We are moving into the end of January 2022… CI are now finally getting back to their normal weekly content, so we have Roadmap Updates, ISC & SCL all this week… And XenoThreat 3.0 starting Friday. However, today I wanted to look at the Monthly Reports for SQ42 / Star Citizen focusing on AI, Engine and Graphics development… What have CI been working on over the last 10 or so weeks and what are they working on now?
The AI team as a whole closed out the year creating feature testmaps for AI behaviours and usables. Feature testmaps are new autonomous testing processes that run each day and print out reports, which enable the team to identify bugs significantly quicker than before.
The team are testing approximately 50 usables and 20 AI behaviours that can be interacted with by the player. Typically, a usable has between three and six directions of approach, and the same number of exits. With so many permutations, automating the process was essential.
AI Content continued to improve the bartenders and patrons for Alpha 3.16 and added more drink options, including Cuba Libres and Mai Tais. ‘Busy work’ animations were created for when the bartender isn’t serving; including stretching, glass cleaning, and shelf organising. Idle facial expressions were also added.
They also began implementing animation assets for the vending and arcade machines, and started closing out the coffee shop usables.
For Squadron 42, AI Content focused on deck crew activity, bringing life and movement to hangars and landing pads. The next step is to build on the basic functionality to make the whole crew work together to restore full functionality to damaged ships and vehicles.
They also worked on security behaviour, which controls player and NPC access to specific areas. For example, guards can now check the criminality, rank, and affinity of those who approach and act accordingly, denying or allowing access, or saluting a character of higher rank. Though just for military guards currently, this activity will be used for bouncers and ‘mall cops’ in the future after additional mo-cap has been processed.
AI Features worked on feature test levels, setting up tests to repeat with different starting conditions. Alongside identifying and fixing bugs, the feature test levels are useful for showing other teams existing functionality and how to use it. Allowing familiarity with the technology and the ability to maintain quality across the board.
The team also investigated and fixed issues with the bartender behaviour, including ‘popping’ issues when moving between different areas of the bar.
SQ42 AI Features focused on improving human combat. This involved adjusting the perception systems to support NPCs perceving dead or incapacitated bodies and reacting as intended. If not already in combat, the first AI to find the body will go and check and then trigger investigative behaviours. In the future, some incapacitated bodies will be able to be revived, healed, or released from captivity by an appropriate agent.
With weapons training behaviour, which includes using firing range simulators, the AI needs to be able to target neutral, non-agents tagged for a particular lane so that different agents can use training simulators at the same time. This involved updating the observable and perception components to make them more data-driven and compatible with the firing ranges. These changes also make it easier to support other targetable objects in the future, such as objects that agents might want to sabotage or destroy to further the gameplay.
For Vanduul combat, a section of gameplay was completed where enemy perception is reduced when searching for the player. This led to how to implement low visibility and other sense reductions across the board. They then prototyped the initial implementation for this specific gameplay use, which will also be used as a springboard for fully developing the feature.
For AI animation, the team continued work with mo-cap for cowering and surrender animations, hit reactions from different stances, the speed protocol of animations for dead-body reactions, and Vanduul attack and search animations.
AI finished their work on the initial version of planetary navigation. Once implemented, a navigation mesh will be created on planetary surfaces, and actors and NPCs will be able to use it to find paths and move along them.
The team continued to refactor the AI weapon controller used by ship AI, this time focusing on improving missile turrets and accuracy. New collision avoidance tech was also added for use in narrow areas and spaces with complex concave objects.
The team also went back to the AI trolley push/pull feature to help the designers begin using it. They continued to refine the path follower tech, improving functionality by setting usables linked to a path. NPCs will be able to follow the path and stop to use the linked usables. Alongside this, they investigated and fixed several issues with NPC aiming, looking, and locomotion; most of which involved synchronisation issues between the servers and clients.
Progress was made on the Subsumption editor tool. The team now has all the base elements in place so the designers and programmers can start using it to create missions and NPC behaviours.
The Physics team worked on a variety of topics, such as Quantum grids changing to use one per solar system, grid overlap checks being unified for planets and other entities, and physics constraints receiving support for limiting the gravity tilt angle.
Further work was done on the transition to Gen12. Regarding atmosphere and cloud rendering, R&D on the reprojection of frame data without the need for motion vectors didn’t yield satisfactory results. Therefore, they’ll stick with the current reprojection scheme for the time being. To improve image quality nonetheless, research started on noise reduction of the original raymarch results that are fed into the filter chain to produce final full-resolution images. In general, code was unified in various areas and prepared for integration upstream into the main development branch as preparation for the coming transition of all atmosphere and cloud render code to Gen12.
The Graphics team completed a significant amount of work on shaders and materials, with one of the main focuses being updating volumetric water lighting. There were also several bug fixes for water volumes in general. The hair shader also received attention. They completed the shader conversion from the old DX9 style and kicked off work on the opaque ice/crystal shader. As it’s opaque, the shader will be cheap to use extensively.
Specifically for SQ42, the team supported Cinematics by optimising letter-box rendering in cutscenes, investigating issues with camera cut brightness, and looking into image stabilisation for offline rendering.
For Gen12, the team implemented a fallback rendering system called ‘pass group fallbacks’ for use when the shaders are compiling. For Vulkan, they continued with the GPU marker refactor.
Development of the fire hazard feature continued, with the VFX Programming team moving heat and temperature to the physics proxy, working on IR emission, and fixing various bugs with the temperature component and look-at debug camera.
Salvage-wise, an investigation was made into the networking of damage-map data as well as implementing placeholder interfaces to unblock the game coders. The main damage-map features are being worked on in Q1.
Numerous updates were made to particles. There were also bug fixes for flashing/black particles, emitter bounds calculations, and shock diamonds.
Finally, a number of performance improvements and optimizations were made to emitter memory consumption, material glow lock contention from entity effects, and gas cloud zone contention on destruction and impact MFX.
Boom, that’s it for your AI, Engine and Graphics Updates for Star Citizen and Squadron this time… if you’d like to see the Monthly Report Feature Updates for SC & SQ42 then please checkout my channel as summaries of them are there. As we move into 2022 I am expecting to see development at a quicker pace especially in Q3-4 this year after all of the office moves and expansions have come online and new hires are starting to settle in.