June 9th 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 security guards, Screaming Galsons, and the Shubin Interstellar Archon Station.
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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.
Specifically for SQ42, the team supported Aciedo station, identifying tactile interaction opportunities and blocking out animations and the usables setup. These usables, working with scripted AI Paths, will help to create mini-scenarios where the AI appears to look for hostages to dry-freeze.
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.
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.
They also tested a rig for the Xi’an alien race (both body and face) and supported several story scenes.
The team also wrapped up the polish pass for Trejo’s head and passed it to Tech Animation to update the rig. Her hair is currently in skinning, while her undersuit and helmet are in modeling. Finally, they worked on some characters for Aciedo and uniforms for chapter 4G.
Planetside, progress was made on creating interesting and believable terrain that incorporates canyons, which the team had been unable to achieve previously. Development of Archon station’s internal tram system, sewers, social hub, back alleys, and worker’s areas continued, while initial work began for exterior FPS spaces in chapter 13.
Chapter 15 progressed, with Art working alongside Design to build out the environments for key moments throughout the level. Progress was made on the Bengal’s medbay and armory too, both of which are close to completion.
So, the team develops tools to help them work effectively regardless of blockers, which were further developed throughout May. This included tools to control ship functions, the player’s head, settings to suit a female character, the contents of object containers, and a dynamic per-character lighting rig to give a base illumination quality.
A tool was also created to reference and play each landing gear compression spring in the vehicle setup independently. For example, this enables the team to extract or retract a ship’s hind landing skids before the fronts.
Alongside tools, Cinematics worked on specific chapter scenes and sequences, including a key Vanduul encounter and one involving the player hiding among fog and ship parts. Progress was made on the Bengal, including animating the bridge seats and attached screens too.
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.
“This is quite an undertaking, but it’s been great to maintain momentum and see this chapter rapidly taking shape.” -The Gameplay Story Team
Alongside this, they set up a holographic character, created accurate holstering animations, and updated several scenes to include the new medical gun. Support was also given to Design’s work on chapter 13 and a prototype was made for a scene in chapter 19.
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.
The Level Design Team had several detailed discussions regarding non-combat AI and behaviors that are now being put into practice for the pre-combat/stealth elements of the current milestone, with significant focus on combat behaviors within small spaces.
As always, the Social Design Team implemented scenes for the various chapter reviews and sign-offs.
They also had several reviews of one chapter, discussing how a player’s personal playstyle could impact the narrative and then making sure that the content would react appropriately. These reviews helped highlight a few areas where scenes could be placed differently and additional dialogue could help the gameplay experience. These will be scripted shortly.
Additionally, Narrative planned a mo-cap session to begin getting final recordings of some of the placeholder content outlined in previous reports.
QA also continued to support AI, testing the behavior implementations into SQ42, with a focus on Vanduul improvements. They also pushed to clear out any outdated issues and performed an open bug-sweep to ensure their databases were up to date.
“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, implemented animations, and worked alongside the Art Team on asset skinning too.
As always, the team continued their collaboration with Art and Design on gas clouds. Following on from last month, the VFX artists took a more hands-on approach to the creation of VDBs (previously it was more of an advisory role) along with the gas cloud particle effects.