Star Citizen Monthly Report: November & December 2020
Welcome to the first PU report of 2021! This month’s report details the work done throughout both November and December, including features that made the recent Alpha 3.12 patch release and a handful of exciting additions scheduled for later in the year.
Star Citizen Monthly Report: November & December 2020
The AI Team began November exposing support for character traits in the skills and traits editor. This allows them to configure character traits that influence the skill calculation of the behavior selection. They also added the ability to propagate tactical requirement tags into TPS queries.
A new Subsumption node for tactic selection was implemented, which will be used to build combat tactics as Subsumption functions and simulate the selection like subactivities. This is a big improvement as the team don’t have to switch subactivities, so the character can maintain the context of what it is trying to do.
More information was added to ‘range event dispatcher component’ debugging. This allows the team to better debug events related to perception, distance, and directions thanks to more information on-screen. They also introduced a ‘range event receiver’ mission-variable into the range event dispatcher.
Movement speed was updated in Subsumption to use the ‘EMovementSpeed’ variable type. This is a global ‘enum’ that enables the team to correctly pass movement speed values within functions. This improves the robustness of the code and logic while delivering better data consistency.
The AI Team also improved navmesh regeneration requests on the physics grid where a subplatform is spawned. This will fix inconsistencies in the navmesh caused by the physics system not notifying the mesh when object containers are spawned and make for simpler regeneration requests for the whole bounding box.
Support for hierarchical structures in the Subsumption mastergraph was added alongside the possibility for functions to be applied to different states. This makes it much easier to set up the mastergraph and also extends the basic functionalities to better describe when states can be selected.
The team also introduced functionality to request control of a script entity running in Subsumption, which allows the AI mastergraph to transition into a state that won’t conflict with scenes predefined by the designers.
Optimizations, cleanup, and bug fixing were also done in support of Alpha 3.12’s release.
AI (Character Combat)
One of Character Combat’s main focuses was continuing the development of enemy dodges, which included developing the functionality to allow combatants to turn their body direction to target during dodge actions.
They also introduced ‘hearing filter areas’, where NPC audio perception is limited by stimuli in the environment. These locations will help the designers improve scenarios and define action bubbles in their missions. A new procedural clip was added to control active fire modes on weapons while playing specific animations too.
Specifically for the Human AI combat behavior, several improvements and adjustments were introduced. For example, the team adapted various behaviors to use the new tactic selection tech. This required some behavior conditions but will ultimately help enable the team to iterate faster on new tactics.
Bugs-wise, an issue was fixed preventing NPCs from returning to their previous activities when targets were eliminated and no other threats were around. Issues with NPCs reacting slowly to perception events created by friendly NPCs already in combat were also rectified.
Ship AI began November by introducing a new assignment to enable AI ships to use a designed spline to dock to a space-station bay. This is the first pass on the full implementation of docking, which currently creates the required interface for the designers to control the request and allow NPCs to simulate the operation.
Progress was also made on gas cloud flying awareness, starting with a better generalization of the ‘environment sampler’ helper that allows an entity to abstract queries to find SDF values for the gas cloud or physics. Vehicle collision avoidance code was then extended to use the new environment sampler code, allowing the system to notify the Subsumption behavior on when the spaceship crosses boundaries of volumes, such as atmospheres or gas clouds.
Issues with AI ships performing a ‘defend target’ assignment were solved, which caused NPCs to become unaware that the target they were supposed to defend had been destroyed and led to erratic flight behavior. The management of quantum enforcement devices (QEDs) was amended, so now all AI pilots flying QED-equipped ships will enable and disable them correctly. They also fixed the quantum travel (QT) flow for AI in a multiplayer context, allowing AI ships that have insufficient fuel for a successful QT to leave the situation.
The fire discipline skill value was added to AI pilots to define when they want to use lasers or ballistic weapons, while aggressive, cowardly, reckless, resentful, and show-off behaviors were added to open pilots up to different maneuvers based on their skill.
Social AI finished the first iteration of work giving NPCs the correct knowledge of how to use and pass through doors; NPCs can now trigger custom logic when traveling through specific navigation links associated with different usables. This includes waiting while pathing through an opening or closing automatic door to give a more natural look. A new ‘door state’ Subsumption variable can now expose the different values a door has for its opening state, so they can verify if a door requires manual opening too.
The movement system was also extended to pause traversal when necessary and update all doors to use the proper NavigationLink usable type that offers the ‘traverse use’ channel functionality.
On the usable side, the team fixed ‘entity-tag addition and removal’ based on the use-channel. Previously, it was wrongly handled when entering a usable, so behaviors would request a different use-channel in the same use slot. This was causing the engineers to have incorrect tags set when using the upper or lower wall panels, so the appropriate logic to inspect the right panels wouldn’t trigger. Alignment slot tags were also added to the usable entity to allow the team to correctly search for usables when alignment slots are tagged in a specific way.
They also began implementing job-specific assignments. For example, the request to perform maintenance on a specific wall panel. This can be used by designers to craft a specific experience but also, in the future, by players to request a hired NPC operate in a specific way.
The Facial Animation Team spent the last months of 2020 developing animations for several PU character sets. The body animators worked on flowgraphs for exercise variations, including yoga and weightlifting, alongside vending machines and arcade games.
Throughout November and December, the concept artists worked on visuals for three sets of armor planned for release later in 2021. The concept artists spent the last two months of the year visually exploring the Pyro system.
“We’ve been turning out great ideas and are excited to get Pyro assets into the pipeline.” -The Concept Art Team
The modelers and tech artists focused on their upcoming 2021 Q1 and Q2 goals, including clothing for the refinery decks to help characters feel more suited to the environment. For Q2, the team worked towards a suite of civilian clothing for Orison alongside minor creatures to help fill out space.
The various branches of the Environment Team focused on delivering content for Alpha 3.12 throughout November and December:
The Modular Team completed the latest rest stop variants that added refinery decks to five existing Lagrange point locations. These stations were also updated externally to reflect the industrial theme the refineries bring. One of the most significant visual changes to the Lagrange points came with the inclusion of volumetric gas clouds.
“A lot of hard work went into the composition and lighting of these clouds and we are really happy with the results. They have elevated the Lagrange points from being quite a bland visual experience to something genuinely beautiful.” -The Environment Team
They also worked on exciting event-related mission content, including new variants of existing space-based points-of-interest with improved visuals and dynamism.
The Landing Zone Team completed work on the IAE 2950 halls alongside smaller tasks, such as helping to implement the new elevator panels. Development continued on Orison, with the majority of platforms moving from greybox to the final art phase. The layout, modularity, and flying experience for the habitation platforms were worked on, while surface wear and information decals were explored for the industrial platforms.
Lorville was also tweaked slightly for Alpha 3.12, with New Deal covered to make way for less intrusive restricted areas. The restricted areas in both Area18 and Lorville were also reduced and streamlined for better flying experiences.
The Planet Team took the opportunity to revisit several of Stanton’s planets and moons to fully utilize the planet tech improvements introduced throughout the year. They also implemented best practices established during the ongoing work on Pyro for planets and organic assets. This will continue in Alpha 3.13, which should see most of Stanton improved when compared to the original release of Planet Tech v4.
Alongside new content, a huge push went toward fixing and closing out the backlog of bugs that led to the number of remaining legacy bugs fall dramatically.
The US-based team completed the Crusader Mercury in time for IAE 2950, which involved finalizing LODs, fixing all UI panels, cleaning up the cargo area, polishing the cockpit, and all release-prep tasks. In celebration of the in-lore holiday Day of the Vara, they also created the Ghoulish Green skin for the Drake Cutlass Black.
The Vehicle Tech Art Team worked on a handful of ships, including the Aegis Javelin, which received VFX, side turret, and LOD tweaks. The Crusader Mercury was supported with hardpoints, pivots, landing gear, viz areas, damage, and UV2s. They also ticked-off tasks for the Origin 100i’s landing gear, made small updates to the Drake Cutlass series, and fixed various cockpit camera bugs.
The UK team began adding the final touches to the Crusader Hercules, completing lighting throughout. December saw the bridge and engineering areas polished and handed over to the downstream teams too.
December saw the Esperia Talon flyable, with final LOD work, bug-fixing, and polishing tasks undertaken in the preceding weeks. An as-yet-unannounced vehicle also reached the final stages of the greybox phase, with the bridge and bathroom moving into final-art.
The Aegis Gladius received exterior component bays and the Redeemer entered the whitebox phase, while new tints and holo-ships were created for IAE.
The Weapon Art Team supported the Multi-Tool Tractor Beam and completed art for the Behring FS-9 LMG and Gemini A03 sniper rifle. The bulk of the artwork and rigging was also finalized for the Curelife medical gun and a new breach-charge asset was created.
Preproduction started on the Volt Parallax electron rifle, while the initial art pass for the crossbow was completed. An art pass on new weapon attachments was undertaken too, including holographic sights and compensators.
For ship weapons, a sabot projectile for the Idris railgun was created, which VFX are currently experimenting with. Work began on a MOAB-style bomb and some existing missile assets were polished too.
Weapon Art also spent time last quarter supporting Actor Features’ work on mounted weapons. This involved prototyping a fixed weapons platform capable of accepting various S1 ship guns.
On the ship front, the Audio Team tackled the recently flyable Consolidated Outlands Nomad and Esperia Talon, creating bespoke SFX for thrusters, moving parts, and ambiances. They also looked into improving the general cockpit audio experience via ship-computer feedback.
Away from ships, they finished SFX for the Multi-Tool Tractor Beam attachment, Gemini A03 sniper rifle, and Behring FS-9 LMG. Work also continued on volatile cargo and significant effort went into various trailers, including the Crusader Mercury.
A new junior sound designer was welcomed to the team who began improving the sounds of crashed and derelict ships for a future release.
Backend Services / Network
Throughout November and December, the Backend Team focused on persistent service optimization and stability. They were able to vastly increase the performance of the Variable Service, loadouts, and the main persistence cache service. The stability of the backend increased greatly, surpassing the performance and reliability of previous releases. Low-level networking code was updated to improve both performance, scalability, and robustness. Several fixes and optimizations to the transaction service, rentals, and the entitlement processor were complete too.
Finally, they began internal testing on the ‘Super pCache/iCache’ services that will be deployed this year.
The Community Team kicked off November by announcing Laylani Addison as the UEE’s new Imperator, which was voted on by the community and will ultimately determine the future of the ‘verse.
To celebrate the launch of IAE 2950, the team published an Infographic and Free Fly schedule comm-link to help visitors prepare for the galaxy’s premier aerospace event. An FAQ was also posted to answer the community’s most pressing questions. During the event, the team challenged the community to capture screenshots encapsulating each manufacturer and selected one winner each day.
“There were a ton of great entries, and if you haven’t done yet, jump over to Spectrum and check out the beautiful images representing each manufacturer day – ideal for anyone looking for a fresh desktop background!” -The Community Team
The Community Team unveiled the Ship Showdown’s ‘Best in Show’ paints for the Anvil Carrack and Valkyrie, Aegis Eclipse, and Drake Cutlass Black.
In December, they supported the launch of Alpha 3.12 and kicked off the Luminalia celebration, hosting several contests that awarded ships, Tobii Eye Trackers, and custom Talon ASTRO Gaming A40 headsets to the winners. The latest referral bonus initiative gave new and veteran players the chance to take home a Drake Dragonfly Black.
The year closed with a big update to Star Citizen’s Roadmap, which contains a wealth of new information and now features the first version of the Progress Tracker. December’s Roadmap Roundup explains the latest update in detail.
The Physics Team worked on optimizations throughout November and December. This included an improved method of pre-physicalization for planet terrain patches for use in collision checks and improvements to event queueing. The first draft of ‘propagating physicalized shockwaves’ was submitted, and box-shaped physics grids and bullet drag were also added. SDF support was improved and work continued on soft-body deformation too.
The Vulkan initiative continued, with high-level render code refactor and optimizations. For example, the way material constants are uploaded to the GPU was simplified and optimized. A larger refactor of the shader cache backend system began too.
On the graphics side, various fixes for depth-of-field were delivered. The hair shader received several improvements, such as the ability to disable specular highlights on eyelashes, improved boundary occlusion at hairlines, support for ambient lights in forward shading, and better hair quality during camera cuts. Dual-lobe approximation for the skin shader was added and the eye shader received a couple of improvements as well.
For planetary atmosphere rendering, time was dedicated to volumetric cloud rendering. The initial draft was implemented and work on volumetric cloud shadows made great progress. Work will commence with improvements to localized cloud shaping. All these endeavors will ultimately lead to rendering of volumetric clouds at planetary scale.
The Core Engine Team spread their efforts over a couple of areas. Firstly, a large number of bug fixes and improvements were completed, such as streaming meshes for animated vis areas and the ability to add vis areas to CGA joints. Various optimizations were also implemented in the entity and zone systems along with component updates.
Using telemetry from the PU and PTU, the Core Engine Team continued their ongoing investigation into memory usage. This led to the engine-wide memory allocator and tracking system (including its tool chain) to be substantially refactored and improved. To provide an additional performance boost to the servers, the Linux DGS was switched to a monolithic executable to allow the compiler to generate better code (for local thread storage access in particular), and a stress test for object container streaming was added.
Lastly, C++ 14 support was enabled for the entirety of the client-server editor and relevant tool projects.
The US Gameplay Feature Team kicked off November fixing critical bugs and polishing the expo halls for IAE 2950. Once the event went live, they turned their attention back to working on patch features.
Work continued on the updates to the reputation system, which was rolled out in a limited capacity in Alpha 3.12. Current gameplay features will continue to be converted to take further advantage of the new functionality.
A new mobiGlas app for the reputation system was kicked off too. Know internally as the ‘Rep-Dex,’ it will allow players to check their affinities and reputation with organizations and contacts along with their notoriety. Players will be able to track their career and progression within orgs and view descriptions, lore, key members, and important information. The notoriety section will allow players to monitor their reputation and view all their currently active perks.
Throughout November, Vehicle Features vastly improved IFCS spline-following, which is used by AI ships. This led to improvements in how ships fly relative to each other, which is useful for features like formation flying and following behaviors.
Building on last month’s IFCS code work, missiles were converted to use a proprietary system that will give more reliable and tunable flight behavior.
The general docking flow was worked on too, which fixed collision issues in the flow and polished the overall experience. They also added new features, such as auto-dock, and unified docking and landing for a more familiar experience. Some of the underlying attachment tech was heavily iterated on to improve its reliability and help the team better deal with persistence.
During December, the focus was on bug fixing and supporting the Alpha 3.12 release. This involved fixes for the previously reworked spline-following systems, restricted areas, and various areas of vehicle code.
Ship-to-station docking was further developed. When implemented, players will need to request permission from air-traffic control before the dock will extend properly. However, various areas of docking still need focus, such as configuring docked ships (such as the Merlin and Constellation) in the VMA.
They also progressed with Aegis HUD visuals, continuing to implement elements and explore new features for both visuals and functionality.
Towards the end of 2020, the Graphics Team focused on improving stability and fixing bugs for Alpha 3.12, including solving a visible dither pattern when the sun was obscured by a cloud. They also fixed an issue that caused gas clouds and particles to clip inside spaceships by improving the volumetric and particle culling systems. Several other bugs, including popping shadows and over-bright camera exposures when a planet streamed in, were fixed too.
The Lighting Team spent the majority of November and December supporting IAE and Alpha 3.12. With IAE taking place in an entirely new environment, they had to take a similar approach as used in the older expo halls and apply it to the newer, cleaner art style. They also took the opportunity to add darker spaces and creative key lights to create contrast and variety.
Alpha 3.12 also saw the release of gas clouds, with the goal for Lighting to prevent them from feeling too volatile or hostile; the aim was to make them feel more wonderous and serene while also matching the overall color scheme of the Stanton system.
The refinery decks required the opposite approach. These locations should appear hot and uncomfortable, which allowed the team to increase the atmosphere and blast surfaces with bright light sources.
Lastly, as with any patch release, the team fixed bugs and made optimizations. They’re currently converting older locations to the new runtime cubemap system to free up disk space and improve the accuracy of reflections and ambient light.
Narrative’s November got off to an exciting start with the announcement that Laylani Addison will be the next Imperator of the UEE. A huge number of the community voted, with Addison taking nearly 46% of the votes:
Laylani Addison: 45.42%
Titus Costigan: 17.89%
Illyana Sharrad: 14.18%
Paul LeSalle: 13.53%
Mira Ngo: 8.98%
“Thanks to everyone who voted. It will certainly be interesting to see where Addison takes the Empire from here.” -The Narrative Team
With Jax returning to the screen for IAE, a handful of scripts, location documents, and announcement recordings were created.
Like many other teams, Narrative began preproduction planning for 2021. This included generating proposals for PU character needs along with Squadron 42 pickups. They also worked through requests from upstream teams for the next two quarters and discussed in-game mission events currently in development.
In December, the Environment Team progressed with Orison and began looking forward to other star systems. This led to the creation of a significant number of location documents, which include the details of Pyro’s inhabitants, flora, and fauna. The team even started brainstorming points of interest in Nyx to get ahead of schedule.
Narrative also met with the Actor Feature Team to create a lore explanation for the respawning mechanic discussed in an October episode of Calling All Devs.
The Player Relations team (which has teams both in the US and the UK) spent the end of the supporting IAE, Luminalia, and all Alpha 3.12 publishes. 2020 saw 40% more tasks than 2019, so the team was kept busy. They also expanded service to seven days a week and began hiring staff in the UK to support the ever-growing backer base.
The Props Team closed out 2020 working with Social AI on wall-panels. They created the template geometry for the wall panel itself and the component and subcomponent that work with new performance capture. Tweaking was required to get a metric together that allows both the male and female characters to reach the subcomponents on the upper panel due to its height. A small amount of rework on the shared component interiors was also required due to these changes.
Props worked on the cooperative locomotion system, specifically trolley push and pull. This involved setting up robust metrics for trolleys along with getting over technical hurdles for interactions and wheel movements. In the coming months, they will be retrofit the existing library of trolleys to this new setup.
The Props Team created new standalone elevator panels for both high-tech and low-tech locations. This involved a new metric adapted from the existing console metric. Finally, tasks were completed for an upcoming in-game event, which required bespoke mission props.
QA ended the year testing the ships and features of Alpha 3.12, including the Crusader Mercury, commodity refining, and FPS tractor beam. The 2020 holiday events were also tested and strategies were created for the content coming in 2021.
In the run-up to the holiday period, Technical Animation prepared for a large update to the facial rigs. This consisted of a ground-up overhaul of all face assets to enable several long-term initiatives to coalesce in early 2021. There were many assets to upgrade and a great many that required a careful hand and due diligence to ensure continuing pipeline compatibility.
In November, the Turbulent Web Platform Team advanced on the recent architecture enhancements, including the trace service. They also improved the error reporting pipeline, upgrading Sentry/Panic to improve searchability and performance.
A couple of new projects were kicked off, including the ‘push system’ and ‘distributed locks manager.’ The push system will enable the team to send direct push notifications to specific clients and broadcast messages to all. Distributed locks allow certain resources to ‘lock’ when in use to prevent them from being accessed by multiple services at once.
Development of Hex continued, which gained the ability to view more service details, including account, scenario, and reputation alongside information for groups and lobbies. General UI and UX improvement tasks began, which will continue into the new year.
At the end of the year, the Game Services Team closed several projects linked to the new backend architecture. Among them were the trace, chrono, and notification services, which use a new communication protocol. Alpha 3.12 delivery was also a key focus and included a collaboration with the Mission Team on player reputations.
Turbulent’s web team supported all major releases throughout November and December, including IAE 2950, the Consolidated Outland Nomad and Crusader Mercury flyable promotions, and the RSI Perseus concept release.
User Interface (UI)
The UI Team’s major initiative was creating a system to allow game animation systems to trigger changes in the UI, which paves the way for NPCs and animated events to interact with UI. The team also improved tech for displaying text that will be used for notifications and mission objectives. In the build-up to Alpha 3.12, the UI Team spent time sorting bugs and player experience issues and converted older systems to Building Blocks to make them easier to maintain. They also worked with other teams on the updated mining HUDs and various screens and posters found throughout the new refinery decks.
VFX ended the year with a full pass on the new refinery deck locations, adding molten metal, sparks, and steam. Work was completed on several vehicles, including the Crusader Mercury and Esperia Talon, alongside VFX for Alpha 3.12’s new weapons.
The finishing touches were added to the recent SDF shield impact effects, which can be seen on the Idris and will be rolled out to other vehicles soon. New vehicle weapon effects were finalized too, with the focus on readability to improve the player experience during combat.
Finally, VFX Tech Art worked closely with the art and design teams on the release of the Lagrange point gas clouds for Alpha 3.12