Star Citizen will undergo some significant and fundamental changes as part of the upcoming alpha 2.0 release, which will incorporate three new flight modes, Quantum Travel, and the move to a "third order motion control system," which we can all nod sagely and agree is probably a good thing.
The "flashiest" feature in alpha 2.0 are the new flight modes, which will selectively modify ship behaviors in order to better suit particular situations. For instance, ships will launch in Precision mode, which reduces top speed and scales back acceleration in exchange for finer and easier maneuvering, while Cruise mode is the exact opposite: "Velocity at the expense of control," as Cloud Imperium Games explained in yesterday's update. The third mode, SCM [Space Combat Maneuvering] appears quite similar to the current Arena Commander flight model, but now calculates maximum velocity dynamically as a function of force and mass in order to optimize each ship's performance in a fight.
Quantum Travel sounds similar to Cruise mode, but functions separately through the Quantum Drive, which enables long-distance travel over relatively short time periods. The limitations of the Quantum Drive mean that any ship equipped with one can achieve the same maximum velocity of 0.2c—that's one-fifth the speed of light—but some will take longer to get there than others.
"At these speeds, tiny variations in angle will result in massively different flight paths, so this is where slower ships will have the chance to escape a faster ship accosting them," CIG explained. "Of course, traveling at these incredible speeds is quite dangerous, so the ship computer will automatically pull you out of Quantum Travel if the possibility of collision is detected or the ship has any downed shields."
Alpha 2.0 will introduce a number of other changes, features, and bug fixes, and the breakdown gets pretty technical in places. There are even graphs, with titles like "Capped Exponentially Damped Motion" and "Ideal 3rd Order Velocity." It's clearly a big step—thrust shunting, for instance, "opens up new opportunities for damaging ship flight behaviors"—and while I wondered at first if people might be put off by the intense focus on these kind of details while the game itself continues to languish in its first alpha release, the response in the comments seems almost universally positive.
There's no launch date for the alpha 2.0 release just yet. There is, however, a 16-minute video featuring game designer Pete Mackay and physics programmer John Pritchett talking a bit more about what's coming, which you may enjoy below.