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Star Citizen's Realistic Flight Explained

A post to the Roberts Space Industries website from Chris Roberts discusses the flight model and input controls in Star Citizen, now that backers have had the chance to experience some test flights. He explains why they chose the level of real-world fidelity they did:

We model what would be needed on an actual spaceship, including correct application of thrust at the places where the thrusters are attached to the hull of the ship Ė in our model moment of inertia, mass changes and counter thrust are VERY necessary. Star Citizenís physical simulation of spaceflight is based on what would actually happen in space.

There were a couple of reasons why we went this direction Ė

1. Because we were planning on modeling and simulating spaceships with a fidelity that hadnít been seen before I felt we needed a simulation that would let the player have different flight behavior if a thruster is damaged, a wing is blown off or a pilot overloads his ship with weapons and ammunition? I wanted a system that could feel distinct for a huge variety of ships, with wildly different sizes and roles because in Star Citizen you can go from a single seater ship 15 meters in length to a huge capital ship over 1km in size crewed by many players. I wanted these ships to come with their own identity and feel much like similar sized cars, even if equivalent in mass can feel radically different. I wanted ships to have their own personality Ė not just a slower of faster version of the base ship.

2. The second is that Star Citizen will have a significant amount of player vs. player combat. I donít know how many people played Wing Commander Armada (the first Wing Commander game to feature multiplayer) but it wasnít that much fun in battle mode (the head to head mode). When you design a single player game you can deliberately dumb down the AI to allow the player to get on the tail and shoot down multiple enemies, which gives the player a sense of achievement. Thereís nothing more fun than single handily clearing a wave of 10 enemy Kilrathi fighters. But letís be honest, in single player games the ability for the player to gun down waves of enemies has less to do with the skill of the player because the player is usually overpowered in respect to the base enemies he will fight. You canít do this in player vs player, and itís likely that multiple players will have the same ship. Without a sophisticated simulation and flight model, with lots of options for a pilot to fluidly try different tactics to get the upper hand the battles can end up as a frustrating stalemate when both pilots have the same ship as no one can get on the otherís tail because you donít have the same forces that affect air combat (namely gravity and air resistance) to bleed energy from the maneuvers.

These reasons are why we went out of our way to fully simulate the physics that would involve controlling and moving a ship in space with no short cuts.

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