May 9th 2015
It’s no secret that Star Citizen’s next major release is Star Marine, previously known as the FPS module. In much the same way that Arena Commander (or the Dogfighting Module) is helping us build a better space sim, Star Marine is intended to introduce the first person shooter gameplay that will be part of the core of both Squadron 42 and Star Citizen.
Since the days of Wing Commander, I’ve dreamed of integrating a first person shooter with a space sim. It’s such an exciting idea: you might land your fighter on a carrier and then race into battle to repel alien boarders… or you might put down on a seedy border world and fight off pirates eager to steal your cargo! And on a broader level, it speaks to our longtime goal of increasing immersion: you’re no longer taken out of the action with between-mission gameflow menus or worse. Instead, from the moment you start the game to the minute you exit, you’re living in and interacting with the Star Citizen world!
That’s why we kicked off Star Citizen as a ‘First Person Universe’ right from the start, and it’s why we picked an FPS engine to build on. Star Citizen isn’t like my previous games: you aren’t directly ‘playing’ a ship… you’re controlling a character who is flying a ship. You’ve had first person action against fighters in Arena Commander, you’ve explored your hangar… you’ve even drawn your pistol in combat to take shots at other players and their ships! Thanks to the support of Star Citizen’s backers, the framework of our modular development process and the incredible talent of the teams working on the game, melding elements of a first person shooter with a space combat adventure are no longer a distant dream… it’s an impending reality! Star Marine, like the upcoming multicrew module, means a leap far ahead in this process; it’s something many of us (and I suspect many of you) have dreamed about for many years.
Where Star Marine differs from Arena Commander is that we’re not launching it in its most basic game. Instead, we’re trying for something more. It includes animation fidelity and attention to detail that you wouldn’t normally expect in an “alpha” gameplay module. There’s even an entire sci-fi sports game with zero-G movement fully simulated and animated in there! (And don’t worry, there’s traditional FPS action too… with some new ideas that aim to set Star Citizen apart from the crowd.)
We know you’re eager to try Star Marine, and our job today is to get it ready for you. That doesn’t mean releasing the end-all finished product; as with Arena Commander, we’re going to be revising and updating and expanding the game based both on our schedule and your future feedback. What it does mean is that we need to address everything we possibly can before we release the first version, because there’s no sense getting feedback where we know further work is needed. Recent weeks have focused on getting our ducks in a row based on our internal testing, which has lead us to revamp everything from overhauling the network backend to improving the character animations you saw at PAX East to the revamping the zero-g portion of the game to better match our lore.
Today, I’ve asked some of Cloud Imperium’s department heads who are involved in developing the module to update you on the status of Star Marine. Not the broad ‘how cool is it’ information that you get at events and in the press, but the nitty gritty: what are we doing right now? What are we improving and why? I hope you find it an interesting read and that you understand why Star Marine isn’t like anything I’ve ever developed!
— Chris Roberts
from CIG Austin & Santa Monica
Over the past couple months our character team has made great strides in pushing visual fidelity. With technology consistently being pushed forward, we at Cloud Imperium Games feel the need to always move forward and push the bar. The characters in development have had a major overhaul. We trust that the extra time we spend early in creation will improve the quality of your universe immensely. We strive to provide the best quality experience that our citizens deserve.
During our first approach at these Characters we noticed certain opportunities for improvement that we felt inclined to take advantage of. With these recent discoveries we have started the development of a new and exciting approach to allow Citizens to express themselves with a customizable character system. While Squadron 42 will not allow customization of characters in the same way, the characters available have provided the research we need and has given us valuable insight (pilots in Squadron 42 will still pick their gender and look, but won’t customize outfits, gear, etc. during their military assignment.)
Some of the more major development has been reconstructing and adopting ship techniques and using them on the characters. This brings the characters into the same world and quality standard as our ships. Our ships have really taken off after a few years of development. We have also introduced an entirely new level of material detail for certain characters. Our development on using true PBR materials on character assets and tileable textures to increase texture density allows us to increase the look of the characters while providing our game with less memory intensive techniques. We are also looking into multi-layer blending per material.
The multi-layer blending will be the next step in character development. It will allow for modularity, optimization, and look continuity. Rather than having custom characters and materials traditionally, we are creating a system where materials are reused, physically accurate, and will be able to continually update and improve. It is an extremely difficult process but above all else an exciting one. The time taken in pre-production and development will help make the citizens more believable and beautiful. We feel great about the future of our character system, and just like the ships, the more we do, the better they will become.
The Marines and Outlaws have undergone an extreme home makeover to get them ready for battle in Star Marine! The CIG Character Team, supervised by CG Supervisor Forrest Stephan, has improved the look and feel of these characters by leaps and bounds over the past couple of months. We’ve also been using these characters as a testbed for some new techniques to better improve the overall character pipeline at CIG. A major focus has been making these characters feel truly next generation, and they look the part.
We’ve addressed several glaring issues that were present with the characters before, chief among them was a lack of visual cohesiveness amongst the various archetypes. The Outlaws now all look like they come from the same gang, and the Marines now look like they belong in the same outfit. This will prove crucial when trying to pick your teammates out in a firefight. Another sore spot that has been fixed up were the materials themselves. Every piece of metal, carbon fiber, and leather can be picked out at first glance thanks to the efforts made to get the characters looking as close to real-world as possible.
In addition, time was spent on beefing up some of the characters’ armor to make them feel a little more protected and “heavier” than their lighter counterparts. The Helmets themselves were also addressed, revamping the interiors so that they properly reflect the geometry on the exterior. Lastly, we’ve been upgrading the RSI Space Suit characters to get them ready to go head-to-head in Astro Arena playing SATABall. We’re giving them team colors, uprezzing various parts to reach our latest quality bar (it was one of the first characters we made, after all), and improving the materials. All in all it has been an incredibly productive few months, and we can’t wait to show these beauties off to you soon!
Specifics in Development:
from CIG Santa Monica
Re-vamping the First Person Simulation has been a monumental task for Animation. First, while we are making a ground combat FPS, we are also, at the same time, building a Zero-G combat set. The CryEngine had never had a shipped game that focused on zero-g combat for any considerable extent, so there has been a considerable amount of R&D and hand-keyed animation that has been going into that portion. We also had problems getting a really solid zero-g motion set in the game and it took a while before our partners at Illfonic and our very own Sean Tracy were able to help us solve that. While it is still an ongoing development, really getting good zero-g feel is certainly not a simple thing and will undoubtedly continue to require future development from animation. On the ground combat side, we are working on making animations for no weapon, rifles (including sniper rifles and smgs), pistols, grenades, and 2 handed gadgets for the normal Marine plus a new set of animations we are working on for the Heavy Marine. Sliding, cover, vaulting, and climbing over are all also beginning their process into game. Gunplay is important, if not paramount, in any FPS, and our team has been working on re-vamping the gunplay and feel from what was seen at PAX. To support that feel, we are also working on reloads and jukes- systems that will give more weight and realism to the movement of players. For those Citizens not in-the-know, we started re-vamping everything in January of this year, starting from scratch on most animation sets to make sure that we’re delivering the high-quality results we are all expecting of Star Citizen. But it all takes time- delivering a v0 for both a ground-based FPS and a Zero-G FPS as are both challenging tasks. I expect our first release will have many bugs, glitches and things that just overall need polish to make a truly great game. The Star Citizen dev team is dedicated to seeing this through and delivering the Best Damn First Person Space Sim ever and we all appreciate your support as we work towards that goal!
With the coming release of the FPS module we wanted to update everyone with changes to the environment artwork in terms of lighting, and support for the various game modes. We recently we made many changes to implement a new lighting approach that enhanced the game visuals for both the Astro Arena environment and the Gold Horizon station.
The new lighting model is a pretty big step over what we have been able to achieve in the past, and is being applied to the entire game as a whole. The lighting effects are much more realistic and have provided the artist with a greater scope of control. Every single light is now physically calculated in terms of its volume, and brightness. Previously, most lights were simple point lights that generated a faked specular highlight which wasn’t truly leveraging PBR to the fullest. Now surfaces calculate and bounce light much more accurately. You can see in the before and after images just how big a difference the change has made.
Along with the new game mode for the Astro Arena, SATA Ball, new artwork had to be created as well. The actual ball asset was needed, and a bunch of small supporting effects and animations had to be implemented as well. The ball itself needed to be easily identifiable within the environment, as well as the player who currently had possession of it. For this a heavy glow was attached to the ball, along with HUD iconography to make it easy to spot from any distance. An outline was also added to the player holding the ball so they could be picked out of a crowd.
During the PAX Demo, we also realized that players were having trouble seeing the edges of the cover objects placed within the level. To address this, we added varied lights to the edge of each piece, and gave them a solid glow and light to reflect the side of the arena that the piece is on. This made a huge difference in helping players navigate in full 360 zero-g, which can get pretty disorienting if everything looks the same from the art side.
With the lighting change and adding additional game-play elements the environment art needed to reflect the realism that we all shoot for in Star Citizen. Global art improvements included :
Adjusting the ambient lights
Game-play layout changes in the Golden Horizon level
Adding stadium style canned lighting on the ring and above the goals
Increased fidelity on the advertisements on both ring and ad drones
Added frosted back-lite panels on the cover modules
Overall increased the global lighting contrast
Added smaller human scale lights
Added more smaller human sized details for scale across many assets in each level
Creating animated advertisements that are used on the Ad drones buzzing around the exterior of the Astro-Arena
An Improved skybox with additional nebula assets
An additional lighting pass on Golden Horizon
Game-play specific artistic level changes for both Astro-Arena and Golden Horizon
Finally, its important to note that when the lighting integration changes came online there was a ripple effect. This means that not only did we update the lighting scheme; we also had to made edits to the PBR materials to ensure the best image quality you all expect.
You guys have probably heard quite a bit about SATA Ball if you’ve been following the monthly studio reports or watching the Around the Verse episodes. It’s something that is very different and unique to Star Citizen in comparison to what you are probably used to with with traditional FPS games.
The rules for SATA Ball are fairly simple. Two teams spawn in at opposite ends of the Astro Arena, a large zero gravity room with scattered cover objects suspended in the air. Meanwhile, the SATA Ball is spawned in the center of the room. Both teams must race towards the ball to gain control of it, using thier legs and arms for movement, as well as a grappling hook device that is attached to their sidearm. Players can disable their enemies for a short period of time by shooting them, but they can’t actually kill them, it’s only a temporary stun affect.
When a player reaches or grapples the SATA Ball towards themselves, they can interact with it to grab it. The player who currently has possession of the ball is lit up so they are easy to spot by both their own team and the enemy team. As the ball carrier you cannot fire your sidearm, but you can pass, shoot or drop the ball. Players pass the ball back and forth while avoiding enemy fire until they are able to shoot the ball through the enemy gate at their spawn. Once a point is scored, the round is over and the game resets. A full match consists of seven rounds.
While SATA Ball does involve some gun-play, that isn’t the main point of interest. Really what we are using SATA Ball for is a test bed to make the zero-g locomotion system something very robust, and ultimately a viable movement strategy when you are in that environment. Typically you would expect to see thrusters for movement in zero-g, but for Star Citizen the easy way out doesn’t make sense. You should have the choice to move around without thrusters… and be successful if you are skilled, and we want players to be able to do that.
This is something that hasn’t really been done before, and it’s no easy task. First, the controls must feel natural and accessible. Second, we want to simulate how physics and rag-doll play into that control system. Lastly, after both of those two goals are accomplished we need a robust set of full body look poses and animations to make that happen visually with the fidelity and attention to detail you have all come to expect from Star Citizen, even in an alpha state.
Working towards the goal of how rag-doll and physics play together, a new system needed to be developed which Travis Day has coined the term AEGIS. This system allows for partial or full-body transitions in and out of what is basically a ragdoll state, using both procedural and artist-driven techniques. In other words, this will allow us to change the character (or portions of the character) to collide with and be affected by their surroundings, instead of animating normally.
Examples of this include:
Getting stunned by a weapon, and having the character go temporarily “limp” before returning control.
Allowing the extremities to go limp while incapacitated or injured.
This is currently functional for full-body transitions, with partial-body support coming next.
In Star Marine (as with the rest of Star Citizen) the goal is to simulate reality as much as possible. In most 1st person games the player is able to stop on a dime and change directions instantly, forgoing all previous motion in favor of new input. For Star Citizen we wanted not only better looking motion but more realistic transitions between motions to simulate this. This is where the movement transition system comes in.
CryEngine already has support for movement transitions on AI, but we needed something player driven as well. Building on those ideas we wrote a system that takes snapshots of the player’s requested movement and determines if the player is making a large enough change that would require extra steps to slow down or change direction. This comes in the form of starts (idle to moving), stops (moving to idle) and jukes (quickly changing directions). This encourages players to think more tactically about their movement and to stay aware of their surroundings. It also makes the animations look much smoother by removing pops from quick input changes. So we’re sorry to say but we won’t be supporting 180 no-scoping or strafe-jumping.
The video below shows the system, but not the final result. We’re still waiting on mo-cap to be cleaned up and integrated to have truly smooth transitions. Keep watching the Comm-Link for more updates!
from CIG Austin
Last Fall, we made a concerted effort to lock down the entirety of the networking architecture that would drive Star Citizen in the years to come. Prior to that, in order to get Arena Commander out the door, some corners were cut a bit too closely and as a result stability and performance have suffered, and the system’s extensibility hasn’t been nearly as robust as it needed to be. We greatly appreciate the patience that the community has afforded us, and are happy to announce that we’ve made tremendous progress and are getting close to beginning a phased rollout of the new features and functionality that we’ve been developing.
The first pieces of the comprehensive update will arrive with the Star Marine FPS module. It will include a completely new matchmaker, game instance manager, and party service, and we refer to the collective solution as the Generic Instance Manager. That technology, linked with the new backend services and completely recrafted game server interface logic, will ultimately result in a far smoother multiplayer experience. Queue times will be dramatically reduced and you should encounter far fewer problems overall when attempting to create or join multiplayer games. The more elegantly abstracted system will considerably simplify the creation of new game modes, which we’ll utilize to great effect as we gradually reveal additional bits and pieces of the larger set of gameplay that you’ll eventually be able to experience in the full game. Under the hood, the new system will expose a lot more information to the component systems. For example, in order to provide a better, more enjoyable experience, matchmaking will now be able to take into account skill levels, player ships and their associated armaments, prioritized map preferences, ping times, and much more.
Whereas until recently we were still experiencing intermittent problems when player loads reached a particular level, the new system has been built from the ground up to scale to far greater heights. While we fully expect for there to be some minor hiccups along the way, the modular architecture should allow us to deal with most issues with far greater speed than we’ve been able to in the past. This scalability was a very important goal for us as we expect to see the player count rising pretty significantly as we begin to accelerate the release of more playable functionality, and while we haven’t yet relaxed we’re all breathing a bit easier as everything is starting to come together quite well.
While the new system certainly improves upon the existing functionality, it also adds support for a lot of new features that will be released throughout 2015. Arena Commander will soon gain the ability to support multi-crew operations. A full-blown chat system – replete with a multitude of powerful capabilities – is in the final stages of testing. The upcoming Social Module will allow players to invite others into their hangars and automatically form parties, and the same instance management and player routing functionality that drives it and the other game modules will soon enable multiplayer landing zones and other points of interest.
We’re very excited to finally be approaching the point where we can put some of the major networking improvements that we’ve been working on for so long into your hands. It’s been a lot of work, but we think you’ll agree that it’s all been worth it once you see the results.
from CIG Austin
The technological requirements to achieve the vision of Star Citizen are incredible and it regularly pushes the boundaries of what is achievable with current generation engines. This requires a top level team of specialists and generalist coming together from around the world to solve some very difficult problems in unique and novel ways.
It also requires the intelligent usage and re-allocation of available technology as we can’t take too long to make this all possible!
Internally, major focus has been given to performance and some massive strides have started to be made some of which you’ll experience come the release of the 1.1.2 patch. Upon performing deep profiling and load time analysis there were many areas where wins could be made. Some of these changes leverage streaming better through the splitting of assets to avoid long blocking loads for said asset. An “in the verse” example of this is if you say take all the geometric data for a single ship and you pack it all up together into a single file (again consider this includes the lod’s and all the damage states) it’s extremely large and takes a very long time to load. When you split this geometry up into separate files and load it from bottom to top (low LOD to high LOD) it yields far faster loading and streaming. This optimization can also be made for textures and we’ve done this recently. This is going to be an obvious performance improvement for most users.
With that said, there are even bigger changes to come for Star Marine and we want to be sure that the experience is as smooth as possible right out of the gate. We’ve updated the CryEngine version internally which is no small task as Star Citizen has diverged quite significantly from the base of CryEngine. Some of the major updates CIG has made additionally to the updated engine version are fundamental ones that might sound obscure but are important pillars for many of the major changes that are to come to scale Star Citizen to the level that the community demands.
Some of these include important updates to x64 bit world coordinate system, the conversion to x64 global entity id’s, geometry streaming, GOST (Game Object State Machine), Voxelized Local/Multi Physics Grids and many more. Star Marine will also sport an updated renderer using a unified diffuse/spec attenuation model and re-factored area lights, visually this makes quite an improvement and we know the community will appreciate the extra time we’ve taken to make the Star Marine release look and perform at the highest level.
These are just a few of the major underlying features that we, from the tech team, want to get into the community’s hands as soon as possible but no sooner!
Finally I’d like to touch a bit on stability. Development for Star Citizen has scaled extremely quickly and there are difficulties with a project of this scale, which averages 1500 check-ins per week, to keeping builds stable for our players, testers as well as internally for our developers. Major changes were made to the development flow of features internally and the process in which they make it out to release builds. Whilst this might sound a bit boring, to maintain the tempo of development star citizen demands it’s important this stability is built into the development process which is what is being done internally.
from Foundry 42 Manchester
As you may have heard, Star Citizen uses an integrated, interactive sound engine called Wwise. Wwise, though its authoring toolset, gives Sound Designers the ability to manage resources such as memory, CPU, and audible bandwidth – and make decisions as to how the balance between them falls; this empowerment has exponential positive effects.
With sound designers empowered, and able to balance quality against practicalities via tools and profiling, more time is made available for them to create better sounds. Thus more time is available for audio engineers to concentrate on improving game-engine audio integration tools, and improve how audio is integrated with other disciplines. Ultimately this equates to better integration of higher quality audio across the board; with VFX, with animation, with cinematics, with design through dialogue and musical score, with environments through richer ambient sound, with more accurately responsive audio for physical props and objects, with deeper audio systems for player-agency driven elements such as ships, weapons, doors, and other interactive assets. All of which leads to higher perceived quality of the entire product in the players’ hands. Better it sounds, better it looks!
Wwise allows us to iterate better, more quickly, and non-destructively; we can try things out, audition changes and revert them if need be. We can more readily pick our battles and devote higher quality audio to those assets that require them most. Once you have a better appreciation of context it’s possible to make more informed decisions about what assets should be more expensive, and I don’t know of any other audio middleware that realises this requirement as much as WWise; entirely necessary on a project of expanding scale and scope such as Star Citizen.
There are a number of incremental improvements in moving over to to Wwise. On the mixing side alone, we have the following tools available to us, integrated as standard:
We can more realistically model spaces with Convolution Reverb – we can even sample real-world spaces ourselves and model them in-game so that a cockpit interior reflects audio like a real cockpit interior.
We have plug-in suites to affect audio much as we would in offline digital audio workstations from the likes of iZotope and McDSP; we’ll be able to route and process vocals at runtime to sound as if they’re coming from a dynamic radio system rather than rely on offline processed static assets.
We have the Wwise interactive music system to more readily change music in response to changing game states, important to be able to do this without breaking the inherent rules that music needs to follow.
All the above represent our main ‘wins’. It’s a complex system and bringing that together with another complex system (Cryengine) is a tricky docking procedure, and we’re hoping to complete it without too much friction!
Where the longer term goals of Star Citizen are concerned: we’re restructuring our sounds and approaches to audio to be more extensible, more re-configurable and layered and/or granular. Rather than mixing complex layers of sound down into single assets, which can be quite inflexible, we can cater for a more variable open-world (or open-universe, even) by recombining them at runtime. We will have a higher voice count, but with careful management and balancing, we can have exponentially more variation than the more linear approach to game sound design affords us. Where the game is based around components that the player can reconfigure into any number of permutations, the audio can follow.
This is the core of a more ‘audio systems’ led approach, that can scale and vary as Star Citizen itself expands. We’ll have the tools to do this while also maintaining a more cinematic aesthetic audio scheme where that’s required for our linear swathes of gameplay (i.e. Squadron 42).
We hope this update has helped you better understand all the pieces going in to Star Marine, with teams from studios around the world contributing essential elements to its development. We will continue to provide regular updates on the Comm-Link and during Around the Verse until we’re ready to kick off the first public release. Trust us when we say, we are as eager as you are to kick off playtesting and let the Star Citizen community see what we’ve been putting our all into. Star Marine is an important building block to the complete Star Citizen experience, it’s a showcase for how far we’ve come with many of our technologies and processes… and it’s going to be a lot of fun, too! We’ll see you on Gold Horizon.