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August 21st 2020

Environment Art AMA Recap

Environment Art AMA Recap

Each month we host an open submission live Q&A on Spectrum hosted by developers from various specialties across CIG. These questions and answers were collected from the Spectrum AMA on August 19th, 2020.

This time, we welcomed seven guests from the Environment Art team working on planets & organic locations in Star Citizen:

Maximilian Keilich | Senior Environment Artist
Hello! I have been in the industry for 5 years and joined CIG in 2017. You may not know me, but I am one of the people who tend to put too many rocks on the moons and planets, we will figure out the perfect amount of rocks, no worries! I have also worked on the mineable rocks and enjoy watching you guys blow them up.

Florian Sollaneck | Environment Artist
I’ve been in the industry for 7 years and since I’ve started at CIG 4 years ago I’ve been working on planetary content as part of the DE Environment Team. Together with the rest of my team I’ve helped in the creation of your planet tools, the Stanton planets, moons and assets for them. Last year I’ve explored (hehe) our cave tech which was an especially challenging but enjoyable project.

Pascal Muller | Senior Environment Artist
I’m a senior environment artist in the organics team. I started at CIG almost 5 years ago. Have been working on the planet tech and the organics team since day one. Very proud of the team. Also I don’t see why one should not like a good noodle soup.

Vanessa Bölke | Environment Artist
Hi!! I’ve been working at CIG for 3 years now as an Environment Artist. I am working with the rest of the organics team on planets and helping to develop the planet tech. I am creating assets together with the team to populate the large planet and moon surfaces but I also did vegetation assets for indoor environments such as New Babbage.

Sebastian Schroeder | Senior Environment Artist
Hi, I’ve been in the games industry for over 10 years and 3 years at CIG. I don’t do much in terms of art anymore and focus mostly on improving our planet tech and associated pipelines. I might need a more fitting job title.

Özlem Sagbili | Senior Environment Artist
Hi! I’ve been working at CIG for almost 4 years now and my main responsibility is to create anything vegetation related and distributing those on our planets. I really enjoyed creating different biomes for Hurston and Microtech. I also worked on harvestables and sometimes have to do some very weird (but funny) things that you guys can collect like the ranta dung for example.

Patrick Gladys | Senior Environment Artist
My career began at Crytek, where I contributed to projects such as Crysis 3, Ryse: Son of Rome, and others. In 2015 I joined DICE in Stockholm, Sweden to work on the visually acclaimed Star Wars: Battlefront. After completing Battlefront 2, I moved back to Germany for the ambitious Star Citizen at Cloud Imperium Games – building procedural content like planets, caves, and materials.

This AMA is complete but keep an eye out for upcoming threads for your chance to ask us anything!

Pyro has a lava planet, are we going to see lava flow everywhere or will it be static? And/or maybe volcanoes (that are active)

Sebastian Schroeder:

Unfortunately our tech currently does not support flowing lava (or even water) so the art direction of the planet was changed to have static, cooled down lava instead. It is definitely something we want to tackle properly in the future though – either as an update to Pyro III or a different planet in a different system.

Will we ever see forests like in the carrack trailer in the PU?

Özlem Sagbili:

There are definitely ideas and concepts for having forests or jungles for upcoming systems.

The Stanton system we worked on until now didn’t require lush biomes and the tech wasn’t ready to scatter millions of plants to create a dense forest. We’re still improving our tech to allow us to have more assets on a planet. But the environment team is already looking forward to try out something new and create some beautiful forests in the future.

For years we have seen the development of planetary/biome creation toolsets. The assumption being that once you have enough biomes and assets added to this that you’ll be able to move onto making multiple star systems. What are the current targets and goals for these tools and the expanding gameplay area in the short, medium and long term?

Patrick Gladys:

As you know our asset libraries contain everything from geology, vegetation, surface materials etc. Let’s say we get to a point where these libraries are filled with a great number of different archetypes of rock formations, cliffs, trees, flowers and more. The bigger and more diverse of a selection of assets that we already have, the less likely it is that we need to invest time into creating new content for new planets.

Example A: For a generic dusty rocky moon we have most assets we need – so we can start immediately putting together the moon and more similar variations if we want to.

Example B: Let’s say we are asked to create a tropical island planet – in that case we need to build all
the necessary content (palm trees, tropical shrubbery etc.) that is required, since those are not yet part of our asset libraries at this point.

The long term objective is to build up strong asset packs that can be reused for the majority of planets so that we can focus on adding more systems quicker. Due to our tools, we’d still have the capabilities to make planets feel drastically different despite some assets being reused

Significant tech & tools work was done every year so far and the most recent update lets us create a moon/planet even faster (again) while being more flexible than before, letting us update planets way easier which lets us do tweaks more often and achieve better quality. We are quite happy with the improvements and the team is looking forward to what can be done on the current basis of it in the future.

Moving forward beyond gas giants, what is your team currently working on regarding new planet biomes coming in the future?

Pascal Muller:

When we moved over to working on the Pyro system, we created and are still creating new assets on all levels of content to build completely unique and fresh biomes.

From an art direction point of view we want to make sure that there is a clear differentiation between the Stanton and Pyro system.

If you are on a planet in the Pyro system you will know it’s the Pyro system.

What can you tell us on the progress of the Pyro System?

Patrick Gladys:

Hey man!

The team has already been working on Pyro for some time and it’s progressing quite well. We have also not seen any decrease in the teams weekly output considering the WFH situation!

New geology packs, surface materials are constantly being added to our libraries that allow us to construct exciting and fresh biomes with very different looks.

Improving existing assets from a quality point of view is also being worked on to ensure consistency between the new and old libraries.

Besides creating all the content necessary for Pyro, there is work being done on the planet-tech and tools, which has always been a dependency – any changes to tech mean some kind of rework or adjustment on our end as well.

This is a very good thing, because with these new changes any updates/tweaks in the future can be done much quicker in the future.

How will planets be updated with new biomes? Meaning will only newer planets get the updated biomes or will existing planets be reworked when more biomes join the game?

Sebastian Schroeder:

With one of the recent updates to the Planet Tech we are now able to add and change everything on a planet in a very non-destructive and much more procedural way than we could when we originally re-created the existing planets/moons end of last year. The improvement allows us to go back to any planet and every biome on them and update/improve and even add new ones if the necessity arises as well as giving us more natural transitions between them.

What is the status of any work towards a Road generation tool? This was first talked about a few citcons back but I haven’t heard much since.

Pascal Muller:

In the past we did create height maps with some basic forms of roads. An example would be the mining pits on Hurston. This is not an ideal solution and we will definitely be working to create more sophisticated roads in the future.

Currently there are a LOT of rocks on planets/moons. This makes driving around with wheeled vehicles hard. Will we see a reduction of the amount of surface rocks in the future?

Maximilian Keilich:

We are tweaking the amount of rocks on all existing and upcoming moons and planets to make traversal in vehicles more comfortable.

Can we expect huge and unique planetary terrain formations like big craters (like on old 2.x Yela) or hollows visible from orbit?

Patrick Gladys:

Huge craters, yes! Sometimes when we tackle new planets, we experiment a bit trying to figure out how to get visual features like these in using our updated tools.

What are the next steps for Planet Tech V4?

Sebastian Schroeder:

We’ve had a lot of improvements to the tech being implemented lately and it’s getting closer to what it was originally envisioned to be when we set out on the planetary tech and planet rework. With those and a few more improvements that are still being worked on right now that will bring the Planet Tech to a state where we can create and iterate on existing and new planets/moons very quickly and have everything come together for a more coherent, final frame. So right now the focus is mostly on improving quality/speed and once that is in a really solid place we’ll look into new, currently unanswered challenges.

Will trees ever be breakable when a superheavy spaceship rams them?

Özlem Sagbili

We definitely want to have breakable vegetation in the future, but right now there has not been any work or R&D on that.

We’re currently doing R&D for touch bending so that botanicals will bend when the player walks through them/a vehicle drives through. Breakable vegetation would be the next step then!

There are a lot of old geology assets in the game that are quite subpar in quality compared to the new ones (the rocks in daymar, The spiky ones in delamar…etc), Will they ever get replaced with better ones?

Sebastian Schroeder

Yes, and very soon as well – we are currently in the process of replacing a lot of the old geology assets with new, better ones using the new organics shader and will continue to do so until all are on the same quality level.

Are you working on different kind of caves? icy? Alien ones? Can you give us some information about those?

Florian Sollaneck:

Not at the moment. The focus for us right now is on Pyro planets. We had many ideas for caves that had to be put on the backlog in order to ship tier 1. We will revisit those once it is time to expand existing planets with more POIs but just to give you an example we have prototypes for caves you can enter with different sized vehicles.

Why are the icy caves from the citizencon demo not in the game? Thats a bit misleading that we only got the regular copy pasted ones with Microtech considering you said once we get SSOCS we will have hundreds of different caves across a planet.

Florian Sollaneck:

The cave shown at CitizenCon is very similar to the ones currently placed down on Microtech and its moons. You’re right – now with SSOCS we are not bound by the number of caves in the verse anymore. The reason we didn’t invest more time either just generating new rocky caves or actually working on completely new archetypes like ice caves is the question of importance and currently Pyro has a higher priority for now. Personally I would love to get back working on the next tier of caves improving their versatility, add more archetypes, gameplay opportunities etc. There was so much feedback from the community and it’s all written down on my personal notebook waiting to get undusted once we shift gears and begin additional work on caves.

With the development of Crusader, is there development on tools that will make Gas Giants easier to produce in the future? (similar to Planet Tech)

Pascal Muller:

Crusader is our starting point when it comes to gas giants. Once we are happy with the way it looks, there is no reason for us not to reuse that tech to help us create additional gas giants.

Whats the next major hurdle for Planets? (geological formations, rivers, denser vegetation / forests)

Sebastian Schroeder:

Once the current “round” of improvements to the planet tech is implemented and applied to our existing content we actually intend to have a look at exactly those three things you mention together with engineering and spend time to research on how to solve those big questions.

While continuing to produce new planets obviously.

The snow ground textures in microtech are somewhat lackluster my opinion (compared to game like God of war or the last of us 2) the reason being is that a lot of the ground textures in microtech don’t seem to have been created bespokly as a snow texture, Many (but not all of them) look to be recycled from other moons and planets, And just turned white in color. Also a lot of them seem to produce way too much pits and shadow area (this is actually a reoccurring problem with certain types of textures used across many of our moons and planets, I call them the shallow-wavy-pits textures, They always look weird from certain angles)
Any plans to make a pass on them?

Sebastian Schroeder:

What you are seeing in the screenshot are our “medium scale normals” that are intended to bridge the detail gap between close-up ground textures and the “local terrain textures” aka elevation and the accompanying data. Those are distributed quite randomly at the moment and it’s not always easy to get the exact visual we want.

We are currently working on getting the Planet Tech closer to it’s originally envisioned state which will allow us much more control as to where and how those are placed to get a better transition and overall frame at all distances. So yes, those will be heavily reworked once that tech change comes in.

Are you going to remove all or almost all the rocks (with the grass tech) and add roads on the the planets/moons for a better drive on them?

Maximilian Keilich:

Instead of creating “artificial” roads for pristine areas of a moon or planet, we are tweaking the density and placement of rocks to have “natural” roads appear by not spawning rocks everywhere.

How is your team currently tackling the issue of Crusader’s clouds, what has been done, or what are you planning to do/use?

Pascal Muller:

We have achieved good results so far. We are using the planet tech as a base. However it is a bit early to give exact details on the final frame.

Will there be underwater Plants ,POIs etc ?

Florian Sollaneck:

Most likely but it’s not a priority for us right now since other departments would first need to work on things that allow players to access those environments.

When can we see other variants of cave entrances? ie. The gladius size hole showed off on a ISC episode awhile back.

Florian Sollaneck:

Yes. What we showed in the ISC was no throwaway work and will get picked up in the future again. Personally I’m not satisfied with the amount of variation our cave entrances have but that’s something we had to learn from our first release. We’ve got a solid plan on how to solve this in the future for tier 2 so stay tuned.

First of all, thank you for your work and passion. My question is centered on marine environments in the planets: have you ever thought about creating environments that can be reached by immersing yourself in water?

Maximilian Keilich:

Thank you! You can already find a tease of marine assets like coral and seaweed on some existing moons and planets which have an ocean, like Hurston. Our team in DE is more than excited to start working on underwater environments in the future, but until we have underwater gameplay it is not a priority right now.

Any plans to add more and expand the library of organic assets of existing planets like hurston and microtech?

Maximilian Keilich:

We are always improving existing sets whenever we get a tech update or add new organic assets, like rocks or plants. When we feel we have something that could replace an existing asset on an older moon, we go in and swap it out.

Are you working or have plans to work on something like a paradise island with crystal clear water, white sands and beaches and things like that? Do will see something like that in SC?

Florian Sollaneck:

We’ve just recently worked on more believable beaches and coastlines but don’t expect them to have white sand.

How much influence do you have on the harvestables design, lore and function? Anything interesting you’d like to share or hint at what we might see floating in Crusader or melting around Pyro?

Özlem Sagbili:

The usual process of a harvestable is that the lore team comes up with harvestable ideas and sends this over to the concept art team where they will visualize the harvestable together with our Art Director. When the concept is done the environment art team will discuss the harvestable with the Art Director and we as artists can always come up with additional ideas for the design or function.

Does the team in Frankfurt help build assets for Squadron 42, Or is it exclusively for the PU?

Sebastian Schroeder:

The Frankfurt team primarily creates assets for the persistent universe. Due to very different technical and visual requirements as well as limitations, for our specific team, there’s less cross-over.

When it comes to tools we develop for the PU though other teams, including those working on S42, are obviously welcome to use these if it helps achieve their goals and their feedback is taken into account when developing them, with the biggest example being the Planet Tech.

Can planets be hollow or without big chunks?

Sebastian Schroeder:

Using the current version of Planet Tech they can not be hollow or missing big chunks. There might be other approaches to building planets should we get to building a planet that actually needs it or changes to the tech to allow for that, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Will space/land minables in the future spawn stacked ontop of one another for a variety of mining vehicles? IE: Will you have Hand minables, on the surface of prospector minables, on the surface of Orion minables all clumped together so multiple equipment is needed to fully harvest an asteroid or node?

Maximilian Keilich:

We already have first person mineable rocks spawning on the bigger ship mineables. The idea behind it being that you need to get out of your prospector when you spot a smaller mineable and use the multi tool, then head back into the Prospector to mine the ship mineable itself. We do plan to expand that functionality more in the future.

It would be interesting to have planets with carnivorous vegetation, dangerous but at the same time profitable. it would be nice to be able to collect particular plants or animals / aliens to sell in private (black market) or regularized contexts. could something like this be created?

Özlem Sagbili:

We do have some plans for hazardous landscapes and dangerous plants in the future. To create carnivorous vegetation we would need to build animated botanicals, which would mean working together with our animation department. The engineers would also need to implement that the plant reacts to the player when he enters a certain distance.

Can you talk about the future of mining, both on planets and in space? How close to what we have now in the shape and location of rocks is it to what is envisioned for the final state?

Maximilian Keilich:

Tricky to say what the final state of mining is going to look like, since we are always listening to the feedback we get from you guys, improving the system accordingly. Personally I see the current implementation of mining as a good base that we plan to expand upon.

Do you take possible future gameplay into account when crafting environments (for example, when we have swimming, we might want some nice cliffs to dive from or pretty coves or underwater caves, or maybe creating a type of huge thick tree that can shelter us from the cold or anything)?

Maximilian Keilich:

We will always go back to older planets and moons to make sure we support whatever gameplay updates come in. For example when we implemented mining, we made sure to create and distribute a mining rock variation on each planet and moon. We do not want people to feel like there is no reason anymore to visit Daymar or Yela, because other planets have “more” gameplay.


The answers accurately reflect development’s intentions at the time of writing, but the company and development team reserve the right to adapt, improve, or change feature and ship designs in response to feedback, playtesting, design revisions, or other considerations to improve balance or the quality of the game overall.

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