Monthly Studio Report August
What a month! It’s hard to believe that August saw both our live Gamescom multicrew demo AND the release of the social module… and a heck of a lot of work in-between! From building new starships to designing new landing zones to teaching the Vanduul to fly, we’ve been doing a little bit of everything, and it’s finally adding up to things you can see live! You can read on to find out what our teams around the world worked on in August below.
CIG Santa Monica
Hi everyone! In August, the team had their heads down creating functionality and content for the upcoming MultiCrew release of which we showed an early iteration of at Gamescom. We’ve had a great time working on implementing several major elements of Star Citizen and are looking forward to finishing more. Like always, we love sharing with everyone what we’ve been working on so check it out and let us know if you have any questions.
What a month! We started off delivering some major systems you saw debut at GamesCom and are ending with full game implementation, high priority bug fixing, and major code clean up and more. We can’t believe another month has gone by in the blink of an eye so here’s what we knocked out during that blink.
We’ve been hard at work on the Pilot AI module and to support that module, we’ve needed to do some work on the item system. Our resident UI pro, Zane Bien, has been working to finish up the massive amount of UI for some of our bigger ships while working hand in hand with all the UI stakeholders to close down the base UI systems used all over Star Citizen.
Now that we’re merging everything back up in to our main stream we’ve had a lot of integration and stability issues to address. We’re really happy to get everything back in to one stream (we’ve been working in multiple streams for several months). We did find a memory leak issue that we knocked out quickly (memory leak issues are a leading cause of many slowdowns and crashes in software of any kind, so catching these things is really important). We also worked to clean up a lot of the large world core types to get ready for the future elements in the game. We are digging further in to the physicalized damage for our ships to get that done as soon as possible.
We worked with our global team on some Quantum Travel tasks and are really proud of what we we’re going to be able to accomplish for the multi-crew release. Since we’re finishing elements of the game and supporting the live content we always have normal bug fixing to complete. Some examples are head rotation for EVA as well as camera snapping and bounding box bugs which we had to address. We had a strange Constellation firing bug that we had to iron out as well as a control transfer bug. Also, a visor position bug, HUD bugs, EVA gas giant bug, flare bugs, character helmet bugs and many more that we tracked down and squashed!
Toward the end of the month we started tying down shadow and area light fixes with forward tiled shading, cleaned up leaking decal render nodes on level unload, finished up initial implementation of multilayer material work and integrated them into the correct stream. We added thread-safe loading interfaces for textures, materials and character models as well as set up the testbed for async (asynchronous) batch loading. We also figured out the workflow of bullet pierceability, prototyped upcoming flight control modes, and chased down IFCS (Inertial Flight Control System, one of the major features that makes our game a leading-edge ‘sim’) bugs and issues for release versions. Having said all that, we’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us so stay tuned for next month.
We’ve has such a successful month! Not only did we complete some major milestones for multi-crew but are making leaps and bounds toward improved Arena Commander all while working alongside our global partners on their respective aspects of the game. The highest priority is finishing up the last minute items for the multi-crew release for you to enjoy!
To dig in deeper, we’re working tirelessly to get the Drake Herald flyable to iron out everything we need to do to make sure it’s balanced and fits well within the game. We also worked hard on general balance for our 1.2.0 patch and future patches as well by listening to your feedback and evaluating what’s needed for improvement. Now, we’re clearly laying out the ranks and hierarchy for multi-crew stations to provide what’s needed for proper controls to encourage healthy teamwork within our multi-crew ships. We’ve also been designing more physically based damage alongside engineering to get that system online as soon as possible.
GOST rear door and state groups were worked on extensively to improve this system. We also fixed a lot of bugs such as the missile rack bug, flying into space, and Gladius weapon bugs as well as a Constellation character bugs. We also fixed the Glaive hangar bug and we did Glaive blade Mannequin clean up. The Retaliator power plant transition was really fun to work on and we’re glad we finished it. We also setup the Cutlass Blue interior doors chrparams and the Constellation destruction was fun to work on because it had a lot of technical challenges. Another system we’re working hard on improving and preparing for the long term is our component implementation through prototyping and retro-fitting ships. We also did worked hard on Glaive flight balance through-out the month for the release of the ship and beyond.
It’s going to be a great upcoming month and can’t wait to show you everything we’re doing.
Another month down, and what a busy month it was. We worked hard on all the art needed for the Multi-crew release, Squadron 42 and FPS characters, as well as concepts for the next great ships.
To dig into the nitty gritty, some of the tasks we worked on in concept included the Male UEE Marine concepts, the Vanguard variants, Marine armor concepts, and the Shubin exterior Miner. For characters, we modeled several helmets such as those used by UEEN Deck Crews. We completed art for Star Marine such as helmet interior line work, the Marine Helmet, and the Light Marine Helmet. We also fixed some of the female textures, the human skin shader, and an issue with multi-light visibility, the eye shader, and finished some loadout screen renders to get ready for Star Marine. On the rigging side, we fixed the base male character model weight simulation issues, and player skin exposure issues for not only Star Marine, but the Social Module as well.
On the ship side, we modeled the white box and the grey box of the Drake Herald to get them to a flyable state as soon as possible. We also completed the Constellation LODs (Level of Detail), the Cutlass Blue LODs, added Scythe burn marks, Retaliator damage, and addressed Merlin bugs, Freelancer z-fighting bug, Cutlass Blue texture bug, Merlin thruster bug, Retaliator shield hookup, mesh and proxy, Constellation shield fitting bug, and general art bugs as they arose. We worked on the Vanduul Glaive materials vertex colors, Aurora clipping bug, ship shield meshes, Constellation grey box lighting pass and began working on the white box for the Reliant by our own Elwin Bachiller.
Also, we’ve working hand in hand with design to finish standardizing our components for all ships within the game, through proper pipeline documentation, component orthographic images, component placement, and cleaning up the overall component files. We’ve been working hard and excited about what next month holds.
Coming off the rush of production, it’s been a much calmer month than the last few. Our collective sights have shifted more to the PU while the data from Squadron 42 gets crunched to be implemented into the game. That isn’t saying that there hasn’t been S42 work, we have been helping the Editorial department by compiling first passes of the NPC Character wildlines (essentially going through the raw footage and editing out pauses and any line flubs) to present them to Chris for review.
Otherwise, we’ve been pushing forward on Star Systems, organizing the current star systems and preparing them to be vetted by scientific consultants while delving into the remaining un-lored systems to sketch out their character and how they fit in the universe. This information is important, not just for the Galactapedia, but also for reference by the developers who will be building the actual large-scale game environments for the persistent universe. This kind of data is also one of the many things we do to add deeper simulation elements to the game, instead of just doing things by fiat. While science fiction can of course contain unexplained or strange artifacts and circumstances that add elements of mystery and wonder to your exploration of the universe, we want the rest of it to make enough conventional sense for you to fully immerse yourself in a setting conducive to suspension of disbelief.
Next, we’ve been talking with Matthew Sherman, Elwin and Mark Skelton to further consolidate the list of corporations that manufacture the individual ship components. Part of these discussions involve art and design determining the standardized size/shape of each component (what elements do all power plants have, for example). The ultimate goal is to establish a brand identity (indicating the quality or type of product the company makes), so that not only can the artists can develop a consistent form language for the parts (what is the company’s visual trademark/stamp of the standardized component), but also so that the designers can begin to assign how the company’s design philosophy affects the individual part. In short you will not only be able to look at an individual part and potentially be able to identify who manufactures it, but you can also intuitively gauge how a particular company makes their products, and what the strengths, weaknesses and quirks of their construction does to that particular component’s performance characteristics to help inform your purchasing decision.
Probably the coolest thing we’ve been working on is REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED.
It’s really exciting.
That about does it for Santa Monica. We had another fun and busy month here at the studio as we work every day to close down the tasks necessary to bring Arena Commander 2.0 to your computers. As always, we appreciate you taking the time to read through our list of work and if you want to know more please don’t hesitate to ask! Thank you again for everything and remember, we always value your feedback.
What a month! The team in Austin has been working non-stop to support a variety of efforts for around the company, most dear to our hearts being the release of Social Module to the PTU and then to Public release in the same month! The team is so excited to be able to share this module with you, and so exhausted from all the work that has taken place in the leadup to this release. We’ve got big plans to release new features on a regular schedule and to continue to expand this module over time. Here are some detailed updates from the team leaders in Austin.
Persistent Universe Team
The Art Team this month spent much of its time helping to ship Social Module v0 out with the release of Alpha 1.2.0. The PU Environment Team spent most of the month supporting BHVR in creating the awesome ArcCorp landing zone environment. Patrick Thomas, Lead Environment Artist, helped Mark Skelton review and provide feedback on a daily basis to get ArcCorp looking as polished as it could be. Lee Amarakoon did multiple VFX passes on ArcCorp to get it looking nice and grimy with steam effects, atmospherics, animating graphics on screens and monitors, and he even had a hand in getting our ships ready for use in the traffic patterns in the skies above Area18. Lee also created the fire effect in the incinerator you can see in one of the back alleys of Area18. Emre Switzer completely revamped the lighting in the environment, so that the courtyard was more impressive, the alleyways were properly dingy, and all the shops each had their own flavor. Cort Soest, Global Environment Tech Lead, spent much of his time this month monitoring the optimization of the assets used in creating the environment, so you can thank him for helping to get the environment to run smoothly on your computer! We also had a new addition to the PU Environment Team this month. Ali Seffouri, Environment Tech Artist, joins us from EA Tiburon in Orlando and has been helping out with creating some much needed tools to support the art team in making more amazing environments.
The PU Concept Team has been working hard to flesh out some of the look and feel of more upcoming planetside locations. Ted Beargeon has been doing work on making style guides for Crusader and MicroTech so that each landing zone has its own unique aesthetic. (For those of you who might not remember offhand, ArcCorp, Crusader, and MicroTech are all located in the Stanton system, so being able to travel between these planets and see all of these locations in the same solar system even if you don’t have a jump drive on your ship is something we’re all really looking forward to.) Ken Fairclough has then been taking these style guides and drilling down into the nitty gritty of what makes each location stand out. Megan Cheever continues to expand the wardrobe of our game. We now have one of our clothing line’s aesthetic pretty well-defined, the Terra-influenced Fashion Casual line. We’ve also been in discussions with BHVR and supporting them on streamlining and improving the chat interface.
Our Animation Team this month has been helping in several areas. For Social Module, Vanessa Landeros has been implementing all of the emotes you see in game. We’ve got more coming down the pipe so look forward to those soon! On the ship side of things, we’ve been doing a lot of bug fixing to get rid of some of our animation debt, so to speak, so that ship interactions don’t appear to be distractingly broken in our next release. We’ve also wrapped up establishing templates for ship enter/exit animations so that our modelers have something to follow for future work. This will reduce our animation footprint for future ships. We’ve also been updating our ship cockpit animations to match the brand new templates. Lastly, our Animation Lead Bryan Brewer has been working alongside our Rigger to test and implement new custom skeletons to match some of the proportions of our actors we had on set at the mocap shoot at Imaginarium. We’ve come up with an efficient way to create new skeletons quickly and efficiently, and it has been working pretty well so far.
Last but not least, our character artist Billy Lord has been doing some R&D on creating some new hairstyles for our characters. Pretty soon we’ll be able to see these in game, which in turn will allow our characters to have a little more variety in the cranial region. I know everyone is looking forward to finally seeing some flowing locks in game!
All this month has been spent supporting the effort to get Social Module out the door and into your hands! Time and effort were spent on several aspects of Social Module, including setting up NPC’s in ArcCorp (activity around the landing pad outside Customs and Jobwell), hooking up emotes to play in game (all through DataForge), and setting up ship traffic in the sky above Area18 (I dare you to find a pattern!). In the coming weeks we will be spending more time fleshing out ArcCorp even more, including setting up the buying/selling functionality of our shops and NPC daily routines.
Looking toward the future, designer Pete Mackay has been spending some time on setting up the “Periodic Table of Elements” for Star Citizen. This will be the first step in defining our commodities and recipes. This will also help to establish what elements can be found while mining asteroids, how rare and valuable certain commodities are, and laying the groundwork for how trading will work in the PU.
Lastly, Tony Zurovec has been spending time this month thinking over the top-down layouts of upcoming Planetside locations. Specifically, the Orison landing on Crusader and the New Babbage landing zone on MicroTech. Area18 went through a number of revisions over the past few months to get the first release just right, and we learned a lot that will help make the initial layouts of these landing zones much easier to accomplish. We’ve also recruited a few designers in the UK to help out with an additional landing zone design, the Lorville landing zone on Hurston, so we will be overseeing that as well in the coming months. Before you know it our designers will have their hands full breathing life into not only the locations above, but also Levski landing zone in the Nyx system.
The Engineering Team was excited to play a big role in shipping our first iteration of the Social Module in August! They helped ship and support a couple of pushes to the PTU and have been providing continuing support behind the scenes on improvements for the live release since it went out in late August. The Server Team in particular is continuing to work on backend code that will be pushed out to continue to improve the experience of this first Social Module release.
Working on the Social Module was a great team effort…a lot of eager blood, sweat and tears went into putting this module together. Engineering worked very closely with our DevOps and QA teams daily here in Austin for many weeks, which led to improvements in our communications and workflow as well as in increase in team bonding. Together, and with support for various other disciplines, they were able to run a few very successful large cross-studio playtests in prep for the release. We’ve had our top guys analyzing both network and client profiles of playtests and identifying areas where we need to make improvements. This process included adding new analytical tools to further diagnose everything going on under the hood.
A lot of other work, not specific only to this Social Module release, progressed throughout the month of August as well. Improvements have been being made to the network optimizations for our characters, as we will be working towards adding more and more players and NPCs to game modes and maps as we go forward. As always, work continues on our various backend services and memory issues, including the juggling of new feature work with various bugs that get raised on our live game or by QA. In Austin we’re also continuing to share our engineering expertise for other features being developed outside of Austin, including support for the Frankfurt and UK studios.
A group of engineers continues to work closely with out design team to build out Subsumption Tools, which will allow our designers to create AI behavior for our NPCs. Yes…NPCs in ArcCorp will be coming, and the team is excited to be making progress on reaching that goal! The team has been chugging away at creating new Subsumption Tool functionality as well as implementing new types of behaviors and tasks that can be assigned toNPCs. Nevertheless, other tools have not been suffering from lack of attention and we continue to make improvements and fix bugs for such tools as the Sandbox Editor, Dataforge and the Asset Validation Tool.
Other engineers…our unsung heroes…have been focused on crucial super-behind-the-scenes laborious work in getting our various development streams integrated with each other. With feature work for various releases such as our recent Gamescom demo, Social Module and upcoming FPS release, as well as the integration of an updated version of CryEngine, our experts have been working to keep the correct content in the correct stream at the correct times to coincide with our release schedule, all the while working to ensure that the streams diverge only as much as is absolutely needed to support our stream workflow. While it takes attention and effort to split off different projects into different development streams and merge back together later, this process enables parallelization of work assignments and frees us to deliver content at a pace that is more satisfying to backers who are interested in sampling our work in progress. Without the effort being put into separate streams, there would be far fewer releases and a much longer wait between patches of any kind, because all of the features – as well as all of their bugs – would be tied together.
QA met the month of August in a full swing crunch for the content we were debuting at Gamescom. Our focus was squarely set on the multi crew functionality. Each day QA would play through the demo in which we were prepping to show off our new features multiple times verifying fixes and reporting new issues. The day would conclude with a play through with the developers in LA. We found this very valuable as the developers’ in depth understanding of their systems helped to identify additional issues. We were incredibly happy with how well received the team’s efforts were at the Gamescom presentation. It was a hard crunch but in the end it was all worth it to see the overwhelming positive feedback from everyone. This has energized us to work even harder to get Social Module, Multi-Crew and Star Marine out to everyone as soon as possible.
After Gamescom, our focus shifted to testing the ArcCorp/Area18 Social module in preparation for its release to the Public Test Universe and eventually the live environment. Our Social Module Specialist Todd Raffray has been very effective in ensuring each feature is properly tested. Because of this, we were able to identify a hand full of critical issues that were promptly fixed. In addition to these we have found and fixed multiple issues related to our back-end Generic Instance Manager but will be standing by to identify and address any new issues that arise from a large influx of curious citizens eager to explore Area18.
Tyler Witkin and Andrew Rexroth have been comprehensively testing Star Marine, a process which included an analysis of the cover system, how projectiles interact with the environment, as well as weapon zeroing improvements. Tyler has also helped to provide videos and screenshots of Star Marine and Social Module which have been used on the website, the latest issue of Jump Point and shared through social media.
The focus on Multicrew testing was a boon for our overall development but did result in some things being pushed aside temporarily. One of which is our automated testing development. However we are now in a position to significantly move forward on this particular front. Melissa Estrada is our resident engine specialist and has been working to train others in her in depth knowledge of proper testing of the Cryengine Sandbox Editor. She has done an amazing job training our other QA team in Manchester. She is now free to work full time on our automation framework to get it running as soon as possible.
This month we welcome our newest addition to the QA team, Marissa Meissner! Marissa is filling the role of QA Information Specialist. The QA Information Specialist is tasked with ensuring all of our documentation is recorded and maintained as well as compiling our release patch notes. She is also the liaison to Customer Service, ensuring they are kept up to date on the latest issues affecting the game. She immediately hit the ground running and is already doing a great job in this very important position.
Thanks to Marissa’s efforts, Jeffrey Pease is now free to focus on the DevOps side of QA. He has become very knowledgeable in how our back-end services function and how to effectively monitor them. As soon as an issue is encountered, Jeffrey will log the issue and notify our engineers with all the needed information. He is also documenting these efforts which is laying the foundation for an eventual Network Operations Center.
For the month of September QA will be heavily focusing on Arena Commander 2.0 testing including, among many other things, multi-crew functionality and significantly larger areas.
Game Support was all in for a big month in the history of Star Citizen. We first ran a public playtest to profile some of the larger Arena Commander issues of the day, worked on 1.1.6 and a brand new launcher, then pulled some double duty by creating the Gamescom multicrew demo videos, then moved straight into testing and preparing for the launch of Star Citizen 1.2, aka Social Module.
Our playtest was important because it again demonstrated the helpfulness of our backers, particularly those with a more technical or design-based aptitude. With that in mind, we’re still very keen to create our special “test group” which will assist in the nitty gritty details of playtesting changes to the Star Citizen service. This isn’t very glamorous duty; quite the opposite. But we need to test things such as network improvements, client optimizations, launcher updates, game balance changes, etc… anything that needs to hit a scaled test group or needs feedback before we roll it out.
We’re going to be announcing this in conjunction with the Issue Council this month, our brand new bug reporting system. We’ll be moving away from ticket and forum based bug reports into this official bug reporting system so that you can see and weigh in on the popularity of development issues with Star Citizen (we’re still in Alpha, after all!). This helps us as a development studio in understanding what’s important to the community.
We pulled a little side duty in helping create the Gamescom Multicrew demo videos as well (with a little help from Alex in DevOps). We hope that you enjoyed them as much as we did creating them!
We also worked with DevOps in releasing Launcher 2.0. As with any new product release, it’s not without faults, and the release unfortunately coincided with an unusually high adoption rate of Windows 10 (where most of our issues lie). But we’re seeing drastically improved download speeds and success rates, and we’ll continue working with DevOps to make this a completely seamless experience.
But our crown jewel for everyone at Cloud Imperium Games this month was rolling out the Social Module. What a great moment for backers, for the CIG team, for everyone involved! Game Support was heavily involved by organizing the testing groups for each phase of the rollout, as well as communicating with players along the way. We had to admit that seeing players run through the elevator for the first time was one of the coolest moments ever.
For September, we’ve got some cleanup to do. So much of our time was taken on other tasks that we’ve got a bit of a ticket backlog to work through, though we will be making the transition of bug reports into Issue Council. Once caught up, we’ll refocus our efforts towards getting Arena Commander 2.0 tested and out the door.
GamesCom was incredible! Thanks to all the community members who volunteered to help us and it was especially great seeing everyone at the E-werk event and on the show floor. This month the IT department put a primary focus on preparing for the amazing content we wanted to show at GamesCom and the new build systems.
GamesCom work began early in the month with Paul joining Hassan & Kyle in our UK office to help with setup, testing, and tuning of 24 demo machines which would be used in Cologne. On site, Paul and Hassan met with some of our super supportive backers and many others during the week-long event. While this was going on, the development team keeps on working. IT continued to work closely with DevOps on the new build system and optimizing performance of other key systems supporting the delivery of assets throughout the company. At some points working around the clock we managed to keep up with everything even though a good portion of our team was deployed to Germany.
It seems like we’re always reporting on performance improvements or the need for more speed. And it seems as if the more performance we find the more this incredible project requires of us. This month we were especially hard on our network infrastructure. We moved more builds and aggregate data across the wires than we’ve moved in the last three months combined. There’s just more of everything; more publishes to PTU and live service, more patches, more builds in general and more builds to replicate to each studio, more testing, more automation, just more and it’s exciting to see all this progress. By the time GamesCom got started we had pushed well beyond the capabilities of our core network infrastructure and it became noticeable to the company. Considering everything else going on, we couldn’t risk taking anything down and waiting for parts was out of the question as well. Mike “Sniper” Pickett quickly identified the hardest hit areas in our network and designed an overhaul of both our virtual and physical environments in the Texas office which increased our capacity and redundancy (in delivery terms, that’s a good thing – it means that some glitches that would otherwise crash your session have backup behind them and so you wouldn’t experience an interruption in service) by a factor of 2x without the need for additional hardware. This substantial upgrade was also done without downtime which is just how we like it.
August was a super exciting month and we can’t wait for what comes next. We’re preparing for Citizencon already and looking forward to meeting more of the community there.
This month the DevOps team has been focusing on getting the new build system online and used by QA and developers. In addition we started work on the enormous amount of Automation testing that the company needs as a force multiplier, continuing to improve the Launcher, and rolled out a patch and several hotfixes to the live environment. We also lent a hand in supporting the roll out of all the GamesCom demo builds and helping create a Multicrew teaser video.
As part of the new build server roll out we have built a webpage visualizer to give developers an easy way to view and kick off builds. In addition work has been continuing on automatic integration/merge code to help us manage the changes between our many development branches. This ensures that builds have all the most up to date, compatible, changes in the builds we roll out to the public.
Work has continued on improving the game launcher; handling more error cases, improving the logging, adding analytic stats reporting, and of course attempting to eke out more speed for downloads. Expect another launcher patch iteration soon with more improvements.
For GamesCom the team split up into shifts to work with the IT team 24hrs a day for the week of the convention making sure builds and digital media being created were handed off to our support staff on the ground at GameCom. Though we ended the week quite exhausted, I think everyone was happy to see the fruits of the company’s labor in front of the backers. Plus we drank a bunch on that Friday to relax and enjoy the show.
The team has also been working quite closely with the server team looking at the performance of our Game Servers, General Instance Manager, and other Universe Services. This has led to creating and rolling out 12 hotfixes to improve crashes, memory leaks, deadlocks and performance over the last few weeks. In addition, work on setting up the game database has begun in earnest, and a couple of engineers from the DevOps team have already begun writing code for the interface layer to the eventual Persistence Server.
Finally, we began our four month automation project. This project will encompass work from the DevOps team in Germany as well as in Austin, and will cover the four major areas of automation; Perforce Tools, Game Client, Game Server, and Build Server. While we are still at the very beginning of this effort, the road map we have outlined promises to help QA reduce monotonous repetitive testing, ensure that checkins into the branches will not crash the build before they go in, enable engineers to see server load and performance without the need to organize massive playtests, and will fire off an array of build checks at the end of the build creation process. Obviously, the gritty part is getting all the coding done and then bug free!
As with every month here at CIG we’re working each and every day to bring you the next iterations of the Social Module and push onward towards the Persistent Universe proper. Select developers across the project are working on bug fixing for a subsequent patch to 1.2.0, but the majority of us have shifted focus to working towards the release of Social Module v1. Social Module v0 saw the release of features like Multiplayer functionality on our first planetside landing zone (ArcCorp’s Area18), the Chat System, and Emotes. Now that we’ve got some core backend technology as a foundation, we can start to build upon it to make the BDSSE!
Some features that are in active development at this present moment include improving the chat interface and functionality (hooray for private channels!), adding at LEAST 25 more emotes to choose from (now with audio!), updating the shop facades to make them absolutely unmistakable from across the Area18 courtyard, and something to do with…buggies??
We know you guys are looking forward to seeing the next landing zone, Levski in the Nyx system, and we are too! Levski is in Final Art stages and now we are looking at scheduling in time for optimization using some new tech called the Compound Render Node. This will significantly increase performance across all environments and will allow them to run smooth as butter while traipsing around these amazing locales.
It’s always scary to put something that you’ve worked so hard on out in the hands of people to render their judgment. We were hoping that you guys would like what we delivered, and the positive feedback has been overwhelming. Thank you for all of your support, we can’t wait to knock off your socks once again in the near future!
Foundry 42 UK
As always, plenty of work happened in Manchester this month! Members of the team here were thrilled to meet thousands of Citizens live at Gamescom, and we’re excited about introducing you to the entire team at Citizencon in October! Meanwhile, here’s the department-by-department review of what we did in August…
Another busy month has passed in the F42 coding department, with the start of the month seeing both the release of 1.1.6 and the Gamescom live demo we’ve been hammering away at our keyboards to help fix up some of the core large-world and multi-crew ship features that went on show, as well as the usual bug smashing! The features included work on the Quantum-drive mechanic which has been amazing to see in action as it not only looks cool but allows us to actually traverse the new large 64bit worlds we’ve created in a reasonable time. A highlight Q-Drive bug that got fixed along the way was your ship losing control at distances a long way from the origin, it turns out this was due to Cry Engine’s default ocean water level of z = -1000000 being now easily within reach, which would subsequently flood your engine!
Work has also been done towards various game modules. The FPS visor now includes new hit and grenade proximity warning markers and has had polish on its health display and ammo counter. There’s been fixes on med-packs, doors and ladders; nice touches for example include the ability to change speed on a ladder and new animations for holstering your weapon as you mount them to smooth and speed up transitions on to them. While a lot of FPS work happens at other studios, Foundry 42 does take some of that development onto its own plate, particularly for things that are integral to the Squadron 42 experience that we hope to deliver. Squadron 42 has seen work started on the Sidling (wall shuffling) mechanic as well as further work on looting, save game and security networks, plus the conversation system has started hooking in audio data that was previously recorded on the live shoot. Ships-wise we’ve started looking at a new ship-scanning feature that allows you to scan a targeted ship and over number of seconds it will gather information about each of the ship’s components (weapons, shields, cargo, engines, etc) and then allow you to cycle through that info.
More time is now being allocated towards cleaning up pre-existing in-game systems, we now have a “Clean-up Friday” that sees us look at tasks such as moving our in-game item .xmls into our new DataForge tool .xml format, which makes them easier to edit and validate going forwards. It also covers refactoring of systems such as the input backend, which thanks to this can now support an unlimited number of connected joysticks, all with separate keybindings. It also sees the cleaning up of stale code that we no longer use and the fixing of non-game breaking errors and warnings in our logs, this improves the overall state of the game as well as our overall visibility on what is wrong under the hood, thus speeding up our workflow for future releases.
The team has continued working on some of the AI systemic cover animations now that we’re fully moved over to the v7 rig. As well as that we have synced up with our Frankfurt team on the first batch of performance capture animations and started making progress getting them synced up with the audio tracks and engine ready. Our resident tech animator has been making good progress in getting facial animation in to game and we’re really looking forward to completing some vignettes and seeing it all come together for the first time. The new few weeks we’ll be busy supporting the teams’ needs for Citizencon.
“This month the graphics team have mainly been focussed on character shaders, the first of which is a new shader we’ve developed for clothing, armour, items and weapons. Rather than uniquely baking individual textures for every asset, this shader uses a pool of generic textures for base materials such as steel/leather/denim, and combines these in the shader to determine the properties of the surface. This allows us to support quickly change the properties of an object without having to modify the underlying textures, which is a huge benefit for customising and items in the PU. It also allows us to support dynamic changes such as dirt or damage building up over time, or allowing the art director to tweak the look of say a specific metals from one manufacturer without having to find all the items created by that manufacturer. This shader has taken some time to develop but we’re expecting it to open many possibilities in the PU in the coming months.
The other character shaders we’ve been working on relate to human skin. We’ve extended CryEngine’s skin-wrinkle technology which is used to show wrinkles and creases in the skin on certain facial poses, and we now support four times as many wrinkle-poses as before. We’ve also added support for blood-flow maps, which capture unique colour variations on the skin on certain facial poses caused by changing blood-flow and the stretching and compression of the skin. These extensions resulting in a significant improvement in the quality and believability of our characters facial animations.
The rest of the graphics team have been investigating improvements to shadow system and continuing work on the damage system for multi-crew ships.”
It’s been another whirl wind this month, starting with the glorious Gamescom demo, the team worked super hard to bring everything for the unveiling and are now pushing on with advancing the play space and areas of interest.
We have been tasked with concepting a new ship, all very exciting and Gavin Rothery is doing a Sterling job of bringing it to life (can’t say more!) Overall concept work has been focusing on picking up a lot of pieces, working out areas that have slipped through the net, redefining areas as the Design dept makes updates and lending support to cinematics in Frankfurt.
The environment team has been busy with the map for the Arena Commander 2.0 release for CitizenCon. We have three main stations with interiors whiteboxed out now, along with one planet, three moons, three smaller satellites and a set of small asteroids. We have also been taking a new Low Tech Alpha set up to greybox that will allow us to build our station interiors more sensibly and to a grander scale than originally planned. The last POI to go in will be Asteroid Gainey and its sister set of large asteroids which are currently being prototyped.
All these points of interest have gone into the new map.
Next we’ll be continuing refinement on the large world map, getting lighting, mood and atmosphere locked down for each of the three stations, along with extensive testing on the physical limits we can push for Asteroid Gainey and the large asteroids.
This month was dominated by CG tasks covering GOST, Quantum drive implementation and ship destruction. With the integration of 3.7 into game-dev we got lots of new features and lots of new bugs which have all been documented and prioritized. Adam joined the VFX team and has been tackling the Blade thrusters and weapon effects, as well as learning our tools.
A big push has gone into cleaning up all the old assets and bugs that affect the whole game with some very good progress made. Work has also begun on implementing the ship damage effects into multicrew ships using the full systemic damage system as well as getting the destruction pipeline nicely streamlined.
The new pipeline has been locked down and is now being rolled out to all new props created, improving the legacy props is still in the planning phase.
After the Gamescom work was complete focus was shifted onto the upcoming CitizenCon event. The CitizenCon work covers a wide variety of props, high tech, low tech and also a lot of universal props both for environments and ships.
This work will help to prove out the new pipeline works across the board but will also help test our new production workflow that should improve communication between the different teams and ultimately mean we see more props with audio, animation and VFX seeing their way into game.
A large amount of work went into getting the Retaliator ready for the Gamescom demo, getting GOST states ready and fixing all the new issues that came to light as the systems were implemented. We have had a slight reprioritisation and the vehicle team has temporarily grown (some artists have moved from Environments) and now we are tackling a hefty bunch of work (more in next months report). The Starfarer is happily motoring along, the guys are now working on the key areas (the archetypes) that make up the ship, once we have the textures and materials for this MISC ship defined we’ll be able to roll out a lot more assets faster and also use them for the updates on the Freelancer. Some extra work has gone into the Mining Bot, it’s looking in good shape but it will be on hold for the foreseeable future until we have engineering resources to work out a four legged walker – as you can imagine, we have a lot of other areas that are higher priority but this is one ‘ship’ I’m really looking forward to see in the universe.
Idris – c’mon –what about the Idris, I hear you say – well, for those that have bought one, you can’t be disappointed with what your money is buying, this ship will be epic – it is complex, believe me, even with all the art and tech experience we have it’s still a highly challenging asset (level) but it will help define medium size craft and how they are ultimately put together.
The AEGIS themed UI work took a big chunk of time, working out all the new systems needed for Multicrew and the demo, this work is ongoing, now we have a style we’ll be able to start making more and more elements to be used around the ship.
FPS UI has been worked up, slight nip and tuck – tweaking placement and the look of Health, ammo and prompt systems along with additional work to the Conversation system, Use and looting systems – it’s all coming together!
Our big push early this month was to ensure that the Gamescom demo and related material was done to the required standard. Sadly some technical issues with the live stream meant that certain peaks (literally!) didn’t quite come across as intended, but thankfully these didn’t carry over to the offline rendering of the same material so it won’t have affected most people. As well as the sound design team’s work, we also had some excellent music from Pedro Macedo Camacho in there which never fails to please.
Quickly following on from Gamescom we had a hugely productive session recording weapons sound effects, with an emphasis on interior/environmental reflections, which will benefit Squadron 42 (as well as the general FPS aspect of Star Citizen) greatly. We hope to release a dev-diary/work-in-progress video focusing on the process behind this, Stefan’s put a great video together showing what went down. Special mention to our very own Sian Crewe who also was a huge help on this session.
Talking of Squadron 42, we had a shoot to support in terms of dialogue, Phil and Bob both went down to cover that on the same day as the gun recording by sheer coincidence.
The release of 1.1.5 and subsequent releases have crystallised our requirements for coping with the sheer scale of our game, our audio coders have been ironing out some bugs before moving onto what we’re terming ‘Large World Audio’. We want to ensure we have a high detail level at a local level for players, which we don’t sacrifice for the scale and scope of the grander universe. All very modular systems-led stuff, and we’re hoping that’ll continue to improve performance within Wwise and CryEngine so that we can keep on emphasising audio detail and quality.
Otherwise we’ve been working hard on the audio for the Social Module, other FPS work, and preparing for CitizenCon. We’ve also refining how we handle audio for ships as we sincerely want to take that up a notch compared to what we’ve done already.
As always, thanks for listening and please feel free to ask any audio related questions on the Ask A Developer section of the forums!
So August for UK QA was all about the whirlwind of activity that was Gamescom and the recovery process that followed its culmination.
Liam Guest, Glenn Kneale, Ben Parr and myself were lucky enough to be involved in the event and the livestream for the multicrew demo. A stressful and of course deeply satisfying experience! A big thanks to all in the community that helped us make it through the 4 days in one piece, although Red1 could have done with a towel on stage…
Meanwhile, back at base camp, Geoff Coffin, Steven Brennon and the rest of the team were holding things together superbly – Geoff earning himself MVP and the most esoterically German medal (with cows and milkmen) that I could find in Cologne. The UK QA team spent a lot of time meticulously practicing the demo – giving those of us in Germany all the pointers required to pull of the presentation – if only we’d read them!
After the event, we were able to ease up on some of the long shifts we had been doing in the build-up and get back to a semi-normal routine. That included getting stuck into supporting the ATX studio on the development of the ArcCorp social module, something which, as you can imagine, turned into something of an all-hands-on-deck sort of affair.
Roll on September – in which we’ll have two new starters in the department – much needed for testing the upcoming release of sc_alpha_2.0!”
Gamescom came and went, but there is still plenty left to do that we are working frantically on to get the “Large World” demo into your hands. The designers are populating and optimizing the system (can’t really say level anymore as it is so big). We are tidying up the gameplay and working flat out to get as much functionality into the multi-crew systems as possible. We have new FPS environments that are being worked on with a view to getting them into the next major release if possible.
As I mentioned in last month’s report all the various systems that had designs that were light or out of date are still being revamped and we are making good progress on things like radar, scanning, ship signatures, the conversation system and repair.
There is also a huge push on getting as many ships as possible hangar ready by Christmas and that has meant we have had a lot of meeting and sanity checks on some of the older ships that are very much due some love. I hope when you get your hands on them that you will agree they have been worth the wait. Thanks again for the awesome support, we couldn’t do this without you!
Foundry 42 Frankfurt
It’s been a busy month for the office as usual. Most of the team helped out with the Gamescom presentation to some extent. It’s really cool to see different components start coming together within the same game space, and the reactions and excitement of the fans and community helps drive us.
We’ve had a steady stream of candidates come through for our open positions, and the Frankfurt team is slowly growing to help out with various areas of Squadron 42.
We did our first segment for Around the Verse last week, we look forward shooting something each week to give everyone more insight into what we’re doing here. Below is a breakdown from the leads or directors of each department on the main things they tackled over the last month.
During August, Frankfurt engineering has mostly been dealing with several Gamescom and post-Gamescom engine related items. As most of subsystems are moving over to the Zone system, there have been several medium and long term items being discussed, tackled and reviewed such as streaming, loading times, memory usage etc. The learnings from Gamescom with regards to large world map and multicrew are being applied to the new Large World maps that, as expected, are going to be larger and larger… other items are being worked on for Citizen Con and for the upcoming releases.
We continued with removal of legacy engine code (mostly renderer) in preparation for major engine and render refactor (long term task) to better utilize modern APIs and multi core systems. We fixed several client side (rendering) issues for arena commander. While we previously looked into memory efficiency on content side, this month we looked into client and server side memory performance of the SC code base. As a result several leaks were fixed that caused stability issues and crashes. This process is ongoing and we hope to further improve stability and optimize memory performance. There’s work items already scheduled / in progress which tie into this goal.
On the animation and physics side we developed a new method to drive ragdolls with animation data. The goal was to get accurate and fast pose matching between animation and permanently driven ragdolls. Along the way, we improved the blending in and out of ragdolls, created a new ragdoll setup with correct mass distribution of human body parts and improved the tools to setup springs and joint-limits for natural body poses. To speed up the turnaround time when building ragdolls, the whole setup of the physical parameters was moved from Maya into an XML-file.
August has been a month busy with some of the low level work needed for Subsumption and the simulation of the persistent universe.
Francesco has traveled to Austin to work directly next to the Social Module team. Main focus has been the optimization of the NPC movement and the synchronization of the playing of the animations across the multiplayer infrastructure.
On the first point we have worked with Wyrmbyte to analyse the current network usage during the movement of a character, and we laid out a plan to test a first optimization for NPCs characters: compared to normal players, we can assume that the AI controlled entities are much more predictable and will require a smaller amount of data sent to correctly move into the world.
Regarding the animation synchronization, all our characters use Mannequin to organize the animation database and select the proper animation to play. This month we made a first version of an animation component that gets informed when animations are queued on the server so that the clients can also correctly queue the same Mannequin fragment, wait for the selection of the random option to happen on the server and then start the same animation with the same starting time of the server. Our implementation also takes care of state replication, so that clients that will join the game mid-way through the animation playing will also have the correct visual representation of what’s happening on the server. This implementation allows us to make full usage of Mannequin without making big changes on the current game code and that’s a big win!
And not to forget to mention, all the animation functionalities are shared between AI and player characters!
We have also started collecting requirements for the re-design of the spawning mechanics, we want to have a centralized system that can be customizable and that can take care of the all the needs of Squadron 42, which then can also be used for Arena Commander and Social Module.
We have progressed further into using the Usables system as navigation links, that will allow us to place links in the world (manually or procedurally) with specific properties to mark-up specific locations of the world where the NPCs can move using specified animations and causing specific gameplay interactions (for example an NPC needs to press the elevator button before entering it).
Last but not least we have just started to fully integrate the navigation mesh and the characters’ paths into the Zone System and we are continuing refactoring the code into more portable/combinable components (for example we isolated the functionalities for controlling the NPC aiming and looking into two separated components that can be controlled independently).
In addition to all of that, the Frankfurt office has continued coordinating the work made by Moon Collider on the improvements of the DataForge/Behavior tree connection, the new functionalities like the personal log, the task system refactoring, the improvements of the ships behavior and the ships movement.
Working on code validation, automation and tools to make dev’s life easier. Also this month we’ve been visited by Jeremy and Joseph from ATX, both part of the Dev-Ops team. Needless to say we have plenty of meeting where many things were discussed and are going to be worked on. Without going into details, build reliability, the ongoing switching towards a new build framework, paks and patch creation were discussed. Lot of work ahead.
One of the big things at the beginning of this month for us was finishing up the setup of the interior of the Retaliator for the GamesCom demo. It was a bit of a mad rush but the final result was well worth it and the feedback and appreciation we received from you guys at the live show, Twitch and YouTube channels was amazing and humbling at the same time.
Once we finished with the Retaliator demo we sat down and tried to figure out what needs to be documented and replicated in order for all the other ship setups to go smoothly in the future. And believe me, there’s a lot of things we did not initially know as this is the first ship to unite so many of the systems we want to have in Star Citizen.
Our level design department, while still continuing to build two of the Squadron 42 levels, they are also working hard on bringing a new multiplayer game mode to life for the FPS module. The guys are working together with the programmers from Illfonic to get this ready in time for the FPS release.
On another, a bit more less exciting note, both the level and system design departments have been working on improving our recruiting pipeline and candidate testing to ensure we get the best of the available talent pool.
The work on AI and AI-building tools continues and it looks like as soon as the new character rig goes in with the new cover animation set we’ll be able to quickly adjust our behaviours to start making use of all these goodies. Right now we’re running our new AI behaviours in more of an experimental/debug mode in which we can test and prototype their thinking and their logic without being able to see much of the fruits of our labour in actual game but once the rig and the assets are in, everything should just fall into place.
Hacking and electronic warfare are also systems that were given a lot of attention this month but more details will come on that once we feel they are solid enough to show to you guys.
At the same time we are supporting our tech department with their work on prototyping planetary procedural generation. Sadly, we were informed by them that if we give away any details about this before it’s properly ready to show, we will be skinned alive. We take our programmers’ threats very seriously around here!
In August we were busy on multiple different fronts regarding the cinematic side of things.
Additional p-cap shoot
Our main shoot for performance capture for S42 ended beginning of July, but we went back to Imaginarium Studios in London for 2 days to wrap up capture on some crucial story elements we hadn’t shot during the main shoot due to actor availability. Can’t wait to reveal our cast to the fans out there! It was nice to be back in the volume, reunited with the crew that worked with during the months earlier in the year.
We were also continuing work on several cinematic environments, namely a construction dock for a capital ship that will be featured in S42’s story, a UEE Navy hospital facility and a UEE administrative building.
Our initial prototype environment for the Vanduul Kingship bridge interior was cleaned and lifted up a few notches. Still not final by any means but progress!
A smaller part of S42’s opening will actually be shown at CitizenCon in October so we are also working hard on the environment for this scene which will also be perfect to show the progress we have made in facial animation quality.
We recently got the first full performance of body+face of one of our main actors working in sync in engine. Saying we are quite happy with the level of facial fidelity we can now achieve would be a tremendous understatement. Can’t wait to show it to the community at CitizenCon. Coming from earlier tests like the Constellation Commercial last year there has been a dramatic push in quality for what we will be able to show on our characters faces. Exciting!
High end character performance is just one part of SC’s cinematic equation though, the other big chunk will be space dogfight/cap ship battle scenes. For those we are currently planning some more tools like a spline corridor so we can film our ships fully articulated but also in a 100% repeatable and reliable way. For that our IFCS needs to be taking a backseat as we will have to be able to override ship functions to make sure that a cinematic will not break if e.g. a ship’s in-engine thruster power gets adjusted later on during development.
We also found some smaller issues related to certain cinematic tools/cameras coming from the recent move to the LargeWorldSystem but overall the move has been quite smooth. Quite a thing to see world coordinates in the millions of kilometres range in-engine, compared to just 4-8 kilometres before.
This month there was a lot of tool and pipeline work. Updated the audio asset build tools, which should improve the sound designers’ iteration times and lower the load we put on the P4 (that’s Perforce, our codebase version control system) servers, made lots of small fixes and tweaks post-3.7 integration in game-dev to get the new tools and systems to work properly with the CIG audio setup, tweaked the standard Sandbox audio tools to improve their performance when handling the large number of audio assets already accumulated by our project. Also finally started the work on moving the audio system to using listener-relative audio rendering required for the proper Large World support.
This past month we have been working on the quantum drive effect for the ships. This required a fair amount of R&D before we achieved the look that was desired. We also had to work closely with the graphics programmers to create the custom shaders and backend systems required to bring it all together.
The final effect combines elements from VFX, code and audio in order to bring the quantum drive to life!
As you will be able to read below, all my team put in double effort this month to bring you the first iteration of the Social Module. We were hyped by how the demo was received at Gamescom and this gave us the energy to push our limits so that the Social Module would hit your computers before the end of August. Working with Austin to deliver it on time was a phenomenal effort. We are really glad you can enjoy it now and we are looking forward to give you major improvement over the next couple of weeks.
This month the UI team has been working hard on various features for the first release of the Social Module: The chat UI has undergone a lot of changes, for both design and art. The contact list got a couple of art upgrades, AR mode got some love, and we have been doing a lot of bug fixing.
We also flew out to meet up with our friends at Foundry 42 as well as some folks from L.A. for a UI summit. Together we have started to get a clearer overall view of all the different types of interfaces in the game, and are working to unify and improve upon the interaction design as well as the graphic design across all modules.
A big month on the design side, with the coming release of Social Module V0 before the end of the month. Lots of bugs to fix and small improvements here and there to make sure your visit to ArcCorp goes without a hitch. We can’t wait for you to explore every shops and back alleys with your friends.
We are also hard at work on the Million Mile High Club, more details about it are coming soon.
Finally, we have delivered the August Subscriber Flair in your hangar: the Takuetsu Starfarer ship model.
On the Environment side, we have been working on putting Area 18 together for the PU release. Mainly optimization and bug fixing.
We’ve also started polishing one of the building sets to include the new specs that will make the maps run faster and look better.
On the flair side, we’ve completed all the trophies for Gamescom and CitizenCon and as usual preparing next month flair.
August has been a very productive month here at Behaviour. We focused a lot of our efforts in the Social Module Demo that was shown at Gamescom on August 7th 2015 and then continued to polish the experience for the Live Release of the Social Module. We’ve done a lot of polish to the new In-Game Chat UI, and made it so the transition between talking on the chat and playing the game is very smooth and intuitive. We’ve also made sure that other players viewing you doing emote animation from a chat command will see the same animation as you do on your side. We’ve added a functionality that allows a player to easily switch between a few predefined Player Loadouts in his Private Hangar before going outside to meet the world.
Speaking of Area 18, we’ve worked on making sure that all interactable objects (i.e. Elevator Console, Doors) present in ArcCorp’s Area 18 work as intended in a multiplayer Environment. You’ll also be able to appreciate the work we did regarding the Augmented Reality (AR) functionality of the mobiGlas. We’ve optimized the way we detect AR-enabled objects and also the way the system will choose to display AR information on screen. This is also valid for when looking at other players; you’ll now be able to see the name of the players you are playing/chatting with.
We’ve added more UI feedback in the Transport Elevator Console to inform players of the status of the transition between two different areas. We’ve also added a search functionality to the In-Game Contact List and fixed some existing Issues with adding and removing contacts. We’ve also reworked the way we integrate Loading Screens into our game so that we can quickly add new Loading Screen Art per Level in the future.
What’s up mah Citizens?! Coming straight outta Denver, it’s the monthly IllFonic studio report! I’m sure you all have probably heard the news, that the team here has been scaled back as Star Marine transitions to be internally developed at CIG. This is true, and was always the plan. However, we do still have a smaller, lighter team working on the FPS module to help wrap things up. Read below for the nitty gritty details.
On the art side, we have been making a polish pass on each of the FPS weapon based on feedback from Chris and the Art Directors at CIG. We have also been creating clean and dirty version materials of each weapon. This will be used to show wear and tear on a weapon as it ages and sees some heavy usage.
The animators spent most of the month cranking away on retargeting all of the FPS animations over to the new rig. They have also been re-rigging the weapons to accommodate the system change of the weapon being parented to the hand instead of the spine. New animations have also been created for juking/stepping while in a crouched state. Magazine check animations were also created to support a new reloading mechanic that will intelligently check the magazine currently in the gun against the other ones the player is carrying and either replace the mag with a fresh one or pop it back in. Lastly, they have been going over the remaining mocap data, cleaning it up, and prepping it for implementation. This includes things like vaulting, mantling, sidling, injured locomotion sets, etc…
The engineering team has mostly been focused on fixing bugs. They also spent time on implementing the new mag check system mentioned above and creating the rules for a new game mode similar to Headquarters or King of the Hill. Over the last week or so, the majority of their time has been spent helping out CIG with the large merging process that has been going on. Taking the work from each of the different release branches, and consolidating them all back in to one.
That’s about it for this month Citizens, until next time!
Hello and bonjour from Montreal! Here’s what we’ve been up to in this last month:
Jump Point – The Producers
Our very own Grand Poobah, Benoit Beausejour, was featured in the August issue of Jump Point Magazine, in the “Producers” section. He and other Producers (from CIG and partner studios) were interviewed about their roles and responsibilities, challenges, and mission. Several Producers took part in this in-depth (15-page) article, so if you’re interested in learning about the inner workings of a gaming company, you should definitely check it out. Thanks to David Ladyman for putting it all together!
This month, our main focus has been the element that we have code-named “Control Disc”, which allows you to retrieve information about a particular celestial object. Not only did we revise the design to fit smaller screen resolutions, but we also explored different animation effects on the disc itself. As complex as the Starmap project has been, the Control Disc is perhaps the most complicated element since it requires integration of WebGL, static HTML elements and the Starmap database.
Although we will continue tweaking until the very end, the current WebGL viewer looks amazing. We refined the Galaxy and System views, and developed a “console” so that we can easily adjust color and animated effects for each celestial body. Next month, we will improve the transition effects, i.e. from Galaxy to System view, and from System to System.
Work continues on the 3D animated versions of the celestial objects – for example, planets, stars and space station.
Also this month, we began discussions about the audio component of the Starmap. We would like to add some sound effects to enhance the experience, without being distracting. For those who like to browse the web in complete silence, we will also offer a toggle option.
We are now in the final stretch. We’ve cleared the majority of critical bugs and are now working on the FAQ and Help pages. We’re working with CIG to set a launch date. We plan to start rolling out the Issue Council in the coming weeks. Keep an eye out for it in the “Community” submenu!
The hub is ready! Soon, it will be accessible to a select few Star Citizen members so that they can contribute some starting content to the Hub (artwork, videos, external links, podcast feeds, and livestream feeds). Once we have received some submissions, we will be ready to open it up to all Community backers. The presence of the hub on our staging servers has already spun many other ideas on how we can use this to power other parts of the community (10 FtC questions, game feedback and others).
This month’s Star Citizen presentation at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, was accompanied by the sale of several limited ships, such as the Merchantman, the Reclaimer, the Carrack and many more. There was also a surprise flash sale on the website for those who could not attend the event in person. During the presentation a competition in Vanduul Swarm was announced, allowing the first 1,000 people who completed wave 18 to buy the Esperia Glaive, a reproduction of the feared Vanduul fighter. Toward the end of the month, the highly popular Vanguard Warden went back on sale, flanked by its new siblings the Sentinel (an E-War focused variant) and the Harbinger (a bomber focused variant). This sale also saw the introduction of the new Battlefield Upgrade Kits for the three variants, allowing you to hot-swap your Vanguard’s equipment between that of a Warden, Sentinel or Harbinger, to suit your next mission.
What you didn’t see
We completed the migration to Google’s GCE this month, resulting in a 20 to 25% increase in performance across our infrastructure, and also significantly reducing the monthly cost for CIG. This move is also significant in that we finally moved away from the original hosting provider that we’ve had since the original crowdfunding campaign. We’re leaving the family nest because we’re all grown up now, sniff! On the technical front, our GCE environment is fully based around “containers” (docker). This major advancement makes operating the site servers and processes more integrated and really helps in streamlining how we get code updates to production.
Some months we find ourselves focused on two or three big features, but August was one of those months where we found ourselves doing lots of small tasks: bug fixes, feature improvements, responding to feedback from designers. They were all important and useful, but they don’t always make for exciting reading for you, the backers. So we’ll spare you the talk of merge conflicts and build configuration bugs, and stick to the cool stuff!
An interesting piece of design work we’ve been doing is a refactoring of the Kythera perception system for characters. Now that designers have spent a reasonable amount of time building behavior trees in Kythera and using our perception system, they’ve found that they want some aspects of the perception system and the way it interacts with behaviors to work a bit differently. In particular, they want behavior trees to have more control over how AIs respond to certain events in the world such as hearing weapon fire or some unexpected noise, and to also control when AIs look for better targets and when they stick to their current one.
Right now the Kythera perception system will take in stimuli from different sources (vision, sound, and tactile events for characters; radar signatures for ships), perform calculations on whether enough stimuli have been received for an AI to have noticed something, and then pass this information through to the target selection system, which will look for the best target at any point in time. There are various parameters that each AI can set to affect how both their perception and target selection work, but from the behavior’s point of view, it is just told what the current best target is.
This setup allows for simpler behavior trees, and has worked really nicely for ships, but for characters we’ve found that the behavior trees tend to be set up quite differently from ships. In human behaviors, where the acting element is so complex and vital, more control is needed, so it’s desirable to move some of the logic of the perception system into the behaviors, even though this can make them more complicated. So we’ve been working on a design for an improved perception system that will allow behavior trees to be authored with the control that designers want to have. We’re also looking at whether we can improve ship behaviors as well by making similar changes to their behaviors, and that’s something that will be ongoing in the next few months.
We made quite a few good improvements to ships this month, particularly with regard to improving their behaviors for Pirate Swarm. Some of the highlights are improvements to approach and retreat behaviors that better take into account max weapon range and current shield levels; changes to make AI missile usage less predictable; and some improvements to avoidance so AI are less likely to crash into other ships.
We also fixed an interesting bug where AI would sometimes behave strangely when going to fly on a spline in scripted situations such as the tutorial. We use the reported thrust values from IFCS (Intelligent Flight Control System) in order to plan out ship movement, but sometimes IFCS wasn’t fully online when we were planning, and so we weren’t working with correct values. So we added a way for a ship behavior to make sure IFCS is fully online before doing something that depends on it.
One nice change we made to character visual perception is to allow them to see things at greater than 180 degrees if desired. Our visual perception system had both a primary and a secondary vision cone, where the primary cone mimics regular vision abilities, while the secondary cone is intended to mimic peripheral vision. That means targets in the primary cone will generally be detected fast by the AI, while the secondary cone takes longer.
The problem is, AI often seem stupid when their peripheral vision is less than 180 degrees, so the obvious solution is to increase the field of view of the peripheral vision. The issue there, though, is that the primary and secondary vision cones are precisely that: cones. The mathematics of the view cones completely breaks if you try to go above 180 degrees. So to fix this, we needed to change the geometric shape that defines the vision space of an AI from a cone to a more appropriate shape when the field of view is 180 degrees or more (which is basically a sphere with a cone cut out of the back of it).
We also continued to make some improvements to the behavior tree editor in DataForge. We added the ability to now specify inputs to BT nodes as a dropdown list of predefined values when this makes sense, such as when telling a character to change to a new stance. Behavior trees can now also embed other trees within them, which allows designers to put a common piece of behavior in its own tree and then add that to their trees in multiple places as needed. As the trees get bigger and more complex, this will be invaluable for keeping them readable and avoiding duplication.
Finally, we made some great performance improvements to the Kythera Recording Server, which is the system that allows designers and programmers to record AI behavior and then play it back with detailed debug information to help figure out bugs or look for ways to improve behaviors. There is potentially a lot of debugging information that needs to be saved for this system to be useful, so we improved the system to be better at detecting what data has changed since the last update and what hasn’t, which means it can better compress the recordings. This is both good for disk space and for making it easier to export recordings to give to other developers.
Red One, Jared. Red One, Jared. Red One, Jared…
Hey guys, Community Manager Jared “Disco Lando” Huckaby here. August was a big month for the Community Team, starting with the realization of Gamescom 2015. Just about everyone on the Community Team played a part in making this event perhaps our best yet, and it was a terrific opportunity for the staff in Santa Monica to meet the CS staff in Manchester in person for the very first time, as well as many of our European backers.
We’d also challenged ourselves to really spruce up our live events. To this end, we undertook many initiatives such as sending the bulk of the Community Team, adding the on-site “Concierge Store” (not to be confused with Concierge backing services generally – this is special in-person functionality for live events), and improving the overall quality of the items presented to our attendees.
Our first order of business was to create a new, protracted series of collectable ship pins. Something that could be collected from each event a person goes to. Since we knew Gamescom was going to feature multi-crew predominantly, the Constellation became the logical choice for our first pin. I discovered existing artwork used for a patch series and was able to repurpose that for our needs.
A free fly promotion had become a staple, but we wanted something more than just a card with a code. Working with Ryan Archer in Austin, we developed a foam version of the Gladius that was just as much collectable as it was a way for potential fans to discover the game. While we can’t say it “flies,” we can certainly refer to it as, “throwable.”
In years past, posters had become a Gamescom tradition, but in our efforts to increase the quality of overall presentation, we commissioned BHVR to imagine Köln, Germany in the year 2945. Working with art from Nicholas Ferrand, we designed the limited edition poster that we gave out to attendees, complete with the signatures of our studio heads and members of the Community Team.
Coming from the community, I have an affinity for the truly great works that our fans create, and one of the finest creations is the Hunter web comic by Adi Nitisor. Working with Adi, I was able to point him in the right direction and get the necessary clearances to print up physical copies of his first issue for our attendees. Our fans truly make Star Citizen, and it seemed right to include a little piece of their work along with our own this Gamescom.
Finally, when decorating the E-Werk event space, I wanted something that would truly evoke the sense of what multi-crew gaming could look like. To that end, I worked with fan content creator FiendishFeather for nearly a month to create the giant banner that hung over the heads of our fans in the venue. Rendered entirely in the game engine, and using 100% Star Citizen Assets as a single scene with zero compositing, it measured out at a whopping 27325×7200 at 100dpi. I have to thank Feather for trusting in me that he could do this, and that the crazy things I was asking him to do would work out. It’s just another example of how working with our fans allows us to create something greater than either of us could alone. (You can see it in the banner image above this section.)
With Gamescom we wanted to return to livestreaming. Gamescom has always been special to the history of Star Citizen thus far. To that end, Thomas Hennessy, Alyssa Delhotal and I worked to ensure that we’d have a plan in place that would address many of the issues from our past livestreams, principle of which were available bandwidth and the proper configuration and use of our in-house streaming equipment.
Once the curtain opened, Hennessy worked the controls for the livestream and both directed and operated the switching between cameras, while I worked with the A/V company who was responsible for the camera operation, the demo switching for the presentation screen and livestream, and the audio.
After the presentation, because we know not everyone can watch it live, Hennessy and I stayed in the Crow’s Nest until 3am editing the demo segments and posting everything to YouTube as quickly as technology would allow. Challenges aside, we consider the entire event a tremendous success.
In addition to Gamescom, we continued our efforts providing an unparalleled amount of information to our backers through weekly webseries, comm-links and more. Of course, we get to do all that because of the continued contributions of our Subscribers. Thank you for enabling us to share as much content as we do, you guys are awesome, and we’ll never stop thanking you all for that. With that in mind, we started our #IMASTARCITIZEN social media initiative, with Digital Info Cards you can create for yourself at www.imastarcitizen.com and retro trading cards that are released every day on our Instagram account.
Finally, a special welcome to all our new backers who joined us in August. If you would like to follow our development on social media, here’s a page full of resources for everyone to enjoy.
Star Citizen on Social Media