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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Star Citizen now has a city in the clouds

No. I don't have a landing permit.

Star Citizen just launched its alpha 3.14 update, which adds a city in the clouds to the space sim.

The Orison landing zone is set on the Crusader gas giant, and includes a spaceport, a peace garden and other amenities befitting a sci-fi tourist destination. The trailer is below:

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Crusader makes use of the initial implementation of Star Citizen's Planetary Volumetric Clouds tech. The idea is to render multi-layered, volumetric clouds of varying scale within planetary atmospheres. Developer Cloud Imperium Games said this tech will be expanded in the future to add further detail to existing planets in the game.

Elsewhere, alpha 3.14 adds a new dynamic event, improved power management, radar, scanning and ping, a missile guidance and control rework, a new ship HUD, and a new ship, the RSI Constellation Taurus, which costs £153.60. Really. As is the way with Star Citizen's virtual spaceships, the Taurus has its own flashy in-universe ad:

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As you'd expect, revenue spiked when alpha 3.14 launched yesterday, according to CIG's own revenue tracker, to $169,629 for 6th August.

Star Citizen's long and controversial development is well-documented. As the title of this latest update suggests, it's still in alpha stage. In March, the game shot through the $350m raised mark from over three million customers.

Over eight years after its initial crowdfunding effort began, Star Citizen is still without a release date, although parts of the game have been released in early access form. Squadron 42, the single-player portion of the game, is still in development but does not have a release date.

Chief developer Chris Roberts has come under fire for years now for failing to release the game, or provide a target release date. CIG makes money by selling starter packs, subscriptions and virtual space ships - some of which cannot currently be piloted in-game. CIG insists money pledged goes directly to support development. In May, Star Citizen raked in $13,453,609.

Alpha 3.16, which is tentatively set for Q4 2021, will improve Orison with more shops and expanded services around the city, CIG has indicated. The development roadmap extends to Q1 2022, when alpha 3.17 is meant to release. There are currently no target release windows beyond that.