June 9th 2017
Welcome to Monthly Report for May 2017, our detailed list of what the developers in Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Austin, and the UK have been up to for the past four weeks in both written and video form.
Our Tech Design, Engineering, and QA teams have made steady progress in their various disciplines to roll out a fleet of ships that operate under the Item System 2.0 system with updated or new items that can be loaded onto them. We’ve now successfully converted the Origin M50 Interceptor to fully utilize this new system since it is a comparatively easier ship to set up while still allowing us to discover issues that we can address for all 49 flyable ships and beyond.
Our first round through the setup procedure allowed us to identify opportunities to create tools that will further speed our implementation time in the future. This attention to detail has really allowed us to balance power usage, heat generation, associate EM and IR signals, and balance hydrogen and quantum fuel consumption across our ships and a lot of insight into how the player could consider upgrading their ship components.
The engineering team also made major strides in the areas of persistence and inventory by creating a technique for clients to request persistent information. This work will be incorporated into several large features in 3.0 such as cargo, shops, commodities, Air Traffic Control, Ships, Players, and more. It will allow game code to query for and modify data for entities that aren’t even spawned, such as selling cargo from a ship that’s landed at a station and hidden away by ATC. These features will also allow game code to correctly re-spawn and orient ships or items that have been abandoned on planets or in space, meaning you can expect the world and your possessions to remain in the same state in between game sessions.
We’ve made progress on the system which allows one to park their ship inside of another to transport safely from point A to point B. This was based off of a rework of the landing mechanic that’s currently in the game. The new docking areas are set up the same way as landing pads used within the universe, taking components with a different interface and a new mechanism for locking. There has also been some work on the physics of getting the Ursa Rover to sit in the cargo bay of the Constellation Andromeda without popping through walls and jittering.
The team has also now also converted the basic quantum drive to Item 2.0, giving it the ability to store quantum travel and other navpoints. This means that all discovered quantum travel points can be set as travel destinations at any time regardless of distance and signature strength. This also involves working closely with Design on a way to better display them to the player in a logical interface. From here, we can move on to pure 2.0 systems as Quantum Drive now uses the pipe system for fuel and power checks as well as make quantum drive look and sound as awesome as it behaves by connecting VFX and Audio to the actual transit.
This month we’ve implemented a several new features into our Intelligent Flight Control System (IFCS). On the physics side, we’ve implemented an autopilot system to allow AI and any other systems to utilize IFCS, like takeoff, landing or quantum drive, or anywhere a ship control needs to be automated. We’ve also added support for Cinematics to be able to automate the motion of thrusters on ships, so they don’t need to hand animate every thruster action in a cinematic. With this in place, the thrusters on a ship will now behave as intelligently as they do in game.
Our ship team made steady progress on the RSI Aurora since our last update. The art team has now completed the seat geo for the ES and LN variants and started work on the engines while tech design is implementing these new assets directly into the ship archetype making this our first scratch built Item System 2.0 ship. Also, the Anvil Terrapin’s exterior is nearing completion of the greybox phase and has near final animation.
As you know, the scale of Star Citizen is such that even large teams need some additional support in the form of outsourcing partners. One of the difficulties with outsourcing tends to be ensuring a team’s refined processes are adhered to and all assets that are delivered meet our requirements for easy integration into the game. As you’ve heard about in the past, there are many pipelines and processes within Star Citizen and some are more complicated than others. Onboarding an outsourcing team requires tools that can be installed and run in an external environment with limited support from us in order to save time. So this month, the tech animation team developed a standalone installer that automatically mounts sample assets, tools and documentation, no matter if it’s for Motion Builder or in Maya. We can now easily minimize the ramp-up time for any potential partners and while allowing them to benefit from the extensive internal tools that are developed for our needs.
Tech animation is responsible for the character’s skeleton and, like all things, creating a character skeleton can be done manually or automatically. Typically, a skeleton rig is not so complex and tends to be somewhat static, so it doesn’t change often, but, when you’re on the cutting edge of technology, updates are often required. For example, an animation engineer may require the addition of a specifically named joint for code purposes, thus requiring changes to all skeletons in the game, which would be a time consuming process if done manually. We’ve now completed our SRC (or Source) rigging scripts and can make these kinds of updates quickly, easily, and bug-free. The time and energy saved is not only for the rigging team, but also for the animation team who will be utilizing these skeletons day to day. A programming analogy would be to think of the rig as a compiled executable. The SRC rigging scripts are the source code. If we need to add something to the skeleton, we update the source code and compile it rather than patching the executable. You just build it anew.
The tech art team also created a new data structure that will allow players to customize their eye color. This supports the first pass of the character creator where players will be able to select from a preset eye color pallet.
In addition, tech art took advantage of a feature provided by the LA Engineering team that allows the body skin tone to automatically adjust to the skin tone of the face through the magic of item port tags. In the case of NPCs, this will maintain consistency for our characters and in the case of players this will ensure your body always matches your face.
They’ve also created a process to generate SDF (or signed distance field) volume textures, which are used in conjunction with our atmospheric flight model to simulate engine trails. We’ve made solid progress on art tools for our various art teams. One such tool is our “unbevel” tool, which simplifies our LOD (or Level of Detail) creation process to increase performance on anything beyond our first LOD and speed up delivery time for our ship pipeline.
Finally, this month we’ve taken large steps forward on our procedural system for outposts including color tinting, material variation, and even variation of props and their placement within the outposts.
Our character team have added more armor suits to the armory. We now have a fully rigged female medium marine and the male heavy outlaw suit going has moved from concept toward final implementation. We’re also far along on many new uniforms, costumes, characters, and heads for Squadron 42. The male OMC light is wrapping up its initial high poly pass and has moved onto in-game mesh creation. The male Shubin miner uniform has begun in-game texturing now that the mesh is complete. A new outlaw uniform has just finished up concepting and is on its way to high poly. Our Female Marine BDU finished up sculpting and is headed to in-game modeling.
With the FOV slider work in-progress for 3.0, the character team also spent time working on our helmet interiors starting with the heavy outlaw and heavy marine which is used by our UI team to establish necessary boundaries.
The Narrative spent the month divided. Dave and Will shipped off to the Wilmslow office to spend some time with Design and attend Squadron 42 level reviews with Chris. During that time, they also generated a handful of new scripts for 3.0 to cover [REDACTED] [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] which was very exciting to expand upon. Meanwhile, back in the LA office, Adam and Cherie were holding down the fort. Adam was juggling Jump Point articles, News Updates, while working on components for 3.0 while Cherie was maintaining her stalwart battle against chaos on our internal wiki and spearheading several new archiving systems to catalog the massive amounts of performance capture data as well as video captured for our various marketing and community programs.
QA has been busy supporting the transition into the Item 2.0 conversion by taking an early look at the ships, and determining how to convert all existing checklists to the new 2.0 framework. When making any impact to our game, QA has to test everything, which in this case, included all the different interaction points. Prior, the interaction points were limited to the exit and entrance, but now checks have been added for Ladder Entry/Exit, EVA entry/exit, Power On/Off, Engines On/Off as well as looking ahead for features not yet implemented such as Ejection and cases in which more than one player attempts a particular interaction.
Right now the ATX Design Team is completely focused on things related to 3.0 or near term goals.
First off, the team has been building State Machines for the first few NPCs that we’ll be implementing. To provide a bit of background, a “State Machine” is a way to visualize how the NPC will behave, it not only acts as a behavior tree, but also informs the animation team when and where our animations need to transition between each other. We hand off these state machines to the Animators who then approve the behavior or give it back with feedback. Not only does this drive the animations we need, but also guides the NPC’s behavior setup in Subsumption.
The Nav Beacon System is a new mechanic that will allow players to create their own roads throughout a given Star System. These are physicalized objects that are deployed through utility mounts and give players visual markers to lock onto for Quantum Travel while in space or, if used on planetary surfaces, will provide a known point to fly towards. Players will be able to grant “Use” access to others as well as “Hack” another person’s beacon, both allows you to use someone else’s Nav Beacon. There are multiple sizes and quality levels that dictate several things: how far they can be seen from and how long they last before they need to be serviced by the Owner. Finally, because they are physical objects you will be able to not only find, but destroy someone else’s Beacon, which should make for some interesting gameplay.
Finally, the team have been organizing Miles Eckhart’s assets (which are being polished by the animation team in our Derby Office), creating his state machine, and getting his initial behavior up and running in Subsumption. Eckhart will be unlocked to the players by accumulating ‘Reputation’ with him, earned by completing other available missions. Once unlocked, you can visit him for a wide variety of missions. The new “Mission Manager” will drive his selection, but you will be able to choose from anything he currently has available. Setting up this character will provide a lot of great information for future Mission Givers, so we’re looking forward to getting him out there.
PU Game Director Tony Zurovec has had his hands full with several things this month like reviewing mission scenarios for 3.0, but a major part of his focus was on Subsumption. As a reminder, Subsumption is the data-driven and highly abstracted foundation on which all of the AI and mission logic in Star Citizen is constructed. Tony finished the conversion of the Subsumption tech to Linux for integration with our backend services and completed the Shopping Service for game code to start hooking the new shopping tech into.
Ship Artist Josh Coons has been working on the ship LODs for the Cutlass Black. It’s a very time-consuming task since our LODs are mostly handmade and the ship he’s working on is quite large with many pieces that have to be optimized. In addition to optimizing the mesh, he also reduces the material IDs, as he goes down the LOD chain. This way the mesh will have less draw calls from a distance and be more efficient on the engine.
This month, the PU Animation Team finished up the two-handed carry animations for a variety of postures (such as standing, crouching and zero-g), a number of crate sizes and even a variety of heights. Code and Tech has hooked it up so that you can retrieve cargo in zero-g, EVA back to your ship and stow your acquired loot in your cargo bay. Animation Director Steve Bender stopped by the office for a visit, so we ended up doing a last minute mocap shoot in our office where he ran around like a crazy person capturing all our FPS starts and stops for a stocked rifle locomotion set. We also took this opportunity to get Sandy Gardiner in the suit and capture some exercise motion for our female characters when they decide to do a workout in our exercise usable. On the second day, lead animator Bryan Brewer hopped in and captured needed animations for the crouching carry animations. Animation worked closely with design to start work on some of the interactable NPCs, such as bartenders and shopkeepers.
The Ship Animation Team continued to improve upon the cockpit experience. They worked with designers and programmers over in the UK to update our gforce blendspace poses, utilize a low pass filter for smoother, smarter camera motion; as well as adjust the cockpit geometry to allow for button presses. In addition to this, we created a system that will allow us to make comms calls within the ships during flight.
Our Server Engineers have been providing support for the shopping service which communicates with Diffusion and the game systems through our new Diffusion gateway. The gateway allows external/non-Diffusion services to communicate with the game as if they were an internal Diffusion service.
We’ve also focused on integrating the Diffusion code into the primary game development branch that will be deployed with 3.0. This was a massive integration with a lot of moving parts and required a large amount of collaboration between Server Engineering and DevOps. The effort has taken a few weeks to get everything moved over, tested, and in a state where it can be deployed.
We have also been working on a Service Creation Tool. This tool will provide a simple to use UI allowing engineers to create new services, add/remove or modify components, and management in source control. The output of the tool is a basic service shell and set of source files that are customized for the new service. When complete, this will be a huge time saver and allow new engineers to create services without worrying about any boilerplate work and thus allowing for rapid service development. We have started to add Star Citizen specific extensions to Ooz. For those who don’t know, Ooz was written by Lead Server Engineer Jason Ely and is the scripting language that drives Diffusion. These extensions expose SC-specific constructs to Diffusion, allowing services to provide more intricate support for game-play features which help move the game into a more distributed architecture.
We’ve also continued work on the Router Mesh functionality. This feature distributes services over multiple router endpoints and provides redundant communication paths between other services. The mesh will use a technique to isolate high bandwidth services away from lower bandwidth or more critical services. The primary responsibility of the router mesh is to provide a high level of service availability and performance.
Finally, the DevOps team has been busy optimizing the build and publishing systems. The game builds are growing rapidly as content continues to pour in for 3.0, so we’re constantly tweaking and tuning to keep up with the demands of the dev team. Ahmed and his team have been collecting feedback on network performance from our three locations and comparing that to internal data, so we can optimize network performance wherever possible. This is an ongoing task but we’ve already found some good opportunities for improvement in this area.
For May, Austin QA worked heavily on regression of bugs, particularly on a massive sweep through our open bugs to see what items are still valid given the new systems and tech coming online for both PU and S42. This allowed us to eliminate a considerable number of bugs before they ever reached development, saving our busy developer cohorts time they would have spent investigating issues that were no longer occurring in the latest builds. Major testing items for our group included actor serialization, multi-threaded resource containers and network transport queue for the Engineering teams. We continued testing the Moons in the Stanton system for any potential issues such as collision and performance testing. New vehicles, ships and FPS items came online throughout the month (including the Behring P8-SC SMG which we were very excited to play with) in addition to testing the continued Item 2.0 implementations. All of which have kept our Arena Commander and Star Marine testers very busy.
On the new system front, we’ve been working very hard testing the new procedural breathing and stamina system as well as the new Air Traffic Controller system. We’ve also been testing some updates to our current game Launcher – primarily bug fixes to our players but also a few quality-of-life fixes, continued providing additional support for the animation groups here in Austin, including mocap file cleanup, supporting setup and teardown for pick-up shoots and in-game video captures for final reviews. Regular Editor and engine testing has continued as well, with ATX QA completing regular smokes of the subsumption editor, procedural planet tools as well as our normal editor testing.
The Player Relations team has been extremely busy preparing for upcoming 3.0 work. The biggest item that players will see is the New Player Experience that will ultimately go on the website. These are intended to provide helpful guides for new players entering into the Star Citizen universe and help bring them up to speed with the game and its various mechanics.
We’ll also be adding to the Evocati ranks in the coming weeks, and are excited to announce that we’ll be adding headcount in Austin, Manchester, and Frankfurt.
Let’s start with the ongoing Sprints.
We’ve completed the initial groundwork for the Air Traffic Controller sprint and moved on to more of the functionality including communicating with the ATC. When you want to land, you can now target the station and, using the player interaction system, select the option to request a landing. You will then start a communication channel with the NPC and have a dialogue with them. We’re currently in the process of implementing this in real world test cases, for example in our PU map we’re setting it up at port Olisar so both requesting your ship as well as landing will all go through the ATC system.
As part of a push to make Star Citizen more accessible, we’re introducing a new Hint System to lower the initial learning curve for new players. As they take their first steps into Star Citizen universe, various hints will get displayed on the UI after a given amount of time to indicate how to interact with the different systems, such as entering the proximity of the ASOP terminal or letting them know about the mobiGlas feature.
For 3.0, we’ve also changed how the Player Spawns into a level. Currently, each bedroom in the PU map has its own spawn point and then some flowgraph logic to position them correctly in the bed, and play the correct animation. As you can imagine, based on the number of spawn locations in the PU, this is adding up to a lot of flowgraph and setup. Going forwards, we’re creating a new spawn component which can be added to any entity. For example, if this component is added to a bed, we will then assume the player will need to be attached correctly to it and play the normal lie down idle animation automatically. This now means we can now remove a large amount of flowgraph and simplify the setup of the level.
We’ve made progress on implementing the mission broker and the mission manager systems. These will determine how a mission and all its objectives are presented and given to the player to complete. This system will also track what missions a player already has and how far through the objectives they are.
In the AI Locomotion sprint, we’re spending time refining the way the AI walks and runs around a level. We have found that just following the path which is determined by the path finding code gives a result which looks very unnatural. We’ve now implemented a new path smoothing algorithm which makes AI traverse around corners in a much more natural way, so it doesn’t look like they’re just going from one point to the next. Because they are generally moving to get to a particular place we are currently working on making reaching that point, and going into whatever animation is required, be as seamless as possible.
The graphics team wrapped up the major features mentioned in our last update such as lit fog, real-time environment probes for planet lighting, and the render-to-texture work for holograms and video comms. In addition to general bug-fixing, they’ve also tweaked our lighting model to improve the appearance of ground reflections of the sun on planets at sunset and sunrise.
On the FPS weapons side, the UK animation team completed the previs for the new Gemini L86 ballistic pistol and nearly completed the Arrowhead with just some minor polish work left on the reload states.
The takedowns have gone from an implementation pass to a refined animation pass, with concentration on stronger composition, solid posing, clear silhouettes, and polish to the mocap data to better sell the overall action.
The AI animation work is ongoing with improvements to the posing of enemy patrol states and reactions to sight and sound.
The team are also helping to export the remaining gameplay story cinematic scenes, so that design can implement, and better visualize the story within the levels they are working on.
The Derby animation team are finishing off the facial animations for the 3.0 Mission Givers and Eckhart’s body animation is being polished and implemented too. Last week, some of the team attended a PU audio and facial shoot in London. They captured some awesome footage from a great set of actors and we think it will go a long way to fleshing out the Universe.
The VFX Team have continued tests with the new Lightning Entity, this time focusing on smaller-scale, interior electrical effects. They also tested the features in the new particle system, as provided by the Graphics team including better trail options, and depth-buffer-based collision (required for sparks, for example). The team started the first Levski exterior VFX Pass which includes refinery flames and general ambiance. Flight-ready VFX, including interior damage and thruster effects are now done for the Cutlass rework and the team have continued on the Atmospheric Flight Effects sprint, with heavy focus on playtesting, bug-fixing and testing new features as provided by the Graphics and Engineering teams.
Outside of these features, the team continued ongoing polish on the VFX for new weapons, and reworked versions is continuing up to the 3.0 release.
The Origin 600i has finished its concept phase and the next ground vehicle has been rocking along. We’re just about to kickoff a whole new round of ships, but can’t spoil which ones.
In Reclaimer news, the team completed work on the drone room. They were keen to focus on the drone deployment and storage mechanism, and are excited to see this become functional when drones come online. The Engine room has also been completed, making use of re-purposed assets from the Idris where possible. All the reused assets go through a process of re-skinning with Reclaimer materials to make everything feel consistent and cohesive. On the exterior, the damage setup is nearly complete with internal geometry being built to be exposed when the ship takes damage.
The initial batch of work on the Derelict ships and wreckage elements are coming to an end with support is now in place for design to create mission scenarios based on derelict ships in space or on planets. Material variations of each ship have been created, so that depending on which planet the ships are placed on; they will look visually embedded to the surface type. All that’s remaining for this phase are the technical elements such has LODS, Vis-Areas and Collisions.
The Gladius cockpit has been revamped and re-lit for the new “Cockpit Experience” sprint.
This has been an exercise in improving the player’s feeling of immersion and has been a collaboration between several departments. From the art side, this was achieved by clearing a channel between the top support screens to reveal the Gatling gun on the nose, making a range of interactive buttons for more interesting animations and remodeling the throttle for improved functionality. The cockpit canopy has been extended for better clarity and new interior lighting has been added to help bring it all to life.
On the Hull C exterior, the team is nearly finished with the landing gear mechanisms and detailing the inner bay areas, while we create the initial animations and work towards final art. They finished modelling the front section of the interior and the section is getting a detailed lighting pass using the new light groups controller. Once this is complete, the tunnel section and rear engine room will be modeled and lit in the same fashion.
On the ships weapons front, we have taken the Klaus & Werner styling from the FPS weapons and used that influence to work on a K&W Laser Repeater. At the other end of the spectrum, we also concepted some cool-looking MaxOx Neutron Repeaters.
The Art team continued to hammer away at Shubin mining station interiors and focused on improving the overall “believability” of the structure, by zeroing in on the functionality of the individual areas.
Adding Texture and Visual Interest to our Space overworld has been a big priority for the 3.0, so the team has turned to giving our Space Scenes a major face-lift with the goal of diversifying environments and adding a unique flavor to each of our locations. Large volumes of inter-planetary space dust have been added and the team re-worked some of the distant nebula in the Stanton System to this end. We also worked on large-scale nebula rendering techniques, using the Pyro System as a test case. These techniques will help us create our interstellar scale nebula.
For Squadron 42, the team delved deeper into the look and feel of the Coil, which plays a major role in the first campaign. The team explored using powerful fluid simulations to help achieve this look.
For the Truckstop station materials, the team finalized the panels shapes, adding some hue and gloss variation and elements of wear and dirt. The unclad frames are also being finalized, with structural elements surrounding machinery and high frequency detail. They continued to work on the solar panels, trying different ideas out, and getting them to a stage where they gel well with the rest of the truckstop. The team also finalized the main hull pieces and proceeded to the front and back sections of the station. Special consideration is being made to ensure all the pieces work well as a modular set and don’t look visually repetitive. Detailing areas around the landing pad is ongoing and this includes adding more visual complexity to the back of the landing pad as well as the borders around the edge of the pad.
In relation to the Surface Outposts; more of the archetypal outposts have had a dressing and lighting pass, including an emergency shelter for crashed pilots to take refuge which can be found dotted around the moons. Also, an illegal drug lab, which may, or may not, be on one of the moons. The team also worked on providing further infrastructure to habitation pods including comms arrays, water collectors and small deploy-able communication units.
Planet integration materials for the outpost exterior has been tested and tweaked for sand and ice biomes. This determines the amount of dirt build-up that can vary for each biome, and can be adjusted for each outpost for variation.
Branding prototyping has been explored for procedural locations with the Rayari brand as a test case. This includes the main logos and text, along with secondary logos, idents, lines and signage. This would procedurally swap brands depending on who owns the outpost.
The live design team plowed ahead with content for the PU, but they’ve made sure to spend a bit of time giving some much-needed love to some of the existing Arena Commander and Star Marine maps. Dying Star has received a new lease of life with the addition of procedural asteroids, which give a more cinematic dogfighting experience. Both of the Star Marine maps have received a number of balancing changes, based on feedback from the community.
In Echo Eleven, we’ve made some adjustments to the capture points, and in Last Stand and Demien we’ve added a sneaky new EVA route from the Marine spawn zone to landing pad B.
On the UI front, the team chipped away at all the various features of the new MobiGlas. Progress has been made getting the home screen fully functional and displaying elements of the actor status, atmospheric readouts, suit status readouts, as well as personal overview. The Player Loadout Management app is now working on the mobiGlas. This interface should easily carry over to handle ship-loadout customization as well. The next big task is to get the new overhauled Mission Manager and Universal Inventory Manager up and running as well. The team also worked to get the mobiGlas UI to be projected using the new render-to-texture tech, which will make the UI look much more properly integrated within the game world.
Work has continued on designing and implementing the upcoming character customization menu on the front-end, which will be introduced in 3.0. From here, players will be able to create and customize their various characters for the PU, obviously depending on how many character slots the player has. Initially, the level of customization will be limited, but it will expand in the future to provide much more granular control of character features.
The audio team has been working on several features for the 3.0 release, including the procedural planet ambiance system, which is designed to place appropriate sounds around the player dynamically as they traverse planetary bodies.
They’ve also refined the approach on how we produce ship armaments and first person weapon audio, further ensuring they’re satisfying for the player, while reflecting player-driven modifications and customization.
The team produced sound schemes for the different kinds of diegetic user interfaces that will feature in 3.0, including the kiosks – the audio direction of these vary to suit their tech level, and this presents some great opportunities to reinforce their look and feel.
Preparation has begun in earnest for a Foley session at Pinewood Studios, to ensure audio coverage for character clothing and armor; and content to extend the footstep system further. Progress has also been made on the foundational audio tech such as dynamic bank loading, the actor-status system, the audio propagation system, and the music logic system.
In addition, over the past month, the team produced content for derelict ships, bespoke 3.0 location sound design, ship damage VFX audio support, ship audio improvements and more.
The AI team started a sprint focused on human combat, with the end goal of improving all the combat work done in the previous months into something that represents our final quality. We initially focused on all the shooting functionalities, making sure the basic controls for accuracy and friendly fire are implemented correctly then dove into improving behaviors related to awareness, such as reactions to potential threats seen or heard from a wide range of distances.
They also finished converting the ship AI to a newer updated version, meaning that weapons, shields, and countermeasures now work with the new Item 2.0 system. For now, it also supports the old ships to avoid any compatibility issues that may creep up. This is part of an ongoing effort to move ships away from Kythera AI control and bring us one step closer to fully switching to Subsumption-based AI for all ships.
The past month, the AI team did some additional work on the AI modules. These modules represent an item that can be attached to a seat (any seat of a spaceship or a turret) and execute a behavior logic defined with the Subsumption editor. You might think of it as a piece of custom software that can be instructed to take control of the same items that are available to a player sitting in the same seat. It might work as an autopilot or autonomously take control of a turret and fire at an enemy target. This feature is crucial in multi-crew ships where the pilot might assign specific activities to the AI modules instead of another player or NPC.
The System Design team continued working on the Air Traffic Control system, adding conversations with the traffic controller and a smart system for allocating landing pads for pilots wanting to land or take off.
They also updated all our doors to Item 2.0, which now makes them modular and a lot easier to implement. These changes included switchable loadouts for each door, the ability to connect two rooms so air can travel between them and provide the functionality needed for new systems that are already in the works such as breaching, hacking. They also started reworking airlocks so they work better with the room and atmospheric systems.
The team also did some very rough prototyping work on dynamic advertising which will contextually fill in the in-game panels/screens throughout stations with content that is reflecting the interests of the player that enters its proximity. The same system could be used for showing large scale broadcasts and warnings throughout the universe based on what is happening in the game at that specific moment, either globally or locally.
Our Lead lighting artist Chris Campbell continued work on the surface outposts (particularly on the habitation sets) and coordinated with the UK Environment Art team to stay in sync with all their updates to assets and dressing.
Another issue Lighting has been trying to solve for 3.0 is how to improve the amount of visibility on the dark side of the moons. Previously, without any interest objects in the sky, the planet surface would be far too dark since it would have to rely solely on cubemaps, therefore the player wouldn’t be able to see any detail in the environment. Chris worked with the engineers to add another layer of atmospheric glow and irradiance which allowed us to brighten the atmosphere, giving a nice gradient that shows the shape of the horizon and some depth in front of the player. The irradiance provides a base level of brightness on the actual surface geometry, so the player can faintly see themselves as well as the surface around them. Finally, he’s also been providing support for S42 environment lighting and setting visual benchmarks for the levels.
The Engine Team implemented the initial version of our new IO scheduler which will improve performance by only streaming in textures, meshes, sounds, etc that are being used to stay within a memory budget. Eventually, it will also allow the job manager to better utilize CPU cores in cases where streaming jobs are waiting for IO. Moreover, it will lay the groundwork for a version of the scheduler specifically designed for SSD drives to exploit their superior random disc access properties that will allow for multiple concurrent data streams with high throughput. All in all, this ensures all data is available in time for complex scenes to render without having to wait for LODs and all the related artifacts. Meanwhile the incremental patcher moved into initial internal QA testing. As previously discussed, this system will deliver builds incrementally to devs and gamers alike, so every time you update the game you’ll only need to download what has actually changed or been added since the last time rather than the entire build which will make the update process much faster.
We also revived our internal memory analysis tools for Linux to help find and fix memory leaks on server instances much faster. Memory leaks are one of the contributing factors for server stability and we want them fixed as quickly as possible to make sure servers can run for a long time without issues.
On the rendering side, the team made several improvements to the atmosphere and night skies as mentioned in the lighting update. The night side of planets and moons now exhibit more details due to scattered moonlight and a visible sky gradient in the distance when close to the terrain surface. They also looked into additional improvements for stronger ground-based haze to further increase visual cues for scene readability and continued working on the Object Container streaming (SolEd as well as PlanEd) and the rewrite of the living entity code is on track.
The Environment art team continued to work with the Level Designers on Levski’s exterior. Both art and design regularly work closely together to verify that the art is made in a way that doesn’t break any portion of the design. The last layout changes for Levski are coming in and the set dressing pass is close to complete. The area around Levski is also being populated with slightly larger mining structures than what we previously had in. Since the Levski exterior has grown over the past few weeks, it’s also going through an optimization pass with the artists looking into reducing memory consumption wherever applicable and making each individual asset as efficient as possible.
The terrain of Delamar was polished up and both the Assets and Rocks are all being finalized. The team also set up the specific asset scattering presets for the different ecosystem to populate the asteroid with defined objects.
The overall Planet tech has gotten a couple of new features as well. The overall amount of materials that can be used on the terrain has increased significantly, therefore new materials are being created for the moons to make the surfaces even more diverse from one another. Along with that, the moons also got a performance boost by optimizing which assets are being drawn on the surface of the procedural entities at any given time.
The Tech Art team worked on multiple Mannequin tasks including animations for both usables and cinematics. In case you are unfamiliar, Mannequin is a tool within Lumberyard that allows us to construct complex interactive character animations. They also refined some of the pipeline tools by adding new features and fixing bugs to make them easier to use and more dependable. The team also prototyped a Vanduul weapon, started R&D on some Physical Simulation for weapons, and fixed some lingering bugs.
Over the past month, the VFX team continued to work on the particle effects for the planets as well as implemented new animated decals. This now allows us to project certain animated textures onto objects, so it will follow the contours of those objects instead of having them on a flat plane that is roughly aligned to the surface. This helps integrate certain effects into the world a lot more efficiently and with a better result than what we could do previously.
The VFX team also expanded this month. Our newest member will primarily focus on the large amount of cinematics work that needs to be done for Squadron 42, including soft and rigid body simulations as well as destruction particle effects and the scene setups that go along with it.
This month, the FPS weapons team primarily focused on R&D efforts for weapons skins. They prototyped camouflage patterns, decals and material variations which will set us up for future weapon customization and allow us to quickly and easily create special one-off variants. The ship weapons artists are currently working on the Preacher Armament Distortion Scattergun S1 to S3 and started work on the Apocalypse Arms Ballistic Scattergun S1 to S3.
This past month, the Cinematics team focused on a Pre-vis pipeline, with the goal of getting most of the cinematics into the game regardless of whether they are polished or rough. This will help Designers and directors get a better idea of the overall flow and pacing for the full playthrough of Squadron 42. They will be working closely with the Facial and audio team to get a representation of the full performances in the engine.
They also worked with Kyle Moody from the UK to set up a small motion capture system setup in one of our common areas. These eleven OptiTrack cameras gave us a small capture volume of roughly three meters squared. The cinematics team will primarily use this setup to capture background characters for individual scenes as well as transition animations to help link animations that are not quit aligning. It can also be used to capture quick animations that we can use for outstanding R&D tasks for our Animation engineers, and save the animators some time. The system won’t be set up permanently, but once we have a small list of animations that we want, the team can set it up in about an hour and quickly get what they need.
This month, the Game Programming team did a pass on improving the functionality of doors, then started working on airlocks. Both the doors and airlocks need to be simplified as much as possible and integrated with the latest changes of the Item 2.0 system.
They also started planning the work needed for the improved Weapon System. That new system is based on the Item 2.0 system and will allow the designers to create a wider variety of weapons more easily. It will also address technical issues such as client-side-prediction and server authority. It’s still in the research phase and is a long-term effort however we’re confident that we’re on the right track and implementation can begin within the next few weeks. Finally, they added a few small features to the weapons such as the ability to have different muzzle flash effects or different vent effects based on the current fire mode.
This month, the QA team welcomed their newest hire, John Lang, who quickly got up to speed and became a primary point of contact for any Game-Dev client issues in Frankfurt. He’s also been heavily involved in various system testing this month, such as the new Stamina System currently being worked on in both the Frankfurt and UK offices. Together with Glenn Kneale they were able to begin the initial testing pass in an effort to gather data for our game programmers to use for bug fixes and overall improvements to the system.
The QA team also worked on testing the patcher, Editor, server connections, and the Star Citizen client using the new pak system in order to catch crashes and differences between builds pulled with the old patcher vs. the new patcher. This is an ongoing test that they perform daily to stay on top of any new issues that arise from build to build.
Additionally, they also spent time testing various multiplayer issues for the Stanton System, which included moon collision testing. They worked extremely close with the engineers to test very specific things in very specific ways to get the data that the engineers are after. The engineers then take those findings to work out fixes for issues and also to improve things such as stability and memory usage.
This month, the team’s main goal was to streamline some of the information about the game and make the entry point into Star Citizen better. We aren’t removing any content and RSI will remain the Hub for all Star Citizen development and the Star citizen community, but soon you will see some new designs to the site that will clarify and streamline information about Star Citizen the game, the development, the community and Squadron 42.
Aside from Design, our content and UX team have been hard at work with the creation of a new player guide. We have been working closely with CIG Player Relations, QA, Marketing and Production departments to consolidate information and generate a guide for new players. This is not an easy task because it’s not easy to identify what we call the “must knows” for the new players. Since the game is in alpha, the player guide will be designed as modular, changing as new patches are released to accommodate the ever-changing menus, UI and additional features. However, we are confident that the work we are doing will support new citizens and further expand our community.
Keep your eyes open for the exciting new site launch.
Summer is here and the community team has been busy supporting the 3.0 push. May was the busiest month for Bar Citizens ever, with events happening around the world from Boston to Perth, Berlin to Oklahoma City just to name a few. Bar Citizen is a great way to get to know your fellow Citizens, so keep your eyes peeled for one happening near you.
This month on our dedicated community show, Citizens of the Stars, Todd Papy answered the highest voted Quantum Questions, Big JR made a life-sized Artex GSS replica and we had great community guests including Karmola, Alysianah, Captain Richard and Clifford aka Miku.
Josh Herman joined us for another special episode of Happy Hour, in which he created another 3D creature for Star Citizen live for the community.
We ran one of our most fun sales yet, revealing the Eclipse bomber as part of a UEE de-classification scene. The team had a whole lot of fun with social media, putting out little hints and teasers about the ship in the lead up to the reveal.
Sandi spent some time in Austin this month for a Concierge Summit to work out how to better serve our backers. The project they’ve been working on is top secret, but expect to hear more about it soon.
Our Subscribers helped test the Drake Buccaneer all this month, and it sounds like it’s in a good place right now. Next month, they’ll be flying the Caterpillar and anyone who subscribes is welcome to join. Subscribers also received the next item in their holographic flair set, a 3D model of the Icarus One station for their tables.
And speaking of flair, we held a Subscriber Town Hall with members of the Star Citizen props team. The team answered plenty of subscriber questions about their work, and it was a rare opportunity for the community to meet the people making the universe feel lived in.
That was it for the last month. To give you an idea of what to expect this month:
Spectrum will receive a major update that will adds a myriad of new features, including Reddit-style threading and the return of ship forums.
We’ve been spending some time behind the scenes working on the New Player Experience and learning how to best teach new Citizens how to fly. You’ll see the results of that work in the not-too-distant future.
The team has also been busy planning Gamescom and CitizenCon, and we will have a date and further information to announce about CitizenCon shortly.