Behold the mystery hallway of Chris Roberts' "Cloud Imperium" project

If you read this blog, chances are good that you know Chris Roberts’ name. As the creator of the much loved Wing Commander series as well as Strike Commander, StarLancer, and Freelancer, Roberts was once the Don of video game design and storytelling. He elevated the video game to a truly cinematic experience complete with branching story lines and eventually full motion video cut scenes. When Bioshock was even less than a glimmer in the eyes of System Shock, Roberts mastered building true consequences into his games. Then he just faded away, leaving the space sim genre without its finest consigliere for much of the twenty-first century.

Well, not so much faded away as changed careers. About ten years ago, Roberts stepped back from his role at Digital Anvil, the very game studio he created in 1996, to work on film production in Hollywood. In his own words, Roberts had “become frustrated with the limits of the technology at the time…” Now it seems that he is ready to emerge with a new project. In a statement released on his faux-password protected website robertsspaceindustries.com, Roberts has begun teasing out the details of his new labour.

I’m here to tell you that I have been working on something for just under a year, something that embraces everything that my past games stood for but takes it to the next level.

I hope you’ll be as excited by it as I am.

My new endeavor is still in its early stages but I invite you to take the journey with me.

If you register below you’ll become an insider that will not only give you early access to the game’s website and forums, but you will also get the opportunity for rewards and privileges that no one else will get. It’s my way of showing how important your early involvement and support is.

The full announcement will be at 10am Eastern Standard Time (UTC -5) on the 10th day of the 10th month of this year.

My name is Chris Roberts.

And if you would indulge me I would like to create a world for you.

So what sort of world should we expect? In all likelihood a space combat simulator, or possibly a space/ground flight hybrid.

Roberts’ sign off “I would like to create a world for you” is a derivation of the old Origin Systems tagline, “We create worlds.” For those who don’t know, Roberts was in Origin’s employ when he created Wing Commander and its contemporary flight-sim companion piece Strike Commander.

A poll found on the RSI website asks, “Do you use cockpits?” which, again, strongly hints at the nature of the game Roberts has in mind.

The “Time Capsule” section of the RSI website presents a piece of fiction presumably meant to give the back-story of Roberts’ new game. Therein the year is 2075 and Doctor Scott Childress has completed work on “the first self-sustaining quantum drive engine, capable of achieving 1/100th the speed of light.” The story goes on to frame this discovery as something which will allow for meaningful exploration of the solar system.

If Roberts is working within his own existing mythos, and not something completely new, then chances are pretty good that this game will have more in common with StarLancer than it will Wing Commander. It may even be a chapter within the StarLancer universe itself; as StarLancer was set in the year 2160 and saw two rival supra-nations on Earth competing for colonial holdings within the Sol system. While Freelancer was an apt spiritual successor to StarLancer, it offered no player controlled resolution to the aforementioned war between the Western Alliance and the Eastern Coalition. Therefore this game could be something intended to fill said long dormant demand. But given Roberts prolonged absence from the gaming world, I’m inclined to believe his return would be with something more grandiose than a sequel. My best case scenario would be a game offering the air/space combat of Battlecruiser with the trade and combat mechanics of Wing Commander: Privateer while set in a world similar to StarLancer.

Anybody with the wisdom to know the answer to the ultimate question can gain access to the RSI website and register for updates on the game, access to forums, free access to “a very special equipment package” limited to “golden ticket” holders upon the game’s release, and, potentially, beta access when that time comes.

The golden ticket itself quotes a 24 month development cycle. No word on if this timeline includes the year Roberts has already worked on the game. Either way, if Roberts is mobilizing his fan base this early on, then he must have something quite ambitious up his sleeve.