January’s general AI work included improving debug draw for the special action component that allows for a better understanding of which actions are available at any given time. Time was also dedicated to the support of Alpha 3.12 and 3.12.1.
Most notably, the new year saw a reorganization of the AI teams into a more efficient structure to encourage knowledge sharing and a more holistic approach to prioritizing tasks and goals.
The department is now split by content, features, and tech:
- AI Content create behaviors, usables, and other related content
- AI Features implement project features. For example, new combat behaviors and ship maneuvers
- AI Tech handles all core functionalities that require a more structural design
The Content Team spent January working on early versions of the engineer, hygiene, hawker, and tourist behaviors.
The first pass on the engineer handles maintenance operations for wall panels inside ships and hangars, including inspecting internal fuses and replacing them if damaged. The initial implementation of the hygiene behavior gives NPCs the ability to use toilets, sinks, and showers, while the Hawker is a generic activity that handles various street vendors and speakers. For example, NPCs manning hotdog or taco stands. The first pass on the tourist behavior deals with characters going to and traveling around areas to look at points of interest.
The team are also looking to introduce new behaviors into the ‘leisure’ and ‘eat and drink’ activities, such as vending and arcade machine use.
AI Features started the year by introducing the first traits affecting AI pilot tactic selection, which allows them to craft more realistic and personal encounters. For example, some pilots will choose safer approaches during combat while others will show-off and use specialist maneuvers.
Support for different operator modes began too, which will enable NPCs to correctly use the same new functionalities exposed to players. This includes setting QT mode when they want to quantum jump and returning to the default mode before piloting or fighting.
On the enemy-combat side, dodge actions now utilize blend space. This allows NPCs to align correctly when dodging for a more fluid and immersive combat experience. More controls were introduced to define attack-action limits and to allow the interruption of combo attacks. AI Features also added the ’WeaponConfidence’ stat that’s used to control the firing pace for characters based on their weapon proficiency.
AI Tech implemented new functionality to validate Subsumption code events. This allows them to verify bad setups, missing files, and ensure that variables carried by events are configured correctly. They also began supporting feature tests for Subsumption behavior and logic. To achieve this, they exposed a way to request that NPCs execute a custom logic assignment. This gives them a flexible way to request the execution of specific logic to NPCs that stacks on top of the systemic behaviors at the appropriate time.
AI Tech also optimized the Subsumption ‘DebugTaskTree’ and Subsumption update. The DebugTaskTree optimization reduces runtime allocation, bringing the performance of the internal build closer to the release build. The Subsumption update reduces locks in the memory allocator. Local tests have shown that this saves around 5ms when updating 500 active NPCs at a given time.
Throughout January, the Character Team wrapped up their Alpha 3.13 tasks, planned for an upcoming event, and kicking off initiatives for Alpha 3.14. The concept artists delivered medical outfits, concepted backpacks for the physical inventory, and continued work on three new armor sets. Several clothing assets for the refinery decks and Orison were developed by the character and tech artists, while new armors were completed for an incremental Alpha 3.13 patch.
The Environment Art Team started 2021 with full production of a new outpost POI archetype for the Modular Team. A lot of work went into the concept and pre-production stages, with work now beginning on the whitebox. The next stage is creating a small modular architecture kit that can be easily expanded to add diversity as the need arises.
The Landing Zone Team continued their work on Orison. All platforms are going into the final art phase, with some notably beautiful spaces coming together in the last few weeks. The arcade, spaceport exterior, Voyager Bar interior, and Green Circle habs are all in the final stages of development, while the visual targets for the habitation platform buildings and underside structures are currently in progress.
Stanton’s polish pass continued, the harvestable library was expanded, and work on cave entrances that can accommodate vehicles began. The Planet Content Team started developing a pipeline for generating new and updated asteroids too.
Since returning from the winter holidays, the majority of the US-based Ship Team worked on a community-favorite vehicle scheduled for release later in the year. This involves several artists, designers, tech artists, and engineers working together to reach the intended launch date. Last month, the whitebox review was completed and internal feedback and embedded testing began.
The team also put the final touches on [Redacted], moving it into the final stage. The RSI Constellation Taurus also continued to move down the pipeline and is currently scheduled for completion in Q2 2021. Another variant was also developed for an upcoming holiday and the overall tint process was improved to support new vehicle tints throughout the year too.
Away from specific vehicles, support was given to ship-to-ship docking, lift gravity, SDF shields, animation vis-areas, and damage.
In the UK, the Crusader C2 Hercules was handed to the downstream teams and progress was made on the A2 and M2 variants. Specifically, the A2 received a control room for the turrets while the M2 gained a jump-seat room for the crew of the ground vehicles.
The Weapon Art Team continued to work on the Volt Parallax electron rifle, taking the art to ‘greybox complete.’ The majority of the mesh was modeled and the team are currently rigging and animating the weapon before heading further into the final art phase.
The UltiFlex Novia crossbow progressed through final art and was handed over to Tech Art to finalize the rig due to the unique challenges of the weapon.
Early in the month, an investigation was made into the mag stripping feature to assess what will be needed once feature work starts. The team took this opportunity to make a pass on the grip-nodes setup too.
Finally for FPS weapons, the team added a new healing Multi-Tool attachment. They also updated the battery and resource canister to be detachable to futureproof the weapon for additional functionality. Work also began on a new standalone Greycat Industrial cutter tool that was initially required for Squadron 42 but will make its way into the PU soon.
On the ship weapons side, work continued on the FireStorm Kinetics Colossus MOAB, which moved to final art. At the end of the month, development began on an all-new weapon too.
January also saw more than 150 teams from around the world fight to take home a title in the Daymar Rally 2951
Congratulations to everyone involved! Seeing the community come together and create an event with this amount of coordination and effort is truly sensational.” -The Community Team
For the temporary removal of Delamar
in Alpha 3.12.1, the team hosted the Delamar Is Going Home
contest to give the asteroid a proper sendoff. Delamar and Levski will return in their lore-correct location when the Nyx system enters the PU.
The first Roadmap update of 2021 brought several improvements to the Progress & Release Tracker along with the addition of new teams and columns for Alpha 3.14, 3.15, and 3.16. As always, the Roadmap
update was accompanied by a Roadmap Roundup
, giving insight into the decision-making process that led to the changes.
January saw the Physics Team complete the first of three parts of geometry instancing. Geometry instancing within physics allows the sharing of common part-related data among entities and improves how data is stored. This better utilizes the CPU cache and HW pre-fetching during collision detection and opens up costly operations to be performed more efficiently via SIMD. Ultimately, the benefits will be better performance, significantly less memory usage, and vastly reduced CPU cost during asynchronous spawning and terrain physicalization. Work on the next stage will commence later this quarter.
In other work, soft bodies were further optimized and heavy-duty functions were moved to ISPC (SIMD, AVX) with a net speedup of 2.5x on Intel and 2x on AMD powered-machines. Additionally, simulation topology now organizes constraints by particle indices, meaning they are stored roughly in the order they process particles in the buffer, leading to better cache localization. This yielded another 1.5x speedup on heavy and dense assets. Soft bodies now perform a single box pruning run for all external collision candidates to give 50% speedup for external collision detection.
The existing EVA push/pull control was replaced with a simplified yet more robust scheme. General-purpose AABB overlap and box-pruning functions were cleaned up, while SSE (float) and AVX (double) variants were implemented, yielding improvements across the board. The ongoing switch from VA-driven character ragdoll to regular-driven ragdoll continued. Several network synchronization issues for wheeled vehicles were investigated, which resulted in initial fixes and a plan for an improved net-sync that takes the environment as well as physical movement into account. This is slated for implementation in Q2.
Additional research went into the large-scale object buoyancy calculation that resulted in a prototype solution. Regarding rag dolls and AFT support, the flickering of wheels and casters on trolleys was fixed, and solutions to handling detached character collisions and the Munchhausen effect were found. Research into stabilizing moving platforms (elevator floors, cargo lifts) in a more reliable way was also completed.
On the renderer, work on the shader cache backend refactor that began in December was completed, with the resulting implementation much leaner and compact. While focus is now back on Gen12, further improvements will be made in the future.
Regarding volumetric cloud rendering, several improvements and optimization were implemented. Cloud shadow maps and related render buffers were switched to a more efficient storage scheme that gives significant memory and bandwidth savings along with slightly improved precision. Shadow map generation now supports incremental updates to amortize per-frame cost and increase shadow quality. Cloud shaping started and is progressing well too.
The Engine Team kicked off the year with additional vis-area-related improvements. For example, support for multi-segment vis-areas and correct 3D clipping of legacy particles. Further improvements were made to the engine profiler. Among other things, it now collects information about context switches via Windows ETW API to better analyze per-core utilization with respect to unnecessary or unexpected thread switching. Additionally, improvements to the scheduling of entity-component updates continued, and several follow-up changes to the memory manager refactor carried out in December were submitted.
Features (Characters & Weapons)
As the game grows, so does the number of character animations, so January saw an initiative to improve asset format and compilation. This will give the Features Team faster builds, less memory use, and better load times across their large database of animation assets. They’re currently developing improvements to run-time performance, starting with planning to ensure they have strong solutions that scale to the size and ambition of the project.
Work also continued on several features, including hacking. Recent discussions revolved around how to scale difficulty, with considerations for the size of the play area, number of AI opponents, and randomly generated content. “This mini-game is shaping up to have a number of interesting strategical options and is looking very promising!” -The Features Team
The US Gameplay Feature Team hit the ground running fixing bugs for Alpha 3.12 and carrying on with upcoming features.
Work continued on the reputation mobiGlas app mentioned in the last report. This time, the designers polished up the design direction while considering the complexity of the reputation system and its possible future expansions. Meanwhile, the engineers began implementing the feature itself, giving the team a deeper look into the app’s functionality.
The team also resumed work on the ‘asset manager’ mobiGlas app, which will give players an overview of their items and allow them to filter by various categories. Designs are currently being finalized in preparation for a quick turnaround, with the goal of launching in Alpha 3.14.
Features (Mission & Live Content)
After the winter break, the team returned to address a handful of bugs and polish tasks before moving to their quarter-one goals.
Work was mostly completed on a new variant of the delivery mission that takes advantage of quantum-sensitive cargo. Development then moved to the bug fixing and polish stage while some of the team kicked off the timed delivery mission mentioned last month.
Investigation also began on ways to implement some of the features other teams worked on during the last few quarters, including body dragging, trolley push and pull, and hacking. The tech side of the spawn closet feature moved into its final stages too, so the team began prototyping areas it can be implemented into the game.
The Vehicle Feature Team began the year with docking, pushing to get it complete for Alpha 3.13. This includes both ship-to-station docking and the first stage of ship-to-ship docking, which focuses on the RSI Constellation and its parasite ship, the Kruger Merlin. The team fully integrated docking with air traffic control before retroactively changing the Merlin/ Constellation docking to use a similar code path for consistency. When implemented, players won’t need to call air-traffic control when docking with a ship like the Constellation, but the owner of the ship will need to accept it.
Another area of focus was missiles, with the team helping to refactor them to use IFCS 2 for reliability and tunability. When complete, IFCS will fully control target tracking and guidance code to ensure missiles behave more predictably and don’t oscillate around targets as they do currently.
Lastly, time was dedicated to vehicle naming. Various disciplines, including Backend Services and Art, worked together to get the names on the sides of select vehicles. While there’s more work to do between interconnected systems and rendering, the feature is progressing well.
The Graphics Team started the year finalizing several outstanding bugs and features that didn’t quite make last quarter’s deadlines. Once complete, focus moved to the Gen12 renderer, which received various improvements to features like depth-of-field.
A major rewrite of the tessellation shaders was done to streamline the code and fix a number of bugs. The shadow pass conversion was also completed, with the team now looking to see if they can enable this codepath by default.
The Lighting Team worked more on Orison, improving the spaceport interior and working through a new set of room overlays for non-commercial and refinery space stations. A new team member was welcomed and onboarded, and internal documents were expanding to enable other artists to implement some steps of the lighting pipeline..
The Narrative Team began 2021 finalizing the plan for the year’s upcoming lore posts. Joining the usual mix of articles will be new additions that the team are excited to share.
Work also continued on Orison, including scripts for some of the city’s announcements and text for ads that will populate the floating platforms. They also continued to assist with content for future dynamic events and new missions. For current missions, they reviewed feedback from the Alpha 3.12 release, fixing a few bugs and improving some of the mission descriptions to make the objectives clearer.
Progress on the reputation system continued, with a focus on how best to display lore information. A wealth of new items and clothing were named and described too.
“Be sure to check out the year’s first post as New United takes a look at how the recently elected Imperator is performing. Plus, a slate of new Galactapedia entries are waiting for you to explore!”
-The Narrative Team
Alongside supporting players with Alpha 3.12, Player Relations began building their infrastructure to support more players and bigger events.
Props began 2021 with new tasks alongside closing out a few from last year. Support for cooperative locomotion trolley push/pull concluded, with templates fully established, an array of existing assets updated, and art polish completed. They also finished an art-debt pass on some of the oldest props in the library. For new work, they moved ahead with prop requests for Orison and started an art pass on mining modules that should conclude at the end of the quarter.
QA’s primary focus for January was testing with the Evocati and working through upcoming features for Alpha 3.13 and beyond.
On the management side, the team continued to hone their testing processes in preparation for the quarterly releases and large-scale events. They also began working more closely with the development teams, embedding testers to get a head start on the development cycle. This will help in the long run, as the embedded testers will provide detailed information on how features work, which will be used for wider-scale testing.
With the reshuffle of the AI teams, QA also rearranged themselves to better support development. Focus on performance testing AI was added to the weekly checks to ensure the team are ahead of the curve and catch any potential issues. Weekly checklists and focus testing continued, as did dev requests.
Support for the Engine Team ramped up too, with one of the testers moving to work alongside them. Their focus last month was to reproduce many of the hard-to-replicate crashes and provide the developers with the information they need to fix them.
The Tools Team continued to receive QA support, with continued testing of DataForge, StarWords, ExcelCore, and the sandbox editor.
Systemic Services & Tools
The Systemic Systems and Tools Team continued work on the Quantum Simulation service integration along with new technology they plan to share with the community soon.
2021 will also see the team increase in size to accommodate the growing need for services and support for Quantum across many aspects of the game.
On the services front, the team focused on improving the stability and performance of the backend. This involved fixing several logic issues and crashes that were noticed on the live server. The ‘Super pCache’ is now with QA, with the team tuning performance and addressing any issues discovered during testing.
They also created new tools for the upcoming reputation system and continued to support the Star Citizen economy with Data Tools to help alleviate the significant amount of data while they prepare for Quantum to take the reins.
Tech Animation kicked off 2021 creating animation rigs for creatures that will be found across various locations. More mission-givers were iterated on alongside refinement to the facial rig authoring tool suite, which will create a refined workflow to give quicker turnaround for high-quality facial expressions. A new weapon also passed through the rigging pipeline.
Last month, the majority of the Turbulent game services team focused on maintenance, the goal of which being to pick up tasks on less urgent items from the previous year. This included updating and creating documents for processes and services, fixes, follow-up features, investigations in our services. They also improved new relic integration and supported a fix for chat messages.
They also began working on tech designs for services they will be working on this year, including the configuration service used to distribute configurations to services, the identity service that manages player lifecycle and persistence, and ‘shard and instance’ management (formerly known as matchmaking).
The Live Tools team moved forward on Hex, fixing bugs for 1.0 along with mapping out the UX and tech design for 2.0. Investigations began into role-based access in Hex, with the team putting together a TDD to outline its functionality and use. The error reporting pipeline received improvements and effort was dedicated to improving service load testing as well.
User Interface (UI)
Last month, UI began programming the underlying system that will allow them to work on new Starmap, radar, interior map, and mini-map interfaces. While it’ll be several months before they can be seen in-game, the team already have a robust designs tying them together.
On the UI design side, plans were created for an updated Options screen and the vehicle teams were supported with updates to various cockpit UI.
The UI artists also developed animated concepts for the hacking UI and progressed with screen branding and adverts for Orison.
The Vehicle Tech Team fixed bugs for Alpha 3.12 and made steady progress on the upcoming vehicles of Alpha 3.13. They also made improvements to the scanning and ping system to ensure detecting faraway or hidden entities and extracting details about them is fun and intuitive. These improvements will also make their way to players scanning on foot.
Last month, the VFX Team kicked off pre-production tasks for vehicle radar scanning and ping. The UI Team provided concept videos, so the VFX team are currently investigating how to achieve the required visuals in-engine.
Work also began on the moons of Pyro, which involved gathering information on details such as climate values (how windy, how hot, etc.). The teams also investigated VFX requirements for thruster wind volumes as they’re planning to move to a more physical-based setup for vehicle landing dust effects, making use of the wind volumes that were added to thrusters last year.
The VFX Code Team resumed their work on the new particle lighting model, with the goal of allowing the VFX artists to convert their effects to the new model in the near future. Gen 12 work continued too, with a focus on transparency rendering. Steady progress was made on fire hazards too.
VFX’s Tech Art Team continued to provide gas cloud support to the art and design teams alongside R&D into destruction pipelines.