February 10th 2021
What you are about to read is the latest information on the continuing development of Squadron 42 (SCI des: SQ42).
Thanks to the work of dedicated field agents and operatives, we’ve uncovered information on the Volt Parallax electron rifle and UltiFlex Novia crossbow, the Xi’an language, and work continues on all ground-based FPS environments.
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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:
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.
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 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.
On the AI side, the team implemented final motion capture for a number of sets. Alongside this they progressed with state machine graphs for mess hall sitting and eating, character wildlines, formal rail-leaning, vending machine blocking, wall panel maintenance, the weapon vendor, and guard animation sets to combine them with patrolling.
For Combat AI, focus was on final motion capture implementation and blockouts for the Vanduul pinning the player character down.
The new milestone contains both scenes in space and scenes inside space stations, with both of them differing in needs and requirements. For example, a scene in space typically begins as a timeline sequence of comms calls between NPCs (some were planned to just be comms calls but were upgraded to full cinematic cutaways over time). In these scenes, the player will be able to experience the action in first-person using the ‘break-free’ feature should they want to.
Once the calls are complete, they team lay down the action elements. This allows them to space out the comms as needed and begin crucial nav-spline work. Control points, ship speed, spline tangents, roll, pitch, and yaw all need to be dialed in carefully.
For example, the splines could start with the player approaching several mercs to scan them. While laying this out, the team pay significant attention to the direction, color, and intensity of the sun (or where it will be in the final mission layout), as the wrong angle could mean the whole scene is ‘flat-lit’ and less interesting.
Another consideration is how costumes, ship loadouts, and cockpits could change, as some aren’t finished or feature meshwork being worked on later in the milestone. A balance needs to be struck in terms of what the designers want to do and what they can do on a first pass, as the spline skeleton needs to be dialed in first. Realistic pathing is vital here, particularly as the scene will be viewable from either first or third person and from a variety of angles.
The current milestone features a scene around a table at a noodle bar, which has challenges very different from animating kilometer-long nav-splines. For example, a character eating noodles with chopsticks means the team have to animate fingers, sticks, a box, and noodles (and possibly film themselves eating on their lunch break for reference). The scene’s state machine must be considered too, with animation idles and fragments in mind. They must also cater for players arriving at varying times due to potential side activities on the way to the scene.
SQ42 Features worked with the designers to fix problems with moving the missions to work with object container streaming and went through the requirements of mission-fail conditions. They also continued to help develop the firing range and get it fully working in-game.
Alongside this, they began updating and maintaining their scenes from chapter 4a, which is a wider development focus of Q1 2021. However, progress was also made on other game sections, including the first chapter. This involved preliminary work on the Correl walk-and-talk and adding placeholder audio to additional vignettes.
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 Level Design Team are currently working through all ground-based FPS environments, adding additional setup for the various player paths. The Space/Dogfight Team worked alongside AI to bring an enemy faction’s combat behaviors to the ‘gold standard.’
They also drafted initial ideas for the target range aboard the Idris, which covered everything from general training to game modes. Elsewhere, they supported other departments with environment documents, mission text, and script revisions.
Time was also devoted to Vanduul combat behaviors, animation implementation, and head rigging for upcoming cinematics. This tied into rigging work currently underway for creatures found in the PU.
The UI programmers began the groundwork for an improved Starmap, interior map, and radar. This is a significant project and will take several months to complete but will greatly help with navigation around the game world.
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