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Squadron 42 Progress Updates

Welcome to a Squadron 42 Update looking at what CIG have been working on with the Single Player Campaign aspect of Star Citizen over the last few weeks.

There are very little in the form of Roadmap Updates but we have seen Player Status System v1 completed. FPS Combat Behaviors v2 & Flight Formations has seen a couple of tasks removed, Body Dragging, FPS Realistic Firing v2, FPS Combat Weapon Types and Death Animation Improvements have seen a couple of tasks added as well as progress made. Cloth Sim v2 and Save/Load also saw progress.

The Roadmap shows that there is still plans for a Feature Complete beta of SQ42 Episode one by the end of Q3 2020. We did see a titles appear for column upto Q1 2021 briefly but that appears to have been in error…

There has been a lot of progress with AI that I talked about in my PU Monthly Report Update that is also very relevant this saw updates to

Combat behaviors, the Reservation Manager, preparation for Server Meshing, 3D navigation, dynamic collision avoidance, NPCs can now set their speed beyond SCM speeds, Social NPCs are being made ready for LZs.

There is work on narrative sequences and the abandon functionally. They’re currently focusing on early full-chapter playthroughs that introduce players to the life of a UEEN pilot.. One of the main aims is to have NPCs behave realistically, regardless of the environment they’re placed in. The game’s levels are designed to be architecturally believable spaces, so the AI needs to adapt to them in believable ways. The Dogfighting Team are working with Flight AI to refine scenarios that require custom engineering support. They’re also supporting the ongoing ambient ship-life work and take-off/landing updates.

Character focus was on hair, uniforms, and quality. They completed two new hairstyles, including that of Captain Noah White. They are currently working on blonde hair, investigating how it behaves with the current shader; the aim is to make it as realistic a shade as possible. They also continued making passes on character heads and have started work on the rest of the Bridge Officer Uniform assets. Next on the list are battledress uniforms, which are expected to take two months to complete in their entirety.

“‘Real-time, all the time’ is the mantra that CIG’s Cinematics Team seems to focus on BUT with a technologically challenging and beyond cutting-edge game universe, the push to keep things in real-time can become complex. For example, in cinematics, it’s magnitudes easier to resort to a traditional offline rendering workflow. Offline, you can crank up the detail, lighting, shadows, motion blur, LODs, and depth of field to the max before rendering out an image sequence and cutting the final sequence together in video-editing software. However, the end-result is a video with fixed resolution and bitrate that then has to be added to the build using a video codec that can highlight that elements or full sequences aren’t real-time. To maintain authenticity and immersion in SQ42, the goal has always been to push for real-time cinematics during even the biggest set-piece sequences.

They recently pushed one of the most challenging sequences through its second pass, locking down the timing before starting VFX and destruction simulation. They can edit these long, epic sequences in real-time now too with TrackView. For example, they can have individual capital ships and exterior fleets on separate sequences and combine them all in a master, with the ability to quickly assert where they want the camera cuts to happen. Another challenge is to get the streaming system working when cutting back and forth between several distant locations. Most game-streaming tech is built with the assumption shots aren’t constantly cutting back and forth between different locales, so getting this polished is the upcoming focus for the team’s workflow.

Gameplay Story worked on a wide variety of scenes, including supporting Design with animations for the abandon mechanic, I believe this is when you move away from NPCs that are talking to you OR NPCs break away from a task. 

They’re currently fixing various edge cases and visual problems, such as animation glitches, and adding a new system to give the designers better control over when and how events are triggered.

They also reviewed NPC conversations, adding extra dialogue to make them more natural. All med-bay scenes in chapter six were updated to add proper start and end idles wherever possible. This was an extensive overhaul, resulting in conversations that can be triggered with much greater control. This will ensure the scenes look good and play out with the desired pacing. A scene with two characters carrying a large box up a ramp was completed after considerable mo-cap stitching and is currently looking great. Finally for Gameplay Story, new actor records and loadouts were created so several scene setups can be finalized.

More Engine Focused work continued on physics threading and performance, including investigating the full parallelization of integration parts in physics time step-code, multithreading, queuing for physics, local command queues, and adding an option to create queues on demand. They began finalizing and integrating the new signed distance field (SDF) system to accelerate collision checks on complex geometry and increase the precision of results. Unified fields can now be animated as any other part (they’re still special in some regards, but can be seen as a regular part from the outside) and distance fields on objects can be taken into account when sampling distances.

They enabled foliage to support 64-bit precision status updates and zones, made render proxy for ropes work with the zone system, they continued work on death reaction animations, and actor/ragdoll body dragging also they are working on getting objects and bodies aligned correctly on any given surface.

Progress was made on Gen12 Render & Vulkan Integration and there was also shader and general graphics improvements.

Planet terrain was iterated on to support the rendering of large ground-based objects on the height and shadow maps. 

VFX tweaked several existing background effects and taking advantage of recent improvements to the particle system’s parent/child hierarchy. Investigation into further methods of triggering particle effects through gas tech was started too. There is lots of gas tech stuff with Odin and Crusader as well as general points of interest and clouds.

Programmers worked to lockdown the final list of features required for SQ42. This included fixing long-standing bugs on the GPU system. They ran some tests with firework VFX that pushed the system to its limits and helped uncover previously unknown bugs.

They Finalized Visuals for the Inner Thought radial menu, this will give you access to appropriate quick actions. The new SQ42-specific visor and visual target have been approved. Prototyping is ongoing before code work begins.

And that’s it for the Squadron 42 Update this month… always a little lighter on information on tangible gameplay and features than I would like… but that is just kind of what CIG do with SQ42… they keep a lot of what they deem spoilers close to their chest… which is interesting then to see the Idris, even just the exterior of one being NPC controlled in Alpha 3.9 on the PU…