Monthly Studio Report: July 2017
Welcome to the Monthly Report for July 2017, our collection of studio updates and reports that showcase the progress we’ve made. This month, the team crunched in preparation for a pair of internal 3.0 milestone reviews to assess the state of the build and player experience.
CIG Los Angeles
CLOUD IMPERIUM: LOS ANGELES
Our engineering team worked towards completing the core 3.0.0 persistence and entity system features. This included finishing a large refactor of the persistent data manager which changes the way data is stored, modified, and accessed while playing the game. The game can now distinguish between physical and legal ownership, a distinction that is an important requirement for systems such as Criminality, Missions, and Persistent Spawning.
This new physical ownership feature is also being used to develop persistence tracking and management which will allow for parking vehicles within other ships. For example, with this system if you park a Dragonfly inside a Cutlass then land at a station, it will remain in the Cutlass’ hold when you recall your ship.
Our engineers have also been working on cargo debris generation upon a ship exploding, migrating lifetime policy into gamerules the information stays attached to the player, and the placement of cargo crates onto your ship’s cargo grids. Once you’ve purchased cargo, your ship will generate a certain percentage of cargo onto the cargo grid. When it comes time to sell the cargo, the team have integrated the newly complete shop code with the Solar System Shopping Service, allowing shop inventories to populate dynamically. This system also allows items and commodities’ stock to be influenced by the purchases and sales of other players.
The new insurance system is almost complete and will allow players to make insurance claims on their ship, pay deductibles, and select expedited processing time to get their ships back quicker. There is also now a deductible decay, which allows you to wait for a bit of time and pay less if you happen to be short of the credits. The system has been designed so deductible prices are calculated based on the number of other insurance claims stored in your persistence for the last 24 hours.
Over on planets, we’ve put the finishing touches on our gravity level which was needed for some ground vehicles. Specifically, as changes to planets, physics zones, IFCS (or intelligent flight system) and some other necessary improvements, left the hover vehicles dragging more than hovering. This new GravLev system is an improvement over the original system in many important ways. For example, the last time we showed GravLev, it only supported hover heights from 1 to 5 meters based on velocity. In tests, we’ve now managed to get the Nox hovering at a half a meter at speeds up to 223 miles per hour on moderately rough terrain. This was quite challenging, considering that the simulation uses a realistic spring-based model for hover lift, as opposed to hidden collision or other common tricks.
We’ve also provided a set of 10 tuning parameters for designers to customize the GravLev control system, including minimum and maximum hover height (min at stop, max at full velocity), banking angle in turns, and maximum lift acceleration. Also, our designers can set a minimum gravity level which the system uses to generate downward thrust to augment gravity on low-gravity planets so the vehicle isn’t too floaty. This can be set to 1 G to guarantee that hover vehicles always feel about as heavy as they would on Earth, or even higher to really force the vehicle to hug the terrain.
Next up, we’ll add tuning parameters for designers to control how steep a surface a hover vehicle can climb, and how high an obstacle it can elevate over so your future hovering adventures are only going to get better and better.
The Tech Content team spent some time working on our mission giver, Miles Eckhart, specifically with his drink. They set up up run-time simulations so the liquid in his glass not only follows his animated movements, but also respects planetary gravity. This will ultimately apply to all sorts of liquids across the universe.
The team also introduced the springy landing gear technology for ships. This new mechanic incorporates landing springs and compression technology to allow for a cushioned landing experience especially on uneven terrain, allowing it to react naturally to the weight of the ship relative to the planet’s gravity as you touch down.
On the tools front, the team improved several tools to expedite various processes including usable requests, maya loadouts, vertex reordering, character requests, playblasts and so on. They also made huge updates on our Exporter tool, taking the latest LumberYard updates and bug fixes, and incorporated them along with some of our own improvements to the new exporter UI. Now everyone working within our Maya pipeline can benefit from these fixes to their overall workflow.
The last phase of prepping for a release is performance profiling and optimization. As Star Citizen is an art-heavy game, there can be a lot of waste when it comes to textures, so the Graphics and Tech Art teams devise clever solutions to save on texture memory without sacrificing the visual quality. This month, the Tech Art team’s main focus was to bring our texture memory back under the allocated budget, so we’ve made measurable savings to help everyone experience better frame rates.
Another ship has entered production since our last update. The Anvil Hurricane is now in the whitebox phase of the pipeline and we’ve already completed temp exterior and interior lighting, proxy animations, temp interactive cockpit control layout, setting up the almost final hierarchy of the ship, temp proxies and initial break damage points. The enter, exit and seated templates for the turret and the pilot seat are also set up, and the ship item breakouts have also been completed.
The character team spent the month knocking out high quality work for both Squadron 42 and Star Citizen. They moved more bridge officer uniforms from concept into the high-poly phase. Our newest combat pilot flightsuit for Shubin security is also going through the high-poly phase and will be moving into in-game modeling and texturing in the near future. Another combat flightsuit is in the high-poly phase and will soon move into in-game modeling and texturing as well. Our medical corpsman has gone through high-poly and into in-game modeling and will soon be ready to start working at our various medstations.
With the introduction of the Levski landing zone, the team created a few civilian costumes to help populate the People’s Alliance of Levski.
The team also made a lot of progress on several concepts like the shipjacker gang members and our battle-damaged costumes to provide visual feedback of how you are doing. With regards to customization, the team has also started to explore a new potential opportunity in character tattoos.
Finally, the team worked on redesigning the new mobiGlas. While many games get away with obvious HUD projection or holographic displays, our mobiGlas has to come from a piece that’s physically placed on the character, which means it needs to be present on a naked wrist, a wrist with long sleeves, a wrist with a jacket, and also fit on undersuits and armor. They have taken a few passes on the new mobiGlas with these requirements in mind and are really excited by the prospects of this new piece.
This past month, the Narrative team jumped headfirst into working directly with the engine. After some intensive training from the Tech Content team, they’ve taken over the integration of text for many of the game items in the engine. The first task was to go through all the clothes, armor pieces and even hairstyles to make sure that they had accurate names and descriptions written and hooked up in Dataforge. Meanwhile, the time had come to tackle procedural mission text for the various contracts that the players can pick up in 3.0. To assist in the writing, Will created a spreadsheet that would draw the lists variables needed for a mission (item being transported, Client Name, Destination, etc.) to automatically generate samples of the text that would appear in game. This allowed us to quickly randomize all of the variables to make sure that the sentences read organically, regardless of their configuration. As the new player experience has been a focal point of our 3.0 reviews, the team has been working with the Art and UI teams to looking at various signage and environmental storytelling opportunities for the locations.
Our QA team was focused upon the now completed conversion of all ships to Item 2.0, and testing other new features for 3.0 such as the updated Quantum Travel system, new planetary missions, and the new mobiGlas functionality. They also supported the global team with various test requests as new features continue to come online.
CLOUD IMPERIUM: AUSTIN
The ATX Design Team was able to start plugging the items back into the shops thanks to fixes to the shopping code. In addition, this allowed the Kiosks to get up and running for commodity trading. The goal has been to get all of the shops related to the PU stations/landing zones functional first, and then go back to make a pass through the Area18 shops if time permits. The armor sets were separated into individual pieces, so that will be added to the feature list.
We’ve also added the remaining ships into the PriceFixer spreadsheet which outlines each ship’s physical loadout to determine the overall cost of each ship and allows us to assign them respawn values (which covers the cost and respawn timers) This tool is also used to gauge whether the ships we’re building are over/under powered for their intended purpose. Once complete, the team will move onto balancing the shop inventories and item prices for 3.0.
Lead Designer Rob Reininger flew to the Frankfurt Office to work with the AI and Subsumption team, and get Miles Eckhart set up as a mission giver. They made huge strides with the feather blending system and got him working with a small subset of his animations. Since then, additional code support has allowed Rob to incorporate the player’s reputation into the conversation to dictate Eckhart’s conversation paths. The team also received the ability to assign specific missions with mission brief tags, so Eckhart can play different lines depending on what missions are available. Beyond this, the team has focused on trying to make the mission giver experience as good as possible for the 3.0 release.
Josh Coons finished images and videos for the Cutlass Black and moved onto the base material/ white box meshes for the Cutlass Red and Blue. Design is still iterating on the key gameplay systems for the Cutlass variants, so although he will continue to work on the first pass of the exterior looks, he will also begin work on the Constellation Phoenix. Chris Smith worked on bugs for the Hornet and Constellation Andromeda, and started creating on a promo video for the Constellation Aquila.
This month the Animation team did research and development on how to implement our Wildline system. A wildline, broadly speaking, is a dialogue fragment spoken by an NPC that could include greetings, cheers, shouts, barks and other verbal expressions that are not associated with a specific scene, but rather specific scenarios.
The team also worked on a new technology called feather blending which allows the blending of our wildline performance capture with a large number of usable animations. This will allow us to stay as close to our actor’s performance as possible while still keeping the functionality of what the NPC is doing. They also went through all our existing animations to look for gaps in the original performance with the intent to capture new transition animations to fill those gaps.
The Ship Animation Team continued their efforts to refine the cockpit and turret experiences. They are in the midst of an R&D phase of implementing button presses, utilizing the Item 2.0 features which has helped finalize dashboard and cockpit metrics for any ship that uses the same cockpit type.
Aside from ongoing bug fixing, the team was able to fully implement base g-force pose blendspaces, allow additive animations for button presses, and play different hit reactions based off of hit direction, damage amount, and overall health of the ship.
The Backend Services team spent the month supporting 3.0 features and preparing for the deployment of Diffusion. The game servers now have full access to the Diffusion API and will start using it with the shopping service in 3.0. In addition, they started converting our two monolithic services (Persistence Cache and General Instance Manager) into smaller, stateless, fully Diffusionized services. These two services will create nearly a dozen smaller services, each with very specific roles that can be scaled independently to provide more reliability and performance. The team also plotted the path beyond 3.0 and started to build many small services to provide functionality and support for a large number gameplay features and help unload work from all the dedicated game servers into our distributed infrastructure.
The DevOps team continued to increase capacity within our build and deployment pipelines in preparation for 3.0. They also made additional changes and bug fixes to support the new Delta patcher and the internal tests have been really promising. Our Corporate Technology Team (IT Department) also completed another major upgrade to the Austin network and added more hardware to the build system, so we can deliver more builds in parallel.
Our resident Audio team member, Jason Cobb, has had his hands full this month as well. He has continued work on derelict crash site sound design for the different moon environments, performed a variety of particle audio implementation experiments for revamped ship debris noises, playtested and mixed refinements for ship emergency state audio, and captured sound effects source for various props and materials as opportunities arose.
ATX QA had a very busy month. A few things they’ve been testing include the new Cutlass Black, new missions in the Stanton system, as well as an ongoing focus on wrecks and NPCs.
Ship testing continued as more ship families were converted to Item 2.0. The team conducted weekly cross-studio playtests with QA departments in LA and the UK for weekly large scale playtests of Arena Commander, Star Marine and Crusader.
The team also tested more mobiGlas applications like the Star Map, the Personal Manager, the Contract Manager and the Job Board as they’ve become available.
The team also had fun testing character gravity and free fall, while also testing cargo mechanics. The team continued to provide support to the animation team by cleaning up mocap files.
Our engine and editor testers tried out new tech for the developers such as the capsule-based actor entity, the entity component update scheduler and the director actor animation control. Some features, like the new stamina and oxygen-breathing systems, went through some balance changes after QA talked with designers.
The Player Relations team expanded this month, adding four new team members to the Austin office in anticipation for 3.0. The team also started to expand the ranks of our Evocati testing group.
Foundry 42 UK
FOUNDRY 42: UK
Work is progressing smoothly on the Eclipse with current focus on the moving areas of the ship, specifically the torpedo bay, entry ladder, cockpit canopy and flight mode variations. The cockpit was finished and the surrounding area is in the process of being resolved. Attention has been given to the torpedo bay due to the size and space it occupies within the ship.
On the concept side this month, we finished the first buggy, the Tumbril Cyclone, and the Origin 600i. For the 600i, the exterior has been fleshed out with the correct proportions. The interior was designed in conjunction with the exterior work. In building these areas, they looked at the best way to model and light the interior to establish aesthetics and methods that will be used throughout the Origin fleet.
This month, the team also made significant progress on some Vanduul ships. The Void bomber greybox has been finalized and is now onto material work, where most of the surface details of the ship will be defined. There are still a few smaller areas to resolve, but the ship can be now seen in its full glory. A big part of the task was to resolve how the smaller boarding ships are stored within it and keeping the main forms from the old concept recognizable while adopting the new Vanduul style. The Blade is also coming along well. Most of the basic shapes on the exterior have been blocked in and are currently being refined.
In Reclaimer news, work was wrapped up on the salvage room, bridge area and lifts. The team did a polish pass throughout the ship, concentrating on lighting and consistency, so the ship is now art complete and the team have moved into an optimization and LOD pass. While this is happening, tech design will start working on their setup pass for the ship.
The Hull C exterior nearly completed its detail pass, and will soon move on to the final stages of having its proxies, LODs and damage setup. The interior is also well on its way to completion; all that’s left is the final room in the back of the ship, which is nearly complete, while the collapsible tunnel section is up next.
We also started two new ships and a personal transport vehicle. We also worked on Squadron 42 mission areas, Hurston shop interiors and landscape development. For Orison, we did initial development on landing zone gameplay areas. Plus, we spent time on all visual targets for surface outpost wear and tear, moons and Shubin’s exterior.
This month the graphics team worked on four different features. The first is the continuing work on the secondary viewport and render-to-texture technology that was recently featured on Around the Verse, with the primary focus of improving the performance of video comms for things like air-traffic-control. The sun shadow system is being improved to better cope with the extreme shadow ranges on our planets and moons to ensure that we get the best possible lighting results, especially at sunset when shadows can stretch 10km or more. Our work on volumetric rendering continued as well, with a move towards creating a fully hierarchical system. This will open the door to model gas clouds of any scale, but also allow the team to stream and LOD the gas clouds so that this great tech can be incorporated into the PU. It also allows artists to import volumetric data from external art packages, which should help achieve some really impressive results. Finally, our GPU particle system has been making quick progress with several new features added every week, with the latest addition being a looping ‘dust’ effect for both space and interiors that can achieve 50x the density of our older CPU effect.
The Audio team was focused on Gamescom and 3.0 related feature work and bugfixing. The ship computers needed to be converted to the new Item 2.0 system, so the team took the chance to refactor and improve the ship computers in general. New assets were created for foley and footsteps using a better system to give our players a much more realistic experience. All of the locations for the upcoming release are now in a polished audio state, giving the players a great visual and audible experience when they are exploring.
As usual, all audio team members are involved in a lot of different sprints. In cooperation with other departments, they worked to improve the cockpit experience and quantum travel, brought 3.0 mission givers to life by delivering dialogue assets and attaching sound effects to them, and polished derelict ships and outposts for the release as well.
The Derby Studio has been busy as ever. The Facial Team finished off all the animations needed for the 3.0 Mission Givers while continuing SQ42 work. Eckhart alone has over 47,000 frames (26 minutes) of bespoke facial animation and is one of over 13+ mission givers currently in production for the PU.
After the recent 3-day Audio/Headcam shoot in London, all data has been tracked in Faceware and retargeted onto our face rigs in Maya. This is a great achievement for the team as there were over 125,000 frames or almost 70 minutes of footage shot.
The team recently welcomed 3 Teesside University Interns to the studio. They’re currently on their Summer break after their second year studying on the Computer Games Animation BaHons Degree and have been helping with Facial Tracking and Retargeting, and also attended a 3.0 mission giver mocap shoot
Construction work started on the new Derby Studio and is expected to take 6 weeks. This will be a great relief to the team as they are currently spread over two sites, and are eager to be back together under one roof. The new office will also have space for the motion capture system to be erected, enabling easy pick up shoots and any other new capture sessions needed. The face scanner is also going to be rebuilt with the plan of extending our library of head scans by capturing a greater age range and ethnic groups.
We also hired another Facial Animator, bringing the headcount to nineteen, and we’re looking forward to welcoming her to the team
This month, the final polish on the huge range of locations featured in the imminent 3.0 release has been underway. This includes final passes on branding and corporate colour theming across the outposts on the moons of Yela, Daymar and Cellin. Particular focus has been paid to making sure they integrate to the planetary surface with all the wear and accumulated dust expected of something that’s spent a lot of time on a moon’s surface. We have also improved how our large scale ‘spacescaping’ dust clouds look and feel, particularly around Delamar which now features its own compliment of asteroid clusters and a discreet atmospheric flavor.
Bug fixing and optimization has been another major part of getting things ready for 3.0. Things such as reducing texture memory usage by optimizing materials, decreasing unnecessary entity counts, optimizing LODs and physics proxies, and consolidating asset usage across various locations all help boost performance and are an essential part of the process before a release.
In Squadron 42, the Shubin layout is being wrapped up. Both design and art are happy with the space and can start final implementations. There’s been specific scrutiny on making the whole facility a believable and functional location, with its own transit systems, worker routes, refineries, security and medical facilities, and hangars connected in a logical way. This helps convince the player they are in a working, active environment with its own set of logic and rules. We also worked to get a section of the exterior to a final visual target. This will help solve questions of scale read and material definition. Besides Shubin, a lot of work has gone into the Gainey map. Recent tweaks to the layout and focus on final visual targets have considerably improved the flow and art direction of the space.
The Weapon Art team were hard at work building the Apocalypse Arms Scattergun, Klaus & Werner Laser Repeaters and MaxOx Neutron Repeaters. They also worked on the Gemini Pistol, Gemini H29, NVTAC and Gemini optics, and some additional work to the Kastak SMG.
In an effort to constantly push the boundaries on new ideas for ship weapons, the team continued to work out VFX styles for each energy type and make improvements to Gallenson Tactical Systems S1-S3.
The animation team completed the implementation pass for Miles Eckhart and has moved on to refining the hand gestures. We started a pass on the AI combat cover assets to improve the mocap implementation, and did further refinements to the knife takedown animation set.
The team also worked on weapon bug fixes for the 3.0 release, alongside very early previs animation for the Custodian SMG and R97 shotgun. Work continues on both the code and animation for the jump system. Plus, new mocap assets are being readied to replace the player placeholder locomotion animation stop assets.
The Tech Animation team worked on a new source control application for Maya. This tool intelligently grabs assets that animators are missing in the currently open scene, so they’ll never be without their textures, audio, rigs and pipeline. The nicest part of this feature is that the silent syncing will not interrupt the user’s workflow.
The team worked with the Props team to deliver a great looking glass tumbler asset with a cheap and robust physics solution. There was no way to drive or afford a true liquid simulation in engine, so this turned out to be a good, cost efficient solution.
There are many, many assets that require the correct setup (the initial batch of wildline anims for Old Man alone came to over 200 assets), so the team developed batchable code solutions for the setup. With this new tool, one person can finish this off in less than a day.
There has been a consistent issue from the tech department where object animations were created in the objects folder, rather the animations folder. This means that the build needed to pull these assets from the objects folder into the animations pak at build time, which conflicted with the pipelines in place for all other animations. To rectify this, the team moved all the animations, as well as make chrparams for all affected assets and dba entries, while re-factoring the current build code to not pool anims from the objects folder.
The team began an R&D exploration of why the animation rig in Maya has had a negative effect on the playback framerate. This system drives many additional joints that we use for deformation in engine, so the team is looking for ways to negate this slowdown and bring us back up to 30fps.
The old cryTools installer is very out-of-date (there have been many other pipelines built since its last iteration and each of them has its own installation procedure) and the team is hoping to create a new installer that will do all the heavy lifting for the user, one which will install every relevant pipeline and be updated in every build. The R&D is promising, watch this space!
The Mocap team updated the Motion Builder reviewer tool to have better functionality and a generic script runner which allows you to run selected Python scripts on a batch of requested files.
Along with all of this, the team continued to track and solve 1500+ motion capture files, which included: gameplay, Old Man, Eckhart, and some others.
This month, they also welcomed Oli Cooke, a new Motion Editor, which brings the Motion Capture team up to four.
This month, the team worked on the jumping mechanic in cooperation with the animation department. This covered the look and feel of jumping when idle, walking, running, and included jumping and landing from different heights. The landing presented an interesting challenge as it can change depending on what state the player wants to go into next. Does the player want to land and stop? Land and continue running? Then we have to consider what foot you’ve landed on, and so forth.
More work went into the usables tech for the AI to determine all the different scenarios where an AI might use something and in what way. One situation that was solved this month has been making the operator seats, which have very specific functionality, but also work as a usable. That gives operator seats a much wider range of things the AI can do with them, such as turning around to the player and having a conversation.
Speaking of usables, there was locomotion sprint to make AI entering a usable as seamless as possible. Since most usables will have one or more entry animations, in order for an NPC to look right when either walking or running up to use it, we need to ensure it hits not only the right point for the start of the animation, but also the right speed, direction, with the correct foot placement. Getting all those factors to line up on approach, without making the walk/run animation look odd, has been a challenge.
The team also started a wildlines sprint. As mentioned earlier, these could be simple greetings as the player walks down a corridor or taunts when in a FPS battle. While this may sound simple, they are more complicated than just playing a line with some facial animation. If a NPC greets the player, you’d expect them to briefly glance at them whilst saying the line, so the NPC needs to utilize the head look tech. Also, most of the lines are captured with full body animation, but we don’t always want to play back all of it. For example, if the NPC is standing idle, then you would want to play the animation back on the full body. However, if the NPC is seated, then the rig should only play back the upper body. If they’re running, just the neck upwards. This is where our feather blending tech comes into play, but it still requires each situation to know which type of blending it needs to use.
Other than that, the team proceeded on a number of ongoing sprints supporting both Squadron 42 and 3.0 which include player persistence, cockpit experience, missions support, ATC and communications, and personal inner thought refinements.
PU LIVE DESIGN
The Live team entered its final mission sprint and hopes to receive the final pieces of code to finish the remaining missions. Code recently delivered a much needed boon to mission entity placement. An example of how we would use this would be to easily place corpses in hundreds of possible locations and poses throughout a derelict ship; perfect for creating the gruesome aftermath of a crash landing. Finally, the player vs player version of Bounty Hunter missions was completed with a proper code system that expands the previously Flowgraphed version found in 2.6.
Foundry 42 DE
FOUNDRY 42: DE
The Frankfurt VFX team dedicated time improving existing systems for the 3.0 release. This review checked all the existing vehicles and systems to make sure everything is still working as initially intended, and doing a polish pass on any effects if needed.
With new systems coming online, such as the oxygen system for rooms, they remade some of the old effects for both the high-tech and low-tech airlocks. This month they also started shifting more focus towards the Squadron 42 cinematic scenes.
The FPS Weapons team completed passes on the last two legacy weapons that were using our old system, which included a first art pass on the Gemini L86 Ballistic Pistol and a final pass on the Behring P4AR Ballistic Rifle.
On Ship Weapons, the team finished all the work for sizes 1-3 Klaus & Werner Laser Repeaters and started work on sizes 4-6. They also finished the Apocalypse Arms Ballistic Scatterguns sizes 1-3. Finally, they worked on some general tasks focused towards 3.0, including polishing, optimizing, and bug fixing.
The Tech Art team finished multiple animation implementation tasks for both the recent usable sprint as well as cinematics. They continued to debug weapon animation issues and did some adjustments to a few of the weapons rigs to make them even more realistic and believable.
They also did some work on a VFX Exporter which was made to export simulated objects from within Maya, as having an active simulation on objects was causing problems. The best way to work around this was to bake the simulation and export the animation, but that’s time consuming and leaves the scene in a state where the VFX artist can’t do any changes to the simulation. The new Exporter takes care of the whole process. It bakes the simulation, exports all the necessary stuff for the engine and restores the scene, so the artist can continue iterating. The tool also creates all the necessary in-engine files, so the artists can hit the export button and see the result immediately in the engine. Tech Art also continued to support the animation code with Ground Alignment R&D. The progress is going well and we’ll be able to show it off in the very near future.
Game Programming spent time fixing outstanding issues and polishing up existing code. The new airlocks and elevators had a few issues where game and engine code conflicted with one another. Those items were identified and work has begun to sort them out.
They also added a small feature to weapons to hide the weapon from the 1st person view during Aim-Down-Sight. This falls in line with the design and will make things easier while in the heat of combat.
In addition, the team used work previously done for character customization to complete the technology to apply weapon skins. There’s still some UI work to be done, but it now allows for simple and fast setups of Weapon Skins in DataForge. Finally, work continues on the Weapon System 2.0 and additional feature polish geared for 3.0.
That AI team worked on more mission broker and mission system features, mostly for PU 3.0 but also supporting S42. The mission broker has been adapted to support multiple players accepting the same mission. The team also added the ability for mission instances to share information (which means players accepting the same collection mission will be sent after the same item, rather than having their own distinct item to collect). They’re building on that work by adding support for abandoning missions, as well as unlawful/lawful asymmetric missions for multiple players.
The team added support for the take-off and landing of AI ships on surfaces. This includes landing pads, ship hangars, other ships, and celestial surfaces. They also added Quantum Travel functionality for the new non-Kythera AI as part of an ongoing effort to create all functionalities needed for Subsumption-based ship AI. Also, they focused on adding more Subsumption AI support, like using NavSplines and correct AI behavior when entering / exiting all vehicles and seats.
Finally, they finished the second sprint for buddy AI. Designers can now specify if they want to keep the AI in front or on the side of the leader or player. This sprint also brings the ability for an AI buddy to take cover in front of the player and move from cover to cover point while following the player. This is the first step in having a companion AI that will intelligently follow and help you out in combat.
The Frankfurt Engine team, in cooperation with UK, refined the handling of GPU crashes and proper reporting via the public crash handler. As the engine render frames, it now includes tokens into the command stream to more easily pinpoint what the GPU was last doing if it starts hanging. This info is sent along with other crash information for post mortem analysis via our public crash handler service. These steps should make it easier for us to more quickly react on GPU issues that are otherwise hard to reproduce because of specific machine setup, OS and driver versions, etc. They also did a large amount of performance analysis and engine optimizations geared towards the 3.0 release.
Another item they focused on was a new road system to work in conjunction with the planetary terrain. The legacy roads were not suitable for our large-scale terrain, as there was a large performance hit along with z-fighting and flickering issues from long distances. The new system is extremely fast and efficient, cache friendly, and fully multithreaded to send draw commands to the GPU in the most efficient way.
The new system uses a screen space approach. Instead of drawing the geometry conventionally, it’s powered by a projective technique, like what we use on deferred decals, and has two distinct rendering passes. First, we draw the road geometry as a 3D volume that intersects the terrain. In this pass, a stencil mask is generated to outline borders of the road. The same mask is then used in the next render pass to clip all pixels of the volumes that are not affecting the terrain. Finally, to generate UVs and fetch material textures, each pixel’s position is reconstructed in camera space, and then in local space, by sampling the depth. All material attributes are then finally written in the GBuffer to compute lighting. Thanks to the nature of projection, this technique doesn’t suffer any z-fight or flickering related issues.
They also created a new toolset to give designers the ability and flexibility to quickly lay down the new roads and modify them as needed. It’s still a work in progress, but the progress is going well. It will be a nice addition to our growing toolset for planets.
The Level Design team took a pass on the room system for Levski, ensuring that the player won’t unnecessarily suffocate in random places. They also did a general polish and some bug fixing for 3.0. Finally, they worked on Lorville, which is the next flagship Landing Zone on our list to tackle.
Testing continued with new features and bug fixes going into the Subsumption tool on a weekly basis. The team worked closely with design and Tony Zurovec to ensure that the tool is tested to their satisfaction. Performance testing is also underway for the Persistent Universe. They used the Performance Profiler tool from Visual Studio to gather very specific data in areas of low performance, and did weekly cross-studio playtests to increase the stress on the servers and simulate an actual live environment as much as possible.
Melissa Estrada, our QA technical Lead, also had fun testing various gravity conditions on the new moons.
The Frankfurt QA team also wrapped up multiple test requests from the Engine team. They included a change to the Entity Component Update Scheduler, which affects how parts of entities are updated, as well as the particle code which was changed to run on threads. All code changes have the potential to introduce new issues to an already functional build, so thorough comparison testing was performed to ensure that nothing new would be introduced into the Game-Dev stream.
They also had test requests for Area Optimizations. Recent code changes to things such as doors and elevators gave us roughly 1.5 ms frametime back and are a definite improvement.
System Design worked on items for 3.0 with a lot of focus on the Levski landing zone, particularly experimenting with it having a full AI population. The AI behaviours needed some work to ensure they didn’t overcrowd any given area. System Design also spent time stress testing our servers to determine what AI populations we can currently support to make sure Levski is full of life. During the process they worked closely with the Tech team to optimize what we could to keep performance as solid as possible.
CINEMATICS & LIGHTING
The Cinematics team continued work on scenes across all chapters of Squadron 42. They also spent time working with the Graphics engineers on the two-dimensional Render-To-Texture display screens and Holographic Volume Rendering.
This month our Lead Lighting Artist was solely focused on applying the final touches on our 3.0 content. This included color grading for each moon, integrating lighting between the outposts and the moons, bug fixing, and polishing on the Levski landing zone.
The Environment team worked on polishing and bug-fixing existing content in the PU. With all the various components coming together we wanted to make sure the visual experience for the players is as good as possible.
On Levski, new areas and locations were added that will increase the number of things the players can do and explore, including a new store and an administration office. The newly added garages received a final polish and dressing pass making them ready to be used. They also put a lot of effort into research and development by looking at new features going into the game after 3.0. This included work on ArcCorp, procedural cities, and the planet Hurston. An important element of the research phase is that we find smart and scalable solutions that will allow us to create more content as efficiently as possible moving forward.
This month, Turbulent restructured the Ship Matrix so that it reflects the design intentions for all the ships with the release of Item 2.0. It is now able to display details about ship loadouts that previously weren’t available on the site. In the propulsion category, they added details about fuel tanks, fuel intake, quantum drives and jump modules. The ship team also added some categories in Avionics and Weaponry, including countermeasures. It had been years since the ship matrix had been revisited, and they needed to adjust the stats to allow for additional details.
With the Ursa becoming drivable in 3.0, you will also find ground vehicles listed in the ship matrix. The team also standardized the sizing on all components to five size variables. Weapons will keep a size range from 1-12.
On the ship detail page, they redesigned the ship loadout icons to give you a better indication of available slots on a ship, while the item details will outline how to upgrade your ship. They also improved the backend to ensure that ship statistics from the design team can be easily updated. This means they will be able to get ship balance changes on the site much sooner than in previous iterations.
Spectrum 0.3.6 is coming soon and is currently being tested on the PTU. One big feature in 0.3.6 is the text editor update that makes forums post much easier and more malleable. Soon, it will have draft mode, so if you stop writing midway through a post and navigate away from the page, you can come back later to finish it. This is great for those times you forgot to hit enter or were distracted by something else.
The updated and redesigned mini-profile brings many new features. It even tracks your post count, including those from the old forums. When viewing an account mini-profile, the karma feature allows you to see how many up votes a user has. With the mini-profile, the team is trying to squeeze in an additional block feature. This is a mod tool that the community has asked for and they really hope to include it in the next iteration.
Lastly, they are introducing a track feature that allows you to jump between staff posts. Previously, you had to scroll to find all the staff posts. The track post feature is a faster way to find information from Star Citizen developers or community team. Orgs can also use it by enabling a role to be tracked in the settings. Custom roles are still being worked on. The biggest design challenge has been with very large orgs and finding the appropriate filter/search function to allow members to find each other.
The team worked very hard with CIG engineering on the new Delta launcher which comes with the Delta patcher. They also worked on refreshing some of the UI elements with new 3.0 imagery. They are essentially changing the entire core of the application, so they have to test on multiple platforms and installation paths. At the same time, our engineering team worked on getting the digital distribution channels ready, so they can disburse those objects as fast as possible when the game version is requested. This also required additional security reviews and deployment scripts.
This month, they introduced a new ship that’s … a little buggy! The Cyclone buggy is our first ground vehicle built with our procedural planets expressly in mind. It was available in five different options (regular, recon, racing, turret and anti-air) and will come online in a future patch. A new kind of vehicle also called for a new kind of manufacturer, so Tumbril was created. No, it’s not a social network media sharing service. It’s Star Citizen’s first dedicated ground vehicle manufacturer. The team had a great time putting together the ‘launch’ brochure, complete with a stock certificate, and they’re already looking forward to the NEXT Tumbril vehicle which will come online later this year.
To help promote the Cyclone sale, they worked with Narrative and the team at Turbulent to create an interactive 2947 drivers license test. You can take the multiple choice test to earn a license to be shared on social media. They love doing promotions like this because it lets everybody have fun, though perhaps only in the Star Citizen ’verse can taking a drivers test be considered fun!
This month’s videos covered many aspects of Star Citizen’s development, with sights and sounds aplenty on AtV. Bugsmashers showed you some of the incredible work going into Star Citizen Alpha 3.0, Loremakers took us around the galaxy to some of the systems we will be building, and Happy Hour even created a star system live using SolEd!
July’s Jump Point covered the development of the game’s second space bike, the Aopoa Nox, which will be in Alpha 3.0. The team even got to sit down and share a little bit about how they plan our ship promotions.
Speaking of subscribers, July’s ship of the month was the RSI Constellation, which saw plenty of backers put it to good use. Next month, it will be the Xi’an Scout (or Khartu-al) and they’re eager to see you put it through its paces. The team also rounded out the Subscriber flare space station series with the station that’s closest to all our hearts: Port Olisar.
Thanks to Subscribers, they held a live town hall Q&A with the VFX team at Foundry 42. The VFX team is doing spectacular work on the effects and it was a true pleasure to be able to share it with you. Plus, when you have effects guys on, they bring their own clips to show off!
There were Bar Citizens aplenty this month, including one attended by over 100 people in Lyon France. And on the subject of fan-organized events, be sure to check out ‘Verse Con, which, while not a CIG event, is going to be a great way for backers in the US to get together during CitizenCon. You can find out more details at versecon.com.
Far and away the biggest job this month has been getting ready for Gamescom. Putting together an event is no small feat, and the team is lucky to have a very dedicated events manager coordinating the show floor booth, developing marketing material to give out, and planning how to spend as much time as possible with the community.
WE’LL SEE YOU NEXT MONTH…
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