Early in the month, the AI Content Team was heavily involved in preparing for a four-day motion capture session. Each related team attended and was able to provide information directly to the actor, which was a new experience for many and gave the team a greater appreciation of the process and learnings that will help with future sessions. Some of the recorded assets have already been delivered and are currently being made functional for game use.
June also saw the team extend the patron activity to handle the new shops they’re working on and analyze the usables that will be required to populate the PU outposts. The security guard and vendor activities and their related usable setups were also finished.
The security guard became the primary use-case for dynamic conversations, with the devs setting up two conversations that can randomly be selected by a civilian approaching the guard – reporting a crime and asking for directions. They also completed a pass of the security guard’s wildlines and began using the reputation system to influence the behavior logic flow.
The vendor behavior was expanded to support NPCs collecting combinations of food and drink items from different usables and delivering them to the player as a single order. AI Content also worked with the Dialogue Team to identify the assets needed to reinforce the flow.
“To make serving food more tactile and realistic, we have identified “food grip types” for the new items and we are working with the Props Team to package the food when served. No more hotdogs placed directly on dirty counters!” -The AI Content Team
For spaceship combat, the AI Feature Team worked on the technology to allow AI to identify and target sub-components of other ships (engines, weapons, etc.). This will allow a greater range of tactics to be selected. For example, taking out the engines of a ship so it can’t pursue and then firing at it from afar. The AI will retrieve the same type of information from the sub-components as it does from the whole spaceship, including the amount of damage dealt, which will allow the team to prioritize attacking the weapons causing the most damage. This new ability means some existing combat behaviors need to be modified (such as the orbital strafe maneuver) to consider the side of the spaceship that the targeted sub-component is on.
The team also implemented the ‘chatty’ and ‘quiet’ traits used in the spaceship dogfight behaviors that control how often AI communicate in combat. This involved identifying non-critical combat wildlines (eg. collisions, repeated dealt damage, and receiving damage) and undertaking a ‘trait check’ to see if they should be triggered.
For Human AI, they worked on the technology and animations to control how an NPC reacts to stimuli (such as a gunshot, seeing an enemy, or hearing an enemy) when interacting with a usable. This technology is needed to bridge the gap between the AI’s usable and reaction behaviors while exiting the usable and getting the AI back to the nav-mesh. For example, if it spots an enemy player it may need to reach for a weapon to begin fighting, convey its level of reaction to the player, and get into a combat behavior position. With a range of different usables that can put them in different positions and postures, the team needed to identify the commonalities between usables to prevent having to create bespoke animations for each one. However, there are still lots of different variables (direction, reaction level, armed, unarmed, etc.) that need careful management to prevent a vast increase in the number of animation assets.
They also produced a prototype for the utility behavior that will allow AI agents to transfer cargo crates between areas. NPCs will identify loose crates, pick them up, then take them to an area and stack them. The next AI can take the stacked crates and transfer them to another area as desired. This behavior builds upon lots of different usable work: finding the crate usable, exiting the usable as part of the pickup action rather than as a separate exit animation, finding a place that can accept the crate for stacking, disabling agents from taking crates that have other crates stacked on top of them, and identifying when a stack is full. They also have an eye on how this will integrate with vehicular cargo storage.
The first version of the unmanned missile turret behavior was implemented. This has proven that all the work done for spaceships is easily portable to multiple entities and will correctly handle any vehicle that wants to shoot missiles to target.
They also continued to work on data and animation clean-up from the motion-capture session completed last month. All developers on the team supported optimizations, tweaks, and bug fixes for Alpha 3.14 too.
The Tech Team started the month working on planetary navigation, improving the navigation mesh tiles to allow for a spherical surface representation of the mesh. They also added functionality to allow NPCs to correctly move along paths defined by the designers, giving a much more robust solution to allow characters to loop over open or closed paths of different shapes, restarting from the beginning where necessary.
Work on 3D NPC navigation in EVA continued, with the team improving the collision avoidance system to support agents of different sizes. The rules were amended to allow smaller ships to try to avoid larger ones and to allow large ships to not care as much about avoiding smaller ones.
The first pass was finished on the code to allow NPCs to control and move trolleys in a similar way to the player. They’re currently extending the movement system to enable the selection of multiple path followers, which is important for trolleys that have a force-based controller, as it allows NPCs to decide how much force to apply to maintain the desired momentum.
For the Subsumption editor, the team continued to embed the tool into the game engine, with a focus on allowing the main graph to include all the subgraphs in one view. This is particularly useful for the mission logic as it will allow designers to have a better global view of the logic of each mission and should reduce the mental effort needed to follow the logic between different graphs. The team was also busy with bug fixes and optimization for Alpha 3.14.
Animation created a rough space whale loop for AI to test with and to help Design determine what else they might need in terms of gameplay. They also worked on vendor sets to improve the various shops and vendors around the PU, which involved creating cowering assets to enable civilians to run and hide behind cover, janitor and arcade machine blockouts, and medical revival gameplay.
The Facial Animation Team developed animations for emotes, eating and drinking, and various other systemic AI features. They completed a breakdown of the AI in the main world locations and created a large list of assets that require placing by the AI Content Team, with the goal to better implement the content they already have. Animations were also created for the salvage weapon.
Last month, the character artists continued developing three armor sets, which will also receive variants for various events and programs. The tech designers completed their pass on the characters for Orison’s initial release and are currently adjusting loadouts in line with feedback and addressing graphical issues.
The rest of the Tech Team supported Alpha 3.15 alongside the Actor Feature and Design teams, which involved setting up a system for players to equip and unequip backpacks. They’ll also be adding new backpacks to the PU in support of the feature. They also worked on holographic props of all their assets for the physical inventory UI.
The concept artists spent time working on event-themed items, created additional concepts for the Pyro system, and explored possible gameplay interactions with the space whale creature.
The Montreal-based Art Team worked to finish the remaining hospital locations, with the space clinics, Grim HEX’s clinic, and Area18’s hospital now whitebox complete. They then moved onto the greybox phase, where they’ll define the various modules in more detail and begin adding details to properly show the art intentions.
On the design side, the team began using derelict pieces of spaceships to create puzzles, which will be populated with loot to encourage exploration and create pockets of new gameplay around Stanton. Their initial goal is to produce 24 derelict puzzles; half planetside and half in space.
Finally, they looked into defining building-interior gameplay, creating a prototype layout and looking into adding proper missions to it. They’re also defining how this layout will fit into the procedural location creation tool currently in development by the Tools Team.
The Landing Zone and Modular teams took the colonialism outposts through the final art phase before moving onto the second content set, which introduces more variation and additional themes.
They’re also close to completing the gas clouds that will surround jump points, including a second look for greater variety. Orison is currently being closed out, with most focus on improving performance and fixing bugs.
In the US, the Ships Team focused on closing out the Constellation Taurus, squashing bugs and undertaking a general polish pass. The Taurus will be flyable in the upcoming Alpha 3.14. There were also additional bug fixes across the wider Star Citizen fleet.
The team continued moving the two Crusader Ares variants, the Ion and Inferno, through the pipeline. They’re aiming to move into the final art stage in the coming weeks for delivery in Q4. Whitebox for the Drake Vulture began alongside a new variant of a popular ship to be announced later in the year.
June saw the UK team complete the final art and lighting pass for an as-yet-unannounced ship. They then moved onto the LOD (level of detail) process and exterior damage setup.
With the Aegis Redeemer’s exterior completed for Invictus Launch Week, the team moved onto the interior, completing the greybox phase ready for review in early July.
Gold-standard work also continued on the Sabre and Retaliator; the exterior lighting pass was done for the Sabre, while the Retaliator received reworked light and door controls throughout.
Finally, Ships revisited the Crusader Hercules to get the A2 variant ready for release, which involved adding a kitchen area for the crew and two large bomb bays in the cargo hold.
Last month, the Weapons Team continued with the mining gadget, taking the asset through to LOD-zero complete and updating the rigging before passing it to Animation. Three Subscriber weapon paints were finished and readied for release alongside a new knife for a future PU release.
The animation passes for both the standalone Greycat tractor beam and standalone salvage tool began, with iteration on their rigs being completed too. Other focus in July was on two new Size 7 Behring ship weapons, one ballistic and one energy. Both are for an upcoming ship release and are currently in the greybox phase.
Alongside trailers for Alien Week and Invictus, the Audio Team worked towards their Alpha 3.14 goals. This involved significant work on Orison:
“Orison is one of the largest locations we’ve had to tackle for a while. It was a great opportunity for us all to work on something together to make the ambiances, music, and dialogue for the transport system, hospital, and gas giant. It was a challenge to keep the interiors sounding clean and balanced with the windy upper atmosphere of the Crusader planet. We are really excited by what we’ve achieved!” -The Audio Team
They also worked on the hospital locations and medical gameplay in general, adding effects to the CureLife medical tool and dialogue that makes the player sound injured and relieved when healed.
Finally, Audio supported UI Features on Missile Operator Mode and capacitor gameplay to make dogfighting gameplay smoother.
The Community Team kicked off June with their Pride Month Celebration
. To honor the diversity of our players, they launched the Show Us Your Colors Celebration 2021 and rewarded the ten most colorful entries with a Drake Cutlass Red. They also introduced the new multi-user private lobbies on Spectrum and talked about the user-friendly updates to the Issue Council
Finally for Community, the team launched the 2021 (Virtual) Cosplay Contest
, whose winners will be announced at the digital CitizenCon event on October 9. Entries are open till August 31, so don’t miss out!
In June, the Physics Team moved the generation of surfel data used for radar cross-section queries to an offline precomputation step in the resource compiler which, in general, optimizes various types of assets (textures, meshes, sounds, metadata, etc.) for final consumption in-game. A great deal of time was also spent on various optimizations.
All tiers of physics geometry instancing were completed. As a result, the cloning and sharing of brush physics was enabled, leading to physics now using only 50% of the memory it previously had on the client and server. This was made possible by sharing all common geometry-related data (such as geometry transforms, sub-mtls, and surface types) across all clones of the same static instance. For example, a set of static objects using the same geometry. With the pending release of Orison in the PU, the tracking of terrain is skipped for gas giants. AVX instructions are now utilized to block set entries in spatial grids and ray-box intersections in spatial grids have been optimized.
Networking-related data was moved between internal structures for more efficient access and synchronization, while the structure size of physical entities and alignment was optimized to ensure hot members are always on the same cache line. Page sizes for event factories were tuned, resulting in a net gain of 100 MB in system memory. Additionally, the physics queue for the biome builder was reduced, several areas of thread contention were reduced, and a race condition in the optimized priority queue was fixed. Lastly, the precision of quantized bounding volume hierarchy trees was improved.
For the renderer, the team continued working on the transition to Gen12. A Gen12-exclusive mode for forward-rendered deferred pipelines was added, numerous rendering issues were fixed, and editor support was improved. Support for instance constant buffers with reflection data was added and vertex input caching was extended. In terms of visual features, support for detail cavity and gloss blending was added too.
With regards to volumetric clouds, the rendering of secondary views (runtime cubemaps, RTTs, etc.) including clouds was addressed. For empty space skipping, which is still in the very early experimental stages, computation of the narrow band SDF for cloud coverage has been revised along with the generation of associated MIP maps in a signed format. An initial set of quality options was exposed to the game menu (combined as a single quality option). These quality settings will see further refinement and extensions as the system matures in releases post Alpha 3.14. A driver issue on the 10xx GTX line of video cards affecting the computation of scattering queries was investigated and a workaround implemented. The team are still in the process of clarifying whether this issue is a driver bug and, if that’s the case, hope that it can be fixed properly.
The Core Engine Team finalized the switch to Clang 11, which is used to compile the game server. Clang-related code vectorization and math optimizations were enabled and a code generation bug was identified, worked around, and reported. The memory tracker was improved to detect deallocation of memory that’s not allocated (double free, without the use of page heap). Also, it can now filter allocation stacks by specified engine modules and the engine’s memory statistics update has been optimized. Preliminary support for a new profiler frontend was added alongside various improvements and optimizations on relevant engine components to utilize the profiler to its full capabilities. The component update scheduler received support for multiple passes and event handlers were separated from component updates. Vis areas now use more fine-grained locking for updates to reduce contention and the queuing of animation vis area updates is now lockless, as is event queuing.
Features (Characters & Weapons)
June saw the Feature Team continuing work on actor status, this time adding different ways the recently completed statuses affect the player. For example, if a player character’s blood drug level (BDL) becomes too high, they’ll utilize a specific intoxicated locomotion set and experience various on-screen effects. This will also affect the player’s control while on foot and piloting a vehicle by adding degrees of randomness. These effects scale with the BDL, and there are several ways to increase it. For example, a player can visit a bar and over-indulge in alcohol or they can over-use injury medication in a short period of time.
Another recent addition is the downed state. Unless a player receives significant damage when hit by what is currently a killing shot, they will fall over similar to getting knocked out. In this state, they’re essentially unconscious and slowly dying, though teammates can resuscitate them if they arrive in time.
Meanwhile, work continues on different optimization initiatives, including better data encapsulation of the lower-level animation update logic. A while ago, the team began exploring component update frequency as an option to reduce the cost of characters the further away they are. A number of core actor components have now implemented this and testing is in the final stages. The team is hoping to use the PTU to get a more live-like test of a cut-down version of the performance improvements, with the hopes of shipping them in a future release.
The US Gameplay Features Team spent June gearing up for the upcoming release of Alpha 3.14 and looking ahead to future initiatives.
Throughout the month, they continued work on the player asset manager. With the baseline functionality implemented in May, the team began adding further features to the app, such as sorting and filtering. They also worked with the Narrative Team to name the app, with the final decision being “NikNax.” Once decided, the UI designers created a logo and general branding schem. They’re currently wrapping up leftover tasks and preparing NikNax for its release in Q3 2021.
The team also further developed the Ninetails Lockdown, working with QA to test and balance the Dynamic Event before its release in Alpha 3.14.
The cargo refactor has been expanded to include resource container work, while the designs for persistent hangars and a selling refactor began, with larger discussions set to happen in July. The planning and documentation initiatives from May continued throughout June too.
In Germany and the UK, the teams focused on features for Alpha 3.15 and 3.16, including loot generation. They’re now ensuring all setups are in place so that the boxes with loot are distributed with randomized valuable items.
They also began developing atmospheric depth damage for gas giants like Crusader. Once complete, the pressure within gas giants will damage players’ ships if they attempt to reach the core.
Ship-to-ship refueling began its production phase, which is a significant collaboration between the Gameplay Feature, UI, and Vehicle teams. When live, players will be able to provide fuel to other players in exchange for credits.
Last month, Vehicle Features’ work was a mix of supporting Alpha 3.14, ramping up the development of jump points, and supporting Vehicle Experience on their upcoming patch content. They also supported VFX in developing the new thruster dust effects mentioned in May’s report, which is planned to debut in a coming patch. They also made improvements to the docking feature that didn’t manage to make it into Alpha 3.13, such as allowing players to refuel, repair, and restock vehicles docked at a station.
A key feature of Alpha 3.14 is the new HUD technology, which is a brand-new way of creating HUDs that allows for much more depth and complexity than was possible before. Recent work involved ironing out issues and filling gaps to ensure the HUD covers the many cases that exist across different ships.
As that work is nearing completion, a large portion of the team moved to build out jump points. Though this feature hasn’t had significant development time recently, progress is increasing rapidly as focus switches and more devs begin working on it.
The Vehicle Experience Team predominantly progressed with Alpha 3.14 tasks, including Missile Operator Mode, the new power triangle, and the rebalance of various aspects of ship combat. As the features are tested by the Evocati, the team will continue to balance, tweak, and improve all aspects of the changes before they launch in Alpha 3.14.
Graphics & VFX Programming
June saw the Graphics Team complete work on the window and PingCIG shaders. The window shader allows them to simulate the windows of static rooms without actually modeling the interior, enabling large buildings filled with ‘fake’ interiors for minimal cost. This approach has been used in several other games and, while the visuals are naturally constrained compared to bespoke rooms (which would be impractical for performance), the results are vastly better than black or empty spaces. The PingCIG shader is a new version of the ping effect that will be used for the upcoming improvements to the radar and scanning feature; it creates waves that trigger various visual effects when they intersect solid geometry, such as an edge highlight.
For Orison, improvements were made to the performance of real-time environment probes and bugs were squashed ahead of release. Improvements to the LOD Merger to support tint-palettes and wear were also completed to allow huge draw-call savings for distant renderings of the city.
The team also made improvements to the UI compositing and post-effect pipeline to achieve the specific look the team want, such as drop shadows, glow, brightness adaptation, and color correction while minimizing performance impact.
The VFX Programming Team added support for querying cloud density from planets and used this to trigger a variety of effects. Several particle-streaming issues were addressed and the final bugs with the new lighting system were resolved. The fire feature progressed well too.
Both the Graphics and VFX Programming teams also made great progress on the Gen12 renderer and Vulkan backends, with the vast majority of post effects now running Gen12 by default. This doesn’t result in major CPU performance savings as the post effects were already cheap on the CPU side, though major benefits will be seen in scene rendering.
In June, the Lighting Team closed out their work on Crusader’s new landing zone.
“The sheer size of explorable and landable areas around Orison and the line of sight across the platforms necessitates an enormous quantity of lights. The challenge here is to provide as much lighting as possible throughout the landing zone, with a focus on the primary playable spaces and within our current tech limitations.” -The Lighting Team
In the final stages of their work, the team focused on the background elements in Orison, including ring platforms, habitation platforms, and flying barges.
The Narrative Team dedicated resources towards the upcoming patch release. All patches require bug fixes, string reviews, and quality-of-life improvements but special focus was placed on the final polish pass for Orison.
The team also provided narrative support for upcoming events, including IAE 2951 and several dynamic missions. The development of Pyro continued, with Narrative providing write-ups to the Art and Design teams to help further flesh out the system. Time was also spent on developing additional AI behavior flows and scripts to create more realistic interactions in the future. Narrative direction was also provided to further enhance the lore of the upcoming medical and hacking gameplay, and preparation was done in advance of an upcoming motion-capture shoot.
In celebration of Alien Week, Narrative participated in a special Inside Star Citizen
about the various alien cultures in Star Citizen and released a Xi’an letter
for the community to translate. Lastly, the final part of A Gift For Baba
was published and the entire story is now available to read on Spectum.
The Player Relations Team expanded their services alongside the Player Experience Team and Live QA. This collective will focus on assessing the health of the game on the live service and working directly with stakeholders to identify, triage, and help fix key issues affecting the community.
They also further expanded the UK and US teams to broaden the level of support that players will receive and have been working extensively to support the launch of Alpha 3.14.
Last month, the team focused on closing out their tasks for Orison, including the dressing props around the city and high-tech hospital props. They continued to work on the upcoming colonialism outposts too.
“This was a welcome break from the clean, high-tech assets we’ve been doing recently, and the team has been pushing our materials and really trying to hit the mark set out in the new colonialism art style guide.” -The Props Team
Elsewhere, the team tackled tech debt and made great progress closing out bugs.
QA’s primary publishing focus was stabilizing Alpha 3.14 to test in the staging environment and preparing it for the Evocati, which was done later in the month. For development, QA worked through test requests for upcoming gameplay features and dynamic events.
Time was also dedicated to scheduling, ensuring the team have proper coverage for upcoming content and events. They also planned out what’s needed for staging streams as far as headcount and ownership.
Systemic Services & Tools
In June, Systemic Services & Tools geared up for the next iteration of the Economy and AI Simulation, which has improved fidelity and interaction with the game itself and is easier to manage via new integrated tools.
The team also finished upgrades to Ubuntu 20.04 and continued the foundational work for various services, such as the AI Info service and ATC service. They’re currently working towards applying tech created for direct connections to other services to help alleviate bottlenecks on the backend.
Looking back over the quarter, Tech Animation made great progress with their pipeline and tasks, balancing the fine line between user support and productivity to deliver many of the features and content they wanted to.
R&D into streamlining the ‘facial-scan’ and ‘scan-creation’ pipelines was completed, with the outcome saving the art teams significant man-hours over the coming years. This also formed the cornerstone in Tech Animation’s own facial rig building process and will ultimately expedite the entire facial pipeline.
One main aim of the quarter was to upgrade the head asset and facial animation system codebase, which is currently well underway. The team also managed to overhaul the weapons pipeline with a facelift and new toolsets to assist with technical elements.
Tech Animation were supported by Tech Art in upgrading their export processes. Once complete, they moved onto the skeletal optimization process that will improve character hitboxes when completed.
Last month, role-based access control in Hex received a new iteration, which allows for different levels of access to the tool based on more granular roles. The team also worked on a launcher update featuring quality of life fixes, an epilepsy warning before launch, and new channels for internal testing.
The Game Services Team continued to focus on the Server Meshing project alongside working on service improvements and documentation.
As they closed out 2021’s second quarter, Turbulent’s Web Team made great additions to the RSI website. Following on from improvements to the roadmap progress tracker earlier in the year, the team created more efficient automation tools for roadmap publishing to make it easier to review and publish content.
June also saw the completion of the new multi-user private lobbies in Spectrum. This is the first step in connecting Spectrum groups to in-game chat lobbies. The bug fixes and quality-of-life improvements were substantial and set the feature up well for connection to the game. The Spectrum Team also added more features into the app, with ‘moderator tools’ currently in development. Text anchoring was also worked on, which will be available to all users.
On the backend, the team focused on performance improvements, ensuring that the number of requests can exponentially grow with the size of the Star Citizen community. The team participated in two major tasks to support this. Firstly, they were able to split the database and store orders, helping to better distribute the load on the database structure during major events. Secondly, they split how they write log files for user activity in the database, making it execute into a queue, ensuring log activity never slows down writes that need to happen immediately. For example, when a player logs in. These efforts have shown significant performance gains on the platform and allowed Turbulent to downscale some of their servers in June.
The Web Team supported the release of the Gatac Railen and other promotions throughout the month.
The programmers on the UI Feature Team worked through large ongoing tasks in June. First, they worked closely with the Actor Feature Team on healing gameplay, specifically creating the medical UI screens used for healing and other functionality in the hospitals. Next, they further developed the core tech for the new Starmap and connected it to the radar system. They’re currently focusing on the backend code that connects AR markers, the Starmap, interior map, and radar system. In-game functionality will come next, followed by UI in the future.
The UI Tech Team connected the Building Blocks UI system to the FlowGraph dev tool, which will give level designers more flexibility to connect UI to the game without relying on programmers for implementation. They also tackled UI-related bugs for the upcoming patch release.
The artists and designers worked on interactive screens for Orison and updated transit signs that will gradually make their way into the game. They’re also thinking about the next iteration of the mobiGlas, with the designers and artists concepting potential layouts and animations for the overall feel of the system. Future vehicle HUD concepts and a variety of logos for use in the environments and UI were developed too.
The Vehicle Tech Team spent time putting the finishing touches on the radar, scanning, and ping refactor, getting it ready for Alpha 3.14. Along with getting the feature polished, they squashed numerous bugs, including several relating to damage, repair, landing gear, targeting, and game crashes.
Meanwhile, improvements were made to doors. This involved improving player interaction with door panels and airlocks and solving issues with the transition between the atmosphere and the vacuum of space.
Throughout June, the VFX team focused on Orison, finetuning the many effects required for this expansive location.
“We are excited for the Alpha 3.14 release because it will be our first with the new particle lighting model. As mentioned in previous reports, this will allow a much better quality of lighting for particles, but more importantly, will allow us to create our effects in a more consistent way without worrying that different environment lighting will cause the effects to not work as well. For example, the same effect in a darkly lit room versus a brightly moonlit area in space.”
-The VFX Team
The team also continued their process of fleshing out the destruction pipeline, focusing on a Theaters of War map containing a huge explosion sequence. Final improvements were made to the new vehicle radar ping effects following feedback and several miscellaneous tweaks were made in the run-up to Alpha 3.14’s release.