The second month of 2020 kicked off with focus on the upcoming Alpha 3.9 patch. From the interiors of New Babbage to a rework of the Inner Thought system, it’s going to make a big impact when it launches in the coming months and will pave the way for even more exciting ships, locations, and features in the future. Read on to find out what our global studios did, and are doing, to make it a reality.
Star Citizen Monthly Report: February 2020
Character Combat kick off February’s report, who spent the month progressing combat behaviors, specifically iterating on assault and hold-position tactics. They improved the Reservation Manager System usually employed to reserve object use in the universe. This was achieved by adding the ability for NPCs to reserve volumes of space to correctly position themselves and retain the knowledge of where the AI wants them to go. They also began adjusting the AI system to accommodate server meshing. The main requirement for this is to split the responsibility of the different systems by server so that the Networking Team can correctly test and identify problems as soon as possible. They’re also tweaking the navigation system to better support the object-container streaming level design workflow. This involves constructing a pipeline where navigation data is embedded in each container to improve control over which portions of data are loaded at a time.
Ship AI completed the first iteration of the full 3D navigation system for NPC ships. The system is currently with QA for testing before it’s integrated into Alpha 3.9. This is an important step for the Ship AI Team as it offers new opportunities to implement more diverse missions not limited to open-space environments. Thanks to dynamic collision avoidance, they were able to remove the current speed limits on all AI ships. Instead of a capped standard combat mode (SCM) speed, NPCs can now set their own according to the desired relative goal velocity.
Social AI continued polishing vendor behavior, readying it for use in the bar setups and shops. Last month’s focus was preparing and delivering drinks and cocktails – a multi-disciplinary effort that will define the pipeline for all future social environment work in the PU. When finished, the team will be able to generate content and create templates for multiple layouts much quicker. Currently, the vendor can pick up and deliver anything that already exists in the world, such as a bottle of beer, and prepare many things that don’t, such as a cocktail. They’re also working on other social behaviors, such as fitness and janitor activities. Both leverage the in-development ‘path scripting’ functionality. The purpose of this is to use the environment to define possible AI options, such as cleaning and patrolling, and can be used to simplify story scene scripting. It works by allowing a designer to lay down paths in the environment, create branches for each vertex, and define which subsumption logic can be executed and which conditions should be met.
Last month, Animation worked on the social AI behaviors that give life to the hangar and bar environments. They also focused on locomotion and body dragging, created new animation sets for several upcoming ships, and worked on reloads and malfunctions for the AI Team. Weapons-wise, three new guns (two rifles and a pistol) made their way through the pipeline.
The Art Team’s February was dominated by microTech’s moons, Calliope, Clio, and Euterpe, which are now ready for release. New assets were also created in preparation for the upcoming organics shader. The team updated the pipelines and streamlined the creation process on asset packs and any files left over from the conversion to V4 were cleaned up. This puts them in a good place to continue with new content for the Pyro System.
In the US, the Ships Team redesigned the Origin M50 cockpit to align with the updated brand style and to conform with UI requirements. The geometry will be updated shortly. The Drake Cutlass Blue’s prisoner pods evolved to a cylindrical form after discussions with Design and Animation regarding how prisoners would be placed into them and how many could fit into the ship. Time was also spent preparing the Esperia Prowler for release.
In Europe, focus was on closing out the Anvil Carrack, including fixing landing pad errors and bugs that caused the ship to be too heavy to take off. The whitebox assets for the Crusader Hercules and an upcoming (but as-yet-unannounced) ship were also reviewed. The team is currently gearing up to create various faction skins for the Mission Team. While doing so, any ships not using the current hard surface shader will be updated. They also set up the tint system and enabled cockpit canopies to support VFX rain effects and ongoing shader work.
Work continued on the Lightning Bolt Co. weapons mentioned last month, with both having the bulk of the modeling completed for the LOD0 stage. An accompanying scope was also kicked off for the Atzkav sniper rifle. The Gemini C54 sub-machine gun was handed over to Design and Animation for its first fitting pass. Regarding ship weapons, the Klaus & Werner Sledge mass driver made it through the art pipeline, while size variants of the Esperia ballistic and laser cannons were finalized.
The Audio Team supported feature requests for the upcoming Alpha 3.8.2 and 3.9.0 releases. The Carrack received a full audio pass and new sounds were created for the actor status update. Locations-wise, full planetary setups were completed for Clio, Calliope, and Euterpe, and a pass was made on New Babbage’s interiors. They also asked the community for comments on Alpha 3.8.1 and broke down the feedback into actionable points that will be scheduled for implementation in future quarters.
Last month, Backend Services focused on scaling the loadout service and fixed several small issues with long-term persistence, insurance claims, account resets, and ship loadouts. The iCache is in the final stages, with advanced query methods being added and tested – internal stress and reliability testing are ongoing.
February saw the Character Team texturing outfits and implementing props and variants for New Babbage. Several new characters were concepted, a suit for the new prison gameplay was developed, and bugs were worked out of the upcoming Caldera environment suit.
The team dubbed last month ‘February with Friends’, with festivities including the annual greetings card and in-game screenshot contest. The team hosted a gallery with more than 200 Valentine’s entries that can be viewed now.
February’s infographic looked into how friends, grouping, and communications currently work in-game, while the inaugural Spectrum AMA (Ask Me Anything) tackled the upcoming prison gameplay.
Community also supported the announcement of CitizenCon 2950.
“The event is coming to Los Angeles, California, and we can’t wait for you all to see what we have in store. Cosplayers should take this opportunity to start brainstorming, as the contest has already been confirmed for a return engagement. Beyond that, keep it tuned to the official CitizenCon website for more details as they become available.” – The Community Team
Last month, Austin’s Design Team focused on Alpha 3.9, including assigning all mission-giver usables new object templates. This is important as it enables them to take advantage of the new Subsumption hooks. They also prepared shops for the impending introduction of food and drinks for the new hunger/thirst status, and progress was made on the ‘material economy’ required for the Quantum Editor toolset.
In Frankfurt, Engineering worked on physics threading and performance. This involved investigating the full parallelization of integration parts in physics time step-code, multithreading the polygonize function for interior volumes, continuing concurrent/immediate queuing for physics, implementing local command queues, and adding the option to create queues on demand. They began finalizing and integrating the new signed distance field (SDF) system to accelerate collision checks on complex geometry and increase the precision of results. Unified fields can now be animated as any other part (they’re still special in some regards but can be seen as a regular part from the outside) and distance fields on objects can be taken into account when sampling distances.
Optimization-wise, they disabled physics on skin attachments and made OC and SDF-size improvements and allocation optimizations for interior volumes. They enabled foliage to support 64-bit precision status updates and zones, made render proxy for ropes work with the zone system, continued work on death reaction animations, and provided support for actor/ragdoll body dragging.
Work was done to the zone system, while a culling update thread to parallelize spatial culling structure updates was introduced. The team optimized streaming by skipping many unnecessary atomic operations on smart pointer copies and reduced the parallelization of occlusion culling. They also made improvements to the concurrent access check (support checking RW-lock semantics) and WAF improvements.
In support of the Gen12 renderer and Vulkan, they generalized texture views, refactored the texture creation process and remaining D3D texture view code, added MSAA support, removed old direct VB/IB memory access code, added ViewInfo for access to common view/camera related parameters, and looked into moving shader parsing into the resource container. The first improvement pass for hair AO was made, which is now coupled with color, and dye shift softness was introduced. Ocean shader improvements were made too by porting ocean rendering to deferred and further working on cube map reflections.
The raymarcher was simplified by removing the explicit evaluations of segments to significantly compact generated code and reduce register use. Non-linear stepping for raymarching was also implemented to improve quality at a reduced number of samples. Planet terrain was iterated on to support the rendering of large ground-based objects on the height and shadow maps. A persona live mo-cap plugin for the editor was created too. Finally, animation code was amended to ensure ragdolls work with ground alignment and the CHR chunk loader was simplified to initialize physics (which is still ongoing).
The majority of Gameplay Feature’s month was spent wrapping-up engineering support for prison missions.
“It’s been a long and involved process getting this feature together, but we feel everyone will be extremely pleased and excited by the results!” – The Gameplay Features Team
They also worked on design and engineering for the ongoing friends service refactor. The aim is to make it considerably easier for players to connect in the universe by unifying each iteration of the friend database. Though a multi-quarter task, the first version will be available soon.
The US-based Vehicle Team continued to develop sub-targeting, which will allow players to cycle between specific targets on a single vehicle. It will also enable players to store and spawn vehicles within the cargo bays of their other vehicles. Work also began on the life support systems, while the repair system is being upgraded for compatibility with server meshing and other upcoming features.
The UK team continued with IFCS, changing thruster efficiency curves, making aerodynamics changes, and improving tools for in-editor implementation. They also kicked-off the new HUD UI using the building blocks system and continued with their tasks for server meshing.
Last month, the Graphics Team started developing tools to allow Environment Art to use the new tint palette system in deep hierarchies of object containers with minimal setup. This works by setting up a hierarchy of tint-palettes for the various sections of an environment (exterior, interior, lobby, habs, engineering, etc.) followed by a fallback hierarchy in case the preferred pallet isn’t available. For example, Port Olisar’s habitation area would search in the ‘Olisar’ hierarchy for a ‘habs’ palette. However, if it doesn’t find it, it will search the ‘Generic Space Station’ palette, followed by ‘Generic Location’, and so on.
The Level Design Team spent February finalizing and polishing New Babbage. They’re currently tweaking the usables and AI, ensuring everything runs smoothly. They also spent time updating location navigation meshes, which involved individualizing them per-area and splitting them into smaller sections to ensure stable AI behavior as smaller containers stream in and out. The next iteration of the restricted areas system was started and will bring no-fly zones closer to final delivery. There’s still work to be done as more code comes online, but the second iteration will provide an improvement over the current one.
February began with a new member joining the Lighting Team to help them expand support across the PU, enable more bugs to be fixed, and generally improve overall quality. For prisons, the team worked on the individual cells, the wider Klescher facility, and how the exterior is embedding into the planet. The attached cave network will feature more man-made lighting than other subterranean locations; the goal being to establish a dark, oppressive, and uncomfortable atmosphere.
The prisons also include the first test-case use of dynamic cubemaps, which will periodically re-bake probes based on player distance and the angle of the sun. The exterior of the facility is a perfect use case, as the boreholes should appear differently throughout the day. Once the potential bugs and performance issues are ironed out, the feature will be rolled out to new and existing locations across the PU.
Several shop locations within New Babbage received their main passes, including TDD, OmegaPro, Centermass, Planetary Services, and Aparelli. Lighting tasks are currently being progressing for the main commons, plaza, and promenade dome. The biggest challenge is relaying different visual identities based on the time of day. For the first time, the team will be able to utilize new technology built into the LightGroup feature that changes states based on the angle of the sun. This allows the team to automatically turn lights on/off when the sun goes down/comes up, and make changes to the color and intensity of lights around the landing zone.
Narrative spent time in February supporting Alpha 3.9. This included inputting new mission contracts, creating names and descriptions for dozens of new items, and writing detailed fiction to bring New Babbage and the Klescher facility to life. In support of this, a new internally developed string management system was delivered to make entering and managing all in-game text much easier. Time was given to fleshing out content for future locations and missions, Galactapedia saw further revisions and additions, and the Imperator election heated up with an announcement of the top ten candidates. They also assisted various teams with lore-based initiatives that will be announced later in the year.
Alongside supporting various promotions and events, Player Relations worked on getting the Carrack and Alpha 3.8.2 stable and ready for release.
February saw the Props Team completing the landing zone and prison work mentioned last month, mainly focusing on street furniture, shop interiors, and bar furniture. They also worked on several new food items, which propelled the pipeline forward as they now have a process for supporting skinned props. This was a wider initiative, involving the Props, Animation, and Actor Status teams.
“It’s still early days, but we hope to make more use of these new tools going forward and expect to see more dynamic props in the future!” – The Props Team
February saw the embedded feature testers focusing on different weapon type behaviors, while the combat testers continued with shotgun and pistol behavior. Support for both the Ship and Combat AI teams resumed as the 3D navigation system is now continually worked on. In Frankfurt, a new tester joined the team. They’re currently in training but will soon specialize in combat AI. This will involve taking responsibility for testing new behaviors and missions featuring AI. Testing New Babbage was a high priority, with QA helping Level Design with the newly implemented usables and transit system. Work in the tools section branched to include the new localization tool, StarWords, which will be included in everyday testing going forward.
Last month, Tech Animation implemented a new rig-logic editing plugin command for Maya. For performance and efficiency, the backend was implemented in C++. The Qt-based frontend/UI layer is currently implemented using python. While the Vanduul face rigs already use this new runtime rig logic, all 120+ human face-rigs will soon be ported over to the new system.
February saw Turbulent complete Hex’s backend transformation as well as rework the pipeline. They’re currently adding features to the Network Operations Center and enabling tools to visualize and manage existing services. A minor update to the launcher was also made to support enhancements to testing environments. The team also improved logging granularity in ledger and inventory services event tracking to provide resourceful statistics to engineering. Game Services continued working on the friend list unification. The second of three milestones was completed last week.
Turbulent’s Web Team supported the flyable release of the Carrack, including the addition of the limited-edition ‘Expedition’ livery. They also worked with Community on the Valentine’s Day contests and the CitizenCon save-the-date announcement.
User Interface (UI)
Most of UI’s art focus last month was on creating environmental displays, including the screen graphics for prisons and signs, screens, and menus for New Babbage. Feature-wise, they further improved the look of the radial Inner Thought menus and polished the Actor Status display for the visor. Both are scheduled for Alpha 3.9.
The VFX Team completed a significant amount of content for the prison, New Babbage interiors, and microTech’s moons. They finalized their work on the Carrack and several new health effects that communicate to players when they’re too hot, cold, and hungry. They also provided effects for volatile cargo, mining consumables, and made minor adjustments to the Scourge railgun. Feature-wise, work on SDF-driven atmospheric entry-effects continues with promising results, while look-dev on the fire component began.
The Code Team fixed issues with pre-aged planet effects, added extra debug options, and improved computation for the scattering query grid by moving it to the GPU. VFX Tech Art supported the Character Team with an experimental new LOD pipeline using the tools in Houdini. The team also kicked off training sessions in Houdini to improve the procedural generation of assets across all art departments.
The Frankfurt-based team fleshed out VFX for the Esperia Prowler, including a new visual style favoring stealth and defense. The effects are toned down compared to other ships to make it harder to detect and track as it flies around.