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Squadron 42 Updates – Vanduul Characters & New Vertical Slice

Welcome to some more Star Citizen with a monthly Squadron 42 Report including a Vanduul Character Update & work on a Broader Vertical Slice.
This is a summary of the Squadron 42 Newsletter from April 16th, 2019. I have omitted anything that was identical from the Star Citizen Monthly Report that was also released recently, go check that video out for even more updates on the project, linked below!

Squadron 42 Episode 1 is Planned to be in it’s Beta Phase & Content ready in Q2 of 2020 as shown currently on the roadmap & there has been progress on various areas of the Game over the last few weeks & bits they are working on now that we will cover in this video.

Vanduul
Over the last month, the Character Art Team further developed concepts for SQ42’s alien species, including finalizing textures for the Vanduul.

We now have an updated Vanduul Model (at least head & torso) that they have shown off.

The Vanduul are the major alien antagonists in Squadron 42 & will have actors performances driving them like Andy Serkis. This Update to the Vanduul looks awesome.

Character & Animation
Master at Arms Duncan Chakma has had various setup done with him for his scenes and actions, he is a complex NPC as he handles, picks up, returns and moves Weapons and Items ( known as useables) from lockers/tables to the player for inspection, there has been lots of optimization for usables in general too including the caching of usable entries and TPS query time-slicing.

Social AI & NPC Behaviors saw updates to crew schedules & are starting to make more use of useables AND further connected character animations to specific usable dimensions for more realism when picking up and inspecting items.

The look-at system saw more work focusing on heads & eyes, the system has NPCs tracking the player / other NPCs holding their gaze appropriate to their position.

Eyes are now perfectly aligned and look right into the camera and the player’s eyes in a natural way. They are investigating having some more subtle (saccadic) eye movement during conversation to help move away from the uncanny valley and cold dead eyes looking at you now with eyes ‘scanning’ the face rather than staying entirely focused on one spot.

Modeling work continued on several outfits too, such as the Basilisk armor and pilot flight-suit, both of which are awaiting low-poly texturing. Progress continues on the female character model too, which is closely related to the customizer features recently added to the Persistent Universe.

The Actor Feature Team finished off Vault & Mantling, which included validating the mechanic with the new female player character. They’ve now moved onto the next iteration of jumping, making progress on animations by simplifying the selection count, giving more weight and polish, and utilizing time-warping tech. The first pass of unarmed, non-lethal stealth takedowns has been implemented, which allows the player to punch and knock down enemies.

They have adjusted the way story scenes are set up and how NPCs enter and exit to make sure they’re positioned correctly.  

Updates to performance capture and in-cockpit scenes are currently being swapped from the narrative placeholders to more polished final representations that support branching conversations, reputation, and player actions.

AI ‘push/pull’ behavior has been improved too, so NPCs flying with the player can’t get too far ahead or fall behind.

They worked on the combat AI system to give enemies several new weapon options to choose from when encountering the player and hostile NPCs.

Environments
The SQ42 Design Team continued a push towards ‘broader’ vertical slice gameplay for the first third of the game. This focus threw up a number of technical challenges that had to be overcome to get all of the game chapters linking correctly and consistently within the mission flow. I hope this is some for of VS they will be sharing with us this year potentially at CitizenCon.

Two important locations have seen work recently one near a blasted and dying planet and the other close to the Coil. In the coming weeks, more Devs will move onto these locations, with the aim to get them ‘content complete’ for a handful of chapters by the end of the quarter.

Deep space has been getting an art overhaul, with three key locations (called ‘mini-systems’ internally) now in place and ready for polish. These systems form three separate parts of the overall Squadron 42 map and each has its own unique flavor.

They’re also designing a social hub, a foundry for a major space station, a visual target for an asteroid base, and a number of other tasks that can’t be divulged just yet.

They’re also moving ahead on how mission markers and placement are going to be perceived by the player.

A capital ship is being brought up to scratch by the same team who worked on the Idris.

They also worked on vector fields to make particles move in a more realistic and interesting way around certain ships.

Cinematics
When the team planned cinematics for SQ42, they were torn between using the player perspective for increased immersion and a more ‘filmic’ camera that could focus on the cast and reveal performance details the player could otherwise miss. As the game doesn’t ‘cheat’ the player’s presence in cutscenes (due to the unified first and third person player rig), they realized they could potentially have both. Additional code was added to enable the player entity and camera to be controlled via Trackview, which allows the player to switch between points of view (POV) with a button press. By default, these new ‘breakfree’ scenes use third person, but players can choose to break free and watch the scene from the player character’s POV when they want. The player can return to the filmic version with a press of the same button. This also allows the team to show more of the customized player face and body. And, when the player looks around in first person (via limited look ranges specifically for that cinematic), their actions are visible when switching back to third person.

They continued to block out key destruction sequences. They also began reworking EMP effects, making use of some of the newer GPU particle improvements to make sure it doesn’t look too similar to lightning, it doesn’t deal physical damage BUT it is a force that needs to be represented appropriately.

The Gameplay Story Team tackled scenes from chapter four, with the majority now either done or planned for implementation. The remaining scenes will be worked on for the next few months until complete.