August 11th 2021
What you are about to read is the latest information on the continuing development of Squadron 42 (SCI des: SQ42).
Thanks to the work of dedicated field agents and operatives, we’ve uncovered information on the Aciedo comm relay, the Bengal, Vanduul Warriors, and more.
The information contained in this communication is extremely sensitive and it is of paramount importance that it does not fall into the wrong hands. Purge all records after reading.
UEE Naval High Command
The team also wrapped up the usables for the Aciedo level. Aside from a handful of usables that require further design discussion with the Art team, all usables are now implemented with working blockouts. The designers are currently implementing the new ‘usables first reaction system,’ which allows NPCs to break out of the usables when being interrupted by the player.
“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.
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.
The salvage weapon and useables for medical gameplay were also worked on, and they began refactoring the AI locomotion system to prepare for the new personality-based locomotion cycles, which will ultimately improve realism.
Elsewhere, the aircraft carrier launch crew animations were factored to the female character model. Work on vending machine use is in progress, and the team looked at existing assets, closed out any useables requiring further work, and resurrected any worthy but unused usables.
For facial animation, the team improved facial animation results for the new incoming models, added facial animation to various useables, and supported Narrative on a motion-capture shoot.
Additionally, they put the finishing touches to Trejo’s outfit, the Concept Team began creating Vanduul warrior variants, and the first pass on the Screaming Galsons was completed.
The Bengal’s medical bay is approaching completion:
“We are extremely pleased with the results as we fine tweak it to hit a standard of quality we aim to set within Squadron 42.” – Environment Art
For chapter 19a, the team pushed towards a visual target that will set the tone, style, and quality of the tail end of the campaign. For chapter 7, they began the initial investigation and breakdown into secondary points-of-interest along the critical path, and progress was made on chapters 12, 13, and 15.
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.
Volumetric clouds and atmospheric rendering saw improvements throughout July as well as continued research. 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. 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.
Development began on the new checkpoint tool – basic creation and positioning functionality was implemented, which will allow a large amount of scripted setup to be removed. There was also additional support for the weapons track, allowing more control over firing.
They also continued to work on a variety of chapters, each with a slightly different focus: For chapter 4 they completed maintenance work; for chapter 14 they made a polish pass; and for chapter 18 they worked on scenes for the first time.
However, Gameplay Story’s major focus was on chapter 5, where they replaced all placeholder content with new mo-cap animations to bring its scenes up to a particularly high standard.
“It has been great to see all this work pay off as the entire first half of chapter 05 is now playable from start to finish. This was no easy feat, as there were lots of animations, two walk-and-talk sequences, and plenty of technical challenges involved.” – Gameplay Story Team
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 characters’ feet.
They’re also in the process of implementing and refining the new features they received last quarter, such as scanning and ping, and how they’re used by the AI. The team also focused on maintaining the handshake between the FPS and social areas of the game to allow continuous play.
Meanwhile, the Social Design Team continued to implement various in-game chapter scenes for review and sign off.
The team also reviewed several levels with Design to look at updated layouts and flows. Some moments that would benefit from additional scripted content were identified, so drafts were written and passed along so placeholder versions of the lines could be added in-game.
With additional work being done on the scanning mechanic, Narrative attended several meetings to talk over various topics, such as how various enemy groups will be identified and what kind of information will be visible to the player.
QA also tested behavior implementation, running daily checklists and reproducing issues so they can be fixed by the relevant teams.
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.