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Squadron 42 October Development Update – Attack Runs & Deadly Enemies

Welcome to a Squadron 42 Development & Star Citizen AI Progress Report looking at what CI have been working on for Star Citizen’s Single Player Campaign Squadron 42 Episode 1 and more generally AI that is shared between the games. We take a look at what worked on over the last few weeks and what the focus is on now in October 2022.

There are still no dates for Squadron 42… there were rumors that it’s estimated within 2 years from potentially drunken conversations with CI staff… there has also been some SQ42 leaks but they are low quality and a bit spoilery so we won’t be covering them. Let’s jump into the AI Updates first.

The AI Content team continued work on the vendor and patron behaviors that will allow AI characters to serve, carry, and consume food and drink. This complex set of behaviors is progressing well and will add impressive fidelity to several areas of the game. They also got the new medical behavior working in the Idris.

Alongside behaviors, progress was made on two important new usables. The first is used for opening crates, inspecting the contents, and lifting items in and out. The second is for a tactile chair that allows AI characters to get in and out by rotating it with their hands.

Progress was made on the quartermaster too, which involved new mo-cap, updating poses, polishing animations, and prototyping dynamic conversations.

The AI Feature team continued to develop the ‘traits’ that allow the specialization of NPC behaviors in specific levels and scenarios. This included implementing the Sentry trait, which forces characters to use defensive tactics and to never leave cover unless compromised. This will be particularly useful for NPCs equipped with sniper rifles and rocket launchers. The Reckless trait is the opposite, forcing a character to only adopt aggressive tactics and never use cover options. This will be utilized by close-combat “berserker” enemy types. There are also Aggressive and Cautious traits that adopt varying weights of cover use.

They also implemented usables that allow context-specific search animations to be played around certain level features. For example, vents, over railings, and around crates. This adds life to NPC investigation and gives them more opportunity to use the environment to search along with increasing the tension for hunted players.

AI Features also implemented several new features for combat with the Vanduul, including gameplay for when the player is in close combat and knocked down. Players will now have a limited window to move out of the way before a synchronized execution animation is played.

“This really sells the Vanduul as a serious threat, where split-second decision-making is important to win the fight against this powerful and aggressive foe. If the player successfully dodges the Vanduul attack, it gives a short breathing period during which the player can mount a counter-offensive.” AI Features

Perception work continued too, with the team supporting the stealth gameplay loop by allowing the player to wear specific clothing to disguise themselves in different environments. The designers can configure which clothing works for each faction and location so that a successful disguise combines both player actions and the configuration of the NPCs in the environment. The perception meter for detecting the player as a foe is then influenced by this parameter, giving the player more time to sneak into areas, especially when at distance from the enemies.

To support the scaling of perception ranges and times, new wildlines were integrated to signal this new gameplay. For example, a suspicious enemy will challenge the player if their disguise or behavior isn’t convincing.

On the animation side, AI features progressed with Human female combat animations. They also continued blocking out specific Vanduul animations, including the execution animations mentioned above.

AI Tech extended the functionality of navigation links, which involved finishing their work on ladder extenders. Now, NPCs are able to use and traverse ladders in a similar way to players.

They also extended navigation links for doors to allow NPCs to use the entire width of doors (useful for wider doors or gaps in general) and enabled collision avoidance while traversing.

They extended the way NPCs interact with closed doors too. The aim was to have the AI correctly understand which door panels should be interacted with during traversal. To achieve this, the routing functionality inside the usable system was improved to use entity links.

For locomotion, they worked on reducing foot sliding and leg-phase blending. This involved reducing foot sliding during stop animations by matching the leg phase, adding support for selecting the best animation option based on the leg phase, and extending the system to implement the use of sharp turns for walking.      

On the internal Subsumption editor, the team addressed usability feedback from the designers, and bug fixing continued. They also began extending the tool to manage the editing of mastergraphs, which has never been possible in the external tool.

Work was also done to extend two different areas of AI perception functionality: The first not only allows NPCs inside ship cockpits to target on-foot enemies not visible to radar, but also allows NPCs on the ground to visually track large objects, such as vehicles, and engage in ground-to-flight combat. 

The second is audio perception. Previously, NPCs could hear any sound if they were at the right distance from it. Now, the hearing component and audio map use the volume of the sound at its source and then calculate the strength of the audio received by the listener. This is used inside the perception component to influence the perception meter based on how strongly the sound is perceived. The new extension allows the designers to create multiple curves to describe the influence of the different audio semantics. For example, explosions have a different influence than footsteps. Each audio stimulus also has a different maximum value it can push the perception meter to.

The idle system was extended to allow the designers to set up different weights in the idle sets available to different usables. This allows them to better customize which idle set should be prevalent during the selection based on the environment they’re creating.

Vehicle AI and Vehicle Features worked together on AI targeting things other than vehicles, such as turrets, components, and stations. This, combined with special behaviors for strafing runs, allows the AI to perform attack runs on stations.

They also worked on system AI for chapter one, which involves a large number of AI attacking capital ships in coordinated waves. This required various improvements and fixes, with the team improving the system that allows NPCs to pick splines to fly along during attack runs.

Animation worked on ladder locomotion for both players and AI, including dodging. They continued to work on EVA and zero-g, improving the feel and functionality. Gadgets were further developed too, including the deployable shield and Galson weapons.

Progress was made on Vanduul-related gameplay, with the current focus on stealth gameplay sections and enemy executions of the player. Interactions with non-sliding chairs, crates (rummaging), vendors, vending machines, datapads, and other ‘life’ behavior sets progressed too. Development of the female spec-ops continued, with female combatants close to implementation.

For facial animation, the team continued to work on scene-specific animations with named-cast characters. Mo-cap and on-set facial services were also provided to the Narrative team as they continued to flesh out the combat and story needs of the campaign.

The SQ42 Gameplay Feature team continued with tasks for the armory, enabling weapons to be delivered to different locations. It now also has its own set of first-select animations when the player interacts with a weapon for the first time.

For the crane feature, the devs used inverse kinematics to link the player’s hands and joysticks so that they animate together. They also added additional functionality for the designers, such as snapping and locking.

Further progress was made on the new mobiGlas, with the team finishing the personal messages app and implementing the first part of the mission manager app to show mission briefings.

Gameplay Story held a mo-cap shoot that captured a variety of data for several late-game scenes. Once processed, this data will allow the scenes to function well in-game.

A new scene was also created by reusing existing wildlines, which will allow the player to speak to a medic and be healed by them if required.

Finally for Gameplay Story, exploration was done on the mess hall scenes to make them function with AI animations so that all characters enter and leave smoothly.

The Flight team progressed towards getting a large part of the game fully playable with functioning systems and mechanics, with a focus on a seamless experience. Following on from previous months’ reports, September saw them expand this work beyond the first third of the game.

The Social team focused on several chapters, including the ongoing scene work on the Idris and Stanton interstitials. This involved implementation, addressing feedback, and handshaking NPCs from scenes into behaviors. They also started shift assignments for the Idris’ 80-person crew, including the deck crew, bridge crew, engineers, and off-duty personnel.

They also kicked off tasks for some cross-discipline chapters involving FPS, flight, and social. Level Design made good progress on the social related content, with the majority of their assigned scenes being ready for implementation

The Level Design Team said – “It’s always essential to see the scene playing out in situ so we can review and assess what additional work could be required.”

The Narrative team prepping for a performance capture session. The buildup to this shoot included working closely with the Design team to determine a streamlined version of the FPS wildline set. This will allow the various enemy combatants to have enough lines so they can be reactive but without adding so many as to cause undue stress to the amount of content that would need to be captured. This shoot also included the return of several established characters for additional pickups based on changes to their location and level flow.

“There were some additional fun bits that were captured but, unfortunately, they have to be kept under wraps!” Narrative Team

Narrative also continued working with AI Content on the dynamic-conversation system for background characters and began figuring out how to best incorporate it into the game. As with the wildlines, part of the discussion is figuring out a way to keep the line-set to a manageable level while providing interesting conversations to make the characters in the locations feel alive.

Finally, they continued the ongoing syncs with the Flight and FPS Design teams to review the latest level developments, creating or adjusting scripts to fill in areas that feel too empty or require additional content to explain the gameplay.

The Art team continued to concept various parts of the Squadron 42-specific UI. This involved finalizing the look and content of the new MFDs, designing gameplay screens for levels, and completing vehicle style guides. Boom that’s it for you AI and Squadron 42 updates today.