Star Citizen Alpha 3.2

Excitement abounds for Star Citizen Alpha 3.2. In addition to new ships, such as the first luxury yacht to roll out of the showroom, the Origin 600i, we have the first iteration of the mining mechanics. Quality of life improvements is also addressed with updates to the party system and quantum travel. Things are really heating up in the development now, with many new game mechanics and professions slated to be introduced in 2018.

Casual Citizen EP 31 – Alpha 3.2 PTU


Squadron 42 All-Star Cast

When you think of the biggest names in Sci-Fi, Mark Hamill would be high on any list. So for him to be only one of the major cast members of Squadron 42 says a lot about how amazing the cast of this game is.

Hamill’s relationship with Chris Roberts spans back to the days of Wing Commander. When he was approached to play ‘Lt. Cdr. Steve ‘Old Man’ Colton’  in Robert’s new single player game, he claims he didn’t even have to read the script to know it would be good. He was there from the moment the game was announced.

This must have helped to some extent. Whilst Hamill alone in any game would be a coup, the casting for Squadron 42 just gets better and better!

  • Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour, Dark Knight, The Fifth Element, Bram Stroker’s Dracula) plays Admiral Ernst Bishop.  
  • Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Fall, American Gods) has been cast as Captain MacLaren
  • Mark Strong (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Sherlock Holmes) voices Captain Thomas Wade
  • John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings) plays Randall Graves.
  • Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and probably the biggest name in motion capture technology has been cast as Thul’Óqquray, an alien character who speaks in a fictional language created for Star Citizen.
  • Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) plays Captain Noah White

We haven’t yet been told how big each role will be, but one can assume that casting such huge household names to take part in a game of this size would mean that their parts are substantial.

There are numerous other well-known names cast. At the time of writing,  the IMDB ‘main cast’ list sits at twenty-five people, with ‘Other Cast’  sitting at sixty-one people and rumored to be over one hundred!

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Alpha 3.1 Impressions

SHOW TRANSCRIPT  |  Also Available on YouTube

All Work and No Play

It’s been a few months since my last show and I haven’t played very much Star Citizen. However, I have spent time over the past couple of weeks, enjoying the changes introduced in 3.1. But let’s start with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to since it all began with Star Citizen.

For me at least, Star Citizen turned out to be the gift that keeps giving. Regular listeners will know that I’ve been playing and blogging about MMOs for the better part of 20 years but until Star Citizen, I’d stopped doing fanfiction. There are many reasons for this, being extremely busy among them but lore and vision for Star Citizen ignited a fire. Taking up the hobby again and penning a few stories reminded me how much I enjoy writing short fiction.

In the intervening years since I started blogging about games, podcasts and vidcasts became the popular choice for consuming content, so I tried my hand it, as you know and found a new form of creative expression to enjoy. Resurrecting my writing and doing the narrated shows eventually led to doing freelance work in both areas. Suddenly, I’d added a part-time job into my hectic life but I was doing work that I really enjoyed. So much so, it made me wonder if there was an opportunity to push the boundaries into a new career. Well, as they say, you’ll never know unless you try.

In the past 8 months, I’ve ghostwritten over 150,000 words.
That’s 2 novel’s worth of freelance writing.

“Trying” is where I’ve been the past several months. So in addition to my day job, I’ve ghostwritten over 150,000 words. That’s two novel’s worth of freelance writing work. I’ve narrated on 115 different projects – commercials, 5 radio spots, 4 indy games and lots and lots of corporate training materials.

Some weeks have been insane, working 7 days a week and long hours but it has validated for me, that this might be something to pursue in a serious fashion. For now, I’m stepping back and deciding next steps which leaves me a bit of room for gaming. As a result, here I am again.

Nope, I don’t Give a Flip about LTI

I’m sick to death of the LTI trial of tears. For all I care, CIG can give it to all ships acquired before release or stop awarding it all together. Sure, I have it on most of my ships because I bought them during the first concept sale. But not having it, didn’t stop me from purchasing concept ships during subsequent offerings, when LTI isn’t available and there was no way to CCU into having it, such as with the 890 Jump.

Buy them or don’t.
I wish the LTI and tears over ships prices would die already!

If I think I’m going to enjoy the gameplay offered by a ship, can afford it and am willing to part with the money, I buy it. If not, it doesn’t matter what’s coming with the ship or not, it’s a no-go and I’ not buying it. To me, it’s always been and will remain, just that simple.

I agree, that no one is being forced to do anything — purchase anything. Buy it or not. Melt it or not. CCU to it or not. I’m just over the incessant tears about LTI and ship prices, in general. Hindsight is 20-20, as is quarterbacking plays from your gaming chair.

Life in Alpha 3.1

Overall, 3.1 is the best performance I’ve had since early 2.6. It feels good to see an end in sight. I’m sure we’ll have more hiccups as new technology and features are integrated but for now, it’s smooth sailing. Consistent FPS in the high 20s to mid-30s feels magical in the PU. 30s with no micro-stuttering will be amazing. Higher than that? Well, that’s the dream ladies and gents. Based on what I’ve experienced, 3.1 is a breath of fresh air in performance.

Ship, Ships, Ships.

I am all about the ships in Star Citizen. I equate ships with the classes you have in other MMOs. They are the gateway to interacting with the planned space content. I never get tired of hearing updates. I don’t get tired of seeing new concepts. It’s a treat when your ships arrive, and two more of mine landed in 3.1 – the Reclaimer and the Terrapin. Even missing their planned mechanics, it’s exciting to finally see them in the game.

Aegis Reclaimer

The Reclaimer is a beast. It looks like its role, a ship that eats other ships, for breakfast. Figuring out where to enter the Reclaimer while it was sitting on a dark platform was an exercise in patience. Finding my way to the bridge a puzzling adventure. Along the way, I toured the various rooms and compartments. The quality of the ship interiors never fails to impress. Every detail has been considered. The lighting and animation contribute to the atmosphere of making the ship feel grounded in reality. I can only imagine when it’s full of players running around, manning the various stations.

The growing concern I have, as the larger ships make their way into Star Citizen, is the sheer size of them. The Reclaimer, not nearly the biggest ship in my fleet, feels like a floating neighborhood. With the older concept ships growing in size as concept meets the reality of the space needed to support game mechanics, I’m starting to feel I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

My preference for solo and small group is my jam.
Why so many large ships??

My playstyle includes a lot of soloing and small group gaming. I enjoy large fleet operations but that’s not my bread and butter. It’s been years since I had the time and patience for the coordination effort needed to corral a large group of players. It can be like herding cats. I’d rather be off accomplishing a task or wandering into a new adventure. And yet, staring down the list of ships in my fleet, more than half are large.

If there’d been medium-size ships offered, I’d have gone that route instead. To date, however, we mostly have starter and “end game, with very little in between for the profession ships. Nothing to do about it now but see how things play out and make adjustments if my concerns remain.

Anvil Terrapin

I spent most of my flight-time scuttling around in the Terrapin. I gotta say, she floats my boat. Size, style and handling, I can see myself hurtling into danger zones rescuing players or doing fleet reconn. Several short story ideas instantly popped into my head while zooming place to place. The only thing I didn’t like so far, is that the guns on the nose are a single turret instead of separate weapons. This prevented me from swapping the T1s out for gimbal T2s. She’s not designed for combat but with NPCs interdicting me, left, right and center, I wanted an upgrade. Hrm, the ship’s description claiming that it has hard-hitting weapons is a bit suspect.

Hovercraft Fixes

I didn’t expect much from the Dragonfly. It’s not designed for traveling long distances. I purchased a pair as a way of traveling around cities and small areas where a ship is overkill. 3.1 fixed many of the issues the hovercraft vehicles were experiencing. I took mine out for a brief spin around Port Olisar and it was quite satisfying. Much more so than I expected.

Zooming around deep space, with nothing between you and the view, is exhilarating. It was surreal. I mean, c’mon, it’s a space motorcycle! We don’t see many players using them in space so when I did, ships pulled alongside me to check it out. Staring down a Starfarer in one exchange, I felt very much the bug on a windshield.

I’m suddenly looking forward to whisking through different biomes with the wind in my hair. I’m suddenly wondering if I need to buy back my Nox?

Missions

I haven’t tried them and don’t really care about them. I don’t plan on doing many game generated missions, especially of the type currently in the game. I’m waiting for content that is directly tied to the player careers I’ve pledged into – medical, exploration, luxury tourism, base building, and food production. I’m hoping to combine game generated with fulfilling player contracts when I want task directed activity. Beyond that, I more interested in creating my own opportunities and moments. So nope, haven’t tried a single mission.

Persistence

Persistence improvements have been hit-and-miss for me. Twice I was disconnected while taking a spin planetside. When I rejoined the game, I was still aboard my ship, which was awesome! Other times, I’ve DC’d while in combat and rejoined the game laying in a bunk on Port Olisar. Boo! It’s still very much a work in progress and I hope to see a more solid character and the ship with its contents and location persisting sooner than later.

Flight Model Changes

As a HOTAS user, I LOVE the flight model changes introduced in 3.1.  Flying and aiming have never felt better. I was a fan of the flight model prior to 2.6 but it didn’t take too long to reacclimate myself when that changed.

There are ALWAYS complaints about the flight model from some of the backers no matter what CIG does. This is one of those instances where they’ll never please everyone. I was surprised to hear that joystick users were kicking up a ruckus over changes I thought were great. Oh well, to each his own.

Chasing Them Rats

None of my primary career choices are on the roadmap for 2018, much to my dismay. However, by year’s end, we’ll have planetary mining, salvage, ship repair, refueling and land claims. That’s a huge injection of game-play in a comparatively short period of time. And we’re finally starting to have the makings of the MMO backers are greedily awaiting.

3.1 has added the shell for activity that brings us a few inches closer. I can sense the shift in my own attitudes about what to do when I log-in. As I’ve said, I’m not into chasing game generated checklists aka missions BUT the beacon system creates random opportunities for adventure. I’ve done a few pick-ups while out test-driving my ships, and am looking forward to the expanded options coming in 3.2. But the real signal to me, that Star Citizen is starting to feel like a game, is that I’ve been out ratting.

Now we’re cooking with gas. My gamer’s soul is ready!

Roaming the system and picking fights with NPCs is an activity I often engaged in while playing EVE Online. The end goal was looting their cargo and salvaging their ships. Ergo, earning a living from a self-directed activity. I chose the where and when.

It’s like farming mobs for crafting components in other MMOs. This activity suits my style and temperament. It’s a free-roaming enterprise that lets me explore, set up in favorite zones or pick a location purely for the convenience. I also find it relaxing and often end gaming sessions with farming comps or mob for comps.

Finding myself logging in just to do that – chasing rats, signals a shift from fiddling with mechanics and ships to logging in with an objective. And even though it’s the least of my plans for Star Citizen, it does, for the first time, resemble behavior and gameplay from other MMOs – finally. Bring on 3.2. My so soul is ready.


Gaming and Nostalgia

You can’t put a price on recapturing your childhood. The opportunity to relive fond memories or achieve the ones that slipped by is priceless. Our favorite television shows, movies, books, and games from childhood are powerful motivators. We’re more easily tempted to spend disposable income on a second chance with these than trusting the new and unknown. It’s even more compelling when it’s tied to a fond memory. Nostalgia is a powerful drug.

In recent years, we’ve seen re-mastered games and revived IPs top the charts. Even against big, new and shiny, supported by generous marketing budgets, these older and often less sophisticated gaming titles are winning the day. Games like the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, Wipeout: Omega Collection and perennially remastered Final Fantasy games are making developers and publishers alike, take a more serious look at reviving successful titles of old. If there are profits, they will build it. In the face of Crash Bandicoot surpassing expectations by a wide margin, Eric Hirshberg, Activision CEO said, “You can be confident there will be more activity like this in the future…”

For the adults of today, the gaming console and PC revolution came at a time when they were young, and in most cases, lacked the funds to invest in the hobby as much as they would have liked. Unless your parents were technology geeks, which mine certainly were not, you were lucky to get a gaming console or personal computer in the first place. And the games for them came at a slow pace – birthdays, holidays and saving up your allowance.

To have a game, you had to buy the game. There were no rental shops. I sound like my grandparents, “I walked to school backward in the snow with no shoes!” The library of games at your disposal was a collection of what you and your besties shared with each other. What you owned, was yours for life if you couldn’t trade it a friend. There was no Game Stop taking in games you’d finished as credit toward purchasing a new one. For most of us, this meant that we didn’t get to play all that we would have if the opportunity to buy more were within our control.

For older adults who’ve squarely settled into the “I’m a gamer” moniker, they will spend big when they have the disposable income to support it. They’re the parents where there are multiple consoles and personal computers outfitted for gaming in our homes. They have enough games to start a rental service of their own. That’s if they’d even consider parting with them and in many cases, they won’t. Their games are stacked on shelves, labeled in boxes, soaking up hard drives and cluttering online digital libraries.

Entertainment is a big business where companies are looking to maximize profits. Funds are allocated to projects that are most likely to succeed in reaching the desired return on investment targets. The trend of capitalizing on nostalgia isn’t new, and it’s a two-way street. Adults with disposable income will throw it at things they’ve enjoyed in the past. Investors are more willing to spend on products that have a proven track record. The aforementioned doesn’t only happen in gaming. We see similar trends in other areas of entertainment such as movies. Like game development, these projects cost millions of dollars from inception to release. Taking a chance on a new unproven IP is a financial risk. If this weren’t the case, we wouldn’t see as many rehashes as we do. Honestly, how many remakes of King Kong does the world need? Planet of the Apes, The 10 Commandments, re-booting Batman again, our favorite comic book heroes starring in the small and the big screen are all predicated on this same trend, as are the proliferation of serialized books and movies. If we liked it once, we’ll take a chance on savoring it again. The money you may not have been allowed to spend back then, you’ll throw at your favorite something now.

Even with new chapters of life added, Legenda of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, is appealing to older gamers and their nostalgic love of the franchise. The release of the most recent Zelda title was so successful, that it outsold its primary target console, the Switch, by selling 2.76 million copies as of March 31, 2017. More of the game sold than the console? Yes, enthusiasts are buying multiple copies in households with a single console or buying a copy for the Nintendo Switch and the Wii U. For Nintendo, Breath of the Wild in the U.S. is their fastest-selling release title of all time and fastest-selling game in the history of the Zelda series. That’s the power of nostalgia, something no marketing budget can touch.

The ability for remastered and revived games to beat the competition isn’t confined to new games and IPs. Newer titles with a successful first release and good reviews can falter in a market where reliving our childhood is claiming our spending dollars. Dishonored 2, Watch Dogs 2 and Titanfall 2 all struggled in 2016,  not hitting any of the major “Top Games of 2016” lists in an environment where Final Fantasy, Zelda, etc. were claiming market share.

On the flip side, wanting to capitalize on past glory isn’t always a path strewn with sunshine and rainbows. As I’ve said, making games cost hundreds of millions of dollars per title in development. If the studio isn’t making money in the interim, potentially big contenders will be lost by the waste side, nostalgic or not. Two games in development with legions of nostalgic fans who were eagerly awaiting a new release were Fable and EverQuest, the latter being the one of the longest-running Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) in history. Both of these had their revivals abandoned in 2016. Much to the chagrin of many, I’m sure.

As an adult with discretionary funds at my disposal, I have plenty of the things I wanted as a child but couldn’t have for whatever reason. And I have none of the things I didn’t like but had plenty of because my parents said so. Oh, the joys and privilege of being an adult. It’s a good time to be a gamer. It’s a fabulous time to have money to spend on this particular hobby.

Are there games from your youth that you’re still hoping to see revived? Which are your favorites among the ones that have been given a new lease on life?


3.0 PTU - I Have Concerns

I’ve been play-testing the newest patch for Star Citizen, Alpha 3.0, on the Private Test Universe. I’ll admit up front, this is the first patch that’s left me feeling concerned about Star Citizen as a whole. I’m a long time backer with a considerable amount pledged. I’m not worried that the game won’t be completed. I’m not concerned about how backer money is being used. I believe that CIG is doing everything in their power to deliver what has been promised. However, the time it’s taken to develop and test 3.0 leaves me with the impression, it’s a much longer road to hoe than many of us think. And I considered myself realistic and patient, recognizing the ambition of the game and its feature-set. However, the condition of 3.0 after the Evocati has already been testing for weeks and the fact that we don’t even have all of the planned 3.0 content to test yet, gives me pause. The mountain I knew we were climbing and willing joined in on the adventure, suddenly appears considerably steeper.

I believe certain design decisions will be reoccurring issues, the detailed animations being among them. I fear that some aspects of what Chris Roberts and crew think adds immersion is going to seem like unnecessary time wasting fiddly bits to me. There’s lots of time to change course if enough backers don’t like an implementation. But who among us wants more rework?? I know I don’t. I work in product management so I get the iterative nature of agile development. At this point, however, I’d probably vote to suffer a few things I don’t like then see systems reworked, delaying the release further.

In the end, I still have confidence that CR and CIG will deliver the goods. I believe they’re doing everything in their power to get there. Hell, I’m sure they want things done even more than we do as backers. I may not agree with how some things are implemented. I’ll adjust as and where I can. But this is going to be longer than I’d dared to think it would be.

Want to hear specifics? Check out my First Impressions of the Alpha 3.0 PTU.


Alpha 3.1 Truck Stops

Space, the ultimate frontier, is why I backed Star Citizen. Traveling to distant star systems as captain of a themed luxury cruise ship, remote medical facility, food production facility, science and research vessel or purveyor of unique goods, is what I care about most. I will visit alien worlds to explore or acquire resources. However, being aboard my ship is my prime directive, which is why I’m much more excited about CIG’s plans for space stations and truck stops than planetside outposts.

We’ve seen the early development of space stations in what’s available in Alpha 2.x. We know that the design team has been hard at work devising modular set pieces to assist in populating the vast open spaces of the planned persistence universe. Space stations, planetside outposts, and truck stops are part of the toolbox being used to bring the Star Citizen universe to life.

Alpha 3.0 will be our first taste of the outposts. Truck stops aren’t scheduled to debut until Alpha 3.1. I’m looking forward to these much more so than the content planned for the planets other than the actual cities.

FROM CIG

Design has been outlining the types of stores that will start to make their way into the PU. In the discussions about the new Truck Stop, it became apparent that all stations have the need for a certain level of resources to sustain their existence and thought that it was a little weird to sell resources directly to the shops themselves, so a new shop type was created. The Admin Office will focus on buying and selling station imports and exports for the local stores on the stage. This shop would also control Local Storage Rentals and include a job board to complete and plan deliveries. This shop type will be in the majority of the locations that don’t have a full-fleshed out Trade and Development Division, which is focused more on commodity trading.

END QUOTE

The ability to refuel and repair already exists in the persistent universe gameplay albeit they’ve been using placeholder animation. With the A.I./NPCs coming on board with 3.0, the 3.1 version of Truck Stops should have actual NPCs replacing the placeholder animations carried out at places like Cry Astro. Even more exciting will be the actionable content and missions, that will come with having an Admin Office at a Truck Stop. As well as the trade and cargo opportunities offered using the Kiosks. I envision players being able to take missions to pick up and deliver cargo plus acquire items for import/export. We’re likely to encounter scenarios where Truck Stop A needs XYZ which can only be obtained by traveling to Truck Stop B or perhaps, you have to go planetside to Station D. Missions along this line seem obvious as options.

Equally intriguing are CIG’s statements that Truck Stops can provide local storage for rent. What type of services will that offer? Can I store a ship there? Cargo? Both? If I’m carrying more items than required for a particular delivery and don’t want to risk taking everything on board with me, can I put some in local storage and come back for it later? I might consider doing that in certain locations. My EVE days have taught me that traveling with all your eggs in one basket can be an unwise decision with gut wrenching outcomes.

Perhaps a group of friends wants to explore on Dragonflies. Is it possible for us to show up in a Caterpillar that has our bikes in the cargo bays, put the Cat in storage at a Truck Stop then jet off into the unknown on the bikes? I like the idea of being able to change out ships without heading all the way back to a Port Olisar type station. Either by bringing my side ride along and putting the larger in storage at a truck stop or having ship kiosks available there which would allow the same flexibility.  Right now, players often kill themselves for a quick ride back to exchange ships. The introduction of persistent damage states in Alpha Patch 3.0, makes that less attractive quick ride option.

I’m also looking forward to Truck Stops adding more life to the dark recesses of deep space. New areas where players can congregate, shop and explore. I visit all locations in MMOs. I hang out in storefronts and buildings that are little more than window dressing. I like poking around behind the curtain and chilling with the NPCs while I do management type tasks – checking email, gabbing in local chat, talking on voice comms or having my dinner. So while I think all the planetside tech is cool and the outposts look great, I’m more excited by seeing space populated with more locations such as the Truck Stops currently estimated to arrive in Alpha Patch 3.1.




Aly's Fiction Writing Template

Writing and I go back a long way. I used to write scripts for the neighborhood kids to act out when I was around eleven. I participated in the writing publications all throughout my school years and went to college for Mass Communications. But a funny thing happened to me along the way to my career called personal computers. I had a knack for them when they first landed on people’s desks at work. I found out that my love and penchant for the English language extended itself to programming languages. Before I knew it, I was in IT then Business Intelligence then Research and Development, and now Product Management in R&D. I never gave up on writing. I’ve done technical writing where I’m a thrice published author, instructional design because I enjoy teaching people and I’ve kept a blog of one sort or another for the past 20+ years.

KNOWING WHO YOU ARE AS A WRITER IS ESSENTIAL TO YOUR GROWTH.

My creative writing’s been a bit spotty. I have multiple novels in the works that linger for a year at a time before I take them up again. Mastering such a long form on your own can be daunting, even though I’ve taken several writing courses since my college days to help move things along. It often felt like my weaknesses were insurmountable in the amount of time I was willing to dedicate to the craft of writing fiction. My plots can be complicated and I can run out of the emotional steam half way through. I lose the motivation to start a story after outlining it which is what you’re taught to do.

Late 2016, I happened upon a video series by Brandon Sanderson that gave me insight into the type of writer I am. I learned that my style and issues aren’t unique to me or absurd. I’m a gardener/pantser style writer. Meaning, I write by the seat of my pants. Like a gardener, my story develops as I go, growing over time. Detailed outlining diminishes the joy of writing for me. It destroys the story and motivation which causes me to drop an idea dead in its tracks. So while I may not be alone or crazy in my style, it does necessitate I find what works for me, which might be contrary to what’s taught in school. 

DEFINED TEMPLATE AND PROCESS THAT WORK FOR ME.

Writing fan-fiction for Star Citizen has helped me tremendously. It provided me with a pre-existing universe to write about and through those efforts, I’ve been able to identify writing tools and processes that work for me. AND for the first time ever, I’ve been able to consistently write shorter fiction, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but couldn’t quite constrain my ideas to the necessary length. I’m by no means a master writer but I do feel that I’m on my way to improvements and I’d like to share what I’ve developed for myself with others who may be facing the same struggles.

Luckily for me, I’m never short on inspiration for ideas. I’ve never had writer’s block. I’ve never needed writing prompts. I have more story ideas than I can shake a stick at. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t use things to distinguish a specific point of inspiration for a story.

I’m a visual person which is how I ended up in Business Intelligence when it was discovered that I had a knack for visual data analysis. I can “see” correlations. I can look at data and recognize the visual outputs that would express it best. This is the same skill I use for formulating a story from inspiration. To me, they’re part and parcel of the same ability to puzzle things out.

I VISUALIZE A PERSON, PLACE OR THING…
IMAGINE A PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE…

Every story that I’ve written has started has either a person or place that popped into my head that felt interesting. A digital image I saw that made me wonder what that would be like if it was real. In the case of Star Citizen, I add to my musings the locations described in the ARK Starmap. What is it like to be there for the average person? What types of challenges would they face?

Distilling these to a fine point my primary sources of inspiration are:

  • Things I daydream about
  • Digital images from the internet
  • Digital images from Pinterest which I keep on a personalized board for future reference
  • Locations that interest me in Star Citizen lore

Corralling that idea into a bonafide story is the hardest and most important part. I believe in the saying that ideas are cheap. Anyone can dream up an idea. The proof of the pudding is assembling it into a cohesive tale.

TEMPLATE FACILITATES A PLOT-DRIVEN STORY

It’s easy to get lost in the woods of your idea, words, characters, events and required story structure. As a Meyers-Briggs INFJ, I can get too focused on the puzzle pieces and I lose sight of writing the story. Since we’re rule followers, I used to inadvertently launch down the detailed outline path as most courses, professors and books suggest, forgetting that for me, it would result in a dead-end.

However, there are certain elements required for writing a cohesive story. And if you want to end up where you want to go, you need to know where you’re headed in the first place. To accomplish this without developing an outline, I created a template to capture the minimum elements contained in any story, of any length. These attributes are represented in a template with (4) sections.

IT WORKS FOR ANY LENGTH STORY

Section One helps you solidify the idea. What is the story you’re trying to tell? This is the most important part of the template. You shouldn’t start writing a single word of your story until you can articulate this much!! Completing Section One will save you countless hours of having to edit your plot and the sequence of events because you hadn’t really formulated the story before you started writing it.

The exception noted in the template is the Theme. You may not truly know what it is until you’ve completed a majority of the story. Once you’ve identified the theme you may want to go back and edit your story to make it more apparent IF you feel you REALLY have something distinct you’re trying to impart about the human condition.

REDUCE EDITING TIME – CLARIFY YOUR LOGLINE AND MDQ FIRST

Always start with the logline. This is a one-sentence summary of the whole plot. That’s right, you should be able to reduce your whole idea to a maximum of two sentences. Movies do it all the time. It’s the elevator pitch. It’s the tagline you see on the billboards. Search loglines for your favorite movies to see examples.

Here’s the logline for Gladiator starring Russel Crowe: When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an emperor’s corrupt son, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. This logline superbly sums up the whole movie. It also leads you directly to the Major Dramatic Question (MDQ), the next most important thing to clarify before you begin.

The MDQ in Gladiator is will he get his revenge? This is the question you must answer by the end of your story. Ideally, it’s at the very end, depicted in a direct showdown with the antagonist/blocker. Your story plot should have the protagonist taking steps toward achieving the MDQ during the course of the story in his/her favor but failing to do so, until the final encounter/showdown/attempt. This is the essence of establishing your plot and conflict. Joe wants X but Y is preventing him from accomplishing it. What lengths will Joe go to in order to achieve X?  How much opposition can Y exert? Who wins in the end – X or Y?

ESTABLISHING THE SETTING IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE STORY’S PLOT

Establishing the story’s setting for sci-fi and fantasy is called world building. This is where you specify the time period, dictums and societal norms of the environment your characters are in. We can’t recognize what’s extraordinary if we don’t know what’s common. You need to take the time to clarify these rules for yourself first to ensure consistency in your fiction. And yes, it’s important to do this upfront and play by the rules you set. Readers don’t like Deus Ex resolutions, where you have to solve your plot by the sudden appearance of an all-powerful item, person, etc. that falls from the sky and was never heard of in your story until that moment.

READERS DON’T LIKE DEUS EX RESOLUTIONS

If you knew up front that you were going to use a miraculous device/person as part of the resolution, hints of its existence should have appeared very early or at least midway through the story. Ideally, using an element of foreshadowing. This is satisfying for readers who connect the dots. Sometimes in movies, you’ll see them flashback to the foreshadowing moment to ensure the audience realizes it’s not a Deus Ex event.  All of these are things you consider in the Setting section of the template and you add to it as ideas develop while you’re writing.

For me at least, Section Two of my template, plotting the story, is the easy part. However, that might be because I spend the most time defining the story in Section One. By the time I’ve completed Section One, I’ve already visualized all the major plot points. In Section Two, I’m simply jotting them down in chronological order.

Some writers find it easier to plot backward. If they know where they have to end up, it’s easier for them to plot logically what must have preceded it. I’ve done a bit of both in longer form fiction. I may immediately know the beginning and end but have to noodle on what comes in between. Here you want to do what works for you but I caution starting to write your story before completing Section Two. Especially if you’re not a fan of large scale plot editing after the fact.

The only other advice about my template for Section Two is that the Life Today and Inciting Incident are particularly important. If we don’t know what’s normal for the character’s life, we won’t recognize when something happened that tipped their world off center. We won’t recognize the event that established the MDQ which is their quest. It’s imperative that the reader recognizes it so they can cheer them on and become invested in the actions that follow.

The rest of the template is cake and self-explanatory. After the character’s world has been rattled what will they attempt to set it straight? What obstacles will you put in their path to establish conflict? Typically the Dire Straits moment should be the most dramatic and meaningful. This is the last stand attempt at achieving the MDQ, where all hope is lost if they fail.

WRITING STAR CITIZEN FAN-FIC HAS AN EXTRA SECTION

When writing fan-fiction it’s important to readers that you remain authentic to that world and its canon. Unless of course, if you’re intentionally shifting its lore like people do when they change the endings or the outcomes of relationships. In the case of Star Citizen, I use the actual ships, Galactic Guides, Lore Dispatches and the ARK Starmap to ground my stories. Everything else is fair game but I want the elements of the physical universe I depict to be accurate.

An invaluable resource for me in doing this is my own website that contains information from the official ARK Starmap, Galactic Guides, and Dispatches presented in a format that’s searchable and easier to scan all the known star system information on a single screen.

I use my:

  • Starmap Matrix to scan systems to see what catches my interest in relation to the story I’m telling.
  • Detailed Composition page to see all the known objects in the system (s) I decide to use.
  • Route Planner to see ALL possible routes between systems when travel is involved. Unlike the official ARK Starmap, I show every single option which often plays into adding points of conflict such as devising reasons why they have to take the longer or more dangerous route.

All of the above helps to create authenticity in the story for readers who are informed Star Citizen fans. And although I consider my content for ‘casuals’ I know that I have SC lore fans among my followers.

BEGIN PRACTICING THE ART OF STORYTELLING

If you want to take a stab at writing fiction but don’t have a formal training, I think my template is distilled to the essential elements necessary for a story. Although writing short form versus long form such as novels is a very different beast, you can still hone your craft and establish your style and voice by practicing with short fiction. You also have the added benefit of being able to finish more stories in the same period of time as a learning experience.

If you’re interested in writing sci-fi or fantasy, I think doing fan-fic has the benefit of only having to dabble in world-building while focusing on the craft of writing first. When you feel you have sufficient writing practice under your belt, you can stretch your wings toward developing your own worlds. You can access my template as a Google Doc. It’s my prefered format because it allows me to access my story ideas from any device at any time. It’s a convenient method of ensuring little things that pop into your head make it into the story template for safe keeping. I also maintain a Pinterest board of writing tips.


Star Citizen - My EVE 2.0

Earn 5,000 in-game currency when you create your Star Citizen account here and supply this referral code: STAR-QSVR-JFTR

It’s been several years since I’ve had an MMO to call home. I’ve played all the AAA MMOs that have come to the NA market. Unfortunately, out of the seemingly endless sea of them, the only ones that felt like home for any period of time since my WOW days were Guild Wars 2, EVE Online, Runes of Magic, Warhammer Online and ArcheAge. With EVE being the only sci-fi title among them.

I’m not a traditional RPer but I love lore…

There’s a particular blend of gameplay needed for me to find long-term satisfaction in a game. A compelling mission system that provides progression to max level or whatever is considered end game. A sense of exploration, where I can wander freely while traveling, harvesting or completing quests. A robust crafting and/or trade system on which to hang my character’s hat in her adulthood. Regular injections of new content, abilities, professions and economic opportunities. And although I’m not a classic RPer, I enjoy good lore – deep backstory and context that gives meaning to what we’re all supposedly doing in that universe. My Holy Grail MMO needs to have all of the above or at least, a majority.

I wanted the original pitch of EVE’s Incarna expansion – avatars walking in space stations and player run shops…

EVE online had many of these qualities but the lore played out mostly as off-line content to me because of the shallow mission system. You could explore except in their version of deep space, there’s not much to see. Most of all, you aren’t a person, you’re a ship. There’s nothing meaningful to do with your character as an avatar. I always hoped more character features would come. I wanted the original vision they said would be Incarna – walking in space stations and player run shops. Alas, it wasn’t to be. And so, for me, EVE could never be home for more than a few months at a time even though I’ve played it across many years. It served more as my personal sensory deprivation chamber. A place to play when I really wanted to be alone in a universe of others.

My interest in Star Citizen began as a desire to have EVE 2.0. EVE Online + the missing pieces for my MMO preferences. However, in the years since I first pledged it has evolved to more than my initial small hopeful wish. It’s grown to be the game I’m expecting will be my next MMO home, whose years played will only be rivaled by the years I spent in World of Warcraft.

I’m in it for deep space, but now, I have a better understanding of the scale and scope of what’s to come…

I’m in it for the deep space gameplay. Predominantly the career ships and the economy topped off with exploration. Until today, I viewed the planetside content as a “nice to have”. Nothing I’m particularly interested in other than for exploration and harvesting resources related to my career ships. I’m not at all interested in doing missions planetside. There are only a handful of quest types in MMOs reskinned for a different environment. After playing MMOs for 30+ years, good lord, I’ve done them all. So if it’s not directly related to a player career or for exploration, I DON’T CARE.

The most recent Star Citizen Around the Verse featured CIG’s procedural planet tech. Of course, it’s impressive. As are the tools they continue to develop to assist in the massive undertaking of populating 100+ star systems with high visual fidelity and content. I watched all of it saying, “sure, that’s cool”, “whew, that will certainly help move things along” and reactions of that nature. Not to take anything away from the achievements but as I’ve said, that’s not why I came to the party. I came to explore deep space – be aboard my ship doing captain type things IN SPACE.

Even so, my jaw dropped during the final demonstration of the technology, as the SCOPE of the universe they’re building hit home. Yes, I knew it was on a grand scale. Yet reading the sizes of the ships and planets as text on a web page hadn’t adequately prepared me for the in-game reality.

As an explorer and a player who loves wandering off the beaten trial, it was mindboggling to see. Compounded by the realization that we were seeing wasn’t even a planet-sized object. Holy f–k! Delays be damned. The alpha patch with that content will be here within the next couple of months. I was already dubbing Alpha 3.0 as the patch that starts the type of content I care about enjoying, an explorer playstyle. Now that I see it with clearer eyes, the magnitude of what’s coming is breathtaking. It’s going to be buggy and laggy at points ‘cuz alpha but it will be nothing short of amazing.


What is Squadron 42?

Chris Roberts and Cloud Imperium Games

Since the late 80s, Chris Roberts has been taking the most advanced video game platforms available to him and using them to build simulators that allow gamers live out epic space battles that put Star Wars to shame.

As graphics get better, so does his work – Freelancer was a masterpiece in 2003 when it released on PC and since that time, Roberts has focused on cinematic work whilst those of us who didn’t get sucked into Eve Online, have spent fifteen years living in wait for him to return to gaming.

Squadron 42 forms part of Roberts’ glorious return to gaming, a story-driven RPG set in the Star Citizen universe, that is essentially Wing Commander and Freelancer on steroids but with modern day graphics and  AAA budgets. The icing on the cake is the stellar cast he’s assembled. One that is worthy of a blockbuster movie.

It feels like everything Roberts has learned in the past 30+ years from his work in film and gaming has lead to this project. Since the overwhelming success of the Kickstarter campaign, Chris has been attracting top talent to the groundbreaking ambitious project. Ultimately responsible for delivering two games, S42 and an open world MMO called Star Citizen, Chris formed Cloud Imperium Games. With offices in the US and Europe, this intrepid crew holds the dreams of many gamers in their hands.

S42’s Initial Scope

Squadron 42, called S42 by its fans and backers, is a single player campaign comprised of 28 chapters and over 60 missions to complete. It was originally a stretch goal for when the crowdfunding exceeded $29million but considering Star Citizen exceeded $180million in funding, it was a sure thing from the very beginning.

The scope of this story is insane, with over 340 speaking roles cast, over 1250 pages of dialogue written and 50 ships designed. It feels as though every effort is being made to polish the fine details of Squadron 42 and every video released so far has supported that.

The main draw for a game like Star Citizen, and Squadron 42 is the space battles and dogfights. Wing Commander and Freelancer both delivered this, but with modern capabilities, you can expect a much more advanced physics engine, which will put your flying skills to the test.

The aim of Squadron 42, is to complete the campaign and have your character achieve citizenship in the United Empire of Earth.

Citizenship and Choices

Star Citizen has a defined class system where people do not automatically receive citizenship into the Empire just for being born there. Players will find they have multiple options, they can opt out of citizenship altogether, perform civic duties, or join the military by playing Squadron 42, and by completing it, you are set apart from other civilians of the empire as an Elite fighter who served and earned their status.  

This is intended to encourage conflict and division amongst players so that there are different ways to play the game and different benefits for the choices players make.  Citizens of the Empire will receive faster police response when they are chased by pirates and other threats and can enjoy the general protection that Empire citizens deserve. There will be alternative ways to conscientiously object to fighting and still become an Empire Citizen, but as far as we currently know, not in Squadron 42.

We do know that the story will be set in 2945 – after the events of Vega II. The player joins the 42nd Squadron of the UEE Navy, a  team with a reputation for great success in turning ‘problem’ pilots into Elite units who favor unorthodox tactics and space combat.  

So far we’ve seen little of the story, beyond previews from 2015 where the player was serving on the UEES Stanton during a slightly unpolished video shows us a taste of the on-ship interactions.

Due to various postponements, the game has missed its 2016 release date,  there were rumors for 2017 and 2018 but no official date has been set, so we’re now hoping for a 2019 release.

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