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Squadron 42 Update – Are We Getting a Beta in Q3?

Welcome to a Squadron 42 Episode 1 Update for July 2020. Looking at the Development over the last few weeks and what they are focusing on now for the Single Player Campaign Portion of Star Citizen. 

As we move into the 3rd Quarter of 2020… we can see on the now discontinued SQ42 Roadmap that they had planned on having their internal beta of Sq42 targeted for completion at the end of September. Now this was before Lockdown and even without that I would have expected a delay of a Quarter or 2 anyway… according to some rumors, they might not actually be too much further delayed with Squadron and it’s been making good progress.

We are still waiting on a Squadron 42 Update Video that CI promised… which has become so memey and hyped due to it’s delay that it will have to be pretty spectacular to really hit the mark… that will be ready when it’s ready according to CI… hopefully that will be this month, also they should at some point be giving us some more regular SQ42 Roadmap type info again in the future BUT let’s take a look at the development updates for SQ…

Environments progressed with several sections of the Javelin, including new unique turret assets.  The Environment Art Team said:

“These are massive turrets involving multiple firing modes that need to have a degree of nimbleness to them as well as, at times, feel heavy and weighty to use.”

There has been progress on two stations within the comms array that make up a large section of gameplay in early parts of the campaign. They both require lighting polish (which will continue as new lighting features come onboard) but are otherwise complete.

Work on the exterior on one of the campaign’s larger locations, a rest stop, is also close to completion.

“We have again upped the visual quality of our larger mega structures. What’s exciting about this is we can then take said structures and deconstruct them to create more space infrastructure, be it kit-bashing the new assets or taking pieces and tearing them apart and aging them to help populate space with more interesting assets than just asteroids (but we do still need great asteroids!).”

Mining station hangars were also finished and optimized. These multi-layered areas are the biggest hangars in the game and far bigger than anything seen in the PU.

Work also continued on two of the main hero locations visited throughout the campaign.

Not much can be said about these without giving too much away, but they can say that they feel very unique, carrying little in the way of the style or aesthetic seen in the rest of the campaign. 

VFX continued to support gas cloud work. This involved introducing ‘themes’ that allow the designers to select a singular option that changes various settings within a gas cloud. For example, making it ‘safe’ or ‘dangerous’. depending on the story requirements. They also continued researching destruction pipelines.

They fleshed out the Vanduul tech style and weapon visuals. The Frankfurt VFX Team Said:

“We received some amazing VFX concept art to help with this. Here’s a concept image to show what the main gun on the Vanduul kingship could look like.”

There was lots of work on Vanduul Locomotion, the Character Combat focused on Vanduul AI behaviors, specifically melee attacks. The Character Combat Team said:

“It’s important to have a base level of melee for all AI characters, with the idea being to employ the actor functionality to much of the same code as the player character.”

This use of common code (where possible) ensures that NPCs are able to behave the same ways the player can. However, for the Vanduul, they need specific attack animations that can be chained together to close distances and apply pressure to the player/adversary.

The Character Team continued to focus on refining the Vanduul. They said:

“Our Vanduul base body needed to be tweaked and reskinned so that we could achieve higher fidelity animations. We’re wrapping the pass up this week and making an update pass on all Vanduul armors.” 

Once the Vanduul characters are complete, work will begin on the Xi’an in earnest, which the artists recently blocked out.

There was lots of other AI work we talked about in the Star Citizen Monthly Report including Bridge & Hangar Crew Behaviors that gained functionality.

Narrative have been making ongoing efforts to identify areas where they can tweak or add dialogue to improve the gameplay experience, they provided details and backstory for several companies and brands used across various environments to expand world-building. Narrative also coordinated with Audio to review progress on the Vanduul voices.

“Since they are recorded by all too Human actors, there is considerable artistry that goes into creating their unique alien sound.” – The Narrative Team

Work also continued on hair, with blonde hair making progress. They also revisited the ‘bun’ style, which appears on a large number of female characters.

They have a dynamic auto lighting rig for when characters are moving around between areas, so they can make them look good even when not in any specific location.

The Cinematics Team said: 

“In games, even the best environment lighting often results in character faces that aren’t optimal or ‘cinematic’ looking enough. Characters don’t feel like they are in a movie and often feel flat, not separated from the background enough, or shadowing on them is not great as the environmental lights are too far away. If you look at how a DOP and lighting crew operate on a movie set, it becomes very obvious why that is the case. On a film set, characters get special lighting rigs that are often only motivated by the set lighting. Maybe a key, a fill light, a bounce from a butterfly overhead diffusor frame, maybe a Dedo light hitting the eyes just right and one or two rim lights to cut them out from the background; sometimes you get the lighting crew running with the character to cast that perfect light on them at all times the director finds it important to do so. For static scenes or scenes where we know the location, we’re already doing manual lighting rigs as above to get the most out of the faces and their performances. But this new tech is the first step to building lighting rig tech that will help illuminate characters automatically without using a manual rig.”

Cinematics worked on a multitude of scenes, animations, and camera passes. They also undertook R&D into new tech that will help push the internal design tools and narrative scenes, Improvements to conversations with NPCs allowing them to be MORE interruptible. They added the capability to markup acknowledgments. This means they can choose the points where two NPCs would glance over to the player if they’re in the vicinity. The goal is to maintain the integrity of scenes and mo-cap as much as possible, so instead of an immediate “robotic” glance whenever a certain distance is reached, they created a way to choose variables and mark-up the scene intelligently. Not all conversations between NPCs warrant immediate attention from the player; sometimes they’re in deep discussion and rarely glance over to the player. They can dial this in with absolute precision, choosing the percentage of eyes, head, neck, and body independently if they want to.

Gameplay Story worked through some new scenes from later in the game. Current focus is on implementing the remaining 28 scenes, which involves planning with Design, working out how scenes will function, and breaking down animation requirements.

There is also a video on the Star Citizen Monthly report that is worth watching to as it also contains more general Star Citizen Updates there too which are also part of SQ42.