Comm-Link:Monthly Report - December 2015
2015 was quite a year for Star Citizen! Since the launch of Alpha 2.0, the team has been glued to their monitors watching backers stream and play and adventure in the first corner of the universe we’re building. There’s plenty of work still to be done, but we’re thrilled to have a version of the game available for play that (we believe) shows the project’s true potential. We hope you’re enjoying 2.0 (or 2.1, if you’re a fan of the PTU!)… there’s plenty more to see in the coming days! But before we look ahead, we’d like to look back at what everyone accomplished in December. Cloud Imperium Games closed for the holidays, allowing our developers some much needed rest and family time… but that doesn’t mean we didn’t make a lot of progress. Read on for our December monthly report to find out just what everyone was up to…
- 1 CIG LOS ANGELES
- 2 CIG AUSTIN
- 3 FOUNDRY 42 UK
- 4 FOUNDRY 42 FRANKFURT
- 5 BHVR
- 6 TURBULENT
CIG LOS ANGELES
Happy New Year everyone! We hope you had a great month because we are really excited by what we got finished before the calendar turned over to 2016. We tackled some huge milestones such as the new ItemSystem, Loadout Editor, Character Clothing and more. Dig in to the information below to read about even more accomplishments from the LA studio.
On the Engineering side, our primary objective was to provide as much stability to the 2.0 release as possible. As new builds of the PTU were released over the course of December, the stability in each iteration drastically improved. Stability will always be one of our top objectives as providing a reliable and exciting experience is a prime directive.
Lead Engineer Paul Reindell and Engineer Mark Abent have been aggressively working on what we’re calling “ItemSystem 2.0”. This system will allow greater control over the itemization on the back end. The first iteration has been integrated into our development code and we are starting to see the preliminary benefits of this new system that’s really exciting our developers.
Associate Engineer Chad Zamzow was responsible for implementing the various disabled states for targets struck by the EMP weapon currently employed on the Avenger Warlock. Further refinements will include flickering lights and possibly arcs of electricity across the control panels of the ship. So keep an eye out for the tiny details this new weapon effect will be adding to the game.
Ariel Xu created a new tool we are calling the “Loadout Editor”. This tool is designed to create a visualization of our entities. This will allow the designers to visually edit the loadouts of the Vehicles, Items, and Character rather than manually editing the XML file, which is even better and more intuitive for design and balancing than just having a menu or chart-based editor. Now that the Loadout Editor is completed, Ariel has started working on another tool called the “Port Editor,” a tool which allows designers to dynamically Add/Delete/Edit the contents of the port.
Flight engineer John Pritchett has been working on fine-tuning the EVA system to make it much more reliable and canny during flight. But most impressively, John was also the individual who helped create our planetary landing flight mode that viewers saw on our December 2015 livestream.
Another very successful year has come and gone for the LA Tech Design team. Starting with new leadership, Kirk Tome took the reins of the team by accepting the role of Tech Design Lead. We have great expectations to come from this team in 2016 and the team could not be in better hands with this tenured industry veteran at the proverbial helm.
During the development of the 2.0 patch, we reached several milestones that will drastically impact future development and provide exciting new content to our backers, players, and fans. We completed the white-box design of two ships; the Xi’an Scout and the MISC Reliant. The Xi’an Scout white box was completed by Tech Design Lead Kirk Tome, while the Reliant white box was completed by our item guru, Matt Sherman. Furthermore, as an added bonus, Calix Reneau also completed the grey box tech design of the MISC Reliant, bringing it that much closer to being hangar-ready.
Of course, balance is always a paramount for gaming and thus Calix and Matt have both spent a tremendous amount of time gathering input from the forums, chat rooms, and emails. The Freelancer is new to our flyable ship lineup, and a first round of weapon and ship health balance was achieved for its gaming debut. Expect more balance passes in the future as the flyable ship lineup fills out and go up against each other! Every release brings new insights and as more gameplay and customizations become possible, your testing data helps us home in on an inherently moving target.
On the feature development-side, 2.0 saw the release of the EMP system designed to temporarily disable your opponent. Further development and evolution of the EMP system was addressed using feedback from the release, such as improvements on how the system will affect the HUD, and various ship systems. Also, Randy Vazquez has completed a first pass on a gameplay design for the Salvage mechanic.
While December was a short month due to the holidays, we have laid the groundwork for a tremendous amount of progress.
We rocked it hard on the art side in LA during the month of December in 2015. We’ve been working tenaciously to build closer towards some anxiously anticipated releases, such as clothes shopping in the PU, and Squadron 42.
On the character side we’ve been working on making “Old Man” Colton as great as he can be. You’ll be seeing him in Squadron 42! We’ve also been feverishly prepping some intimidating marines for some exciting action. We can wait for you to meet them! We also can’t wait for you to dig on the variety of stylish threads that we’ve been preparing for your character with our friends at CGBot, available soon (we hope!) for purchase in a PU near you!
While all this amazing character progress has been moving forward, we haven’t been neglecting our ships. We’re very much stoked for when we will be able to roll out the Reliant to the hangar. It’s with special pride that we imagine our supporters easing back into the pilot seat for the first time. (There are two seats, side by side. Can you guess which one it is?) We hope you’re as pumped about the Reliant as we are!
And that’s December! We had another great month of finished tasks that is leading to an incredible experience in both Star Citizen and Squadron 42. We’re looking forward to your feedback and can’t wait to get more done. We’re inspired by you and work as hard as we can to make our milestones a part of history. See you next month!
December brought our year to a close in grand fashion! We had a great run of builds, fixes, and PTU testing leading up to the launch of 2.0.0 in December! And right after that we jumped into 2.1.0 testing for a fast follow up on PTU. Many people in the studio worked very hard in December to bring this content to the live server, and we have a lot to share. Thankfully we also got some time to relax and recharge a bit after the Christmas holiday and now the team is back hard at work on making the best damn space sim ever!
Persistent Universe Team
Howdy folks! Hope everyone had a fantastic holiday season. Everyone on the PU team here in Austin got a much needed break, but not before knocking some last minute tasks off our plate and finishing the year strong.
To start, congratulations are in order to Chris Smith and Josh Coons, who finished up the much-awaited revamp to the Constellation Andromeda. This ship is gorgeous, and we love seeing you guys flying it around now out in the ‘verse. Chris and Josh have since moved on to the Xi’an Scout, and aim to finish that up later this month.
The other artists here have been trucking along on building and detailing the Levski landing zone in Nyx, supporting BHVR in providing lighting, VFX, and technical oversight. Mark Skelton continues to provide his fearless leadership and direction in helping to make this environment look as amazing as possible. In the Pupil to Planet video, we showed off a bit of how Delamar might look as you depart the Levski landing zone. Hats off to the team in Frankfurt for getting this tech up and running so quickly, but it does create an interesting challenge for Art. Before now, all we have really had to worry about is how the landing zone looks from the ground at a single time of day. Now we’re having to think about not just what a landing zone looks like from eye-level, but how it looks from orbit! Mark has his work cut out for him making sure that these landing zones look amazing not just from varying heights but varying times of day as well, in varying degrees of light, shadow, and everything in between. Eventually our planets will rotate just like real planets, and with that comes a full day/night cycle that we have to bear in mind when designing and art directing. It certainly is a challenge but we are looking forward to it.
Speaking of Pupil to Planet, before the break designer Pete “Weather Wizard“ Mackay spent some time using his weather wizardry to nail down elements of cruise speed. While we were doing seamless fly-throughs from orbit down to the landing zone we noticed that the speed at which the ship approached was a bit off. We wanted this approach speed to feel fast but without feeling ludicrous. Pete spent some time making calculations to determine the best approach velocity to get the feel just right. He’s still tweaking the parameters to get it perfect, but should have it nailed down soon.
Recently our Design Team has been focusing on additional landing zones in the PU, specifically focusing on breaking up all of our landing zones into Hero, Small Sandbox, and Space Station categories. Every landing zone is extremely detailed, and with that comes a lot of time and resource required to get them to the level of quality that we’re shooting for. Because of this, we are shifting gears slightly and shuffling our schedule around to get MORE landing zones ready in a shorter amount of time, which means everyone not only has to be efficient, but also be clever at the same time. We’re still focusing on hero locations like Hurston and Crusader, but we’re also prioritizing smaller landing zones like Sherman and Odyssa and space stations like mining outposts and research stations. Each of these locations will have their own points of interest and shops, and this requires a lot of design attention by the likes of Rob Reininger and Evan Manning.
Our Animation Team continues to convert and integrate the raw animation data we captured last year for the PU. The Medical Unit animations are nearly complete, and the Nightclub animations are not far behind. Throughout this process we’ve identified and solved issues with female locomotion and vending machine metrics. Our Ship Animators helped prep the Sabre to be Hangar-Ready and get the Freelancer flying. Our next focus will be R&D on what we’re calling the Personality Overlay System. Lead Animator Bryan Brewer will partner with a programmer to blend animations together depending on an NPC’s personality as set by Design. This system would also allow users to select the idle animation that fits them best from a Character Customization UI to create variety amongst player animation. We’re excited about this system because this will enable us to use the hundreds of animations for PU and Players in a better, more adjustable way.
On the Networking side, Jason Ely and Tom Sawyer spent much of their time before the break prepping the Party System for 2.0.0. release. There is still lots of work to be done and these improvements will continue to be a focus into the new year, so if you think it’s still a little rough, please hang in there – we’ll be shoring it up. We know it’s a natural feature desire for multicrew play, and it has to start somewhere! Meanwhile, for those who own a Million Mile High Club, we also spent some time getting access and invites set up for that environment as well. We also made some headway on Persistence with the help of Jeff Zhu. This new year will see renewed focus on this critical feature, with new resources being recruited to help knock this functionality out once and for all. Soon we will see the first iteration of truly persistent data in the hands of the players with the release of Shopping v1.
For the month of December, QA mostly focused on testing SC Alpha 2.0.0 and SC Alpha 2.1.0. After 14 deployments (!) to the Public Test Universe (PTU) in a very short period of time, we were extremely excited to finally release SC Alpha 2.0.0 to the live environment. Our thanks to the PTU testers who provided their enthusiasm, attention to detail, and real-time cooperation with us in order to get 2.0 out of the PTU and live into everyone’s hands!
That would have been a good place to start a vacation, but we didn’t stop there. We immediately jumped into testing SC Alpha 2.1.0, again with the help of our loyal and valued PTU testers. We had guarded hopes to release 2.1.0 to our live environment before the holiday break, but after 4 deployments to the PTU, we were unfortunately still experiencing some stability issues with the additional content. The decision was made to keep 2.1.0 on the PTU over the holidays but open it up to everyone to check out the new flyable Freelancer.
Over the course of the month we deployed fourteen 2.0.0 builds to the PTU, one deployment of 2.0.0 to live and four 2.1.0 deployments to the PTU. Supporting these deployments was a significant undertaking. For each deployment, the team would test each aspect of the game and raise any potential serious issues to production. The team also would conduct launcher/patch testing as well as compile patch notes. Following the deployment, the team would monitor the community feedback.
After each deployment, Jeffrey Pease would gather stability metrics on server and client crashes and provide a comprehensive report to CIG Leadership. Jeffrey Pease has done an amazing job in his various roles in QA and I am happy to announce he has officially transitioned into a development role as a LiveOps Technician. Congratulations to Bearded-CIG!
There have also been other movements within our ranks. Tyler Witkin, who you may know as Zyloh-CIG, has been promoted to the level of Senior QA. Tyler will be taking a more active leadership role on the team in his new position. In addition to his normal QA duties, Tyler has also been doing a great job keeping the community in the loop with regular updates on Discord and various social media outlets. Tyler has also obtained additional screenshots and videos requested by Marketing that were used in various updates on the RSI website.
In testing 2.0.0 and 2.1.0 the team has been working very closely with engineers Clive Johnson, George Kidd, Paul Reindell and other developers on extensive performance testing including AI spawning, Server bottle-necking, and server or client crashes. Melissa Estrada has continued with Automation development as well as working closely with engineer Francesco Roccucci on in depth testing of AI behavior. Todd Raffray and Robert Gaither have ensured that contacts, the party system, Million Mile High Club and ArcCorp continued to be properly tested. Andrew Rexroth continued to test all FPS functionality sending a report each day highlighting any new or particularly serious issues.
Our Information Specialist Marissa Meissner has been ensuring that for each deployment, all fixes are verified and included in the patch notes. Marissa has been working very closely with Will Leverett in Game Support on messaging and accuracy of promotional mail outs and PTU invites as well as helping to update several FAQ’s to assist Customer Service. Marissa is also working with our Marketing Manager Vincent Gallopain to ensure marketing materials are accurate. Marissa has also been updating our internal knowledge base with a new workflow for reporting performance issues as well as routine updates of deprecated components and production ownership of certain ship manufacturers.
In addition to testing, QA has also taken on the task of providing feedback to CIG Leadership on various aspects of the game. Andrew Hesse has provided very detailed reports on ship behavior which have been very useful to our designers in their attempts to balance ship flight and combat.
During January QA will be continuing to test 2.1.0 for its inevitable deployment to the live environment and promptly begin testing 2.2.0. It is turning out to already be a very active new year. See you in the verse!
Our (amazing) December was all about 2.0 and 2.1!
It’d be easy to overlook how well 2.0 went through the dev pipeline to Live, because from a process perspective it went so smoothly! Normally, such a major release takes several months to get from initial build to Live, but we did it all within a handful of weeks, in large part due to Game Support (and other teams) working alongside the community who did excellent work in helping us identify major bugs and game imbalances, which we triaged through Issue Council and got into the dev pipeline quickly. It was truly a quantum leap in terms of turnaround time and update speed, and this demonstrates the value of all the time that DevOps and Production spent last year re-engineering the development, build, and patching pipelines. Sometimes, to an outsider those long periods spent building development infrastructure may make it feel like progress on the game is slow, but once the benefits start to kick in, it really pays off, and we think the rapid patch cycle that brought 2.0 to you in December proves it!
On the topic of PTU, we understand that there was confusion on how PTU testers were selected for closed testing campaigns. Creating any level of confusion or frustration is obviously not our goal, and we FULLY realize how much players want in on early rounds of testing. That said, the PTU is not about privilege or early access – the mission of the PTU is to iron out a release to a quality sufficient for deployment to live, the faster the better. Ideally, a PTU tester is not someone who wants to be “first in line” for new content, but a true and dedicated backer who is willing to put in effort alongside QA, Game Support, and the various Operations teams to get that new content out to the rest of the community and reduce the amount of time it’s necessarily held back for troubleshooting.
So, while we’d like to stress that it’s not “early access to content” but rather instead actual testing, and this motivation continues to drive our ongoing revamps and reevaluations of the PTU access selection process.
- Issue Council Participation
- PTU Participation
We’ve graded players based on these two criteria, and should we have the need for a closed testing period, we’ll be inviting our players who have helped out the most in these areas on a scaled basis. Some PTU releases are open to everyone, but during the very early phases of a major release – particularly if it’s technically tricky – , we’ll consider restricting access until a more reasonable level of stability can be achieved. (Remember that in testing, different problems and bugs can have different root causes, and sometimes smaller, focused testing is what’s needed and sometimes a larger pool of testers for stress testing is needed. Access headcounts can vary from one release candidate to the next depending on what kind of testing is most useful)
We’re excited about the cool things to come in January, and we’re excited to work with you to get it done.
Happy New Year from the IT Team at CIG! The month of December brought us many new challenges and even more successes. Much of what the IT department focuses on at the end of the year is boring software licensing renewals, software and user account audits, and internal system maintenance. This December the team has also been heavily involved in publishing support and for the 2.0 & 2.1 publishes. A portion of the team supported the project by providing network and storage optimizations to further improve the build system performance in order to help deliver more builds per day for internal testing. Moving the builds between studios also falls on IT so these services were pushed to the limits allowing us to find even more areas we could tune for performance. The QA teams pull a lot of builds throughout the day, so many that they can actually begin to stress the network in certain areas so new optimizations were added where needed to help QA get builds down to machines as fast as possible. Finally, the IT Team got to provide additional support for LiveOps publishes by prioritizing their traffic over all other outbound traffic because with the amount of publishes we did, every minute counts.
December may have been the most productive month ever for the LiveOps team. With back to back publishes happening nearly every day of the month, it became necessary to dramatically reduce the publish windows. This is the time it takes to deploy the servers, supporting systems, prepare and distribute all patches out to the edge networks. Reducing this time provides faster access to new versions by the backers but just as importantly, allows us to get feedback to the dev team more quickly. At the rate builds were coming out it became clear that we needed to create duplicate environments in order to pre-stage a publish without having to take down the currently running service for 4-6 hours.
Ahmed became the real rock star this month when he built out all the duplicate environments and modified the publishing process. Based on his work, we were able to reduce the publish window completely by simply flipping load balancers from one environment to another. Additionally Ahmed added a number of additional servers in order to accommodate additional logging which was ultimately instrumental to the massive stability improvements we saw in December. Ahmed also had a great time with the publishes during the month as well. We saw chat rooms light up every time he came on line because those backers helping us on the PTU became used to seeing him show up every time we completed another publish.
The LiveOps team also delivered major improvements to internal development, testing, and reporting tools. The build system experienced several improvements to reduce build times including one fix that allowed us to make use of even more processing power than before. The tools used to collect source code for compiling have been undergoing improvements as well with early reports of hours of reduction times under worst case scenarios.
Wrapping up 2015 with such a fantastic month makes looking forward to 2016 that much more exciting.
FOUNDRY 42 UK
December may have been a short month, but it wasn’t quiet! We had a lot to do at Foundry 42 UK, with team members from every discipline contributing to the project. Let’s find out what they were up to!
In December, the VFX team, Mike, Adam, Caleb, and Sean, focused on a flight-ready effects pass for the MISC Freelancer and AEGS Vanguard. A flight-ready pass includes both interior and exterior damage states (including a “deathmask”) thrusters, and weapons/counter measures.
We also continued to polish ambient environment effects for the Alpha 2.0 Crusader map. Mostly this was polish/optimization to tie in with some lighting tweaks. However, we also added new airlock depressurization effects, so there is a clear visual difference between pressurization and depressurization.
Finally, we focused on a “post-2.0 release” data clean-up. For the most part this meant removing and re-organizing our particle libraries and texture folders. Not the sexiest task in the world – quite laborious in fact – but necessary nonetheless as it will help us to hit the ground running in 2016!
As 2015 came to an end the props team, Ben, Dan and our friends at Behaviour Interactive, put the finishing touches on the Casaba shop interior. The store is now complete in terms of prop work and we are just waiting on the stock to come in from our clothing manufacturers! It was an interesting environment to dress, taking on the role of shop fitters and adhering to a brand guidelines to really sell that retail experience.
The gold standard components are 95% there. They just need a final pass on the materials and then our first two will be ready. Work has also begun on the next set this week so we should have four by the end of the month. We are working closely with the tech designers and they are in the process of defining the sub-component list which is the final part of the puzzle from our point of view.
The rest of the team are now focusing on our core low-tech prop set in preparation for all the new environments coming in 2016.
I have been concentrating on getting a solid backlog / tracking of everything we currently have in game, the sheer number of assets is getting impressive and I needed a fast way of being able to track exactly where each asset is up to and also be able to quickly filter and search the assets so that when new requests come in we can prioritize them against what we have already in game. Once complete we should be in a really good place to start pumping out everything we need to bring the environments to life. This is really important from a game performance perspective, because the sheer number of assets, models, animations, and geometry in the game means that if you don’t do this intelligently, bad things can happen to your load times and FPS. It may not sound like exciting work, but when you want to maintain the pace of your gaming experience, it’s as critical as a lot of other things!
Finally we have a new hire here in the UK studio, the props team here is now up to three! We are still looking and have some strong candidates so hopefully will bolster our numbers again soon!
The ship art team led by Nathan were fighting hard in December to get you some new shiny ships to play with over the festive break, so we hope it was worth it!
Neil, Peter, Robin, Jose, and Jan managed to get the new and revised Freelancer exterior and interior art flight ready our 2.1 PTU release, and Paul and Ian also supported Nathan in completing the final art for the Sabre and the Vanguard (including damage states for the latter).
Many of you will be pleased to know that the Starfarer exterior and interior are well underway with Matt, Colin, Joe, Phil and Jay making good progress so we’ll be looking forward to releasing that to you later this year and also looking forward to releasing many more cool and wonderful Star Citizen spaceships in 2016.
Paul and the concept team has been hard at work, the Javelin has had a bit of a nip-and-tuck with some remodeling to bring it into line with the Aegis brand.
Sarah has been valiantly battling her way through the many props needed, working on both high tech and low tech prop design styles, and on solidifying the design language should we need to outsource some of the work later on.
Jort has been working his Christmas magic on various space station interiors, dressing passes and additional concept work to help define what we need to make these areas come alive.
Stu has worked up additional pods for the ARGO RUV which we need for SQ42 and Gary finished up the Xian Scout and has really gone to town helping define further interiors for the Shubin Mining Facility.
Our two man team has been getting to grips with the new and improved pipeline where work has been done on Squadron 42 character Randall Graves by Jon (which you may have seen in the Livestream), both high and low poly models, along with some work to the Female officers uniform. As a good test for Michal our junior character artist, we set him the task of sculpting a stone statue needed for one of our future levels, and I must say the results were great!
Uisdean Ross and the UK animation team are continuing our push on the FPS AI and player mechanics. Player cover animation implementation is on-going by Colin and Dan and being refined and reviewed, this is an ongoing process working closely with the programming team.
The AI cover behaviors are currently going through a first pass by Spencer, and we are providing a base set for the AI programming team which will then be iterated on. Improvements are also being made to the no weapon (unarmed) locomotion set, as well as stops and starts.
The Christmas break over and we are back in action for 2016. We have so much to do this year in the UK we need to make every day count!
The UI Director Zane and Lead Systems designer Karl are working on a simplified HUD UI to level out the learning curve when it comes to interacting with your ships systems. All the advanced bells and whistles will still be there for the more hard core players. They are also working with the engineering UI team to implement a functional EVA HUD for players to get all the information they need while experiencing zero-g movement.
The Live team of Luke, Danny and Matt are listening to your feedback and fixing up issues with the current Live build to make it more stable and fun. They are also looking at further iterations to some of the more basic design implementations that need further work, such as EMP. Syncing up with the ship release schedule in becoming a strong focus for this team going forward to make sure we cover the design functionality that is required for the various ships, such as cargo movers.
The Tech Design team led by John has scaled up over the last few months ands is now big enough to really get moving on the new ships as the Art team hands them over to us. We have also been looking into ways of addressing ship balance in a less reactive, more forward-looking way that is looking promising over the next month or so.
Mike and the Squadron 42 designers are transitioning the levels into the large world system rather than lots of separate CryFiles. We still need to get better at excluding SQ42 files from the current build process as you guys seem to find anything that leaks through and they sometimes appear as spoilers! This will be getting a more robust system in the future and will have the side effect of getting some of these intermediate patch sizes more under control.
All in all, we are geared up for a very busy year on Star Citizen here in the UK and with your continued solid support we know we can make this something very special! Thanks again.
Over the last month the graphics director Ali and his team have made various performance improvements to the game.
The lighting shaders have had significant work and are now faster than the base CryEngine shaders despite having more features thanks to Ben. Geoff put in some hard work so that we can now cull rooms that you can’t see on ships and space stations much more accurately thanks to improvements to the culling system. The LOD system has been overhauled by Muhammed which should result in us rendering fewer polygons in the distance where you can’t really see them, and we’ve also made some significant improvements to the performance of our internal tools when generating LODs which could take several minutes on our largest levels and now takes just a few seconds. Okka and the rest of the team also spent a large amount of December bug fixing for the PTU and Live Releases.
Our focus now is on planning our work for 2016, and focusing on the features that Squadron 42 requires. The first features we’re working on will be improved HDR effects such as bloom, lens flares and eye adaption to give a better impression of the stark lighting you get in space and sci-fi scenes in general. We’ll be revamping some shaders such as the glass shader so we can improve the quality of the cockpits and helmets as well as increase their performance. We’ll also be getting back onto our volumetric gas cloud work which had been paused during the work on 2.0 but is crucial for both Squadron 42 and the Persistent Universe.
Ian and the environment team hope you’re all enjoying playing Crusader, our team is having a great time watching you play!
Jake and part of the team has been doing final bug fixes and lighting improvements for the 2.1 release of Crusader, so it should look and perform better than in 2.0. Eddie and rest of the team has been focusing down on one of our Squadron 42 levels, not too much we can reveal at this stage but it will be our test bed for creating sandbox locations with terrain and multiple landing points.
For obvious reasons this has been a shorter month for us here in the UK and people have been taking some well-deserved time off. That’s not to say we’ve been taking it easy whilst we’ve been in though!
The highlight for Derek and the engineering team in December was getting Alpha 2.0 finally out to everybody after a huge effort from anybody concerned. We’re really proud of what we’ve managed to achieve, especially as it has gone down so well with the community. We keep an eye on all the forums and Twitch streams and people do seem to be having a blast which makes all the hard work feel worthwhile. But of course as soon as one milestone has been hit we’re onto the next. We’re now in the final stages of getting Alpha 2.1 hitting the streets so we’re in the general stabilization phase, with many engineers including Rob, Clive, George, and Craig getting those horrid random crash bugs which have crept in fixed and some performance optimizations.
More general ongoing work. One of the big things Jens and the FPS code team have helping working on is the new physicalized EVA which is a big departure from the current implementation. Rather than “faking” the fidelity of the player movement as we have been doing currently we’re going down the route of using a proper physical simulation, in much the same way as we do with the ships. As part of that the character is also put into a ragdoll state which gives the whole movement a much more fluid and natural feel to it. The effects of this should include a slight opposite impulse to you to help make it feel like you’re firing a real weapon.
It does bring up a whole host of new problems to solve, many of which are nasty edge cases. For example, as you EVA around and then hit a gravity area you need to come out of rag doll and transition into the normal locomotion again with it feeling natural and fluid. Also when you’re in EVA you generally can’t see where your legs are and it’s really easy to clip a piece of geometry with them, which will send you into a nasty spin, which gets really annoying really quickly. We’ve got a number of ideas from getting your character to automatically tuck in their legs, to have an IFCS to counter any unwanted spin. There’s going to be a new EVA HUD mode as well to give you some more feedback. When you’re in the middle of space away from any nearby geometry you have very little point of reference to give an indication of what speed and direction you’re moving in, which isn’t much fun. But mainly we’ve been working on our eating, drinking and chilling. :)
After November’s hopeful anticipation of 2.0.0 going LIVE to all backers, Andy and the QA team were very proud (and a little relieved!) that it finally launched this month. We’ve been working on it internally for a while!
Hopefully you’re all appreciating the hard work we put in to get it ready for release – there was a great feeling of satisfaction felt in the department, and like I mentioned last time, we’re really getting to grips with the nature of the testing for Star Citizen’s future development.
Some of the UK QA team have had a busier end to the month of December than others… ahem! While some were off enjoying the festive season (me, Andy), the rest of our dedicated team were on hand to make sure that the first 2.1.0 patch made it live to PTU on Christmas Eve. “Merry Christmas”, is probably what they were thinking at the time!
While some might have considered a lack of a full LIVE release of 2.1.0 disappointing, there were a few good reasons why this release was unfortunately not possible. Without going into too much detail, the performance and stability of the build had regressed, meaning we were not comfortable with a release for you guys. This is not unusual any time you add new content or new gameplay, and particularly not when one of the additions is a completely new class of flyable ship. Post-Christmas, this is going to form the majority of our testing in the department – helping to reproduce all the issues and ensure the quality of the experience is back where we want it to be.
2.1.0 has meant that the lucky PTU players were able to experience and help test the Freelancer for the first time – a ship that has prompted plenty of “Starbug roleplay” within the QA team. Hopefully before too long everyone will be able to play the “Rimmer role” once 2.1.0 goes LIVE…
In other news, the UK QA Secret Santa was a great success – highlights include: Pokemon trainer badges, a genuinely horrifying 1980’s E.T., a Transformers lunchbox with flask and a Corinthian Kevin Keegan figurine.
For Lee Banyard and CIG Audio, December was mostly taken up with ensuring things were as solid as they could be with sound for SC Alpha 2.0. With a game such as ours, testing every possible thing where audio is concerned can be difficult, so we spent a lot of time trying to cover all the bases, going through PTU feedback and issues that came up via QA as well as stuff we found ourselves.
What was everyone up to? Luke, Darren and Stefan were immersed in supporting ships such as the Freelancer and Vanguard. Matteo and Stefan (again, he gets around!) looking more at EVA and FPS elements, while Ross was running the rule over the environments in 2.0 again and again to ensure that all worked as it should, testing out the music logic system, planning battle-chatter system and just general testing. Phil continued with UI audio and with PU environments, especially the Million Mile High Club. Bob was engaged in hammering out anything to do with dialogue, and the larger dialogue system, and last (but not least) Jason continued his stellar work in supporting everyone from a technical standpoint and ensuring the audio build system continued to do its thing.
We continued to plan the orchestral sessions which should be happening in the next month or so, which should align nicely with the progress Ross and Sam Hall are making with the dynamic music system assuming all goes ahead as planned.
And Lee tried to help everyone with everything as much as he could!
Also the team received CIG Audio winter hats as seasonal gifts. I think photos were posted to the Ask A Developer audio thread in case you’re interested. Hope you all had a great winter break!
FOUNDRY 42 FRANKFURT
Hallo aus Frankfurt (Hello from Frankfurt),
Christmas has come and gone, we’re into a new year, and the team is now back from their well-deserved holiday break.
This month we’ll have 4 new people joining the Frankfurt team, bringing us up to 34 strong.
I hope everyone had a good holiday, read below on some of the stuff we did before the break.
Pupil to Planet – Procedural Tech
This past month we showed off the procedural tech we’ve been working on, both in the video Pupil to Planet, and with Chris and Sean playing it live on the livestream.
Marco, Carsten, and Pascal spent a good amount of time working on the tech and environment art, and Hannes came in with final touches and camera work. We had support from others both in and out of the DE office, such as Sean Tracy, Chris Bolte, etc. The character used is a story character from SQ42 called Joachim Steiger. Music was done by our Pedro Camacho and turned out fantastic. Thanks to everyone that pitched in, seeing and navigating around this 1000km diameter planetoid live in-game was and is an absolutely surreal and a mind blowing experience.
The base planet tech of the procedural work was started a few months earlier, in September. Besides the planet tech, there are several different systems helping to make this possible, including the Large World (systems were converted to use 64 bit positioning to allow large seamless worlds), inverted depth buffer and camera relative rendering (which renders everything relative to the camera to minimize loss of precision), and the Zone system (which was worked on mainly by Chris Bolte).
Some generated planet terrain parts are still too big to fit into 32 bit float vertex buffer chunks for the GPU, so they are computed locally and displaced on the appropriate location on the planet, which, when combined with the aforementioned systems, avoid any jittering or loss of precision.
Keeping the entire planet in memory won’t be possible, so the planet surface is allocated a fixed memory budget and procedurally generated on-demand at different level of details as the engine camera moves around the planet.
Then procedural texturing and colors are applied to the surface in realtime depending on terrain shape and other information.
the atmospherics are based on a physically accurate model of light transport taking multiple scattering into account, this allows to render atmospherics correctly and automatically from any viewpoint from outer space to ground level.
We already have some improvements in the works, and we will be updating as the new year goes on. The current plan, as shown in the prototype, is to experience the entire Star Citizen game world in first person, including from walking into your ship, flying and seamlessly landing from space to a docking station on a planet, walking around in first person, entering buildings and doing things at the higher visual fidelity we have shown. Our next steps besides improving the planet generation and visuals would be to integrate the procedural tech into the multiplayer environment so it could be experienced in the PTU.
On top of the above work wrapped around the procedural tech, the engine team gave support to various areas of the current PTU release. We’re also making further progress on the public crash handler to gather relevant data on why clients crash which should help speed up stabilizing future PTU and public releases.
We’re pushing towards enabling asserts in profile builds to further help catch runtime errors early. As part of this, the internal crash handler and callstack collector service of CE has been totally overhauled.
We’re currently completing our full breakdown of every scene in SQ42’s script and all material that was shot in regards to scene types.
SQ42 features every type of cinematic you could think of. Ranging from relatively straight forward 3rd person cinematics with filmic cameras without player presence, to 1st person player perspective cinematics with look control and then crossing over into more gameplay oriented conversational scenes with AI characters and full player control. Transitions from cinematics into AI characters most of the time needs to be fluid and conversational scenes often can be interrupted by the player so this requires lots of planning and case handling on animation and AI tech side. The amount of material is massive so getting it all sorted and categorized correctly is essential for production.
We are also working on a scene with Admiral Bishop going planetside to view battle damage and a first scene with Captain Maclaren but both are in their early stages of implementation.
For cinematic environment work, we finished up geometry for the Retribution skydock, started working on the Corvo ruins scene, and started with some terrain RnD of the big background mountains and crater.
Our system designers are busy coming up with consistent designs for cargo and looting so we can have a clear path of where we need to take these systems and at the same time come up with a tier zero implementation for the baby PU so the players can loot items, move them around and sell them in various stations. The goal here is to implement an initial light version of the system that we can build upon in the future without having to redo it from scratch when the full system will be ready to deploy. These systems should help stimulate different types of gameplay in the baby PU, from cargo transport to market research and even piracy or escorting other players.
Both system and level designers here are now working together with programmers in creating a mission generation system that is modular and that can offer great variation of gameplay. We’re still in the early stages for this system but we’re hoping we can get some early version of it in the baby PU as soon as possible. This system should be able to take data from the universe simulator and generate missions based on that data so let’s say if a system is under heavy pirate threat then we can generate more missions to fight pirates, and even tailor those procedural missions to that specific pirate faction.
Level designers have been pushing through with their Power Management System prototype that they started last month and hopefully we’ll get to play it soon and see how it fits in our current plans for the stations & ships. Also a lot of research & prototyping time was put into various models of asteroid bases and facilities trying to get away from the conventional “planet-like” looking base and exploring all the possibilities that life on a low/no gravity asteroid can offer.
TechArt in Frankfurt is continuing to work with the other studios Tech Artists on our bigger DCC pipeline, this month we finalized our puppet from animation perspective.
We’re currently working on finalizing in-game internal rig setups. Further supporting various department RNDs and bug fixing is daily routines for us.
Aside from the usual bug-hunting, I worked mostly on Automated Testing solutions for Star Citizen, developing automated test levels with timed demos with the help of Francesco Di Mizio in the hopes that automating a simple test-run of a level could lead to further automation down the line. Right now a simple test level involving spawning in a location, equipping a loadout and running through the map shooting at AI can test everything from level loading and chainloading to AI-Hit Reactions, bullet physics and particles, character physics & ragdoll, falling damage and a whole host of other functions vital to the core gameplay of S42 and the Persistent Universe. Additional test map demos can now be made and implemented using the same framework that will allow developers to see which changelists cause any problems for any area of the game on a daily basis as changes go in.
The weapon art team has finished the Apocalypse Arms Revenant Ballistic Gatling. As already mentioned in the previous monthly studio report, this is the first weapon to use our new Multi-Layer shader and we are quite happy with the results!
While working with the new shader and being in direct communication with the graphics programmer wizards in the UK we have learned a lot and identified some issues as well as given feedback to further improve the shader in the future.
Last month the Frankfurt environment art team was working on the Shubin space station, a high tech mining facility whose role is to “crack” asteroids in order to mine the valuable minerals that they contain. Shubin will be featured heavily in the Squadron 42 campaign and will differ from the other stations in its design, being a very high tech facility. The station is going to be one of the biggest so far, giving the player the freedom to fly around the huge superstructure and, of course, land and explore the interior on foot. From an artist’s point of view, Shubin has been a huge challenge but at the same time a very rewarding one, giving us the freedom to explore new designs and really try to develop something that we think will provide a real sense of awe when players initially experience it in game.
Another month of hard work here in Montreal. Here’s what the team have been working on.
The Behaviour design team wrapped up the year with a few things. First, Lead Technical Designer Francois Boucher continued to set up shops and shopping items for the upcoming Casaba Outlet and current stores as well. In parallel, we are working on a streamlined shopping interface that hopefully everyone will like.
Level Designer Jesse Kalb added a bunch of new flair objects to the game as we wanted to get some kind of cushion leading into the new year. We also worked hard solidifying 2.0 and subsequently 2.1 before leaving for the holiday.
Finally, we cooked 3.5 pounds of Canadian bacon for the Star Citizen Behaviour team to celebrate the end of the year. Yummy!
This month, the Environment team continued to work on Levski. Mainly optimizing complex geometry like rock walls and tunnels. Also, we began dressing the interiors, trying to give to each a theme. This will help navigation but also to make it visually interesting when exploring the map. A couple of minor bugs were fixed on ArcCorp and Hangars.
For the Prop team, the next flairs were completed and we are planning the next ones for 2016.
The background and static props where completed for the clothing store. We are now moving on props for industrial/mining planets.
On the Concept Art team , we worked on paint-overs for Levski`s interior shops. You can admire the amazing work done by our concept artists Seungjin Woo on Cordry`s armor shop.
Coming to you shortly in version 2.1.0 are a few cool new features. Customizing your ships with the HoloTable will be a little easier. You’re probably used to seeing only your loose ship parts that can be equipped, and you still will by default. However, with a new UI widget you’ll now be able to filter items to see what’s available and what isn’t. For example you’ll now be able to see items on other ships, so you can equip them directly without having to load and strip that other ship first. You can also your whole inventory for a given part category, which could help you plan the loadouts of your personal fleet at a glance. All of this will come with color highlighting and some clearer labeling of the various parts and their stats. For those of you who play well with others, we hope you enjoy the new updates to the party management and contact list UI systems. We’ve also worked hard to improve stability of options, customizations and emotes so you can continue to have fun mingling with others planet-side (or crashing your buggies into each other, whatever floats your boat).
For subsequent updates, we’re working to provide you with a full AR shopping experience, where you can purchase gear for your character in-game and preview the various modifications on your avatar. We’re continuing to work on optimizing ship customizations, allowing you to make temporary modifications in Crusader from a HoloTable, load them into a dock and take flight without returning to your hangar. Any of you who are upgrading your computers this winter may appreciate our modifications to the graphics menu options. Quality settings will apply immediately, allowing you to see their effects without having to leave the menu. You’ll also have a timed screen resolution confirmation dialog, which will help if you try configurations that don’t quite agree with your graphics card or monitor/TV setup. If a resolution doesn’t work for you (no, not the New Year’s kind. unfortunately), it will revert back in 15 seconds. More party and Crusader ship features will continue to be improved as well. Hopefully you’ll have your hands on all of these pretty soon!
On our side, we’re continuing to update our dev tools to help bring you more content and exciting new features in the near future.
Greetings from frosty Montreal! Here’s what we’ve been up to in the last month, in-between snowfalls :
Pledge Buy Back
In December, we launched a new feature called Pledge Buy Back. Most of you knew it by another, more obscure name, “unmelt”. It allows anyone to undo a mistake they made, like exchanging a limited availability pledge they had for store credit. Anyone will be able to undo such mistakes and do themselves what used to take hours of Customer Service exchanges. This feature is now accessible via My Hangar. Note: there will be a handful of pledges which are and will stay ineligible for Pledge Buy Back : some limited offers, offers linked to third party companies, pledge packages including physical merchandise… The system still allows buying back 99.9% of all pledges ever available, and to date close to 5,000 pledges have been bought back, making it one of our most popular features already!
Last month, we completed development on the new Organization invitation email template, so that it would reflect your Org’s identity better and make it less ambiguously linked to RSI Itself. The new layout is currently being tested on different email programs and devices, and once it has passed QA, we’ll go live. Coming soon!
Of course, we haven’t forgotten other Org improvements either! While there’s nothing to report in those regards this month, rest assured that we haven’t forsaken you, and that more robust updates to the Organization are still waiting in the wings for gameplay elements that will support them.
We are currently in the Design phase for the new Subscribers section of the website. In addition to the look-and-feel of the new landing page, we are creating a new logo and many other assets which will then be used to promote subscriptions to the general public.
December was a busy month for ship sales, with the Holiday livestream as well as the end of year free for all sale to close out 2015. The livestream saw the release of the Reliant variants, including a researcher, a reporter and a skirmisher model, each with their own unique loadout and expertise. In 2.0 the new Constellation Andromeda model became available in hangar and crusader. This version also included the Vanguard Warden as hangar ready. As 2015 came to an end, there was also one last free-for-all sale for the year giving everyone a chance to get their favorite ship during the holidays, and serve as what we’ve been calling a grace period before the new Euro rate came into place.
Wishing you all a happy new year!
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