Star Citizen Monthly Report: October 2021
Read on for everything from new ship updates to the latest from Pyro, and more.
Last month, AI Content allotted resources to the upcoming Alpha 3.15 public release.
With healing and actor status in the coming patch, the team completed the ‘hospital respawning experience’ AI behavior and usables, which includes the doctors and nurses that greet players when they wake up in a medical bed.
A prominent example of the actor status system can be seen when buying a drink at a bar and getting drunk. So, AI Content took the time to fix many of the long-standing issues players have been experiencing.
“Earlier in the month during CitizenCon, we were pleased the public could see the worker behavior, artifact vendor, and a portion of our upcoming security behavior.” – AI Content Team
AI Features spent part of the month working on the experience and responsiveness of some of the behaviors in the PU. For example, combat perception reactions were improved, including a few scenarios where the initial reactions were not playing correctly. They also managed to make the queuing of reaction animations when characters are using a usable more robust.
The team tweaked friendly fire to avoid unwanted damage and fixed the calculation used by NPCs to prevent them from shooting when friendly characters are in the way. Extensive analysis is underway on the various combat tactics to add better target re-evaluations into multiple scenarios.
On the vendor side, responsiveness was improved, and the team fixed bugs related to the scooching animation and bartenders serving patrons that already have drinks in front of them.
Throughout October, AI Tech continued their work on planetary navigation generation.
“The key elements for this month were about implementing an automatic way for requesting generation on the area surrounding the players, but we also worked on allowing the usage of the funneling algorithm to be used on the planetary navigation mesh triangles.” – AI Tech Team
The team extended the code for navigation links to allow for the creation of customization controllers. In this context, a controller is a generic piece of code that can extend how NPCs evaluate whether they can use a particular navigation link. For example, doors can have specific controllers to tell AI characters whether they are locked so they can be used correctly when pathfinding.
For ship AI, they concentrated on improvements to targeting and accuracy, improved the way AI use missiles in combat, and introduced ways to allow mission logic to force or request prioritization of a specific target. A PID controller was also implemented for accuracy that provides better results and makes it is easier to adjust based on AI skills.
Regarding the Subsumption editor, the team finished implementing functionality to dock different elements in the UI and save or load specific layouts.
Last month, the Animation team worked on various AI behaviors, including the nurse, vendor, bartender, bar patron, security guard, and cowering and hiding non-combatant NPC. Editing was also done on several female assets for Alpha 3.15 to give the world more life. Plans were made to improve the drunk locomotion set, which will help solve technical questions for the ‘heavily injured’ sets.
Development continued on the Shubin Interstellar mining gadget, with the team being sure to fix any visual issues with the select and deselect system.
Work continued on facial animations for all existing body animations, while progress was made on emotes and lines for various characters throughout the PU.
The Character Art and Tech teams spent October fixing bugs for Alpha 3.15 and progressing with content for various upcoming releases. Significant focus was given to updating the DNA archetype heads that will improve the quality of all character heads in the PU and Squadron 42. They also began developing a suite of new frontier-style outfits for the population of Pyro.
In the US, the Ship team cleaned up bugs and continued to polish various areas of the Crusader Ares, including several new paints.
The Drake Vulture reached the final art phase, with last month’s focus on habitation and the cargo hold.
One of the regularly mentioned unannounced vehicles continued to progress through the pipeline, this time getting a finalized UI layout and lighting pass. Part of the team then began the damage pass, while others transitioned to release prep.
Another new ship received its final tints and had bugs fixed throughout.
In the UK, three ships moved through the final stages of the pipeline, while the Banu Merchantman progressed through whitebox. The upcoming MISC Hulls continued development, with the A preparing for whitebox review and the C approaching greybox review.
The Weapon Feature team began the month working on the Firestorm Kinetics Size 3 bombs for the Crusader Hercules and artwork for the upcoming ship tractor beam asset. They concluded the month on the mining gadget, proximity mine, and the laser trip mine.
The Audio Code team prepared for the final stage of Claudius audio software development, which was discussed by Audio Code Lead Graham and Sound Designer Adi during their Sounds of Space CitizenCon panel.
Finally, the team worked closely with composer Pedro Camacho on the score for Pyro to establish the tone and sonic palette.
The Community team spent part of the month preparing for in-lore holiday Day of the Vara. This involved the Cave Runners and annual Star Citizen pumpkin carving competitions, while citizens could unlock the Hill Horror helmet for free by traveling to Jump Town throughout the holiday.
The team posted the Alpha 3.14 Postmortem featuring senior developers detailing what was delivered and assessing how it went.
Community also played an important role in Digital CitizenCon 2951, curating the many great community videos submitted as part of the event’s video contest, with the winners watchable on the CitizenCon website.
They also held the Tales of Star Citizen Past Contest and help citizens share their plans for CitizenCon watch parties.
During the event, the team took votes for the Fan Favorite Cosplay Contest and Ship Panel voting, released the Origin 400i Pre-Q&A after its unveiling, and compiled the Anvil Ship Carrier Q&A based on the most-upvoted community questions.
Following the event, they made all panels available to watch in 4k and posted a Follow-Up Q&A – Question Gathering thread to the Server Meshing panel.
Finally, the Community Team supported the upcoming Alpha 3.15 with Patch Watch posts on the personal inventory and server crash recovery, new missions and the first pass of shield variants, and medical gameplay.
Last month, the Physics team supported the upcoming Alpha 3.15 release and fixed numerous issues, and time was spent on various optimizations. The process of voxelizing triangular meshes was sped up by utilizing a scanline-based acceleration structure instead of a voxel-based one when flood-filling cells. The team also helped AI Code to optimize their update routine for the audio map by batching the stimuli processing. Furthermore, the sorting of collision events was optimized, and default brush physics are now created lazily. A debug visualization for collision history was implemented too. Lastly for Physics, a tree-based quantum grid was implemented that will be used during quantum-travel boosting and regular quantum travel to detect collisions and obstacles along the path.
For the renderer, significant effort was spent on improving the results of the pipeline profiler for Gen12 and legacy render paths. This was done to gain an accurate assessment of how long render and compute passes take to process on CPUs and GPUs without impacting actual frame rate too much (real-time profiling).
Significant progress was also made on the Gen12 transition: Pipeline state objects are now compiled on demand to improve loading times, massive instancing is now supported, and instance buffer management was optimized. The Scaleform render stage used for menu and in-game-world UI was optimized to reduce the average stage count from 2000 states to a maximum of 60, with the pipeline state also being created on demand. Additionally, refactoring was done to the particle code, light atlas stage, and shader parser. Content integrity was tightened by adding data asserts for invalid shaders being used in materials. Support for material texture updates (texture animation) was added too.
For atmosphere and cloud rendering, all recent improvements were merged into the Alpha 3.15 stream. Improvements continued to be made to cloud and atmosphere indirect lighting based on the presence of clouds in the atmosphere. The initial part of this work was completed (LUT generation), with work picking up again once planned performance optimizations are in place. To get the latter in place, work on the reprojection and filter chain commenced to allow for temporal and spatial reuse of raymarch results. Specifically for this purpose, R&D work started on performing reprojection without motion vectors (as these can’t represent participating media properly).
The Core Engine team also worked on entity streaming code, which now supports the sphere-based culling needed for SQ42. A large refactor was submitted to the entity component update scheduler. This includes a new API that uses update IDs instead of passes to allow multiple updates per pass. The engine’s frame profiler was updated to include various statistics from heartbeat events as well as a summary of CPU time and memory usage by the dev teams, build info, and a screenshot into the capture. The memory manager was extended to support separate allocation arenas and thread caches per dev team. In cases of invalid memory access, the exception handler can now indicate which arena an inaccessible memory address maps to. This in turn allows debugging memory crashes with more fine-grained memory check enabled, which typically means the build runs much faster and uses less memory as it otherwise would do with memory debugging enabled globally. Additionally, work continued on improving vis area (frustum) culling and functionality to capture and pass around C++ lambdas without heap allocations was added.
Lastly, the team is taking a closer look at options to integrate EASTL.
Features (Characters & Weapons)
Throughout October, the Features team improved the new player inventory and actor status features based on feedback from the PTU, with the most notable addition being the ability to filter items in the inventory. This feature has already gone through several UI iterations since being introduced early in the month.
The US Gameplay team began the month finalizing their Stream of Thought panel for CitizenCon. Once complete, they focused on the new item kiosk that will add the ability to sell items back to shops (it was converted to Building Blocks in the process).
They finalized technical design documents, began work on the major cargo refactor, and worked on the upcoming IAE event too.
A fix was added to stop players from losing items stowed in their ships if they hit a 30k. Now, when players hit a 30k, they will be able to respawn that ship with all stowed inventory items at any ASOP terminal in the game.
“Gone are the days of loading your ship up with a ton of items to move to another city only to lose them due to the server crashing. We’ve already seen an extremely positive reaction from the public on both Spectrum as well as Reddit about how well this is working, so hopefully you all appreciate this as much as we do!” – Features Team
Last month, the Vehicle team focused on a significant rework of grav-lev handling. A breakthrough in implementation meant that they could make significant improvements to the handling, making it more dynamic and flexible. They also fixed some bugs and issues with the existing implementation.
The development of jump points continued, with the team currently cleaning up loose ends regarding gameplay logic. For example, when multiple people use a jump point at once. Some of the low-level tech behind jump points has dependencies on server meshing, so the team continued to work with the relevant teams too.
Improvements were looked into for the transit system. The system is quite complex and was built before server meshing and streaming, so there are upgrades to make to ensure it copes with the new tech landscape of the game. The team also looked to improve some of the tools used by the designers to more easily create dynamic and complex transit networks.
Graphics & VFX Programming
Improvements to water volumes continued, with October’s focus on how to correctly simulate volumetric lighting under the surface. Two approaches were taken: The first makes use of the general voxel fog system, though this has several limitations that make it not applicable to very large or very small water volumes. The second approach is to re-use the particle lighting model, which is less accurate but can work at more extreme scales.
Work also started on changes to the material system to allow shaders to become more modular. This is a stepping stone towards building a new suite of shaders that provide more power and flexibility for the artists without always needing complex re-engineering by the graphics programmers.
Gen12 work picked up after CitizenCon, with more systems being converted. The team are also looking to complete a large refactor of the texture samplers to make them compatible with Gen12/Vulkan.
Other completed tasks include new light animation features, technical design work for using damage maps for salvage, gamma correction fixes, and general support for the fire feature.
The Lighting team started the month fixing bugs for the locations of Alpha 3.15.
They then moved onto finalizing lighting for IAE, which involved taking the existing lighting and repurposing it for the new mood of the convention hall. Some areas only required small tweaks, while others received much more dramatic changes that the team hopes will provide a new and interesting experience for the community.
The start of a new quarter also saw the team tackle the backlog of legacy tasks and polish covering locations across the whole PU.
A look-dev pass began on Pyro’s abandoned space stations
“These locations provide us with tons of opportunity for mood and drama, like dark, cold corridors contrasted with hot markets filled with condensation.” – Lighting Team
The Montreal-based Locations team put the final touches to Area18’s hospital, which is due for release in Alpha 3.16. This involved completing polish tasks, building LODs for the entire location, and fixing any remaining bugs.
Alongside this, other hospitals progressed well, including the Maria Pure of Heart hospital in Lorville and the rest stop clinics, with the latter approaching the final stages of development. The rest stop clinics required a few additional modules to allow the team to create unique layouts across each of the 12 locations. They also iterated on the whitebox for Levski’s hospital.
Another key feature currently under development is Derelict Ships V1. Last month, the Design team scattered parts of the Drake Caterpillar around planetside locations and added puzzles inside them. Currently, there are two types of modules: Vanilla and Puzzle. Vanilla modules are simple spaceship parts where players might find basic resources or items. Puzzle modules contain a puzzle with a lootable container as a reward. The team has now completed these modules and are assembling them at various crash sites around Stanton.
Narrative’s October kicked off with final support for Alpha 3.15’s push to the PTU. They also supported other teams, fixed bugs, added text strings, and wrote item names and descriptions. They then looked ahead to future releases and began compiling documents for some of the upcoming hospital locations. This included writing ideas and text for environmental props, such as posters, signage, and announcement scripts.
With the year coming to a close, there was a focus on planning. Narrative worked alongside AI, Animation, and Design to figure out narrative content goals for the upcoming year, including behavior prototyping and motion-capture sessions.
Narrative also continued to work on content for Pyro, including working alongside Design on missions and developing the factions and locations that will be found throughout the system.
A handful of new and reposted lore articles were published. The Advocacy Archive reveals an undercover operation into a potentially violent faction of a Terran separatist group, while Dispatches from the Dark tells the tale of a true-crime enthusiast’s conflicted hike to the site of an infamous serial killer. October’s Jump Point featured a CitizenCon retrospective as well as a look into the development of the 400i and a Portfolio on Cousin Crow’s Custom Craft on Orison. Finally, Galactapedia was updated with a host of new articles.
QA’s primary publishing focus was on CitizenCon, Alpha 3.15 for Evocati, and wave 1 PTU testing. As the live date was moved into November, the team continued to test and publish to further waves while updating the publishing seclude.
For development, the team continued testing QATRs as needed. With the new Tuesday-and-Thursday publishing plan and functionality checklist in place, the team was able to perform tests more reliably.
QA management continued with the return-to-office plan, progressed with recruitment, and created a dedicated QA Live team.
Systemic Services & Tools
In October, Systemic Services & Tools wrapped up their ongoing work on the economy, tools, and AI simulation. They’re now focusing on optimization for the remainder of the year. The new gameplay feature mentioned last month continued development too.
Work progressed on intelligent NPC spawning and tracking, with the latter half of the spawning system progressing well. The tracking system continues towards its first major internal milestone.
Finally, in preparation for Alpha 3.15, they addressed new edge cases with the inventory system and backend services.
October saw Tech Animation complete their long-running task of upgrading the head-creation and animation pipeline.
“We have rewritten major parts of the DNA system used to create our in-game actors. Coupled with this, we have added support for creating and editing these head assets in Maya through a plugin that shares the same codebase and a huge amount of tooling to use it efficiently. This has allowed us to move beyond our current gene-pool limits and set our eyes on the future.” – Tech Animation
Now, all types of face rigs are viable (including animals and aliens) along with the prospect of upgrading or customizing the facial animation rigs for whatever is required in the future. This technology is also being prospectively recruited with more complex forms of deformation.
Tech Animation are nearly ready to present the head-authoring pipeline they created in tandem with the DNA system. This will give them the opportunity to create new face rigs for the DNA gene pools and tightly control the quality of assets.
Additional tooling was created throughout the quarter to include alembic cache export in the animation pipeline. It was always supported but including it this way has opened up new opportunities for the Animation and Tech teams to directly include it in their animation pipelines as an export preference.
Animation also continued the development of the tools pipeline and refined some older code and tools to keep them working as intended.
The Live Tools team progressed with the Hex tool detailed last month, this time bringing it to parity with the previous version. They continued to adjust the crash-handling pipeline in preparation for deployment next month alongside a new update to the Panic API to support the upcoming changes.
Game Services progressed with the discipline service, ironing out the details in pre-testing before proceeding with the full QATR. The team also worked on feature requests for the entity graph for the Persistent Tech team.
The UI team primarily supported Alpha 3.15, though they also progressed with UI for the upcoming refueling feature and mining gadgets. They spent time converting the ASOP terminals to use Building Blocks for a future release and worked with the Vehicle team to add updated door controls to the latest ships.
Vehicle Tech worked on various features for the upcoming patch, including new vehicle release support, landing gear, radar and scanning, repair, and door control panel interactions.
“The control panels are of particular note, as we are aiming to soon expand such interactions to allow the player to control their environment in new and exciting ways, whether they be within a vehicle or station.” – Vehicle Tech
The team then moved on to incorporating feedback on the radar and scanning improvements submitted last quarter. Squadron-42-related needs were also uncovered that, when implemented, will benefit the PU too.
The VFX Team completed full passes on several new ships, including the Crusader Ares variants and their weapons. Work continued on the S10 bombs that are now looking significantly better than the ‘functional pass’ shown on Inside Star Citizen.
Planetary ground storm effects were rebalanced, which was necessary due to the recently introduced VFX lighting model. The team also held several VFX-focused playtests where they found and fixed lots of minor visual bugs.
WE’LL SEE YOU NEXT MONTH…
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