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Roberts Space Industries ®






November 13th 2019

Squadron 42 Monthly Report: October 2019

Squadron 42 Monthly Report: October 2019

This is a cross-post of the report that was recently sent out via the monthly Squadron 42 newsletter. We’re publishing this a second time as a Comm-Link to make it easier for the community to reference back to.

Attention Recruits,

What you are about to read is the latest information on the continuing development of Squadron 42 (SCI des: SQ42).

Operatives around the world collected the intel needed to provide you with this progress report. Intelligence suggests we’ve uncovered intel on animation improvements, phase two of asteroid sets, and the dangers of combining too many heads into a DNA system.

The information contained in this communication is extremely sensitive and it is of paramount importance that it does not fall into the wrong hands. Purge all records after reading.

UEE Naval High Command


October’s report kicks off with the AI Character Combat Team, who spent time iterating on NPC aiming. They simplified the ability to control if and when they want the lower body turning while aiming at a target and improved the way aim-tracking works. This makes it easier to determine when the movement should blend slowly or snap quickly. They also fixed a look-target synchronization bug that was causing general issues.

On the behaviors side, they improved cover selection during combat by introducing new ways to weight cover locations based on target direction. NPCs can now choose between using a weapon’s predefined fire mode or actively selecting auto, burst, or single shot. They added more wild lines and flavor to the behaviors too, such as NPCs taunting a target before they start investigating.

Ship AI moved the first pass of their new 3D pathfinding functionality into the main game-development branch. This approach is based on a non-canonical A* implementation that uses the signed distance field (SDF) to incrementally compute a path in a 3D environment. Progress is currently being made on the first version of 3D ORCA implementation and is getting close to a first working version.

A new way for the designers to request that a ship follow a ‘spline’ (a tunnel that guides a ship’s movement rather than a prescriptive track) was exposed. At runtime, the calculation automatically adjusts the tunnel size based on the environment and the information reported by the SDF. They also added new nodes to monitor target distance and the vehicle’s relative state and make decisions according to the reported values.

Social AI optimized the ‘usable search’ function and are now able to cache the location of usables on the navmesh. This means they don’t have to constantly recalculate the time an object is static in one location. They also continued the unification of operator and generic seats so that behaviors can utilize them regardless of height.

Implementation of generic vendors continued, which employs usables that can ‘provide’ or ‘accept’ specific object types. This allows designers to create many different object types. For example, drinks bartenders can offer to patrons. They’re currently progressing on the patrol functionality that defines paths for AI to follow. This path will carry information on which types of logic to activate while hitting the different path nodes.

Regarding core services, the team now have navmesh support on planetary locations and are moving towards a more dynamic creation of navigation data on planet surfaces. They’re also working on different bug fixes and optimizations, including multithreading the AI audio component to enable them to process audio events quicker on the servers.


In October, the team developed melee and stealth takedown animations, effort-movement sets, and reaction animations for NPCs that aren’t holding stocked weapons. They also made progress on animations for scripted events and cinematics.

Art (Characters)

The Art Team’s work last month predominately revolved around hair and included finishing two new styles. They also began updating character costumes, accessories, and faces.

Art (Environment)

Archon Station progressed throughout the month, with attention going to the engineering sections and ‘arms’ of the station. Players will travel through several different archetypes, with each one needing its own distinct feel. The comms arrays made progress too – the ‘hero’ station is in the final development stages, with smaller variants coming soon.

The new asteroid set mentioned in previous reports reached phase two. To complement the asteroid set, a kit of infrastructure parts left behind by previous operations/settlements is in development. Alongside being visually interesting, the kit gives the Flight Design Team interesting shapes and spaces to work with. Several new developments to lighting tech meant certain areas received improvements too.

Finally, gas clouds are progressing well, with new tech and lighting tools being made specifically for them.


The Cinematics Team worked on an important visual flow prototype. This will allow the Actor Feature Team to align their work on dependent mechanics and show other teams how the scene will unfold. They also finished testing the female player pipeline and prepped for an upcoming female-focused mo-cap shoot. The comms RTT pipeline is being more widely used, so the cinematic designers dialed in new cameras for air traffic control seats and other consoles to improve non-cockpit calls.

With the hair pipeline finalized, hairstyles for certain key characters were updated. The Cinematics Team takes them and shows work-progress-renders of sequences to the Character Team so they can see how the new and higher-detailed hair looks in situ. They also prepared for work on a big EVA set-piece.


In the UK, Engineering helped improve helmet interactions, including putting them on, taking them off, placing them somewhere, and inspecting them. They also fleshed out and began implementing the interrupt/rejoin tech worked on in September.

Actor Animation added environment-based procedural character overlays. For example, a character in a windy environment will lean depending on the direction and strength of the wind and cover their face.

The Actor Team made several small improvements to the close-combat system, including triggering reactions on both local and remote clients, adding camera shake on successful hits, blocking with knives, damage and stamina impact, and updated animations. They also evolved the temperature status system that allows clothing to have insulating properties, adding hypothermia and concussion statuses.

In Frankfurt, the team spent time on the physics proxy refactor, including stream integration support. They also continued work on character and cloth soft-body physics simulation and added physics-level support to planetary wind.

For the renderer, they continued to work on the new graphics pipeline and render interface (Gen12). This included adding: an improved render pass handling and pipeline state setup, support for compute, a pipeline teardown, improved DXC compatibility for shaders, simplified resource layout setup, improved support for pooled render targets and resolution changes, support for reflected shader constant arrays, and porting DOF to the render pass system. They global render state removal also began.

Planet-side, they refactored and extended multi-cascade support for terrain height maps so dependent effects can better incorporate it for their own purposes (such as terrain shadows), and worked on cascade debug visualization to allow artists to efficiently tweak important height map properties. Regarding planet terrain shadows, they added a simple code interface and shared shader code for the application on the client side, provided support for temporal anti-aliasing, and completed the initial code and logic support for multi cascades. Work on planetary ground fog continued too. This involved adjusting code to cope with very large objects, making exception handler improvements, and adding API to asynchronously create a core dump without affecting the calling process. This will be mainly used to take snapshots of the DGS process state in case of non-fatal errors for efficient debugging without interrupting its service and affecting clients (previously, it was forced to crash).

For Animation, the team created a new dual quaternion skinning/elastic blend wrap deformer for CPU and GPU skinning. They also completed tangent reconstruction – a pixel perfect version for software and compute skinning (both protos and original skins).

Gameplay Story

The Gameplay Story Team continued to work on a range of scenes during October, including building several for chapter five that were captured earlier this year. They also continued to work with Design to prototype how players interrupt scenes from different angles.

Several prop setups were finalized, including cups, utensils, datapads, mops, and buckets. Existing scenes were checked to make sure the new props worked as intended. They’re currently making sure they work seamlessly with the new console usable behavior.

Level Design

The Social Team spent October working with the interrupt, break-out, and re-join tech mentioned last month, applying it to each narrative scene on a case-by-case basis. This gives a higher level of fidelity and immersion for the cinematic delivery of the story elements. They’re also working with the Social AI Team to further develop various crew behaviors.

Level Design (alongside Art and AI) continued with the FPS intensive chapters, focusing on defining the systemic behaviors needed for the AI to realistically traverse environments depending on their loadouts.

The space and dogfight teams also focused on systemic AI behaviors, with the take-off and landing systems receiving polish to get them closer to their final state. The Tech Team finalized some of the prototype level mechanics that were added to several FPS-heavy levels.


The Narrative Team continued its progress on tackling the in-game text that players will encounter throughout the course of the game. This covers everything from mission specific information to the text that may scroll across a screen in a particular environment. Additionally, Narrative consulted with UI Art on theming for several groups and organizations featured in the story so that they can receive a proper branding pass. There was also time spent on pre-production for a performance capture session scheduled for early next month. This session’s focus will be on gathering additional Female Player recordings to bring her further into parity with the Male Player now that other departments like cinematics have completed successful tests with the earlier data that was captured.


QA started learning the subsumption visualizer to better debug cinematic cutscenes and player-NPC interactions. They began creating new cinematic-focused test suites that will help them check cutscenes are playing correctly in the editor. Testing of the game’s various wild lines continued and documentation was made to explain how these cutscenes should be tested going forward. Further improvements to usables went into game-dev, which will be tested to ensure the correct animations are being used and that the AI is using them appropriately. These new usables will eventually be added to the PU, where they will become part of the team’s regular social AI testing.

Tech Animation

The Tech Animation Team refined the Visio-to-Mannequin pipeline to make it easier to import state machines straight to Mannequin, which will save a lot of time. They also worked with the props and usable teams on several new and old usables, implementing new animations and providing animation-ready templates in Maya for quicker authoring. A socket addition to the pipeline was also created to give animators the possibility of swapping props around between different attach points on the character rig. They also investigated and fixed several small bugs in weapons content, usables, cinematics, gameplay animations, props, and design.

Tech Art

Last month, Tech Art laid the foundation for converting all T0 hero character heads to the DNA system. While the DNA system was primarily designed to allow the blending of individual face parts for facial customization, other advantages are reduced memory footprint and the ability to share unified attachments between heads regardless of their shape and gender. The efficiency gains will be significant too – the lower-tier DNA heads combined consume only a fraction more memory than Admiral Bishop’s non-DNA head alone (one of the most complex rigs). While this new functionality is being implemented primarily for its efficiency gains, it can be used internally for facial blending too. During testing, the team found that combining portions of Gary Oldman, Mark Hamill, and John Rhys-Davies into one head produced “interesting” results.

User Interface (UI)

The UI Team focused on finalizing the visual style for two important elements of the player’s kit – a new-look visor (what the player sees from inside their helmet) and a new style for the mobiGlas (particularly the local area map). When the concepts are complete, they’ll make functional versions in-game.


In the UK, the VFX artists continued to work on several locations, collaborating as always with the art and design teams. They also helped Design to prototype new ideas to make traversing open space in EVA more fun. The VFX tech artists implemented several improvements to gas clouds, including softer, blocky shadows to make them appear more natural.

The Frankfurt-based team continued to work on gameplay effects and made improvements to the particle system. One of these improvements was proper depth-sorting for GPU particles. Previously, GPU particles were sorted with the newest spawned particle layered on top. This led to issues with how the particles moved in relation to the camera, making the effect appear inverted. Now the particles have proper depth sorting, this is no longer an issue.



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