Anyone who’s paid attention to the cycle of games announcements and releases has probably noticed a few cases of games with protracted development processes. Titles like Spore, Team Fortress 2, Too Human, and Prey  have had famously lengthy development processes, and the infamous Duke Nukem Forever took 15 years to reach players’ hands. In some of these cases, the end game turns out to have been worth the wait, but more often than not there’s at least some disappointment in the end product. Perhaps as a result of being crushed under their own hype, with years of anticipation culminating in so much baggage to overcome.
For Squadron 42, time has been marching on steadily since it’s original announcement. First unveiled back in 2012, as a component of the Star Citizen Kickstarter campaign, it was pitched as “A Wing Commander style single-player mode”, due to be delivered to backers on November 2014. Six years later, there’s still no word of a release.
Billed as a spiritual successor to classic space shooters like Wing Commander or Privateer, Squadron 42 is a single-player, story-based game set in the same universe as the massively multiplayer space sim Star Citizen. Pitched as a handcrafted narrative blending on foot gameplay with space battles, it was a great way to bring in players with nostalgia for some of those classic games. Its development has largely been shrouded in mystery, with often years between any real updates on its progress.
There has been some news that has trickled out over the years, including the impressive Hollywood voice cast including Gary Oldman, Mark Hamill, Gillian Anderson, Mark Strong, Andy Serkis, and Ben Mendelsohn. We also know that the game will be scored by Geoff Zanelli (The Pacific, Pirates of the Caribbean). But aside from that concrete details on an actual release date have not been especially forthcoming. We got a vertical slice gameplay demo back in 2018, going in-depth on how the game will look and play, but we still don’t know when it’s actually going to release.
People who paid for this game all the way back in 2012, or who have paid for a copy since then, are perhaps reasonably starting to get a little irate, with repeated delays and extended periods of silence on this game, pressure has been mounting for some kind of development update, and hopefully perhaps even a release date. There are various different playable builds of Star Citizen that have been made available to backers in the time since the Kickstarter campaign completed. Star Citizen is also not a completed game yet, but at least there have been clear signs of development progress.
It’s across this backdrop that Cloud Imperium Games have announced that they are preparing to announce a roadmap which will hopefully culminate in a release date for Squadron 42. That’s quite a few caveats, and teasing out the exact meaning behind this news is perhaps tricky business.
Their latest update, explaining why they haven’t been offering sufficient updates in the past, kind of feels like “Sorry the dog ate my development update”, with a mix of excuses and deflections. It culminates with the following four-stage roadmap:
Give an explanation of the goals of our new Roadmap and what to expect from it
Show a rough mockup of the proposed new Roadmap
Share a work in progress version of the Roadmap for at least one of our core teams
And then finally transition to this new Roadmap
Each of these steps will take “a few weeks”, so exact timing could be anywhere between a month or two, to over a year. How many is “a few”?
You don’t really want to ascribe any bad faith to these delays and communications failures, but when they literally have a section on their website dedicated to proudly displaying that they’ve received over $300 million in crowdfunding, largely based on the promises that they have made about how these projects would play out, it raises a few eyebrows.
If the game comes out, and it a well-received successful product, I’m sure these issues leading up to its release will be largely forgiven and forgotten, but for now, at least, paying customers are starting to get frustrated, and it’s perhaps time to start delivering on promises made a long time ago.
A lot of criticism could perhaps be addressed if they were to accept their failure to deliver on the promises for Squadron 42 if they were to perhaps offer refunds to disgruntled backers, but that is not something that is currently being offered or even discussed. They have backers money now, and without any kind of legal intervention, they can’t be forced to return it.