Star Citizen's VR future is still in question

Star Citizen, everyone's favorite Kickstarted space exploration simulator, is coming under fire for the current status of their VR adaptation of the title. Which, according to their senior graphics programmer Ben Parry, is a much more difficult task then the company predicted.

“Do Not Hold Your Breath”

Star Citizen famously blew up all over the crowdfunding scene way back in 2012 when their dreams of creating one of the most detailed and nuanced sci-fi action titles blew away expectations with an overwhelming level of monetary support. Since then, they've come a long way from the demos and proof-of-concept videos displayed on that humble crowdfunding page, but the $12 million stretch goal to adapt the game to modern virtual reality headsets is still on the to-do list.

Normally that wouldn't be surprising, with a project as large as Star Citizen there are a lot of things on the to-do list and some are more important than others. Yet fans of VR were hopeful when, at the end of 2015, Lead Designer of Cloud Imperium Games mentioned that they were planning on refocusing efforts to continue to push the VR elements of the title in early 2016.

Now, over a year later, we've yet to see any significant VR progress from the title, a disappointing fact for fans of Star Citizen and virtual reality alike. Considering the massive potential Star Citizen holds as a high-end virtual experience, the VR community has been drooling over CIG's promise for years.

Unfortunately, according to Parry, fans shouldn't expect to see anything in the near future. In response to a question regarding some recent work CIG implemented on Star Citizen's Amazon Lumber engine, and whether that would make it easier to adapt the game to VR, Parry responded in a way that made many doubt if VR was still even in the cards.

Parry stated, “Sorry to say, do not hold your breath for this. Ignoring the render tech for VR itself (which given the work we've done, would definitely be a read-and-rewrite job, not a merge-this-file job), making a game properly VR-compliant takes a lot of work at the design and testing level regardless of the engine used. We'd probably need to get the framerate up a bit higher too, come to think of it.”

The comment set flint to tinder and started a bit of a bonfire over whether fans would ever get to step into Star Citizen in a VR landscape altogether.

Considering the passion that fans within the community have for the title, it's not surprising that Parry's comment kicked off a bit of a controversy. If the game needs a major engine overhaul to support VR, we could be looking at a significantly long time before we see the title ported over to major headsets on the market.

Furthermore, as Parry mentioned, if Star Citizen wants to keep the VR experience comfortable, CIG will need to optimize the game to the point that it can hit VR's 90FPS butterzone. Unfortunately, Star Citizen's ambitious and often gorgeous visuals don't lend themselves well to terribly high framerates on even high-end rigs.

Not All VR Hope Is Lost

Of course, that doesn't mean all hope is lost, and after the wildfire blew into CIG’s orbit Parry took the time to clarify in a Reddit thread by stating,

“Hi, I should probably let this lie, but I wanted to clarify that "If at all" was definitely NOT what I was getting at. I was answering a simple "does X mean we get Y" type question, from a tech perspective, and the answer is "no it doesn't, because that's not the main hurdle". I didn't in any way intend to suggest it had been removed from the plan.” He went on to say, “Sorry, this is really not the meaning I intended. I should probably just let this lie, but I want to be clear I was NOT saying it's off the table.”

So it would seem that Star Citizen VR is far from dead, but it does sound like it's on the back burner because of the technical investment required to adapt the engine to the program and to make the whole thing run smoothly enough to keep even the sturdiest of VR fans from choking on their CIG-certified freeze dried ice cream. 

That is certainly disappointing news for fans anxious to get their hands on a VR-compatible Star Citizen experience, but understandable considering how many projects CIG has on their plate. We wouldn't be surprised to see them wait until after the main game is fully released before they start seriously looking at VR content. Although you might think they would refocus on the idea, considering Elite Dangerous' undeniable lead in a race that CIG doesn't even seem interested in starting.

Of course, considering a VR Star Citizen would feature everything from in-cockpit style space battles to storming a star cruiser in a first-person shooter-style arena, it's a pretty good size project for any studio. Add in the fact that many of these elements also involve gravity fluctuations and various whiplash inspiring space maneuvers, and it starts to become a unique challenge for even a studio as well funded as CIG.

So, even though VR is far from off the table, Parry's original statement holds true. “Don't hold your breath,” because it's going to be a while.