The release of Alpha 3.11 is fast approaching, and with it comes a whole host of new features to Star Citizen. Many of these new additions received their final tweaks and polishes throughout September, which you can get a sneak peek of in this month’s report. It wasn’t all Alpha 3.11 either, with great progress made on some significant updates scheduled for this winter’s patch and beyond. Expect interesting info on refinery decks, upcoming events, new ships, and of course, the Pyro system.
Star Citizen Monthly Report: September 2020
AI (Character Combat)
Character Combat kick off the report with their ongoing work on accurate ammunition handling. As NPCs won’t have infinite ammo, they will need to account for resources and decide when to attempt to procure more. When complete, should NPCs not have an appropriate melee weapon, they may decide that surrender is the best option. The team prepared several animation options and embedding ‘surrender’ in various behaviors. They also added improved transitions when exiting and staying in cover under certain conditions. A handful of visual perception parameters and the debug draw were tweaked to allow the designers to better iterate on the values that the AI use to perceive and understand enemies from different distances (and whether the character is in the primary or secondary field-of-view).
Last month, the AI Team fixed more issues with characters standing on top of usables, a lot of which were related to the object-container failing to restore characters to the right state. The team would like to share insight into this issue and some of the stability improvements currently in development.
“The visual bug was always caused by NPCs being attached to usables that would stream out and then stream back in when a player approached the area. In one case, the internal event sent to the player state-machine to request the re-attachment would be lost and never processed. In the second case, the character would stream in after the usable and several other characters. Those characters would then execute their regular behaviors and could ‘steal’ the usable from the non-streamed character, causing the usable to fail to attach once they were eventually streamed back in. We want to share this with our community to give you an insight into the necessity of catching these specific situations and making the systems that AI rely on as strong as possible.” – The AI Team
The long-term plan is to make extensive use of services to populate the environment and simulate areas when players are not around. This means a lot of these issues will become irrelevant due to the systems being used in slightly different ways.
The team was also busy with Alpha 3.11 bug fixes and performance optimization.
September saw the Ship AI Team focus their attention on weapons, missile management, and a further pass on capital ship combat behavior. The latter involved making AI gunners aware of the damage composition of their available weapon groups. For example, if a gunner has a choice between energy- or physical-damage weapons, they will first attempt to lower their opponent’s shields using the energy weapon. Then, when the health status falls below a certain threshold (dictated by the gunner’s ‘fire discipline’ skill) they will switch to physical damage to deliver the killing blow.
They added more data to allow AI gunners to respect a cooldown before arming and launching missiles. They also ensured that, when several AI ships spawn at the same time, they don’t have the same cooldown time to prevent the target being subject to a barrage of missiles. A supplementary check was added to ensure that a ship recently hit by a missile won’t be targeted again for a set period of time (again, depending on the fire discipline of the shooter).
Another new feature being worked on is the ability for NPCs to intercept missiles. As a first step, torpedoes and missiles were added to AI perception so that they are seen as potential targets. They then changed missile hostility so all missiles that target AI ships are considered hostile; this ensures turret gunners only shoot down missiles that are a threat to friendlies. Manned turret priorities were also changed, so small and medium turrets prioritize shooting down incoming torpedoes while heavy turrets ignore them as they’re generally too large and slow to be effective. Weapon size is also a factor, with small turrets prioritizing smaller targets and heavy turrets more dangerous ones.
The team also worked on the ‘InSeatWeaponRange Tactical Target Query,’ which checks if a turret gunner or ship could potentially fire at a target, and added an optimal engage-range task that calculates the range ships should attempt to stay at when engaging a particular target. The first pass of the subsumption behaviour for capital ships was implemented too, which varies based on whether a ship has a front gun and the type of target.
The Animation Team spent the majority of the month on SQ42-related tasks, but worked on a number of comms calls for various pilots specifically for the PU.
Last month, the Modular Environment Team finalized their work on the new cargo decks coming in Alpha 3.11. They also began looking into the art requirements for ship-to-station docking, supported work for several upcoming events, and make progress on the refinery decks. They also experimented with gas clouds at Lagrange points and supported Design in implementing the new Rest Stop interiors.
The Landing Zone Team continued their ongoing development of Orison. The main critical path elements are now established, including shops, transit systems, and habs, with most moving from the whitebox to the greybox phase.
September saw the Organics Team continue production of the Pyro system, with focus on Pyro VI and the moons of Pyro V. Alongside this, they continued updating the Stanton system with the new planet brushes, which can be seen firsthand in Alpha 3.11. This is a prerequisite for the latest improvements to the organic shader and its biome accumulation feature, which is intended for release in Alpha 3.12.
The Environment Art Team continued production on all Pyro-related content. The moons in particular received most of the attention, being brought out of the whitebox stage and readied for feedback and polish. Pyro VI progressed well too, with the global look and various biomes of the planet defined.
The team are always reviewing the various aspects of their pipeline to see if quality can be increased or content optimized. This time, they decided to take a closer look at the ground textures that define the close-up surface of the planets and moons, replacing all existing materials with photogrammetry-based data. Similarly, a lot of geology assets were replaced with items that make use of the latest additions to the organics shader, such as more sophisticated blending and the displacement of texture detail. This brings both the ground and geology assets visually more in line with each other and improves overall quality.
Due to recent updates to the planet painting tools, the team made all of Stanton’s planets and moons fully compatible with the changes. However, this was less of a visual pass and more of a technical update.
In the US, the Art and System Design teams made great progress on the Crusader Mercury, which is rapidly approaching the final art phase. It’s expected to reach the release-prep stage in October.
Vehicle Tech Art completed their damage pass on the upcoming Origin 100 Series ships, which included solving an issue that prevented cosmetic items detaching with debris. The team also supported Engineering on the SDF shield, 3D VisAreas, and docking features.
In the UK, the Art Team continued to work on the Crusader Hercules. Last month saw the lift and hangar doors complete their final art pass and the habs make it to the art-complete stage.
The Esperia Talon is also close to art-complete; the final art pass was made (minus the landing gear) before it moved onto the damage setup and LODs.
The Aegis Gladius also received a little attention, with the team adding component access across the exterior.
The Weapons Art Team spent a portion of the month training new prop artists in Maya and the workflow for creating new weapons and attachments. Work also began a new set that includes scopes, barrel, and under-barrel attachments. The Behring FS-9 LMG began its first art pass, while the Gemini A03 sniper rifle entered the final art phase too.
The Audio Team started the month cleaning up the music system by refactoring and organizing old files and optimizing code.
After that, they revisited some old space-derelict ambiances and supported the Green Zone removal (including the ability to destroy the turrets protecting the space stations!).
They began work on the physics props refactor and improved some of the older props used by the ‘object push/pull’ feature currently in development. Audio updates were also made for the UI-related features coming in Alpha 3.11, including the external inventory and front-end rework.
Code-wise, the team completed work to enable the playing of audio on GPU particles and further developed the tools used by the sound designers.
Last month, the Backend Server Team focused on deploying, testing, and tuning the meshed Loadout Service and Meshed Variable Service. They moved the flow of all variable and loadout data away from trafficking through the diffusion routers to a more optimal and direct path. This isolates the traffic between specific services, meaning it cannot disrupt the flow of other information that moves through diffusion. They also fixed a number of outstanding issues from Alpha 3.10, including memory leaks, network connectivity issues, and performance bugs.
In September, work continued on an armor set due for completion in Q4 2020 that the team refer to as “especially challenging to implement” due to changing geometry in the variants. Other tasks involved NPC clothing assets, mission-giver heads, and concepts for a utilitarian mining-focused armor.
“We are particularly excited to finally be adding more gameplay armors to the PU, as Design will now be delivering ‘armor design documents’ to us at regular intervals. Among others, we have started concepting a series of bounty hunting and tracking-focused armors. You can expect to see these in 2021.” -The Character Team
Finally, they supported various upcoming releases and events, including IAE 2950 and the release of the Crusader Mercury.
Community’s September was dominated by Ship Showdown. Phase 1, which started at the end of August, tasked players with championing their favorite spacecraft or vehicle by submitting self-created ship art to the Community Hub or Twitter. We received hundreds of incredible submissions, with the ten most outstanding receiving a MISC Prospector.
The community’s top 16 then faced each other in Phase 2 head-to-head tournament, which was ultimately won by the Anvil Carrack. The final four ships will receive in-game liveries and in-game shirts that will be revealed at the IAE later this year. A two-week Free Fly accompanied the second phase, during which all top 16 ships were available to everyone for free.
Community worked with several development teams to put together the Alpha 3.10 Postmortem, where senior devs shared their high-level thoughts on what went well, what didn’t, and what they learned for next time.
Last month’s physics optimizations included improving the intersection routines for SDF baking and adding further culling to AABB tree traversal. The team added g-force calculation to all rigid entities and the ability to add the mass of rigids inside the grid host mass. They gave initial support to adaptive signed-distance-fields (SDF), added exterior shadow geometry (which enables boundary entities within the hosted zone in interior OCs), and now properly support all primitive physics types for interior grids. They also added external impulses to ‘pe_status_dynamics’ and created a grid without explicit geometry. Support was provided for multiple external accelerations too.
For the ongoing G12 renderer work, the team supported the optional execution of stages, added debug names to all constant buffers (and made it mandatory), and undertook custom material CB and layer-blend support. Legacy pipeline resets were removed from the begin/end render pass to the locations of the legacy-Gen12 switch, which currently saves up to 2000 API calls.
Engineering merged the deferred and deferred-display-mapped pipelines, implemented the TSAA stage, and promoted the following stages to ‘stable:’ Tonemapping, DepthOfField, MotionBlur, Optics, Colorgrading, OpticsExposure. They removed save/load resource-binding code on the begin/end render pass, saving around 500 API calls per-frame. Parameterized common depth functions were also added so that they don’t access global constants, as was depth down-sampling.
Work on the atmosphere, clouds, and unified raymarcher continued in earnest, which led to cloud data that now properly interacts with the atmospheric segment it injects into (via corrected luminance integration and transmittance evaluation). The team added support for the injection of (existing) spherical clouds into the unified atmospheric raymarcher, now using uniformly distributed sample locations when integrating over hemispheres. This significantly improves LUT integration results, removes several artifacts, and converges much quicker.
A new atmospheric multi-scatter LUT was added that supports infinite scattering orders, while the current multi-scatter LUT was rebalanced due to excessive brightness. The team also refined soft-edge computation for spherical clouds to reduce aliasing and improved the visible sun-disc evaluation when computing sunlight. This evaluation is fully integrated into the wider atmospheric lighting system and impacts direct and indirect lighting. An imbalance of computed brightness between regular and injection passes was completed; now clouds appear with consistent brightness in both regular atmosphere and via unified raymarching. The team provided support for separate Rayleigh and Mie inscatter LUTs in the current atmospheric code path too, which fixes several false color artifacts. The new LUT parameterization better supports high atmospheres and, among other things, fixes the very prominent halo around the silhouette of a planet’s dark side.
The team sped up and unified the optical depth pre-computations in the absorption layers of atmospheres. Among other things, this allows them to add an ozone layer to Earth-like planets, which will emphasize blue skies and enable correct shading during twilight. It also enables the physically plausible fine-tuning of atmospheres. They now also use solar irradiance throughout the evaluation of atmospheric lighting to give a much-improved evaluation of sun radiance for points outside of planetary atmospheres. This enables twilight casting, atmospheric scattering, and allows the sun’s angular radius to project objects onto a planet’s penumbra region.
General system work involved several fixes to ISPC integration (a special compiler that generates highly optimized SSE code for heavy duty jobs running on CPUs). The team implemented support for static stationary zone groups and concave geometries as vis areas and fixed the method they find vis areas and portals by name.
September was a busy month for the US Gameplay Features Team, who focused on fixing bugs, completing feature work, and preparing for future initiatives.
The beginning of the month saw them complete the final pass on the updated PU front-end screens. While the ultimate goal is to completely redefine the entry experience, these changes will refine the whole process and provide a smoother transition from the starting screens to gameplay. Some of the changes were showcased in a recent Inside Star Citizen.
The team began redesigning the mission manager app, with the current focus on converting the app from Flash to Building Blocks. Once complete, the team will focus on updating functionality and making changes to the overall design.
Alongside redesigns, the team continued to make progress on the new reputation system. Additional design work and functionality was added, with focus on individual player reputations.
A major focus for Vehicle Features last month was docking, including fixing various issues with the Kruger snubs and RSI Constellation. While they still have to deal with several issues, such as spawning the ships together correctly, great progress was made. For example, testers can now properly get in and out of the snub while it’s docked in the Constellation.
The first functioning version of station docking was also completed. Currently, testers request to dock, get assigned a docking port, and connect with it.
The team supported the ongoing mining UI refresh. Aspects of the ship flight HUD and mining UI all now work together seamlessly, and the UI utilizes the new building blocks technology.
The Graphics Team split their time last month between work on the new Gen12 renderer, general features, and bug fixing. Gen12 tasks included converting the game’s post-effects manager, which handles all ‘miscellaneous’ effects such as blurred vision and blackouts. The Gen12 core infrastructure was further developed to be compatible with the configurable graphics pipelines and the constant shader buffers were further polished.
The remainder of the Graphics Team’s time was spent on the render-to-texture system, with the hookup to the texture-streaming system now complete. This means they can now run-time-generate as many textures as they like and automatically load-balance the memory with the rest of the textures in-game. The organic shader work was also completed. Currently, the team are working on iridescent effects for some upcoming ships and armor.
The Modular Level Design Team worked through tasks for the cargo and refinery decks. They also focused on general space station interiors to ensure a more focused experience, with further iterations planned for the future.
The Landing Zone Level Design Team continued to work on Orison; all the core elements are now in place bar a couple of shop layouts they’re still iterating on.
Both teams completed the first version of new panels that, among other things, will be used to update the existing elevator buttons.
Last month, the Lighting Team predominately supported the upcoming Alpha 3.11 patch release, which involved polishing and finalized their work on the cargo deck locations. They also began investigating alternate lighting states for existing Rest Stops. To start with, they completed a look-dev pass on a potential low-power state, with plans to flesh it out across the entire set of Rest Stop modular rooms in the future. They’re also planning to create a look for emergency lighting. These lighting states will eventually be integrated into gameplay systems, such as power, and provide the potential for more Rest Stop variations in general.
They also began supporting Orison, setting up a basic lighting pass for the whitebox layout. It’s important, even at these early stages, for the Lighting Team to identify potentially problematic spots where lighting performance will be poor. This enables fixes and layout changes to be made with minimal knock-on work for other departments.
Another pass was done on Lorville, this time adding simple animations to the security tower spotlights during the night-time lighting setup. This, alongside other short animations in the new cargo decks, provides a test case for adding more animated elements to locations to help bring them to life.
Throughout September, the Narrative Team worked on environment documents for upcoming locations. This involves outlining the tone, history, and flavor of the area and detailing the potential stores and NPCs that might be encountered in anticipation of kickoff meetings with Art and Design. The team also worked closely with Design in the UK and Austin to look at the features currently in development and plan out potential mission content to help highlight them. From there, they started to breakdown characters and potential lines. As Narrative began scripting, the Design Team created placeholder assets to test the lines in-game to allow them to refine any lines or dialogue events before they record with an actor.
As with each month, another new batch of items needed to be named and described. Whether working with the Character Team on weapons, props, armor, and clothing or the Vehicle Team on ship components, everything that can be viewed in a store or the equipment manager needs a dedicated description.
The team also worked with QA to task-up the latest batch of Narrative bugs reported to the Issue Council.
On the Dispatch front, the upcoming Imperator election progressed. The team’s latest post featured the final debate between the last five candidates.
“You’ve seen their posters around the landing zones and heard their campaign ads, but make sure you read up on their latest positions before the polls go live this month. And don’t forget to cast your vote!” -The Narrative Team
The Player Relations Team spent the month working to expand service to seven days a week and growing the team in both Austin and Wilmslow, filling several positions that will reduce the ticket response time, regardless of day. They also worked alongside the Evocati to prepare for the release of Alpha 3.11.
The Props Team spent part of September wrapping up support on the new cargo station assets. This includes the counter sets, shipping containers, and assets for the shop.
They were also kept busy supporting the new locomotion push/pull trolley system. When implemented, players will be able to manipulate trolleys and other ‘pushable’ objects. Templates were put in place, which means they can now update existing assets incrementally to work with this new feature.
Last month, Quality Assurance continued to focus on test requests and participated in weekly playtests. The majority of features worked on were behind the scenes, so a significant number of existing assets had to be tested to ensure nothing had changed.
They also tested turret and ship AI accuracy, which involved looking into the existing placements and AI behaviors via Arena Commander. QA also continued to support the Engine Team, with September’s focus on getting to the bottom of several hard-to-reproduce crashes and memory leaks.
Locations-wise, the team continued to work through various transit-system issues. The Tools Team continued to support the ongoing work on core tools, including DataForge, StarWords, ExcelCore, and the sandbox editor.
Alongside training new additions to team, Tech Animation supported Social AI in creating and technically implementing various assets throughout the PU. There was a concentrated drive to finish up the in-house facial rig and tool suite to enable the continued creation of new heads. This precedes the wider push to overhaul the entire head creation pipeline, with the view to future proofing it for the next few years.
The ongoing initiative to create new tools to help implement animations with a graphical user interface continued.
“The UI is looking great and we’re currently writing the technical implementation that will drive the link into our current animation toolset.” – The Tech Animation Team
Tech Art’s September priorities included supporting the aforementioned Kruger/Constellation docking, 3D VisAreas, testing the multi-grid SDF with Engineering, and wrapping up tasks on the Origin 100 Series.
An as-yet-unannounced ship was developed further, and a bug causing shader damage to not initialize on large ships until players are extremely close by is currently being looked at.
Vehicle Tech spent the month improving the behavior and visuals of vehicle destruction, focusing on making the destruction of extremely large ships a satisfyingly explosive experience. They also prepared for upcoming improvements to radar, ping, and scanning, with the aim being to enrich the experience of discovering and gathering detailed information of entities while traveling on foot and in ships. Finally, vehicle-system-related bugs were addressed for Alpha 3.11.
Throughout September, the team focused on the Alpha 3.11 delivery by bug-fixing existing features and running several critical migrations. They also added features to Hex, including the ability to visualize ledger data (long-term persistence) and perform credit/debit actions. Several UI and UX improvements were also made to make the tool more user friendly.
Among other initiatives, the Web Platform Team supported the launch of Ship Showdown 2950.
User Interface (UI)
Last month, UI’s embedded artists worked through various features, such as the external inventory and missile UI. They also continued work on the refinery kiosk UI, pushing hard on stability and bug fixing.
Tech-wise, they made improvements to the Building Blocks system and supported the impending Alpha 3.11 release with bug fixing and other small elements of tech debt.
The VFX Team made further progress with fire hazards, further developing the code prototype and making networking and performance considerations.
The Art Team, working alongside the Code Team, created a ‘visual target’. A visual target doesn’t use code hooks, but is instead an opportunity for the artists to focus on getting their effects to look as good as possible. Then, when they’re happy with the quality, the Code and Art teams can work out how to integrate the visuals into the system.
Also this month, VFX for a new ballistic shotgun, grenade launcher, and Origin 100i.
Finally, bugs were fixed and polishing was done for the imminent Alpha 3.11 release.