The Social Module allows you to select from any of half a dozen character configurations and explore the first of many planetary landing zones – ArcCorp’s Area 18 – with up to 24 other players. You can communicate with other players via a chat system, and express yourself via a variety of different emotes. An augmented reality display system allows you to view additional information about various objects in the environment, including the names of other players. A number of retail shops can be inspected, although they’re not yet open for business.
There are three primary reasons for the existence of the Social Module. First and foremost, we wanted to open up a bit more of the Star Citizen universe to the community, and allow people to get a sense as to what some of the various cities you’ll be able to visit will look like. We also wanted to allow people to be able to gather together within the actual game and engage in real-time discussions – associating animating characters with speakers – rather than having to predominantly rely upon the message forums and the web chat, which equates to a far less personal experience.
The second major objective of the Social Module is to serve as a testing ground for a multitude of fundamental technologies. We’ll be gathering detailed information on a number of different fronts based upon what we see and using that to improve the game. The networking back-end, in particular, has advanced tremendously since the beginning of the year, and stress testing it now requires fairly large numbers of concurrent players. While we’re only exposing a small amount of actual functionality with this release, what’s going on behind the scenes is far more complex. An intricate dance of network services and systems controls everything from the way that new servers are spun up, registered, and told how to configure themselves. GIM – the Generic Instance Manager – and a host of related programs have been designed to support large numbers of simultaneous players, and determine everything from the server to which you’ll be routed to how chat messages are efficiently propagated. There have also been dramatic improvements to what I refer to as the low-latency network functionality – the code that is responsible for how efficiently information is passed between clients and the server, and which is one of the primary determinants with regard to how many players and NPCs we’ll be able to put onto a given server. Whereas only a couple of months ago fifteen players would absolutely bottleneck a server, the network is now a complete non-issue with twenty-five. Improved animation blending, interpolation, and prediction now renders characters far more smoothly, even on busy servers. All of these features have been tested internally and refined, but we’re now at the point where we need to see how things perform when exposed to a much larger audience. The really exciting thing in this area, though, is that there are still a number of major network performance optimizations in the works, such as event-based animation synchronization and more advanced dead reckoning. Needless to say we’ll be needing your help to test ever larger player counts in the not-too-distant future.
The last major reason for the existence of the Social Module is the most important with regard to the future. It’s intended to serve as the basic foundation upon which new pieces of the Persistent Universe will be periodically unveiled.