Mar 27

The Poster Child of Star Citizen

Constellation Aquila

What do you think of when someone says the phrase “poster child”? I think most of us, especially the younger you are, will usually think of a person who is used in marketing to be the face of a cause or perhaps that person is a representation of quality or cause. While that is not wrong, I’ve heard it said that the original usage of the phrase was in the context of children with diseases being displayed to raise awareness or some support. I am not an expert on the etymology and yet I found that this contrast of what we typically think of this phrase of “poster boy” as, and what its origins are to be the perfect analogy for what I want to talk about here today… the constellation series of ships in Star Citizen (SC). Once upon a time the Connie was the face of the future for multi-crew ships and was beloved; but now, like the alleged origins of the poster child, it is promoting awareness of a disease. Let us examine the symptoms here and see if we can find a treatment.

Brief History

When the first of the Constellation series, the Andromeda, was released back in 2.0 it was released alongside the Retaliator as a proof of concept that Chris Roberts and CIG could live up to their promise to have shipped with multiple players working together to achieve a goal and have an enjoyable experience doing so. Due to the complications of the time of getting enough players together to man all turrets of the retaliator and a few personal preferences of the community as a whole, it was the Andromeda that emerged as the favorite of the multi-crew ships for a long time. Despite many other multi-crew vessels coming out that are arguably more polished, bigger, better, or otherwise very desirable; the Andromeda and its more recent variants have remained relevant in no small part because of ease of access and nostalgia of veteran backers.

Too Much Pilot Agency

Despite having so many different stations or things to do in the Constellation series such as turrets, engineering, and eventually, a snub-fighter; almost everything related to command, control, and combat of the ship is in the pilot’s hands. The pilot flies the ship, has component controls, and has the overwhelming majority of firepower in his hands at all times. This leads to the crew of the Constellation having a sub-par experience, or at least not as much as they otherwise might have in other vessels. It feels like the ship has so little experience to hand out that we have to take from one player and give to another rather than each player being able to pick and enjoy their experience(s). Even though it could be argued that this is the case with all ships in the game at this point because of a lack of content or mission specific gameplay, I disagree. Ships like the Starfarer, Reclaimer, and more may not have their gameplay as yet, but they have that content to look forward to and provide the player with more to enjoy, the Constellation has very little to look forward to.

The Merlin

Just have to get this out of the way, I HATE this about the Constellation series. The Merlin tries to offer more options for more players and something for them to do, but it fails so hard. Across multiple patches, it has been unplayable as it runs out of fuel, overheats and blows up, and more. While it seems to be working as of right now, its barely functional even when it’s firing on all cylinders because of terrible components and hardpoints. Precious space aboard the aft compartment is wasted for something that I don’t think the average player even wants. In fact, I would guesstimate that the total wasted space to house the Merlin is at least as large as the space of the two turrets that have more than double the firepower. Oh and by the way we still can’t launch the merlin :P

HUD VISIBILITY

For all of the attention that the cockpit’s visibility got throughout development across the entire Constellation Series, especially Aquilla, I find it hard to believe that so few have talked about the HUD visibility issues. On the one hand, we have the pilot who has so many displays in his view, up to five I believe, that it is an ergonomic nightmare that will have wildly different player experiences or opinions. Worse still, is that the two crew stations have one HUGE monitor that takes up almost their entire view. I feel that it is a crime that the developers and art teams have put in thousands of hours of work into making magnificent looking backgrounds, atmospheres, etc. and I can’t look at them and be a participant in ship operations. While you can use this oversized monitor to speed up changes to the settings of the ship to aid the pilot, that only lasts a few seconds, and the pilot didn’t need you to achieve that either.

The Turret Issue

Now we got first to say that turrets have their own set of issues and are a bit divisive among the communities opinions about them, but that isn’t why the Constellation series has a turret issue. The reason that the Constellation has turret issues is because:

  • They don’t matter enough
  • The turret play changes from variant to variant.

Two sizes two weapons for a butt in a seat is so insignificant that almost nothing but parasite snub-fighters and starter ships can match this. If you want to compare how bad the situation is how well your vessel stacks up I recommend a tool made by another great citizen.

This mediocre performance of the turrets is also available in ships like the Gladiator and the Superhornet, but those ships are intended for a single person whereas the Constellation is marketed as a multi-crew experience.

Finally, the individual turrets of the Constellation series are replaced depending on the variant in question. The Aquilla replaces the top (and best) turret, the Taurus replaces the lower, with Phoenix, Emerald, and Andromeda having top and bottom. This means that the experience for everyone but the pilot is even more varied than simple combat conditions as more possibilities are added or removed based almost entirely on how much cash the owner was willing to throw down. In thinking of that a little more deeply, that is a reasonably damaging look when you compare how the Apollo, Starfarer, and other series of ships do not do this. As of right now both of those ships give identical gameplay and intended purpose with the only differences being a less extreme fluctuation in cost and slightly better combat/defensive hardware.

DIAGNOSIS

The ship isn’t a multi-crew ship; it is, in fact, the largest solo-able vessel. Having extra crew makes the experience a better social experience but not a better gaming experience, which is not what the devs wanted. If anything the entire Constellation series is just showing how long the development process has gone on for and the ship has been left behind. It harkens back to a time where we all believed that ships would do anything and go everywhere, but now we know that won’t be the case. The Andromeda was at one time going to be the biggest ship in the game and was its concept and implementation reflects that in some ways. Both the community’s and the developer’s understanding of what “multi-player” means has changed over the years, but the Constellation has stayed mostly the same despite having multiple reworks.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

It is my personal opinion that the entire Constellation series needs to shove towards being more solo-able or give the crew a better experience. As the Phoenix and Aquilla seem achieve an excellent multi-crew experience, I will pursue that goal.

Swap the four pilot controlled gimbaled size four weapons with the manned turret weapons. This gives the pilot four size fours and the turrets, collectively, four size-four guns; thus making the turrets more relevant. This EXACT weapon loadout is already used on the caterpillar, but the pilot has missiles to call upon as well.

In a perfect world, I would like to see the merlin outright removed and replaced with either a secondary cargo or vehicle bay. I want to keep the flexibility that the Ursa and cargo area provide but it would be nice if we can have our cake and eat it too, even if it’s a tiny cake. Give the players more options, and they will thank you for it. We already know that this is being tested for the Taurus as it already removes the Merlin so there is a minimal amount of work it would take to make this possible.

Improve the bottom turret. The bottom turret at a minimum needs to flip around like the Retaliator’s bottom turrets so that the gunner doesn’t spend all their time looking at the underbelly of the Constellation. Not having weapons that can depress ninety degrees downward only makes their experience even worse.
Thanks for reading everyone. Stay tuned for the next piece of Retro Future as we cover the Gladiator.

Paladin-Dietrich

About the Author:

Recreational pilot, amateur lover of history, and admirer of Star Citizen. When not in Star Citizen, looking for a good fight, I enjoy sharing my perspective on the game for TGWS. But mostly just a guy who wants to make the game just a tiny bit better for the best damn community I've ever been a part of.

1 comment

  1. Amontillado

    I agree that the Connie lacks in multiplayer game play. I still hope that’s going to change as the development of Star Citizen progresses. Some improvements could be:

    1. Better turret effectiveness. To my mind, a manned turret should be at least as leathal as the forward facing, pilot controlled guns. A fighter facing a ship with turrets should feel as if they have very little space to hide. A pilot with the majority of his or firepower facing forward will most often try to bring those forward facing guns to bear, forcing turret players to just hunt for their small windows of opportunity. Instead a pilot should feel confident in allowing the ship’s turrets to do their work.

    2. Co-Pilots. Star Citizen to date does not have any. At one point the Freelancer had dual yokes in it’s cockpit. One for the Pilot and one for the Co-Pilot. That was taken away a long time ago. It should come back and that functionality should be extended to other ships as well. In the even the pilot is incapacitated, the co-pilot needs to be able to take over the flight controls of the ship. Expecting a seat transfer is not adequate.
    Most of the time, while the co-pilot is not flying the ship, they should be performing support functions not otherwise being handled by other crew. In particular, I think missile locks, and countermeasures should be part of the co-pilot’s role by default.

    3. Repair/Engineering. I expect that when repair and engineering mechanics are fully implemented, there will be a very large difference in multiplayer ship game play, particularly in combat. This applies to the Connie as much as any other multiplayer ship. Once being hit by weapons fire results in systems being damaged instead of a health pool dropping, the time to disable a mutliplayer ship that has active and effective damage control should rise dramatically. This could and should be very important and fulfilling game play for non pilot crew.

    4. Clearly defined mechanics. Once all of the ship system gameplay mechanics are in place, the various aspects of controlling a ship, particularly in combat, need clear instructions that players can understand. HOW does a player put in charge of shields manage them? How does a scanner operator get the information the ship needs? These should not be an interface thrown onto a screen with no instructions. Players should not have to figure this stuff out, but instead have a clear idea of what they are doing and how it affects the ship that they are on. When these things are understood and all working together, being assigned a role can feel like a worthwhile experience. If you’re just mashing buttons and you don’t know if you actually helped or not, you’re more likely to feel useless.

    To wrap up, I think multiplayer crewing still has LOTS of room for improvement. I think that improvement is coming, and that the Connie will greatly benefit from it. The answer to making it a viable ship for a solo player lies in the hiring of an AI crew. The Connie should NOT be close to it’s potential with only one character aboard it.

    Cheers,

    Amontillado

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