Ship AI had a busy couple of months working on NPC planetside traversal:
“Flying on the surface of a planet is definitely different from open space; the expectation is that ships fly in a straight and level attitude and bank when steering to different headings.” -Ship AI
The first iteration involved generating a flight path suitable for the terrain height and local slope. The information generated is then used to correct the path to ensure ships always have a specified minimal clearance to the terrain below while steering according to the inclination of the terrain. For example, a ship will favor a flight path through a valley rather than over a ridge. Hand-placed and procedurally generated objects (rocks, buildings, etc.) are not part of the terrain elevation information and are obtained by a different query. In the next iteration, the team will integrate this information so spaceships can adapt their flight paths accordingly.
The same considerations apply to in-atmosphere dogfighting. The prototype of this was shown during the recent CitizenCon playthrough, with three security ships engaging the fugitive Carrack. The team also experimented with a stunt maneuver to add flair and personality to AI behavior.
Work was also completed on Collision Avoidance. This system runs in the background during AI flight and provides steering correction if a collision is likely to happen within a given time horizon. In the current development version, the system considers the collision resolution of all piloted vehicles, vehicles without a pilot (abandoned vehicles, derelicts), static obstacles, and procedurally generated asteroids.
Recently, the system was heavily reworked to minimize its impact on the overall performance of AI systems. This includes ensuring all vehicles and obstacles are organized in memory according to their current host zone to make the search for the surrounding participants faster. It also makes sure the collision avoidance update never gets an exclusive lock on the cached information when creating and processing individual AI collision problems. This is a critical aspect, as the updates of all AI entities run concurrently, so having an exclusive lock can heavily impact performance.
The Social AI Team made several improvements to path following, including the ability to: specify movement speed when following a path edge, add branching paths, wait at a path point continually playing any function until events have fired, trigger a random Subsumption function from a weighted list, and enable/disable Subsumption secondary activities when following a path edge.
Work also continued on the bartender, with the first iteration of mixing station tech added. This extends the character’s ability to not only pick up and serve items from the fridge, but to also prepare new drinks at the mixing station. Several other small improvements were also made to make the overall experience smoother.
Finally for Social AI, the base idle system in the actor state machine was improved by moving all decision-making to the control state. This should make the whole system more robust and stable over the network, potentially avoiding the desync issues seen in the past as well as helping the team debug potential issues more efficiently. Further on the optimization, the usable caching has been updated to now also listen for tile-created events from navigation meshes.
AI (Character Combat)
The team’s primary focus over the past few months was on the player combat experience against NPCs. This involved implementing new behavior tactics for shotgun-wielding NPCs, giving them the tactical choice to get much closer to the target than before to make proper use of the weapon. They also began improving vision perception so that the designers can more easily adjust the size of vision cones and how fast a target is perceived when inside them. The main aim of these changes is to provide a better stealth experience for players.
They also made improvements to the system that generates cover locations and usage to enable AI to choose to only partially cover themselves. Small optimizations were also made to AI hearing perception and specific designer movement requests.
“November and December were the busiest and most rewarding months of the year for us.” -Environment Team
The end of 2019 was a busy but rewarding time for the Environment Art Team, which saw the release of the much anticipated Planet Tech v4 across the PU.
The UK team worked tirelessly to ready New Babbage’s exterior for CitizenCon and its subsequent public release. Elsewhere, the Modular Team released 13 new Rest Stop interiors along with new low-orbit space stations around the major planets.
Ship Art spent the last couple of months pushing hard on the final art for the newly released ARGO MOLE. The Anvil Carrack had and continues to receive significant focus from the team; the exterior received a detail pass and some slight trimming to the rear to improve visual balance. The interior continues towards final art, with several areas not seen at CitizenCon nearing completion.
The Weapons Team wrapped up the Behring P6-LR sniper rifle, with the 4x and 8x scopes both completed (with the former being demoed at CitizenCon). A new prop artist joined the team and, after training on the pipeline, began creating an additional set of Behring sights, which will be available in the PU soon. Metrics and guidelines were also established for sights and scopes to aid with future sets and to make sure they all align correctly with art and gameplay.
Work kicked off on the Gemini C54 submachine gun. The first block-out was created in-engine and is currently with the design and animation teams. Once it’s functional, it’ll be ready for review and full implementation.
On the ship weapon side, two Tevarin weapons were taken through the pipeline and will be ready for the release of the upcoming Esperia Prowler. Props were also completed for Alpha 3.8, including mining heads and props for New Babbage.
Quarter four of 2019 was a busy one for the Audio Team. This included supporting the CitizenCon 2949 demo (dialogue, SFX, and music), trailers (Jax McCleary, Carrack, MOLE), ships (Carrack, MOLE, Cutlass Red), weapons (BEHR P6-LR sniper rifle, Animus Missile Launcher), actor status features (FPS close combat, temperature), mining (new mining heads), rest stop interiors, planetary weather effects, and general Planet Tech v4 work.
The end of 2019 saw the Backend Team focusing on cleanup, bug fixing, and scaling out some of the heavy services, such as variables and loadouts. They now have an internal framework that allows them to scale out several services that will greatly reduce backend latency and improve response to the game servers and clients. This cleanup involved tweaking some of the services to reduce memory consumption and address performance and stability issues. Finally, testing was done on the long-term persistence initiative for the inventory and ledger.
The Community Team’s highlight of November was CitizenCon 2949 in Manchester, UK.
“We were amazed by how many Citizens joined in on the fun, be it at the event itself, via livestream, or at viewing parties all around the globe.” -The Community Team
For those that missed out or want to relive the excitement, the team uploaded both keynotes and all the developer panels to the Star Citizen YouTube
channel. Now everyone can relive the epic event from the opening keynote to the first-ever jump to Pyro.
The day after CitizenCon, the Intergalactic Aerospace Exposition opened its doors at Area18 on ArcCorp. Each day, one or more of Star Citizen’s vehicle manufacturers made their ships available for everyone to fly for free. The team was delighted to welcome many new Citizens to the ‘verse and added several new guides to the Welcome Hub
to help new players explore the ‘verse.
They worked on the new Guide System
that helps new players find seasoned pilots to show them the ropes. The new Traveler’s Guide series also provided an inside look on the frozen planet of microTech
The year came to a close with the Alpha 3.8 – New Frontiers
live release and two festive holiday contests
. The team invited players to spread the holiday spirit by crafting a Star-Citizen-inspired greeting card or setting up a seasonal scene in-game and snapping a screenshot.
The Design Team developed the demo flow for the CitizenCon demo, which included work on the upcoming Pyro system.
They converted all existing missions to work with the current and future iterations of Server-side Object Container Streaming (SOCS). This signals a major change, as players are now guided to specific locations before they’re fully loaded.
New missions were added, including Claim Jumpers (which introduced a new sentry turret), the Arlington Family bounty chain, Call to Arms, and several new bounties, and FPS cave missions (which will be expanded upon in the future). Bounty missions were also improved to make the targeted enemies more fun to fight against, while crime stats were given to all criminal NPC ships.
Fines are now no longer automatically deducted from player aUEC balances. Instead, terminals must be visited to pay them off when it suits best. These fines escalate if not paid promptly, although they can be hacked away with the proper criminal know-how…
The Texas-based team had a busy few months working on, among other things, the Quantum system. Familiar to those who watched the CitizenCon panel
, Quantum is the simulator than drives the economy of the game.
“We were excited to show you our progress and have since continued to integrate it with our backend services, such as shopping and probability volume. We’ve also spent time improving and developing our internal tools to better deliver content to you in the future.” -Design Team
The team also polished a few things for CitizenCon and the IAE, including setting up NPCs, building shops, making sure days transitioned smoothly, and arranging the expo hall. Lastly, they iterated on the shop inventories and layouts for the new rest stops, with a focus towards encouraging players to thoroughly explore each one.
“We particularly enjoyed seeing how much more quickly you found the Black Market stands in this iteration.” -Design Team
Over in Frankfurt, Engineering spent November and December working on game physics – specifically soft bodies. This including exposing a linear air and water resistance scale, making damping linear (and not step dependent), modifying them to use box pruner to accelerate tri-mesh collisions, and general optimization. Regarding attachment support, they moved boundary brushes and entities to the object container entity and added the ability to query for the attached points during a previous attachment. They also exposed the surface area on geometries and optimized loading times and the calculations while verifying parts.
The team continued work on the new graphics pipeline and render interface (Gen12), made robust changes to the Vulkan layer to prepare for use on scene objects, added PSO and layout cache, improved API validation, and ported tiled shading light volume rasterization to the new pipeline. They also continued the parallel refactor of existing render code in support of the new graphics pipeline and APIs and worked on the global render state removal and device texture code refactor.
For planet terrain shadows, the team added multi-cascade and blending support to improve detail and range. This will also eliminate various existing shadow artifacts. Regarding fog, the team worked on volumetric terrain shadow support and came up with a multi-scattered ambient lighting solution that ties into unified raymarching.
Multi-scattering improvements via a specialized sky irradiance LUT was made to improve unified raymarching. Updates were made to the jittered lookup and TSAA to vastly improve quality and reduce the number of raymarching steps. They also made lighting consistent so that a planet’s atmosphere affects ground fog layers and vice versa, experimented with ozone layer support in-atmosphere, and added support for scattering queries (transparent objects).
Finally, work continued on planetary clouds, ocean rendering, frozen oceans, and wind bending for static brushes.
In the US, the Gameplay Features Team spent the majority of the past couple of months ensuring that all of the features under the USPU umbrella were effectively updated and tested for SOCS. The engineers also made quality-of-life improvements along the way, such as adjusting the physical forces on spawned cargo boxes to stop them destroyed ships. In addition, time was spent concepting and implementing work for the generic rest stop kiosk templates. This will make it easier and quicker to generate assets for future locations.
In the US, the Vehicle Feature Team improved radar and ping detection for better scanning gameplay. They’re currently working on ItemPort despawn optimization, which will help improve general performance. Support was also provided for SOCS and long-range radar scanning.
December for the EU Vehicle Feature Team was mostly about supporting the 3.8.0 release and finishing up the new refactor of the restricted area system (which we’ll see in new features in 3.9 like the spline landing guidance). The team has also been doing some design work for HUD UI updates to come in the future as well.
The final few weeks of 2019 were extremely busy for the Graphics Team. A lot of work went into Planet Tech v4 to get it ready for release in Alpha 3.8, which was the culmination of many months of code-side work.
Improvements were made to the new palette/paint/tint system before it was handed to the art teams. This system will likely premier with environments in an upcoming Alpha release and later expand to other assets.
The team’s Alpha 3.8 focus was on stability and bug fixing, including fixing one that caused planetary fog to stretch and blur.
In Frankfurt, the Level Design Team spent the last few months on the new Space Station interiors, which is the first step in bringing the interiors in line with the new larger exteriors. There’s still a way to go before they’re considered finished, including adding more spaces to make them feel even more alive.
Work went into the first iteration of microTech and the upcoming landing zone, New Babbage. While the exterior of the city is only visitable in the PU, the interiors are nearing completion and will be explorable in Alpha 3.9.
Alongside these major locations, they worked on level design for the IAE, including AI, the expo hall, and the transit loop in Area18. They also worked on items for CitizenCon, such as Jump Points and ground bases.
The Lighting Team’s November was dedicated to lighting the areas seen at CitizenCon, including the ground base mission. This involved working in the location interiors and exteriors and implementing alarm states to assist gameplay. They also supported the expo hall and ships for the IAE event.
In December, the primary focus was on finalizing areas for the Alpha 3.8 release, which included three main tasks: Firstly, polishing the Rest Stop Interiors. Secondly, lighting the city, spaceport, and interiors and exteriors of microTech. Lastly, reworking the atmospheres of existing planets and moons following the implementation of Planet Tech v4.
After CitizenCon, the team hit the ground running and dove back into Alpha 3.8 support. They tried to log as much time as possible in-game to see how the experience was feeling and worked with Design to tweak any missions as needed, making sure that all names and descriptions were displaying properly.
The Galactapedia continued to be expanded and the team reviewed player comments and feedback of the system so far.
Looking to the new year, planning began for Q1 of 2020 along with evergreen work on promotions, game text, and scripting.
The Player Relations team had an extremely busy few months supporting new players, releases, and CitizenCon (where the UK-based team manned the merch booth). They worked through tasks for the IAE before moving onto Alpha 3.8 testing with the Evocati.
Carrying on from the last report, Props further developed the quantum and jump drives. Both received the final art and game-ready pass and were featured during the CitizenCon demo. The team also worked on several interactive props shown throughout the demo, such as access cards, servers and server modules, security gates, tarps, and flags. They also supported the lockers and crates used throughout the demo that contained the different clothing and armor needed for the player to traverse the hostile environment. On the day of the event, the Props Team gave an access-all-areas demo of their work, created the CitizenCon trophy, the sextant reward, and an in-game scope.
Breaking from the usual hard surface work, time was spent on the Anvil Carrack and penguin plushies that should be making an appearance at an upcoming landing zone. New stands, signs, and adverts were also created to support the IAE at Area18.
Work continued on the upcoming prisons, this time mainly focusing on the interactive props, such as oxygen and equipment dispensers and prisoner status consoles. Progress was also made on the hi-tech prop set for New Babbage. The artists finished their work with the Ship Team on the Carrack and ARGO MOLE.
Finally, support was given to mining gameplay that included supplying five new mining heads.
The Frankfurt-based QA Team spent early November testing AI and microTech. They then moved onto testing on features for CitizenCon, Alpha 3.7.2, and Alpha 3.8. With Planet v4 Tech fully enabled, Live Design were able to complete their re-drop pass on all outposts, UGFs, derelicts, and other points of interest on each of the planets and moons. Once complete, they moved onto completing QA test requests for SOCS. While all the locations have now been tested, due to the size of the planets and moons, tests are ongoing. Regular smoke checks on core functionality continue, as well as sanity art passes on different planet quadrants, to cover as much of the planetary surfaces as possible.
In Texas, the team tested SOCS, long-term persistence, the IAE, and many Alpha 3.8 features. They also made sure the keynote and Theatres of War demos were running smoothly for CitizenCon. On the publishing side, focus was on the Alpha 3.7 and 3.8 builds, including pushing out builds to the Evocati and logging bugs and issues.
November and December saw Tech Animation rework Mannequin setups to clean up older usable iterations and address bugs related to the rework. They worked with the animation and code teams on the updated bartender and implemented socket/attach point tech for props in Maya. They created multiple prop rigs for the usable and cinematics teams, including plates, trays, maintenance ladders, and ship turrets. Support was given to the Weapons Team along with new rigs, updates to older rigs, and in-engine bug fixes. The necessary rig additions for the new real digital acting tech were completed too.
New toolsets were authored to help visualize the complex engine-side attachment systems inside Maya. This assists the animators in their daily workflow and makes it infinitely easier to author props too. Development continued on the facial rigging pipelines. This lengthy initiative will ultimately yield great things when the team authors their own in-house face rigs compatible with the DNA systems.
Frankfurt’s Tech Art Team worked closely together with the UK’s Tech Animation on the design and implementation of the new runtime Rig Logic plugin for Maya. In contrast to previous hard-coded versions, the new plugin is entirely data-driven and utilizes so-called rig definition files that can be changed as needed without the assistance of an engine programmer. The removal of this bottleneck will give more creative freedom to the artists and significantly shorten iteration times. While the Maya runtime node is responsible for driving rigs in Maya based on facial and/or body animation, a bespoke Maya command was also implemented. This command allows convenient querying and editing of all parts of the rig definition data and forms the foundation of the team’s new rigging pipeline and tools.
Turbulent worked extensively on the IAE promotion, including creating and supporting the backend of the Ship Showdown competition, which saw the Drake Caterpillar crowned the community’s favorite ship. All backers were awarded a Caterpillar statue to decorate their ship as a thank you for voting. The team also supported all other promotions and releases over the past few months, including the Alpha 3.8, the IAE Free-Fly, Anvil Pisces, Drake Kraken Privateer, ARGO MOLE, and Crusader Ares.
Turbulent also developed the Galactapedia
, which launched at CitizenCon. A depository for articles on everything in and to do with the world of Star Citizen, it’s an invaluable resource for lore and all things narrative.
The Welcome Hub
and Guide System
went live just before the holidays, both of which are designed to support new players as they get to grips with the ways of the ‘verse.
User Interface (UI)
Much of the UI team’s November was spent on the features shown at CitizenCon. The UI Tech Team continued to refine their building block system, with a focus on resizable and collapsible menus and the ability to assign different visual styles to one element. This can be seen on the new elevator panel, which has different versions for microTech, the Carrack, and low-tech locations despite using the same base canvas.
UI also worked heavily on the actor status display, which involved an updated element, which shows the player’s temperature, external temperature, and more. This is planned for release shortly.
The graphic artists worked on several screens seen in the CitizenCon demo. These and more will appear in the New Babbage interior spaces in Alpha 3.9.
November and December saw the VFX team wrap up work for CitizenCon and Alpha 3.8. Planetary weather effects continue to be authored, with a particular focus on ground storms across all planets and moons.
Jump gate effects were iterated on, including the tunnel effects, which resulted in interesting lore-abiding effects. Effects were also completed for the ARGO MOLE, Animus Rocket Launcher, and the Multi-tool mining beams. An effects pass was also done for the Theatres of War map, including a large Terraformer beam. Ways to improve the fire texture assets were experimented with too.
The tech artists also supported the final steps of procedurally generating buildings for New Babbage. This involved exporting meshes with a complete hierarchy that contain the LOD and collision meshes. This is an improvement on the previous manual iteration.