It isn't every day that you have an opportunity to speak to someone who single-handedly changed an industry.
On Monday, I had the opportunity to talk to Chris Roberts, the developer of the groundbreaking Wing Commander series of games. Roberts is now kicking off another extremely ambitious project: Star Citizen.
Star Citizen, with its immense scale, first-person perspective, and eye-popping graphics, promises to be everything that the Wing Commander series was, and much more. Back in the early 1990s, Roberts was one of the pioneers of the Space Combat Simulator genre, and his concept of an ‘interactive movie' – where every action a player took somehow influenced the overarching story -- would change gaming forever.
He combined state-of-the art visuals with a compelling story and musical score to create an enduring story that has worked its' way into the annals of classic science fiction.
Roberts turned out to be extremely gracious and generous with his time. I asked him what he had been up to for the past 10 years. He replied that he had become interested in film production, and had worked on Lord of War and several other titles over the course of several years.
And after so many years of making games, he said, I finally got a chance to play some of them. But he never took his eyes off of the gaming industry. In early 2011, he began to prototype what is now Star Citizen.
I started to feel like I wanted to make another game, he said, and when I feel that way, that's what I have to do. Roberts said that it was great to be able to work without a strict development schedule, and reflected that he was happy to be personally involved in the nuts and bolts aspect of the game. It was really great to be able to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty with programming again.
Roberts decided to break with the traditional publishing and distribution models, with their corporate controls, and instead chose to crowdfund the game. He asked fans if they would contribute money to develop a game, hoping to raise $2 million, at which point investors would be willing to fund the rest. The response he received was overwhelming. He raised nearly $7 million from almost 100,000 people.
I'm incredibly thankful to the fans, he said. They care about the game, and the genre, and having their feedback on the project has been rewarding in a way I never expected. Fans had the opportunity to contribute anywhere from $5 to $10,000 or more, and many gave more than $1,000.
Referring to the gaming experience he was trying to create, Roberts said, At the end of the day, I want people to say that it was worth it.
Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. Email him at email@example.com.