Squadron 42 Monthly Report: November & December 2020
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 new FPS weapons, volumetric cloud rendering, and work continues on the Morrow Tour.
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 AI (Social)
Social AI worked on the usables required to implement a full cycle of the NPC chowline mentioned in the last SQ42 report. This process includes NPCs collecting crockery, dispensing food and drink, picking up cutlery, carrying food to a seat, sitting down, eating, drinking (with the levels of food and drink decreasing), and clearing up. This builds on existing usable work but uses features in ways that haven’t been done before, where the state of a previous usable is necessary for the next one. For example, NPCs can’t dispense food unless they have a bowl and can’t eat food unless they have picked up the cutlery to eat it with.
The Animation Team spent the last two months of 2020 working on new FPS weapons, developing EVA traversal animations, MedPen blockouts, staggers, Vanduul combat, and surrender behaviors. They also updated running animations and locomotions.
Work was completed alongside the AI Team on various tasks, including the chowline, mess hall, Aegis Gladius inspects, idle and jogging improvements, push/pull, and several behavioral lines for many of the campaign cast. Various greetings, farewells, bumps, facial animations, and story-specific scenes were completed too.
November and December saw the Character Team complete a major polish pass on the characters of chapter four, including Morrow, White, Kelly, and Webster. This involved implementing more realistic eye geometry alongside texture passes and shader improvements courtesy of work done by the Graphics Team. Many SQ42-specific outfits, such as the deck crew and bridge officer uniforms, were improved too. The concept artists also worked on an in-game comic book.
November and December saw the Audio Team continue to make progress on chapter four, generating new SFX content and working closely with SQ42’s composer Geoff Zanelli on new music.
The SQ42 Feature Team continued to support object container streaming, making it easier to set up and testing it on several levels. They also worked with the designers to get the firing range working in-situ in the Idris and now have NPCs using it systemically. Functionality for the designers to detect mission fail states (such as deliberate friendly fire) was added. Now, if conditions are met, the player will fail the mission and be taken to a predetermined scene. A push to polish interstitial levels led the team to fix several glitches and complete a number of small feature requests.
The Weapon Feature Team implemented the new Multi-Tool tractor beam functionality and made progress on a new hacking mechanic that allows players to bypass security systems.
Actor Tech spent most of the end-of-year period supporting the Morrow Tour, polishing push and pull, working on smooth locomotion, and getting the locomotion/scene transitions to work seamlessly.
The mounted turret was worked on by Actor Features. This will allow a fixed weapon to be fired and aimed via the player’s movement and is a sub-feature of the cooperative locomotion. They also implemented FPS radar and scanning and began work on zero-g push/pull locomotion to allow players to traverse space by grabbing and releasing fixed items in the environment (similar to how astronauts maneuver around the ISS).
Core Engine and Physics
The Physics Team worked on optimizations throughout November and December. This included an improved method of pre-physicalization for planet terrain patches for use in collision checks and improvements to event queueing. The first draft of ‘propagating physicalized shockwaves’ was submitted, and box-shaped physics grids and bullet drag were also added. SDF support was improved and work continued on soft-body deformation too.
The Vulkan initiative continued, with high-level render code refactor and optimizations. For example, the way material constants are uploaded to the GPU was simplified and optimized. A larger refactor of the shader cache backend system began too.
On the graphics side, various fixes for depth-of-field were delivered. The hair shader received several improvements, such as the ability to disable specular highlights on eyelashes, improved boundary occlusion at hairlines, support for ambient lights in forward shading, and better hair quality during camera cuts. Dual-lobe approximation for the skin shader was added and the eye shader received a couple of improvements as well.
For planetary atmosphere rendering, time was dedicated to volumetric cloud rendering. The initial draft was implemented and work on volumetric cloud shadows made great progress, which will ultimately lead to localized cloud shaping.
The Core Engine Team spread their efforts over a couple of areas. Firstly, a large number of bug fixes and improvements were completed, such as streaming meshes for animated vis areas and the ability to add vis areas to CGA joints. Various optimizations were also implemented in the entity and zone systems along with component updates.
Using telemetry from the PU and PTU, the Core Engine Team continued their ongoing investigation into memory usage. This led to the engine-wide memory allocator and tracking system (including its tool chain) to be substantially refactored and improved. To provide an additional performance boost to the servers, the Linux DGS was switched to a monolithic executable to allow the compiler to generate better code (for local thread storage access in particular), and a stress test for object container streaming was added.
Lastly, C++ 14 support was enabled for the entirety of the client-server editor and relevant tool projects.
The Morrow Tour was a major focus towards the end of the year. The gameplay section was reviewed regularly, with plenty of interesting feedback given and updates made as required. As they moved into December, focus moved to more minor updates, bug fixing, and polish work.
“It has been great to see so many people working hard on this area of the game and this has meant that many long-standing tasks were addressed by other teams.” Gameplay Story
This led to various scenes receiving updates based on new assets or requirements from other teams too.
Towards the end of 2020, the Graphics Team improved stability and fixed bugs inline with the latest internal SQ42 milestones. Because of the very high quality bar, especially for the cinematic elements, many visual issues were addressed. For example, the depth of field effect needed several changes to work better with the new hair shader. Tweaks were also made to the sub-surface-scattering effect to improve occlusion at the boundary between materials, such as around teeth and hair.
Level Design had a highly productive Q4, aiming to complete a slice of gameplay starting from when the player first arrives on their home ship. This milestone required the collaboration of many different departments, encompassed work from all the design teams, and utilized the social elements refined throughout the year. It was a hugely successful exercise, giving Level Design the tools and knowledge they need to complete the rest of the campaign.
Narrative wrapped up the year adding more immersive details to SQ42. As environments are further dialed in, the team made several passes and write-ups to expand on the props and screens discoverable around the world. For example, in earlier high-level passes, it might have been called out that the inhabitant of a room enjoys working on art in their spare time. Now that development was focusing on the area, the Narrative Team created the specifics of what should be seen. For items like interactable books, this can be quite involved. Additionally, screens in locations like the flight control room aboard the UEES Stanton needed additional text passes to make the information on them more pertinent to their function.
Work also continued on scripts to address gameplay needs as the Design Team progressed with various levels. Narrative reviewed several game sections to discuss whether additional dialogue could heighten gameplay or better highlight the player’s objectives.
Development of the Vanduul language progressed too, with the team reviewing the latest updated dictionary.
QA continued to deliver recordings of each level to Cinematics so they can ensure scenes are working as intended and are of the expected quality. They also created custom maps to test more focused parts of cinematics. They also continued to support the dev teams and tested the various updates to the wider project.
In the run-up to the holiday period, Technical Animation prepared for a large update to the facial rigs. This consisted of a ground-up overhaul of all face assets to enable several long-term initiatives to coalesce in early 2021. There were many assets to upgrade and a great many that required a careful hand and due diligence to ensure continuing pipeline compatibility. They also completed skinning and rigging to support both old and new assets throughout the campaign.
The UI Team spent much of the past two months creating a new system to allow story cutscenes to trigger changes in the UI. This enables them to do things like animate screens in time with characters pressing buttons, or make on-screen warnings appear perfectly timed with cinematic explosions. Once the code was complete, the artists worked closely with the art and cinematics director to create an interesting movie-style UI in one of the holo-briefings, with floating UI drawing onto the screen, timed to complement what the officer was talking about.
They also worked closely with the Vehicle Team on the Gladius HUD. Using the concept video (which was shown on a recent ISC) as a reference, the functional version was built in-game using the new 3D UI tech.
VFX closed out the year working closely with Art and Cinematics to implement and polish the VFX for a key location. This included both epic effects and more subtle details. They also continued to support the Tech Art, Art, and Design teams with gas clouds. WE’LL SEE YOU NEXT MONTH…
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