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Squadron 42 Episode 1 | Pushing for Beta Q2 2020

Welcome to some more Star Citizen today with the Squadron 42 Report for May/June 2019. Going over what CI have been working on in regard to SQ42 Episode 1 what progress they have made last few weeks and what they are focused on now.

Squadron 42’s Roadmap is made up of a selection of features that need to be complete as well as Chapters which are the putting together of those features, cinematics and gameplay all together to make a playable section of the game.

There are 28 Chapters Planned For Episode 1 these may be made up of multiple scenes each as well.

Chapter 21 has recently completed its Whitebox Playable stage.

Each chapter has 5 main phases before being considered complete (in order) WhiteBox, WhiteBox Playable, GreyBox, Production & Polish.

Squadron 42 Episode 1 is currently Roadmapped to be in Beta for the end of Q2 2020.

Tho recently Ship 3D Pathfinding v2 (The Basic technology for spaceships to efficiently navigate through space using physics grids) has seen delays pushing it’s completion into Q3 of this year. And it is quite possible that we could see more delays to features and chapters causing delays to that Beta Date.

Let’s look at in more detail what the various teams and studios have been working on starting with Character, NPC & Animation:

They worked on the new player jumping System. The animations are now much more fluid and incorporate jumping forwards, backwards, sideways, and running and jumping these are also “glitch free”.

They also finished setting up usables (beds, seats, consoles, etc.) and are starting to create a pre-visual system for different human AI enemy types and weapon sets. Immediate exits from cover when under duress were also saw work.

More female animation sets are currently in development and will now always be worked on parallel to the male version. Currently, they’re starting with base re-targets from the male source and then replacing them with female-specific assets.

They have been working on a few new weapons and weapon attachments, melee, and takedowns.

They continued polishing characters, with focus on chapter four. As well as continuing to explore the aliens of Squadron 42 (we know at least the Vanduul will be there BUT there are Banu, Xi’an, Tevarin and Kr’Thakk in the Universe too)

They worked on the material library, which will affect all armor and outfits in the game and enable the team to further drive visual quality. Similarly, tools for the hair pipeline are being built and tested to help the artists author higher-quality more complex hair.

Head-Look was improved to prevent, geometry, items, bodies and helmets clipping into a players view. Movement may be restricted by pose and what you are carrying.

Melee takedowns now use the inverse kinematics (IK) system to ensure they appear correctly if the victim is on a different level from the player, such as on a slope or a step. They also started the first pass of punching and knife attacks for melee combat, again using IK to hit specific areas of the target.

AI implemented channel routing for the usable feature, which allows functionality to be routed from one usable to another. For example, a bartender can deliver a drink to a patron whether they’re standing, sitting in a chair, or sitting in a chair at a table. They also implemented area slotting, which allows a usable interaction to be triggered when players enter an area, rather than having to move to a very specific point.

Tech Art implemented version two of the internal face customizer. The underlying facial rig blending technology was enhanced to not only allow blending globally between four different source heads, but to allow a different choice of four heads for each of the twelve blend regions. While the new tool and its user interface need to expose all this additional functionality to the artists, it’s also critical that users don’t get overwhelmed by the complexity and sheer amount of parameters in use. Therefore, a number of convenience functions were added to allow for the quick randomization of head IDs and their corresponding weights (either per head region or globally). During each stage of the facial customization, symmetry constraints can be turned off to introduce slight asymmetry in distinct regions, which helps to make a face look more natural and realistic. The tool now makes it much easier for the team to create unique-looking NPCs while being more efficient than ever before.

Tech Animation continued to optimize the animation pipeline

Let’s take a closer look at Environment & Cinematics progress:

They have been working hard on incorporating all of the story scenes, cinematics, and through lines for [REDACTED]. Which I am assuming is the new SQ42 Vertical Slice for the 1st 3rd of the game.

Gameplay Story implemented a record 18 scenes to a high standard, including one on the bridge of the Idris.

Cinematics worked with Level Design to prioritize implementation passes for all remaining scenes and chapters. An implementation pass refers to the process of making a scene function as it will do in the final release and includes AI characters moving in/out of locations.

They have been improving there transition to cinematic scene tech when complete, will enable the team to add locomotion-based intros and outros. This means characters will smoothly enter scenes from whatever they were doing and transition back when it ends, removing the sudden jar as NPCs rush into position still seen in many modern games.

They have made a solid start on the bridge crew behaviors, now that the usables pipeline is operating at full capacity. This will enable the crew to realistically interact with various props, items, and other NPCs in a fully systemic way & they have been working out ways for NPCs to interact with each other and useables from varying distances.

The “landing/take-off module” needed for many of the chapters received some focus.

The “Outer Odin” levels were put in their correct object containers and can now be traveled to in-game.

They have been developing the Javelin’s skybox, which involves working through the entire ship exterior and dissecting parts they can effectively use for the “push & pull” mechanic.

With work on the “organic shader” nearing completing, they can start iterating on the asteroid set; initially focusing on the standard “space potatoes” before progressing to the more technically-challenging shard-like shapes needed for the latter half of the campaign.

Significant effort was put into the traversable areas found around the Massive Archon Station, they are keen to avoid the standard ‘room, corridor, room’ approach and fully open out the station to highlight its sheer scale. Once these areas are further developed, a dynamics pass will take place to give each corner life and movement using the lessons learned from their investigations earlier in the year.

Logos and signs were also created to help make the level feel like an industrial facility, while background screens for machinery and the bridge area also see these subtle but important graphics.

Work has gone into key “comms array” seen in the campaign. The undisclosed array manufacturer has its own unique style that mixes retro design approaches and plenty of real-world references that grounds the entire station in reality.

Volumetric skybox work continues around the Coil, with one mission in particular receiving a lot of attention. It merges the new wind mechanics with the New Flight Model and, though still early days, is giving the team a thorough understanding of how best to create space locations with the speed and scale of the campaign ships.

They continued investigating new shaders, including tests for water and raindrops accumulating on ship canopies. They also made improvements to the ‘particle imposter’ shader that has simple-but-effective UV scrolling, tiling and distortion options, and can be assigned to a mesh as a replacement for a particle system. For example, as scrolling smoke or dust effects in the distance.

They also continued work on the new gas cloud tech mentioned last month, this time looking at ways the toolset can be used in non-gas cloud locations, such as asteroid fields.

Improvements were also made to the third-person camera, giving options to link motion to the cadence of footsteps to give a more dynamic view. They also created the ability to change video rendered to a texture that simulates changing TV channels.

They completed the final touches on gas clouds, various optimizations, and integrated the volumetric shadows into the fog system to fix a handful of bugs.

SQ42 will also benefit from the ongoing developments to the central flight HUD. This includes indicators for velocity, g-force, afterburner, ESP, and some new mechanics such as the thruster strength limiter and radar altimeter. Players can get a sneak peek when Alpha 3.6 launches in the Persistent Universe, as the HUD is being tested publicly on the Aegis Gladius.

My Thoughts

Squadron 42 Episode 1 looks like it is making good progress I am interested to know what they are going to show for it if anything this year and at CitizenCon 2019. If they can keep reasonably close to having a beta by next year then it’s possible we could see the game release next year as well, which would be fantastic.

But what do you think, do you have any questions about what we talked about in this video or about Squadron 42 in general? Do you think it’s possible we will see it release next year OR is that over optimistic?