Everyone’s been working hard to make our upcoming release the biggest and most exciting one yet. A big part of this is taming the beast that is Object Container Streaming. This is one of our biggest tech hurdles to date, and the team is heads down and focused on burning down remaining tasks and issues.
Ship Art got deeper into the greybox phase of the Origin 300 series refactor by detailing out the landing gear, headlights, and other features. They made another pass on the cockpit and pilot chair and are closer to getting that area to a satisfactory level. Next up is a test of the interior collision with a character in-game, as well as testing the enter/exit animations.
They’re also wrapping up some last modeling, lighting, and material tweaks on the interior of the Constellation Phoenix. When finished, they’ll move onto the LODs for the interior and exterior.
Animation continued to push through a few more Mission Givers (like Darneely in the image below) and are almost finished with a further three. These characters will be found at places like GrimHEX, Levski, and Lorville, so look forward to traveling around to meet with them in the future.
The team is working closely with Design on the Bartender to help flesh out the flow – soon players will be able to walk up and order tasty drinks from a believable barkeep. Players will also see NPCs sitting at the bar or ordering drinks to help the environment feel full of life.
This month was a busy one for ATX Design, with plenty of work done for various portions of Alpha 3.3. First up, they supported getting rentals working in Arena Commander and Star Marine to ensure players don’t need to go too far to rent a favorite gun for your ship or character.
They worked with the LA Engineering team to make great progress on implementing some new improvements to Quantum Travel. These include displaying the status of party members during QT (including when a player drops out) and laying the groundwork for Quantum Travel Route Planning. Headway was made on the Economy features for this quarter, with efforts to allow the economic status of resources to affect pricing reaching a significant milestone. Recipes for all items were completed so that, as the price of resources or parts fluctuates, players will be able to see a noticeable difference in the pricing of items. However, the change won’t be instantaneous and will develop over time.
They’ve also been working on creating new shops for Lorville and look forward to bringing players new items from the latest locations.
Several Services have been written under the new architecture while support for the legacy architecture continues. This month focused on improvements to the Persistent Database, Badge Service, Leaderboards, Encryption, Security and more. Services that have received some attention or are being entirely created from scratch to provide logical and efficient micro-services are: *Badge Service: This is a simple caching service that pulls account badges from the web platform when a player logs in. The Diffusion Badge Service provides an API allowing other services, game server, and client to query individual or sets of badges.
- Leaderboard Service: The Leaderboard Service caches player leaderboard stats.
- PDB/SQL API: The new SQLAPI Diffusion Service provides a very simple interface allowing for Services to add, set, remove, or update data sets. It is specifically designed for persisting Ooz data structures in an SQL Database. A No-SQL solution is in the works as well.
- Transaction Service: A general transaction Service is being created to manage rental and store purchases, as well as currency/service transactions for missions and service beacon contracts.
- Loadout Service: The Loadout Service is a cache which provides an API to other Services allowing them to create, modify, and request specific loadouts for players or ships.
Backend Services have also been helping the Web Platform with their work on the Group Service and integration of Spectrum into the PU.
The Player Relations team helped wrap up Alpha 3.2.2, essentially completing the second quarterly release for 2018. They’ve now turned to 3.3 and CitizenCon preparation (and what always turns out to be a very busy last third of the year!).
They added a couple of new faces and will continue growing across the various studios. As the backer base and games grow, so do the needs of running the service.
The Evocati are also growing. Invites were sent out to some of our most diligent players and those most active on the Issue Council. This will help the team immensely with some large-scale testing in the coming months.
“We’d like to point all players to our growing Knowledge Base, which now has over 100 articles and has seen almost 120,000 visitors since its launch. We’ll continue to grow it by adding new ‘How-To’ articles, patch notes, and live service notifications. As always, we’d like to remind and encourage everyone to continue to use the Issue Council to help us triage and rate bugs and functionality. We use that data to prioritize for future updates, plus your IC participation will make you eligible for earlier PTU waves.”
On the Publishing side of things, QA has been preparing for Alpha 3.3 by updating the current test plans and documentation.
Game side, work continues on the internal dev stream, where the testing focus has been on Object Container Streaming. Testing priorities were coordinated with counterparts in LA, UK, and DE, and the new TestRail software was updated to help make testing more efficient moving forward.
GRAPHICSThis month, the Graphics Team have been working on two main areas. The first is on improvements to the tech for space landscapes, which includes more realistic particle movement and lighting, GPU spline-based lightning effects, multi-threaded asteroid creation, and improvements to the volumetric gas cloud tech. Also, work was done on volumetric point light shadows for gas clouds, which are crucial to convincingly lighting our more complex space scenes. These shadows are computed in a single render pass and stored efficiently in 2D deep shadow maps, which can then be used to quickly evaluate the shadowing at any distance from the light. Keep an eye out, as many of these changes will be demonstrated soon.
The second major area of work this month was on shader improvements. The layer shader system can now support the cloth shading model and sub-surface-scattering. While these features were previously available using specialist and expensive shaders, the new changes can be used on a wide variety of assets with no noticeable performance penalty.
“We should start seeing wider use of cloth materials and materials that exhibit scattering such as plastics and ice.”
The UI Team has been busy iterating on the RTT item preview system, which allows for a generalized method to display 3D items anywhere in the UI as part of a scrolling list component (such as kiosks, MobiGlas, MFDs, etc.). The team has also been busy conceiving the necessary changes to the flow and layout needed to support renting ships and items through the Electronic Access customization menus.
They have also been working on the UI design for the spectrum app functionality housed inside mobiGlas. They’ve also been working in conjunction with the design team to previsualize what approaching a restricted area in a city might look like to the player and continued supporting the environment team in crafting propaganda posters & signage for Lorville.
The team has also made additional headway on the core tech & tools, with a recent successful prototype of the bindings system on the mining HUD display to enable a much more streamlined interface for exposing game data to the UI frontend.
Throughout August, Animation worked on improving player stances and locomotion assets and used motion captured data to replace placeholders in the AI combat set.
They also updated ship character animations to new sequenced animations for more flexibility when moving forward with new ship & cockpit designs.
Going forward, they’re looking to finalize assets for looting and pickup now that the technical details are mostly resolved.
The Gameplay Story Team continued implementing high-priority scenes for Q3. This involved editing all the separate animations in a scene so they can play together in the correct order without any pops. They had to set up idle animations every time the game waits for the player to make a choice. Lastly, they need to ensure that the ‘look at’ is animated correctly so the character looks directly at the player at the right times.
“It has been good to get stuck into detailed animation work and to cooperate closely with design on the setup and testing of these scenes.”
FACIALANIMATIONThroughout the past month, the Facial Animation Team has been hard at work developing the facial animations for Mission Givers, such as Darneely and NPCs like the race announcers, derelicts, shopkeepers, and admins.
Looking forward to next month, the team will continue to deliver facial animation results for the Mission Givers such as Pacheco and other NPCs, such as security, as well as more incoming NPCs for the new landing zones.
The Network Team extended Bind Culling so that, instead of only culling out dynamically spawned entities such as ships and players, it can now also cull entire parts of the solar system. QA has been putting these changes through their paces and the programmers have been keeping on top of the bugs coming back. The Network Team has also worked on converting networked entity spawning from blocking synchronous spawns to asynchronous non-blocking ones. Combined with their Bind Culling work, these asynchronous spawns should allow Object Container Streaming to work smoothly in multiplayer.
PU-based feature teams worked on restricted areas, which will be used to stop players flying into planetside civilian locations. This is being complemented by an update to the landing UI. They also extended the mining feature to work with asteroids.
The Social AI Team have been working on the new usable tool in the editor, designed to make creating and debugging usables as intuitive as possible. They’re also creating functionality to mark up the paths used by the AI to allow subsumption events to be triggered. This is part of the work needed for our Walk and Talk feature.
Squadron 42 feature teams have been looking into triggering dynamic Track View cutscenes from conversations, including participant synchronization. This feeds well into the Walk and Talk feature work that the AI Actor Team is working through.
From their work on overclocking/overpowering, the Vehicle Feature Team has been improving vehicle power distribution and heat setup. Cooler overclocking now works and per-item power throttling is being developed.
Also, a big milestone was reached as the last of the old-style game objects were finally removed from the codebase. These have been replaced by component-based entities which are more efficient in terms of performance and sharing code. This also permitted the removal of a lot of now-redundant code from the codebase.
The Ship Art Team has been busy with final optimizations and polish on the Aegis Hammerhead to get it ready for its Alpha 3.3 release. The Banu Defender continues with the majority of its interior now at final grey box stage, while the Origin 890 Jump is starting to take shape in the lower decks with most of the ship receiving a grey box pass.
The Audio Code team has been working hard to integrate the new backend for FoiP/VoiP data transmission and to optimize the data compression used by this feature. Trackview support has seen some improvements in the way audio is handled to offer more options for cinematic sound.
The dialog guys hunkered down to record new content for the Alpha 3.3 release and Lorville.
Progress is being made on new weapons sounds and, as always, the procession of new ships is being given plenty of audio love.
The team has now completed the art for a host of smaller locations for Lorville, including the new habitation modules, lobbies, and the interiors for Lorville’s bar, admin office, and shops. The first iteration of a security checkpoint and a transit platform (complete with train car) have also been finished. As well as this, they’re almost complete on the Teasa Spaceport interior with its new shop archetype, the Ship Rental store.
Work continues on the Underground Facility and Crashed Relay, with both moving into the final art stage.
This month was very much a continuation of the team’s work from last month, including polishing the VFX for Hurston’s diverse range biomes, Lorville’s modular areas, and the new weapons and ships due to be seen in the 3.3 release.
As well as that, the team threw themselves firmly into Gas Clouds (not literally!), forming a mini ‘strike team’ with Art, Design, and others to really flesh out the requirements of this ambitious task. Working so closely with the other disciplines helped the team to maintain momentum, with several improvements coming to fruition as the month progressed.
They also began to clean up some of the older ballistic weapon effects, making use of new GPU particle improvements and adding more visual consistency on a per-manufacturer basis.
Work on Lorville continues with the team looking to modify the arrival area with a few additional shops and features to make it feel more like an active spaceport. The end goal is to have an area that quickly brings the player into the city, but also offers a few select amenities for those who need it.
There will also be a few minor changes to Levski to reflect the content added to Lorville. Although the rework is minor, it will add a few new things and bring Levski closer to its intended purpose and full potential.
Both the Transit System and procedural tech is progressing, and the team is close to adding a new and more stable version of elevators along with moving trains/trams. Level Design also gained a new team member this month, so time was spent onboarding and getting them acquainted with our tools and best practices.
Frankfurt System Design focused mainly on AI improvements. They worked on populating Lorville with an assortment of civilians, engineers, guards, workers, etc. In general, they’ll exhibit similar behaviors as the NPCs that already exist in PU, but with more depth and flavor to help them better match the lore of the area. A lot of design work went into having the AI interact with one another and respond appropriately to events and stimuli generated by other NPCs or the player. For guard NPCs, they worked on designing a patrol system from the ground up. This should allow them to quickly map interest points and connect them with probability paths to define a patrol route that can change dynamically based on rules the designers control, or on game-driven events. At the same time, they are improving the existing simple patrol behaviors and prototyping more features in order to have an initial implementation for future releases before the actual system comes online.
FPS Combat AI had numerous improvements which will hopefully be in players hands in the near future.
For mining, they worked on getting some well-needed improvements to how the instability, resistance, and optimal window size are calculated. They decoupled the window size from instability, so now players can have unstable rocks with a large window and also stable rocks with a very tiny window. This allows the team to better control the difficulty of a rock without having to clamp its values artificially. Work was also completed on the asteroid side of mining and the team’s close to having things working as initially intended. A lot of work has gone into how rocks are spawned in space using the existing procedural asteroids.
The Engine Tools Team worked on general usability improvements and game editor stability. The OCS and Prefab workflows received enhancements and fixes along with Trackview (the tool used by the Cinematics Team) getting general Data Core properties support. This was needed to get rid of a big chunk of the old Lua scripting dependencies used by game entities and to get one step closer to the implementation of OCS.
Polishing and bug fixing are still ongoing for Hurston and its four moons, and preproduction has started on the two moons orbiting Stanton 3 (ArcCorp). Beyond the roadmap, they’ve also started looking at Stanton 4 (MicroTech), which will be a significant challenge for the Art and Tech teams as they’ll be looking at frozen oceans, snowy mountains, frozen vegetation, and other elements that require technology and shaders to be modified and developed. The City or Lorville is entering its final stages as the team completes the outer boundaries of the city and the entry point from the planet’s surface.
The Engine Team completed the first part of the physics command queue refactor. The goal is to allow the move of physics away from dedicated threads and towards our system-wide batch model so that it can scale and perform better with the number of available CPU cores.
They also continued progress on new solutions for cloth/soft body simulations, with several optimizations and improvements, and continued work on moving the skinning computation to GPU compute shaders.
They made load time improvements that addressed some inefficient code, which should reduce load times by up to 20 seconds (depending on PC specs). Lots of work was done on generating height map cascades of planet terrain which will be used for various effects in the future. In tandem, work started on large-scale planetary soft terrain shadows. These will replace the current implementation via traditional shadow maps, improve image quality, and the visibility range of terrain shadows.
The Tech Art Team worked on tools and the pipeline for authoring true next-gen cloth simulation setups for all dynamic attachments such as skirts, trench coats, jackets, and other loose-hanging clothing and equipment. The new softbody solver, which our Engineering department developed, is functioning as it should and will enable us to create all kinds of interesting secondary animation effects such as jiggling, sliding, and collisions. The authoring of such complex and advanced setups is just as important as the solver itself – it needs to be intuitive and provide maximum flexibility to the tech artists, hide the underlying complexity as much as possible, but allow access to it if needed.
While the authoring pipeline is based on Maya, changes to the setups are streamed live to the game engine through our LiveLink plugin and can therefore be previewed in WYSIWYG fashion, which is extremely important. The general workflow mimics the way Maya’s own cloth simulation setups (nCloth) are authored, thereby allowing Tech Artists and Character FX TDs familiar with the software to become productive and creative as efficiently as possible. The goal of these efforts is to make all the in-game clothing move naturally, look less rigid, and to enhance the PCAP primary character animation with a layer of physically-based secondary animation wherever possible.
For Tech Animation, they made further progress on the FPS weapons rework, including updating the rigs and bringing everything into a structure that’s easier to work with. They started working on a batch exporter for weapon animations that will make it much easier to iterate on existing weapons whenever a rig is updated, or new features are added to it. They also updated the AnimEvent lists for both the PU and S42 and removed a long list of old animations that were either no longer needed or moved to an updated location.
A significative part of this month’s activity was spent working on a performance pass concerning two crucial components that heavily impact the behavior of our NPCs – Subsumption activity updates and NPC visual perception:
Subsumption: When hundreds of NPCs are active simultaneously, their activities need to update and respond to events or change in subactivity, depending on the internal or external state of the game. Updates of the Subsumption components are therefore always running each frame, thus creating a sensible performance issue as the number of active NPCs increases. Most of the time, the update is not truly needed as the NPC is just waiting for an event of some sort to determine the ‘next’ state of a behavior (e.g. walking on a path and waiting for a ‘destination reached’ event). We can therefore take advantage of that and suspend the updates whenever the running tasks allow it. Internal tests in a heavily crowded scenario confirm that when allowing suspension, the impact of the Subsumption updates is dramatically reduced.
Visual Perception: One of the most useful senses belonging to NPCs is their visual perception. Visibility checks are continuously performed by every NPC to assess the clearance of their line of sight between them and all other NPCs or players in their field of view. Visibility checks are raycasts ultimately performed by the physics system. Up to now, we relied on a legacy module of the AI system provided by the Lumberyard system, called VisionMap. In VisionMap, all checks were handled in a centralized place and updated each frame in the main thread (as a synchronous update). The new system handles the visibility checks directly in the individual NPC vision components and makes good use of the entity component update scheduler (ECUS) by using multi-threaded updates in a time-sliced fashion.
The team was also busy finishing work for OCS related to AI systems (Navigation & Cover). The navigation and cover data will not be part of a central manager anymore, instead there will be entity components (inside object containers) that will contain that data. This will help the OCS since the AI data is kept internally for each object container.
The Weapons Art Team started production on a handful of new Hurston Dynamics ship weapons and a new knife designed for the ‘bad guys’ in-game.
Here’s an image of the ‘Sawtooth’, which is manufactured by Kastak Arms:
This month, DevOps focused on tooling out a test area for the Audio Team’s build processes, so the Audio Team has more autonomy in augmenting and testing their own build tools. The Perforce submission pipeline has been refined to remove redundant MD5 hashing of verified content; previous verification checkpoints relied on a custom MD5 hashing implementation, and these nodes of verification have been updated to check with digests that have been cached by the Perforce server, cutting down submission times for heavy changelists from hours to seconds.
The Cinematic Team’s main priority has been to go through the kick-off and implementation pass phases of a large number of scenes across several S42 levels that are currently being worked on by the Level Design Team. The implementation pass is the first production pass on a scene where the animation is broken up into the different states that are needed for that particular scene to work.
The process goes from a pre-vis of the animation (pretty much the raw PCAP playing out) to a scene functioning as a conversation with starts, idles, pauses, branching options, and resolves. Iterations by the Level Design Team often change the layout of, for example, an asteroid base or other level environments, so the team needed to come up with an easy way to keep our scenes transportable.
They can now use each scene’s sequence object (the object the scene is defined in) as a root and when they move that sequence object around, the whole scene with its nodes animated within it moves with that root. This way, they can quickly accommodate a room being moved 50m down the corridor and can keep scenes up to date easily. It also helps level design to know they can adjust their level layout without having to request a big rework of a scene just to fit with a particular change.
Work was also completed on the tool side of things to keep the cinematic workflow compatible with the growing tech. An example of this would be the component-based entities that are replacing the old entities. A Tools Engineer wrote a new API so animators can still animate an entity’s properties via the cinematic timeline tool, Trackview. This is necessary if a cinematic designer wants to change a light’s properties, for example, or wants to dial down sun intensity for a specific shot.
OCS related testing continued into August with changes to test from the AI team. More specifically, a Navigation System refactor to support it. The main change for this refactor is the way navigation mesh data is saved and exported. They focused on testing navigation mesh generation in the Editor, saving levels with Navigation Area objects, and exporting the Object Container levels with Navigation Area objects. They also needed to ensure that all levels that had existing Navigation Areas could still be re-exported and that the AI was still able to move around in the level and pass through doorways, etc. The cover system and usables were also monitored to ensure they were still functional with the newly exported areas.
The team worked together with ATX QA to test the new 1.003 version of the Subsumption Editor, which contained a lot of necessary fixes needed by the design team for better stabilization. Work continued with the Cinematics Team, with dedicated support for any Track View or Editor issues preventing the team from progressing on their sequences. In some cases, QA created simple test levels to better convey the issues they were encountering.
They also started the process for Automated Feature Tests for the current Feature Teams, with the first meeting to go over the specific setup and requirements at the end of the month with the Ship AI Feature Team. These tests will run for each build and will focus on testing systems that would be deemed risky and prevent usage of that particular build. The goal is to keep on top of features and ensure if they do break a build that the issue is brought to the relevant developer’s attention as quickly as possible. They also continued to provide support for any general Editor specific issues as well as the monthly (sometimes weekly) CIGPhysics smoke test, where new changes are checked in by the Physics team as part of the refactor of CIGPhysics.
The VFX Team continued to work on the environmental effects for the new moons as well as working on how the effects function with the new biomes being introduced.
They also continued working on destruction sequences for Squadron 42. This involves bringing the new workflows previously developed in the first quarter of the year into production shots.
Progress is on track to finalize all the new Alpha 3.3 locations. The schedule is closely tied to when environments are finished by the art teams, so the focus this month has been on Lorville habitations, including prototyping a few lighting setups for each of the hab room layouts. They’ve also been finishing work on the security checkpoint common elements, tweaking the atmosphere and colorgrading for the Hurston moons. They also started work on an upcoming underground bunker location.
The features of Spectrum 3.8.1-rel.8.1, including Friends and Notifications, received a positive reception from users. For this month, internal milestones were hit on the new Spectrum editor, ‘Quill’. This editor is currently undergoing testing to be released next month and will solve several bugs related to Android by replacing the old editor.
CitizenCon Microsite: The CitizenCon Microsite had an exciting update this month to include the presentation schedule. Other updates have been made as well, including the FAQ and ticket pages. If you currently hold a standard or premium ticket, the option to purchase a Junior Co-pilot ticket is now available for all guests between the ages of 13-17 years. CitizenCon tickets contain a QR code that will be compatible with the ticket-scanning app at the event.
If you’re interested in attending the event, you can still grab a ticket before they run out here.
Crusader Mercury Star Runner: Turbulent supported the release of the Crusader Mercury Star Runner. This release included an interactive mini-game chasing two wanted fugitives, Alexandria Dougan and Mas Houlan, across the ARK Starmap. During the game, that lasted several days, players followed clues posted by the UEE TipLine on Spectrum to locate the ever-changing coordinates of the rogue Star Runner. Players would then take note of these coordinates at certain times and enter them into the form on the site. If the coordinates entered were correct, the player could choose to alert either the UEE Advocacy or the fugitives. For playing the game, a mystery skin was added to the player’s hangar. Based on the collective choices made, more players chose the Advocacy, and so the skin awarded was of the UEE Advocacy.
Free-Fly: We released the Alpha 3.2 Free-Fly which gave everyone a chance to jump in and explore the Star Citizen universe. This Free-Fly granted access to the Prospector, Cutlass Black, Avenger Titan, and Dragonfly Black.
Issue Council: The Issue Council is our public bug reporting system used by the community to report issues. The upcoming version, Issue Council version 1.1.0, is scheduled to be deployed to the PTU during the first week of September. To meet this goal, the past month has been full of updates such as improved profile, more details in report creation, and newly mobile-friendly features. Plus, all known issues were fixed.
Group: On the Group System side, work this month focused on the development and integration of a major piece of the game backend: The Event Bus. Through this Bus, multiple services can communicate through domain events and affect their own relevant domains (like groups, chat or voice). With this new piece in place, we were able to integrate a fresh new lobby/chat API to replace the current in-game chat services (which were limited per instance). This will allow groups and parties to have chat lobbies that span the universe.
VOIP/FOIP: One the VOIP/FOIP side, the team completed the integration of the Voice Client libraries based on our initial transport prototype within the game engine, allowing testers to have a multi-way conversation from the game client. This initial set of tests from within the game context were very helpful in confirming the approach since the technology involved with the VOIP transport layer automatically gave support for echo cancellation, bandwidth throttling, QoS, and support for transporting the encoded facial data.
Work is now focused entirely on expanding the scalability of this infrastructure and adding capabilities to the game backend to create audio channels for groups, attach the sound elements to the proper in-game entities based on who is generating the data stream, as well as ensuring the voice infrastructure properly shards the audio channels across a fleet of voice servers.
CitizenCon 2948 is right around the corner! It was only last week the latest wave of tickets hit our store, so make sure you secure yours to celebrate Star Citizen live in Austin, Texas on the 10th of October. Find out more on our CitizenCon website and, while you’re there, check out the event schedule and enjoy the retrospective video with memories from past events.
The month of August was also full of remarkable events, with Gamescom in Cologne, Germany being the highlight. There wasn’t a Star Citizen booth on the show floor this time around, but the team traversed the halls representing the game and chatting with the community. Some very special pins were distributed amongst the crowd and every evening saw a Bar Citizen. An exclusive Town Hall Q&A was recorded in front of a live audience, giving attendees the opportunity to ask questions about the newly revealed Crusader Industries Mercury Star Runner. You can catch up on YouTube if you didn’t attend the Town Hall, or find yourself in the video if you did. Do you have more questions about the latest data runner from Crusader Industries? Keep an eye out on the Comm-Links, as the answers to the Spectrum Q&A will be posted very soon!
Speaking of events, the team held an RSI Apollo contest, asking for quotes that players think might be heard on board an RSI Apollo. It was tough to pick a winner, as we received so many excellent entries, but eventually, this won the competition:
♬ The hip bone’s connected to the, thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the, knee bone, the knee bone’s fused to this medium ablative/ballistic armor plate, please, pass the bone saw. ♬
As said before, the Community Team has been planning a wide variety of activities for this year, so there’ll be more exciting opportunities to leave your mark in the Star Citizen universe. In fact, another already started alongside the 3.2 Free-Fly event – the commercial contest is giving all producers, editors, and camera operators the chance to create a commercial video for the MISC Prospector and rewards the top three entries with sweet prizes. You have until 11:59 PM PDT on September 9th, 2018, so read up on the contest rules and start creating now!