July’s PU report starts with AI Content, who received a large amount of data from a recent mo-cap shoot. The vendor behavior was the first to be addressed, with the team finishing the first polish pass alongside Design who sanity-checked the coffee shop setup. The next steps are to internally review the behavior with final data, retarget it onto the female skeleton, and complete a Look IK pass.
The doctor and nurse elements of the medical behavior received data too, which is currently being implemented and polished. The doctor is now set up to react to the player respawning or entering the room in-flow, while the nurse inspects the relevant usables. Dialogue and facial animations to match the flow will be added shortly.
AI Content also rectified bugs for Alpha 3.14, with a focus on Orison’s Voyager Bar. Some feature work was put on hold to sanity check the setups and bring the AI to a better standard for release.
Finally, they kicked off the pre-production of future behaviors with outpost, hospital, and patron behaviors all well received by the directors.
Last month, the AI Feature team primarily focused on reviewing combat, with the aim of refining the existing behaviors and functionality to provide a more intelligible and enjoyable experience. The first part of this was reviewing the settings for perception and reactions to give the designers greater control over how the AI behaves when encountering a stimulus. Next, they worked on the basic combat behaviors, ensuring cover selection is working as intended and that the AI provides the base level of functionality after the first reaction to the enemy.
“Often the majority of the technology for improving combat already exists; it’s more a case of reviewing very specific situations and ensuring that the AI behaves as intended and fixing sometimes simple bugs that produce bad behavior. From these beginnings, we hope to do a full review over all of the combat behaviors, which will lead to better and more enjoyable gameplay.” – AI Feature Team
They also worked on specific behaviors to enable AI to spread out and surround the player and taunt them while in melee combat. This required changes to the tactical point system to support a new metric allowing them to weight points spread out from other AI. Melee behaviors received attention to ensure they quickly switch to combat when the situation requires too
Finally, the animators continued working on the ‘speed protocol’ and ‘polish’ stages for the mo-capped cowering and surrendering animations. This will be useful for both unarmed and untrained AI and the AI combat behaviors currently under review.
AI Tech enabled the planetary navigation system to make connections between adjacent mesh tiles, which is part of the base work to add support for planetary pathfinding. This means that triangles from a navigation mesh tile will create links to triangles from other adjacent tiles at the generation step.
They updated the tile generator debug draw to also work with planetary navigation mesh tiles to help them debug issues that could appear during the planet mesh generation step.
Work was submitted to allow NPCs to push a trolley along a path. The work for this includes playing an animation to connect to the trolley, selecting a path, pushing the trolley along the path, disconnecting from the trolley at the end, and moving away. For movement with the trolley, the team considered the size of the agent for collision avoidance and looked at the animations used for pushing it uphill and downhill or when NPC needs to turn the trolley to orient it with the path.
Work was also done to automate testing by extending functionality on the flowgraph to use references to other entities inside the same object container. Related to this, the AI teams began creating small levels and test behaviors that will be enabled later for automated testing, which will ultimately provide better stability to their systems. The previously mentioned collision avoidance work continued in July, this time on performance optimization and creating cleaner functionality. Time was also dedicated to improving quantum travel behavior in a group. Now, the leader checks that all participants (including the player if they’re part of the group) have finished spooling before sending the signal to jump.
Development of the Subsumption editor continued too, with AI Tech adding functionality to watch or modify multiple Subsumption functions from the same view, which was named the ‘multi-graph view.’ They also adjusted save functionality to work alongside it.
Throughout July, the Animation team looked into the useables used throughout the PU and how they’re laid out. They then created TrackView-based pre-vis videos showing existing assets used in better ways (such as using the rail leaning at the bar counter), created poses for useables that don’t already exist (such as beatdowns in prison), and drove the visual feel of AI layout in certain areas. So far, this has been completed for the prisons, medical locations, shanty towns, casaba stores, and Gloc Bar. The goal of this is to meld the animation and design disciplines together to lay out existing and new animations in a way that simulates how Humans behave.
July saw Character Art progress with new in-shop armor and Subscriber armor and helmets. The team began designing cybernetics and wrapped up new outfits for shopkeepers and the inhabitants of Pyro; the latter of which were passed onto the Character Art team.
Alongside work on characters, Tech Art supported Actor Features in delivering a medical gown asset and medical skeleton. They also supported UI with shader R&D and provided exports of all character assets in support of the physical inventory UI. The backpacks mentioned in previous reports were completed too, including ensuring they appear correctly on characters and in shops.
July saw the Environment Art team continuing to polish Pyro’s planets and moons to the expected quality standards.
In Montreal, the team progressed with the greybox phase for the rest stop and Grim HEX medical clinics. Devs can now walk into both locations and experience the correct mood, volumes, and flow. The rest stop clinics were the ideal opportunity to start working on module-based locations, which involves covering many rest stops with a restricted library of medical modules.
Area18 and Lorville’s hospitals are approaching whitebox-complete. These locations are much larger in scope and require adaptation and revisiting to ensure they live up to their potential.
“As the scope of these is closer to those of New Babbage and Orison, we want to make sure that the volumes and general feeling of the areas are spot-on before moving onto the detail pass.” -The Locations Team
On the design side, the team further supported hospitals by ensuring the flow is fully operational and populating the locations with AI. In parallel, they iterated on the creation and placement of the derelict spaceship puzzles mentioned in last month’s report. These puzzles will ultimately be scattered across planets and space and will represent minor points of interest. They’re currently in the proof-of-concept phase, with the team investigating various future opportunities.
The US-based Ships team began the month preparing the Constellation Taurus for release. They also resolved bugs affecting various ships across the fleet.
Alongside release prep, Ships pushed other vehicles through the pipeline, including both Crusader Ares variants, which entered the final art stages. The Drake Vulture continued to progress through the whitebox phase, an all-new vehicle entered the pipeline, and the upcoming variant mentioned in last month’s report moved into greybox.
In the UK, last month’s yet-to-be-announced ship had its damage, LODs, and final art completed, with the team currently wrapping up the finishing touches before handing it over to Tech Art and other downstream teams.
The Redeemer received its exterior damage meshes and a final polish pass. The team are currently working on the exterior LODs, while the interior is going through its final art pass with the cockpit, turrets, and lower level nearing completion.
A new yet-to-be-announced vehicle (that the team is excited to share) moved from whitebox to greybox, while the Sabre’s cockpit and lighting were wrapped up.
For the Retaliator, the first round of interior gold-standard work is coming to a close, with the interior spaces corrected for metrics and AI navigation. New ship item compartments were added and the cockpit received a pass too
Another unannounced ship is deep into the greybox phase:
“With some issues with its exterior mechanisms now resolved, it’s moving through the pipeline well. There are a number of artists working together on this one and each area of the ship’s interior is coming along nicely.” -The Ship Team
Finally, work began on a new fuel arm for the MISC Starfarer to support the refueling feature work coming soon.
The Weapon Content team had another busy month, completing the two Size 7 Behring weapons for the Crusader Ares before closing out bugs for Alpha 3.14.
Work also kicked off for a new Size 3 bomb for the A2 Starlifter and a variant of the mounted weapon turret for an upcoming ship.
The Audio team began July working on Grim HEX’s medical center, which received effects and music passes to help compound the run-down aesthetic. They also added effects to the A2 Starlifter, including the onboard kitchen. The Dialogue team recorded VO and are currently preparing it to go in-game.
The Technical Sound Design team made improvements to dogfighting and ship weapons. When live, players will hear weapons from a greater distance and the battles themselves will sound more intense, which will be most notable in Arena Commander. They also fixed bugs for Orison.
Work on the Orison score continued with composer Pedro Camacho. Having had great results from the planetary and industrial platform pieces, they’re looking to complete the location with a final piece for the spaceport. The spaceport also received ambiances, as did the wind sculpture. Audio also created sound for the RSI Constellation Taurus trailer.
The Community team began July with the finale of the Show Us Your Colors Celebration, putting together a selection of the best submissions into a gallery
Adding to the cosplay contest
announced in June, they kicked off a video contest
, the winners of which will be a part of this year’s CitizenCon show.
In the leadup to the release of Alpha 3.14, a series of Patch Watch
posts were shared on Spectrum
, highlighting some of the specific ship changes and tuning going into the latest update. Additionally, a postmortem
on Alpha 3.13 and Invictus Launch Week 2951 was published, highlighting what went well, what didn’t, and what will be improved in the future.
In June, the Physics team finished support for compressed meshes. This means the representation of render meshes inside physics is now compressed, leading to memory and bandwidth savings. More code, such as preparation of vertex positions and normals for planetary patches, was also moved from C++ to ISPC to allow for faster processing on the CPU. Further optimizations include pre-allocating mesh blocks to avoid stalls during on-demand allocation, caching the current grid of vehicles to prevent stalls in physics, optimized binding of secondary node data during CGF loading, and a new round of terrain mesh generation improvements. Additionally, the set of analytical SDF primitives supported by physics was extended and torus added.
For the renderer, the team continued with the transition to Gen12. A lot of work was completed on the global draw packet cache and related changes on the high-level render and 3D engine code, which will be used to speed up the streaming in of object containers and sharing of data for multiple instances. Additionally, Gen12 received the following changes: support for referencing refraction during rendering, tessellation support in the G-buffer pass, and a ported z-prepass. Several pieces of legacy code were removed to simplify the render pipeline. Also, Gen12 now runs with async shader compilation enabled by default. This is mostly relevant for development but is also useful in shipping builds as the shader cache isn’t fully deterministic (yet) and compilation of infrequently used shaders can happen in the PU.
Volumetric clouds and atmospheric rendering saw improvements throughout July as well as continued research. For Alpha 3.14, several performance improvements were implemented when rendering clouds into cube maps. For example, runtime cube maps that are used for ambient lighting around the player. Density queries now also include the cloud’s tint at the requested location, which is important for the seamless integration of particles into cloud volumes. Cloud shaping was changed slightly to improve the local vs global read, particularly with regards to combatting the occasional tiled look of cloud details when viewed from orbit.
For rendering performance, the entire filter chain that reprojects and upsamples raymarching results is being revisited to improve quality so that this performance mode can always be enabled. The PU currently raymarches either at full resolution, which is very taxing, or uses a simple form of lower-resolution raymarching, which leaves a lot to be desired in terms of quality vs gained performance. Lastly, work on SDF integration into the raymarcher (efficient empty space skipping) is still ongoing.
On the core engine side, work continued on the entity component update scheduler (ECUS). Its internal structure was revisited to allow more than one update within a pass. Several improvements were also made to support and improve the new profiler frontend that was introduced in June. For instance, CPU sampling support was added for Linux builds of the server. Moreover, several tree optimizations were made inside StarHash.
Features (Characters & Weapons)
The Features team continued working on the new player inventory, with daily reviews on the user experience.
“There are a lot of hard choices being made on what has to make it into the first release and what can be postponed. Even with some aspects of the inventory coming online later, the new player inventory is shaping up to be a significant improvement to the existing PMA.” -The Features Team
A key aspect of where the new player inventory differs significantly compared to the PMA is the limit to physical space and location. While the various landing zones will have a generous amount of storage available to the player, anything left in one location cannot be accessed from another. So, the player will need to make sure they transfer any items they need when exploring into their backpack or vehicle. Items purchased from shops will also be delivered to local storage.
On the technical side, there was a push to solve NPCs standing on chairs and benches (again). Simply put, if an AI is in the process of exiting their usable as they stream out, they will now teleport to the position where they would have exited to when they stream back in.
The US Gameplay Features team spent part of July polishing features for Alpha 3.14 and planning for future initiatives. The former including work on NikNax, the player asset management mobiGlas app. As the feature’s functionality nears completion, the team conducted feedback and revision sessions to begin finalizing the look and feel of the app. They’ll wrap up development at the end of the quarter and are aiming to launch NikNax in Alpha 3.15.
Gameplay features also continued to focus on the latest Dynamic Event, Ninetails Lockdown, working alongside QA and Player Experience to gather feedback and refine it before release.
For future initiatives, the designers and Environment team began setting up the new shops on Orison and planned the expo hall setup for IAE 2951. Meanwhile, the engineers worked on TDDs for the cargo refactor and character archetype editor, both of which will reach the review stage soon.
The European Gameplay Feature team began finalizing the first iteration of the loot generation system. Once live, they’ll look for feedback from the community for future improvements and balancing.
The Vehicle Experience team focused on the combat balance in Alpha 3.14, working closely with the community to iterate on, improve, and balance the various new features. The same went for the Vehicle Technical team, who focused on fixing bugs and supporting their latest feature, scanning.
Alongside supporting the other vehicle teams in fixing bugs and improving upcoming features, Vehicle Features continued to develop the new ship HUDs alongside the UI team.
“One of the more exciting things we’ve helped support for Alpha 3.14 is the new thruster dust VFX. Driven by the VFX team, we helped with the code and functionality of this new highly detailed thruster effects system that works per thruster and changes as the thruster animates and moves around.” -The Vehicle Feature Team
Vehicle Features also continued to develop jump points, which recently went through design adjustments to improve functionality. The team collaborated with Narrative to ensure they don’t stray from lore and are confident the recent adjustments will make the feature better in the long run. Internally, they also made jump points easier to work with and test, making sure they can rapidly iterate and improve the look and feel of the whole experience.
Graphics & VFX Programming
July was a busy month for Graphics and VFX Programming, with Alpha 3.14 issues such as fog popping, flashing objects and particles, and blurry UI screens and holograms requiring attention.
For the shader, they made improvements to the quality of hair rendering in comms calls, though work continues, and refactored the shared code responsible for the depth pass, shadows, motion blur, and silhouette rendering. This will fix various bugs and prepare for some of the Gen12 features and requirements.
The reworked render-to-texture post-effect pipeline was completed and is now with the UI artists for testing. This introduces custom bloom, drop shadow, color correction, and brightness adaptation that will apply to all visor and lens UIs, improving the visuals and legibility. The logic controlling the allocation of memory between the various UI screens was also adjusted to maximize quality while sticking to a fixed memory budget.
For Gen12, various validation issues were fixed along with issues on specific laptops where the dedicated GPU was disabled from the OS/driver level, meaning the Vulkan renderer wouldn’t initialize. Several architectural amendments were also made to improve the readability and usability of the new renderer.
On the VFX-programming side, various new features were added such as tinting for space-loop particles based on planetary cloud albedo, new rotation features for particles, and the ability to attach vector fields to characters to achieve effects. The latter includes leaves being pushed around by character’s feet.
The Lighting team’s July included tasks for Orison, Alpha 3.14, and adding lighting interaction into the remaining habs. The personal manager app’s (PMA) lighting was updated to make it more user-friendly when selecting clothing and armor. Work also continued on the colonial outposts and hospital lighting for Lorville and Grim HEX.
Finally, they started atmosphere and color grading for Pyro’s planets and moons and progressed with the lighting for Pyro’s jump point gas cloud.
Narrative began the month with a mo-cap shoot in the UK to capture the first set of vendor voice packs. This archetype was the result of working closely with the AI and Audio teams and will include lines used by bartenders and food stall vendors across the PU. Some additional lines were also recorded to support upcoming mission content.
There was a lot of discussion with the various environment teams over the upcoming outposts and hospitals currently in development. This work included write-ups for the various types of NPC encountered in these locations and additional documentation to describe the branding, posters, and other environmental text that might be needed. Additional work was done to flesh out some of the gangs of Pyro, delving into their hierarchies, leaders, and wealth levels.
As with previous months, Narrative worked closely with AI Content to outline script and character needs for some of the archetypes in development. This time, discussion focused on the security and patron behaviors. These conversations ensure both teams are in sync when developing characters and make sure scripts are generated using known AI triggers and contexts, and that the behaviors align with the intended purpose of the characters.
On the dispatch front, the team released another installment of Loremakers: Community Questions
, where they answered questions from the forum. The recent Jump Point Vault
featured a story about the Crossroads of Crime in Nexus, Joker returned for a new episode of B0otycall
, and another update of the Galactapedia
was published, including articles on Levski, Dr. Scott Childress, Whitley’s Guide, and Jax McCleary.
The Props Team spent the month working up the utilitarian variants of the medical gameplay props. These match the metrics and functionality of the high-tech props seen in Alpha 3.14 but have the appropriate art style to match more lawless or low-tech hospital locations, such as Grim HEX.
Time was also spent creating new assets for Orison’s Crusader Showroom, including furniture, signage, and installations. Work continued on props for the colonial outposts too.
QA spent July making near-daily publishes for Alpha 3.14, which were primarily for logging server health and making fixes.
The team’s development focus focused on the Ninetails event, with QA provided daily support for the US-based PU team along with internal playtests as needed. Towards the end of the month, this expanded to supporting the personal inventory system.
On the management side, the team focused on scheduling to ensure they have proper coverage for the upcoming Alpha 3.14 content and coordinated with the UK studio to divide feature QATRs and events to better fit the release schedule. They also planned what’s needed for staging streams, including headcount and ownership.
Systemic Services & Tools
In July, Systemic Services & Tools (SST) continued the development of Quantum (the economy and AI simulation). This involved improving fidelity and interaction with the game itself to provide further intelligent reasoning as to why certain service beacons spawn and why shop and fuel prices shift.
The team are currently dealing with the final edge cases for the Super pCache for Alpha 3.14 and optimizing other dependencies on the services.
Tech Animation completed their planning for the rest of the quarter and are well underway with deliveries, including assisting in the creation and implementation of upcoming key deliverables. For example, AI combat iteration, usables, and art refinement to head assets.
Additionally, the team took on some interesting challenges, one of which is to create a cross-platform RBF solder to assist in character deformation. The mandate is to create the same codebase to be used in Maya and the engine for improved usability. This will also speed up the processing of Maya animation assets and potentially the game too.
The team also began alembic cache animation support. While existing tools already support this technology, the team need to further integrate it into the animation toolset for a number of key deliverables.
Last month, the Live Tools team fixed bugs and made improvements to the previously released role-based access in Hex. They also improved the crash-handling pipeline and supported the Publishing Technology team with the Alpha 3.14 release.
The Game Service team continued working on the server meshing project alongside making supportive fixes to Hex and Alpha 3.14.
Turbulent (Web Platform)
In July, the Platform Tech team delivered an automation mechanism to make it easier and quicker for the Platform team to ensure players have the right items in their accounts.
They’re currently working on a project to make some database functionality asynchronous using Kafka technology. The first proof-of-concept will be in the Pledge Store fulfillment processes and will make it more efficient and less prone to bugs.
July saw the UI Feature and Actor Feature teams work closely on UI screens for the upcoming hospitals and healing gameplay. Once functional, they ironed out teething problems with showing a 3D skeleton on a UI screen for the first time. They also fixed bugs and completed feature requests to support other teams and Alpha 3.14.
Initial design work was done for tools and re-usable components, which will help less-experienced designers and artists build UI screens.
The UI Tech team improved the visuals of holographic 3D items in the UI and optimized ways to display large lists without overloading the game. Work also continued on common controls for 3D objects that can be used in future screens across the game, including the new map system.
Vehicle Tech spent last month fixing bugs and polishing the gameplay experience for Alpha 3.14. This included addressing feedback for the radar, ping, and scanning features provided by the community to ensure they work at their best, particularly when searching for hard-to-find entities in space, such as faraway spaceships, mineables, and other commodities.
Additionally, they began preparing to expand these features to first-person gameplay, where players will be able to ping for hidden lifeforms on foot and then scan them for vital mission-related information.
“It will be nice to condense the macro-level vehicle scanning features into a more granular, on-foot experience, where players will be able to perform actions on entities that are only a few meters in front of them as opposed to dozens of kilometers away.” -The Vehicle Tech Team
Finally, support began for showing player-emitted signatures and ambient levels around their vehicles in the HUD. This will give players an idea of how detectable they are and how well they can detect others.
July saw the VFX team continue their overhaul of vehicle radar ping effects, including making use of a new shader for the ping itself, which is assigned to a rapidly expanding sphere highlighting any geometry it intersects.
“We have been very encouraged by the positive reaction to this overhaul so far, because as well as looking much neater than the old version, a lot of effort went into making sure the effects are respectful of the gameplay requirements. There is more work to be done on this for a future release though, as we want the effect to change depending on the player’s choice of ping angle.”” -The VFX Team
They also focused heavily on bug fixing and tech debt alongside polishing the new thruster landing dust effects for Alpha 3.14.