Roberts Space Industries

Transmission

General

ID:

17105

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30

Date:

June 6th 2019

Star Citizen Monthly Report: May 2019

This month, we see teams around the world gearing up to tackle new content, be it the upcoming point patch or Alpha 3.6 and beyond. We’ve got updates about new landing zones, weapons, tech, vehicles, and loads of other stuff. Read on to find out what happened, is happening, and coming up in the Persistent Universe.

Star Citizen Monthly Report: May 2019

AI


To support requests coming from the designers of new missions involving interaction between NPCs and players, the Ship AI Team exposed a new set of nodes in Subsumption. Effectively, this provides a way to tie the position of one AI character to another and will enable NPCs to join various flying formations with specific directions (e.g. stay 100 meters right of the leader). This involved investigating an unexplored functionality of the New Flight System’s autopilot mode, where any action (or command) can be expressed in the local space of another entity instead of the canonical zone space. Eventually, this will give AI pilots more abilities during combat. An offshoot of this is ship strafing, which is currently being tested and improved.

The team continued to develop the different pilot skills first mentioned in the monthly report a couple of months ago, this time changing the way they affect dogfighting. Previously, pilot skill was used to determine the route through the branch of combat choices as the fight developed. Now, the skill influences the chance of the AI choosing a specific maneuver and its parameters, such as the duration of braking and evading. A ‘target selection’ option is now available to AI pilots that ensures they consider several factors when prioritizing between all detected targets. These factors currently include distance, perceived strength, damage sustained, and the number of allies already engaging. The next step is to introduce these influencing factors one by one and balance their relative importance during testing.

May saw the start of important R&D into improving the spatial perception of AI pilots. A 3D path planner used for positioning goals already exists, but the PU needs a system capable of adapting to different contexts (open space, asteroid fields, planetside, etc.). The aim is to create a new set of ad-hoc ways to query the state of the surrounding environments to give the AI all the information they need while having the lowest possible impact on performance.

A project also began to add areas where players and NPCs can interact with a usable (item) without being in an exact position. These areas will allow for higher-fidelity when players and AI interact with numerous usables in a single space.

Optimization continues all round, including the continued development and fine-tuning of FPS combat tactics. This includes shooting from cover, fighting in open space, simple search behavior, and improvements to first reactions. Improvements were also made to the Posture Manager – the system used during combat to understand if an AI enemy has visibility of the player and a viable shooting direction.


Animation


The Animation Team spent the majority of the month preparing and shooting motion capture for a variety of new bartender behaviors. From pouring shots to mixing cocktails, the team captured a lot of exciting new actions which will be rolled out to the PU throughout the year. They also prepared and refined additional animations for civilian NPCs, most recently bar patrons, as well as the upcoming mission giver, Eddie Parr, who is scheduled to roll out in Alpha 3.8.



Art (Environment)


The Landing Zone Team continued moving Orison through the whitebox stage. They currently have the basic layout running in-game and, moving forward, will be working with Design to refine the on-foot areas. They also made progress on the ‘hi-tech’ hangars, with garages, security, transit, and habs all ready for implementation.

Away from Crusader, pre-production began on New Babbage. microTech’s landing zone will offer players a very different experience from what’s come before, with corporate espionage, hacking, and high-tech industry all themes being considered for the icy planet.

The Modular Team made progress on the new space station exteriors, which just began the ‘final art’ phase. The most difficult part is defining the various libraries, rule sets, and filters required for the game to procedurally generate interesting and believable locations. It takes a long time as they all have to be created from scratch, but the results look promising. Procedural caves are progressing nicely too.



Art (Ships)


The Ship Team spent May working through the final art phase of the Origin 890 Jump, with the landing gear, hangar doors, master suite, engineering deck corridors, and crew areas all wrapped-up. The lighting pass is currently underway, including lighting states, exterior materials, turrets, main rear thrusters, and the large integrated components housed in the lower decks.

The Aegis Vanguard Warden and Hoplite exteriors are being wrapped-up to bring them closer to the vision of their original concepts. Soon, work will swing back to the interiors. Then, they’re ready to fly.


Art (Weapons)


Weapons Art finished modelling and texturing the Behring S38 pistol, Klaus & Werner Lumin V SMG, and Apocalypse Arms Animus missile launcher. They also started production on other Alpha 3.7 weaponry, including the Hedeby Gunworks Salvo frag pistol and Behring GP33 ‘MOD’ grenade launcher.



Audio


The Audio Team continued to push forward on improvements to ship weapons, vibration, and thruster components, which involved efforts on both the sound design and audio code fronts to create new systems and improve existing ones.

A new addition from the team is that internal ship ambiance will now be directly affected by the flight model – as the ship performs maneuvers or changes speed, the player will feel what’s happening through subtle changes in the way rooms and corridors sound. Continual improvement and development in these areas will bring a more visceral, immersive experience when flying and fighting in vehicles.

Foley audio also received attention and will now provide more articulate feedback to complement the improved character traversal and combat animations. For example, footsteps will be more nuanced as the system now accounts for weight biasing when leaning during traversal.

Front-end UI sounds have also been replaced with more subtle and polished assets which, while seemingly only a small part of the audio experience, help a great deal as they’re heard frequently during gameplay. Star Marine UI audio is being overhauled and new kiosk UI sounds are being designed too.

Inspired by the new VFX particle systems, the team looked at ways to provide realistic wind and weather sounds. It was obvious that opening a door or window when flying at high speeds in-atmosphere should be accompanied by suitably impressive audio, but doing this in a coherent and systemic way has been an ongoing challenge for both the coders and designers. However, great progress is being made and the Audio Team hopes to roll out something special soon.

The team is also, as always, providing audio support for the upcoming ships and weapons rolling off the production line.



Backend Services


The Backend Services Team spent time last month adjusting various services in the new diffusion network and finishing off tasks for the persistent item cache. They improved the variable, leaderboard, and loadout services too. Work was also completed towards ‘server-side’ object container streaming (OCS). Several bugs discovered during testing were addressed, as were some found on the current diffusion network. All work last month paves the way for the completion of as much of the new diffusion network as possible before ‘holistic’ testing begins.


Characters


Last month, the team began concepting several armors and clothing sets, as well as furthering their conceptual exploration of the universe’s alien races. They’re also currently adding the in-game t-shirts commemorating the first and second million backer milestones and subscriber helmets into the game.

Work continued on the hair pipeline, with this month’s focus on helping the artists build hairstyles that meet Star Citizen’s high quality standards more easily. Currently, the team are working on the material library, which will affect all wearable assets and enable them to push standards even higher.

The team also organized the character epic, onboarded outsourced companies to use JIRA, and improved the character pipeline for the better tracking of future characters. Work continues on female clothing items too.



Community


There’s hardly anything better than exploring the stars with your friends, so Community kicked off the month with a Free-Fly and invited everyone to join the adventure. Among the five free-fly ships was the Anvil Arrow, the star of the latest commercial contest. Many citizens answered the call and delivered incredible videos highlighting the beauty of Anvil’s most nimble craft.

Tumbril Land Systems revealed their new Ranger bike. The team published a Q&A to answer the community’s most-voted-on questions.

Senior Environment Artist Patrick Gladys finished his talk at the Level Up Developer Conference in Rome and was subsequently invited to an excellent Bar Citizen at a local trattoria by the Italian community. Bar Citizens happen regularly all over the world – check out barcitizen.sc for all the info.
Also this month, subscribers came together in Los Angeles to attend one of our weekly Star Citizen Live streams. Backers and developers had a blast with filming, a meet and greet, and studio tour.

Finally, the Community Team would like to draw your attention to this year’s CitizenCon on November 23rd in Manchester, UK. With preparations in full swing, keep your eyes open in the coming months for information on ticket sales, community booths, and more



Design


Design recently held a motion-capture shoot in the Austin office to gather more of the ‘core’ usable animations required by the bartender archetype.

The goal is to create a single underlying behavior that facilitates not only characters like the bartender, but also shopkeepers, street vendors, and some SQ42 characters.

Design are currently working with the Mission Feature Team on additional variants of some of the environmental missions wrapped up last month. They also added updates to the new NPC combat assist service beacons, which are almost complete and will be live soon.
As Orison moves through the whitebox stage, work is being done to block out the required tier-zero shops. This includes moving towards shop templates rather than hand-crafting new layouts for each landing zone, which is important as more and more locations are added. This requires specific metrics for each of the shops and, while this might make shops feel less unique, it’ll free up the team to create a larger variety of franchises and brands. This also ties into the recent economy update where shops are hard-themed with items from specific manufacturers.

Finally, the Economy Team worked on getting the newly announced Ship Customizer ready, rolling out the first iteration with the new Origin 300 series. They worked closely with Marketing and Ship Design to create compelling customization packages for players to choose from. Several new items were added to the game to facilitate these ships, all of which have been added to the in-game shops too.

Additionally, the Econ Team began working on a better methodology for how ships as a whole are valued.  This could be through tweaking a ship’s initial itemization or maneuverability to help differentiate it in a more meaningful way. The team are pushing the economy to be one that scores items more on their actual performance rather than scaling prices exponentially. So, while ships are much more complex than general items, they want to approach them the same way they would any other item. With this in mind, they agreed several key points (that they will continue to expand upon) that can be used to measure the vast array of ship classes against each other in order to look at the game more ‘holistically’ than ever before.


Engineering


The Engine Team provided support for the procedural tools, which involved making improvements to automated object layouts and generating ground layers for the lookup texture (LUT) table. In rendering, they made major quality improvements to Screen Space Directional Occlusion (SSDO) shadowing, enabled temporal dithering for dissolving objects and terrain blending, and enhanced the temporal dither pattern for reduced noise on hair cards.

They also modified the lighting code to make it consistent between forward and opaque objects that require sun shading without shadows, completed numerous render-to-texture fixes, and continued to work on ground fog.

They also completed general systems work, which included adding support for authoritative and non-authoritative entity component updates, the first implementation of server-side OCS, and establishing debug GUI user framework (based on IMGUI integration). They established SystemSpec analytics events for backend analysis (similar to the Steam hardware survey), too.

Finally, they completed physics-related tasks including geometry instancing to reduce memory requirements and physicalizing asteroids outside of the physics thread for performance gains.



Features (Gameplay)


During May, the team continued to support Alpha 3.5 with critical bug fixes. However, the team’s main focus was on feature development for the upcoming Alpha 3.6 release, which included improvements to the character customizer, hailing ships, shop inventory, and kiosk UI. Preliminary work was also completed on the integration of the group system into Arena Commander and Star Marine, which will be delivered sometime after Alpha 3.6.



Features (Vehicles)


The first half of May saw the team working towards server-side OCS, starting R&D into improvements to the tile system, making PU performance optimizations, fixing client unbind stalls, making shader damage improvements, and fixing weapon hardpoint attachment bugs. While some of this work continued until the end of the month, much of the team shifted to further developing the scanning system halfway through.

Progress continued on the development of several vehicles. Work on the Merlin and Archimedes for Alpha 3.6 is coming to a close, while the Esperia Prowler, which is scheduled for Alpha 3.8, had its cockpit and pilot seat modeling finished.

Additionally, Vehicle Tech Art was kept busy completing a 3DS Max template tool, removing legacy damage from the Origin M50, and working on blendspace animations for the Khartu-Al’s wings. Time was also assigned to bug fixing for the Alpha 3.5.1 patch.



Graphics


The team’s work on ‘planet effects v4’ continues, with them setting up the editor tools to allow the quick authoring of richer and more diverse planets. Work on the real-time/live environment probe lighting also continued, with a focus on performance to ensure stalls aren’t introduced into the game. A long-standing bug that caused glow to be missing from the ship damage system was also fixed.



Level Design


Level Design spent part of the month finalizing the flow of the security AI, which will eventually ask players to step aside to be scanned for contraband or stolen items. This involved working with the Narrative Team to determine a list of prohibited goods and controlled substances. A new salvage yard location is also in the works to enable players to sell and trade everything on the list.

The rebuilding of the comm array and criminal database screens began, which will be updated to support a consumable ‘hacking chip’. This is being worked into a mechanic that will support missions where players can attempt to prevent each other from successfully completing a hack.

They also spent time working with the Art Team on a major mission for Crusader’s upcoming landing zone and prototyped an FPS combat mission aboard the Origin 890 Jump.


Lighting


The Lighting Team focused on lighting the new set of common elements in the hi-tech art style. This included new transit platforms, security checkpoints, habs, and vehicle garages. As part of this process, they investigated several light state switching options for each location with the goal of giving players more interaction and making the environments feel more alive. Being able to explore these prototypes early helps them further refine the modular location pipeline and futureproof themselves for the addition of new systems (such as power) further down the road.



Narrative


Narrative worked heavily with the design teams in Austin and Wilmslow to establish Stanton’s various jurisdictions and determine crimes that players can commit while flying around the system. They also met with the AI Team to refine how NPCs are grouped together into behavior archetypes.

Work continued on the Banu and Xi’an languages, with this month’s focus on expanding vocabulary. Finally, the team assisted with the Tumbril Ranger concept launch, pitched new commercial ideas for upcoming ships, and wrote an original song for a ship trailer currently in production.



Player Relations


May saw Player Relations begin testing Alpha 3.5.1 and the Ship Customizer. They also helped support the new Tumbril Ranger, which is already becoming a fan favorite.



Props


May saw the Props Team break from their normal release schedule to refine the assets used by a few future features, including the first pass on the required adjustments for the cargo and cover metrics.

The team spent much of the month alongside Animation, initially working on new metrics and templates for the future bar experience before moving onto seats and sleeping quarters. They also completed all the different combinations of sleep pods, hab units, and other sleeping arrangements needed for ships and planetary locations throughout the ‘verse.

Work also continued on the ship item interiors, which included finishing a couple of small and medium-sized ship power plants, ironing out a handful of issues, and preparing for a larger push later in the year. They supported the Live Design Team with the props needed for the law and hacking gameplay too.



QA


Last month the team did extensive physics testing with a quality assurance test request (QATR) for reducing spatial grid memory. These changes were the second of a two-part series of changes from the Physics Team, with the initial part being tested in April. No new issues were encountered in the preliminary testing, so it was given the green light for submission.

The Engine Team requested specific testing of QTangent shelf changes, focusing primarily on any potential areas where skinning might be affected. They also tested custom binaries that could cause potential visual abnormalities. For this, they focused on issues with rendering that persisted but never recovered. Planet testing per system continues as a weekly task QA maintains for the Universe Tech Team. This check, in addition to full editor checklists, PU performance passes, and page heap ad-hoc testing rounds out the usual bulk of tech testing each week. The testers also continued to deepen their knowledge of Data-Forge and DataCore and how they work with the client, engine, and servers.

Testing for the new transit system began in earnest and involves creating test levels using the same setup as Level Design to ensure crashes and issues are caught early on. This will be followed by an integration QATR, which is the step before changes can move into the game-dev stream. When finally in game-dev, there will be a short period of time where the whole transit system no longer functions until Level Design are able to convert all elevators, trains, and trams. Additionally, the first preliminary tests for microTech’s train have started. Follow-up testing will continue once initial art and level design passes have been made.

The first stages of a new in-game graphical user interface (GUI) that will contain most (and eventually all) of the debug commands was started this month. The team spent an afternoon compiling commands and any special feature requests that would be beneficial to speeding up the testing processes.

At the end of the month, they completed AI-focused QATRs from the usable and AI engineering teams. This mainly consists of functionality and performance testing alongside gathering RAD Telemetry 3 captures to compare the performance between vanilla dev and shelf QATR builds.

They also worked with Turbulent to test the new Ship Customizer for Alpha 3.6 testing in June.



System Design


The System Design Team continued the work detailed in last month’s report on NPC reactions to audio and visual stimuli. Once completed, they moved onto reactions to close-proximity grenades and bullets.

They’re currently working with the AI Team on NPC target selection and adding additional tactical maneuvers, including strafing, to bring AI ship abilities more into line with those of the player.

For social AI, they continued work on the unified vendor behavior; all that’s left to do is deal with the last few kinks and glitches.



Tech Animation


Throughout May, the team re-worked their animation setup tool that enables the artists to create the necessary files for animated objects in-engine with a few clicks (it includes animsettings, chrparams, dba-entries, skeletonList-entries, and batchlist). It also includes the functionality to edit ‘chrparams’ and ‘batchlist’ files for existing setups.

They worked on the usable rework, mainly focusing on chairs and beds. This included finding the best Mannequin structure to work with the new setup and implementing animations into the engine. They provided support to the Weapons Art Team by helping build animation setups for the new weapons, fixing bugs, and making required rig changes. They also continued their effort to piece together the datasets required to generate complex animation scenes throughout the game.

Alongside everything else, they worked on the nuts and bolts of the animation pipeline to provide a massive overhaul to Maya’s core referencing system. This will ultimately provide a pipeline that doesn’t rely on hard path referencing and can support infinite workspaces and streams across the userbase. They’re also currently upgrading the animation pipeline codebase and plugins to support Maya 2019 for a possible future upgrade. Technical Animation have been working closely with Technical Art to co-develop a new facial animation and rigging pipeline to bring a new level of flexibility and fidelity to an already cutting-edge solution.

Additionally, the team have been spread across many teams assisting in the development of combat, weapons, usables, and cinematics.



Tech Art


The Tech Art Team implemented version two of the internal face customizer. The underlying facial rig blending technology was enhanced to not only allow blending globally between four different source heads, but to allow a different choice of four heads for each of the twelve blend regions. While the new tool and its user interface need to expose all this additional functionality to the artists, it’s also critical that users don’t get overwhelmed by the complexity and sheer amount of parameters in use. Therefore, a number of convenience functions were added to allow for the quick randomization of head IDs and their corresponding weights (either per head region or globally). During each stage of the facial customization, symmetry constraints can be turned off to introduce slight asymmetry in distinct regions, which helps to make a face look more natural and realistic. The tool now makes it much easier for the team to create unique-looking NPCs while being more efficient than ever before.




Turbulent (Services)


May saw Turbulent hard at work on a voice service rework to be able to elegantly handle several simultaneous connections, specifically when players are already communicating with a group or a lobby and other players approach them in-game. The first step is the addition of a voice session manager, of which development was started.



Turbulent (Web platform)


Last month, Turbulent worked on the new Ship Customizer, which is currently up and running on the reworked Origin 300 series. Alongside new exterior and interior options, they added packages that can be added to the ships to alter their focus. The customizer service reads data from the game and generates a tree of possible selections based on the available options. This is the first example of the platform pulling ship configuration data from in-game and the first time players are able to manipulate aspects of their ship setup before playing. Turbulent worked through many design interface iterations and tested different approaches to the customizer, with most inspiration coming from online car customizers. Players that already own a 300 series ship will be given the opportunity to customize it from the hangar.

Turbulent also supported the release of the new Tumbril Ranger, including the Warbond versions that comes with a unique Tumbril Renegade jacket. They assisted with the first announcement of CitizenCon 2949 with a ‘save the date’ page too.



User Interface (UI)


A major focus for UI last month was on the central flight HUD. This includes indicators for velocity, g-force, afterburner, ESP, and some new mechanics such as the thruster strength limiter and radar altimeter. The plan is to test these additions by completely overhauling one ship (including MFDs and Combat HUD) before rolling them out to the rest of the game. So, for Alpha 3.6, this HUD will only be available in the Aegis Gladius.

May also saw the team working on the new ship purchase kiosk, which will initially be found in Area18’s Astro Armada. Previously, players could only buy ships that fit into the showroom, which seriously limited choice. While shop displays are still limited by the size of the location, the designers can add any ship they want to the kiosk to greatly expand buying options.

UI also worked closely with the Vehicles Team to start reworking vehicle UI. This is a significant task that will take several months to complete and makes great use of the team’s new UI tech.


VFX


This month the team welcomed two new VFX artists who both jumped into PU tasks after an initial ramp-up period.

Work continued on the decoupled lighting rollout, with particular focus on planets, moons, and landing zones. The team are really happy with the visual improvements this is bringing to the new environments along with the more established locations like Levski and GrimHEX.

On the content side of things, two new weapons (a ballistic pistol and laser SMG) received a VFX pass, as did the P52 Merlin and P72 Archimedes. Weapon projectiles continue to be tweaked and improved too.

The team continued heavy R&D work on their role in planet effects v4. Specifically, the VFX programmers carried on investigating how particles could be spawned from a planet’s global height map. This would allow a significant reduction of individual particle emitters which have traditionally been a drain on the CPU. They also investigated color tinting particles, in particular allowing effects (landing dust, weapon impacts, etc.) to inherit color from a planet’s surface.

They also progress on the planet tech rework by assisting in designing a new UI and tools. These tools will support the more data-driven setups that the planets require, such as spawning particles based on temperature or humidity. They are also investigating the appropriate effect variations for distance (close, medium, and long range).


Conclusion

WE’LL SEE YOU NEXT MONTH



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