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Roberts Space Industries

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General

ID:

17543

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43

Date:

April 2nd 2020

Star Citizen Monthly Report: March 2020

With its release right around the corner, Alpha 3.9’s features and new additions were worked on extensively throughout March. Read on for all the details on exactly what was done throughout the month (well, what we can share for now of course). Stay safe out there.

Star Citizen Monthly Report: March 2020

AI


We start with Combat AI, who focused on refactoring the Cover System. This involved utilizing voxelization data (the same process used for navigation mesh creation) to better evaluate the environment and construct cover surfaces and locations. The aim is to simplify the environment and build consistent cover data from the pre-assembled prefabs. This will enable the designers to mark objects as elements to be considered in the cover generation phase so the code can handle it efficiently, potentially turning multiple objects into one cover object. They also worked on a new combat tactic for holding positions, which included a polishing pass based on discussions with the designers and feedback from the directors. They also began investigating the work required to introduce the reloading mechanic to NPCs.

Ship AI dedicated part of the month to addressing bugs and corner cases following the integration of the 3D collision avoidance system into game-dev and the Alpha 3.9 stream. Better collision avoidance enables additional combat maneuvers to be developed to add flare to the dogfighting AI. In particular, they focused on defensive maneuvers (retreat/flee) that tell AI ships to prioritize shaking off attackers to reduce their chances of being hit. Additional work was done for formation flying too. Preliminary design work began on capital ship behaviors and standard dogfight activity was streamlined to accommodate new maneuvers and cope with the growing number of combat requirements.

Social AI worked on new features that can be used for both systemic patrol and environmental scripting. Environmental scripting is used to create story scene markups that can be used dynamically by Subsumption behaviors to keep actor performances as intact as possible. Various fitness behaviors were developed for New Babbage. There are currently nine different warmups and six exercises, including jogging, mountain-climber twist, push up, sit up, plank, leg raise, and burpee. Alongside fitness, the team spent time polishing the bartender, who will debut in Lorville. He can currently provide bottled Smoltz, draft beer, and whiskey and cola. The release stream was also stabilized and bugs were fixed for Alpha 3.9.

Animation


Alongside body dragging, the Actor Team began looking at the visual fidelity of the ‘effort’ set to get a heavier weight and feel to it. This is currently scheduled to be delivered in Alpha 4.0 and will further improve the set coming out soon.

We also worked on some shockingly good animations for some new FPS weapons coming soon…” – The Animation Team.

On the combat AI side, they created assets and graphs for reloading and weapon malfunction animations.

The Social Team focused on creating animations for work zones, which include datapad and multi-tool use. The Facial Team supported eating and drinking and various upcoming PU characters. Mo-cap wise, they burned down the backlog of capture data and improved their toolsets to better streamline future shoots.

Art (Environment)


Last month, the team worked on the first two planets in the Pyro system alongside various other environments. New landscapes, terrain, geology shapes, and vegetation are being explored and worked on with a huge amount of excitement.

Pyro is an unfriendly and hostile system and the opportunity to create something more otherworldly and dangerous-looking is a nice challenge and change of pace for us.” – The Environment Art Team

Art (Ships)


The US-based team spent time in March polishing the Esperia Prowler. They also further developed the M50’s cockpit and exterior to better align them with the contemporary Origin style. The Cutlass Blue’s prisoner pods were also iterated on to appear more “prisoner containment” like.

An as-yet-unseen ship completed the whitebox stage and will head into greybox soon. Several older ships were updated to work with the latest shaders, preparing them for the tint pallet system.

Art (Weapons)


March saw the Weapons Team iterate on the Lightning Bolt Co.’s sniper rifle and pistol after a round of feedback from design and animation. Tweaks were made to the iron sights, rig issues were debugged, and the player’s holding position was adjusted. Various bug-fixing and polishing tasks were also completed in preparation for its Alpha 3.9 release.


Audio


The Audio Team progressed with their various tasks for Alpha 3.9. New Babbage received music written by Pedro Camacho and the Audio Team that changes based on the day/night cycle. They also completed their work on the Player Status system, progressed with the Esperia Prowler, ambiances for prisons, and fixed a handful of bugs. They looked at the overall game mix too, which is done prior to every major release. The Dialogue Team implemented walla and dialogue lines for New Babbage and the prison, while Audio Code focused on stability and fixing audio-related crashes and bugs.

Backend Services


March saw Backend Services fixing bugs, tweaking existing features, and optimizing services. They’re currently testing and tweaking various parts of the iCache and are preparing to migrate several legacy services to the new model.

Characters


The Character Team’s March focus was on an upcoming event and the Alpha 3.9 release. Most of the modeling and artwork was finalized, while the tech artists completed fixes for rigging (including sim and volume adjustments) and new instore items. A model was also finished that marks the beginning of some interesting work for a future PU release.

Community


The Community Team celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, or Stella Fortuna as it’s known in-universe, with a limerick contest. They received over 650 entries and rewarded the winners with exclusive emerald versions of the RSI Constellation Phoenix, RSI Ursa Rover, and Kruger Archimedes. Here’s the winning limerick, courtesy of Canuck_2099.

I rented a mining Prospector,

Its scanner, a resource detector.

So I fractured a rock,

And it caused quite a shock.

Lucky me it had shields to protect her!


The Community Team hosted another Ask Me Anything, this time tackling the most asked questions on the upcoming Player Status feature. The system will launch with Alpha 3.9 and brings things like hunger, thirst, and body temperature to Star Citizen.

“Members of our Frankfurt-based team attended a Bar Citizen in Liège and had an absolute blast meeting the community in Belgium. A big thank you to the organizers for putting on such a great event!” – The Community Team



Engineering


March saw Engineering working on physics threading and performance. They enabled up to 30 physics threads (defaulting to ¾ of logical cores available); added the option to limit the number of threads per task; improved the memory performance and footprint of command queues; defined local queues that can be processed in parallel; moved relevant game code to local physics command queues; created local queues based on the entities’ adam so they can process the joint/part updates in parallel; moved many reposition/recompute calls to queues; and made various other queue related optimizations.

They also added driven ragdoll support for body dragging, gravity adjustments to actor entity ground tracking, per-joint driven ragdoll stiffness, and impulse to the root of a tracking-driven ragdoll.

Regarding unused vertex optimization, all unused vertices in physics meshes are now pruned. Alongside saving 8GB of disk space, it provides better data cache locality on the CPU. Work also continued on part containers/compute bounding box optimization (formerly known as physics geometry instancing). Skinned foliage was missing leaves, which was fixed before being given to the object-container-splitting physics voxel grids.

The Vulcan (G12) render mesh API was refactored for more streamlined and efficient creation and data upload. Unused legacy code was removed, and a shader handle was added to the remaining legacy pipeline. For unified raymarching, the initial elements of the adaptive resolution were submitted, work continued on the upsampling of adaptive resolution results, and samples were placed via low discrepancy generators. They also determined the screen bound of planetary atmospheres to further guide sample placement and began R&D into ensuring adaptive resolution raymarching works well with ray jittering and TSAA.

They also investigated performance issues with oceans caused by CPU readback and fixed HDR display and D3D debug runtime errors.

For general work, Engineering improved the ECUS update code by fixing a flaw in the update logic that caused unnecessary iterations of aggregate groups. They further improved the logic to reduce scans of entire connection lists and optimized threading.

A significant improvement was made to the large render batch management’s performance. Previously, Engineering had iterated on the list of potential batches, but it grew to over 1000 entries, making clean up computationally expensive (1.5ms). To solve this, they now maintain a list of rendered batches. Subsections of component update functions were added to their batch jobs to improve profiling, as were profiling subsections to batch jobs. For the Zone System, a new interface for updating local bounds was added.

The animation side of Engineering made a prototype of a new skin loader and added support for physical skin proxies. They also moved all relevant World Builder code into its own engine module for faster programming iteration time.

Features (Gameplay)


Gameplay Features worked through the final stages of the Friends List refactor. There’s still testing to do, but the initial phase of this long-sought feature is on schedule for launch in Alpha 3.9. Among other things, the new feature includes a new party window and the ability to right-click on contacts and ‘Join Session’ with any online contact. A presence indicator will also show the part of the game they’re playing and whether they’re available to party-up with, and a ‘Join Leader’ button will allow players to connect with another pilot on any server.

We understand how much of a pain point partying-up was in previous versions of the game and we wanted to resolve this for you ASAP. We felt it was important to rebuild the entire experience from the ground up, because it really needed to be! I’m certain it will still have a few rough edges, but we feel like it’s a MASSIVE improvement over what was there before and that you guys would appreciate having this in your hands sooner rather than later. Please look for threads related to it on Spectrum, as we will 100% be looking for feedback from you guys on where you would like to see it go from here.” – The Gameplay Features Team

The team also added food items into several key shops around the ‘verse to support the Actor Feature Team’s hunger/thirst gameplay. A Quick Buy feature was also added for these smaller, handheld items, so purchasing them doesn’t require using the mobiGlas. Several critical bugs for Alpha 3.9 were fixed, and they supported the Mission Feature Team on implementing prisons into the final patch build.

Features (Vehicles)


In the US, Vehicle Features supported the release of the Esperia Prowler by resolving an issue with the VTOL animations that prevented the wings from animating correctly during take-off/landing. In the latter half of the month, focus shifted to support Alpha 3.9. Improvments to sub-targeting continue.

In the EU, the team worked to convert and update ship HUDs to use the new building blocks tech. They also further developed IFCS:

A lot of things have been happening regarding the flight model, with thruster efficiency curves being finalized, tested, and improved. This work has also necessitated a new aerodynamic model, which we’re ironing out now and getting ready to convert a lot of ships to use.” – The Vehicle Features Team

Graphics


The Graphics Team spent the month continuing their crucial work on the Vulkan renderer, converting the existing volumetric fog system and debug tools to the new system. They also began planning and prototyping how to handle interdependencies of resources between shader passes, as the system will need to allocate resources and efficiently schedule work while ensuring it doesn’t read resources before write operations are completed. The team also investigated how to improve the legibility of holographic/transparent UI screens in extremely bright or dark environments. This involved using the average and maximum brightness, or a localized region of the screen, to determine a suitable UI brightness. Several color blending approaches were also investigated.

Lighting


Last month, the Lighting Team spent most of their PU-based work on Alpha 3.9. For New Babbage, this meant optimizing the cost of shadow casting by balancing the highest possible quality and framerate. The new day/night light states received constant refinement to ensure the transitions were believable and to prevent situations with too much darkness.

Lighting for the Klescher prison facility involved a totally different approach, as this location is built using a mixture of bespoke object containers (such as the main hub) and modularly built elements (like the mines and caves). The team made several iterations on the hub, exteriors, and habitation pods and are currently focused on the underground sections. The challenge there is placing lights that feel natural, diverse, and lead the player.



Narrative


The Narrative Team continued their focus on getting Alpha 3.9 ready for release, writing dozens of descriptions for food, drinks, clothing, and more. Additional mission polish was done following feedback from ongoing playtests, while a new law was crafted to cut down on pad ramming.

They also began looking into the lore of several upcoming star systems, providing details on flora, fauna, points of interest, and gameplay scenarios players might encounter. Additionally, there was a coordinated effort with Systemic Services and Tools to expand the list of materials and resources in Star Citizen’s economy. The Galactapedia saw new additions and updates on the 4th, 11th, and 25th of the month.

The 2950 Imperator election continues, with the team writing a Stella Fortuna-themed piece focusing on candidate Antwan Lillard. They also appeared on Star Citizen Live to answer a few questions about the Second Tevarin War, and subscribers got a new edition of Jump Point magazine.

Player Relations


As usual, the Player Relations Team focused on supporting the growing number of backers and ongoing projects, including the rollout of the Character Reset tool that backers can use as a “nuclear option” to fix their account. They also ask that players check out the Knowledge Base – a comprehensive index of updates, solutions, and workarounds to any issues in accessing and playing within the PU.

Props


The Props Team’s March focus was on food and drink items, adding additional variants and completing technical setups. Most items required several different meshes for their various states, included shop variants to enable them to be bought and consumed. They also created new shop displays for New Babbage and work began in earnest on mining consumables. Naturally, time was also spent fixing bugs and polishing Alpha 3.9 assets where needed.


QA


In March, QA began testing New Babbage. This was primarily focused on level setup and involved working closely with the embedded environment art tester. Object container splitting and physics grid changes made their way into the Alpha 3.9 build and subsequently affected ATC functions across all landing zones.

For Combat AI, they focused on the newly implemented missions and expanded combat testing to assess how the NPCs react to multiple players and how they use cover when flanked.

Regarding Ship AI, tests continued on dogfighting, security, and civilian ships, with an emphasis on the 3D navigation system in asteroid belts and clusters. The Tech Art request for CPU and GPU captures of different head types was completed, which will enable them to debug character skinning issues while animating. Alpha 3.9 was also tested, as were the ongoing Evocati builds.

Tech Animation


This quarter saw the welcome addition of two new staff members to the Technical Animation Team. Their skills and motivation have brought a welcome boost to our small team and give us greater scope to support the company as a whole.” The Tech Animation Team

Alongside training new team members, March saw Tech Animation refactoring the in-house facial rigging and animation suite. This is with a view to supporting next-generation content with a flexible and modular approach to the codebase and rigging platform. This will ultimately be used to further refine the existing facial rigs and create all new ones to populate our universe.

The team also helped implement the animations that led to the creation of a new toolset to help visualize and apply flowgraph-style animation sets to the non-flowgraph sandbox animation tool suite. This helps the team create and preserve animation state machines, which is required for the complex AI behaviors players are awaiting in the universe.

Continued work with the Social AI Team identified the need for Tech Animation to further refine their rigging toolsets to support the vast number of upcoming new props. They’re now robust enough and enable a streamlined approach to authoring new animation rigs. They also spring-cleaned their codebase, identifying new pipeline foundations and tools to refactor.

Tech Art also developed a tool to enable Character Art to add skeleton extensions from a preset before editing and exporting them to speed up the authoring process. They worked with the Weapons Team on bugs and requests, including rig updates, Mannequin setups, IK target updates, and export errors.

They partnered with Social-AI on a variety of tasks, including setups for new usables, fixing integration issues, feeding back on upcoming Mannequin setups, fixing proc clip issues, and investigating wildline setups for the bartender. They also created a rig for the Aegis Gladius to enable proper animated interactions between characters and the ship.

Tech Art


Last month, Tech Animation added additional functionality to the runtime rig plugin command for Maya, which will give improved sanity checks, more detailed error reports, and a streamlined command-line interface. They investigated ways to improve the performance of the DNA system that underpins head customization. During head morphing, the DNA system blends various components to make a unique facial rig. One of these data chunks is known internally as skin weight, which is used by the dual-quaternion skinning deformer. These weights are traditionally defined per character. However, the team realized that they don’t vary that much and by unifying them, they could save the blending computations at runtime for improved performance. They assessed what visual impact the weight unification would have, with the aim being not to lose any quality whatsoever. The findings were positive, so this will go ahead and become particularly beneficial once the highest quality heads (T0) are added to the DNA system.

Turbulent


Game services developers at Turbulent completed the Friend List unification between Spectrum and the game client. Sensitive improvements were made to the Network Operation Center, which now has basic visibility on groups, lobbies, and voice channels for those working on the game. A new iteration of the internal custom logging system was also released.

Turbulent worked on several as-yet-unannounced projects and supported the St. Patrick’s Day promotion that featured the Kruger Archimedes Emerald.

VFX


The VFX Team continued delivering effects for the upcoming new content, including the Esperia Prowler, New Babbage, and prison. They also worked on destruction effects for volatile cargo. Code-wise, visor frost was updated to correctly use the ‘frost amount’ set from the codec. A new set of debug display options was completed for the VFX artists and bug fixes and optimizations were made too. Feature-wise, the SDF-based atmospheric entry effects completed and are ready to be rolled out to all vehicles in a future release. Pre-production R&D also continued for the fire component.

Conclusion

WE’LL SEE YOU NEXT MONTH



End Transmission

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Monthly Reports

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