Squadron 42 Episode 1 does not have a release date BUT despite that CIG and plodding along with it’s development and more and more features and parts of the game are starting to be referred to as shippable, finalized, complete and moving into beta. We still don’t know that that means in terms of hard release dates BUT the latest monthly report is a wealth of development information and the only source we really have for regular updates on Squadron 42. Let’s delve into a summary for August 2023.
The AI Content Team made a strategic decision to concentrate resources on a single location, allowing them to raise the quality bar to a shippable level. This has fostered greater teamwork and knowledge sharing among team members, expanding developer skill sets.
They also progressed with the hangar and mess hall locations. In the hangar, they introduced an overseer behavior that underpins supervisors for the deck crew, ordinance officers, and fuelers. These supervisors dynamically interact with their colleagues using datapads and oversee their work, similar to a ‘middle manager’ role. For the landing officer, they drew inspiration from aircraft-carrier takeoff-and-landing videos to create realistic deck crew actions.
In the mess hall, scripted AI was added alongside random systemic interactions. This allows the team to implement more interesting actions that might be challenging to achieve with a solely systematic approach. For example, a new addition sees NPCs watch and react to a TV show.
The team will shortly move on to various ship interior locations.
AI Features improved the quality of various behaviors, including unrestraining. For example, AI can now wake up while restrained and call out to others to come and rescue them.
They also developed interfaces and behaviors for AI-driven vehicles equipped with specific radar gadgets. This enables the AI to locate enemies when they hide or move out of sight.
Work continued on close-combat encounters to ensure that the AI locomotion performance looks good, which included integrating new performance capture animations. Environmental searches were also improved to allow NPCs to evaluate their environment and then attempt to flank the target using cover locations. The team are currently improving the combat behavior that allows NPCs to use MedPens to heal themselves in combat.
AI Features continued to implement buddy AI, including a behavior that enables the buddy to crouch and locomote between cover. Buddies now also have improved reviving, acknowledging when the player is downed or unconscious.
On the animation side, polish was done on a variety of features, including grenade throwing, healing, restraining, crouched sharp turns, and weapon reloads.
Vehicle AI focused on support and features connected to level design.
Further work was done to integrate the new vehicle aiming system into AI. NPC pilots will make use of the new system just like players, which has resulted in significantly improved AI accuracy. Though this requires balancing, they now have much more control than before.
Improvements and changes were made to atmospheric flight. Now, when in-atmosphere, AI fly with control surfaces and dogfighting reverts to a more traditional “get-on-your-six” style of combat. As part of this, the team wanted to give players more opportunities to get behind the AI, so now, enemies occasionally make mistakes and break away, leaving windows they didn’t before. This has resulted in a far more enjoyable experience.
The Animation team moved from alpha to beta work. This involved improving the visual results of reloads and takedowns as well as basic idles for weapons and knives.
The team continued working on background and systemic AI, taking a larger role in driving visual fidelity. They also kicked off reload animations for enemy spec-ops weapon types and began implementing two high-intensity combat fights.
On the facial side, the team continued developing final-quality facial animations for various cinematic scenes alongside supporting new incoming lines for combat and social AI.
Support is also ongoing for two mo-cap shoots: one for narrative requirements and another for ad-hoc social and combat AI needs.
Gameplay Features worked on the in-game simpod, where players can load into different simulations to practice their skills in SQ42.
“This is a fairly involved process, where they need to teleport the player into a new environment, change their loadout and status, change the game mode and game rules, and restore everything back again when the simulation has finished. It’s not like the Matrix – if you die in the simulation, you don’t die in the real world.” It’s probably one of the main reasons they are updating AC in Alpha 3.20 as well.
They’ve completed a pass on formation flying, UI orientation and joining formations.
Progress was also made on the mini-map, including culling markers outside of the camera view and clipping important markers to the view edge. New markers for dangerous objects, such as grenades and missiles, were added to both the mini-map and Starmap too.
The Vehicle Features team worked alongside the Level Design teams to close out various chapters and improve how the game plays.
One of these key areas is the vehicle aiming and gunnery system. As part of this, the team explored options to make aiming more challenging, which is partially driven by the slightly overpowered auto-gimbal system. New aiming modes, dynamic zooming on targets, and other elements will make the combat experience more engaging. I know that players are keenly awaiting the new aiming, targeting and combat systems in the PU.
Control surfaces were finalized, with the team making UI changes to show additional information, including stall speed, selected mode, and thruster and control surface. Further control options will be considered following playtesting.
Vehicle Features are also working on physical damage tech, which requires a lot of lower-level vehicle-system refactors. This will update vehicles to use much more modern systems in the engine and work far better with physical damage and other recent features.
Work on multi-function displays (MFDs) focused on scanning. This is by far the most complex MFD screen, showing information from the scanned target and allowing players to find out about its internal components by utilizing a deeper scan. This is now working as intended.
Turret seats are currently being converted to use the new MFD system. Turrets showing more appropriate info.
Vehicle loadout terminals are now largely functional, allowing players to see all the items available in their profile and equip them onto their ships in the Idris’ hangar.
Gameplay Story completed the setup for the air-traffic controller (ATC) operator seat. They followed this by updating all their scenes that involve operator seats to work with the approved metrics.
“This was quite a big undertaking but it was great to see so many scenes that have been blocked for a long time finally get to a finished state.”
They did an implementation pass for a scene in chapter 12 and used new mo-cap to update the start of a scene in chapter 14.
Recently, Gameplay Features joined a large strike team to review and improve animations on the Idris. Over the last few weeks this involved creating new TrackViews for deck crew entering the Gladius’ cockpit, checking the Gatling gun, and testing the main thrusters.
Level Design’s main focus has been interstitials which I believe are scenes that are happening in the background and around the game area that you can happen upon.
With all of the team’s scene content now in-game, they moved on to ensuring scenes reach the expected quality threshold and addressing specific details. For example, ‘Are characters in their correct outfits, are they aligned to the environment/props, do the interrupt/rejoin points work as intended, are they head tracking, do they work from various approach angles?’
Outside of scenes, progress was made on fail states. For example, punching a colleague will see players taken to the brig and getting a dressing down from a superior. Work continued on save and checkpoints too.
The UI team iterating on display layouts for Squadron 42’s flyable vehicles to ensure they all look and feel unique but retain the ease of use built on throughout the project. The concepts for the second main vehicle in the game are now signed off and ready to add, and UI are working closely with the vehicle artists on the cockpit for the third.
The MultiTool UI was also updated to make it much simpler and cleaner, while improvements were made to the AR markers and health widget. UI also updated several interaction menus and continued developing one of the key 3D displays in the game.
The Core Technology team improved Building Blocks’ runtime performance, as the recent addition of new UI assets led to an increase in size and complexity. This involved coding more aggressive solutions for skipping hierarchy section updates, which led to a reduced CPU footprint and significant performance gains.
The team also continued adding new features to Bindings and Building Blocks, including a color picker, pagination widget, and stepped lines for the designers.
Finally, UI worked alongside Graphics to develop a new internal map system to help players navigate the game’s complex cities, planets, and capital ships.
“This will be a real game changer for players and we’re really excited by its progress.”
The VFX team continued to focus on fire propagation. With the shader improvements from the previous month adding greatly to overall visual quality, the artists created new fire particles (including looping fire texture sequences) to work in harmony with the shaders. The results, though still work-in-progress, are very encouraging according to the Devs!