In the month of May, Star Citizen welcomed the fleet to the Stanton system, which was an undertaking tackled by many of the teams at Cloud Imperium, but that wasn’t all! Great progress was made on important features for Alpha 3.14 and beyond, from the Orison landing zone to the Pyro and Nyx systems.
Star Citizen Monthly Report: May 2021
The AI Content Team focused on tech that also benefited Invictus Launch Week, which included polishing the tourist and tour guide behavior, wildlines, Look IK, and completing the required female animations. They dedicated time to the Mannequin fragments animation selection to ensure they correctly fit their context, and the shopkeeper gained more usables that players would expect to see in food and drink shops.
They also started designing possible flow extensions to allow NPCs to serve players differently if they choose to eat in or take away. For example, this will allow food to be given to the player directly or served on a plate and tray.
The security guard was fully designed and prototyped. This behavior offers great gameplay opportunities in an emergent or systemic way as it fulfills scenarios of NPCs acting as law enforcers, information providers, gatekeepers, and greeters.
AI Content also continued designing and prototyping background life for the medical room when players respawn, including the systemic janitor and NPCs using the bathroom cubicle and sleeping in the bunk beds.
The AI Feature Team further developed combat, including the ability for enemy fighters to finish off their targets (AI or player) with execution animations. This involved adapting the existing stealth takedown system for use by AI and making it more data-driven so that it supports different types of takedowns with their own settings. For example, the minimum and maximum distance a takedown can be performed from and what quadrant the attacker must be in relative to the target.
For spaceships, AI Features adapted the fighter combat behavior to better utilize missiles. This involves selecting the right type and number of missiles to fire so that NPCs don’t exhaust all of their high-damage missiles on smaller targets. In group combat, this ensures that missiles are spread over a range of targets and are rationed for use throughout the fight. This leads to interesting behaviors where fighters will ‘soften up’ targets with a barrage of missiles before engaging in dogfighting, firing occasional missiles at opportune moments. They also worked on the pilot security behavior to fix issues that occur when a target has surrendered or been arrested.
As part of the larger security behavior, work continued on the weapons training sub-behavior, where NPCs can improve their combat abilities by using a firing range. Firstly, a weapon has to be retrieved from the armorer, with the team updating the existing vendor and patron behaviors to support retrieval and return at the armory. For the firing range, the team had to adapt the existing targeting and firing systems to support non-agent targets. This technology will be used in the future to support the targeting of ‘destructibles’ in combat. For example, the AI might need to take out a computer bank to complete a mission objective. The groundwork for targeting specific parts of the body (eg. headshots) and ‘non-human-bodied agents’ (e.g. animals) was completed too.
Finally for AI Features, the team further developed untrained weapons combat. They also prepared for an upcoming mo-cap session for untrained cover behaviors, responding to dead bodies, hostile reactions in usables, cowering, and surrendering.
Throughout May, AI Tech completed and addressed feedback for the tier-0 navigation link work. This involved making improvements to how the cache data is used during navigation links with motion-warp animations but also re-computing navigation link connection points when the navigation mesh changes in its proximity.
On the EVA side, work on NPCs transitioning from zero-g into a usable (and vice versa) was completed. Following on from this, they began developing zero-g collision avoidance for NPCs, which allows them to avoid other characters (AI or player) and small objects while floating. This will use the 3D ORCA that was implemented for ship AI collision avoidance. The team also added new functionality to movement requests.; they’re now able to re-plane designer paths at the end, allowing them to create loops.
Another feature worked on was planetary navigation. The aim is to generate navigation mesh on planets that can be used by NPCs and animals around outposts. This will use physics information, so each time planetary tiles are physicalized, navigation meshes will be generated too.
For the Subsumption editor tool, the team added new functionality allowing them to create or modify multiple Subsumption functions in the same window view. This will be beneficial to the designers when writing mission scripts or behaviors as they will have an overview of all logic in the same place.
Last month, Animation worked on several different life animations, including those for vendors, searching behaviors, emergency reactions when in useables, civilian reactions to threats, medical revival, guarding and security, searching bodies, and reactions to dead bodies. They also worked on the tour guide and tourist for Invictus, supported a few new vehicles, and built testing rigs for two creature types and a salvage weapon.
Character Art spent May wrapping up new assets for Orison and began providing Design with actor records and loadouts to populate the new landing zone with. The concept artists worked on civilians, vendors, and gangs for the Pyro system, while the character artists progressed with three armor sets. and generic backpacks.
The Landing Zone Team supported Invictus, closing out bugs across the various show halls. Orison is nearing completion, with the final polish, tweak, and LOD passes remaining before sign-off.
The Modular Team progressed with final art on the first set of outpost content. At a higher level, planning is ongoing to define the next set of content after the initial exploratory set is done to provide variety across the various outposts. Alongside this, the team is beginning to integrate crawlspaces into existing content. And, after a few rounds of feedback, the team is close to finalizing the look of the jump point gas cloud, with particular attention being paid to the center where the actual jump point is located.
The Planet Content Team focused on planets for the Nyx system.
“We keep experimenting with fresh new biomes and asset packs. We want Nyx to look unique so that our most adventurous citizens get a satisfying experience exploring these new lands.” -The Planet Content Team
Additionally, a new harvestable was completed that will populate Pyro.
In Montreal, the Modular Team finished their first locations, putting the finishing touches to the New Babbage and Orison hospitals. They then moved onto further hospital locations for Lorville and Area18 alongside clinics for Grim HEX and various space stations. They’re working as efficiently as possible to maximize the number of locations available once medical gameplay goes live.
The US-based team worked to complete the RSI Constellation Taurus, which moved into the ‘release prep’ stage; Ship Art focused on finishing the complicated LODs while Tech Art worked through various features like timings, landing gears, and SDF shields. The release-prep review is scheduled for early June before the ship moves to QA for polish and bug-fixing.
Last month, work also began on the Crusader Ares, with the team meeting with various stakeholders to review the whitebox, though there are a few remaining tasks before it can be signed off. Art also moved to the greybox stage.
The Art and Design teams supported the Invictus patch, dealing with various bugs that were important to the player experience. Towards the end of the month, the production kick-off was scheduled for the Drake Vulture, which is expected to begin in early June.
In the UK, the team worked towards the various Invictus deliverables, including getting the exterior art of the Aegis Redeemer to final-art standard and creating the various themed ship paints. They also worked to prepare the Javelin, including an airlock entrance area that utilized the new docking mechanic and the holo display in the briefing room, which was bespoke for the event.
A previously mentioned unannounced ship made great progress. It just needs a final lighting pass and general polish for the interior to be wrapped up, while the exterior requires technical damage, exterior lighting, and general polish passes. Once done, it will move to the Tech Art Team. Work also began on a brand-new ship that will be revealed later in the year.
Alongside new content, the team have two ships working their way through the ‘gold standard’ process, where they incorporate the latest features and generally improve older vehicles. The Aegis Sabre is nearing the end of this process , while the Retaliator is well underway though still has a lot left to do. Work done so far included widening the doors and tight corridors to allow better AI navigation and repositioning the lifts and airlock in the central room.
Time was also spent on R&D looking into wear and dirt, as well as further optimizations to ship exteriors.
The Weapons Team continued to focus on bugs and polish for the Alpha 3.13 and 3.13.1 patches and supported the Tumbril Nova’s main cannon. Once complete, they moved the Greycat salvage tool to ‘first pass rigging,’ using the weapon as a training asset for the rigging process. The mining gadgets whitebox asset was also iterated on with an early blockout before it moved on for a concept pass.
The Community Team kicked off the month with a Spectrum ‘Ask Me Anything’ about the reputation system and reposted it as an AMA Recap.
The Physics Team finalized their support of tracking floating point exceptions within physics, which began in April. As a side effect, this enabled more efficient vector code generation on the Linux server. The rest of the month was mostly spent on optimizations, including improving the mid and narrow phase of soft body collision detection. There were also several updates to signed distance fields (SDF), such as tile-based polygonization when remeshing SDFs and optimizations in tree traversal when baking SDFs. Various updates were also made based on Alpha 3.13 telemetry, some which made it into PU in the recent incremental patches (the remaining will be shipped in Alpha 3.14).
The team further progressed with the Gen12 renderer, including submitting improvements to the Scaleform (UI) render path that was established last month. The render graph, which is a key component in Gen12, received initial support for resource transition APIs, split barriers, and resource state validation; all of which are important for next-gen, low-level APIs such as Vulkan and DX12. The debuggability of the render graph was also updated.
Furthermore, text rendering was refactored and optimized and support for image draw helper code was added. More pipelines were enabled for Gen12 by default, including tiled shading, SSR, SSDO, shadow mask generation, and scattering queries.
Additionally, significant low-level progress was made in memory management, which involved various types of buffer and packet allocations moving to a more efficient scheme. Lastly for the renderer, various APIs were exposed via common interfaces so higher-level code can eventually make use of them to prepare and package data in advance and offload the renderer.
On the graphics front, hair rendering received various improvements, such as fixed shadow map generation of view-aligned strands and a new experimental scattering model for better looking blonde hair. Eye shading got support for a normal plus-blend map when rendering specular overlays. The eyeball texture can now also be rescaled to make shared textures better fit varying eye geometry.
The volumetric cloud system received support for density queries so various VFX can be spawned and the game can react to the presence of clouds at given locations. Scattering query support was also added so transparent and forward-shaded objects properly take clouds into account when rendered. The work on SDFs for efficient space skipping continued too.
On the core engine side, the team updated the code base to build with Clang 11. Time was also spent investigating and fixing some of the startup crashes people experienced on Windows 7 machines after the Alpha 3.13 rollout. Additionally, some support was given to improve our anti-cheat measures.
Features (Characters & Weapons)
As part of the next iteration of actor status, the team worked on medical support gameplay. When complete, players will be able to equip a dedicated healing item that allows them to scan other players or NPCs to see their vitals, including per-limb statuses. Significant work went into allowing this information to be displayed as an augmented reality overlay on the target player or NPC. If the player is close enough to the target character, they can use the same item to administer a combination of drugs via short-range beam, which is significantly more effective than the existing MedPens and can be further enhanced by tweaking the levels of drugs administered.
Alongside this dedicated item, there will also be a healing beam attachment for the Multi-Tool, further increasing its versatility. Both the healing item and attachment can be used to self-heal, but only the dedicated healing item offers the user the ability to manually tweak the drug levels. The MedPen, which is currently the only self-heal option, can now be used on other players and NPCs. This feature was developed from the existing close-combat system, as the jab works similarly to a heavy knife attack, moving the player forward to intercept the target.
To help see when a player is severely injured, the Feature Team put the final touches to the first ‘hurt’ locomotion set. This replaces the normal locomotion base assets with an entirely new set of motion-captured idle and movement animations. Additional visuals are layered on top, predominately to help communicate the hurt motion to first-person view, such as a slight lowering of equipped weapons and minor increases in head bobbing.
The U.S. Gameplay Feature Team spent May looking into must-fix issues for Alpha 3.13.1 as well as setting up the expo halls for Invictus. Beyond that, they worked on upcoming initiatives, including the Player Asset Manager. Last month saw the app successfully pull in all of the inventory items that the player owns with the new inventory API that was delivered by the Core Tech Team. This allows the team to asynchronously pull in data from multiple sources so that it can be displayed in the UI. Gameplay Features are currently in discussion with the backend teams about allowing the player to define simple query parameters, starting with ‘item type.’ Meanwhile, UI Design wrapped up the initial concepting for the layout of the app and worked with Narrative to name it.
“We have much of the baseline functionality in place and will hopefully be able to wrap up the majority of our remaining work in the final month of Q2.” -The Gameplay Features Team
The team also progressed with the cargo refactor, with planning and documentation continuing throughout the month. The engineers’ work on the technical design documents is ongoing as the vision for the feature has evolved to a unified inventory API, with Gameplay Features working alongside Actor Features to unify how the inventory works in a server-meshed environment. Though they have yet to begin implementation, cargo touches on so many areas of existing core gameplay loops they need to ensure everything is properly considered.
“We’re putting a higher premium on planning out our features more thoroughly, which will only yield a sturdier foundation from which to build on. This is an ongoing effort to create a more stable game environment for the players that, I’m sure we’d all agree, is extremely important to maintain as we roll closer to a beta release.”
The team is also close to finalizing the TDDs and plan to begin work on the feature itself in June.
Internal testing and polishing are still underway for the next dynamic event, which had more QA resources dedicated to it. This will allow them to find any remaining edge cases so that they can wrap up their work in the next few weeks.
The UK-based team worked on new gameplay features, including gadgets to bring additional risk and reward to mining. The feature code is complete and the team are working with the artists on asset development for the different models. Loot generation progressed throughout May too, which will spawn crates at different locations throughout the universe. The feature is still in code development but is progressing well. Gameplay Features hope to share more details on this in the near future.
Last month, Vehicle Features polished vehicle-to-station docking and supported Invictus. This involved fixing various streaming-related issues, such as when the Javelin streams out while it’s docking.
Once complete, some of the team pivoted to jump point development, which builds on existing work completed for CitizenCon 2949. They’re also looking into better ways to test and collaborate on jump points with the various other teams that need to work on them.
Vehicle Experience and Vehicle Features worked together to finalize features for Alpha 3.14. For this, they updated the ship HUD, Missile Operator Mode, missile guidance, and the new power triangle system. These features just missed the Alpha 3.13 release window so are in a good position, though they still need testing and integration with other features before release. Looking further ahead, the Vehicle Experience Team worked on drunk flying and driving behaviors to go with the Actor Team’s new intoxication mechanics.
Graphics & VFX Programming
Throughout May, the Graphics & VFX Programming teams made significant improvements to several systems.
Work started on a window shader extension to allow views into ‘fake’ interiors with support for randomized room sizes, rotations, colors, and lighting. When live, this will bring extra life to cities and space stations.
The render-to-texture system was modified to allow a more bespoke compositing and post-effect pipeline for the UI Team, which will bring greater visual consistency and higher-quality effects. The level of detail (LOD) merger system was updated so that it can be used in New Babbage and Orison to improve performance and reduce the art burden of creating super-low/distant LODs. Pre-streaming support was added for various game systems (such as vehicle death-masks, muzzle flashes, and quantum travel) to pre-stream any textures required for particle effects before the particles are spawned. This should solve some long-standing visual bugs.
The shield effects setup was reworked to enable a single effect to be used on multiple ships of varying scales, with all effects scaling appropriately. Work on the fire hazard system mentioned in previous reports continued, with May’s focus on the heat management of the room system. The streaming support for gas clouds was also developed to reduce memory use and improve loading times.
For the Gen12 renderer, a new Vulkan extension reporting system was added so that, from Alpha 3.14 onwards, the team will be able to gather data on what hardware and driver support they have for various Vulkan features. This will help them use newer features when sufficiently supported. The team also generalized the GPU-to-CPU read-back system and ported the DX9-era texture sampling code to a modern equivalent.
In May, the Lighting Team focused on ensuring the Invictus event halls were polished and optimized. Alongside this, additional polish was given to the existing docking lobbies on the R&R space stations and a new security station variant used for the Javelin docking event. There was a lot of collaboration between the Environment Art, Lighting, SFX, and Vehicle Feature teams to ensure the docking experience and lighting animations were both functional and exciting.
The Lighting Team also continued their full lighting pass on Orison.
“This is the most challenging landing zone so far for the Lighting Team due to the massive view distances and quantity of platforms that are approachable and landable. We’re putting a lot of effort into ensuring that the lighting is well optimized without compromising on the visual quality.” -The Lighting Team
The Narrative Team spent time supporting Invictus, including working with the Character, Design, and AI teams to review the tour guide and tourist behaviors and animations along with some of the voiceover elements to help populate the event. There was also a heavy influx of items that needed names and descriptions on top of the usual development of clothes, armor, weapons, and gadgets.
They continued to sync with Design on the organizations that players will be able to work for. These brainstorming discussions not only led to a list of new and existing companies but also the types of missions that they could offer. The goal is to ensure that they cover the various areas of gameplay at a variety of levels for a satisfying feeling of progression.
Additional work was done to create a cohesive character sheet for PU characters. Featuring sections for each department, this aims to consolidate the various disciplines into a single place where devs can see what’s expected of a character from a visual standpoint, look at the script, and see what type of environment they’re meant to exist in.
The Props Team wrapped up their pass on hospitals, producing a variety of generic high-tech props along with a few bespoke to each landing zone. They worked closely with Actor Features to get the medical bed working correctly, which is a complex prop with a lot of moving parts.
In the UK, QA worked to get Alpha 3.13.1 tested in time for Invictus. They also worked on future dynamic events, helping the development teams with focused internal playtests to ensure they function as intended. Preliminary testing ramped up for Alpha 3.14’s features too.
In Frankfurt, QA continued to support the various feature teams. For AI, they testing the behaviors used throughout Invictus (and the PU in general), focusing on the onboard AI and capital ship behaviors. Once released, they moved back to regular AI testing, such as weekly sanity checks, reproducing and investigating issues, and providing feedback.
For the Engine Team, support continued for minimum-spec PC stress testing along with PageHeap testing to catch any memory leaks. Automated test cases were also created to run through the checks they need to perform more efficiently.
QA also continued to test DataForge, StarWords, ExcelCore, CopyBuild, and the sandbox editor for the Tools Team.
Systemic Services & Tools
Last month, Systemic Services & Tools finished the latest version of the tools for the economy and AI simulation, working alongside Community to present the latest updates in the Quantum, Quasar, and Virtual AI video.
Work wrapped up on the Super pCache for the next release, while new services such as the AI info and NPC creation services were iterated on. The stability of systemic services was also improved for Invictus, allowing the team to handle player concurrency without taxing the services.
Finally, progress was made on server meshing, with emphasis on a new hybrid service that will accommodate the feature’s needs.
Tech Animation’s quarterly deliverables and long-standing initiatives progressed well throughout May. The team also invested time into R&D around their animation pipeline and exporting processes.
“Both are bedrocks of our team and now have many nice-to-have features that the Tech Animation and Animation teams have discussed for a long time.” -The Tech Animation Team
They spent time clearing up several animation bugs in-game, implemented animations for Invictus, and worked alongside the Art Team on asset skinning too.
Throughout May, the Live Tools Team performed long-due maintenance on the launcher as well as a few evolutions. They also improved the performance of the Entity Graph performance tool and supported preparations for Invictus, providing a new iteration of the warmer tool that helps prepare the servers for high concurrency.
The Game Services Team supported the release of Alpha 3.13.1, fixing issues relating to persistence in Long Term Persistence as well as modifying entity naming for the M50 ship to fix an issue where they weren’t appearing. The team also worked on documentation and handed over the fleet management and config services to Publishing. However, most of the team’s capacity was focused on server meshing and will be for the foreseeable future.
The Turbulent Web Team worked extensively on the promotions and web pages for Invictus, the Tumbril Nova, and Crusader Hercules.
Alongside fixing Invictus-related bugs for the Alpha 3.13.1 release, the Vehicle Tech Team put the finishing touches on the vehicle radar/scanning experience, getting the UI-centric improvements integrated into the codebase to ensure smooth delivery for Alpha 3.14.
Early in the month they polished the Nova Tank experience and were pleased to see that the community is enjoying this new gameplay experience. They also ensured that various ship landing gears worked correctly, as there are various instances when their states must be persistent, including when in shops, streaming in and out, during cinematics, and when docked within other vehicles.
Finally, improvements were made to the door/elevator/control panel tools. These updates give finer control over multiple doors and ensure that the interior and exterior control panels communicate with each other.
Last month, as well as general bug fixing and polish for Alpha 3.13.1, the team put the finishing touches to the Nova and Hercules and tidied up the Bengal’s thruster and weapon effects for its live debut at Invictus.
“It has been wonderful to see these vehicles out in the wild!” -The VFX Team
They also made a start on Orison’s effects, including falling and blowing cherry blossoms, water features, and holographic displays. Work kicked off on the medical healing beam effects and vehicle radar ping effects were finished.
The VFX artists continued to develop fire hazards, specifically focusing on visualizing how different types of propagation might look in a futuristic spaceship. For example, should they burn the same way a wooden hut would?
Finally, with the much-anticipated new particle lighting system added into the game builds, the artists began sweeping through all existing effects to allow them to take advantage of the new lighting settings.
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