Character AI worked towards completing the first pass on the new iteration of combat behaviors. This implementation includes better structural organization of the different tactics characters can evaluate during combat and helps the programmers to implement and test all possible options. It’s also great for the player as it makes the overall combat experience more stable and interesting. For example, enemies now have proper tactics for handling open spaces and have a better selection of cover options when fighting in locations with multiple floors. They also started implementing different weapon fire modes so that NPC
s can decide which one best suits their current situation. The choice is also affected by the AI’s ‘experience’ – so a scared, inexperienced soldier might shoot as much as possible with reduced accuracy and bullet conservation. Several fixes were made to ensure aiming and shooting syncs correctly between the client and server too.
Ship AI worked on behavior and technical improvements. So of these allow the designers to access more behavior parameters, such as the option to look at a target while flying to a specific offset or to the beginning of a Track View scene. They implemented the first version of the Defend Target behavior that makes great use of the new target selection functionalities – the designers can now customize weights and threat scores to enable the AI to select the most appropriate target. This selection is influenced by several factors, such as the enemy ship’s threat score, the number of enemies targeting a specific entity, or damage inflicted. This provides a more realistic fight experience and allows players to witness more meaningful decisions during firefights.
Further progress was made towards the new ship 3D pathfinding implementation. This new approach has two basic control modes: position and velocity. Positional control means that a spaceship wants to reach a specific location, so a path will be generated incrementally as it moves in space. Velocity control means that a spaceship is going to maneuver related to a specific target or location. Both approaches make use of the physical data stored in the signed distance fields (SDF).
Animation continued R&D into the motion matching tech mentioned last month, including looking at how seamlessly it can transition from locomotion into a usable enter animation. They also looked into interrupt and resume tech for story scenes, which will allow a player to leave a scene, have the characters pause naturally, and start again seamlessly when they rejoin. The SQ42 Feature Team also started implementing a firing range.
The Character Team finished the first hairstyle under the finalized hair creation pipeline, and while they’re still expecting updates on the tech end, the artists are ready to start working through the remaining tasks. They also made revisions to various uniforms and wrapped up a key piece of enemy armor. An extremely important character concept was also completed and will soon move into the implementation phase.
Archon Station’s interiors progressed well throughout August – the social hub is coming to a close and many of the team have moved onto the engineering sections seen during key parts of the campaign.
The exterior of the comms array was tweaked slightly and work continued on the geometry and shaders. The station is about to receive a lighting pass and has been handed to the Space Scaping Team for placing.
The development of derelict ships began, with a few interesting variations created, including rotting, frozen, and attacked – all of which are being hand-sculpted to give maximum visual and emotional impact.
SQ42 allows players to create a character at the beginning of the story. This presents a unique challenge for cinematics and narrative, as most things relating to the story feature full performance capture and one of the team’s goals is to keep all cinematic sequences unified. To test this, they picked sequences they’re currently working on and switched between the male and female facial performance capture and evaluated where they can keep the player body motion unified, where they can edit and adjust, and where they have to split the performances. To help, Tech Art unified the player actor records and loadout options and now have an easy way to change the tag from male to female. A lot of scenes worked well with slight adjustment and polish, but areas benefiting from the individual actor’s performance will be split. Audio timing and syncing were also considered. The team don’t want direct copies of line readings and want to give the actors freedom of expression, but the overall cadence and timing must match, particularly the start times for each capture.
The female character model is also smaller than the male version, both in terms of body size and camera framing. So, further adjustments to the character motions were made, such as adjusting the hands and back to fit in chairs properly. To solve the framing issue, a camera tag was created to reduce the “tripod” height by 10cm in scenes that show the female player close up.
The Engine Team finished supporting tri-mesh splitting, which optimizes collisions and intersection tests, implements collision filtering and collision merging, and fixes foliage skinning. They also made batch process physics proxy updates which now don’t update the physics proxy if the entity has network serialization disabled.
Rendering wise, the first draft of the new graphics pipeline was submitted. The goal is to gradually transition to a Vulkan/DX12-friendly pipeline and the implement the Vulkan backend. The first pass includes initial interfaces and implementation, tone mapping, and the first Vulkan code added to renderer. For planet rendering, they moved from the explicit table-based evaluation of atmosphere inscatter to an incremental raymarch stepping process. This now allows additional evaluation of ground fog density samples (and clouds at a later stage) and incorporates them into the scatter equations.
The Gameplay Story Team made progress on a wide range of scenes last month. Some had already been worked on and only required modest updates, while others were new so were built up from scratch. Mo-cap was delivered quickly throughout the month and enabled the team to make progress at an impressive pace. The also worked closely with Props to finalize several handheld objects and complete all scenes they’re included in.
The Graphics Team continued with the same core features as last month, including gas cloud sun shadows. Volumetric sun shadows are now computed on the GPU and correctly account for shadows between adjacent and parented gas clouds. The remaining work involves factoring these volumetric shadows into the general lighting equation for opaque meshes. Alongside this, improvements were made to the glass shader refraction effect, which is used to render plastic sheets and icicles. Work also continued on the updated renderer design. This will continue over the next few months alongside a huge clean-up of old code and redundant features.
The Social Team continued to work on narrative scenes, working out conversation breaks and re-joins, directional triggers, and other specific details relating to social AI and player conversations. Most of the Level Design Team worked with Art to finalize the layout and AI operation of a major FPS combat zone. The Dogfight Team is still focused on the various use-cases for the more complicated AI requirements of space combat, while the Tech Team finalized the templates for various crew behaviors.
As levels continue to be refined and the pacing of gameplay is solidified, the Narrative Team worked closely with Design to identify areas where additional narrative moments could help to flesh out the world and story. After creating scripts, they worked with Animation, Audio, and Design to implement placeholder assets for playtesting and polishing. Last month also saw the team assisting Environment Art by providing additional environmental storytelling and props documentation. These writeups provide detailed backstory and references for everything from key hero assets intended to catch players’ eyes to small props that make the universe feel more alive. Additionally, they continued writing all the text that players will encounter throughout the game.
QA’s August support predominantly went to Cinematics, who are working on a wide range of cutscenes. A new level was created for the testing of ship explosions and AA-turret setup via Track View to make it easier to quickly test any issues they encounter. Work on a new level to test character animations and lighting began too.
Testing for the newest AI collision avoidance changes is also underway. While AI testing in DE is primarily done for the Persistent Universe, any new AI issues are cross-checked with the SQ42 test team in the UK as there’s often overlap.
Tech Animation supported the Social AI Team with in-engine animation setups and animation rigs for a wide variety of props. They completed technical setups for new weapon attachment types and bugs were fixed for the animation, design, and art teams.
Tech Art revisited the facial expression scanning pipeline and evaluated various new photogrammetry-based scan solutions. Since highly detailed scans of facial expressions are the core of the new in-house rigging pipeline, efficient creation, processing, and manual touch-ups of the scan meshes are crucial for quick turnaround. This new solution will ultimately help the team expand the character creator’s ‘DNA’ gene pool and give both the designers and players more options to create unique and interesting faces.
The VFX Team continued their close collaboration with Art and Design on some of the key space environments. As part of this, they added improvements to the ‘VFX transparent shader’, which is used to fill environments with moving dust and debris. The VFX tech artists continued to work with the graphics engineers to improve the gas cloud tools and began investigating the destruction pipeline to further improve the campaigns more epic destruction events. They also started developing effects for a new rocket launcher, including the muzzle flashes, backblast, missile trails, and missile impact on various surfaces.
An’ I’m only doing good when I’m havin’ fun.