Star Citizen Monthly Report: April 2021
Throughout April, AI Content focused on completing the first pass of the security, tourist, and tour guide behaviors, polishing animations from recent mocap sessions and adjusting the related behaviors.
They also implemented the first version of the landing officer, one of the deck crew that will be used in hangars, landing zones, and capital ships. The landing officer gives players clear directions on how to position their ships in relation to the pad for perfect decents.
Work also continued on the hygiene behavior, with the team completing setups for the toilet and shower cubicles and their relative blockout animations. For sleep behaviors, new animations for beds were set up to support physicalized sheets, and the process of standardizing the proper usage of bed shutters began.
They also progressed with the ongoing goal of propagating vendor behaviors to as many shops as possible. They’re currently designing and blocking out the different elements that will make up the various locations (coffee shops, differing food stalls, etc.) and are enabling the available kiosks to use the hawker behavior too.
April saw AI Features improve the Subsumption tasks used to queue requests in the communication system to link directly to Dataforge entries. This allows the designers to select communication configurations and channel names from a dropdown instead of having to manually type the string names.
Patrol path tech was further developed, while the usable system code was reworked to refresh the usable archetype and use channel archetype flags of an entity post-initialize. The movement blocks that install an NPC to a usable were refactored to rely on the usable component for their internal logic, as the usable component should abstract the AI knowledge of how to interact with the world and not delegate to all other possible components of the game.
Work also progressed on combat behaviors for untrained characters, such as civilians. This involved making sure they react appropriately to combat scenarios and try to preserve their lives as best they can, which is affected by what weapons, if any, they have available to them. The team also improved the reaction distance definition that was causing NPCs to react incorrectly to the player’s presence when fighting in some situations.
Spaceship behaviors related to subcomponent targeting were worked on, with the ability to find the root targetable entities from any targetable object added. The data gathered can be used in flight tasks to perform specific maneuvers, such as allowing a ship to sphere-strafe to attack a subcomponent on a specific sector of a target ship. They also updated the ‘AISeatWeaponControllerComponent’ to handle missiles.
Support began for spawn closets, including implementing handling for the ‘OnDespawnRequest’ event and the initial pass of the despawn activity. Currently, the entity will look for a usable in the spawn closet action area and use it. If that fails, it will move to a random position in the area.
One of the Tech Team’s focuses throughout April was navigation links for the navigation mesh. Work involved restructuring the code to allow navigation link entities to specify extenders, which act as code bridges between game code functionality and the navigation link. This provides navigation-system-specific data in a format that can be correctly used during pathfinding. For example, they can now create an extender that uses an explicit offset to connect two navmesh locations or an animation. The animation can also motion-warp markers in a similar way to how mantle is currently used by players. It’s currently being used in SQ42 to allow the Vanduul to jump on and off objects of varying heights, but it can scale to anything needed for environment traversal by any character type.
For EVA, they completed tasks to allow NPCs to systemically transition from zero-g into a usable (and vice versa). For example, AI characters can leave the cockpit of a ship smoothly and then process a 3D movement in zero gravity. They can filter the appropriate enter/exit animation so that the 3D path correctly starts or ends at the appropriate location too.
April also saw the team convert the Subsumption component to use the ECUS ‘InRangeChanged’ event. This uses the more efficient Entity Component Update System API and improves the assignment handling to ensure that assignment requests are propagated correctly from the queue when changing the in-range state. They also fixed how the mastergraph event queues when propagated into the newly selected activity when handling assignments, which is used to select the appropriate subactivity when the transition is delayed.
Finally for AI, the team continued to improve the flowgraph functionality for requesting a custom function assignment. This was achieved by adding support for dynamic input and output variables defined in the selected global function. Ultimately, this will ensure the team can correctly create feature test levels to validate and test behavior content and their related features in a scalable way.
April saw the team work on tourist and tour guide animations, blockouts for vendors, and the holo-greeter for an upcoming event. In parallel, the Facial Team worked on assets for the tourist, tour guide, holo-greeter, race announcer, and staggers.
April saw the Character Art Team wrap up refinery deck assets, while the majority of outfits for Orison and the hospitals were modeled and skinned. A few outfits for Alpha 3.14 progressed well too.
The team continued modeling armor coming later in the year and supported an X-ray shader and skeleton model for medical gameplay UI. Finally, work progressed on backpacks and holographic projections for the physical inventory UI.
Throughout April, the Landing Zone Team further developed Orison, which moved into the final stages of production. Other disciplines are currently focusing on closing out the location, with all major platforms, shipyard structures, and rings now final-art-complete. The global composition of the landing zone was also locked down and transit routes have been finalized, though background platforms are still progressing through the final art phase. The team also bug-fixed and optimized the halls for Invictus Launch Week.
Following the release of Alpha 3.13, the Modular Team switched focus back to colonial outposts. The majority of room architecture and props moved into the final-art phase, materials were finalized, and additional visual addons and units were created. A gameplay geometry pass was also done in greybox to better prepare the modules for combat, which involved exploring alternate routes and cover locations. A combat scenario was tested on a planet too, with the team continually making adjustments based on feedback from Design.
Montreal’s Modular Team finalized their work on the Orison and New Babbage hospital maps. The polish phase is nearing completion, with the team preparing to move onto the LOD pass and bug fixing.
April was an exciting month for Planet Content:
“Crusader is looking great and the positive reception from the community on the screenshots we shared boosted the team’s motivation!” -The Planet Content Team
The artists also explored new types of heightmaps for the Pyro system that can generate steep canyons. Work is still ongoing, with the team making additional polish passes over the next few months.
They also looked further ahead to Nyx. Though the system’s planets are still in the early stages of development, new asset packs were blocked out based on the location’s art direction. The next stage is to move the assets towards the final-art stage and begin creating planetary surfaces.
The US-based Vehicle Content Team (and other supporting teams) worked hard to complete the release-prep phase for the Tumbril Nova and the last major review. Treads, movement, and gameplay feel were the focus.
“We are now into a proper QA testing cycle and are working on making sure the polished vehicle and experience are going to make players happy. The Nova Tank has been a concerted effort by all and we are proud of everyone’s contributions and are excited to see it go live.” -The Vehicle Content Team
Progress was also made on the RSI Constellation Taurus. Last month saw the ship move through the release-prep stage, with a focus on finishing the complicated LODS. Whitebox was also completed for a highly anticipated ship due for release later in the year. Support was also given to Alpha 3.13.
Alongside other work, Tech Art addressed bugs for the recent patch release, including docking, SDF shields, elevators, ramps, and operator seats.
The Weapons Team continued to move the standalone Greycat tools through the pipeline, with the tractor beam going into final art and the salvage tool going through whitebox. They also iterated on medical tools alongside the UI Design teams, who progressed with wider feature work. Focus was also given to bug fixing for Alpha 3.13.
For ship weapons, a handful of bespoke weapons were developed for some ships featured in an upcoming event.
“We can’t say much more at this point, but a number of bespoke weapons have been given some love to make them sit better with the ship in question.” -The Weapons Team
The Audio Team onboarded two junior sound designers and one junior technical sound designer to meet the development requirements of Star Citizen and Squadron 42.
For Alpha 3.13, they completed an ambiance pass on the new cave interiors to embed them into their planetary locations and completed all unique audio for the Greycat ROC-DS’ locomotion and moving parts. They also supported the new ship-to-ship docking feature, designing and shaping the audio experience for the gameplay loop, including the UI and docking/undocking sequences.
Tasks were also completed for Invictus Launch Week, including an ambiance pass for the new expo halls with SFX, dialogue, and music.
Audio tasks were completed for Alpha 3.14, with the team focusing on Orison.
“Expect new and interesting ambient sound design and brand-new music from Pedro Camacho for this location. With this landing zone being the first cloud-based city, there are certainly interesting challenges and opportunities to engage with!” -The Audio Team
The Community Team started April announcing the Origin 404 that coincided with the UEE holiday Triggerfish.
The all-digital CitizenCon 2951 was announced, and a Q&A for the Greycat ROC-DS was published that answered community questions on Alpha 3.13’s new twin-user mining vehicle.
The Stanton Seven racing league kicked into high gear this month, which saw the top 16 teams racing across Clio and Wala. The rules for each heat are available on the Stanton Seven website, as well as team leaderboards and a look at amazing rewards that wait for the fastest drivers in the ‘verse.
In April, the Physics Team continued to improve vehicle support, including the steering limit of a neutrally turning tank and the gravity of a free-falling tank. The wheeled vehicle code was further cleaned up too.
For Alpha 3.13, a solution was found to enabling floating-point exceptions on Linux servers, which will help the team get to the root of issues quicker, meaning a faster turnaround on bugs. For numerical robustness, several improvements were made when converting double-precision floats to either single-precision floats or 32-bit integers.
Engineering continued to work on the G12 renderer, enabling parts of the new Gen12 render path by default and starting the full transition to the new architecture. They also continued to port render passes alongside the Graphics Team. For example, the Scaleform (UI) render path received an initial commit to port it to Gen12. The shader parser received several new improvements and optimizations too.
Work continued on the volumetric cloud system, with April seeing a pass on efficient empty space skipping in the raymarcher. The SDF generation was further optimized, and a required refinement pass was also implemented. Research continued into ways to generate and apply SDFs and, with the initial SDFs generated, work commenced on integrating them into the raymarch process. For cloud modeling, the artists can now specify a custom set of volume textures per planet to shape clouds, as not every planet has clouds resembling those on earth.
On the core engine side, the job manager received further improvements, with the team introducing an explicit per-thread and fiber info block to reduce contention in some of the threading backends. In the near future they’ll improve out-lock implementations to make fewer unnecessary thread wakeups and fewer kernel calls when simultaneously waking up more than one thread. Additionally, they removed contention in one of the threading backends by switching the scheduling algorithm from a lock-protected priority queue to a lockless approach of fixed size producer/consumer queues with aging. For post-mortem profiling, they saw the first results in visualizing collected data in a newly written tool that’s more user-friendly and flexible.
Time in April was also dedicated to server meshing. The existing StarHash logic, which is used for server object container streaming, was moved to the network module in preparation for a later move to a server meshing service. The assert pipeline was revamped and streamlined for more effective issue tracking too. This also involved introducing data assets (in case malign data causes code to run in unexpected conditions), allowing issues to be directly assigned to the relevant content team.
Lastly, code was implemented to mark unused texture slots in materials to guide automated asset dependency tracking, which will keep game data bloat in check.
Features (Characters & Weapons)
To support the next iteration of the player inventory, the team spent part of April working on several UI features. Significant work went into the ability to drag and drop items between the player character and different inventories. Further information was added to tell the player what can go where along with feedback when specific interactions are blocked. One challenge is dealing with attachments. For example, moving a pistol between leg armor and an undersuit.
They also looked into the handling of an inventory stored inside another inventory, which led to them creating multiple windows for the player to move items between. Scenarios like the player dropping the backpack off their character while having the inventory open were also dealt with.
“One small detail which is looking quite neat is the player character performing an unstow animation if the user places an item directly into their character’s hands.” -The Features Team
Another related area investigated last month is the player leaving a lootable body behind upon death. For now, this will be achieved by creating a body copy (or imposter) and transferring ownership of the player’s items to the copy. This leaves the original player entity free to respawn and able to return to their corpse to retrieve their items. As well as transferring items, this required logic to copy the pose and physical state of one ragdoll to another. This still requires polish to make the transition seamless, but the feature will add a new dimension when implemented in the future.
The Feature Team spent April looking into must-fix issues for Alpha 3.13 and continuing their work on Alpha 3.13.1 and Alpha 3.14 initiatives. Work also continued on the Player Asset Manager, with the engineers creating the initial Building Blocks system and the ‘provider’ that manages a majority of the application logic. The provider and Building Blocks will be connected via UI bindings, which will let the team pull in essential data they wish to show. Meanwhile, UI Design created concepts for the layout of the app, which will be reviewed and edited before a final design is chosen.
Planning continued for the upcoming cargo refactor mentioned last month, with Engineering writing up the TDD, which is now in the review process. From the TDD, the team will look to break down the work into tasks before starting to build the extensive new system.
Internal testing of the next dynamic event is currently underway, with minor changes being made daily following feedback from QA.
Last month, Mission Features spent some time focusing on Invictus Launch Week. The team also further developed spawn closets, working on an underground facility as a proof of concept alongside what’s being used on the Javelin.
Mission Features also began supporting hospitals with a refactor of spawning, which had become fragmented as prisons, criminal spawns, and medbeds were added.
An update to friendly-fire logic and splash damage was made. Now, as long as players do more damage to enemies than friendlies, they won’t be punished for any accidental damage caused. However, they will still receive CrimeStats if more serious crimes are committed in the initial implementation. This will be most noticeable when using an EMP, so players should still be careful not to cause more friendly damage when firing.
They also added more civilian AI to caves and improved their behavior when not in combat. Minor improvements were made to the air-traffic control system and bugs were fixed following player feedback for Alpha 3.13.
Following the launch of Alpha 3.13 and the first iteration of ship-to-ship docking, ship-to-station docking progressed throughout April, with bugs fixed and release-prep work undertaken.
The new thruster wind VFX detailed in March’s report was further developed with support from the VFX Team. This feature’s goals include dust plumes created by individual thrusters as they animate and move on the ship, and effects that change depending on the direction of the thruster to the surface it’s interacting with.
Thruster capacitors received development time in April, which will encourage meaningful decision-making during combat and close-quarter flying. When implemented, afterburners will be powered by capacitors that drain very quickly when used. The capacitors will then recharge using the ship’s power much more slowly, requiring players to consider firing afterburners carefully.
Finally for April, time was spent on improving heads-up-display visuals, which will be important for showing information on the various upcoming features, such as the above thruster capacitors and Missile Operator Mode.
Graphics & VFX Programming
After a period of bug fixing, the Graphics Team returned to focusing on the Gen12 renderer. Most post effects are now running the Gen12 version by default and, once the final few are enabled, they’ll begin enabling geometry passes. This will start with shadows, followed by opaque geometry, and finally transparent geometry. The geometry passes are already partially complete, though there are still problems to solve before they see the expected performance gains.
Progress was made on the Vulkan backend to achieve parity with DirectX 11, which requires a pass over all shaders to remove a handful of legacy DirectX 9 features that are no longer supported.
The VFX Programmers continued the Gen12 conversion of their code, which is almost complete. Great progress was made on the fire hazard too, while a major overhaul of particle lighting was completed. Finally, the particle lighting is now more physically based, energy-conserving (doesn’t reflect more light than it receives), and gives higher quality results that are more consistent over different lighting scenarios.
Last month, the Lighting Team moved to predominately supporting Orison. With the line of sight being dozens of kilometers away to other platforms, lighting information needs to be visible at these distances while maintaining high-quality lighting on local platforms. This will likely involve a longer period of polish and optimization than on previous landing zones, with plenty of back and forth between lighting individual platforms and the landing zone as a whole.
Live Content’s April saw them revisit cave missions, improving the AI patrol paths, adding harvestables and mineables, and making a general bug sweep (with close attention paid to the AI).
They looked at some of the existing Caterpillar derelicts and added additional variations to give a more claustrophobic feel and to introduce the use of tractor beams and trolleys. The longer-distance quantum-sensitive delivery missions were revisited too, with balance tweaks made to the rewards.
Once complete, the team largely turned to paper design and prototyping for future releases, with a focus on the comm array missions to help improve and expand PvP gameplay. This involved working on the aforementioned spawn closets in the underground facilities as a proof of concept for the new tech coming online this quarter.
Following the release of Alpha 3.13 last month, the Narrative Team turned their focus to the next patch and finalizing content for Invictus Launch Week, which included a voice-over session. Orison received new audio, set dressing documents, and navigational sign text, while set dressing documentation was completed for the new hospital locations.
Following the release of the Delphi reputation app, the team had several meetings to discuss the expansion of the reputation system and how to make the player’s experience of working with various organizations and contacts more robust and nuanced. They also coordinated with Design on scripts for an upcoming dynamic event and worked on the usual slate of new items requiring naming and descriptions.
April also saw a wide range of narrative content, including Jump Point magazine for subscribers, new Galactapedia entries, the latest Mining Rocks newsletter from Shubin, the first installment of A Gift for Baba (the story from which Crusader’s moons got their names), and brand-new feature Loremakers: Community Questions, where the Narrative Team provide sought after answers to questions pulled from the Ask A Dev section of the forums.
Player Relations finalized their recruiting efforts to support the growing needs of the service and backer base, including a remote training program to better onboard new team members. They also announced the launch of the Issue Council 2.0, which improves the team’s ability to track, triage, and fix bugs throughout the game.
Last month, the team continued with props for the colonialism outposts, which involved working closely with the Modular Locations Team to ensure they’re cohesive and fit the homestead feel.
Props polish for Orison was started, most notably on materials for the whale statue “hero-asset.”
Concept props were created for the hospitals alongside the Montreal-based Locations Team, including a wheelchair, walker, IV stand, and packaging assets for medical goods. They also progressed with the medical bed and gurney, which are nearing completion. The new hospital bed template was rolled out so that hospital beds in ships can use the new gameplay too. Finally, Props helped AI Content produce new usable templates for shops.
On the publishing side, QA supported the launch of Alpha 3.13 alongside an incremental patch to fix a few player-feedback issues. They then set up and prepared testing strategies for Alpha 3.13.1 and beyond.
QA’s primary development focus was on testing Invictus Launch Week along with another event coming later in the year. Preliminary testing began on Alpha 3.14 features and content along with performance captures.
The Texas-based QA Team was also restructured to enable them to focus on more specific aspects of the game, like ships, careers, locations, missions, events. This allows testers on each team to have more knowledge in a given area and better test specific features and content.
Systemic Services & Tools
April saw the Systemic Services & Tools Team wrap up the latest version of the economy and AI simulation tools that control the wider game economy. Improvements were also added to make recording and presentation easier.
For services, work progressed on prepping the Super pCache for the next release. The prototyping of new services, including one for celestial body positioning and one for the accurate tracking of important NPCs, were also completed. They also completed service work to pass ship names between the DGS and platform, though they’re still investigating edge cases as time permits.
Finally for SST, work progressed on support for server meshing, with emphasis on object container hierarchy table seeding.
Tech Animation began working on a new area of the facial pipeline that will convert photographs into full head geometry models. The process itself has been used for years, but this initiative sees the team automating as much as possible to enable the artists to focus on art rather than time-consuming technical processes. This involves utilizing several applications and streamlining all required data through them without user interaction.
The weapons authoring pipeline also received attention to assist its users and automate as much as possible. This will see Maya become more intelligent with how it handles engine files and enable a portion of the authoring and validation directly in its environment.
Collaborating with the Core Tech and Networking teams, Turbulent’s Game Services delivered the first iteration of the entity graph service. Many teams depending on this are now able to move forward. An entity graph tool was also created for testing and creating test scenarios.
New teammates were onboarded, who will be focusing on moving Hex to the next level. They started their roles performing maintenance and clearing out high-priority bugs and tasks.
Both teams completed a few support tasks for Alpha 3.13 and its incremental patches, but mostly continued tasks for Alpha 3.14.
The Web Team supported the various promotions that launched in April, including Alpha 3.13 and the Greycat ROC-DS.
The UI Team worked on several elements throughout April that will help UI screens in future releases. They created a yellow, low-tech style to better match locations such as Lorville as well as a blue Crusader-style UI to use in its ships and on Orison itself. They also created small-yet-useful widgets such as foreground and background textures, manufacturer logos, and new buttons that will be used in an upcoming update to the door control UI. A tweak was also made to the transit screens so that they look and work in a similar way, though they will be able to have any UI style applied in the future.
Finally for UI, the developers gained the ability to add tooltips to screens and made bug fixes and optimizations for Alpha 3.13.
Last month, the Vehicle Technical Team began tying down the radar and scanning system features and focused on testing functionality to ensure a clear and satisfying experience. In support of the Tumbril Nova, they worked to make it feel and look appropriately “tanky” by focusing on animation timing and wheel surface debris. A list of must-fix issues was addressed for Invictus Launch Week, with work continuing into May to ensure the event runs as smoothly as possible.
The VFX Team spent part of April making thruster effects more readable at distance. This work followed a similar pattern to last year’s weapon effects readability task, where they looked at the game holistically in team playtests to get a better understanding of what visual information players needs to improve their gameplay experience. In the case of thrusters, being able to see them from further distances is desirable, so various tweaks were made to the effects to make this possible, though the process is ongoing.
Some new firework effects were created to give the Design Team a larger library to choose from for various gameplay events, while further progress was made on large-scale destruction events, specifically testing out the pipeline from conception to the end result in-game. The Nova’s VFX were further polished too, including its cannon.
On the feature side, work continued on thruster wind volumes and the new effects for vehicle radar ping/blobs made progress.
WE’LL SEE YOU NEXT MONTH…
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--- Wed May 05 2021 00:00:00 GMT+0200 +++ Wed May 05 2021 00:00:00 GMT+0200 @@ -30,0 +30,4 @@ +April was an exciting month for Planet Content: +“Crusader is looking great and the positive reception from the community on the screenshots we shared boosted the team’s motivation!” -The Planet Content Team +The artists also explored new types of heightmaps for the Pyro system that can generate steep canyons. Work is still ongoing, with the team making additional polish passes over the next few months. +They also looked further ahead to Nyx. Though the system’s planets are still in the early stages of development, new asset packs were blocked out based on the location’s art direction. The next stage is to move the assets towards the final-art stage and begin creating planetary surfaces.