Welcome to November’s monthly Star Citizen report from Cloud Imperium Games. Last month saw the Intergalactic Aerospace Exposition land on Hurston just in time for our annual Anniversary Special. Devs had fun bringing the expo to life, while continuing to forge ahead, sights set on the upcoming release of Alpha 3.4. Read on for Persistent Universe development updates from all of our global studios.
Star Citizen Monthly Report: November 2018
Ship AI’s major focus throughout November was optimizing the Tactical Point System. They now have multiple queries bundled together in a batch from different threads, which allow more control over the cost of the overall system. Several optimizations for the character movement system were submitted, which now update all the components in a multithreaded batch approach and utilize the maximum the CPU resources during the game update. A pass for thread safety of several subsystems was performed, including the attention target component and communication system. This is required to eventually move the Subsumption component update to the multithreaded batch update step.
In FPS Combat, the ‘Defend Area’ assignment was introduced; correctly achieving this behavior requires monitoring the mastergraph transitions to evaluate if the recipients of the Subsumption event can actually process it. In the Defend Area example, they might be executing any regular behavior when receiving the assignment. If the behavior can handle the request in a specific way, great. If not, then the mastergraph takes care of selecting one that can. Alongside this, they’re adding new behaviors to improve combat and patrol to respect this assignment.
Support for stealth gameplay was implemented, with new audio and visual stimuli being added to allow players to draw the attention of guards, prepare traps, and open up otherwise blocked paths.
Work also continued on the bartender for Lorville. To achieve several functionalities of his behavior they implemented the first pass of UseChannel routing and are continuing to expand the usable functionalities.
The Usable Builder Tool received a new feature too: it’s now able to correctly preview different characters using different usables so that designers, animators, and programmers can easily test and verify the content as it’s delivered.
November saw Animation supporting the Feature Team to bring vault, mantle, and jumping functionality in-line with the game’s quality and play expectations. They’re currently testing a process to allow the efficient integration of different weapon classes, such as pistols and shotguns. The team is also implementing carry options for Zero-G EVA and working towards finalizing player interaction (carriables in particular).
The US Animation Team cleaned and solved data from the amazing performance captures done at this year’s CitizenCon in Austin, Texas. Editing and final work will be completed soon. They continued work on the Ship Dealers that will populate the ‘verse and made sure the new mission givers are available as soon as their locations are ready, such as Wallace Klim in Levski, Tecia Pacheco in Area18, and Constantine Hurston in Lorville.
Exploring the issues that result from re-targeting the male animations to the female skeleton, the team determined that the first step is to achieve 1:1 parity between them. This will allow for the replacement of assets with female-specific versions without hindering female player development. Finishing touches are being added to carriable tech, too.
The Combat AI Team is exploring how to use the stocked weapon asset set as a basis to quickly create pistol versions to give the AI Designers more freedom in the type of weapon encounters they create.
The Ship Content Team is finishing off sequenced animation work. This will enable quicker and more efficient implementation of the design and animation sides of new ships. Weapons-wise, they’re working on the Ravager rifle and the Kahix.
The Audio department focused on the new flight model and the spaceship audio mix. They implemented tech to allow systemic mixing of NLPC ship bases on priority, size, and threat level, which gives a clearer and more focused mix. This, combined with the implementation of the new ship vibration component, has greatly improved the ship audio experience. During implementation, they made an optimization pass to ensure memory and voice limits remain healthy.
Improvements to the weapon experience continued with the consolidation of assets and the simplification of element implementation to ensure improved translation of audio assets from the digital audio workstation (DAW) into the game. There have also been changes to the Foley system to improve the audio feedback of the player’s traversal on different terrain and surface types.
On the music front, the team worked with the PU composer Pedro Camacho to develop and implement new musical cues to support the planet-side locations on Hurston, such as L19, and upcoming expansions.
With Object Container Streaming (OCS) coming online, the Audio Code Team optimized and polished FOIP to ensure reliability.
Backend Services worked to bring the 2948 Anniversary Event to players. The first order of business was creating the service needed to bring forward the correct overlapped object containers for the different days at the convention center. This ensured a seamless transition between manufacturer days and prevented the need to publish a new build per expo day.
Next, they worked to make sure the rental logic behind the expo correctly traded data between the server, client, and database to ensure players could enjoy the ships they rented.
Finally, a login queue was created to help organize and throttle the unprecedented number of players attempting to enter the ‘verse and check-out the expo.
Away from the Anniversary Event, work continued on the new architecture for the Persistence Cache to help increase the scalability of the backend as well as link important services to a new database architecture.
Character Art’s focus throughout November was to make all armor and undersuits available for female avatars. They also worked on modeling two of our new mission givers to bring more life to the Persistent Universe.
Additionally, they’re creating a new set of outlaw armor (designation ‘Shipjacker’) that will include armor, an undersuit, and subscriber items.
“The Community Team started the month in the Halloween spirit with two spooky contests in anticipation of the holiday. Players joined the festivities and showcased their talent in a pumpkin carving contest and a FOIP screenshot contest depicting the most terrifying and terrified expressions they had to offer. Spooktacular!
The Mustang Commercial Contest put the community’s filmmaking skills to the test. Our bold cinematographers embraced the maverick spirit of Consolidated Outland to create commercials that Silas Koerner himself would be proud of.
During Thanksgiving, Citizens shared what they were thankful for and participated in two holiday contests in honor of Turkey Day. With these two contests, we are now up to 25 total contests run in 2018, and the team still has more planned to go live before the end of the year.
As Alpha 3.3 made its way to the Persistent Universe, we welcomed the first fully-explorable planet and city with Hurston and Lorville respectively. While everyone was exploring the new environments, the bustling landing zone, and four new moons, the Star Citizen content creators outdid themselves, creating beautiful shots of sunsets on Hurston, days out on the beach next to Lorville, and joyrides to Aberdeen. We are proud and thankful for all the content the community shared on social media, Reddit, and the community hub, and are looking forward to seeing even more. Keep on sharing!
The 2948 Anniversary special kicked off our most epic Free-Fly event to date with all flyable ships and vehicles to try out at no extra cost. The Intergalactic Aerospace Expo came a long way and made its in-game debut with their Hurston-based satellite branch. Exclusive reveals at the expo included Anvil’s ‘light fighter of the future’, the Hawk, and the next evolution of Xi’an tech and design innovation with the Aopoa San’tok.yāi.
Lastly, we also reached a significant funding milestone and want to thank our amazing community who made this possible. The amount is the highest total for any project in the history of crowdfunding and is beyond anything we could have imagined. In a letter from the chairman, Chris Roberts shared his thoughts on the fantastic journey so far and the exciting future that lies ahead. Here’s to tomorrow!”
Design got the Anniversary Event’s Convention Center up and running for all backers to enjoy.
To help encourage players to browse the inventories at New Deal and Teach’s Ship Shop, the team began implementing a new type of NPC: the Ship Dealer. The aim is to provide a realistic and interesting ship purchasing experience to further liven up the process of acquiring a dream ship.
“We sincerely hope you got a chance to try out and see the different ships at the Intergalactic Aerospace Expo on Hurston!”
Tuning for the Economy continues, with work going into adjusting prices for various services and goods across Stanton. Work has also started towards the design and implementation of a robust and important Economic Editing Tool to help better visualize and tweak the Economy than ever before.
They also tuned Arena Commander’s REC Reward.
November is always one of the busiest months for DevOps due to the Anniversary Event, and this month was no exception, with the team scaling the servers to the highest capacity since the beginning of the project.
To ease the overall DevOps workload, the Publishing Team expanded their internal tools, which allowed most of the team to enjoy a well-deserved break for Thanksgiving (even if they did stay very close to their laptops).
Between PTU & Live, they successfully published 30 times throughout November, with some days seeing 3-4 builds.
Engineering teams around the globe worked on OCS throughout November. The first iteration of client-side streaming was released in Alpha 3.3, with an ongoing focus on improving asynchronous entity loading and unloading.
The core OCS and network and backend teams had the Object Container Server Streaming summit this month to plan the next iteration of OCS, which will focus on server-side streaming and full persistent servers.
LA-based Engineering collaborated with the Austin Backend Team to build the tech required for in-game ship rentals. It was premiered during the anniversary promotion and forms the foundation for all in-game rentals.
Development on backend tech moved forward towards allowing persistent EZ Habs and enable players to customize and persist their start location. The Vehicle Team continued to work on Ping & Scanning gameplay, this month focusing on ship scanning. Work has also begun on the new DNA component to integrate the R&D technology into the character pipeline.
Turbulent worked closely with the LA Gamecode Team to further improve the group system, spectrum integration, and FOIP & VOIP.
The Engine Team spent time supporting the Alpha 3.3 and 3.3.5 releases, bug fixing, profiling, and optimizing code (especially for Object Container Streaming). Work continued on GPU skinning, adding vertex velocity support (for motion blur, etc.), completed several optimizations to skip zero weights (which improved throughput), prepared background data, and made the first pass on memory layout and LOD support.
For physics optimizations, the execution of ray collision checks and the defragmentation of grids run were made to run concurrently. This achieved a 30-50% speedup for physics planet terrain computation, reduced the number of cell queries on planets, and improved proxy mesh generation of terrain ground volumes.
Terrain rendering improvements were made (glow forward pass) as well as fixes for water volume and ocean rendering. The existing hair shader was improved, and a new depth of field algorithm was created, improving quality, performance, and fixing halos around silhouettes.
They completed additional culling refinements in the zone system to submit fewer objects to the renderer, as well as various low-level optimizations to reduce the load on the render thread. Further enhancements were made to engine-side support for the public telemetry page to allow user-specific optimization hints to be displayed to improve the gameplay experience, and a new tool was developed to easily analyze core dumps of Linux dedicated game servers.
The UK team focused on bug fixing and optimization for the Alpha 3.3 release, mainly for Lorville and Hurston. A focused sprint was completed for the Anniversary Event convention halls, with the aim to provide a versatile and time-economic environment to show off the ships in their best light. Additional Underground Facility interior exteriors and a new Alpha 3.3 splash screen were also made and implemented.
The DE Location Team made great progress on Lorville’s Central Business District (CBD). Here, players can access the Hurston Dynamics Showcase, the flagship store for all weaponry produced by the brand, as well as the Transfers store where players can engage in various trading activities. The CBD has a very different feel to the rest of Lorville and clearly services a different type of clientele. Luxurious materials and modern design set the ambiance for this experience.
The Organics and Planet Team are making great progress on upcoming locations and are currently working on ArcCorp and exploring microTech. Both locations need additional features to be added to the planet tech to make them truly unique, so while it’s still early days, things are steadily moving on.
The team is actively working on upcoming mission-givers, including Klim, along with ship dealers, bar patrons, and bartenders. They’re also testing the results of the player’s facial animation recordings on the default loadout.
This month, the Graphics Team firmly focussed on the release of Alpha 3.3.5 and improving both stability and performance. The PTU was plagued by some quite frequent GPU crashes, but Evocati testing helped them track down the cause and remedy it.
With the release of Lorville, QA saw high video memory usage due to the scale of the environment and number of ships and characters. Due to some bugs, this resulted in serious performance issues as the video driver began to page memory, resulting in noticeable stutters. Fixes were made to the worst offending video memory bugs in Alpha 3.3.5. Looking forward, the team continues to reduce memory usage and optimize the game for the next release.
The Issue Council deployed version 1.1.5 in October. Several issues were fixed including editable fields of the different forms not displaying correctly, versions not ordered from the latest to the oldest, and display names with special characters not showing properly.
The Live Team placed and marked-up locations on and around Hurston for mission use. Big improvements to the delivery missions were made – players can now take contracts from companies who operate specific routes and require the player to have a certain level of reputation. The Downed Relay mission (as seen in CitizenCon) now has multiple outcomes, including having other players tasked with destroying the stolen blade before its data is uploaded.
Finally, most of the combat missions found at Crusader are now available at Hurston. Work has begun to define the contractors and progression for them, too.
This month, the Lighting Team worked on improving the headlights across almost all ships available in the PU. Due to plenty of issues regarding visibility while flying ships in dark environments, the headlights were improved to provide more visible light from greater distances. There’s still room for improvement, but in the meantime, it’s a positive change that makes the planetary flying experience more enjoyable.
Additionally, the team focused on bug fixing and optimizing the lighting in Lorville to maintain a high degree of quality while improving framerates and lowering drawcall costs.
They also worked on the lighting for the Intergalactic Aerospace Expo to help show off all the amazing ships being featured in the various halls.
The Narrative Team pushed heavily on Alpha 3.3 and 3.3.5 tasks to knock out remaining mission text and standardize in-game descriptions for ship components on the terminals. They also continued working on editorial selects for the lower priority lines for NPCs that were captured back in September.
To cover the new convention center and other contexts, they ran a pickup recording session to add additional Lorville announcement lines.
The team also worked closely with Marketing to support the recent IAE expansion event in Lorville. Not only providing written copy but joining some of the roundtable discussions to provide fictional backstory for the various manufacturers.
Lastly, they worked to schedule tasks for the PU and undertook overall team planning for the upcoming year.
Player Relations busily plugged away at the Alpha 3.3 and the Anniversary Event, working alongside the Evocati on several builds to make sure key components were properly tested.
“As always, we’d like to point all players to our growing Knowledge Base, which now has over 100 articles and saw almost 450,000 visitors this month! We will continue to grow this by adding new ‘How To’ articles, patch notes, and live service notifications.”
The Props Team focused on the stands, booths, and branding for the Intergalactic Aerospace Expo and the Anniversary Event. They recently shifted onto closing out the CBD props in Lorville and are currently creating bespoke furniture to help sell the wealth and decadence of the Hurston Central building.
On the publishing side, QA busily tested the Alpha 3.3.0 and 3.3.5 builds for publishing to Evocati and Live. On the game side, the focus was on testing Hurston, its four moons, and city Lorville. They also completed a number of QATRs relating to FOIP & VOIP, ship purchasing in the PU, ship rental in Arena Commander, and improvements to Object Container Streaming.
It was business as usual on the leadership side, with coordinated testing priorities between the UK, LA, and DE.
Two new recruits were welcomed to QA; a dedicated tester in Frankfurt to support the AI Team and an additional tester in the UK. They will be primarily focused on providing day-to-day updates on the state of AI and will report all issues directly to the team to be investigated.
QA also made the decision to do away with the general design tests and instead focus on specific sanity/smoke tests for AI and another test suite specifically for the Transit System and locations. The previous design tests were too broad and covered areas that were not always prevalent to the in-house design teams. Refocusing towards specific in-house feature teams has proven that the testing and information provided is much more valuable.
A fair amount of time was spent on major QA test requests for new animation update optimizations, physics terrain patch optimization changes, and general optimization that will further improve performance in the PU.
Frankfurt’s QA branch supported the Planetary Tech Team in investigating an issue on one of Hurston’s moons. Something in its setup was causing the normals on the moon surface to be very intense. This was tracked down to a lighting issue and further steps were taken (with the assistance of the Graphics Team) to enable the surface to get back to, well, normal.
At CitizenCon, the team was present on the show floor to prepare local environments to run the game backend for both the FOIP LAN demonstration area and the main stage demonstration. This local setup included the entire game backend allowing for the demonstration to represent exactly what is being played in the PTU and the Live environment, including the network of social services that power groups, chat, and FOIP.
With the release of Alpha 3.3 and 3.3.5, the team mostly focused on observing and scaling the voice and face transmission solution to the increase of backers in the game. DevOp teams mainly worked to ensure that voice channels created by players during one-to-one calls, group channels, and global server channels were properly sharded to new voice servers, as the number of connected players increased.
With the addition of global chat auto-connect in Alpha 3.3.5, the team also added new systems to monitor and move voice channels between servers when the supported load on a given voice server instance is too high.
“The team has been ecstatic about the use of the technology by players and we hope to keep growing its use with gameplay connected features.”
In order to help with the above tasks, the social game services were moved to a Kubernetes-based orchestration solution that allows easier management of voice and service containers. This new backplane supports continuous integration of service changes and will greatly improve the team velocity when deploying updates and builds.
Working in conjunction with the universe team, Game Services began the development of a web-based administration tool to help manage the runtime state of the game world from a macro level. This is still in the very early stages of development but, using this tool, the designers will ultimately have the ability to inspect social objects like groups and their life cycles, ban, chase, and player controls. Integrating the WebGL Starmap engine will also allow the viewing of commodities, player locations, gameplay analytics, and much more.
This month, the UK Vehicle Team returned to the Origin 890 Jump after wrapping up the Valkyrie.
What will undoubtedly be well-received news amongst the community is that, after long hiatus, work continues on the greatly-anticipated Anvil Carrack. Since the ship was last worked on around 18 months ago, there have been significant improvements to the ship pipeline and workflow. So, when re-reviewing the previous state, the team decided to undertake a second whitebox pass of the interior to bring it closer to its original concept.
In addition to next year’s larger vehicles, progress was made to the Alpha 3.4 ships, including the Origin 600i Touring. The Freelancer DUR, MAX, and MIS are all receiving the final touches by art.
Lead Vehicle Artist Chris Smith made great progress on the greybox model, interior, and exterior of the 300i rework and began implementing different paint jobs and modeled the modified components for the other three variants. Next, he will move onto an alternative interior to be used in one of them.
3D Modeler Josh Coons recently completed the whitebox model for the Banu Defender and has now moved onto testing some of the modified workflow using Zbrush models, which will be baked down to create the type of detail we are looking for in this ship. He is continually creating new textures and also starting to build up the greybox model with the alternative workflow.
The System Design Team worked on integrating updated flight mechanics into enemy ship AI, ensuring that with all the changes, they are still engaging to fight against and don’t become unbalanced. They noticed that the updated flight model currently causes too much unwanted ‘jousting behavior’, so are currently looking into ways to modify it.
Work was done on restructuring dialogue wildlines for the ship/FPS/social AI to unify them within the same overall structure. A large amount of work has been done with the audio & writing teams to ensure the system works properly for all systemic dialogue in the game. They are also working to develop tools to automate the setup of dialogue lines.
More work was completed on designing stealth gameplay elements, which in turn requires the AI perception to be upgraded to cater for peripheral vision, as well as various audio events and stimuli from environmental sources, such as throwing a pebble to distract enemies.
Shortly after CitizenCon, the Public Telemetry page was launched. The data presented here reflects the data CIG receives from clients while playing the game. This data is used to assess and improve performance across a variety of hardware. If logged in while on the telemetry page, players will see their stats, including their computer’s GPU and CPU score and average FPS. The heatmap displays other user’s average FPS and the most popular hardware for each GPU and CPU score. On launch, the telemetry page showed a massive improvement between Alpha 3.2 and 3.3 thanks to OCS.
Throughout November, Turbulent supported CitizenCon, the Alpha 3.3. Flyable Ships, the new Anvil Valkyrie, the release of the Drake Kraken, and preparations for the Anniversary Event.
- CitizenCon: CitizenCon 2948 was an amazing event, with Turbulent supporting many components such as the livestream, merchandise, badges, microsite, and the release of new ships from Drake and Anvil!
- The Drake Kraken: In October, Turbulent supported the unveiling of Drake’s first capital ship, the Kraken. The Kraken has two multi-purpose hangars, five manned turrets, four remote turrets, a massive cargo capacity, comfortable habs for a full crew, a Dragonfly Bay, and six landing pads. The website showed multiple features such as an interactive cross-section of the ship and a registry for those interested in obtaining one.
- The Anvil Valkyrie: Turbulent supported the release of the Valkyrie, the new flyable drop ship from Anvil. The Valkyrie contains multiple side guns and turrets and can deploy up to twenty troops as well as a vehicle into combat. The website displayed features such as in-game footage of the Valkyrie and a CitizenCon-exclusive edition called the Valkyrie Liberator. This was also released on October 10th.
- The 3.3 Flyable: With the release of Alpha 3.3, Turbulent supported the availability of the flyable ships on the website. The ships include the Aegis Hammerhead, Tumbril Cyclone, RSI Constellation Phoenix, and the CO Mustang. An exclusive CitizenCon Mustang was also available, called the Mustang Alpha Vindicator.
- The 2948 Anniversary Special: The Anniversary Special was launched on Friday, November 23rd. Over the course of the week, a different manufacturer was released each day. On the first day, the Arrow was released, along with the rest of the Anvil ships. RSI day was on the 24th, Origin Jumpworks the 25th, Aegis Dynamics the 26th, Drake Interplanetary the 27th, and the alien ships on the 28th. The new San’tok’yai ship was unveiled by Aopoa too. MISC had its featured day on the 29th, and the new manufacturers on the 30th, including Tumbril, Crusader, CO, Argo, and Kruger. The last days of the Anniversary Special featured discount starter packs.
- The Anniversary Quiz: With the help of Player Relations, Turbulent executed a quiz featuring three questions for each manufacturer. A passing score awarded a ‘Ship Master’ Spectrum badge and certificate. By passing the quiz, players were entered into a draw to win an Anvil Arrow.
- The IAE Free-Fly Promotion: For the week of November 23rd until December 1st, five different flyable ships were featured each day of the week according to the featured manufacturer. The page contained information about the Desmond Memorial Convention Center in Lorville and linked to the Knowledge Base, which provided detailed instructions on how to get started. The IAE Free-Fly page also instructed new players on how to make an account and get into the ‘verse.
- The Aopoa Santok’yāi: Turbulent supported the release of the Santok’yāi, a new Xi’an ship from Aopoa. The Santok’yāi features Yeng’tu Laser Repeaters and the latest Xi’an technology in a light-to-medium fighter chassis.
The UI Team worked on adding the ability to rent items in Arena Commander, as well as supporting the needs of the Environment Team working on Lorville’s CBD.
Based on recent feedback from both internal and external sources, turret improvements have continued throughout November. In addition to bug fixes, there were multiple improvements to turrets including making multi-axis turrets controllable at min/max pitch, fixing the gyro pip offset, and improved aiming methods from a variety of input devices. The foundational mechanics to allow ships to aim at the engines on target ships has also been completed, and the feature itself is nearly ready to be rolled out to the PU, as is scanning nav points for destination info. The rest of the month was rounded out with a clean-up of debris network flow and a variety of vehicle-related crash bugs.
Art, Systems Design, and Tech Art worked together to release the Anvil Arrow as part of the November Anniversary Event as well as continuing to work on ships for upcoming releases: The Anvil Hawk is in the release-prep stage with both the Art and System Design Teams, the 300 Series is in greybox with Systems Design, and the Freelancers had entered release-prep with Tech Art.
Additionally, Systems Design and Tech Art worked with the animators on character animation sequencing for vehicles, and Tech Art worked on a thruster pass for the new flight model.
The VFX Team continued to polish and optimize the many environmental effects of Hurston and implemented general improvements to the various moons throughout the ‘verse. They also finalized VFX for the Anvil Arrow and Anvil Hawk. The VFX Team spent time optimizing existing assets to help with the overall performance of Alpha 3.3.5.
They also cleaned out all unused VFX texture assets in hopes of reducing the amount of memory required to load all the particle textures.
Now that the base work for Lorville is finished, the Level Design Team are focusing on the CBD. The whitebox is already done, with most of the remaining work involving connecting the trains and ensuring all the logistics work.
New Underground Facilities components were added to the procedural tech. These are built with modularity in mind and can be generated in the same way as Rest Stops. Once the modular library has enough content (rooms, connectors, POIs), it will become much easier to provide more variety.
They also continued working on the procedural tech to make sure that it provides everything needed from a design perspective. This can be difficult at times, as compromises are required; what is the most fun to play is not necessarily what looks the best.
The Weapon Art Team worked on the Multi-Tool rework, Kastak Arms Ravager-212, and the level two and three upgrades for the Hurston Dynamics Laser Repeaters. They also made minor adjustments to the iron sights on a handful of weapons to improve the sight picture and to make them more user-friendly when no optics are attached.
WE’LL SEE YOU NEXT MONTH…
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