Star Citizen – and its SP counterpart, Squadron 42 – has been in development for five years. The game is powered by CRYENGINE and is among the most ambitious projects we’ve ever seen. However, the game appears to be nowhere near to completion. Not only that, but Cloud Imperium had to rewrite entire whole sections of the engine so that it could support the specific needs of Star Citizen. Still, Chris Roberts defended CRYENGINE, claiming that these changes had to be made, and that things would not have been better if the team chose Unreal Engine 4 or Unity.
As Roberts told Kotaku, the reason Cloud Imperium decided to use CRYENGINE – instead of Unreal Engine 4 – was because CRYENGINE was a more mature engine back then:
“I was judging both and playing with both of them and ultimately decided on CryEngine because Unreal 4 back then was very early. It had all sorts of power and flexibility, and it’s used a lot – but at that point, they were still refactoring even fundamental systems. It still had time to mature and the CryEngine was just a bit more mature.”
As said, though, a lot sections of the engine had to be rewritten. For example, Roberts wanted the game to feature the same quality of animations in both first-person and third-person perspectives. He also wanted the engine to offer the ability to switch between first-person and third-person modes at will. The team also had to move CRYENGINE from 32-bit calculations to 64-bit.
“There isn’t an engine that can do what we’re doing. If there was then we’d have licensed it. We had to refactor it to scale. […] You can have millions of kilometres you can travel. Draw distances are hundreds of thousands of kilometres. You can’t do that in a 32-bit engine. It doesn’t matter if you’re using Unreal or CryEngine or Unity. We would always have had to do that refactoring. Yes, you can get into CryEngine and do things simply and you can do the same in Unreal and Unity, but it won’t work for what we need at all.”
Roberts concluded that he does not regret his decision to use CRYENGINE in Star Citizen.
“I don’t believe that if we’d picked Unreal 4 that we’d be in any better a position. I can see how [adapting the engine from 32-bit to 64-bit] would be frustrating for some people, but I don’t look back and say ‘I wish I’d gone with Unreal’. We would have had this no matter what. People in the industry, even internally here, our designers and artists aren’t technically [informed]… they just know their tools.
I think it’s easy for people to scapegoat CryEngine, or any other engine choice. If we were doing a simple FPS shooter, we wouldn’t have had the same issues or challenges, but we aren’t doing that, and we didn’t raise the money that we raised because we were doing something simple. We raised it because we wanted to push the boundaries.”