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Squadron 42 February Update

Welcome a Squadron 42 Monthly Report looking at development on Star Citizen’s Single Player Campaign Squadron 42 and it’s Features / Work that affects and drips down into Star Citizen’s PU… as well as a big chunk on AI Updates that very much affect both games in the shorter term. What have CI been working on over the last few weeks and what are they focused on now in February 2023? Let’s start with AI & NPC Updates:

The AI Content focused on behaviours used in the Stanton location. This involved regular reviews and playthroughs to detect and fix issues and looking closely at the ‘chowline’ and the ‘eat and drink’ behaviours.

The team also created a solid foundation of Maya character rigs that correctly match their in-game counterparts. Time was also spent reviewing areas with 100% correct prop interaction, which was “very satisfying to see.”

The team also began enabling characters to sit in different styles of seats while drinking and polished animations for the medical cupboard and fuse crate interactions.

They also continued to refine and improve the ‘hygiene’ and ‘medical’ behaviours.

The AI Feature team enabled AI characters to throw grenades. This involved work in multiple different areas, including new logic for when to throw grenades to ensure a challenge without overwhelming the player.

They also saw the implemented ‘attack’ and ‘defend’ areas. These assignments can be given to the AI to direct and control fighting in specific ways. On the most basic level, the defend area is used for limiting where NPCs are positioned when fighting, whereas the attack area is used to limit where they target. When assigned either area, the AI will prepare to fight by equipping their weapons and taking a ready stance before moving to the area on high alert (so perception happens fast and perception reactions are skipped). When defending, the AI will then move to a cover point inside the area and defensively peek out. When attacking, they will use the existing investigate behavior to search for hostile forces.

The AI Feature Team said “The attack area is great for building pressure on the player, whereas the defend area is to provide the player with a tough challenge as AI are hunkered down and ready to fight. The implementation of this feature involved reusing existing systems in new ways – changing the tactical queries (positional and target selection) to take into consideration the attack or defend area that the AI may have.” 

They continued to develop a non-humanoid character, including work on group behaviors and attack patterns. They also began developing characterful animations that evoke the real-world creature the creature is modeled after. For example, as the creature fights in packs using melee attacks, the team must consider behaviors that space out the character movements in a natural way; partly so that the player doesn’t get overwhelmed but also so that the characters don’t collide with one another when attacking.

Certain sections of Squadron 42 include AI fighting alongside the player, known as “Buddy AI.” They developed functionality to control how the buddy plays in these sections, including following behind the player, moving to interest points, and seeking cover. 

AI Tech completed the first iteration of NPCs driving ground vehicles.

They also progressed with the feature that enables NPCs to use transit systems (like elevators) and move between platforms. This time, they focused on NPCs using trains to move between locations with more complex behaviors before and during transit. 

On the locomotion side, the team added further support for ‘soft stops’ and separated them from ‘harsh stops.’ A soft stop means that an NPC will choose the best animation for stopping even if it will overshoot its destination, while a harsh stop will attempt to stop immediately. Locomotion support was also given for alien-creature movement too. 

The Usable Coordinator was also completed, which allows the designers to specify a selection of usables for NPCs in specific areas and prioritize the order of selection.

The feature that allows NPCs to perceive threats through audio and visual stimuli and react to hostile vehicles was completed. In a related area, further updates were made to the behavior that enables NPCs reacting to stimuli to enter combat.

AI Tech started work on two new features: One allows overrides for navigation mesh generation so that the team can create navigation meshes for specific agents in narrow areas. For example, this will enable NPCs to traverse areas where only a crouched state is possible, such as vents and underfloor areas.

The second feature enables the team to mark areas with increased navigation cost, which will influence the path chosen by NPCs. This will be used to create areas that NPCs should avoid, like areas with fire, or to encourage them to travel on specific areas, like a sidewalk.

The Vehicle Feature team focused on space combat AI improvements. The intent is to have combat AI behave in a more dynamic way that encourages players to move and explore the ship mechanics. This involved breaking the AI into different well-defined trees, which will help players to identify what kind of enemies they’re up against. These improvements also allow the easier integration of more maneuvers to further increase the skill level and interest of higher-level ships.

AI Vehicle Features worked on a new behavior logic to deliver improved atmospheric flight combat. This is intended to work with the ‘control surface’ feature being developed by the Vehicle Feature team and will lead to AI ships tailing and chasing players to get behind them, flying more like a plane when appropriate in atmosphere.

They also supported the flight designers on several chapters, adding new smaller features to ease their work when creating mission flow.

The Animation team began 2023 by making sure their schedule for reaching ‘content complete’ was agreed upon, which meant aligning closely with up and downstream teams.

Development-wise, further progress was made on zero-g, with the devs using some of the lessons learned to help guide work on ‘prone’ gameplay. They also continued to create new weapons and gadgets, including a trip mine, and worked on restraining and un-restraining.

Animation’s AI teams further developed the Vanduul execution and searching behaviors, along with the female spec-ops characters. They’re currently working on AI background animations related to eating and drinking, sickness, hygiene, and cargo for social areas.

On the facial side, the Chakma character was worked on alongside lines for AI character combat. The Mo-Cap team worked with Gameplay Animation to schedule an upcoming shoot to keep the AI and Player teams supplied with assets.

The Gameplay Feature team worked on seamless transitions rather than camera cuts when moving between the player’s view and cinematic sequences, both when piloting a ship or walking around.

The new ‘field manual’ mobiGlas app progressed, which collates the tutorials players experience during the game. Male and female voice selection was added to the Application Form, and progress on saving and loading was made. Now, the team can save the replication layer and restore it, getting back to fundamentally the same state it was left in, including the correct scripted mission modules. A lot of general edge cases were fixed too.

Numerous Starmap improvements were made, including better transitions between the real and cosmetic scaling as it’s zoomed in and out, correct grid movement when panning, improved culling when objects intersect, and correctly sized and aligned text labels.

General iteration following feedback was also made to the Application Form (used as part of character creation I believe), character customizer, armorer interaction, armory terminal, and mission-manager app.

The Vehicle Feature team improved numerous aspects of vehicle combat, including ship and weapons balance. Tweaks were also made to the HUD and aiming and targeting to further improve the combat experience.

Vehicle Features also began working on radar, having taken it over from the Arena Commander Feature team to support the needs of SQ42. Recent work included adding various features in support of the new scanning UI and multi-function displays (MFDs).

The quantum-travel rework is nearing completion. They completed quantum spawning, which allows them to spawn AI ships as though they have quantum traveled into an area. This is the last feature required to widely use quantum travel in various chapters.

They also fleshed out the new MFD control system, which is designed to be used with keys or a gamepad rather than Interaction mode. The HUD is being reworked and integrated heavily with the new MFD system too.

Gameplay Story used new mo-cap data across multiple chapters and scenes. Props and datapads can be picked up and held appropriately. 

Changes were made to chapter 14 following feedback about wanting a character to be able to react if the player followed them down a hallway. Not only can they now turn, deliver a line, and continue walking, they can trigger scenes that start up a conversation with the player. This was done by shooting new mo-cap to give the character more life and the ability to glance around and realize the player is there.

Polish passes were made to various scenes to get them to a much higher standard. Several scenes were also improved by changing how the character interacts with a console. This was made more believable following a pass on their hands and fingers so they appear to be pressing keys or typing.

Gameplay Story also experimented with the ‘look at’ feature for a scene in chapter 4, as testers had flagged that the characters didn’t seem to be looking at the player.

The Gameplay Story Team said “We chose to do a full pass on both characters and managed to push the ‘look at’ to allow them to involve the player in the conversation and make them feel included. We have hit the start of the new year running and are delivering lots of high-quality work at a very good pace.”

The Space and Dogfight team continued to develop the gameplay experience, with the aim of having all dogfighting flow seamlessly from social and FPS sections.

They also integrated new features and AI improvements as they came online, and worked with the Vehicle Feature team on new flight mechanics, such as Quantum Boost and the atmospheric flight model

Narrative started the year with reviews alongside the Design team.

The team is currently finalizing the mo-cap schedule with a breakdown of what’s ready to be recorded and what still needs fine-tuning.  

Another focus was the game’s assorted collectible and discoverable narrative content, including messages that players will find if they explore areas and interact with datapads and terminals. Part of this process consists of chapter-by-chapter walkthroughs to ensure content is appropriately paced. Additionally, the team outlined new personal comms messages the player will receive throughout the campaign from various characters. While some messages in the main game flow had already been written, the team wanted to expand on them to provide even more narrative content that will tie into the player’s actions and decisions.

Narrative also worked with the Core Gameplay Pillar Design team to create detailed reviews of the interactive terminals that players will use for things like puzzle solving and navigating. 
Boom, that’s it for your Squadron 42 Updates this month.