We’re publishing this a second time as a Comm-Link to make it easier for the community to reference back to, and plan on following this process for future Squadron 42 Monthly Reports.
What you are about to read is the latest information on the continuing development of Squadron 42 (SCI des: SQ42).
Read on for classified details from every corner of the planet, collected over the course of the last month, concerning Squadron 42-related work. 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.
Over and out,
UEE Naval High Command
The AI Team worked on the perception system, which was expanded to handle damage stimuli. AI characters now have proper perception of damage, so they can figure out the location of the source and will behave accordingly by tracking enemies and updating the knowledge they have about them.
Progress was made on the Usable Builder, a tool that’s used to create and debug all usables. It allows the team to easily visualize usables, edit their properties, and test the different use channels. For the mission system, they exposed several new functionalities to the designers, such as a variety of task nodes, new variable types, and new core functionalities. A ‘group’ variable was introduced that can automatically be filled, for example, when spawning AI characters so that designers can easily track the dynamic elements they’re interested in. They’re currently implementing global callbacks to help designers track environmental events specific to the data they’re interested in without the need to explicitly create variables for each entity.
The new year began with Character Art supporting the SQ42 iteration of the DNA feature, which allows players to create their own unique avatar to play through the game as. They also began modeling various other characters and clothing, including the Basilisk Advocacy Agent armor. The character artists continue to create new outfits and update old ones to tie into specific in-game events.
The Cinematics Team completed a master and subsequence workflow for Track View sequences, which had become a necessity due to how the game is structured around object containers. They can now work on both master and multiple subsequence scenes at the same time.
The groundwork was laid for the most crucial step in the cross-object-container cinematic pipeline: accessibility of interior sequences and their entity nodes from an exterior master level. This means the team is still able to work on interior scenes (e.g. a Bengal carrier’s bridge) while the ship is flying around in battle and banking on a navigation spline. This is crucial for camera movement as lighting and exterior vistas play a huge role in how bridge scenes appear. It also makes it easier to adjust the timing on a master sequence that brings together interior and exterior subsequences.
A key sequence was brought into the current Shubin Coil pocket, as the placement of asteroids and clouds had changed due to the evolution of gas cloud tech, so there was a need to adjust framing and lighting.
Time was spent working on fire track improvements with the engineers, as weapons were overheating during heavy scene work and back and forth timeline scrubbing. This was addressed, and the team can now endlessly fire the Idris’ turrets at targets without any issues. Another change allows them to adjust the weapon fire-rate, so cinematics can be independent of whatever design changes may come in the future. Some scenes were adjusted in the Shubin Foundry, Gainey base, and other places across the game. Camera passes for other key scenes were completed, including one involving the Vanduul.
Priority planning was also finished for scenes scheduled to finish in the first quarter of 2019.
The US Engine Team made improvements to crash handling, including various thread safety improvements to enable more robust handling of obscure crashes, and the addition of extra information into minidumps to allow the better debugging of fibers.
In the UK, the Actor Feature Team started work on a new visual tool for setting up carriable items. Similar to the usables editor tool, it’s designed to lessen the time it takes to add new items to the game and make it easier to debug when testing picking, carrying, and inspecting. They also improved the vault and mantling mechanic by making it work better with different height obstacles and angles, automatically detecting whether to vault or mantle, and enabling mantle when crouched.
Video comm calls can now be triggered by the track view editor, which allows video comms with NPC characters to be easily implemented within larger cinematic sequences. Because track view gives control over things like the camera, lighting, and particle effects, it offers much more control over how comms are presented. Another feature implemented for the track-view-triggered video comms was to allow pre-rendered video to be played in place of any animation. Primarily, this is used for development, so the team can see placeholder video while waiting for final character animations to be supplied, but it can also be used as part of the game if a complicated video would be prohibitive to render dynamically.
On the AI side, the team adapted the ship’s AI to work with the New Flight Model and in the process took advantage of the changed handling to allow closer and more rewarding dogfighting.
Lighting work continued on the Javelin, with the first takes done for several of the states the ship cycles through as the story progresses. The blend shader is now fully up and running and rolled out to the team, giving them far more opportunity to texture large assets while maintaining pixel density.
Two key areas seen within the campaign are now approaching greybox completion and are in the final weeks of ‘soft-gate’ review (playable and traversable spaces with close-to-final geometry). They’ll then roll into ‘hard-gate’ review once all feedback is accounted for.
As mentioned before the holidays, significant effort has been put into destructible and deformable objects that will be placed around every area of the campaign. This work is currently being rolled out into a single ‘hero’ area to give the team a better idea of the overall costs involved and to help them establish a visual language understood by the player (e.g. allowing the player to easily recognize which items can be destroyed, deformed, or moved).
Work continues on Archon Station. With its exterior ‘watertight’, the team is now tying up loose ends where sections of the exterior may intersect with the interior. While easy to hide things like this, the entire station is being constructed with correct interior and exterior dimensions as the ships are.
Transport systems are being placed into Archon Station, with final art for each section currently being worked on.
The Graphics Team’s SQ42 focus has been predominately on performance:
This included fixing various multi-CPU issues which were limiting the performance by sometimes forcing a CPU to wait for the other due to the way they accessed specific areas of memory. The CPU-intensive technique used to clip volumetric fog to interior rooms has been completely replaced with a GPU compute shader which frees up further CPU time. The final improvement was to re-write how they merge drawcalls, with the aim to increase efficiency and support multi-threading. This will take load from the CPU used for the submission of GPU work and move it to the graphics driver.
On top of the performance work, the team made various improvements to the gas cloud tech, such as unifying the gas cloud and standard lighting systems. They also finalized the signed-distance-field tech to allow the game code to efficiently query the shape of the gas cloud to simulate pressure, turbulence, and procedurally spawn natural-looking lightning.
To streamline communication between the numerous feature teams, the Design Team has been split into four:
One is responsible for the FPS-heavy chapters and will work closely with the actor and AI feature teams. A spaceflight team will work with the Ship AI and New Flight Model/QT team, and a dedicated social team will focus on all social AI, usables, and NPC activity. Lastly, the tech team will work alongside the gameplay story and cinematic teams to prepare motion-capture and conversations.
This change has not altered the chapter responsibilities as each still has a design owner but has improved communication and allows for more-focused meetings and less wasted time. This new format is the best way to facilitate the new feature work coming in from sprint work that now has direct SQ42 use cases.
The Narrative Team returned from the holidays and jumped straight into planning for the first quarter of the year. They also started work on a handful of additional lines and story points.
The team is also excited to welcome a new producer to the group; not only will he help keep the team organized, he’ll also act as the point of contact for other teams to partner with.
The SQ42 Props Team has been working towards finalizing item sub-sets while continuing to assist the Gameplay Story Team by creating props used in motion capture shoots and generally making assets animation-friendly.
QA testers built tools to help test multiple aspects of expansive levels more effectively. The AI feature tester performed regular checks on the various AI in the SQ42 chapters, focused on Cinematic scenes and delivered additional debug info for any reported issues.
System Design worked with the SQ42 Mission Team to explore the specific needs of FPS AI for the campaign, and research was done on how to improve the overall accuracy of FPS AI.
Gunship behavior was modified to enable ships to circle targets and bring the maximum number of turrets to bear. Fighter behaviors were also modified to get the most out of the New Flight Model.
Tech Animation supported the various teams working on female animations with tool development, asset conversion, and batch processes. The team also created new head assets for mission givers while refining current ones. The team’s currently refining head assets at the foundation of player face customization.
Additionally, they created a raft of new tools to help skinning assets. This is a ground-up rework of the rudimentary tools already available in the authoring packages and will provide greater speed and flexibility to the Technical Art Team in their daily workload.
New weapon attachments are starting to make an appearance internally and have required the authoring of a new set of weapon systems and a tools base that can support attachments in the animation packages.
Tech Art made steps to finalize the implementation and pipeline of the new facial customization tech, which was previewed at CitizenCon 2018. They switched the system’s source data format from the CDF-based system (which was used during R&D) to the newer component-based loadout currently used throughout the game. This system allows players’ customized faces to be stored persistently in the database and the corresponding data packets to transfer efficiently over the network and be applied to the correct avatar at runtime. Likewise, it allows all NPCs (every shopkeeper, security guard, civilian and eventually mission givers) to have a unique face built internally by our designers. While R&D on the new ‘DNA’ system was done using male faces, the ‘face pool’ for female characters is being populated and is planned to come online at the same time.
Tech Art also supported the Weapons Team with animation debugging, weapon rigging, in-engine setup, and debugging multiple render and resource compiler issues. They added a new system for weapons in Maya to allow animators to quickly attach different attachments, making it easier for them to author specific animations. They also updated the underlying metasystem in the weapon rigs to help the animators export weapons without double transforms on the root or magazine controls.
Tech Art also supported the Cinematic Animation Team with various new tools and helped them debug several issues with animations in Maya and the engine. They continued to implement animations into Mannequin to make them available for the designers. They also updated the way cinematic animations are listed for different skeletons to support female players.
The Vehicle Team spent time with SQ42 Design to implement various Subsumption callbacks for mission-specific requirements.
They also completed modifications to the vehicle targeting system so that external items, such as ship engines, can be specifically targeted. Improvements to ship combat systems continued via automated gimbals, HUD improvements to support Ping & Scanning, and the vehicle ‘XML to DataForge’ migration began. Also, a vehicle gimbal aim assist feature is nearing completion.
VFX starting to focus on quality-of-life enhancements to their toolset. For example, a simple interface change with the option to reset an emitter strength curve with the click of a button, instead of having to manually delete each key. Although seemingly a minor thing, it makes a huge difference to productivity in the long run.
They continued to work on gas cloud tech, working even more closely with the art and design teams to make sure it provides them with everything they need to build something as incredible (and huge) as The Coil! This also included continued iteration on lightning effects, making use of the new lightning editor which speeds up the workflow compared to the previous XML set up.
They also began their first pass on the Xi’an ballistic rocket launcher because the trickiest part of this weapon is getting the balance right between traditional ballistic effects and the overtly-sci-fi Xi’an effects.
The Weapon Art Team worked on the Multi-Tool rework, Kastak Arms Ravager-212, and the level 2 and 3 upgrades for the Hurston Dynamics Laser Repeaters. They also made minor adjustments to iron sights on a handful of weapons to improve the sight picture and make them more user-friendly. They completed work on the Behring Sawbuck repeaters and kicked off work on Gemini S71 assault rifle and Kastak Arms Coda pistol.