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PAX: Star Citizen’s Procedural Generation Explored – Interview with Chris Roberts

Posted on August 30, 2014

Star Citizen’s temporary alpha V0.9 delay hasn’t put a damper on CIG CEO Chris Roberts’ mood. Then again, not much does. The Wing Commander creator made a brief appearance at Intel’s PAX Prime 2014 keynote (which we filmed) – a very marketing-heavy, Intel-focused event – but not before speaking with us. We had the chance to collect community questions, as always, and then break the content into more consumable article-video components.


Our last interview specifically looked at the team’s plans for FPS in Star Citizen. Today’s focus is on the recent ~$41m stretch goal established by CIG: expanded procedural content R&D and generation in Star Citizen. We also had the opportunity to discuss customization within Star Citizen’s universe, including character creation, ship painting, ship tuning, station customization, and more. The customization interview will go live on September 3 (subscribe to the YouTube channel or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and RSS).

Let’s get to the procedural generation content!

Chris Roberts on Procedural Generation in Star Citizen

As always, here’s a quick-reference table for the major questions, answers, their time stamps, and a brief (paraphrased) summary of Chris’ answers. The bottom of the video hosts a line of text indicating the current topic being discussed. If you’d like to jump around, that’ll help you in understanding what we’re talking about!

Time StampQuestionSummary of Answer
0:27Gamescom Recap

Chris discusses V0.9 alpha, indicates a next-week launch, talks racing, and more.

Control mapping and multicrew ship combat previews referenced.

3:50What is CIG's definition of "Procedural Generation?" It seems like so many companies use it as a buzz-word now -- how do you define it?"We are going to use it as a tool for universe building. I know a lot of people think Star Citizen is purely hand-crafted and that something like Elite or No Man's Sky is all procedural, but the reality is that all of these games have a mix of hand-crafted and procedural stuff in them."

Chris notes how procedural generation will be deployed modularly to "help" in world and universe creation, rather than replacing a hand-built approach.

Voxel approach discussed.
7:50What's the current status of the team? How many are working on procedural generation?Total team size is now 271 people, more or less. Includes contractors.

Procedural generation team recruits assistance from well-known industry veterans (unnamed).
9:00What types of content will be procedurally generated? Planets? Stars? Systems?Not ships. Not enemies. Planets and stars for sure. Systems might be generated in limited part by procedural generation as the game ages, but it isn't an immediate desire or concern. Discusses philosophy of deploying procedural generation as a helping tool. Discusses limits as players consume content faster than development.
10:25What sort of constraints are being placed on generation? Planet size, etc.Too early to say. Moving to 64-bit, which is a huge change for Cry Engine, but it's needed for scale and special handling of planets.

32-bit doesn't handle the size of a planet vs. size of a space ship (scaling) very well.
11:34What's the next milestone / pipeline for procedural generation?Still in R&D. First major milestone procedural generation is being used for will be asteroids, freeing up artist resources. Voxel mining.

What’s Next?

It’s important to note that procedural generation in the wider scope of the game is not something that will see immediate implementation. CIG is spacing its modules, stretch goals, and content expansions in a manner that theoretically prevents the oft-prophesized “program creep,” taking a longer-view approach to the software development lifecycle. Procedural generation of planets and other environmental or atmosphere elements will be far off in the future – the team’s only doing R&D right now.

Our next content, as noted, is focused on the aspects of customization within the Star Citizen universe. That content is scheduled for publication on September 3, once we’ve gotten some distance from the rest of our already-extensive PAX Prime coverage. We also spoke to Roberts about a few miscellaneous community curiosities – including AMD architecture and FOV – all of which will be addressed in the next post.

As always, time kept us limited. We’ll try to follow-up with the CIG team to address remaining community questions.

- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.