April saw Star Citizen teams from around the world finishing off their tasks for Alpha 3.5 and moving in earnest to the next patch coming in a few months’ time. Several teams have even started looking further into the future, making progress on the locations, ships, and characters for Alpha 3.7 and beyond.
Star Citizen Monthly Report: April 2019
Throughout April, the AI Team made a ton of improvements for the release of Alpha 3.5. This included optimizing the AI EventDispatcher to register entities to specific events, which brought down CPU usage from around 12 milliseconds to 600 microseconds. They also optimized the navigation mesh loading time during server-level initialization and deferred behavior-specific queries to the zone system to take advantage of multi-threading and use less CPU time during subsumption updates.
A project to optimize usables began that will eventually allow the team to cache animation and navigation data for interactive objects and improve runtime usage. This will be most useful in densely-populated areas like landing zones and space stations. The team are also looking to improve the compilation times for subsumption task nodes and extend the Tactical Point System (TPS) to allow the time-sliced evaluation of game-code-defined functionalities.
Away from optimization, human combat AI was refactored to allow a more modular approach to the definition of tactics and behavior. The aim of this is to give the designers an efficient template that they can expand on and customize as they like.
Animation is working on a new mission giver, Eddie Parr, a bartender who gives out missions. So, to match the gold standard of our mission givers, we are adjusting the bartender experience to make the experience as engaging and realistic as possible. They’re also refining NPC bar patron animations to help populate the locations that Eddie will be bartending. Part of this work moves the team forward on their ‘recycled body animation tech’ (RBT), which will help them expand the ever-growing universe while keeping the animation footprint down without sacrificing quality.
The Landing Zone Team began early whitebox exploration of Crusader’s landing zone, Orison. Basic architectural forms and structures are being developed and even at this early stage, the mood and atmosphere is unique and interesting. The team are also working alongside Level Design to find the right balance between expansive on-foot areas and keeping essential points of interest within sensible traversal times of each other.
The Modular Team finished whiteboxing new sets of assets for more diverse space station exterior shapes. Prefabs, rules, and filters that enable the procedural tool to do its thing are being established too, with promising early results. All of this will lead to a much more interesting and diverse set of station exteriors to fly around and land at very soon.
The Environment Team also focused on the ‘hi-tech’ common elements found throughout New Babbage. The new hangar, hab, transit, garage, and security elements are currently being finished up and readied for their debut in Alpha 3.8. On the organics side, they completed another push on procedural caves and continued to update the PU’s existing planets, including investigating canyons (the first results of which are looking very promising).
Lead Vehicle Artist Chris Smith completed the whitebox phase of another as-yet-unnamed ship, which means the basic low-poly geometry and components are now usable in-engine. Chris now moved onto the greybox phase, where he will further refine the geometry, make a first lighting pass, and properly tackle the cockpit area.
Vehicle Artist Josh Coons is concentrating on refining the textures and materials of the Banu Defender, which are essential to getting the desired final look. He is also progressing with the interior lighting and receiving assistance from the LA-based Vehicle Team on the cockpit area and a few additional texture sets.
Vehicle Content helped release the Origin 300i rework and the MISC Reliant variants (the Mako, Sen, and, Tana) and continued work on the Origin 315p, 325a, and 350r. The Esperia Prowler completed its whitebox phase and now joins the Banu Defender in greybox. Progress was also made on the Kruger P-72 Archimedes, which is due for release in Alpha 3.6.
Aside from art and design, Tech Art completed several smaller tasks including building a new template tool, reorganizing hierarchies on the RSI Constellation, making a pass on vehicle hull proxies, and reworking landing gear compression on the Drake Caterpillar.
Last month, Weapon Art worked on finishing the Behring S38 pistol, Apocalypse Arms Animus missile launcher, and Klaus & Werner Lumin V submachine gun.
This month, Audio started work on the next quarter’s goals alongside looking at polishing sections of the newly-released Area18. The team felt that some sections of the city would benefit from extra attention, namely ambient sounds in various areas, which will be live in an as-yet undetermined future patch.
For Alpha 3.6, the team are looking at the new features currently under development and are providing support where needed, such as on the new Behring ballistic pistol and MaxOx NN-Series neutron repeater. They’re also looking into the various UI additions that coincide with new gameplay features to ensure everything is up to the expected quality.
Throughout April, Backend Services primarily supported the launch of Alpha 3.5. However, optimizations were made to the persistence backend pipeline, various bugs were fixed, and adjustments were made to various backend-supported gameplay features. They’re also finishing up the new iCache, with only testing and integration remaining. They’re currently working on a prototype of the new Star Service, which marries game server and diffusion technologies, allowing more gameplay systems to live in scalable services on the backend.
The Character Team worked on several concepts for outfits and locations, including plenty of new items for microTech. They also started concepting new armor and continued through the high-poly stage with others. Now that the female player character is in the PU, all the existing clothing is being brought up to standard to work with the new model. Work also continued on the hair pipeline, specifically on tools to help the artists build new hairstyles that consistently meet Star Citizen’s quality standards.
Alpha 3.5’s character customizer was top priority for many of the team throughout April, which was immediately followed by planning the next iteration that will come in Alpha 3.6. Alongside customizer work, they began improving and integrating the VoIP and chat system into Arena Commander and Star Marine and gave support to limited-commodity shopping.
The Community Team dived into April with an Easter Screenshot Contest that highlighted hard-to-find locations in the ‘verse like Benny Henge and the Javelin wreck. Players were tasked with tracking them down and capturing their best images for a chance to win one of the newly-introduced MISC Reliant variants. Over 500 submissions were received – thanks to all who entered!
The team launched another commercial contest this time focusing on the agile and aggressive Anvil Arrow. Producers, editors, and camera operators still have until May 15th to send in their work.
After a three-week hiatus, Thursday’s show is back! Inside Star Citizen gives a firsthand look at Star Citizen’s development with a new name and a revamped format. Our live show has undergone a major makeover too – Star Citizen Live broadcasts on our Twitch channel every Friday. The first episode sees Jared and Luke Presley embroiled in the criminal underworld of Area18.
Some of the Community Team visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester for BritizenCon , the unofficial annual UK Star Citizen fan convention. A big thank you to the organizers for putting on such a great event.
Gamescom 2949 is right around the corner and the team are looking forward to meeting all the Star Citizen fans making the trip to Cologne. The Community Team will be on hand at Bar Citizen events in the evenings, with Friday’s meetup including special guests Erin Roberts and Brian Chambers. Exclusive goodies to give away are in the making too, so check out the agenda and make sure you say hello!
The first and one of the most noticeable changes Design made recently is regarding the economy. For Alpha 3.5, item distribution was completely refactored in a few noticeable ways, including a ‘travel tax’ that’s now applied to items as they appear further from the point that they entered the system. The aim is to mimic real life in how item prices are affected by how far they have traveled from their production source, but also to make it so that players can find better deals on items if they’re willing to search them out. This feature will continue to be refined in the future. Regarding item distribution itself, the entire item list (2300+ items) was redistributed into the various shops based on the shop’s brand franchise. As the franchise list expands and more come, players will start to see items reach their ‘ultimate’ homes.
The team also added what they’re calling ‘spoofed’ missions, which are driven through the Service Beacon feature. These are important to the team as they’re the first attempt at having AI dynamically generate missions for players as they fly around the universe. Currently, the AI will only request combat assistance from players, but the doors are now open to start using the approach for other beacons as further AI features come online. For example, the team are currently working on a refueling beacon for Alpha 3.6 that will allow players to request fuel from NPCs (the ability for players to respond to this beacon type will be coming in a subsequent release).
Design are making progress with the latest version of the bartender archetype. They currently have several of the core usables set up with blocked-in animations to enable them to check everything functions as expected in preparation for an upcoming motion capture session.
Design partnered with the Mission Feature Team to create new missions for (probably) Tecia ‘Twitch’ Pacheco in Alpha 3.6. Alongside the main aim of creating new content, this will help one of the designers get up to speed with the mission toolset.
Finally, an internal initiative to improve the Service Beacon creation pipeline was launched. This is because, at present, it takes considerable work for the programmers to add new beacon types into the game. With the help of the UI Team, new technology is being created to allow the designers to create UI screens on their own with little to no programmer support. This is important to the team who plan to regularly add new beacon types which, at the moment, can be quite difficult. In the future, players can expect new beacons added much more regularly.
Alongside profiling and squashing bugs for Alpha 3.5, the Engineering Team worked on rendering, enhancing the temporal dither pattern to reduce noise on hair cards, adding variance texture support for planet tech v4, and making various quality fixes for gather-based DOF. They also progressed with the render thread global state cleanup (a prerequisite for the low-level renderer and render pass refactor).
They continued to collect system-wide context switch information to aid in performance analysis and parallel processing optimization (just on Linux for now). Various improvements and robustness changes for crash digest computation were made too, the results of which will be used in Sentry.
The team also began to look into refining physics geometry instancing to reduce memory requirements. When finished, this will reduce the memory used in spatial and planetary grids and generally optimize the physics engine.
The team spent a lot of time supporting the release of Alpha 3.5, which included tackling a lot of crash and build-stability-related bugs. When the patch released, they moved onto optimizing server-side object container streaming and general PU performance, R&D into the current status of the tile system, support for integrating physics into the game-dev stream, and preparatory work towards adding a target selector into the FPS mode.
The Graphics Team focused on two main features this month. The first is ‘procedural planet tech v4’, which includes a wide array of general improvements to planets. The Graphics Team’s role has been making the texture placement and tinting more ‘physically’ based, which offers many benefits such gradual transitions between biomes and logical texture placement, which give a more varied planet, quicker content authoring, and less pop-in. It also removes the need for ‘distance fade’, meaning players can scout locations from orbit knowing the appearance won’t change when they reach the surface. Although it’s going well, procedural planet tech v4 is still very much work-in-progress and won’t be ready for the PU for some time.
The other major tech feature worked on this month is Live Environment Probes, where previously-baked bounced lighting is updated at run-time to allow real-time changes with sun positioning. It’ll improve the artist’s workflow too.
The Level Design Team continued work on Area18 and were exceptionally happy to see it live in the PU. In the future, updates will be made including the addition of new points of interest around the planet. They made progress on the procedural tool by building up of a library of rooms to give more variation to future rest stops (including refineries and cargo ports) and began pre-production of New Babbage and Orison. These new locations will first get their foundations finalized before moving into the whitebox phase.
Between working on forthcoming content, such as the expanded law system, the Live Design Team fixed any missions bugs that found their way into the Alpha 3.5 build. They’re also getting a head start on Alpha 3.9 by designing some of the missions that will appear at Orison.
With the main work for Alpha 3.5 complete, Lighting spent the month polishing ArcCorp’s rooftop locations and converting the underground facilities to a more modular workflow. This allows the team to provide quality and consistent lighting much faster and better support new additions to the facility layouts.
Looking ahead, they supported the Environment Art Team with the creation of the hi-tech common elements. Jumping on the lighting early allows the team to future-proof the setup of the power system and other player interactions to make life easier in the future.
Narrative created the branding for several new tiers of rest stop that will be peppered around the PU in upcoming patches; Dave and Will went on Reverse the Verse to talk about their brainstorming process.
Additionally, they continued fleshing out two upcoming cities, New Babbage and Orison. They also worked on the Alpha 3.5 tutorials that are now live in the How to Play section of the RSI website and published a brand-new episode of StarWatch . They also spent time polishing future mission givers for upcoming releases, and working on a variety of especially fun things that they are not able to mention just yet!
The Player Relations team continued near-daily efforts supporting the Evocati, PTU, and live service with Alpha 3.5 testing. Now that it’s live, they’re assisting with fixes and updates.
The team would like to thank everyone for their help and would like to point all players to our growing Knowledge Base, which has over 100 articles and has seen almost 450,000 visitors this month! We’ll continue to grow this by adding new How-To guides, patch notes, and live service notifications there as well as on Spectrum.
Early April saw the Props Team close out their work on Alpha 3.5 with bug fixing and last-minute polishing. Post release, the team completed a few additional street dressing props to wrap up the set used in ‘low-tech’ city environments.
As the team prepare to move onto different architectural styles later in the year, they put some time into finishing off the remaining utilitarian hanger props to add variation to future landing zones. They also wrapped up all low-tech requests, including making metric adjustments to some of the cargo and storage props in preparation of gameplay features making use of them.
Work on usables continued with improvements to documentation, template files, and the definition of metrics that enable them to work with the new functionality of AI characters.
Finally, work has continued on ship items, with particular focus on interiors and how sub-items work with small and medium powerplants. The aim is to ensure that there’s enough space inside ships to allow players to interact correctly with all sub items.
Quality Assurance’s primary objective for April was to provide support for critical and blocking issues preventing Alpha 3.5’s release. So, they focused on several AI issues where ships were sometimes not moving or responding to the player. This involved testing various builds with potential fixes and trying to replicate issues that were difficult to reproduce internally. At one point, they reached an impasse where ships were finally moving but jittered as they went. They spent time observing the ship AI in various scenarios and providing feedback on its appearance with and without fixes to help development and production make a decision on which issue should take priority.
Additionally, they continued to test combat and social AI, with focus on Tecia ‘Twitch’ Pacheco and crowd AI avoidance in Area18.
QA’s dedicated transit tester worked on Area18’s transit system throughout the month, including a number of issues such as players falling through elevators and dying between the habs and spaceport. As for the level itself, the emphasis was on testing props, collision, materials, stability, and performance. QA also discovered various rendering issues with ArcCorp’s moons, Delamar, and Yela that were confirmed by the community in the PTU. The team worked together with engineers to resolve the issue once and for all by testing various code builds with potential fixes until the solution was found.
On the tool side, new cases for the current Data-Forge checklist were created. Between testing, they continued to work on general QA test requests for everything from code and data changes to feature stream integration.
On the publishing side, QA tested daily Alpha 3.5 builds for the PTU and live service. Testing focus was on general bug fixing along with game feature integration from the feature streams back into game dev for future content.
Last month, System Design’s focus was predominately on AI. For FPS, they focused on reworking first reactions so that NPCs feel more natural and react correctly to everything from gunshots or objects being thrown in their vicinity to getting shot.
They’re currently working on formation tech with the AI Team which, alongside the ability to set up flying formations, enables the precise positioning and orientation of ships. Eventually, this will be used for other gameplay features like AI refueling, rescue, and cargo scanning. Work also continues on additional combat behavior blocks for existing AI. For social AI, progress is being made on the unified vendor behavior that will cater to a variety of NPC characters such as bartenders and weapon sellers.
On a non-AI related note, the team are redoing the mineable resource set up to take advantage of the upcoming harvestable tech. This allows more control over where resources are spawned, in what quantity, density, and condition. The same tech is used to spawn planetary rocks and space asteroids. In the future, it’ll be used to spawn all harvestable item in the game, including flowers, trees with fruit, and even weapons and ammo from crates.
Tech Animation worked closely with the Social AI Team on restructuring usables, which included implementing animations into the new Mannequin structure. This new automation processe will allow them to export the animation state machines from Visio straight to Mannequin.
They also made additions to the female binder file that will allow animators to transfer more accurate data from MotionBuilder into Maya. The asset manager was updated to allow the animators to run a sync on every opening process, making it easier for everyone to stay up to date with the latest rigs and props. They also supported art, animation, and design with a handful of smaller bug fixes.
Last month, Tech Art continued work on the ‘look-at’ system for redirecting motion capture animations. They implemented Bézier-spline-curve-driven smooth re-mapping of eyeball rotations and other facial runtime rig inputs, such as eyebrow and eyelid control parameters. The procedural animation and deformation effects based on look direction are much richer and look significantly more natural than they did with simple linear mappings. Since each character in the game has unique facial and eye anatomy, the values applied in the runtime look-at rig logic can be optimized and overridden per character, which is essential to preserving the likeness of the original actor when semi-procedurally animating the face.
The current infrastructure dedicated to communication between services was adapted to support a new framework. Alongside this, the new services framework development has entered the first steps of testing. This project has been ongoing for a few months and is now reaching its final stages. The first project benefiting from these efforts will be the development of new match and squad creation services for Arena Commander and Star Marine.
Turbulent (Web platform)
Last month, Turbulent supported the new telemetry release, completed a backend CMS migration, and introduced various service and platform updates. Support was given to the Alpha 3.5 release, which involved coordinating many moving parts such as loaner ship updates, the PTU wipe and sync with live, and platform/services updates.
Public telemetry was updated to receive ping, community average, disc type, community average disc type, stability score, filters by resolution, and several examples of hardware-based GPU and CPU score. The major CMS backend migration was deployed to the live environment and will allow the platform to run more smoothly and efficiently. This was a major project that took a total of three months to complete.
User Interface (UI)
During April, UI worked towards getting a new ship purchase kiosk up and running, which will make its first appearance in Area18 and allow players to choose from a wide range of ships.
The UI Tech Team have also been adding additional functionality to the artist’s and designer’s tools use to make it easier for them to construct in-game UIs. Part of this involves adding a video playback system, linear and radial progression slider widgets, fluid layout sizing, and the ability to import custom vector shapes and use them in a variety of ways. Optimizations were also made to the new tech to make it less reliant on parts of the old system.
Moving on from the release of Alpha 3.5, the team began the groundwork for the ‘planet effects v4’ feature. This is a new round of iteration on the tech that generates planetary effects such as desert sand, dust, drifting pollen, etc. and the team are looking into ways to allow effects to be more closely driven by planetary data. For example, using a planet’s height map to reduce or increase specific effects depending on how high up the player is. When combined with the effects options available from the room system (temperature, pressure, humidity, etc.), the team will have a powerful toolset at their disposal to really push the visual quality of planetary bodies.
On the environment content side, the team began converting planet and landing zone effects over to the new decoupled lighting setup. They also looked at ways they could improve the visual quality of projectile’s and tracers, which in recent times have suffered from visual degradation. As it turned out, there were some simple shader fixes which helped significantly.
The VFX Team also worked with the programmers to redesign the system that scatters particles on the surface of a planet. The old one was a temporary measure that relied on a series of splat map textures and terrain angle/elevation to determine where the particle emitters were scattered; it was slow and had issues with popping when the terrain LODs switched. The new system is a much more data-driven setup where the particles are controlled by various atmospheric conditions such as temperature, wind strength, and humidity. It gives the team the ability to dynamically control particles in various situations across multiple planets with much less manual work than the old system.
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