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Monthly Report May/June | Planetary Environments & AI Population

Welcome to some more Star Citizen with a Monthly Report Summary for May/June 2018. We will be going over what the various studios F42, CIG & Turbulent have been working on for both SQ42 & Star Citizen and what they are working on currently.
In a slightly new format. I am merging what the studios have been up to together so it makes more sense for a summary.

Mining

  • They worked on Scanning & Pinging to search for asteroids and minerals for the mining feature
  • Mining required the expansion of the ship damage-map system to work on new types of assets. As well as visual for cracking rocks.
  • At the same time they’ve fixed some long-standing bugs that should lead to improved texture details.
  • Also there is an addition for the Prospector of actually making it functional for mining, with it’s boom arm.
  • There’s a primary mining beam which heats up and fractures the rock. There are also effects that play on the surface of the rock to show it being cracked apart. After the rock is destroyed, an explosion effect is parameterized based on how well you did; if you add too much power, you get a much larger explosion than a successful operation. After you break the rock, a secondary extraction mode uses a tractor beam to collect the minerals into your cargo hold.

Characters, Animation & Clothing

  • The upcoming Mission Givers for PU outfits have made tremendous progress, as have the clothing collections for both Olisar and Hurston. The updated flight suit continues to be developed, and R&D on the pipeline for delivering character heads (including realistic hair for all characters) also received attention.
  • With the animations of Battaglia and Klim added, focus has shifted to a pair of new mission givers. The team is also building out the Bartender character, with the goal of instilling a level of life and dynamic activity fitting of a real, hard-working mixologist.
  • They have been working on getting the Vanduul fully functional and ready for motion capture.
  • The Ship Animation Team continued adding a modular system for entering and exiting seats and turrets.Breaking up the existing animations into sequences, the character can use any of the enter/exit templates to interact with any cockpit type. For example, there can now be an animation that uses the Aegis Gladius enter animation, but then has the player grab a dual-stick control scheme.They can now use thousands of different combinations, granting more flexibility when creating new ships.
  • Tech art have the underlying tech for facial/head customization working as intended now.
  • They are working to have good looking deformation algorithms, to reduce clipping.
  • Engineering have been working on the pickup-and-carry of items, merging 1700 animations into under 100.
  • They’ve also been developing new animation time-warping technology using player knockdowns as their test case. The new method calculates the time needed and stretches a single animation to fill it rather than using a looping animation. It can be applied to other actions like jumping too.
  • They also worked on improving the looting system and added assets to improve the general look and feel of picking up objects, boxes, and items in Squadron 42 and the Persistent Universe. Work also continued on the weapon recoil improvements.
  • Player locomotion sets have been updated to work with an entity-driven system to ensure that client and server animations are exactly the same. The team also made tweaks to some of the poses to allow for better blending between animations and minimize foot sliding.

Environment

  • They have written procedural text for new PU mission types, created posters, props & helped further define locations like Loreville on Hurston.
  • The Environment Art Team continued their push on Hurston, and the second group of ecosystems had their first pass completed. One of the newest ecosystems is the Wasteland Biome, which was first shown during CitizenCon 2017 and will cover a large part of the surface of Hurston. The team took the time to properly update the Wasteland biome to take advantage of the newest planet tech completed this year. The second biome that received proper attention this month was the Strip Mining ecosystem, which too can be found around Hurston. Lorville is also moving forward, with the artists spending their time focusing on the various areas the player will be able to visit, refining the shapes and architecture, adding materials, lights, and assets to further bring these areas to life.
  • They’ve worked on the lighting for Loreville, Hangars & Rest Stops and are experimenting with placement.
  • They spent a large amount of time working on the use procedural technology for layouts. They’re currently looking into customizing the various entry points into Lorville, as well as adding content for the immediate areas around the city. Also they are revisiting Area18 to revamp and fully integrate it into the universe, taking advantage of the new procedural tools in place.
  • Common Element Utilitarian Hangars had their final art pass. There are lots of assets to get up to final quality, but when complete, the hangars will be considered finished from an Environment Art perspective.  
  • Multi-resolution gas cloud work is complete, making it possible to combine several gas clouds together at different resolutions and scales. Memory, however, is still the limiting factor & they are working on solutions.
  • Foundations of the new multilayer shader system are finished and focus has shifted to adding visual features to the shaders. The first being a new clear coat shading model to achieve convincing paint and anodized metals – both important for high-tech materials. The next is a texture mode called height-variance blending which allows for realistic blending of natural materials (e.g. rock/sand/grass).

AI & Missions

  • They added mechanics for NPCs to use grenades to flush their opponents out of cover if they remain stationary for too long. Also, more work was done on improving the way the NPCs react to incoming grenades – they now use a navmesh to determine where they can safely escape to. Combat ships now know how to fight as proper gunships and not just fighters. For example, if a ship with numerous turrets engages you, it may fly around while its turrets track you down, as opposed to flying directly at you.
  • They tackled the implementation pass for the trained combat set of FPS AI combatants. This included enter and exits from cover as well as combat actions like peeks, reloads & blindfire. A previs pass on the untrained combat set was also completed this month. The team took raw motion capture to compare it to the trained set, so combatants would feel distinct and stay true to their character.
  • Players will have a much more unique experience when fighting Vanduul, they fly very differently to human NPCs. They are approaching full production for the Vanduul enemies.
  • General population NPCs are also being experimented with as the team tests small, almost cinematic that the player can experience as they walk around major landing zones
  • Subsumption Missions can now define Event Callbacks: missions can receive and send Subsumption events and logic can be written to be executed in association with specific events as described by designers, this helps in the creation of more modular missions.
  • They also extended the functionality of supporting multiple Mission Objectives for each Mission module.
  • The Social AI Team has got a test setup of a ‘usable’ now fully working with the new channels in Subsumption. A ‘use channel’ describes what you can do in a particular ‘usable’
  • For example, assuming there is a usable bed that might expose the following use channels: ‘Sleep’, ‘Rest’, ‘WatchTV’, ‘SitOnBed’. When an NPC uses a ‘use channel’, it will effectively use some logic written by the designers in a similar way to Subsumption functions: this allows a more modular definition of the actions allowed when interacting with a usable maintaining the context of the behavior that is currently running.
  • For Ship AI, take-offs and landings have gone through a small refactor to allow AI behaviors to utilize designer placed splines to be more robust and deliver a more cinematic effect.

Ships & Vehicles

  • The Anvil Hurricane completed its flight prep pass.
  • The Art team have completed their pass on the Mustang Alpha and are now working on it’s variants.
  • The RSI Constellation Phoenix is now in their high poly phases. They have also modeled the Constellation Emerald, to accommodate the Emerald’s paint job, UV revisions of the original Constellation were required.
  • The Anvil F8 Lightning has just finished it’s high poly modeling phase and is being made flight ready. The internal damage has been completed and work on LODs are next. Then they will concentrate on the last polish and efficiency pass before creating marketing material for the ship reveal.
  • The Vanduul Blade has undergone a rework; mainly around the wings so that it can better accommodate weapons after it was decided the underslung position looked too ‘human’ and needed to be more aligned with the Vanduul aesthetic.
  • The Eclipse Stealth Bomber, 600i – Explorer, Vanduul Blade, Avenger & it’s Variants are all being finished for 3.2.
  • The Vehicle Team has implemented the ability to under and overpower ship components, and hooked it into the vehicle’s MFD UI. For example, when you underpower your weapons, they fire slower or the projectiles have less energy. Similarly, your shields will be more effective if they have more power.
  • They have also been making improvements to turrets both coming in 3.2 AND have implemented cameras on remote turrets that can be controlled by players, allowing them to focus their turret target on a ship to see its relevant status.

Dev & Core Tech Improvements

  • They’ve worked a good amount on Object Container Streaming including
  • adjusting the AI components with the new API to allow a safer construction in different threads
  • Making the 3DEngine loading code thread safe, allowing them to load large parts of our game world in the background. They made several improvements to the shader build pipeline and infrastructure code, started work on the vertex animation processing refactor and optimization (moving it to the GPU), and continued work on the telemetry system, amongst numerous other things.
  • One long term task that was completed was the refactoring of the Entity Component Scheduler. The system is responsible for managing the ‘update frequency’ of the game logic. As more and more features were added over time, its design degenerated, resulting in a hard to use system. With the refactoring complete, each aspect of the scheduler is now orthogonal to each other, making the code easier to maintain and extend. More features are planned to be added to the scheduler over time.
  • They also spent time improving the threading system. For the background job manager, adding a Fiber-based system. As the system was used more and more for Object Container Streaming, they took the time to clean up all out-threading primitives. Now all those are Fiber-aware, allowing them to schedule another job when a background job is blocked and thus a more efficient resource usage. In the same code area, they adjusted the scheduler to not block on submission to improve runtime performance by preventing the main thread stalling when submitting numerous jobs simultaneously.
  • They have also been looking at new software to make testing more efficient as the game grows exponentially.
  • Engineers can also now test changes in a safe location rather than applying them directly into the production environment.
  • They provisioned more server capacity for all regions in anticipation of a very popular feature publish.
  • They’re very excited about the improvements made to the ship pipeline and are looking forward to the opportunities that it provides.
  • Backend Services have optimized the Persistence Cache breaking it down into smaller services. The Generic Cache service can now be used by any other service to store data and contain persistence.
  • The Persistence Item Cache grants game items for online players, and will organize and manage the associations of items between each other and provide optimized queries.

Other

  • Design refined the recipe system to prepare it for future implementation – early iterations will be simple, but will form the basis of a more complex system that allows players to get into the nuts and bolts of what makes items in the ‘verse tick.
  • Weapons completed a full polish of the Gemini F55 Light Machine Gun, Klaus & Werner Demeco LMG, and Kastak Arms’ Scalpel sniper rifle in preparation for the 3.2 release.
  • Audio have made some optimizations with synchronous caching which keeps audio events in memory after the game has finished with them, so they don’t need to be repeatedly loaded from the HDD.
  • UI focused on  focused on feature work for the Item Kiosks, Mining, and QT Linking. Getting them ready for prime time as well as working on a Kiosk terminal that allows players to sell the refined ore gained from mining.

Turbulent – Platform & Spectrum

  • Spectrum have been testing “Friends” implementation on the PTU the ability to send requests and manage your contacts.
  • They are also working on a Notification System providing alerts for receiving and sending friends requests.
  • The full features of the Friends System to be available on the PTU within the month.
  • The RSI website is GDPR compliant.
  • The Roadmap can be more easily updated.
  • They are building a fankit section with info, assets & tools for fan projects.
  • Knowledge Base launched on the 10th of May, this is a huge resource of information, FAQs, explanations, guides, help and troubleshooting. I very much recommend checking it out if you have a question about the game, website or an issue.

Groups & Parties

  • Turbulent are also involved in Group Services for in game, concentrating on an API service to setup group invitations system and the concept of leadership within a group.
  • 2 releases of the Groups service were completed last month, which included all the necessary calls for the invitations. The system is being implemented and tested by US gameplay teams. The next iterations of the service release will include a call for group leadership.
  • They have been working to sync the new Spectrum architecture, which will allow players to view and manage their contacts in the mobiGlas Comms app. The team is placing the chat feature directly into the mobiGlas, so players can communicate using both the visor chat and the mobiGlas Comms app. Group Creation, interaction, invites & contacts are all being worked on.
  • Quantum Linking will be synced with the Group System to allow for various interactions between local players and those in a party. Groups will be able to easily Quantum Jump to a shared destination together.
  • Spline jumps were added, which allow players to travel from one side of a celestial body to another. There will be lots of tweaks to this, but no linear Quantum jumps like this are extremely important!

SQ42 Mentions

  • The Squadron 42 Team spent part of the month working with Production to organize work on the remaining narrative tasks and started tackling a handful of set dressing documents. These kickoff documents focus on specific areas of the game and list ideas for props that could be used to sell particular story moments.
  • A considerable amount of effort was put into multiple Squadron 42 characters along with new weapon concepts.
  • The team also made some important strides on the Vanduul animation, creating a behavior set to provide a visual guide on how they will move and operate in Squadron 42.
  • Vanduul AI progress is also continuing along in the prototype phase.
  • They have worked on new levels, scenes and cinematics for the game. Testing the spacing and time taken moving around environments.
  • They’ve been working on ‘feather blending’ This technique allows drastic changes to performance capture if needed, so animators can decide from which bone to ‘feather in’ the original performance capture on top of.
  • They also went back to a level that has a large cinematic and started overhauling the planet setup and vistas to the latest workflow standards. This also includes Squadron 42’s way of customizing your character, so work was completed on some assets that will be at the core of that process.