a short term solution to the problem Chris Roberts had. Unfortunately it would work against him in the long term, as he was now beholden to the terms and conditions of that website as well.

The overall Star Citizen project had the multiplayer persistent universe, but another aspect of it was the singleplayer Squadron 42 campaign.

At the outset of embarking on this new project, Chris Roberts write a Pledge letter that outlines some fairly interesting points. He’s able to actually recognize that the limitations of technology actually exist, for one. But overall, it outlines the media methodology at work during the game’s development.

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“That’s a load of shit,” skeptics might say. They could be right, but it all depends on if there’s justifications as to why. Events to point to. That’s what we’ll try and go over in this part of the overall analysis (like the fact that Chris Roberts actually embraces bigger scope and delays to the game at a later point).

As it applies to Star Citizen, if Chris Roberts was treating the backers like he would a publisher, they would be more informed about the technical limitations the project is facing, the amount of money being thrown around (and on what), and a more concrete release date would’ve been stated from the outset, compared to where the state of affairs is now.

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Star Citizen

The mainline project that the Kickstarter backers came to be the most familiar with from 2012 onward. To be perfectly blunt about it, Star Citizen was originally called “the spiritual successor to Freelancer,” back during it’s debut.

Don’t believe it? Here’s the initial page on the Roberts Space Industries website back in mid October 2012.

Star Citizen brings the visceral action of piloting interstellar craft through combat and exploration to a new generation of gamers at a level of fidelity never before seen. At its core Star Citizen is a destination, not a one-off story. It’s a complete universe where any number of adventures can take place, allowing players to decide their own game experience. Pick up jobs as a smuggler, pirate, merchant, bounty hunter, or enlist as a pilot, protecting the borders from outside threats. I’ve always wanted to create one cohesive universe that encompasses everything that made Wing Commander and Privateer / Freelancer special. A huge sandbox with a complex and deep lore allowing players to explore or play in whatever capacity they wish.

Chris Roberts was able to do what he did best in his initial pitch. He sold his idea not just to the folks at the GDC presentation speech he did, but he pushed that energy online and into the social media age of the internet. One of the core tenets as to why he chose a more direct investment approach and crowdfunding was because that allowed him the most creative control and decision-making power possible. With no gaming publishers, Chris Roberts had free reign to do whatever he pleased for the game’s development.

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He would later reflect on his method as following the Minecraft system of development, in an interview he gave with Polygon:

“My original plan was that I was going to raise some money from private investors to build a sort of alpha that didn’t have everything I wanted in it,” Chris Roberts says. “It would have been enough that I could give it to someone and they could play it and they could give me a reduced amount of money and I would use that money to continue adding features until I built it to my final feature set.”

Obviously what made Minecraft able to accomplish that method was the simplicity of the formula. Notch wouldn’t exactly be selling $15,000 ship packages during the development days of his game over at Mojang.

As reported via an Engadget article from the time:

“We are taking this approach to fund-raising for several reasons,” said Roberts. “For one, this route takes the traditional game publisher out of the mix and enables us to take the millions of dollars normally used by publishers for a triple-A title and plow them right back into developing the game. Secondly, using our own crowd funding mechanism allows us to reach out to our international fans, who have been devoted followers of my games in the past. Thirdly, going direct gets us much closer to our fans and allows us to focus more on the community side, create more updates for our fans and directly interact with them as we are making the game.”

Chris Roberts mentions “Traditional Game Publishers” right off the bat. That’s his main reason for using an alternative method of fundraising. At any point during normal game development, a publisher could check in and see where the money is being spent and allocated. If it seems like funding is being wasted on side stuff that’s unnecessary, they could pressure the developer to switch gears and get back on track. The bottom line is Game Publishers help encourage accountability.

If you look at all the Press surrounding the initial unveiling of Star Citizen, you’ll find many of them have a lot in common. The thing about press releases is most of the time, outlets share the same thing but just worded differently. If you combined all of the articles together they would basically say that: The creator of the Wing Commander series, Chris Roberts, has made his return to video game development after a long hiatus in the film industry. His upcoming PC game in that universe wants to bring the space simulator genre back to it’s former glory with Star Citizen – a persistent universe multiplayer combat simulator that allows things like trade and real physics systems.  When he left Digital Anvil, he was “burned out” after what ended up happening with Freelancer and the Microsoft acquisition. But now, Chris Roberts says that the technology has caught up to his grand ideas, allowing the implementation of a massive scale universe with high fidelity graphics to portray it. He doesn’t have just ideas this time either! When Chris Roberts founded Cloud Imperium Games in 2011, he and a small team worked on a prototype for a year in order to show off what they had in mind for the project. Star Citizen will be developed in CryEngine 3 and Chris Roberts intends to get the game out exactly two years from the time of writing in October 2012. Until then, look at this pretty demo for a game that promises to do everything.

Chris Roberts had come back to sell you on his vision, and everyone fell head over heels for it.

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A direct correlation to the 1990s having a factor on the Star Citizen endeavor was Chris Roberts’ decision to hire many of the same people he previously worked with at Digital Anvil. Erin Roberts, Tony Zurovec, and Eric Peterson all show up at some point. He gave the position of Marketing to his wife, Sandi Gardiner. If you wanted to meet everyone in the Star Citizen staff, they took the time to make videos talking to as many of them as possible. You can see Cherie Heiberg, John Erskine, Benoit Beausejour, Lisa Ohanian, Josh Coons, Todd Papy, Jeremiah Lee, The Community Team, Ben Lesnick, Gurmukh Bhasin, Steve Bender, Pete Mackay, Matt Sherman, Kirk Tome, Mark Skelton, the Austin Art Team, Ryan Archer, Eric Kieron Davis, John Schimmel, Ricky Jutley, Randy Vazquez, Dennis Daniel, Jeremy Masker, Thomas Hennessy, Chris Smith, Paul Reindell, Gaige Hallman, Will Weissbaum, Adam Wieser, Ortwin Freyermuth, Jared Huckaby, Jenny Varner, John Pritchett, Omar Aweidah, Darian Vorlick, Zane Bien, Lance Powell, Steven Kam, Patrick Salerno, Justin Binford, Brandon Evans, AND Ken Fairclough.

It’s important that the hard work that some of the team does be considered separately from the decisions made by Chris Roberts. They’re just doing what their boss tells them to do at the end of the day. A number of those people mentioned in that list alone are a mix of past and present members of the company, and they don’t represent the entirety of the staff, they’re only a fraction of it.

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Cloud Imperium Games would eventually have up to four studios for their game. They started in Austin, Texas when it came to the initial Kickstarter campaign. It certainly helped sell the idea of modesty to people. When Chris had enough dough, he expanded his business out to Los Angeles, California near Hollywood. That became the main headquarters for the media side of the operation, anyway. By November 2013, Erin Roberts had come aboard to help with the single-player component of the game. To do this, it somehow required a third office called “Foundry 42” be set-up in the United Kingdom. But on top of all these places, a fourth studio was established in Germany, that’s conveniently ten minutes from the Crytek offices. Some critics of Star Citizen assert that Chris Roberts poached employees from Crytek, and put them to work on Star Citizen‘s engine directly.

But that’s not all. Beyond the four main studios, there’s a variety of other companies associated with the Star Citizen project. In California alone, Cloud Imperium has: Cloud Imperium Games Corp, Cloud Imperium Games LLC, Cloud Imperium Services, LLC, Gemini 42 Entertainment LLC, Gemini 42 Productions LLC, Roberts Space Industries Corp, and Twin Brothers Production Inc. When you compare that to the single entity of Cloud Imperium Games Texas LLC in Texas? California stands out. The United Kingdom office has  Cloud Imperium Games UK Limited, Foundry 42 Limited, and Roberts Space Industries International Limited. At least that’s a bit more straightforward and unified. Germany has Foundry 42 and “Twin Bros GMBH”, which for some reason has the authority to deal with backer related payments. That also means backers are obligated to some transparency from Cloud Imperium as to what that company is about.

But if that list of names and studios seemed like a lot in itself, we might as well take a minute to discuss the massive amount of media content made for the Star Citizen project.

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When talking about the website, it’s actually so large and complicated enough that it could be considered a separate section here. What’s somewhat eerie about robertsspaceindustries.com is that it ends feeling like it took inspiration from Ben Lesnick’s fan-site back in the 1990s, at least in the core basics of sharing absolutely everything possible. Is that good for transparency and informational resource intentions? Yes. But is it bad for over-complicating the core message of what the project is trying to accomplish? Also yes. If you were to take the time to go over every part of the RSI website, you would be lost in it for days. By taking the time on a regular basis to make news posts over and over about every last little thing, the overall value of the pursuit in itself begins to lose it’s luster. How the hell is anyone supposed to tell the important pieces from the fluff? There’s no sense of prioritizing and it ends up being a chaotic jumble to sort through.

Chris Roberts on the intent of the website itself back in November 2012:

Our intention has always been to make Roberts Space Industries YOUR site. It’s not a public advertisement for the game; it’s a private community for those who are making the game happen. We want your input on what we’re doing and we want to share our plans with you; the occasional passer-by doesn’t concern us.

But even then, the plan seemed to have changed by February 2013. In the “let’s make something and then throw it away later” mantra of Chris Roberts, he announced that the website was being completely revamped from top to bottom.  Something like WordPress wouldn’t be able to contain the dreams and fidelity that he had in mind for the project’s future, explaining that the Star Citizen community deserved a seamless website experience that would fit the spirit of the game itself. By the end of the announcement he announced his partnership with Turbulent. They were tasked with developing the website’s back-end in a way that would work with the extensive demands and needs Chris Roberts would throw at it.   What did it mean? It was the birth of making a site that had part shopping cart programming, part Reddit voting, but also with some forums and polls mixed into that too. The “HEAP C3MS” platform that Turbulent used was at the core of the redesign, and according to the company itself the intention of it is to maximize media monetization. On more than one occasion, they’ve cited the purpose of it being ease of access to the customer’s wallet while sharing game development content with them. This video shows the core fundamentals of the system as it was applied to the case of RSI’s website.

Another part of the HEAP C3MS architecture was the priority it had on displaying video and image media. Star Citizen built plenty of that to go around. I mean let’s just go over some of the regular series this website has going on, alongside the project’s development:

  • Around the Verse: A weekly news show dedicated to talking what the team at Cloud Imperium Games is working on at the time, in addition to announcing other project related information and events as they come up. It’s one of the longest running shows dedicated to the project, currently in it’s third season.
  • 10 for the Chairman: Most of the time it was people asking outrageous questions and making ridiculous requests that Chris Roberts wouldn’t say no to. Sometimes if Chris was too busy to make a video for the series he’d make the Producers, Developers, Artists, Writers, or Designers do it instead. Taking the time away from actually doing their jobs in order to fill in for what was intended as a Chris Roberts show. While it was a headliner series for the Star Citizen media line-up, at the moment it’s on hiatus.
  • Reverse the Verse: It served as an end of the week live-show where the Community Managers and CIG staff got together on the company’s Twitch channel and interacted with viewers directly. Most of the time it was people asking outrageous questions and making ridiculous requests that the developers would either ignore or say no to. They made an effort to go over what exactly the team was working on at the time, but if they weren’t really working on anything the conversation would basically drift off into whatever nonsense they wanted to talk about.
  • Bugsmashers: It’s actually a show dedicated to demonstrating the bugs in Star Citizen, then the programmer explaining how they fix them.
  • The Loremaker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Archivist of Cloud Imperium Games goes through the systems on the website’s Star Map and explains their history and details what exactly is found in that area.

These aren’t even all the shows that this company has put on. This is just a small sample of what you can find when glancing at their playlists page currently. It doesn’t take a genius to explain how it would be easy to streamline this down and still deliver the same amount of content. There’s all these separate shows floating around on their YouTube channel, when they could combine them all into one program with different segments. Like, they could still call it Around the Verse but sometimes have Chris Roberts come on and answer 10 for the Chairman questions in a segment, or have the Bugsmashers guy come on and do his thing. YouTube has a wonderful feature that allows you to share video links with a timestamp attached, so if someone was interested in just these segments it would be a breeze to just point it out to them that way.

And that’s only the video portion. On top of all that, the Star Citizen website has written hundreds upon hundreds of blog posts too. Essentially saturating coverage of their own game even further in an Analysis Avalanche. The people who like to talk on the Star Citizen project don’t have time to work directly on the game, while the people who work on the Star Citizen project are too damn busy to be bothered to talk about it. It’s an unnecessary rift that further complicates the overall efficiency. What ends up happening is the people who are talking about the game to the backers in these livestream shows and video content pieces are mostly the ones who don’t know the technical side of what’s going on. There are exceptions to that rule of course, but even then there’s still some of effect on output regardless. I mean somebody had to take the time to film this, edit it, and upload it to YouTube. On top of ALL THAT, Star Citizen had annual conventions and showings at various Expo events. Their mainline get together was a yearly event called CitizenCon, which marked a new year mark since they’d started the initial 2012 Kickstarter. That was on top of events such as PAX and Gamescom, too. They also did an anniversary livestream for every year the Kickstarter event completed, plus a Christmas one to commemorate the end of the actual year itself.

If you even just consider Reverse the Verse, which mostly has the Community Managers and PR communications folks running the gig – what do you think happens when people start asking them technical questions about the game? Things that only the people programming away at this thing can answer? They’ve made more of an effort to get employees who are working on the game to do the show in “Season 2”, but that in itself conflicts with their jobs. But questions like that can make people wonder about the point behind all this media.

That Chris Roberts BAFTA slideshow went into detail about that.

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The Store. It represents the perfect means of carrying out the old “follow the money” motto when it comes to investigating situations. The “right message on the right channels” as it applies here, comes down to the store. The Star Citizen store is the place where money changes from the hands of the backers, over to Cloud Imperium Games. You can either get: game packages, ships, ship upgrades, merchandise, subscriptions, and other miscellaneous extras. How does backer money and developer interaction tie together here? Well obviously people are paid to put out that programming. But if you want a more direct link between the two, there’s the Concierge Service that Cloud Imperium Games offers. Backers are rewarded with more direct contact with staff members if they pay Chris Roberts and the project at least $1000. People give the company money so they’ll pay attention to them. It’s a driving catalyst that brought the overall finances counter for Star Citizen to the $120 million height it is today. Some call it “just business,” but it breeds the unusual dependencies people place on the project in the first place.

Chris Baker of Wired.com stated it best with his “Fans Have Dropped $77M on This Guy’s Buggy, Half-Built Game” article talking about the state of the game’s fundraising habits.

Cloud Imperium has hit upon a truly futuristic business model. There’s nothing new about inviting players to spend real money for virtual goods—a vehicle or weapon or article of clothing that can only be used inside a virtual gameworld. What’s new about Star Citizen is that most of its goods are doubly virtual—they can only be used inside the gameworld, and the gameworld doesn’t actually exist yet. In fact, its massively multiplayer universe may not be up and running for several more months. Or several more years. Or … longer.

The reason why that Chris Roberts is highly focused on backer engagement with the developers through (many) various video media shows is that he wants them interested in the RSI store on their website as much as possible. That sense of personal worth is what causes people to drop $15000 on a game package, to buy ships that may only be in the “concept” phase of development (essentially selling ideas directly). Far beyond the realm of just t-shirts and knick-knacks, Cloud Imperium Games wants your money month after month.

Turning back to that Wired article:

Beyond that, how does Roberts explain the $77 million secret of Star Citizen‘s success? “The big thing is the thing that we didn’t do,” he says. “Most crowdfunding campaigns engage some people, convince them to become backers, and then the campaign stops. We didn’t stop.”

“We didn’t stop.” That’s the Chris Roberts mindset.

April 2013, Chris Roberts reports on the project to PC Gamer.

Well, as far as project progress, our Austin studio is fully staffed up. I’m really happy with the team—all our project leads are on. The LA office will be finished second week of April, so all the people in LA working at home will have a home to work in. We integrated to the most recent version of CryEngine, which is sort of Crysis 3 and above. That was a pretty big integration, plus getting everyone up to speed, and getting our pipeline and workflow working properly.

May 20th, Star Citizen: An Interview With Chris Roberts On His Ambitious Space Simulation Game happens on Forbes. At 19:38 of the YouTube video, Erik Kain asks about the road map they’ve got going forward.

“So one of things we’re doing that I think is different from every other crowdfunded game that I’ve seen out there, although I could be corrected – is that we’re approaching the development process in terms of what our backers get differently. We’re sort of approaching it, because Star Citizen is pretty big and pretty ambitious game. I mean it’s going to cost 20 million dollars plus by the time its all finished. What we’re doing is essentially taking components of functionality in the game and we’ll be splitting them out and letting the community, the backers – interact, use them, play with them before the final game is all brought together.”

Now it’s a $20 million dollar project? That number is an important figure to remember. As far as anyone can discern, $20 million was the original budget that Chris Roberts claimed he could make Star Citizen in originally. But here we are at $120 million and a few delays later.

By the end of August 2013, Chris Roberts released the Hangar module. By all definition, it was technically delivering part of the product in some form to the backers. Basically, players could view the ships they purchased and have their player avatars walk around an in-game hangar to give them a look over directly. From a design side of things, it was a chance to see the game engine in action at it’s most basic elements (a video of the module can be found here, if you’re curious). But what about the programming aspect of things? This was one small slice of the game, that might’ve not even made enough of a difference in the grand scheme of what Chris Roberts wanted to do here. A stepping stone. One in which would have a lot of bugs and errors of it’s own. One that would need time and attention paid to it by the employees in order to ensure proper functionality. These kinds of questions would arise from all parts of the Star Citizen project eventually.

By February 2014, that $20 million number would come up again in an interview Chris Roberts did with GamingBolt.

To be honest, to be funded at this level is really relieving and reduces pressure for me. When I first started out, this was always going to be an ambitious game so I didn’t actually think I would ever be able to raise the money to build the game I wanted to build. Just from the crowd, it was like…okay, the crowd wanted a space sim. We started to do so well that I thought maybe we could raise the 20 million that I think we needed to build this game, but we did that and more this year. So now it gets to the point where the extra money isn’t like, “okay, great I can buy a new holiday” but about building a bigger and better universe. And then doing things like investing in sort of longer-term graphical performance research and we’re also investing in some procedural stuff. I can afford to have a team that is just doing some procedural work in research.

It may or may never ever pay off in the game but if it does, it would be really great. So it’s allowing me to do that and sort of allowing me to scale resources sooner than I would have done…if I didn’t have as much money I would’ve been a  little bit slower about it, because you actually want to be more cautious so you don’t over-spend. But now I can sort of scale up teams to be working on every feature in the game right now. That just means for the game itself, the full-featured game, is going to have a better chance of being delivered when – and one hopes it’s going to get delivered – and it’s certainly going to be in a better state.

The problem here is that Chris Roberts is already looking past the initial promises of his game and wants to explore what other things he could accomplish with his Star Citizen project. Look at the second paragraph of the quote again. What he’s saying there is that he wants to shove more things into the pipeline right now. It’s pretty cut and dry there, man.

In April 2014, Roberts decided to throw a big livestream spectacle for PAX East so he could show off his Dogfighting Module for the game. What he presented must have been in an unstable state at the time, because his demonstration itself froze up. This would cause Chris Roberts to proclaim “This is bullshit” for all the internet to hear. It would echo in the project’s future incidents, in either words or sentiment.

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One of the earliest series by Roberts Space Industries that people were drawn to was the Wingman’s Hanger talk show. Hosted by Eric Peterson, the Star Citizen community was grateful that someone of his experience in game development was taking the time to talk to them directly on a daily basis. Not only that, but people praised his charisma and charm that he had on display when on camera. If someone had to do this PR fluff, someone who knew the technical side of the project allowed him to actually understand what he was talking about, and explain it in a way that made sense to the public. But the popularity of Wingman’s Hanger would make it have more impact as one of Star Citizen‘s earliest controversies.

Eric Peterson’s May 2014 Ending of the Wingman’s Hanger Project. Foreshadowing the way that Chris Roberts had his project management priorities shifting, Eric Peterson had to cancel his Wingman’s Hanger show because Chris wanted the company’s core to be Los Angeles.

He made a post on the RSI forums all about it:

Hey gang,

Been stuck in meetings all day and just got around to seeing all the hoopla over the show going away and wanted to address it for clarity.

Essentially, as the project has grown, and the team has gotten bigger, it has become increasingly more difficult each and every week to find time to put together a proper show. What started out as a couple of guys in a room grew into something much larger, and taking more and more of my time each week.

It was never intended to be a weekly thing anyway – but typical CR, he saw that it was something fun that folks liked and put the pedal to the metal to make it weekly, and off it went.

The idea has always been to consolidate it around our community team which is in Los Angeles and run by Ben Lesnick – once he moved out to LA it grew even harder to coordinate and took more and more of my time.

I was hired to help make the BDSSE, and as the studios have grown – all of them – my responsibilities have as well – so the show moving to the community team just made sense at this time, as I need to concentrate on the most important thing – making the game – and making sure we get a great space adventure out to everyone.

So, while I have LOVED making the show, am proud of it, I am also very excited to get some hours back to focus on my true love, game development.

Not to mention we have people all over the world making this game, and we need to hear from them too – so the new show is going to become more about the entire team all over the world, and it is moving to the core of the company in LA where Chris is head down making it happen.

I will still be jumping in from time to time as my job allows – I just don’t have the time anymore to do a weekly show.

I am sincerely touched by all the outpouring here – and honored to be working on this game with this amazing team – so while the Hangar show may be ending, it will not be the last you see of me,

See you all in the VERSE !

WM

June 4th 2014. This is when Cloud Imperium Games managed to release their mysterious Arena Commander module out into the wild for the first time. Given the heat of the controversy they were facing recently, it certainly helped to have that as a distraction. It’s something that said “Hey we’re actually making a product of some kind!,” and Chris Roberts wouldn’t be entirely wrong in that. It was a thing. It just happened to be a fairly buggy and unstable thing. It let players take their ships for a ride out into space for a virtual combat simulation. As a part of the company’s QA department, as Chris Roberts like to put it, players were the ones who reported on the game bugs so the company could fix them. The modes included as of today are: Free Flight, “Vanduul Swarm” (combat stuff), and Murray Cup Racing.

July 19 2014, we can see the amount of money that Chris Roberts has crowdfunded is starting to have an effect on his decision making. Here’s what he said in a Gamespot interview:

So the extra level of funding is pretty great, because it’s allowing me to ramp up a bunch of stuff much sooner than I normally would have been able to. I’ll be able to deliver more features sooner in the cycle. Because originally, when I wanted to do this, I always wanted to make what Star Citizen is with all of these features…but I was being realistic about it. “We’re not going to have funding to do this. No publisher’s going to give us funding to do this,” I thought. “I’ll raise some money from crowdfunding to show how much people want it, and then I get investors to finish off the funding, and that’s going to get me to this sort of more bare-bones state.”

From the way that’s worded, there’s certainly some room for interpretation. But is it far-fetched to call it a sign that Chris Roberts was losing focus of the objectives he had in the first place? I don’t think it would be an absurd claim to make anymore, based on statements like that. The project was close to raising $50 million by that point. Ask yourself if you could handle that much money without letting the weight of that cash affect your judgement.

September 30th 2014. A Letter from the Chairman quote let’s us see the Chris Roberts “Theory of Doing Everything” take more of a hold on the campaign.

It is the community, from the existing backers who continue to support the game, to new members who join every day who are setting the level of ambition and budget for Star Citizen. Every effort is about enriching the game’s vision. Funding to date has allowed us to go so far beyond what I thought was possible in 2012. You’re still getting that game, no question, but it will be all the richer and so much more immersive because of the additional funding.

Long ago I stopped looking at this game the way I did when I worked for a publisher who gave me a fixed budget to make a retail game. I now look at our monthly fundraising and use that to set the amount of resources being used to develop this game. We keep a healthy cash reserve so that if funding stopped tomorrow we would still be able to deliver Star Citizen (not quite to the current level of ambition, but well above what was planned in Oct 2012).

Let me say this straight up, that this is a sign that the overwhelming amount of money has taken over and is now making the decisions for Chris. What Chris Roberts is saying here is that he doesn’t really have an overall plan to stick to anymore. He’s making decisions based on how the community’s hype levels are for that particular month. It’s a vicious cycle where Chris is now obligated to divert development resources in order to give the backer community something shiny to look at. Distractions that won’t get the core game done.

Eric Peterson parted ways with the company entirely in November 2014. Making a post on Reddit, he essentially makes his public exit letter.

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If there was a “first” example to point at it, when it comes to people having concerns raised about the Star Citizen project – it would be when Peterson decided to part ways from the company due to Chris Roberts demanding that he move to Los Angeles. Now in itself, the request to move for work is certainly not outrageous at all. Happens all the time. But when you consider the fact that Eric Peterson was a talented individual in game development and had worked with Chris Roberts for years, the resulting impact of this situation leaves to question why some sort of mutual agreement couldn’t have been met between Eric and Chris. If the priorities were all about making the best game possible, why wouldn’t Roberts do everything he could to keep an experienced employee and familiar colleague accommodated? Peterson could’ve easily taken charge of Austin and whipped it into shape himself. But furthermore, it shows the over-focus on personality and appearances that Chris Roberts project motto seemed to be turning into. When people could be making a game, they’re being roped into doing this fluff nonsense. Objectively speaking, it takes time away that could be spent on making the game itself actually happen. But instead, everybody needs to make sure they look good for the public. (He would later be banned from the actual official community chatroom for “hawking” his new project on June 25th 2015. This in itself would raise concerns that the break-up between Peterson and Roberts wasn’t on happy terms.)

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January 2015. We get a new set of release dates from Chris Roberts at the BAFTA presentation. He wasn’t able to pull off his initial November 2014 timeline he had in place at the start of the project. What we see here is a reflection of the state of the project as he saw it at that time.

May 25th. Cloud Imperium Games staff member “Disco Lando” (Jared Huckaby) accidentally let 48 GB of Star Citizen game assets leak online after showing a link to the unsecured servers they were stored on. It was an opportunity to see the game in progress as directly as possible, all things considered. They working on something all this time. That was fairly undisputed. There were an assortment of unrevealed Vanduul and Human ships, parts of the Star Citizen soundtrack, both the “Gold Horizon” FPS level and a landing zone called “Area 18” were in there too. But the question is how much of that would see the light of day in the final product? It was such a mess, that some of the media actually picked up on it. Videos of the asset leaks exist even today on YouTube. One for Star Citizen, and another for Squadron 42.

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June 27th marked the first big heap of controversy for Star Citizen‘s development. Chris Roberts did a Letter from the Chairman where he announced the indefinite delay of the Star Marine module:

We initially planned to release the FPS module, which we are calling Star Marine, shortly after PAX East in April. We demonstrated a build of the module at the backer event that ran fairly well. It lacked some polish (especially with animations) and still had several technical blockers that prevented a wide scale rollout…but we felt confident enough in the work to say that it would be available for everyone soon. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Just over two months on, we are continuing to tackle technical and gameplay-related issues.

This is a big moment for Chris Roberts in terms of low points in the project. He promised the module would be out. But it didn’t come out. Chris announced it because he wanted people to keep faith in his project, but at the same time there were issues he faced with technology that he didn’t fully comprehend at the time. He starts to explain things in a bit more detail:

The tl;dr is that we feel the current build doesn’t feel like it lives up to the standards we’ve want to achieve with Star Citizen. There are several issues that will need additional time in order to deliver the first iteration of the gameplay we want you to experience. The challenges facing the FPS launch are a mix of technical blockers and gameplay issues. The most significant technical hurdle faced today is the networking backend. After attempting to work with the legacy code, we decided that we needed to drop some of the legacy technology. That meant developing what we’re calling a Generic Instance Manager (GIM) and rewriting both the Matchmaker and (for the larger project) the game Launcher from scratch. Those efforts are all going well, but they’ve all taken additional time for our engineers.

Due to poor project management and planning from the get-go, Chris Roberts has to waste time and money on rewriting the module’s code. For someone who claims to be surrounded by experts, it sounds like he led his own crew into this disaster to begin with. I wrote about the incident in more detail here, but what also needs mentioning is the fact that the company in charge of this module’s development, Illifonic, basically got thrown under the bus. This ordeal may have passed more quickly, but the gaming media picked up on it. By June 30th: Polygon, Gamespot, PC Gamer, Dualshockers, and Rock Paper Shotgun all had articles up about it. If you flash forward to August 2016, Chris Roberts promised this module was coming in version 2.6 at Gamescom. It could come, but it could not.

July 6th, Alex Mayberry departs. When Mayberry joined in May 2014 as an Executive Producer, his entrance was so high profile that Roberts thought it warranted a full press release. As a longtime Blizzard alumni, his experience and perspective on the project must have been valuable. To have his, and Travis Day’s departure from the project be left unannounced and ambiguous seemed very strange in contrast to this. A full record of June/July “Leavers” (the derogatory term used to describe ex-employees of the Star Citizen project) later shows up on Reddit.

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The July 9th letter from Ben Lesnick titled “Thoughts on Concerns” is certainly a turning point of the whole Star Citizen project controversy. It was an implicit acknowledgement that there was a certain level of failure on the part of the company. Ben Lesnick was the same man in charge of the Wing Commander fan-site back where I was talking about the movie Roberts did in the 90s, yet here he is again working for Chris Roberts directly all those years later.

Ben tries to address Star Marine being indefinitely delayed as best as possible. He goes on to say that they’re not working on “polish” but instead are trying to deal with the massive amount of “blockers” (bugs) that have sprung up. Ben says they aren’t adding additional features by this point. He tries to reassure backers that the game hasn’t bloated past the original Kickstarter plan, but as I wrote here that doesn’t seem to be the case. Ben says that concept sales are based on outsource work they hire to do the design work on it. Then they hand it off to technical producers to get to work on. What’s interesting the most is that Ben reveals that ships are prioritized based on their design, as well as getting people assigned to work on it. They’re focusing on trying to make them work for Squadron 42 and then the ones that fits in Arena Commander. They flat out admit that some of the things they’ve put into Concept Sales won’t see the light of day for a long time. Ben also acknowledges that the team at Cloud Imperium is aware that most of their funding is based around hype. He reinforces the idea that Chris Roberts is the center of this whole operation. Ben says that the definition of open development is up for debate. Basically that boils down to wall-to-wall video coverage, they try and get feedback for their bugs, and they still try and have a few surprises up their sleeves all the meanwhile. Ben solidifies the idea I had explained when talking about the fact that Cloud Imperium Games does a lot of video content. Taking a programmer or artist away from working on the game to make these things for the backers ends up pushing back work on the game directly.

By listing these specific problems, little did Ben Lesnick realize that he actually gave concrete arguments against Star Citizen as a project. He seriously harmed his own company more than he helped with posts like this.

If Chris Roberts had a better handle on the situation, he would’ve stopped Derek Smart from becoming publicly interested in the Star Citizen project’s issues. Derek would go on to later write an entire series of blogs about Star Citizen stuff for the following year. The only reason it needs to be brought up here is because Chris Roberts himself would directly respond to Derek in a public rant in October. But more on that later.

A major shift in the tone of the project came by July 14 2015, when Star Citizen decided to refund Derek Smart against his own will. Derek had publicly voiced some concerns about the state of development (and given the timing of the Star Marine concerns listed above, people were more open to listening to what he had to say at the time), and he claimed the money he contributed to it allowed him to demand some answers. Instead of trying to have a discussion, Cloud Imperium Games decided to nullify any binding agreements with Derek Smart by giving him his money back. The official answer as to why this happened, according to Ben Lesnick:

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This public acknowledgement of Derek Smart was the worst thing that Ben Lesnick could’ve done. By giving attention to the brewing situation, he legitimized the concerns Derek had about the project. It opened the floodgates to the refund efforts that would begin occurring soon after. Given the high-profile nature of everything, word got around.

Derek Smart was able to get his foot in the door via whatever mutual friends and contacts he had with people connected with the Star Citizen project. When problems arose behind the scenes, Derek would begin to receive word about it from these people. Akin to how rumors and speculation back with Wing Commander and Freelancer arose saying that Chris Roberts was losing his direction (e.g. not announcing firm release dates), Smart was able to solidify his public feud against Chris Roberts with that as a part of his platform. The seeds of doubt that Smart had planted began to grow and spread throughout the Star Citizen community, shifting the paradigm of how the public began to view the whole thing.

Derek Smart’s first blog talks about one of the key hurdles that Star Citizen faced. The choice of CryEngine not being able to accommodate so many different game modes in the same system. CryEngine 3 is designed to best be used as a first-person engine. It’s meant for something that has specific levels with a smaller scale. Chris Roberts is trying to combine First-Person gameplay, with overall Player character physics who have personal weapons and inventories, onto a game with Aircraft physics and a Space Combat mechanic, ALL TOGETHER WITH planetside bases that have interiors (which would also have support for combat in these areas) in an overall real-time updated persistent universe. Merging these different things together is prone to breaking the game build entirely. What’s certainly made in clear from a June 2014 post by Erin Roberts is that Cloud Imperium Games bought out the engine and branched it out to accommodate the features of Star Citizen, with a team dedicated to that task alone.

Since people decry Derek Smart as a source, here’s a Star Citizen technical report from June 2015 that is able to back this point up.

“In June, Frankfurt Engineering deployed to the main codebase some major items that were planned for this month. As mentioned in the last monthly report, the Large World (moving the codebase to 64 bit coordinates), Camera Relative (rendering coordinates relative to the camera thus allowing galaxy size rendering without loss of precision), Zone system (the new Star Citizen spatial partitioning scheme, replacing Cryengine Octree) were close to hit the Star Citizen code mainline and have now been deployed, and will find their way into the various Star Citizen game modules soon.

The integration of relevant CryEngine 3.7 SDK parts, combined with our new changes, is being deployed into our codebase as we are writing this. Additionally a large effort this month was spent on supporting multi-crew vehicle ships: local physics grid, physics debugger, entities and prefabs, support for new 3D VisArea shapes, all this combined with the Zone System, are being worked on in the context of operating moveable ships. Amongst the other things, the multi-crew development process exposed a few bugs and incorrect functionalities that have been living in the CryEngine codebase for years…”

That’s a fundamental hurdle the Star Citizen project team had to face, because of the simple notion that Chris Roberts want to make a game with everything. For perspective, CryEngine just updated to version 5.2. Now I don’t know what the licensing deal for Star Citizen is, but the game could either be running on CryEngine version 7/8 or some Frankenstein of a Frankenstein engine that has CryEngine 3 somewhere deep inside it. The point is that the passage of time really adds up.

August 29th 2015, Star Citizen released their Social Module in version 1.2 of their alpha game. The basic intention of it was to start joining together the separate pieces of content developed so far for the project, into one system. You could access the Hangar module, Arena Commander, and then take an elevator to ArcCorp and explore the world outside for the first time. The ArcCorp Area 18 that was first found in the Disco Lando leak from May was the location the social module part was based on. Up to 24 players would be able to see each other and communicate in this area. The basic foundations for shops were also added in the initial release of the module. According to Tony Zurovec, the codebase streams for Star Marine’s module and the Persistent Universe had grown apart since March of that year. This major technical error led the team to release the Social Module ahead of Star Marine while they were sorting stuff out with that. The baseline intention of the module was to give the public a groundwork for what they wanted to do going forward. To put it differently – was the pathway to Chris Roberts’ vision of doing everything with this game.

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September 22, 2015. David Jennison Letter departure letter leak. The points made in the developer’s departing remarks about the project give us a better understanding of what it’s like behind the curtain. His letter leaked into the public domain because Derek Smart was initially under the impression it was ok to share. When he became aware Jennison didn’t condone him doing that, he took it down. The archive of the source file as posted by Derek no longer exists, but a Reddit Post quoted it verbatim  (We can further confirm the legitimacy of the letter by taking Sandi’s rant to Beer4TheBeerGod into consideration). To get an idea of what Jennison did as the Lead Character Artist, all we need to quote is his introductory section. “Based on the quality bar that has been set for this project, a Star Citizen character takes me anywhere from 3-6 weeks to get in game. I have been working at CIG for 17 months. In that time I have completed exactly 5 characters. That’s 24 weeks at most.”

Jennison then follows up by breaking down his concerns with the project into separate sections. The first half lays down what’s needed for success, while the second half goes into detail about why the project fails to get it’s act together.

  • Concept: Jennison says that the key to a good character model was dependent on sticking with a unified concept plan. If the concept itself is changed when building the model, the end product looks like “Frankenstein” assets.
  • Budget: The quality of the character models is dependent on consideration of the overall budget. Without a consensus as to the financial limitations, Jennison says it’s “suicide in a bottle.” Since budget isn’t taken into consideration, Jennison claims Roberts compares assets to other games in order to make judgement.
  • Time: Lastly, Jennison says a consistent and uninterrupted period of time to allow the artist to focus on the creation process has better results. If the artist is forced to shift his attention elsewhere, the product suffers.

Not only did David Jennison outline these ingredients for success by definition, he also alluded to how Chris Roberts project management did not optimally satisfy those needs.

He continued to explore these grievances.

  • Completion and Unapproval: Jennison states that while the act of redoing something in itself is fine, redoing every asset over and over again gets stressful and draining. He says he had things that were previously approved by Chris Roberts as acceptable, to later be tossed out as “not good enough” for unexplained reasons.
  • Ownership: The chain of command when it comes to art asset development is that it’s important that an artist is responsible for his own work from start to finish. If assets are passed around, the motivation to do a good job is sucked away quickly. Moreover, the positions held by Junior and Lead members of the team need to be clearly defined in order to make things run efficiently. At Cloud Imperium Games, the only absolute is that Chris Roberts is at the top and center, with everyone else just in orbit around him. Instead of letting the team optimize themselves, Roberts allegedly dictates their methods. Despite this, it’s still considered the employee’s fault when the Chris Roberts method doesn’t work.
  • The Bus: Going along with the Ownership section, the overall environment of the workplace becomes more intense due to the overwhelming desire to avoid getting blamed and yelled at for any mistakes. This causes employees to point fingers at each other, leading to a lost of trust and sometimes causing resentment.
  • The Elephant in the Room: This is a summation of the overall problems with the project Jennison has. He thinks Chris Roberts is great with the vision stuff, but when it comes to implementation from start to finish there’s a big ol’ problem. He says Roberts thinks tiny details like shoe laces are equally important to the overall color palette and larger design factors.

All in all, out of all the things said about Star Citizen‘s problems as a project, David Jennison’s letter hit all the necessary points. His thoughts were made as an earnest reflection, and not rephrased to be PR friendly for the public. Plus his experiences are made with the given position he had at the company as a solid foundation.

Much like how Chris Roberts had a majority control over his Wing Commander movie, and how he had massive ideas planned for Freelancer, this letter highlights the relevant qualities that might lead to the project’s downfall. Jennison says Roberts is a strong ideas guy, and he doesn’t have a proper grasp on implementing his vision to the product. Sound familiar? Freelancer only got done after Roberts “left” Digital Anvil and Microsoft swooping in to actually get it in order and completed.

The idea of “everything revolving around Chris Roberts” is further cemented by a post he made himself in November 2014. “Unless it comes from me or an official channel,” demonstrates that Chris Roberts makes himself the center of everything directly rather than putting the trust in his team to do their job effectively.

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The Star Citizen controversy hit mainstream in late September/early October when the Escapist released an article citing the concerns employees connected to the project had. On September 25th, Lizzy Finnegan wrote about the project and the issues it faced. She explained how Derek Smart got into the mix with his demand letter to Cloud Imperium Games, going over recent events such as the previously mentioned David Jennison letter. But she was also able to make the connection between Derek Smart’s prediction about project employees Alyssa Delhotal and James Pugh being fired, with tweets from them later confirming his statements were true. Liz went on to explain that it seemed as if people were leaving the project very suddenly, and went over Derek’s statements in regards to that. When it came to news that Cloud Imperium Games was closing the Austin office, David Swofford dodged the question and denounced Derek Smart as a source of information (later on in October 2015, the news of the Austin studio undergoing “downsizing” was revealed).

One of the main points raised by the Escapist’s article to the public was the changes made to the Star Citizen terms of service. It’s a very critical part of the relationship between the developers and the backers, but due to the reputation that a TOS has, it had been often ignored up until that point. The earliest version was TOS 1.0 which came out with the initial project debut in October 2012. If you really want to know what they’re all about, their main intention was so Chris Roberts could cover his behind legally when it came to embarking on the ambitious Star Citizen project.

What was actually more revealing was how the Terms of Service were revised over the years.

  • 1.1 (August 29th 2013): The biggest difference between Terms of Service, it brought the pre-Kickstarter era to a modernized set-up. Everything that had to do with the current website is mentioned here, in terms of user content and so forth. They changed the name of staff from “Cloud Imperium” to “RSI”, for what that’s worth. (diffchecker)
  • 1.2 (February 1st 2015): The most relevant change, is as it applies to subsection “Fundraising and Pledges”. They switched the failure to deliver window from 12 months to 18 months. (diffchecker)
  • 1.3 (Current Version, June 10th 2016): The main changes dealt with how the refund process was going to be apparently handled. These changes had been made after the Escapist’s article brought public attention to these kinds of concerns, and it marked one of the first times that a Terms of Service change was actually considered newsworthy. (more on this later)

But Lizzy Finnegan wasn’t done talking about the Star Citizen project yet. October 1st she posted a follow-up piece titled CIG Employees Talk Star Citizen and the State of the Company, in which people familiar with the project gave details about what went on behind closed doors at Cloud Imperium Games.

According to the sources Liz spoke to, much of what was mentioned earlier had backing to it. The project centered around Chris Roberts, and he was leading the team blindly due to the fact he had been out of the industry for a decade. The game hadn’t been done before because it couldn’t possibly be made. The stress of the toxic work environment was too much to handle for some people, causing them to rather quit than continue on. Part of that stress came from Sandi Gardiner, Chris Roberts wife. She used derogatory language in her emails and allegedly had discriminatory hiring protocols, and all in all the project staff had to be careful around Roberts and keep their guard up at all times. What they feared the most was getting on upper management’s bad side.

Moreover, the employees claimed Sandi Gardiner misused backer equipment and resources for personal acting projects. This was proven to be the case when video footage of Sandi filming things for her resume came to light. Alex Mayberry himself was forced to join in one of these pieces of Sandi’s.

Sandi’s acting career took more of a priority over her job as Vice-President of Marketing, according to the Escapist’s sources. Chris Roberts claimed that he earned enough money from his Origin and Wing Commander days to maintain financial independence.

Another major example of financial mismanagement was the claim that the Roberts Space Industries website was itself being sold as a crowdfunding platform. This development being made possible after a partnership with Turbulent went through in February 2013, with the aim of creating a “seamless” website experience fit for Star Citizen. The resulting HEAP C3MS platform “combines content, community, and commence” all into one place. A statement from Turbulent’s website made it appear as if this claim had validity.  Chris Roberts says the “opposite is true” by stating that Turbulent had developed this software themselves, and the specifics of their deal gave them cheaper usage rates.

The Escapist’s sources claimed that they had less than $8 million left to work with from the crowdfunding cash. They said that the website continues fundraising in order to extend this dream of Chris Roberts for as long as possible. When it comes to selling $15,000 ship packages, that could be one of the reasons for it. To save on costs, Chris Roberts fires people to curtail the burn rate. This, according to sources, makes the entire project effort an understaffed endeavor. They make it appear as if the entire project is a balancing act, and Roberts is at the helm of it. In response, Chris says that re-organization efforts are purposes of efficiency. He points to job listings on his website as “proof” that they’re hiring, but ignores the fact some of those listings have been open for months. When it came to the departure of the entire UK character development team, and the assertion that Star Citizen doesn’t have any completed character models – Roberts dodged the employee part of the situation and pointed to the fact that they’ve got character models walking around in game. Therefore “Complete”. The Austin office was going to be closed, according to the Escapist’s sources. Cloud Imperium Games decided to have waves of layoffs and keep a skeleton crew there in order to mitigate any public fallout.

The main theme of the Escapist article was that everyone Liz talked to believed that they were always building the next demo to show at an event, rather than a game. That everything they did was meant to be a commercial to draw more backers in, and disregarding the active pursuit of the final product. Roberts’ response took this literally, saying that commercials were a “fun milestone” to help get the artists to focus on making ships fit for the public. That it “built the lore” of Star Citizen. The sources at Cloud Imperium Games felt guilty about the whole thing, pondering if there were taking advantage of this backer community. At the assertion of the project being “a con,” Roberts got furious. He’s adamant that it’s the bitter words of former employees, saying that passion for the project and the “dream” was a requirement of the job, and the people in question must have been “welcome to the door” as a result.

At the end of the Escapist piece, Roberts says it’s “about making a great game,” while the employee sources that talked to Liz say it’s about the endless pursuit of making more crowdfunding money.

Mr. Roberts posted a lengthy rant with his response, accusing the Escapist of conspiracy, following it up a few days later by the company lawyer Ortwin Freyermuth posting empty legal threats on the behalf of Sandi. The usage of the word “empty” is not an opinion, as the request that the Escapist take the article in question down was met with a firm denial to do so. Freyermuth promised that there would be repercussions for refusing to comply, but as it stands the article remains online.

CitizenCon 2015 took place on October 10th. This was fresh off the whole Escapist controversy that unfolded at the start of the month, so nobody knew what to expect from this. It took place at Runway Visitor Park, located at the Manchester Airport. It featured a Concorde jet as a backdrop, because extravagance was the only way they knew how to commemorate Star Citizen’s “birthday” (start of the crowdfunding campaign).

Right off the bat, controversy began when Sandi Gardiner came out to make an opening speech. She gave a tearful speech about her job, and openly referred to her husband being Chris Roberts for the first time. Based on the way that it was phrased, it sounded like Sandi was resigning from her position at the company (which was later clarified). The first half of the presentation talked about what would be changing in Star Citizen in particular. They showed off the first multi-crew demo in what would be the first iteration of their Persistent Universe. It ends up being a few satellites and communication arrays, along with some space stations. Players would be able to spawn their ship and travel to these destinations starting in the Alpha 2.0 build of the game. After that, Roberts launched the online star map. It’s an interactive guide that let’s users see the places and system locations in the Star Citizen universe, and click on them to get a closer look at their background story. Finally, project luxuries like the Million Mile High Club (a private player lounge for a select group of backers) and the launch of the Referral Program (aimed at getting backers to recruit other people to Star Citizen in return for game rewards).

Chris Roberts made it clear he would stop giving release date timetables from then on out… but then a Squadron 42 video says that part of the project is releasing in 2016. Everything involving Squadron 42 will be covered in the next section, separately.

The Star Citizen project got a new California office by November 2015 (at least it was under construction by that point). For reasons unknown, Roberts decided to move his operation to a place with spaceship decorations and adornments from top to bottom. As it was stated way back in the Holiday Livestream of 2014, they moved to this new location because it had more conference space, room for a motion capture studio, and room for a normal filming set-up. But on top of all that, they went all out with decor in this studio. The most obvious of these examples is the fact that they decided to make a door that’s designed to look like something from one of Roberts’ ships.

On December 3rd, a trailer for Alpha 2.0 was shown off at The Game Awards. It had the FPS, Spaceships, and EVA (something to do with physics) all taking place in a comparably bare-bones Persistent Universe. By December 12th it was released to the public with much fanfare from the backer community. The push-back against this 2.0 build started when the rampant amount of gameplay bugs began cropping up. In order to clarify what I mean here – there’s something called the Public Test Universe, which was designed to get backers to playtest the game and report on bugs they encountered. This in itself was a source of frustration, and backers took it upon themselves to teach each other how to write bug reports and reminded one another to stay calm. Despite the preliminary efforts there, angry players still reported oddities making it’s way into the actual Persistent Universe.

One of these Star Citizen players was Chris Roberts himself. During their end of the year livestream, he sat down to try and get into the game with other players.

After his own game client crashed and needing to reboot his computer, Chris Roberts was able to start up a round of Star Citizen. What did he do during his playthrough? Maybe get into a pirate ship battle with some fellow commandos? Or a First Person shooter battle? How about exploring some derelict ruins floating adrift? The answer is none of those things. Chris Roberts spent ten minutes trying to summon a cruiser to his landing pad. Then he took off and tried jumping into hyperspace to go somewhere… only to have his game crash again. That was it. The whole time Chris complained about things in the game looked and worked, as if he didn’t recognize his own creation in front of him.

Star Citizen iterated on that Alpha program between 2.0 (December 2015) to 2.5 (August 2016), at the time of writing this. But that in itself turned out to be a road fraught with peril. The amount of content between 2.0 and 2.5 varies from iteration to iteration. From the outset, Chris Roberts said “We are shooting for one significant patch each month,” but when they tried to enforce that system, it lagged behind to one and a half months. Some notable standouts are the inclusion of a bounty system in order to handle griefers in-game, 2.4 added an in-game currency and shopping features to some degree, while most recently in 2.5 they actually added a new location called GRIM HEX station where players can visit. The way that Star Citizen did things here was certainly different, to say the least. The numbering system for updates not only uses terms like 2.0.1, but it also uses letters. So things like 2.0.0f would be reserved for specific issue fixes and tweaks, while 2.0.1 would be for larger scale bug fixes and overall stability improvements. As said earlier, the test versions of these updates were littered with bugs, and at least one YouTube channel made their fame off of it.

The system they had in place actually worked out in the end!….. except for one glaring aspect of it. Evocati.

The Evocati concept as it was implemented in Star Citizen‘s public testing process over-complicated it in the signature fashion of everything Chris Roberts touches. It went against the message of open development that Chris Roberts was trying to get across here, making a certain portion of hand-picked backers sworn to secrecy in return for the chance to test Star Citizen builds before everyone else. These testers were made to sign an NDA in order to get in, which opens the door for a whole slew of potential legality issues to crop up later on. Even the (usually devout) Star Citizen subreddit had instances of people feeling isolated and confused by this new motion. There’s at least one instance of the community attacking someone over it.

But again when it comes to how the game builds pan out, it’s two sides of a coin. I might think they’re okay from an outsider standpoint, but some backers even today have concerns as to how it was handled. (Note: the profile of the user indicates that the person in question has been on Reddit for six years, and was genuinely trying to have a discussion here. Not a troll.)

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In March 2016, a YouTuber had an interview session with Star Citizen‘s former Lead Designer Rob Irving. Rob Irving wanted to stay out of the controversy itself and he felt neutral about the topic at the time. When he signed up to work on the project, he saw Star Citizen as Wing Commander Online. The reason Irving left is because he wanted to work at a small company, and Star Citizen’s company had expanded to include over 300 people. When it came to the Escapist article, Rob’s stance was that rumors like the ones mentioned in the article didn’t just “spring out of nowhere,” according to him. He was willing to admit there was some truth to the article. Expanding on the reasons as to why he left, it was the fact that Chris was really the only one who was allowed to be the “Creative” guy. When it came to the money aspect, Rob said the project taking off so successfully, and the amount of cash flow coming in changed the direction of the project somewhat. But on the other hand, he says Chris has always aimed that high.  Rob Irving says an important thing in game design is being able to say “No!” to yourself. He says you’ve got to be able to stop when it comes to adding new features and content.

“Yes, he’s got enough money to make a really big game, and he doesn’t have anyone telling him when it has to be done,” he said.

By July 15th the refund situation with Star Citizen had gotten pretty dire. The first widespread spark of interest came after CIG made a big deal about giving Derek Smart’s money back in July 2015, and almost exactly a year later the effects of that action seemed to come to a culmination. An online user by the name of Streetroller had invested a significant amount of cash into Star Citizen (up towards the $3000 range), under the impression that the game was going to have more fleshed out VR support in order to accommodate his personal disabilities that prevented him from enjoying the game normally. When he came to the conclusion that the game’s VR features were still nothing more than a pipe dream, he set out to action his refund against Cloud Imperium Games and get his money back. He was refused by their customer support system, and escalated his claim all the way to the Los Angeles County District Attorney and the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. With the formal complaints he sent, Streetroller was finally able to obtain a majority of the refund amount he desired. This situation caught the attention of the media (2, 3) , partially because of the fact that it came a month after the 1.3 Terms of Service change reported on a month earlier. While Chris Roberts previously claimed that anyone whose unhappy with the game was free to take their money and leave, the process itself wasn’t made as easy as Chris made it sound. Part of that was the arguments with Star Citizen customer service representatives who seemed to fallback on the Terms of Service as a crutch. They would claim that the current Alpha product that was available to backers was sufficient enough to qualify as an “earned” pledge, which they considered grounds for denying any incoming refunds.

But the statement made to Polygon by the PR representative for Star Citizen gives a different take on things. “refunds with respect to Star Citizen are made on a discretionary basis. There was nothing special about this situation. The fact that this particular party used a complaint form that is online and openly available, doesn’t make this any different,” they claim. In part, he wasn’t wrong. Discretionary basis had it’s own meaning here, however. It involves the backer’s willingness to engage in charge-back escalation of their refund, essentially making an effort to take back their money whether they like it or not. Even in those cases, Cloud Imperium would continue to stand their ground and argue that the product they offered at the time of that charge-back was “substantial” enough to be considered “money well spent”.

Polygon’s piece pointed out something extremely important when it came to the changes made to the Terms of Service for the Star Citizen project.

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That No Release Dates decree from CitizenCon 2015 had become an actual thing.

Star Citizen‘s Gamescom August 2016 presentation is what brings the whole cycle of Chris Roberts together. He showed off a 3.0 demo with a mission that takes place somewhere in the persistent universe, apparently. He had a player and co-op mate travel to a distant planet in order to accept a mission from someone, showcasing what it was like to travel from space down to a planet’s surface and then enter a city to explore it. After we got the mission, the player goes to the wrecked ship that ends up being the main quest hub location, where we see spaceship combat and first-person shooter combat on the way of doing so. It was very good for a demo build, able to make it seem like that was 100% representative of the project’s development at that point. But thanks to the bust of No Man’s Sky being unable to fulfill the dreams and expectations of the gaming community, people’s reactions to the presentation were much more skeptical. Analysis claims that the build being performed on a LAN set-up would be a huge difference compared to the representation of final build gameplay, and a highlight video shows that the demonstration itself used a variety of deceptive camera techniques in order to make the presentation look more seamless to the viewer.

But Chris wasn’t just making a game. He was trying to make a game and a game-movie.

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Squadron 42

In an August 2011 interview with G4, Chris Roberts explains his half-step between movies and gaming.

A story that ran in The Escapist in 2006 quoted Warren Spector, who co-produced the first Wing Commander, as saying “The very first day I met Chris [Roberts], he said, ‘Someday I’ll be making movies.'” I related the story to Roberts during our interview and asked if he remembered that first meeting with Spector.
“I’m not sure the first words out of my mouth when I met Warren were ‘I’m going to make movies someday,’” Roberts said, laughing. “I certainly was talking about…what the inspiration was [for Wing Commander] and what I wanted to do. Getting involved in making movies was important [but] generally it’s just storytelling. I like building worlds and I’m more drawn to visual worlds…which is why I like games and why I like movies.”

The general impression people had of Squadron 42 initially, underwent a drastic change as the years passed. But what stayed the same is Roberts fixation on making it seem like a cinematic experience. There’s significantly less to talk about with Squadron 42 as it’s only a part of the overall Star Citizen project and information about it is more scarce than the abundance of media provided with the rest of the game.

So what exactly is it? According to the initial Kickstarter premise, Squadron 42 is a singleplayer Campaign in the Star Citizen universe that’s playable offline/online, with the option to play co-op with your friends. Oculus Rift support is somehow going to be involved in that mix too. As per the stretch goals, Squadron 42 went from having 30 missions, to a grand total of 50 missions. The story-line of the game includes celebrity actors who were tapped to undergo motion capture filming for the game. The process takes up to several weeks depending on the role of the character. Chris Roberts built his mocap studio to help carry this along. After completing the (design enhanced!) missions which has a full orchestral score accompaniment, the player earns their citizenship in the Star Citizen universe game properly. Also there’s an extra Gladius ship in there too somewhere. Much of the development for the project was put in the charge of Foundry 42, Cloud Imperium’s UK office.

In November 2012, Chris Roberts outlined how this online/offline process would work.

If you’re playing off-line, your computer will be acting as the server and client, there will be no opportunities for friends to join and everyone will be an NPC. But if you play Squadron 42 through the Galaxy Server, even though your missions and space areas are pre-determined (you don’t get to pick where in the galaxy you are flying if you’re in the military) we will allow your friends to drop in / drop out to take over NPC wingmen and if you want extra skill ranking you can allow other players to drop in and take over enemy ace characters. This system is pretty similar to the Demon’s Souls setup where people could drop in as a Blue Phantom to help you kill a boss monster or fight off another invading player, or you could drop in as a Black Phantom to someone else’s world and try and kill them for XP and other game rewards.
While it may sound kind of irrelevant by itself, it’s important to point out this was supposed to be a game rather than a movie. That sounded like Chris Roberts intentions here in the first place, anyway.
By May 2013, the motion capture part of the project was being set-up, according to an early Chris Roberts letter. As he himself states, it was a $10 million stretch goal reward. He describes how it’s the process of recording an actor’s motion and all that, and that it’s become a big deal in the past few years of the gaming and film industry.
Unfortunately, motion capture is expensive. Very few studios have their own motion capture rigs: typically, development teams rent out the technology, studio space and talent for a limited amount of time. A day of motion capture costs between $25,000 and $50,000 and provides roughly 200 “moves”; simple gestures, limb movements and so on. More complex shoots which require props, additional actors, finger movements and other factors are significantly more expensive. Still more expensive are shoots that capture audio and facial movements. This expense-to-benefit ration means that there’s a great deal of preparation required for a mocap shoot… and that messing up or deciding you want something more in the game later means another chunk of money.
To mitigate a lot of this cost, Chris Roberts said he intended to build his own motion capture studio. He seemed to follow through on that and more, as we’ll see later.

November 8th 2013, Rock Paper Shotgun gets Chris Roberts to spill more Squadron 42 details.

“The scope and scale and ambition of it now is gonna be up there with anything I could’ve done with Wing Commander [thanks to crowdfunding]. Like, if I was doing a Wing Commander at EA, Squadron 42 is gonna be that. At that level. We already have a bunch of stuff that I really like. We have our own motion capture studio. We have a whole face rig thing.”
My eyebrow leaped into the coldest, deepest reaches of my hairline at that notion. After all, single-player games aren’t cheap. Yes, Roberts and co have amassed more than $25 million between Kickstarter and their own site, but that may as well be brightly colored Monopoly money in the grand scheme of things – especially given that it’s holding up both a single-player story and a full-fledged MMO. Roberts, however, claimed that working sans publisher, console concerns, and marketing (subscribers, whose contributions aren’t listed on the total, take care of that) don’t whittle away at the cost so much as they run it through a wood chipper. I suppose, however, that only time will if crowdfunding alone is enough.
Even the author expressed doubts at the proposal Roberts was making here. Motion capture studios and face-rigs aren’t exactly cheap.
January 2014. Erin Roberts tells folks on the forums that Squadron 42 wouldn’t be getting an alpha or beta, a change of plans from what was originally intended. He later solidified the tentative release date road-map, intending the final episodes of the game to come out as the Persistent Universe comes online.
ErinRobertsJanuary2014

But he also gives some more solid details about the game, compared to what was described to the press previously. He explains the team’s intentions to make space transitions seamless, and that the design of the game would be careful with using breaks of any kind. The amount of impact in your choices goes to such extremes that you could be kicked out of the military and possibly lose citizenship. The game is set to include things like bad endings where the player is killed, arrested, and so forth, but it also lets them replay if they don’t like the outcome. As the player goes through the space and ground missions, their choices and actions will be reflected in the in-game media press as a result. The overall intent of it is to give players something of a backstory before going into the Persistent Universe (as it takes place in the timeline before the Persistent Universe itself), with rewards and trophies for achieving difficult feats and obtaining higher ranks.

June 23rd 2014, Ortwin Freyermuth comes out into the public spotlight and wrote a crowdfunding related article for gamesindustry.biz, titled “How indie film financing could shape the future of games”. It’s an incredibly vital clue as to understanding how knowledgeable Chris Roberts and his top-level project associates are with how to move money around.

This typical development is well-known in the motion picture industry where the major studio system at this point is almost completely focused on “tent pole films,” opening up a fairly large market for the independent film industry. Consequently, independently financed companies are able to create films outside of the studio system, using alternative means of financing via international pre-sales and distribution for projects which become “commercially viable” in a more cost-efficient alternative eco-system. In the U.S., the major studios quickly realized the opportunity to offer their domestic distribution apparatus to suitable independent projects while bearing only a portion of the production cost (if any) via a minimum revenue guarantee paid upon delivery.
Such a payment helps the independent producer to finance and defray the production cost. At the same time, such an arrangement keeps the studio’s payment off their balance sheet during the lengthy production period. A payment much closer to the revenue-generating release of the film is beneficial to publicly traded studios which are required to release quarterly financial reports. As a result now quite a few of the larger independently financed films end up being distributed domestically through the traditional studio system under “pick-up” or “rent-a-studio” arrangements.
Not only was it extremely rare to see Cloud Imperium’s lawyer (and Chris Roberts business partner) out in public, but he clearly wrote about this with a purpose. Telling people that the way forward for the gaming industry is following the footsteps of the film industry.
On October 25th Erin Roberts did an interview piece with GameDebate that really puts into perspective the amount of importance that the backers place on Squadron 42 as a part of the Star Citizen project.
“So, Squadron 42 is basically the next Wing Commander in terms of the big, single-player experience,” Roberts continued. “I was out in Germany for Gamescom 2014 meeting a bunch of backers and it was amazing how many people came up and said they’d bought in to Star Citizen specifically for Squadron 42. They said the persistent universe is great but what they really want is Squadron 42, because it’s the next big AAA Wing Commander title.
 The article also left us with a release date road-map of some kind.
It sounds like a mammoth task Foundry 42 has on its hands and it will surely be fascinating to see how things play out over the next year or so. The first and second parts of Squadron 42’s five-part run should be arriving around the middle of 2015, with parts 3 and 4 set to follow in 2016.
(That wasn’t going to happen.)
November 2014, it looks like progress is certainly coming along according to an Erin Roberts interview.
Squadron 42 is primarily a single player campaign, with the option for co-op, which focuses on telling a larger story. This will be the first part of the Star Citizen-universe that will be completely developed when we’re releasing in early next year” says Erin Roberts from Foundry 42.
Foundry 42 is the British studio responsible of developing the game, and Roberts was a natural choice as the leader for the project. He’s the brother of the brains behind Star Citizen, Chris Roberts, and the two have earlier worked together on among other things the Wing Commander-series: “Squadron 42 is a spiritual successor to the Wing Commander games, and if you played the classic games you will recognize many elements from it. The game is an introduction to Star Citizen, but playing Squadron 42 is by no means a requirement if you’re only interested in the persistent universe”.
Early next year? Would’ve placed it in 2015. Erin Roberts continues, talking about the length of the game. He says that the game would contain 5 chapters, with 15 hours of content in each chapter. What we can conclude from this is that at the time, the company seemed to be highly aware of what their game plan here was. In contrast to Chris, Erin is able to stay down on Earth when it comes to talking details about Squadron 42.
ChrisRobertsBAFTAFilm

January 2015. That Chris Roberts BAFTA presentation from earlier comes in handy again. During the presentation, Roberts reflects on the years he spent in the Film Industry and the lessons he learned. He learned how to move up to $750 million around in funding, during his time working with a German Film Fund. But he also stressed that he wanted to take the best aspects of movies and apply it to games. It looks like that’s where Chris Roberts immersion and fidelity obsession comes from. He wants to make a game with the same level of detail and impact as a film.

February 20th. Chris Roberts and CIG put out a video showing their work with the Imaginarium, adding a whole other layer to this motion capture ordeal. The Imaginarium is a performance capture studio run by Andy Serkis, and it’s easily considered to be one of the best Performance Capture studios in the world. Performance Capture. When it comes to Star Citizen, people have a tendency to focus on the $10 million dollar stretch goal. Specifically, it states “Cloud Imperium Games will build their own mocap studio to improve the quality of Star Citizen and Squadron 42’s cutscenes,” in the description. But that wasn’t the only one factored into this here. Tucked away in the $5.5 million stretch goal is “Professional motion capture for the Squadron 42 cutscenes.”

When it comes to Stretch Goals they don’t have a specific value. Just because it was a Stretch Goal at the $10 million mark doesn’t mean a total of $10 million dollars was spent on it.

According to a Letter from Chairman Roberts in November 2013:

For our next several stretch goals, we’re going to try something different. We are constantly asked where the additional money goes. Surely new mocap hardware or a new starship design doesn’t cost a million dollars. The answer is that the stretch goals are an example: one big thing we will be doing with some of the money. Every additional million means that we’re hiring additional artists and programmers, equipping the team with better development tools and increasing the size of the talented outsource groups being trusted with aspects of Star Citizen’s development. It means more actors and time for mocap studios, more reference for designers, greater variety in game characters, more options in clothing and armor and a large array of ship items and weapons.

So while it isn’t directly explained to the backers as such beforehand, Chris Roberts is able to get away with spending as much money as he wants on the Imaginarium Studio. Despite the fact that they had the capacity to do a lot of work with their $10 million stretch goal equipment, as seen here in this June 2013 video showing it off. The Chris Roberts Theory of (wanting to do and have) Everything comes back here. Despite the fact the studio calls itself a Performance Capture studio and the phrasing of the $5.5 Million Stretch Goal is Motion Capture, Roberts managed to get away with it nonetheless. But the cost of extended time in a studio that projects like the Planet of the Apes reboot movies, and the new Star Wars films isn’t cheap, surely.

A March 2015 Polygon interview pegged Squadron 42 for release by the end of the year.

“Squadron 42 will be toward the end of the year. That’s sort of basically Wing Commander single-player narrative story. And then at the very end of the year we will release the very early alpha of the persistent universe. It wont be nearly all of the systems and planets, but we plan to have five or six systems you can fly between. You won’t be able to do all of the things we’re planning on you to do, but probably trading, mining, piracy, combat and a lot of core stuff.”

According to a post by Ben Lesnick in April, the hope was that Squadron 42 would get a sequel or even a series of games afterwards.

BenLesnickSquadron42April

June 27th. In a Letter From The Chairman, Chris Roberts tell us he’s been working on filming stuff for Squadron 42 for the past ten weeks.

For the past ten weeks, I have been directing the performance capture shoot for Squadron 42 in London, next week will be the last week of the “main unit” shoot. Directing the Squadron 42 shoot has been one of the most fun and creatively rewarding things I’ve done. It’s where the story and characters written by David Haddock and William Weisbaum come to life for the first time and I can feel just how special Squadron 42 will be. The cast we have put together for Squadron 42 would not be out of place in a major motion picture. 

I’m able to draw the comparison between Squadron 42 and Wing Commander the movie thanks to the last part of that quote from Roberts. As someone who has made his entire business revolve around himself almost exclusively, it’s rather incredible as to how he managed to seclude himself in the United Kingdom for that stretch of time. What does that mean for the developers at other studios? Does the atmosphere drastically change whenever Chris Roberts is there?

Let me drive home that whole “Squadron 42 is a film” thing. Same Letter from the Chairman, different section:

Instead of watching a film play out in front of you it will feel like you are inside a living world, living a story that you only normally see on the big screen but it’s YOUR story, not one of some protagonist you need to associate with! By the time the shoot is over, it will have been longer than Wing Commander 4 (42 days) or even the last feature film I produced, Outlander (51 days.). You need this kind of time to capture real performance. We’re shooting something as nuanced and detailed as a film but in a way that it fuses with a fully breathable interactive world that you control the pace of.

The point has been made, I reckon.

Back during Ben Lesnick’s “Thoughts on Concerns” post from July 2015, he responded to the claim that “Chris Roberts is wasting his time directing the performance capture shoot,” with an interesting answer.

Positively untrue. I am not sure where the belief that Chris fell into a black hole came from (save simply the fact that he can’t do 10ftC while on set) but it is not true. Our production process already works with teams around the world and we’ve done the same here – Chris is still intimately involved with everything from the intricacies of ship design to what kind of boots particular characters will wear. And frankly, he’s the best man for the job. Chris is an accomplished interactive director, arguably the world’s finest for this genre given his experience with Wing Commander III and IV (two projects he both ran and directed.) The plan was to have him direct the shoot from day one, and that wasn’t ever going to change. We made sure our company structure and our internal communications would support it well in advance, and… well, they did.

It would coincide with David Jennison’s letter, stating that Chris Roberts was the center of the project no matter what. The problematic consequences of trying to be in two places at once speak for themselves though.

Squadron 42 comes up in the second page of the Escapist’s article from October 2015, that cited the concerns of the project from employees themselves. The key point made clear in the article is that it’s not the fact that the project has big name Hollywood actors, but the amount of people involved in these motion capture sessions in addition to the length of these sessions being several months. Roberts deflects that point by focusing entirely on the fact they have big names involved with the project in his counterpoint.

The second half of CitizenCon 2015 was all about Squadron 42. Chris Roberts whipped out his 1255 Pages movie script and waved it around in front of the audience for all to gawk at. It was the first time we had any proof he actually wrote the thing, technically. When the audience expected to finally get some concrete details as to the game’s specs, and a more finished product – they got an announcement of increased scope to a full open world game instead. But Roberts did pity the audience, and gave them something to watch. They got a tour of the Morrow Ship, from an early part of the game. It was a very rough work in progress, with lips out of sync and brightness levels out of whack (think pure white teeth with no shading). The player comes out of a pod and gets a tour of where they’d presumably be working over the course of the game. It was mostly an environmental showcase more than anything else. As far as anyone can tell, this is the highest quality footage for the game that was ever put out.

But that wasn’t the most memorable portion of the demonstration. Besides the tour, people got a cinematic look at Gary Oldman’s role in the game. The video shows him giving a war speech, and it had close up shots of his face to show the performance capture work they did. Afterward, we get greeted with a list of names that were set to star in the Squadron 42 story. Their website’s information page has the (mostly) star-studded cast placed front and center. I say mostly because all the other people on that list have more Hollywood experience than Sandi Gardiner, the Star Citizen VP of Marketing and Wife of Roberts. Not only have the critics argued Gillian Anderson deserves a higher place in this list – in my personal opinion Gimli and Smeagol from Lord of the Rings deserve higher spots on this list. There are interview and Behind the Scenes clips with Mark Hamil, Gary Oldman, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, and a few with Gillian Anderson if you want to see the production process for yourself. It’s worth noting that people like Hamil and Rhys-Davies were in projects of Chris Roberts’ in the past, so at least they knew what to expect here.

Squadron42CastList

By Holiday 2015, the choice to split the two projects into separate entities had been announced on one of Cloud Imperium Games livestreams. Up until that point, even the consumers and backers were under the impression that the two games would be closely linked to one another when it came to buying them. The decision was focused on maximizing profits from future backers, rather than the existing base.

PC Gamer had an article that explores some of the gameplay elements of Squadron 42. The set-up is important here. Andy Kelly talked to Foundry 42 directly, and got a demonstration tour with the Lead Level Designer Mike Barclay. It supposedly has the same “Spaceship to firefight on the ground” elements of Star Citizen.  The level shown off was described as an open-ended multiplayer style map. The approach by the player is dependent on their play-style, with stealthy to action techniques equally on the table.  But in a difference of what Chris Roberts said previously, the game is now open world with main story and optional secondary missions being freely accessible.  The ability to build levels is made possible by using “kits” with pieces snapped together.  But then the article takes a left turn into the land of promises on the second page. The author describes seeing their ship attacked and having the lights flicker. After questioning how it will correlate with the Star Citizen game, the author goes on about the motion-captured acting, and that there will somehow be a cinematic storyline (movie) that’s slots together in this sandbox game. Your HQ ship, according to PC Gamer, is like something out of Battlestar Galactica, and that the Foundry 42 team is working on making a conversation system that’s like Mass Effect.

That author dug himself an out. One of the last paragraphs in his piece:

But here’s the thing. I didn’t see or play any of this. Squadron 42 seems to still be very much in the early stages of development, and I wasn’t shown a working build. Everything I saw was in the CryEngine editor or described verbally by one of the developers. The concept is fantastic—a game that combines an open world, a cinematic story, and a deep FPS—but it remains to be seen whether they can actually pull it off.

Cloud Imperium Games managed to release a clarification post to the package split in February 2016. They make it clear that it won’t have an effect on any backers who already pledged to the campaign. The distinction before and after this split is the inclusion of the Persistent Universe with the deal. After the split, to get the rest of what you were missing out on requires a $15 add-on charge fee. It became official by the 14th of that month.

Towards the end of May and into June of 2016, we got a non-update of sorts as to the state of Squadron 42. At that time, neither that or Star Citizen was in a state that could be shown at E3. In Polygon’s What to Expect from the PC Gaming Show article, it’s explained that Cloud Imperium Games had stepped aside from the event.

Last year, developer Chris Roberts promised to show up in person at the 2016 PC Gaming Show to talk about Star Citizen. However, Polygon has learned that Roberts will not be on hand. Cloud Imperium will not be participating in the PC Gaming Show despite agreeing several months ago to do so.

A representative for Cloud Imperium tells us that Roberts sent PC Gamer his regrets just a few weeks ago, saying that his schedule won’t allow for a trip to Los Angeles. In fact, the studio is skipping E3 entirely.

Instead, the spokesperson tells us that Roberts will be devoting all his efforts to work on Squadron 42 at his studio in England. The rep added that the studio will have something to show at Gamescom in August.

There are two concerns with that. One of them was a photo provided by a Redditor, claiming that Chris Roberts wasn’t working on Squadron 42 but instead on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea. The photo is dated as being taken at the end of May, so it’s feasible that Roberts could’ve gotten back to England in time to work on the game during E3.

The last notable thing said for sure about Squadron 42 was that it was revealed to be part of some Hollywood reality show at one point. July 21st 2016, Instagram pictures from the Cast and Crew of Cast Me revealed that Sandi Gardiner and Squadron 42 were to play a role in an upcoming debut episode of the show.

Squadron42CastMe

It doesn’t get any more blatant than that, really. I mean if you wanted to really see the angle they were going for here, selling their project out for a Hollywood reality show is one of the most obvious signs you’ll get. Seriously. If Chris Roberts himself reads this, I want him to rationalize the decision of putting Squadron 42 on some gimmicky reality show.

But again, who knows what CitizenCon 2016 will reveal?


Is Chris Roberts a bad guy?

No. He’s someone who had this grand and epic scale vision for a project in his head, and when Star Citizen became one of the most successful Kickstarters of all time, he ended up in over his head. If you needed to boil it down to a sentence, Chris Roberts is the guy who “bites off more than he can chew” type of person. He had a documented history of success in the Wing Commander series, but he ended up doing too much at once with his Wing Commander movie and Freelancer project at the same time. When he tried to get some experience in the Film Industry, he kept that bad habit of making promises he couldn’t keep when it came to the lawsuit with Kevin Costner. When it comes to Star Citizen I think he really wanted a fresh start. It looks like he wanted limited crowdfunding, but people kept throwing money at him. This led Chris Roberts to forgo the original planning he had for it being a proof of interest to investors, and making it a mainstay of his entire project.

That was his mistake.

The promise of adding a massive amount of features in order to try and match the match the amount of money that was coming in led him down a bad path. That road he traveled made him lose some of his old Digital Anvil colleagues like Eric Peterson. By making choices to benefit the project’s growth rather than the game’s development is part of the reason there’s such an extensive collection of media content on his website. But the delays and technical demands that such a massive scale endeavor like Star Citizen makes breeds the rumors and speculation that sprung up, specially with the advent of Derek Smart. That in turn led to the Escapist’s attention being drawn into the project. Which for disclosure purposes, I should mention the fact I did game reviews there. The staff treated me well and taught me many of the fundamental basics of games journalism. Naturally, I’m obligated to disagree with the charges that Chris Roberts made against Liz Finnegan and the Escapist for just reporting what was said to them. It’s not exactly the Escapist’s fault that Star Citizen manages to have many employees with concerns as a result. The amount of (documented) self-obsession Chris Roberts has towards his Star Citizen project is destructive, creating the problematic environment that left people mentally torn apart in its wake. The Escapist Magazine didn’t do that to them.

I hope that Chris Roberts is able to see Star Citizen to the finish line. But if that day comes, the amount of bridges he’s burned and the decisions he’s made for the sake of his “Grand Vision” will still be a problem. The game won’t magically cure that.

People wanted to know what the fuss with Star Citizen was about. There you have it.