Roberts Space Industries

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Date:

October 3rd 2019

Star Citizen Monthly Report: September 2019

Alpha 3.7 is on the horizon. With it comes new ships, underground locations, harvestables, first-person mining, and more. Naturally, progress on these features can be found throughout this month’s report. Exciting times are afoot, so let’s dive in.

Star Citizen Monthly Report: September 2019

AI


September’s rundown starts, as always, with AI, who focused on improving the initial experience when players encounter NPCs. This involved tuning first reactions to something viewable in the players’ peripheral vision and making the first pass on ‘low reaction’ behavior, which represents NPC reaction to something not particularly dangerous. For example, if they see or hear a cup being thrown. In these cases, the team wants to allow the player to draw the attention of an enemy to take them by surprise or drive them away from their location so they can sneak by.

They also improved reactions to things NPCs only briefly see, particularly if the detected entity is in their peripheral vision. They achieved this by implementing a more complex first reaction, so being detected is slightly more forgiving to allow the player to better control the situation. Alongside behaviors, they made the first pass on accuracy and targeting controls for characters. This includes making the chest the preferred targeting location, with the following adjustments based on designer-defined accuracy values. Eventually, this will be connected to the skill system.

Ship AI worked improved and balanced ship behaviors, with a focus on the ‘DefendTarget’ logic. They also cleaned up the landing and takeoff code and slightly refactored how quantum travel (QT) logic works. This included simplifying the 3D pathfinding code by moving all additional steps into the behavior logic and TPS. Parallel to this, progress continued on new 3D pathfinding code, which involves moving a lot of the processing logic into jobs that execute small calculations while the ship flies around the universe. This allowed them to extend the movement system to support patchable plans that can resume the pathfinding calculation when needed.

Social AI looked at identifying and clarifying the possible scenarios required to implement a large number of social behaviors. They’re currently investigating the details so they can predefine the structural setup of the usables needed to allow the designers to create the infrastructure alongside the behaviors. These scenarios help identify edge cases to tackle on the second pass for the usable slotting code implementation. A prototype was developed for the ‘item provider’ – a usable that provides an NPC with all the necessary elements to prepare a specific item. For example, a beer tap is an item provider that can provide beer, a fridge is an item provider that can provide food, bottles can provide water, etc. This enables the team to create a data-driven process for the designers to quickly implement the required content. Aside from fixing bugs and making systems more robust and stable, optimization work was done to general character navigation, including a way for navigation links to connect multiple meshes. This allows the modular creation of spaceships and stations to correctly define navigation volumes that can be connected to each other. It also opens up a lot of possibilities to NPCs, who can now systemically path through different sections of spaceships.


Animation


The team completed the basics of the bartender and are getting started on drink mixing and the beer tap usable. The technical requirements of interacting with usables has evolved, so the team are currently updating all mission givers who sit on barstools, couches, and chairs to the proper metrics. They also supported various ship commercials and spent time standardizing animation names, which will be extremely useful in the future when hundreds more animations are added.

Art (Environment)


It was a busy month for the Locations Team, with New Babbage moving out of greybox and into the final art phase. The layout is locked and the exteriors and interiors are close to the finished standard. Locations like the spaceport, interior domes, habs, and vast exterior cityscape require a huge amount of assets in the new Hi-Tech art style, but the team are making excellent progress. Full production also started on assets for microTech. When live, the landscape will treat players to a variety of frozen flora, snow-covered forests, fields filled with ice boulders, frozen oceans, and mountain tops with extreme weather conditions.

Alongside new locations, the Modular Team handed off the new Rest Stop interiors for lighting, VFX, and SFX passes. These bigger and more diverse layouts are being generated by Design and are coming together for their scheduled release in Alpha 3.8.

The Frankfurt-based team finished their cave, harvestables, and fps mining related tasks for Alpha 3.7 and are now pushing hard on the ongoing visual update to planets. Work also began on a currently unannounced location that will be revealed in the coming months.


Art (Ships)


With the Origin 890 Jump done, the team are focusing on a very important upcoming ship. The greybox pass is nearing completion and some areas have already gone into the final art pass alongside material work.

The US team worked hard to finalize the Defender exterior materials. Their intention is to give Banu ships a unique look with hand-worked raw metals and more decorative elements. This can be seen in the large engraved surfaces on the exterior and many pitted micro-details on the underside. They also worked hard to bring the cockpit up to standard are currently waiting for an all-new UI that will be added in the future.

“Look out for an interesting scatter pattern on the interior of the canopy when the sun shines bright!”

The team also finalized the new RSI Mantis. The gameplay this ship brings is unique and the art team enjoyed creating the deployed state of the interdiction device mounted to the rear of the ship. They also opted for a clearer canopy to give players a superior field of view.


Art (Weapons)


The Weapons Art Team focused on closing out the final art on the Kroneg FL-33 laser canon and optics attachments. They also fixed a few consistency issues with the barrel attachments. A bug fixing and support push was also made to ensure the new attachments are ready to roll out in Alpha 3.7.0.

Audio


September saw the Audio Team continue working on the various features, ships, weapons and locations for Alpha 3.7 as looking ahead to Alpha 3.8. On the feature side, the team focused on the FPS mining experience and supported the cave location and mineable entities with sound effects. For ships, work went into the Banu Defender and RSI Mantis – specifically designing and implementing thruster and animation SFX. This included ship-specific features, such as the Mantis’ interdiction module. They also created the audio for the upcoming trailers. Support also went towards weapon attachments, such as suppressors. These can be attached to almost all of the current FPS weapons in the game, resulting in additional sound design and implementation across all weapons in the project. They also implemented additional music to support ship traversal around the various Rest Stops in the PU.

Backend Services


Last month, Backend Services worked on several new services, including a ‘shard ID broker’. This is a small service that tracks allocation of shard IDs to game servers and is a supporting system of the longer-term plan for a persistent state within the game. A new Solar System data service was added, which is used to track certain items and devices across the entire game universe. The first use is the new interdiction mechanic, though eventually many other features will use it. Some notable bugs were also squashed that involved the wallet and loadout service and caused items to go missing from players’ ships.

Characters


Last month the team spent a lot of time pushing updates to the hair pipeline, which will feature in an upcoming video. They’re currently developing an important clothing item and numerous other exciting things that will be seen in the near future.

Community


The Community Team spent much of September preparing for the biggest Star Citizen event of the year: CitizenCon. A big part of that focus was on Community Booths, of which 15 have been locked in.

Alongside CitizenCon, the team worked on several unannounced projects and programs coming soon. Thye also kicked off a new communication series, Roadmap Roundup. Every week, the team will accompany the Roadmap update with a brief explanation to give players insight into the decision-making that led to any changes. This is part of an effort to make communications more transparent, more specific, and more insightful for everyone who helps to make Star Citizen and Squadron 42 possible.

Lastly, the team kicked off Ship Showdown. This two-part celebration challenged the community to submit their best creations to narrow down the pool to 16 ships. The top 16 will then battle it out to determine the community’s all-time favorites.


Design


The Design Team in Texas focused on CitizenCon preparation, tuned the balance of the game economy, and added new items to the shops for Alpha 3.7 (including the new mining tool). They also made adjustments to ship rentals and we will be watching player feedback and actions to see how the new system behaves in the wild.

Tweaks and bug fixes were added to the combat assist Service Beacon missions. These new versions have more variation, some of which are considerably more difficult (and profitable) for higher skilled players.

They’re currently improving mission givers (with an eye towards implementing news ones) and creating new displays for the Hurston CBD main hall in Lorville.

Engineering


Physics work included finalizing and submitting the signed distance field (SDF) system, which is used to accelerate collision checks and intersection tests of rays against complex geometry, such as ships. Several optimizations were also made to soft bodies. These included enabled attached vertices to not create n^2 LRA constraints, allowing the sub-step mode to only perform collision detection once instead of multiple times per sub-step, and increasing collision shape counts to account for more complicated geometry.

Rendering wise, work continued on a new graphics pipeline and render interface (internally called Gen12), adding support for vertex layouts, primitive topology, and the ability to toggle between old and new graphics pipeline support (important for rapid prototyping and transitioning code to the new pipeline). Ground fog was worked on too, with the team refining the fog falloff model to align it with the model used for the atmosphere. The terrain height map received fixes and will now allow the VFX Team to implement special weather GPU particles.

General engine work was completed alongside support for server-side OCS. They finished implementing efficient concurrent position updates in the zone system to speed up execution of game-related jobs and reduce/eliminate ‘waits’ due to concurrent zone system access. Finally for Engineering, improvements were made to the FPE tracking system to prevent accidental re-enabling of floating-point exceptions on threads that have them temporarily turned off as part of code execution in a scoped section (mostly execution of shader compiler and video driver calls).

Features (Gameplay)


September saw the PU Gameplay Team complete several features for Alpha 3.7, including improvements to the character customizer, Comm-Link UI, and VoIP & FoIP. They’re currently addressing the remaining bugs and polishing in preparation for release. Work also continued on the ‘Team’ and ‘Vehicle’ comm channels alongside improvements to the legacy code within the VoIP and Chat systems.

Features (Vehicles)


The US team continued with the long-term physics proxy refactor that will eventually greatly improve overall game performance. Ship landing gear was the focus last month, with the aim being to spawn vehicles in a more stable and predictable way.

In the EU, the team finished off proximity assist and resolved various vehicles bug for Alpha 3.7. They’re also close to finishing the refactored ‘restricted areas’ to make it less intrusive. Finally, weapon reticle and aiming UIs were finished and planning is underway to get them implemented into the game.

Graphics


Last month, the team continued to update the planet shading tech, with improvements made to the art workflow. A new feature was added to allow the Art Team to color distant terrain based on surface-level trees and vegetation. This will ensure forests and fields don’t just appear when flying towards a planet.

The ‘torch bounce’ light feature mentioned in previous reports was completed after several iterations to find the right balance between quality and performance. The current approach approximates the bounced light from 65,000 points by combining similar nearby light and randomly sampling a subset of the remaining sources per-pixel in a complex randomized pattern. This then produces a very specific frequency of noise which the temporal anti-aliasing can resolve to produce a clean image.

With the development of microTech progressing, the Graphics Team looked into the exposure system. The current algorithm analyses the light that enters the camera lens and re-exposes the scene to achieve a specific intensity. However, this only gathers the bounced light from the material in the scene so can’t differentiate between a white room in dark light and a darkroom in bright light. As a result, it exposes both in the same shade of grey. The new system works like a high-end camera by simulating a light-meter to measure the incoming lighting from all angles, which is crucial for maintaining the extreme brightness of a bright snowy mountain range.

Level Design


September saw Level Design prototyping several new missions that will task players with, among other things, recovering a highjacked ship, solving puzzles in a new location, capturing points, and helping the criminal community. They also continued developing three important yet currently secret features. The next expansion of the law system was worked on, which will involve paying fines, removing crime stats, and impounding ships. Plus, the caves of Alpha 3.7 were completed and a major overhaul of all missions for server-side OCS began.

Lighting


Lighting worked with several other teams to finalize the new cave locations. A large part of this involved completely reworking the player’s helmet flashlight attachment to balance it with new GPU single-bounce screen-space global illumination technology from the Graphics Team. This new tech enables a more intense, narrower flashlight beam without items outside of the light’s cone becoming completely dark, which feels unrealistic and makes it difficult to explore dark areas. The new flashlight will provide more believable bounced light and make exploring dark locations more interesting.

The balance and overall brightness of the caves was tweaked too, to provide a small amount of light to help players read the shape and form of rooms, identify possible exits, and traverse elements without the flashlight. It’s a fine balance between making it feel believably dark and not being frustrating to navigate.

Lighting also supported the FPS Team in creating a new under-barrel flashlight that can dazzle enemies in close quarters. Finally, they worked on The Good Doctor Star Marine map and continuing to support the new Rest Stop interior layouts.


Narrative


One of Narrative’s main focuses last month was a motion capture session that recorded new content for upcoming PU releases (such as the air traffic controller for New Babbage). This involved significant pre-production coordination with several teams including Live Design, Animation, Performance Capture, and Audio.

Back in LA, the text was finalized for several Alpha 3.7 features, including a mission for players with a level-5 crime-stat and the details of new items like the Shubin Interstellar QuikFlare. Alpha 3.7 has a handful of new crimes that reveived official descriptions and writeups were completed for the updated Rest Stop interiors and the cultural lore of the Banu.

This month’s Jump Point magazine saw two new narrative releases: a Galactapedia article on the Revenant Tree and a portfolio on Salvo frag pistol manufacturer, Hedeby Gunworks. Spectrum saw a new episode of Something Every Tuesday and Dave and Will joined Jared for a lore-focused Star Citizen Live.


Player Relations


The Player Relations Team worked hard on the recent incremental patches and began assisting the early efforts to get Alpha 3.7 into the hands of the Evocati. They also added new articles to the ever-growing Knowledge Base.

Props


The Props Art had a varied month as they supported several different requests for Alpha 3.7, including the new glowstick. POS shop displays were also created for it and the Greycat Multitool to help shops keepers promote their new wares. They also kicked off work on the Hi-Tech props for New Babbage, starting with core assets such as counter sets, medical kits, and fire extinguishers.

Work also began on the first large quantum drive. This will continue into next month and include the development of a large jump drive, as the two go hand-in-hand. Finally, they found time to update some of the existing hangar flair and hope to tackle more of the older assets over the next few releases.

QA


Following a revamp, QA tested ship AI, which led to further changes that will make ship combat more challenging and engaging, particularly when players are fighting multiple enemies. A dedicated test request of ‘target switching’ was done for FPS combat AI. This feature will likely go through multiple iterations, so testing will continue through the coming months. Locations testing involved initial whitebox testing of microTech and New Babbage. More focused testing will occur once these locations have been fully fleshed out. They’re currently winding down testing for Planet Tech v4, which is scheduled for completion in October.

On the client-side, several physics memory improvements were tested and implemented into Alpha 3.6. They also undertook preliminary testing of the newly implemented 890 Jump and received an internal request to test Quantum Travel Linking from the Design Team. Combat AI target selection is being tested in the PU, with difficulty currently being tweaked.

On the Development side, QA tested several new features (such as FPS mining, caves, and server-side OCS) and the ships of Alpha 3.7 (the Vanguard variants and Banu Defender). Stability and performance testing was also a focus. This included checking the effects of large numbers of glowsticks in a single area and looking into why harvestable dung was duplicating itself and crashing the server. Four new testers joined the team in Austin, Texas too.


Tech Animation


With the end of the year closing in, Tech Animation kept busy building, maintaining, and implementing wildlines for the enemies. Progress on updates to combat AI, social AI, and weapons continued too. They also began developing new pipelines that will eventually lead the way to new characters and animals in the PU.

The Frankfurt team worked with both Animation and Design to implement new animations for usables, supported the Weapons Team with bug fixes, and set up support for the upcoming weapon attachments. They also worked with various teams on mining, combat AI, and the actor feature

Turbulent


Much of Turbulent’s September was dedicated to supporting the gameplay teams in the release of Alpha 3.7 and refining the new framework for upcoming deliveries.

The team began developing new services for progression persistence, inventory, and ledger. The goal is to provide a true progression layer independent of object state persistence, allowing players to keep their progress, ownership records, and currency across patches. Additionally, a reputation service is being worked with similar goals to persist affinity and antagonism between a player and game objects.

Support was also given to the expansion of VoIP features, which include multiple connections to the servers to permit a permanent proximity-based connection and a user-defined active channel to ensure players can always hear others around them.

Ongoing integration of the team service will allow the development of new lobby features in Arena Commander and Star Marine. This service provides the concept of ‘squads’, allowing players to communicate with their teammates outside of the gameplay environment. This will also enable chat and voice services inside those game modes.

On the web platform side, Turbulent supported the unveiling of the RSI Mantis and created the pages for the Ship Showdown.


User Interface (UI)


September saw the new vehicle rental kiosks and Multitool mining attachment polished in preparation for Alpha 3.7. The team also chipped away at the concept and design work for the new helmet visor UI to ensure its ready for future implementation. On the tech side, work continues on the Building Blocks system, specifically on animations and the ability to reskin elements in new styles.

VFX


Throughout September, the artists continued work on the Aegis Vanguard variants, Banu Defender, and RSI Mantis, including the effects for the new interdiction mechanic. On the weapons side, the team continued to polish FPS mining effects and weapon attachments, including muzzle suppression and laser sights. The programmers progressed with the LOD system for Planet Effects V4, making numerous improvements to allow the artists to build effects based on consistent rulesets. The tech artists made several Houdini-based prototypes and further improved the building generator mentioned in last month’s report.

Conclusion

WE’LL SEE YOU NEXT MONTH



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