By Michael Varrati
Long held as the final frontier of exploration for sci-fi fans and dreamers alike, the opportunity to travel the cosmos has become a little easier thanks to the digital realm. For fans of the competition web series “The Next Great Starship,” it’s a well-known fact that a quick jaunt across the stars is as easy as conceptualizing and building your own spacecraft.
Wait. You mean that doesn’t sound easy? That’s why it’s a competition, and those who came to “The Next Great Starship” came to win.
Developed by Chris Roberts (gaming impresario and creator of the iconic “Wing Commander” series), “The Next Great Starship” allowed teams to compete to have their starship featured in the upcoming CIG release “Star Citizen.” Contestants from all over the world (Norway, Canada, Germany, to name a few), came together to conceptualize, model, and execute digital designs to wow a panel of judges, and ultimately the web community, in a grueling battle of skill and savvy.
While the competition required extraordinary talent, teamwork, and understanding to deliver the designs to a harsh deadline, judge Mark Skelton maintains that it served the dual purpose of good viewing material, but also inspiration for those at home.
“There are kids watching on YouTube or wherever, and it’s cool that they can see this and realize: I can make a starship. It’s not impossible,” Skelton says about inspiring the next generation of game designers.
…and inspire, they did. Over the course of the show’s four-month run, viewers were treated to a vast array of designs, critiques, and styles brought by the various teams competing for the coveted position in “Star Citizen.” After a long battle, two teams, The Four Horseman and Shard Collective, were left standing. Traveling from various points across the globe, the final competitors arrived at YouTube Space LA this past Saturday for a live event that would serve as their final showdown. With an in-studio audience gathered, Chris Roberts shared that, while the teams would hear one final judges’ critique, the ultimate choice was in the hands of the viewers. For a show that has always been driven by success in the digital space by social media, it was a particularly apt way to end things.
After showcasing the highlights of the season and an in-depth discussion of the designs of the top two, The Four Horseman were ultimately declared the winner. In addition to being assured a spot in the game, The Four Horseman also won $30,000 and a high-end PC for each team member.
However, lest anyone think there may be hard feelings from those who didn’t take top prize, it was nothing but celebration and praise from both teams after the credits rolled. The team members intermingled and openly gushed about the others’ work, and the gathered audience cheered to hear that the competitors were just as big fans of one another as the viewers at home.
Significantly, this camaraderie is likely born out of the fact that there’s never quite been a competition like this before. More than just a race to design the best starship, the show also served as a platform to shine a spotlight on the world of gaming in a new way. The design aspect is often an arduous, behind-the-scenes process that rarely gets shared with the layperson (i.e. the at-home gamer), and it was exciting for viewers to see, let alone become passion about, the art as it was being created.
It’s a fact of which Chris Roberts is very aware, and knows how enthusiastic viewers were about their favorite designs. While The Four Horseman won the day, Roberts assured that he’s been listening closely to the tide of social media, and that those who didn’t finish first won’t be forgotten.
“Four Horsemen is definitely going to be in it,” Roberts says. “But I’ll probably do a community vote to see if they want more. Some of the other teams, they didn’t meet the deadlines, but if you look at the work, you know that in another week it would have been awesome. So, I will leave that up to the community…but I would not be upset if more ships made it into the game. We’ll see. It’s not confirmed yet, but it’s likely to happen.”
In referring to the deadline, Roberts brings up a concern held by many viewers. Some felt that the timelines were a little tough for the artists attempting to maximize their design. Roberts and the judges certainly agree that the timeline for artistry and the timeline for show production aren’t always cohesive, but maintains that any attempt to allow extra time would be a detriment to the show and viewership.
“One of the challenges of doing this whole set-up…unlike ‘American Idol,’ where you come, belt out a song, and have results in 2–3 minutes…modeling, concepting, and everything, it’s not conducive to real-time viewing,” he says. “The real challenge was ‘how do we do all that, and still have a show people will watch every week?’ I think we did an alright job of it, the way we did it.”
The data supports Roberts’ comment. According to Tubular Labs, “The Next Great Starship” earned more than 1.3 million views across its first 15 episodes and supplementary content. That’s even more impressive when you consider that episodes regularly cleared the 40-minute mark.
But maybe more importantly than the viewership “The Next Great Starship” generated, the success of the show — and of the Four Horsemen — was one that hopefully inspires the next generation of gamers at home to dream big, chase their dreams, and reach for the stars.