Monthly Studio Report: September 2017
You didn’t think we forgot about you, did you?
Welcome to the Monthly Studio Report, our chance to catch up with development teams from our studios around the world and take a look at much of what they’ve been working on in the last month. With work on Alpha 3.0 running fervently towards release, the video versions of these Studio Reports regularly found in Around the Verse have made temporary way for our popular Burndown segments each and every week. That means for September we’re back to the classic format so we can bring you the latest in Star Citizen’s continuing development. So without further adieu, let’s get to it.
CIG Los Angeles
CLOUD IMPERIUM: LOS ANGELES
This month, engineering in Los Angeles made great progress on the Item 2.0 Ship conversions, and hooked up incredible new features that Item 2.0 will offer players. One thing that really stood out was the cargo system, as it will open up a whole new play style in Star Citizen. Another cool focus for the month was the Ship Item Kiosks, this system will allow players to buy and sell goods in the game, but most importantly it will be one of the main elements needed for the game’s economy to begin to take shape.
LA Tech Design was heavily focused on fixing issues for Item 2.0 ships, making sure all the ships were correctly converted from Item 1.0 to Item 2.0, and that all the new Item 2.0 functionality worked properly. Tech Design also implemented the Render-to-Texture (RTT) screens on all the Multi-Function Displays in the cockpits, unified seat and door interactions in the ships, and set up the new 3D radars in the ships that utilize them.
The team also continued supporting various ships as they go through the Ship Pipeline. Currently, the Anvil Terrapin and Anvil Hurricane are in production and soon they’ll begin the whitebox phase on the F8 Lightning, Tumbril Cyclone, and the refactored Constellation Phoenix. Lastly, they ensured that the edge cases in setting up armor restrictions in the cockpit types are accounted for. Final signoff and implementation of this comes next.
September was a great month for the Character Team as they created new concepts for the Persistent Universe and Squadron 42 characters which they are excited to start modeling this fall. In Squadron 42, they made a lot of progress on Bridge Officer uniforms that will accurately reflect the rank of the officer. Finally, the team made significant improvements to our character production pipeline to help support the large volume of characters and loadouts needed to populate the Star Citizen universe.
This past month, the LA Ship Art team updated ships to handle new tech, such as the newly implemented fog tech, which changes the lighting to react properly with dynamic fog. The team also did a pass on the new LightGroups to update the default emergency lighting and auxiliary states, and on the Render-to-Texture technology for cockpits, which renders the viewpoint of the camera on geometry used when players are receiving incoming transmissions. Additionally, they completed the whitebox for the Cyclone, started whiteboxing the Mustang update, started greyboxing the Hurricane, and finalized art on the Terrapin.
Over the past month, the Tech Content team tackled work across various disciplines, including Animation, Characters, Environments, Ships and Weapons.
The Tech Animation team continued to rig characters as they came through the pipeline to get them in game and working. Along the way, they fixed a multitude of skinning bugs (such as fixing a hunched back animation) to improve the quality of the character costumes, worked on a full update for the mobiGlas, and added support for our developers in the Maya Cry Exporter. Another large change is the 1:1 support in Maya of loadouts. This allows our animators to see the character they are working on correctly represented in Maya with clothes, armor or weapons, which saves loads of time.
On the Character Tech Art front, they implemented lighting into helmets, generated blend shapes for beards and hair, and updated zones on male/female character bodies. Several male and female hair variants were also implemented. The team has a major workflow improvement in progress that updates the entire character production pipeline into a more streamlined system.
For Environment Tech Art, the team made progress on procedural interiors, particularly complex multi-floor layouts and an outpost procedural library. They were also busy profiling and optimizing the performance of shadows, textures and lighting in Levski.
Over on the Ship Tech Art side, they finalized the Idris and Gladius landing gear skinning/compression. They also juggled a lot of ship bugs and tasks, such as implementing a new set-up for the Caterpillar doors.
Finally, our Weapons Tech Art team continued to set up rigs while providing support with a balance pass for FPS weapons and a script for updating IK grip positions.
This month, the narrative team pretty much kicked back… kidding. They worked heavily with the PU Live Design to generate a system for procedural mission text that could accommodate the various job boards that you will consult in 3.0 but also for the mission details that the mission givers send you. Aside from the usual News Update and Jump Point needs, they continued providing names and descriptions for the various components and items in the game, tackled a myriad of marketing related copy like the X1 sale, and managed to not break the build while working with item localization into Dataforge.
LAQA worked hard testing any and all features coming from or supported by LA Engineering for 3.0: this included Quantum Travel, new turret controls and behavior, Item 2.0 ship MFD’s and support screens. We also looked into mobiGlas functionality and how it intersects with Quantum Travel with regards to the Star Map. In an effort to improve efficiency with the local pipelines, the team also worked on a variety of resource gathering tasks, such as capturing screenshots and videos or assembling bug lists for teams to use in daily standups and in high-level reviews.
CLOUD IMPERIUM: AUSTIN
The Austin design team worked hard on getting the remaining 3.0 features and tasks closed out to go to our Evocati Testers. Things ATX Design have been focused on are:
To start, Ruto finally came to life as a pass of his behavior was implemented into Subsumption. The team is currently receiving feedback from the directors before we plug in the rest of his behavior. In addition, the admin worker NPC type is currently being integrated into the mission flow. There was even a recent pickup shoot to grab some additional animations for these characters to provide some bespoke animations to give and receive packages needed during missions.
The pricing matrix was also updated to bring some additional balance to the multitude of items that will be in the game. Having items that range from hats to battleships has certainly presented a lot of challenges, and this latest pass will hopefully bring more consistency to the prices between item classes.
Finally, the team completed a new pass on the “Per Item” shopping UI. While working on kiosk shopping, Design did another pass on mobiGlas shopping by adjusting the UI Layout/Design to accommodate new item information. While this may not make the 3.0 build, the updated layout will hopefully make a subsequent release.
Ship Artist Josh Coons started the whitebox block out of the Constellation Phoenix’s interior and exterior. Because the Connie was created using the modular system, only the ‘body’ section needs to be changed, which will help save time with this variant. The interior layout is almost completed and is scheduled for a review soon. Josh Coons also did some bug fixes for 3.0, including a pass on the air tight collisions and lightgroup/RTT screen setup on the Herald and Cutlass.
Chris Smith updated the lightgroup and fog setup for the Constellation Andromeda and Aquila and organized the layers to reflect the correct setup for the lightgroup tech in Sandbox. He also re-lit the interiors and equipped the required lighting states (Aux, Default, Emergency) in the ships. Both of those ships also needed an updated collision pass on the interior (all collisions have been updated with cheaper primitives). After he finished with the Connie, he moved on to updating the Hornet setup level and lighting/light group setup.
Like the rest of the development team, the Server Engineering group was heavily focused on supporting features and tech requirements for 3.0. One of the biggest features they tackled was Client disconnect/crash recovery. This allows players to return to their previous location after a disconnection like a lost internet connection or client crash. This includes when a player in a party gets disconnected they will be returned to that group.
The team also made some major upgrades to the persistence cache so it now properly manages items that are both physically and legally owned. Basically, this means you can drop a piece of your equipment in a friend’s ship and it will persist in that ship even after you log off.
In addition to 3.0 support, the Ship Animation Team started adding in-flight comms calls between players and AI, and refined the overall comms calls experience. A motion capture session was held to pick up animations related to upcoming vehicles, as well as prototyped movements for new ships coming down the pipeline.
On the PU Animation Team, they implemented special characters into environments that a player can interact with. We now have both female and male shopkeepers and bartenders working in various parts of the levels and will continue to add more as they become available. Our usable animations can now be seen in game as work progresses to grow and refine the player experience. Right now, the AI behavior is limited to one task, like fixing something or sitting in chairs. In the future, the AI will have day/night cycles which will allow them to do their job until a certain time, head to a bar to hang out, go home to sleep, and then return to work the next day.
The team also received code support to fix some of the more persistent bugs to allow for some big advancements with the usable system. Although the AI now properly enter and exit every usable as intended, they still have work to do, like velocity matching the speed of the walk to the speed of the enter animation. During the motion capture shoot, they captured motions to help fill in the gaps of missing animations for usables and NPCs. They also corrected animations that were outdated due to updated metrics.
The DevOps team supported an increased number of internal publishes related to 3.0 and extended testing for the internal delta patcher. All automation systems were checked and rechecked to ensure confidence in stability and rapid deployments that are now expected due to the much smaller patch sizes.
Austin QA worked closely with Production to ensure that bugs that needed to be addressed before an Evocati release (as well as the eventual PTU and Live) were identified. Simultaneously, they ensured that bugs returned to QA as fixed were quickly retested, so any further issues could be flagged. New UI and HUD elements for ships, shopping UI and Kiosks, as well as new work on the mobiGlas application were major components of 3.0 testing. They also dealt with the new Stanton missions, updates to the Air Traffic Control, Persistence, the reworked Aurora, and the KnightBridge Arms ballistic cannon.
Meanwhile, the engine and editor testers were extremely busy testing new tech, such as capsule-based actor entity, particle and VFX testing, and the deprecation of the legacy job system. They also performed serious testing of the new launcher and patcher alongside Turbulent and provided them with regular updates and information after each new build.
This past month, the Player Relations team met in Montreal with Turbulent and representatives from every studio to plan technology and organizational needs. Plus, the summit covered various policies to keep the playing environment safe and secure for all backers. Gamescom was quite the busy month for us, but the team was back at it, recently moving all efforts to focusing on 3.0 Evocati testing. The goal is to structure and organize playtests with Evocati to get feedback on different sections of 3.0. This will help get info into the right people’s hands overnight after a publish.
Foundry 42 UK
FOUNDRY 42: UK
The graphics team focused on improvements to tech for 3.0 and continued with a few longer-term tasks for the next release and Squadron 42.
They added shadow map support to the Render-to-Texture system, along with many other improvements to RTT. The tech behind static (cached) shadows was improved and this feature enabled for 3.0. This saves on CPU and GPU cost for distant shadows, especially on lower spec PCs. They also made many quality improvements and bug-fixes to static sun shadows for space stations and landing zones. The asteroid system had several changes to make it more widely usable for 3.0; including better randomization/noise, physicalization-on-demand and AI avoidance volumes. On the VFX side, they focused on bug fixes and a new streaming-update system to vastly reduce the CPU cost of distant particle emitters.
For the longer-term tasks, they added hierarchical voxel support to the gas cloud system and enabled support for third party volumetric simulations to be imported into the engine. The material blending shaders were also generalized and improved so that the team can more easily add new shader features. This will be the foundation of the new glass and various layer blend shaders.
This month the UI team continued the big push for 3.0 by working on new features, as well as incorporating feedback for existing 3.0 features in order to provide players the best experience.
Over the past month, the team was involved in various sprints relating to Item2.0 in order to wrap up specific areas of the HUD and MFDs. The UI team was also involved in the Item2.0 sprint that focused around closing out all areas of Item2.0, bringing online the final remaining UI elements for ships.
The contract manager had some additional tweaks this month. As design progressed with the mission setups, they identified small tweaks to the contract manager UI that made the app more accessible, and more importantly, easier to use. The StarMap and PMA went through a few rounds of bugfixes as well. Finally, the ship selector was revised to use the updated UI, which incorporates additional functionality within the terminals for insurance claims.
Animation flow was looked at by multiple sprint teams. The usable tech underwent a rewrite to integrate it better with the AI decision making, allowing for more seamless transitions between movement and interaction. They made improvements to Mannequin, our animation selection system, to handle situations where a performance should play on a specific idle set and then, optionally, return to some other idle. For example, Eckhart leaning forward to whisper something conspiratorial and then staying in that idle pose after delivering the line. The actor system state machine also enhanced how it deals with animation requests, specifically improving queuing and interruption, as well as opening up a new event-based communication path between the animation states and the AI Subsumption system.
The team also made improvements to the mission system by implementing and testing some new glue-code that allows for random events to be triggered throughout the game via probability back-end services. This includes dynamically spawning entities (like a character, ships and props) in any environment, like space or on the surface of procedurally generated planets. Programmers continued the ongoing work to add additional variables and Subsumption nodes to the mission system, which the design team uses to create mission content. This included hook-ups for templated descriptions and its effect on dynamically spawned mission content – a simple example would be ensuring that a mission called “WANTED: Pirate Roberts” actually spawns an enemy called “Pirate Roberts”.
A total remake of the Vanguard cockpit was completed to give players a more immersive experience, and to push the artistic style towards that of the Retaliator. Lighting was revamped and the player’s controls were developed for the interaction 2.0 cockpit experience sprint.
The Sabre cockpit was revamped to function better with the new interaction system. The geometry for the dashboard and displays was remade and the rest of the interior updated to add more detail and flair.
In addition, the entire lighting was redone to add more character and take full advantage of the new systems.
The Reclaimer team finished all the LOD’s and lighting optimization that resulted in some big performance gains. In addition, a full pass was done on emergency and auxiliary lighting states, complete with transitions using the new light group entity.
The entire block out of the 600i interior was completed along with a first pass on the exterior. The hub and exploration module areas were taken further by adding the modelling detail and fleshing out the molded shapes that come with the Origin style. A base set of materials were also set up and will continue to be iterated on as the ship develops.
The interior layout of the Carrack was blocked in based on designs requests. Next comes the more detailed whitebox phase that defines the shapes of the rooms and corridors, alongside a basic lighting pass.
The Void is almost fully textured with some areas underneath the ship and a POM pass remaining. A detail pass and the creation of damage states will follow. The Vanduul Blade remake has progressed well. All major shapes and functionality were blocked in following the new art style established for the Vanduul ships.
In other news, the Hull C is art complete and ready for other departments to work their magic. They are also reworking the landing gears of numerous ship to make them compatible with the new compression system. Finally, the Ursa Rover is currently undergoing a derelict pass.
Work has continued at a furious rate for the Concept team, and they’re are still looking to bolster their numbers and hire an additional four concept artists to continue to grow the team.
Starting with Squadron 42, as levels came together they identified the visual targets, which are areas that describe the beats within the game. Then they create loose high-level images and slowly focus in and define them more and more. This enables the whole team to understand what they are driving for on a visual and emotional level. This month, they tackled a few more areas of Shubin mining station (really, it is huge!) and some of the space scaping.
For the PU, work continued on Hurston exteriors and interiors, ArcCorp and Orison. This occurred along with the props needed to support these areas.
In the world of ships and vehicles, they worked on the X1 from Origin alongside four others, which will remain nameless for now. These ships/vehicles range in size from large to small with some being simple while others are super complex. Despite the differences, they are really excited to eventually show off all of them to you.
The concept team also maintained a steady throughput of ship weapons, creating a sweet electron beam gun from Hurston Dynamics. They also finalized a Xi’an weapon, which is very different than anything the team has done to date.
This month, the VFX team put lots of cool new tech to good use! For example, now they can spawn volumetric fog via our particle system. This allows them to greatly improve smoke, dust and (of course) fog effects in the mid and near distances. Previously, they had to fade out these types of effects when close to the screen but now they fade in the fog at close range for results that are incredibly immersive.
They’ve also improved ship “deathmask” explosions by putting to use a variety of new features, which were used when blowing up the Idris at Gamescom. This includes the ability to control camera shake and screen blur directly in the particle system. They’re keeping this very subtle though and just want to add a little extra oomph where necessary. They also fixed a long-standing issue that forced them to limit the life of our deathmasks to a couple of seconds. Now they can layer them to have a bit more pop, crackle and fizzle in the initial frames before the boom!
Work continued on updating the Quantum Travel effects. A lot of time and effort went into creating new spool-up/enter/exit effects, and thanks to the extra power of the GPU particles, the team is really happy with how these are looking for the 3.0 release.
Speaking of, this month saw continued iteration on all existing effects, using the added power of GPU particles (read: higher particle count) to weapon projectiles/impacts, environment effects and basically everything else where possible.
Finally, they began a new sprint for space landscaping VFX. This starts a new collaboration between VFX, Graphics and Gameplay engineers to allow them to control particle effects based on environmental data. A simple example would be using a fluctuating density value inside a gas cloud to control the count and opacity of a camera-bound particle system. This should allow them to bring extra texture and flavor to a huge range of environments without having to resort to manually placing hundreds of entities. The team is really excited to see this tech taking shape!
Throughout September they primarily worked on issues relating to the 3.0 release. This included the usual iteration and revision work on ship audio, which has had to absorb various changes to upstream systems. They also kept plugging away at persistent universe locations, dialogue content and related systems, user interfaces, character Foley work, etc. Optimization and fixes were mostly the order of the day (or month!).
FPS weapons were also worked on. Iterations to the Behring P8-AR and other weapons got them to a better place. They supported some broad enhancements to the Star Marine game mode by adding new secondary weapon content and refining the differentiation between ADS (or ‘iron sights’) and usual aiming modes to give gunplay a more visceral experience when bringing guns up close.
Work on Squadron 42 continued to progress. The move to use Subsumption to drive music logic is ongoing but it’ll eventually give a more robust solution than previously. Where appropriate, they took the opportunity to do more bespoke sound design for environments and ambient sound in Squadron 42. This allows them to differentiate particular locations and have them stand out a bit more.
Also in September, they supported FOIP by improving its audio performance. This is a task they’ll continue to work on in the future.
Speaking of the future, some of the Audio team will be in attendance at CitizenCon, and look forward to getting to speak to some of you there.
The Environment team completed a sprint for creating large (up to 20km!) asteroids for 3.0. They’re hoping this sprint helps our tech development create a system which allows for a greater level of detail from the ground to space. As a part of this sprint, artist Luan Vetoreti experimented with world-machine to generate larger mid-range forms to great effect!
The AsteroidField entity was updated for the 3.0 release. This uses procedural noise breakup to create more natural space rock formations. It also greatly improves the efficiency of building space scenes, as it is no longer necessary to hand place asteroids unless desired. The team also experimented with ground based atmospherics for 3.0, like thermal winds around Yela. These elements could provide some great visual interest from the surface of our planets.
Space landscaping sprints for Delamar and Yela were also finished. This utilized the new SpaceDust shader to create larger planetary scale atmospherics and space dust.
The environment team also started development of some exciting in-engine volumetric simulations for Squadron 42 and the Odin System. Finally, the space-scapes in Squadron 42 were improved based on 3.0 development sprints with asteroids and spacedust.
Additional surface outposts were placed on all three moons. Various branding and logos got their final pass, including new logos and iconography for Terra Mills and emergency shelters. A final pass on all outposts was done to guarantee that there are spaces to pick up and drop of items necessary to completing certain missions. Exterior elements were given thicker bases so they can be dropped on uneven terrain. In addition, landing pads received their final pass to bring them in line with the look of high tech outposts and to better integrate them onto the planet surface.
Now, let’s turn our attention to rest stops. The final pass on all interior rooms was carried out. They knocked out a pass on props, dressing and advertisements. Elevators from the landing pads to the main hub were set up and are now working. Rest stops were also adapted to use the procedural layout system and the team is currently iterating on these early tests.
All older locations had a bug clear out, and an optimization pass was done on the worst offending models and materials. In addition, Area18 was exported and placed onto ArcCorp. Preliminary work on the entire planet is under way, as the team iterates on how it looks from positions close to the planet surface to much farther away.
A Squadron 42 art sprint is almost finished being integrated. There was ongoing support for bug fixing, design requirements and systems. Showstoppers (including lighting) are in the process of being fixed, and an AI sprint was started. Also in progress are relighting, a props/dressing pass for three key areas to accommodate the new AI, and an optimization pass.
The Derby Studio was busy moving into the new studio! After spending four months split between two offices, they’re finally back together under one roof where there’s a lot more space.
The Motion Capture and HeadCam systems were set up to run tests with the Audio team, who came down from Wilmslow in preparation for an upcoming shoot. The team also completed a bunch of facial animation and polished cinematic facial animations.
Over the past month, the Animation Team created assets for the Alpha 3.0 release and beyond. They have been updating the placeholder animations for the Player stopping. The goal is to provide a higher visual fidelity and realism to how Players move within the new speed gearing system. Animators also worked on jumping. They needed to balance Star Citizen’s signature high-fidelity look with a manageable amount of assets for when the animation bank is extended to the female model and various stamina types. Plus, they worked on stealth takedowns.
In addition, they worked on developing daily routine and life animations for characters and mission givers. A recent shoot in the Austin office focused on these behaviors, which the Derby team is now tracking and solving. The animators also added more life to the Star Citizen world with conversations characters have as they go about their routines. Finally, on the ship side, the team delivered updates for the Sabre ship set and captured enter/exit animations for the new ground-based vehicles.
Foundry 42 DE
FOUNDRY 42: DE
The DE FPS Weapons team completed the initial pass on both the Gemini R97 Shotgun as well as the Kastak Arms Custodian Laser SMG. For the Ship Weapons, they finished off the maxOX Neutron Repeaters sizes 1 through 3. The Weapons team has made great overall progress on FPS and Ship weapons these past few months, even getting slightly ahead of the global schedule, so to fill up some of the additional time and to let other dependencies catch up to their work, the team helped out the UK prop team by completing some coolant silos and are currently working on a gravity console.
In the month following Gamescom, the lighting team polished up the remaining sections of Levski by integrating Lit Fog, improving overall performance, and ensuring the lighting is setup according to the defined best practices. They also provided general support for other areas of the 3.0 release, including fixing bugs, improving performance, and unifying lighting quality across the PU.
The DE QA team was heavily involved with Gamescom this year, starting with spending a few days demoing for the press and ending with the playthrough at the Gloria Theater. With Gamescom completed, they participated in a global post-mortem to help make a better experience for future events. In regard to builds, QA was involved in testing the new character capsule for improved character collision detection, as well as full PU performance testing. New changes were added and tested in Subsumption, which included a new Usable Scope for Variable Attributes which allows control over whether a variable can be injected into another as a Variable Attribute. Additionally, the creation of CTRL-D/F/G hotkeys allowed easier navigation between Tasks on both the SubActivity and Mission Function Task grids. They also worked closely with Tony Zurovec and the Design team to make sure the system was working optimally. As 3.0 closes in, the team are mostly helping with Adhoc testing and regression to ensure the game is as stable and optimized as can be. The DE team were also interviewed this past month by David Ladyman for Jump Point Magazine to talk about their involvement and work leading up to the Gamescom demo.
The engine team has been extremely busy with their focus spread over numerous fronts. They continued work on the Subsumption visualizer, a system meant to develop and debug AI behaviors. They made some major improvements to temporal antialiasing, this work will be ongoing and the tech will continue to be iterated on over the coming months. Also, improvements were made to our tone mapping curve (ACES based). Overall, the look is quite similar to our current curve, with a tiny bit of additional punch and contrast. The darks and shadows are preserved quite well in space, and the rolloff on the highlights is still handled gracefully as by the original ACES curve. The engine team also completed several improvements to the planetary procedural objects scattering, added some new options for Environment Art, made small terrain rendering improvements, and performed general optimizations. They did several fixes to the texture array system, PlanEd fixes and improvements, continued some cleanup duties by removing old terrain functionalities, and made some improvements on decals support.
They also pushed to complete the P4K System, which is one core part of the coming delta patcher, planned to be used for 3.0 and afterwards. The P4K System is the new data structure to allow delta patching. Now, instead of having multiple pak files, there’s a single large p4k file to hold all the data. On top of this file container, the system allows incremental patching, meaning that it will only transfer files which have actually changed. This system has been used internally for roughly two months, as well as at GamesCom, and has proven to be stable.
While doing this change, they also took the time to switch our compression algorithm from the aged deflate to the more modern zStandard, which provides a better compression rate and faster decompression to improve loading times. The P4K System also changed the low-level streaming logic. The old system was file based and was using specific threads for IO, decompression and decryption. This change means that each file has to go through this pipeline, reducing our potential for parallel execution. The new system on the other hand is block based, using kernel async IO, and is tightly integrated into the threading system (more detail for the threading system changes is below). By building it like this, they can process files on many cores in parallel, while allowing them to better adapt to changes at runtime and have multiple files transferred in parallel.
To further optimize the loading times, they developed a zero-copy allocator for the streaming request, as due to the block loading, it is not guaranteed that they have all the data needed for decompression. The new allocator allowed us to cope with this situation without additional data copies, while freeing memory as soon as it is no longer needed. While the delta patcher is production ready, they haven’t fully converted over each file format/file type used to be optimal with the new system yet, so they’ll need to change some data formats in the upcoming patches resulting in some larger delta patches.
Besides the P4K System, the team advanced the threading system into the desired direction. This involved some refactoring to allow all the high-level rendering objects to run on multiple threads. Based on this, they could remove the old JobManager and keep the new and improved system exclusively. Furthermore, for the background worker threads, they started to integrate pre-emption into the Fiber system, allowing them a more efficient usage of resources without spawning a massive number of threads. This will be used by the IO system and later for all background jobs. Lastly, to move the now highly multithreaded IO handling and JobManager nearer together, they changed the signal mechanism of the background worker threads to use IO Completion Ports on Windows and EPoll on Linux. This change allowed them to directly use the background worker thread to efficiently handle all IO processing without any additional threads or delays.
The Level Design team has been preparing surface outposts to support player missions in Alpha 3.0, as well as fixing bugs and updating other locations throughout the game world. Furthermore, they’ve been testing and giving feedback on the various tools that allow the team to build the new locations at the speed and scale that they are aiming for. These tools are already being put to use in the creation of the rest stop space station, parts of Lorville and an updated version of Area18. As mentioned earlier, the team also welcomed a new Senior Level Designer who is going to focus on locations for Star Citizen’s PU after an initial training phase.
The VFX team has hard at work on new effects for 3.0 the past few weeks to take full advantage of the planet editor tech specifically developed for procedurally creating particles on the planet. They also created a fair level of hand-placed, bespoke effects that help give the bases and areas of interest a little more variety and feeling of uniqueness. Additional time was also spent improving existing particles to get them ready for release.
Work continued this month on improving the usables tech, adding capabilities for ships to have numerous usable spots where AI can interact with various elements for refueling, cleaning, repairs, etc. The team also worked on another piece of tech that would allow the team to animate usables as well as carriable objects that are in sync with the player. On the usable production pipeline, everyone is mainly focusing on the Squadron 42 usables in order to bring life to the AI in all of our levels. This also allows additional work on the behaviors of AI crews for ships, with the current focus on getting engineering and off-duty activities running intelligently.
On the AI side, the designers also pushed forward with FPS AI combat, especially the perception reactions and cover use, working closely with both animation and AI code to get the combatants feeling as realistic as possible. At the same time, work continued on the ‘Buddy AI’ and this will be working in parallel with the combat team to create realistic friendly NPC AI behaviors that will help you in the heat of battle or that you have to take care of and escort based on what the current mission is.
As a lot of the item 1.0 system for FPS is being replaced, they’re also switching all of the lootable items (medpens, oxygen supplies) to Item 2.0. The switch requires them to also update the items that produce them, so this will affect Star Marine medpen dispensers, ammo crates, as well as upcoming lootable items.
The Environment team in Frankfurt has been hard at work on closing out and fixing the remaining visual bugs for 3.0, as well as tweaking the performance on the moons. It is important that 3.0 locations are polished, so that the player’s first experience with these new additions to the game is as exciting as it can be. Further improvements and polish went into the planet tech allowing for an increase in the density of the asset scattering. This required another round of tweaking the settings for each of our moons, but offered a significant visual improvement. They have also continued work towards locations that are slated to come beyond 3.0.
Over the past month, the DE Tech Art team tackled a variety of content creation, animation support, tool development, and bug fixing. Some of the work completed was:
- Multiple skinning tasks for PU Clothing and Squadron 42 Characters.
- Wrote and refined scripts for the animation team and the VFX team, to speed up their workflow and make the tools easier to use.
- Mannequin support for the cinematic team to get additional animations into the engine.
- Multiple support tasks for the Usable team, including in-engine setups, animation debugging and tool training.
- Completed the technical setup of the Behring P8-AR Ballistic Rifle.
- Finished setups for the Kastak Arms Custodian Laser SMG, and the Greycat Industries Pyro RYT multitool.
On tools, they recently developed an animation tool called bakeCtrl, which helps animators to track backwards of any animation ctrl and bakes down the animation keys to the targeted ctrl. The end result will help save animators time as well as minimize human error. They also updated another existing tool called IKgrip. For FPS weapons, they wanted the flexibility to easily update the left-hand position as per creative needs. Currently, this is achieved with manipulating runtime IK and IKgrip from the weapon skeleton. This new IKgrip updater tool gives the freedom to animators to update the left-hand position and allows them to quickly iterate. Technically, this tool calculates the left-hand position for game and updates necessary different files in the background in real-time.
The Ship AI team have an ongoing sprint focused on smooth path traversal and complex maneuvers. The traversal work progressed nicely over the month and the team now integrated a first pass version of the improvements into Gamedev for further testing. They started looking into complex actions to support and improve dogfighting maneuvers. An initial prototype for the dogfight Subsumption activities is about 60% complete and is being used as a testbed for the remainder of the sprint. They also finished up the first pass for patrolling in an ongoing attempt to phase all of our AI to this new system, this includes new patrol behavior and adaption of existing systems to work with the new AI system.
Work was also completed on Combat AI, implementing numerous reaction behaviors for when an enemy is detected. This behavior will provide more personality to an AI enemy, and serve as feedback to players on how they are perceived by various AI. The specific behavior will be triggered by numerous events, enemy seen, distance to the enemy, bullets heard, movement steps heard, damage received, etc. The team also started working on combat search behaviors which will be triggered within general combat or after first reaction to the enemy being detected if the AI will lose sight of the target. They also spent some time reviewing the current status of ground turrets as well as supporting and investigation any 3.0 issues.
With the release of Spectrum 0.3.6 last month, a long list of bug fixes was needed to make September’s patch a huge improvement on performance and usability. Some of the major additions are:
Karma: When other members upvote your content within each community, you will receive “Karma” points. The Karma number is found on each individual mini profile.
Post Count: A counter on how many posts you have made within the community. Posts from the previous old forums are included in the count.
Tracked Posts: Threads which contain roles that are tracked, for example staff posts, now contain buttons to jump directly to those special replies within a thread. This same feature can be used within Orgs, simply enable the track post within the organization settings.
The team also reworked some of the previous features to make them more user friendly and create a base for future features. These improvements include:
- Flagging posts in private orgs will no longer create misconduct reports.
- The RSI login page will now redirect you to your previous location in Spectrum.
- Improved Search UI to search for all, erased or non-erased content.
- Display the member who soft-erased a reply or message.
- A new global permission can be given to roles to allow members to reveal and search soft-erased content.
- Member Profile Popup
- Cleaner, more space-efficient design.
- Integrated message box to send a quick private message to the member without having to switch to the private message view.
- Post Count and Karma display!
- Removed ‘content’ from flag notifications sent to officers (redundant).
- Added send button to mini profile popup on mobile.
Moving into October, the team’s focus remains on Spectrum 0.3.7’s additional features such as Custom roles, and group PM as well as achieving a desktop version of spectrum. Desktop version will give them a framework for the in-game overlay.
The launcher/Patcher version 1.0.0-alpha.20 has been greenlight by QA for Evocati testing in order to get a better sampling of different hardware, connection types and windows versions.
The first release of this new launcher framework is geared towards delivering the same experience as the previous launcher, but with the core internals needed for the Delta Patcher system, as well as a library system to manage installing multiple games and their associated release channels (like PTU, etc.). This paves the way to be able to distribute entirely separate games like Squadron 42 from Star Citizen. This release will also come with a new installer and a totally rewritten application core.
A new launcher backend and distribution system was also developed to secure access to pre-release builds and also ensure the proper delivery of the incremental objects for the new delta patcher library. The end result should be drastically reduced patch sizes between updates, faster install and verification times and reduction in the steps required to launch a patch for the DevOps team.
The end result that will soon be tested by the Evocati during the 3.0 PTU phase!
The team continues to tweak the Ship Stats display, ensuring that the introduction of the new and updated ship stats will bring clarity to the new ship balance. Turbulent has been adjusting the system that displays this to the backers to help them make decisions on ship purchases and better understand their rival ships in-game. New additions to the design include.
- The introduction of VTOL, Retro, Fixed and Gimbal thruster icons to quickly identify a ship’s speed and maneuverability.
- Additional maneuvering details including pitch, yaw, roll max.
- Specifications for missile and missile rack manufacturers, models, and size.
As each ship is reviewed in-depth, the team will continue to refine the details. Aside from the display of the ships, they created a backend service that allows technical details to be uploaded in one shot. This system will help keep the ship matrix up to date.
The design team worked hard to create the in-lore page for the X1 which depicted the renowned designer Alberto Vara. This is your last week to pick up a X1 in the concept phase. They also brought you the Subscriber Herald flash sale for one weekend only, subscribers were able to grab the Drake Herald after testing it out for the month of September.
The team continued to prepare the website for major changes with the public launch of 3.0. Stay tuned for some very exciting upgrades to the site.
August traditionally kicks off the busiest time of year for the Star Citizen community… and we couldn’t be happier! Gamescom in August, CitizenCon in October and our anniversary in November means that there’s a lot to prepare without many breaks. Between those major events there are dozens of shows, posts, reports, ship presentations and other important pieces of content to get out to the community.
In August, we livestreamed gameplay from Gamescom and broadcast the big Star Citizen event that shared the latest and greatest information and a pretty excellent demo of what’s coming up in Alpha 3.0. Since then, we’ve been prepping for the next two big events: CitizenCon and Star Citizen’s anniversary in November. CitizenCon 2947 is being held in Frankfurt and we’re updating the format to include more to do and see.
Of course, our events aren’t the only Star Citizen happenings. Backer-run Bar Citizens have taken the world by storm… no matter where you are, there’s a Bar Citizen full of other space gaming fans looking to connect. We attend as many as we can, but we’re just as happy seeing them take place everywhere! Several groups have also established watching events for CitizenCon for those who can’t make the trip to Frankfurt, including VerseCon in Austin, Texas and Pariverse in Paris, France.
Star Citizen’s video output continues thanks to the work of our GVP or Global Video Production team. Around the Verse continues to share featurettes on the making of the game plus Burndown segments that include up-to-the-minute status reports on the 3.0 rollout. Bug Smashers, Citizens of the Stars and Loremakers continue their respective series’ (with some additional developers sharing their bug stories!) The monthly Happy Hour has shown us everything from the making of Chris Roberts’ Wing Commander IV to the live creation of a space whale by the character art team!
On the ship side, we launched both the Origin 600i series and its little brother, the X1 space bike. The Origin lineup has always felt small compared to behemoths like Aegis and Anvil, so we wanted to give it a little love… and to focus on ships that aren’t as combat focused as previous years. We hope you enjoyed the ship pages and the brochures… rest assured we had a great time putting them together! What’s next for ships? Well, we feel it’s going to be something of a game changer…
Development subscribers have been busy these past two months, too. In August they test-flew the Herald and this month they have access to all five ‘original’ Star Citizen ships! Hangar flare schematics are rolling out, two every month, with the most recent group being Drake-themed. The September Town Hall allowed live Q&A with some of our tech specialists… and there’s new behind the screens articles every month in Jump Point (with an issue on the 600 and X1 being in the works now.)
We must close by thanking the thousands and thousands of community members around the world who make everything we do worthwhile. Your passion, your creativity, your excitement keeps us going all the time, and we’re so grateful to be allowed to be part of this adventure. Keep sharing your ideas, your artwork, your writing, your songs and memes and your opinions… your excitement is contagious. Stay tuned for more community content, more great events, more ships and more reports like this one. Until then, we’ll see you in the ‘Verse!