Last week saw Cloud Imperium Games hold its annual Star Citizen fan event, CitizenCon. It turned out to be a a pretty divisive three hours.
On the one hand, CIG announced a suite of new community features and showed off an extensive demo of Star Citizen's procedural planets. There was even a sandworm thrown in there for good measure.
On the other hand, CIG also announced that it would not be releasing Squadron 42, the game's campaign, in 2016. In fact, it was given no new release date. Nor were any release dates given for any of the updates to Star Citizen that were talked about that night.
Fans were also disappointed they didn't get to see a demo of Squadron 42, a side of the game CIG has shown very little of over the past four years.
A week on, CIG has released a 20-minute documentary that details the difficulty the team had in getting a full demo of Squadron 42 ready in time for CitizenCon. Just three days before the event, the documentary shows, the team was still planning on showing an on-stage demo of a complete mission.
However, getting both Squadron 42 and Homestead (the planetary landing demo) polished to the point that they could run without severe bugs was stretching the team very thinly.
As one developer puts it in the video: "these are, in some cases, enormous systems and trying to get them all done, kind of at the same time is overwhelming."
This is not a new problem for CIG, when I spoke with the team this August about Star Citizen's development, one of the major struggles they detailed was getting the game's complex systems to run together without throwing up game-breaking bugs.
The documentary shows that three days before the event, there was a high-level meeting between CIG's CEO, Chris Roberts, and his directors about the state of the two demos. In the meeting Erin Roberts, Chris's brother and head of global production, pushed for the Squadron 42 demo to be abandoned in favour of focusing the team on the Homestead demo.
"We need to make a call on this," Erin Roberts says. "We know we're not going to have the section on the Idris ready with the thing done, well polished through, and looking awesome. If we just show it without stuff working properly, I just don't see what we're getting out of it. We should get that mail out tonight to the guys in the UK and say focus on that [Homestead]. I just think that if we do that then we're going to get complete focus but we have all the focus making sure that Homestead is the best."
"Well, that was a call we were going to make tomorrow," is Chris Roberts' reply.
"Yes it was," says Erin, "but I think if we do it now then we get two full days on it rather than one which is Saturday."
Chris clears the room except for him, Erin, and another director. They decide mere days before the event to cut what was going to be an hour long in-game, live demo from the event.
The documentary goes on to address the fan feedback. People like Ben Lesnick, the game's head of community, talk about the disappointment some of the fans expressed on Reddit and the forums, saying, "we don't want to disappoint people but it's for the best. I'm so proud to work for someone who is willing to make that call, who's willing to take the short term hit on reputation so that we have a better game, so that we deliver what we promised."
Lesnick then goes on to say: "there's an old saying 'a delayed game is good eventually, whereas a bad game is bad forever'. And crowdfunding lets us put that to the test."
Lesnick is paraphrasing Shigeru Miyamoto, who said "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad." Miyamoto delayed the N64's release by three months to give his team the time to iron out the problems it had. This Miyamoto quote has become something of a mantra among the Star Citizen community, I've seen it written in forums, tweets, and comments in defence of the game's lengthening development schedule. Lesnick is appealing directly to fans by quoting it here.
This behind the scenes video was likely already planned to be released after CitizenCon: the interviews and recordings of meetings appear to have been taking place before the decision to cut the Squadron 42 demo had been made. However, the reaction this past week seems to have been a shock to CIG, if the appeals to the community in the last minutes of its video are anything to go by.
The Squadron 42 demo CIG was hoping to show at CitizenCon is still being worked on. Maybe CIG will be able to show that before the end of the year. In which case it may well rally the backers who were left disappointed by the event.