The year began with the introduction of many planned and previously developed features and other innovations at Star Citizen. Naturally, we still cannot tell about many, but the information from this report for January 2020 should be enough to warm up your interest in what will surely be the most exciting year in Stanton (and beyond) in its entire history.
We begin the January report with a combat AI in which NPCs improved the handling and use of shelters, as discussed last month. The process involves voxelization of the area around the shelter in order to better understand which places constitute adequate protection. Regarding AI behavior, reviews were processed about the use of NPCs of shotguns: AI will now find more tactically advantageous positions for shooting. The ability of NPCs to switch between different speeds of movement was also realized. For example, when moving NPCs to a new place of shelter, they can slowly move and shoot before turning and running, without having to re-count their path.
The ship AI team has completed the latest version of the new 3D navigation system. In its work, a path search in three-dimensional space and a collision avoidance system are used, the purpose of which is to make AI fully aware of the physical environment. Each type of terrain has its own difficulties: in outer space, pilots need to consider asteroids, communication antennas and space stations. When flying close to the surface of the planet, they must know the local terrain and physical structures that do not belong to the procedurally generated surface, such as stones, buildings, sewage treatment plants and towers. In order to obtain and effectively use this information, AI systems must receive detailed information about the environment and convert this information into abstractions that can already be processed by their algorithms.
In addition, time was devoted to the routine work of putting the code in order, which is crucial for ensuring the efficiency and readability of an ever-growing code base. This work focuses mainly on flight-related tasks solved by the living NPC system, with highly repeating (or “standard”) code that can be “pushed” to the side to reduce the likelihood of errors when implementing new tasks.
In the last days of January, the ship AI team prototyped a new AI system - the Tactical Target Selection. Mission requirements (for the Permanent Universe and SQ42) are becoming more complex, and the current filter-based selection system is not able to cover all the scenarios that interest us.
The tasks of the social AI team are currently centered around the location of the bar, where players and non-player characters can buy bottled drinks or get them in draft form and ask the bartender to make a cocktail. Players will be able to drink at the table, in shops or in the bar itself.
Surrounding artists began the year with a serious note, finalizing MicroTech satellites and updating their geological assets. The moons will become the places of one of the harshest conditions in Stanton and will offer players brave enough to go there good rewards for high risk. Taking into account all the recent improvements to the planet creation system, the team wanted to work out the geological component with the latest approach in order to improve visual quality and create more widely different assets that can better integrate into different surfaces and biomes.
The team of artists on ships from the USA finalized the appearance of the future ship Esperia Prowler. Once Drake Cutlass Red was released, they moved on to working on Cutlass Blue, which is in the white box stage.
A team from the UK has begun creating two new ships, which will be announced later this year. Anvil Carrack is also nearing the end of its development: the team brings the finishing touches to the medical compartment, cartographic room and cargo compartments. They are currently setting up the lights and performing the latest checks.
In January, the first-person weapon team released two new weapons - the Lightning Bolt Atzkav sniper rifle and the Yubarev pistol. Work began on the new archetype of the anti-personnel tower. Although it looks like a conveyor belt for developing weapons for a ship, it has a more realistic scale and will work well in terms of gameplay. Although these towers will initially be used as deterrents in prisons, players can expect them to appear in the rest of the universe soon.
Finally, the team fixed several bugs for the next Alpha release and added the finishing touches to some assets mentioned last month.
The audio team began January with work planning a quarter in advance. They interacted with the support team from the United States to work on bugs and created a topic in the Spectrum in search of feedback on the soundtrack of the game. Our employees analyze it, formulating tasks for themselves. The team began to compose music and create environment sounds for prisons, they also took up new weapons and sounds for Prowler, as well as recorded dialogs and voice acting for characters.
In early January, backend service engineers spent time planning a development schedule for the next quarter. They completed work on an improved query system for iCache and determined the best way to work with the game server and the hash services of star systems. Changes have also been made to the hub server, which optimizes traffic flow between services and clients. In addition, they helped with the account reset tool, changing the wallet and with constant work on the stability of the system as a whole. In addition, claims related to insurance claims, in-store purchases and ship rental were corrected.
The character team spent most of the month working on assets for the Permanent Universe. Currently, they are developing two models for microTech and are completing the technical implementation for two more, paying special attention to the themes of location and dependence on cold weather. They also created the props for the store, and are currently completing the sale of the Caldera costume presented at CitizenCon.
The community team began 2020 with the Red Festival. Celebration of renewal and memory - this festival originates in the old earthly customs and marks the end of the Lunar New Year. Since the event has its roots in the real world, during the holiday around the main hubs throughout the Universe, red envelopes were hidden that successful players could find and sell.
The team really enjoyed this year's Daymar rally community. The “dirtiest race in the entire Universe” would not have been possible without 72 teams and countless support vessels that guided and guarded 275 participants.
Thanks to the organizers, operators, suppliers of free gifts, streamers with Twitch, as well as the team and guests of the VIP 890 Jump. For the Community Team, this was the main event of January: the results of the development of the game and the dedication of the community rallied together in this magnificent event! - Community Team.
Finally, Cutlass Red was joyfully received in the universe along with the first iteration of the gameplay for a medical professional. We look forward to seeing how this new mechanic will be used, so please share your adventures in the Community Hub!
Along with planning and fixing bugs, last month the design team created new stores that will appear in Alpha 3.9. Around the event-oriented content, higher-level design began: the goal is to catch up with the US Permanent Universe team moving forward. You can also add that the wait will be worth it ...
Tony Zurovec and his team began work on the new Quantum editor, which was shown at the last CitizenCon.
In January, a team of engineers continued to work on physics processing threads and overall performance improvements. It included an increase in parallelism by adding an option indicating the maximum number of workflows in thirty pieces. Currently, the need is blocked by the workflows of the job system, but they are optimized for this, so there are points in the frames where the thread is not fully occupied. In the long run, they plan to transfer physical processing directly to the job system. This will require further changes to negate the possibility of performance drops.
The team also implemented parallel and direct queuing of tasks for processing physics, supporting fences and barriers to synchronize physical actions and parameters, and added data on these physical parameters to clock pulses in a first-person game to monitor high loads. The system of signed distance fields (SDF) has been improved to speed up collision checking for objects with complex geometry and improve calculation accuracy. The team assisted in animating the NPC's reaction to death.
January work on the engine included optimization of the task manager (which is necessary to improve the scheduler of entity components) and changing it to run all component updates in batch mode. The responsiveness of the batch workflow has also been improved by removing polls to search for completed tasks (direct signals are now used instead), replacing the signaling mechanism with the WaitOnAddress function to trigger events more efficiently, introducing clusters to prevent unnecessary waking up for small packets, and revising the code.
For the zone system, they transferred SZoneHandle data from client objects to the zone system itself. They also helped with the transition to Visual Studio 2019.
A team of engineers worked with the Gen12 and Vulkan renderers. The process included transferring the buffer control code to the Gen12 visualization tool, generalizing the texture image, creating LoadOp support, changing the map API to make it more convenient to use C ++ 11 using RAII, and ensuring that the legacy pipeline UpdateResourceBuffer now correctly accepted byte offsets in the backend, rather than bitwise offsets.
Work began on new experimental hair features, including the development of a hair color model with basic melanin and whitening / dyeing layers. Ocean rendering has moved from priority to last pass to provide more consistent shading: the shader application is no longer in use, and cubic reflection maps have been improved. The unified ray calculation process has also continued to evolve.
With regard to planetary lighting and the atmosphere, the team added a combined search table for the color of the planets to understand the local albedo value and take it into account when calculating illumination. They also applied scene illumination calculations and cloud shading, introduced a new sky illumination lookup table for better light scattering in the atmosphere, and added support for an alternative ripple method that works with TSAA.
Ground fog: a team of engineers implemented a rigorous, computationally-based method for constructing a map of the height of the earth. This means that they will be able to get rid of the generation of proxy cells with volumetric fog, which even after many improvements still contained artifacts - this improvement will save resources. They also removed the intermediate buffer (in preparation for getting rid of the proxy grid), and the fog boundaries are now calculated analytically.
After quarterly planning was completed, the team helped with technical support for the upcoming prison mission. They also spent time fixing some critical bugs in Alpha 3.8.1. Currently, they are expanding cargo declarations on ships, which will allow for more variety when collecting goods from the NPC. Finally, they began to transform the existing store user interface system, which will become a challenge for several quarters of 2020.
A team from the United States began improving detection with radars and pings, including simplifying entity detection and redesigning A / R marker display. They also introduced loading between vehicles, which will allow players to store and call vehicles in the cargo compartments of other vehicles. The team worked to improve the targeting of the components, which will allow players to aim at guns and turrets after a full scan of the vehicle. The ongoing work on the SDF shields will improve the detection of hits and effects, as well as expand the gameplay with shields to non-transport entities.
After the main part of the work on Planet Tech v4 was completed, the graphic team began to look for the possibility of improving the organic shader to allow it to take advantage of the physical-based shading. This will significantly expand the reuse of assets, as they automatically adapt to the local biome (stone color, surface texture, snow / sand, etc.). The final changes to the hue and shade system have already been completed, and the system is currently being used by the environmental team. Soon it will be transferred to other teams so that they can decide how and when to turn it on. We also paid attention to the Gen12 / Vulkan renderer, in particular, the conversion of post effects into the new system.
January for the level design team began with planning locations, determining dependencies, and organizing work schedules. Most of these tasks are performed by managers and production workers, so the rest of the team can focus on creating content. As a result, New Babbage is almost complete, there are only a few additions and final touches. The team continued to work on modular space stations. Those that are currently in the game are known as Tier 0 - this is a concept, just to prove the feasibility of the project, the correctness of the approach and the adequacy of procedural generation. Later, more structured layouts with good navigation, signs and other additions will be created.
Last month, the lighting team caught several errors along with the completion of some tasks, after which the priority shifted to the release component. The work included updating Lorville lighting with a citywide system previously used at ArcCorp to create a sense of light pollution in the atmosphere. This is a subtle effect, but it helps smooth the transition to the planet’s atmosphere. The team also updated the appearance of the city of Levski in order to remove some obsolete parts and make better use of previously prepared facilities, which will significantly accelerate development iterations and large-scale changes. They also took the opportunity to improve the overall quality of location lighting by slightly simplifying the color scheme and making it less visually chaotic.
The team is currently focusing on New Babbage. “There are many visually interesting and eye-catching areas in the touchdown zone where we can apply all our latest lighting and optimization functions to ensure the best quality today and the most dynamic lighting.” - Lighting Team Work on improving the general lighting of the city, especially at night or when a player flies by, has already been completed.
Interaction with players
In addition to hosting various promotions and events, the player team worked to stabilize the cumulative updates of Alpha 3.8, with the current focus on Alpha 3.8.2.
The props team began the year by eliminating errors and selecting materials and textures for the process of improving the quality of assets. Work continued on prison props (oxygen and mining equipment completed). The boxing ring was completed, which will allow for much-needed entertainment while the prisoners unwind their sentences. In places of detention, small caches were hidden, so players in jail should look more closely in search of additional supplies. Part of the team continued to work on high-tech specimens for New Babbage, this time focusing on bar and furniture sets, as well as food courts. Finally, they began developing new food assets needed for the character's state system.
During the development process, the quality control department tested the key elements of Alpha 3.8 cumulative patches, including Drake Cutlass Red and Anvil Carrack. Some of the developers returned to control the development process to test new features. At the same time, planning began for upcoming tests and a review of best practice applications.
The system design team completed in January the development of used items for mining. When they appear in the game, players will be able to activate such consumables in order to simplify the execution of tasks or to correct errors made in the process. Explosive cargoes were not left without attention: after extraction, they will need to be delivered quickly and carefully to processing so that they do not explode inside the ship.
Resource allocation is another important feature that is currently under development. It will create a single way to manage resources (power, heat, shields, processor power, etc.) inside a ship, station, or planetary settlement. The ultimate goal is to make the role of an engineer critical for large ships and allow attackers to destroy (or even sabotage the work) components.
The technical animation team fixed several minor bugs in the animation pipeline and redesigned the PlayBlast tool in Maya to increase its efficiency. They also helped the social AI team with Mannequin assignments, implementing bartender animations and more.
Technical artists continued their work on Rig Logic tools for Maya. Previously, monolithic code and associated data structures were broken down into common blocks known as snap components. These components can be connected together in almost arbitrary order to provide the functionality required for specific rigs, such as a human body or a space whale. BlendShape, linear displacement, PSD, wrinkle map and much more are currently under the scrutiny of the team. In the future, support will be expanded to RBF, look IK and other, more complex options. This will allow the team to more efficiently develop new snap-ins as needed when they begin to create complex alien races and fauna.
Another important goal is to transfer the snap-ins of the human body from a completely burnt form (where the movement of joints and bones is exported to the game engine from Maya) into a workflow that bakes and exports only the most important joints. In this case, a custom snap logic will be used to determine the movement and rotation of all auxiliary deformation joints. They guarantee that no matter what clothes the character wears or in what position he is, all additional elements will always be correctly deformed without artifacts. When controlled by such logic, thousands of body animation clips will weigh much less. In addition, the procedural animation of the most important joints using Ragdoll physics, IK and other functions will not break the deformation, as the snap logic will adjust the deformation joints in accordance with the given position.
Turbulent Studios helped with the release of Cutlass Red, working with the company's internal teams to create a web page and manage the backend. They also promoted the Lunar New Year, which gave backers a last chance to get (among other things) Anvil Carrack before the ship became available for flight.
Most of the UI artist team in January focused on high-tech screens for New Babbage's environment and developing a visual style for prison user interface screens that look a bit retro. They tidied up the character status screen. Visual elements of personal preferences also gained progress in development. This pop-up radial menu allows players to perform quick actions (for example, turn on the flashlight) without having to memorize keyboard shortcuts.
The technical part of the team began work on three-dimensional building blocks, which will support multi-layer screens and simplify the addition of three-dimensional icons. They also expanded reuse and restyling capabilities to help implement the new vehicle interface.
The visual effects team continued to improve Planet Tech v4, in particular, the presence of a wind strength value at each point. The work included a new option to limit the maximum wind force for each planet, which allows the team to use less texture, and not create specially assets for each location. They are currently adding effects to new locations in the Stanton system. Effects are also ongoing for New Babbage, a mining tool, for Cutlass Red and Carrack. In addition to the above, the team began to explore opportunities to improve the process of entering the atmosphere using the expected SDF for a particular vehicle. More game news all in here!