Comm-Link:Monthly Report - March 2016
Your monthly report is here. But first, a small patch! We’ve just issued Star Citizen Alpha 2.3.1 to the live servers, which includes a variety of bug fixes and balance changes. You can access it via the launcher and you can read the complete patch notes here().
If you’ve played Star Citizen Alpha 2.3, you already know that March was a month for REALLY BIG SHIPS! We launched the hangar-ready Starfarer this month, along with the long-awaited Xi’An scout… and there’s plenty more to follow! Today we will be checking in with all of our studios and outsource partners to see what the team was working on in March… but first, we’d like to share some of the fruits of that labor: some of the work we’ve been doing on seamless EVA transitions that you’ll be seeing in an upcoming patch. Check it out and then read on to find out the work that went into making this a reality!
- 1 CIG LOS ANGELES
- 2 CIG AUSTIN
- 3 FOUNDRY 42 UK
- 4 FOUNDRY 42 FRANKFURT
- 5 BHVR
- 6 TURBULENT
- 7 COMMUNITY
CIG LOS ANGELES
Can you believe that a quarter of 2016 has already come and gone? But what a quarter it has been, has it not? Just look at what we have accomplished over the past month; the Xi’an Aopoa Khartu-al, the Starfarer, and let us not overlook the biggest of them all – Intergalactic Food Delivery. With 2.3 also being released, we introduced a plethora of features and fixes, all of which can be found in our patch notes.
This is a global effort for every branch of Star Citizen but each branch contributes to the whole picture. So let us take a look at what CIG Los Angeles has knocked out of the park this month.
The CIG-LA Engineering team was bolstered with reinforcements! We had two new Gameplay Engineers join our ranks; Patrick Mathieu and Chad McKinney. We are very much looking forward to their contributions to Star Citizen!
Work continues on the new interaction system being spearheaded by Allen Chen and Mark Abent which is in the early stages of implementation by being incorporated into the ship seat interactivity. Our newest team member, Chad McKinney, has jumped in head-first by helping Allen on the doors and ramp interactions. While this system is something we have mentioned in the past, it is making steady progress and we can hopefully begin implementing components in a near-future release.
Chad Zamzow has been testing the new Shield Emitter system which is currently in the implementation stage of development. This new feature will add greater dimension to how shields function; especially when it comes to larger capital-class ships which will have multiple shield emitters. This will give ship engineers greater control over how much energy gets routed to a particular shield’s facing in order to maximize protection given a certain situation. Although great progress has been made to move this feature closer to release, there is still quite a bit of work left to do in the future.
But saving the best for last, our Engineering Lead Paul Reindell has been fast at work in bringing persistence into Star Citizen. For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, persistence refers to certain game parameters remaining active even if the player logs off. This includes allowing players to acquire items through the in-game shopping system. Whether you are purchasing snazzy new threads to make your space pirate look more…pirate-y, or you have your eye on a deadly new pistol, the end-goal is to make sure the choices you make in-game will persist and not reset each game session. It may sound like the kind of thing you can just take for granted in gaming, but when your items and inventory are as intricate as they are in Star Citizen, it’s actually no simple matter!
With the last couple patches, aside from tackling bugs it is clear the Tech Design team has been hard at work to bring you the best ships we have ever produced. Lead Tech Designer Kirk Tome worked hard on one of the most anticipated ships, the Xi’An Aopoa Khartu-al, now flight-ready and available for you to go forth in alien style. To continue this momentum, Matthew Sherman has been working on getting the MISC Reliant hangar-ready and Calix Reneau has been working diligently on the whitebox of the Drake Caterpillar.
On the component side, you may have seen the new component class added to the Holotable. Power Plants are the latest component we are allowing ship owners to swap out, and as you might expect, power the various systems of your ship. Two new power plants, the AEGIS Regulus and Amon & Reese OverDrive, have been added and can be used to swap out the standard “generic” power plant your ship comes with.
As more components are introduced to the game, we cannot wait to see what customization options you will opt for as you pursue your chosen career path in Star Citizen.
Ships seem to be the hot ticket item this month, and it continues on with the LA Art team. Concept Artist Gurmukh Bhasin is busy concepting the Drake Caterpillar Cargo module while our newest Concept Artist Justin Wentz completed the concept art for the Caterpillar’s crew habitation quarters. The next step is to model the habitation based on Justin’s concept which is currently tasked to Art Lead Elwin Bachiller and Associate Artist Daniel Kamentsky.
On the PU side, our newest character artist is creating the pristine materials for the Navy jumpsuit, Jeremiah Lee is doing a 2nd concept pass on the light armor, and Art Supervisor Forrest Stephan is creating the pristine materials for the flight suit helmet as well as clothing for the Persistent Universe (PU).
The Global Tech Content team is truly a jack of all trades team that has its fingers in everything from Star Citizen to ship development to characters to the PU.
Tech Content Director Sean Tracy has been working on developing the tech for character customization. Just another step on the road to creating an immersive persistent in-game universe. Along with this tech, the artists have been using this to prototype how character customization will function. Associate Rigger Gaige Hallman has also been hard at work on the PU side of the game, creating clothing template layers. What this does is allows each article of clothing to occupy a certain amount of volume. This will ensure that various articles of clothing can co-exist without clipping into each other as long as they are properly fitted to those geo volumes.
To give an idea of the diverse challenges the Tech Content team faces, Senior Tech Artist Mark McCall has created a test level called GearValidator. This level’s sole purpose is to test and ensure the landing gear of our ships will function correctly. After running through a series of tests, a report is provided that lets us know whether or not a particular ship’s landing gear is performing as it should be.
Part of what made the Xi’an Aopoa Khartu-al able to be released in 2.3 was Matt Intrieri’s work on getting so many Xi’an Aopoa Khartu-al -related bugs fixed in a relatively short amount of time, but we also are aware there is more fixing and tweaking that still needs to be completed before we are absolutely sanguine with the ship. Associate Tech Artist Patrick Salerno continues to review and add LODs to normalize the mesh count on legacy ships; he’s currently progressing through the 300-series.
CIG-LA QA’s primary focus was the push for 2.2 LIVE release and subsequent 2.3 PTU and LIVE Releases. In addition to standard sanity and smoke checks, the team also focused on:
- Xi’an Khartu-al flight performance.
- Starfarer hangar readiness, and preliminary flight performance.
- Early testing of persistence features.
- Investigating server stability and performance issues.
- Gathering ship feedback, with this month’s subject being the Drake Cutlass.
In addition, Eric Pietro began training for his new role as Animation’s Tools Specialist, with his goal being to ensure that the animations tools are functioning properly, and suitable for all animator needs.
Lead Writer Dave Haddock is home from Manchester! Dave spent the month in the UK looking over the whitebox levels with the Designers, allowing him to determine what additional dialogue might need to be included. Since then, Senior Writer Will Weissbaum and Dave have been hard at work putting everything needed together so that we can make sure Squadron 42 really brings you into the world of Star Citizen. Before flying back, Dave also got to sit in on Chris’ final editorial selects session, closing out the last lingering odds-and-ends from the previous performance shoot.
Aside from juggling News Updates, Galactic Guides and Portfolios, Associate Writer Adam Wieser has started naming the massive amounts of components/items/clothing that are being developed, writing the subsequent item descriptions as well as compiling a glossary for some of the more unique terms in an effort to standardize the language within the company. To give an example, if someone says a ship is an ‘interdiction ship,’ we’re all in agreement what qualities or aspects that term.
Aside from continuing her wizardry with organizing the internal wiki, Cherie: Destroyer of Worlds™ has been processing all the incoming scientific data for the various planets and stars and has kicked off the final batch of scientific data to our fantastic science consultants. She has also started compiling an initial list of potential entries for the Galactapedia as well as a chronology of events that have already ‘happened’ in the universe.
We had our alien language specialist, Britton Watkins, down to visit the office. After designing the Vanduul language for our shoot with Andy Serkis, Chris wanted to discuss next steps for Vanduul as well as the other languages. Hopefully, more news about that to come, but should be very exciting.
Until next month…
The Los Angeles Production team has been overseeing the hiring of new staff for the development teams. We have increased the number of artists and engineers, but we are still looking for designers, writers, and more engineers. While ramping up the number of developers in Los Angeles does help provide an increase in available resources, we want to make sure we are being smart about our strategies.
In order to ensure that Production is in sync with the other regional offices, we recently had Global Head of Production, Erin Roberts and Producer Ricky Jutley visiting from the UK office to discuss strategies for the PU with Todd Papy, Tony Zurovec, and Chris Roberts. While generally email or video conferencing are the usual methods for communicating trans-Atlantic, sometimes it is hard to beat face to face communication.
Senior Producer Eric Davis has been not only overseeing the development milestones for 2.3 and 2.4, he has also largely overseen the ongoing construction as we move closer to completing the new office in Los Angeles. Associate Producer Randy Vazquez has been managing the tasks for Tech Design and Engineering while Associate Producer Mark Hong is responsible for managing the tasks for Tech Content and Art as well. While that list is simplified each one of those items contains a mountainous amount of individual tasks, milestones, schedules, reports, and other related responsibilities.
As you can see, we have not been idle this month (nor have we ever been idle). We are very excited the Xi’an Aopoa Khartu-al is being enjoyed. We know how long you have been waiting for it and we are proud of each new ship we release. Although mainly focused on by our compatriots in the UK, the Starfarer’s hangar debut was also another milestone we were excited to complete. As mentioned earlier, we cannot wait until you see what we are doing with the Caterpillar, Herald, Reliant, and more. While we are proud of our accomplishments this month, it also reminds us we still have many more milestones to reach for. See you next month!
March was a very exciting month as always. We made lots of publishes to the PTU and deployed Star Citizen Alpha 2.3.0 to the live server! We’ve had a number of visitors, and a number of travelers, and a great deal of cross-studio collaboration at all levels. We also had a blast at the Bar Citizen event at the start of the month, and we look forward to hosting more events like this in the future! Here are detailed updates from each studio lead:
The major focus during the month of March here in Austin has been Shopping! By this I do not mean that we all went to the mall together to pick up the hottest fashion trends, but rather we focused on driving the features to completion that are required to get the shop environments functional for players. Lead Designer Rob Reininger has been driving various subfeatures like the Single-Item Transaction UI and flow and the shop environment item setup. Pete Mackay has been driving the pricing of all the various items that we will be selling in the shops. This has required much coordination between our Design and Community teams in LA and our Design Director Todd Papy and Pete has handled it just swimmingly. We’re now implementing the established prices into DataForge where they will exist statically until we bring our formulaic solution online. The items will be able to be purchased with a new currency we’ve established, internally called Alpha Currency. This currency exists for the sole purpose of testing out these prices and balancing the game, and will exist separately from UEC or REC. At any point we’ll be able to wipe Alpha Currency and start fresh if something goes awry, and this will help us nail down final pricing numbers before we go Live.
Along with the Shopping frontend comes the work being done to support the Shopping backend. The Server Team here in Austin has been setting up the ability to add/subtract Alpha Currency in game and handing it off to the UI and Design teams in the UK to use for the shopping interface and providing alpha currency rewards via completing missions. This work is part of Persistence as a whole, which made significant progress this month. We finally integrated Persistence into our main development stream, which means we can’t go back to the way things were before and Persistence is here to stay. With that comes a lot of issues and bugs that need fixing, and now our Server Team is working hard to fix those up so we can get our main development stream running smoothly again.
One additional feature that we’ve developed this month is the Port Modification View. Jeff Zhu did the programming work to rebuild the hangar code from the ground up, and we are now able to access various “Item Ports” around the hangar to customize the layout of our ships and hangar flair. No longer will the ships be organized in the hangars via the website, but instead you’ll be able to walk up to a bay in the hangar and choose which ships go where in game. This is an exciting new feature and we’ve been having a blast playing around with it. We’ve now passed this off to the UI team to dress it up in a mobiGlas app. Look forward to seeing that feature very soon!
Our Animation team has been supporting in various areas of the project, per usual. Jay Brushwood has been doing a lot of R&D on cockpit comparisons for the male and female characters. We want to make sure we are smart about how we approach this task so that we don’t grow our animation footprint exponentially. The Ship Animation Team has also been providing assets to Programming to help R&D various features such as different enter/exit speeds for the cockpits and allowing for two separate entry points for ships. Our PU Animation Team has been helping with defining metrics for various interactions in the game. From dining at a booth, to standing/sitting at a computer console, to serving champagne on a tray, each new animation requires some thought into how we implement assets to fit with existing metrics. If metrics aren’t established, we have to help create them so the Props Team know what dimensions their assets need to fit. Our Lead Animator, Bryan Brewer, has also been supporting Foundry 42 in implementing locomotion sets for various characters for Squadron 42. He’s making rapid progress and it’s nice to see some more of these characters come to life.
Lastly, our Ship Team here in Austin wrapped up work on the Xi’an Khartu-Al this month and we released that to be flight ready with 2.3.0. It’s a gorgeous, unique ship so major props go out to Chris Smith and Josh Coons for that accomplishment. Those guys have now moved on to the Hornet upgrade and the Drake Herald, respectively. Chris will be bringing the Hornet up to our current standards and optimizing the ship for performance considerations. Josh has been working on the whitebox model for the Drake Herald and will continue that into April.
Star Citizen QA in Austin has been very busy this past month. With assistance from our other QA teams in LA and UK, the Austin QA successfully completed 18 deployments to our Public Test Universe as well as 5 deployments to the official live environment. The team was very happy to share the new features in Star Citizen Alpha 2.3.
This month we have a few new faces on the Austin QA team. A big welcome to Jesse Mark, Don Allen and Scott McCrea. We are happy to have them aboard. This month has also seen some movement in our ranks. As Senior QA, Tyler Witkin has shown the ability to foster positive interactions with our community. It is only natural that he transition into our Community department. Tyler is now our newest Community Manager! Andrew Hesse has been doing a great job as QA Lead for Austin and we are proud to announce his promotion to QA Manager. Andrew will manage the Austin QA studio as well as assist with QA future planning. Marissa Meissner has been doing an excellent job since she was brought on as our Information Specialist. Marissa has proven her ability to lead and ensure day to day tasks are completed. Marissa has worked on many tasks including fully documenting our processes and workflows, managing the Issue Council, being a liaison to Community and In Game Support and managing our patch notes process to name a few. Marissa will be our newest QA Lead in the Austin Studio where she will ensure our day to day tasks and requests are completed with utmost diligence. Congratulations to Andrew, Marissa and Tyler!
Most of the month of March was occupied by testing the new features that were implemented into 2.3 and 2.3.1 including the hangar ready Starfarer and flyable Khartu-Al or Xi’an Scout. QA also spent time testing the newly added FPS weapons and ship power plant components as well as verifying the many bug fixes included in the update.
Our dedicated Squadron 42 tester Andrew Rexroth has been working closely with his counter-parts Liam Guest and Lee Jones in our UK office testing Squadron 42. Squadron 42 testing is ramping up with Andrew testing 5 separate levels each with many story driven objectives. We are also in the process of moving more testers over to Squadron 42 testing. Katarzyna Mierostawska is currently being trained to assist in this effort and more testers will make the change to Squadron 42 in the very near future.
Todd Raffray has taken on testing the very beginnings of Persistence. Todd is working very closely with engineers Jeff Zhu, Ahmed Shaker, Jason Ely and Tom Sawyer to ensure each aspect of Persistence is understood and properly tested as it is implemented. Todd is also making sure this process is clearly communicated to our other teams so we are all on the same page in terms of testing this very significant feature.
We are incredibly excited for the upcoming release of Star Citizen Alpha 2.4. With our combined efforts across 4 studios, QA will continue to provide the quality testing the upcoming releases will require. Thank you to everyone that have provided feedback and contributing on the Issue Council. Your help goes a long way to ensuring we create the best damn space sim ever. See you next month!
March was a great month for Will Leverett and Chris Danks in Game Support, if for no other reason than they got to work onsite together! Will spent two weeks in Manchester with Chris, as well as the Customer Service, Quality Assurance, and Production teams. There was a lot of time and effort put forth into making sure we’re aligned in how we help players, training on new tools, and planning game server admin tools for what we’ll need to help build, test, and support the Persistent Universe.
We saw 2.3.0 testing through PTU all the way to Live, and we’ve coordinated with Ahmed Shaker and Jeffrey Pease in DevOps to test additional versions in order to isolate and identify the causes of AI overspawn. We’re thankful for those playtesters who have been able to dedicate time towards tracking this down, and we’re resolving new issues with each patch because of it.
We’ve begun a process to collect website bugs in addition to client/server/launcher bugs on the Issue Council this month. We were admittedly not sure what results we would get, but the results have been extremely favorable and we have started to get those bugs into the dev cycle.
Game Support has also continued to refine how we utilize the Public Test Universe (PTU). We’ve gotten a heck of a lot of value out of PTU, and it’s now essential to the development of Star Citizen. In addition, we’ll be updating our PTU list of players for 2.4.0, so make sure you’re staying active in PTU and on the Issue Council as that’s how we invite our players!
In March we’ve seen major progress on the patch reduction size project. This project touches multiple teams including IT, DevOps, and engineering teams in Frankfurt as well as Montreal. We’ve finished the low level changes to how data can be read by the engine and we’ve built out the initial data stores for the project. We have also started the first steps toward modifying the build pipeline so that builds can output to the new data format.
Very early patch testing has proven that our new patching methodology is working with test data so now it’s on to building out the rest of the pipeline and rebuilding the core functionality of the launcher patcher. Because this is such a large re-write, we’re taking this opportunity to build out an entirely new launcher patcher which will be loaded with new and improved functionality and controls when completed.
While we are super excited to advance this project to the players as quickly as possible, we still have much to do and we must do it right. This change will impact the way builds are consumed internally to the dev teams and QA as well so we have more work to refactor internal delivery systems as well. So far though, we’re seeing every indication that all teams are in sync and the project is on track.
This month the team has been working as hard as ever on deployments, build system, and performance profiling. We’ve delivered 18 publishes to PTU (up 10 from last month) and we’ve completed 5 Live publishes. Major work was completed on a new test build system which has turned up some stunning results.
The primary goal of our test build system is to provide a functional test bed, even if modest on resources, where major changes or refactoring can occur without impacting the existing build pipeline. This is a tall order considering our production build system is massive consisting of 120 cores (240HT) with 1.5 TB of RAM combined across the stack. Our test build system is much smaller with 36 cores (72HT) and 128 GB RAM. The major difference is that the test build system is running local storage consisting of Intel’s NVMe drives to perform the compilation steps rather than sharing storage with all other systems on the SAN. We expected major improvements in storage performance but what we got was nothing less than amazing.
In some, not all cases, the test build system is performing jobs with 80% reduction in time. It all comes down to storage and I/O rates as we’ve seen in every test we’ve done. Highly I/O dependent operations such as PAK file compilation are demonstrating 4x speed increase. It’s still not feasible to use the test build system as a production build system replacement but when not in use in active testing these impressive results show us that we could use it for special builds and one offs which do come up several times per month.
Special props go out to Ahmed and the rest of the publishing team for keeping up with the larger number of deployments to both our PTU and Live environments while running all the performance profiling multiple times per day. This is important work and we wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of those backers helping us test on the PTU environment. We’ve been gathering a wealth of information which has become invaluable to the engineering team as a whole. Chris Roberts himself has taken a keen interest in the server profiling work so thanks again for everyone who has been helping with this effort.
FOUNDRY 42 UK
We always start these notes saying that it was a busy month… because it’s true! Let’s jump into what happened this past March…
On the FPS side, Gordon has finished up most of his work on the cover system, the last piece was procedural cover which allows you to slide and shoot around edges, and has moved onto the vaulting and mantling mechanic. First stages of this are going well, working with the animators so we can do procedural alignment of the animations. We’ve also changed the markup so it’s now a normal entity in the zone system. This then gives us all the advantages of the zone system so vaulting in a moving spaceship will work seamlessly. Jamie has been doing some work on the grenades as well as general bug fixing. Romulo has been carrying on with improvements to the weapons including interrupting the reload and general balance.
Craig’s improvements to the landing are progressing nicely and has completed the 2nd stage of the implementation which is a much simplified way of using the automatic landing. He’s now moving on to the 3rd stage which involves landing inside another ship. The easy first bit of doing the landing once inside is now complete, the slightly harder task of getting the automatic landing to work whilst the ship you’re trying to land is moving is the next job. Dave has started implementing the radar and scanning mechanic, he actually did a lot of work previously getting it working whilst in a ship scanning other ships, but he’s now extended it to also work in FPS mode. A lot of the work actually ends up being on the UI side, so he’s been working closely with Simon and Zane to get the UI working nicely. Rob is working again on the conversation system and integrating it with our Subsumption system, which is what is going to end up driving it going forwards. A conversation can be seen as just another task, so for the obligatory bar tender example, task 1 he can have a conversation about what drink a customer want, task 2 mix the drink, task 3 serve the drink, task 4 have a conversation about how the customer’s day has been, and so on.
Steve’s been continuing work on the Object Containers and we’re nearly at the point where we can use them to set the ships up, we’re using the Retaliator as a bit of a test bed. Unfortunately we have hit a slight snag on the networking synchronisation side which means we need his Spawn Bundle system to make it work correctly, so now he’s moved over and is concentrating on finishing that up.
This month, we’ve looked into our facial animation tech, fixing several cases where the wrong detail level would have been selected, and made improvements to the data compilation step, vastly reducing the number of vertices that need to be stored and processed. We’ve also been working on a performance profiling system that unifies all the important data into one screen, with built in filters to let us see what we have too much of, where it is, and which team is responsible for fixing it.
We’ve built a system for linking lights to emissive surfaces, so that the luminance of the surface is automatically calculated from the intensity of the lights that are linked to it – this means that turning a light off can implicitly make the light bulb stop glowing, and gives the new optical effects (mentioned in last month’s report) physically plausible light units to work from.
We’ve done a pass over the particle effect shaders, adding an HDR temperature gradient option to let us have hot fire and dark smoke within a single particle, fixing conservation-of-energy when viewing particles from different angles, and correcting animated particles to warp smoothly from frame to frame.
Work has continued on rendering gas clouds, and we’ve started responding to bugs and feedback from the art and design teams. We’ve also revisited the tiled lighting system, to push past the last few performance hurdles that are stopping us from switching over and deprecating the older system.
Ship team have been as busy as ever this month. The Starfarer that has been months in the making finally went into players hangars. The team is also happy to have successfully delivered the unique X’ian Khartu-Al, allowing players to fly this.
We have also made incredible progress on the Idris and Javelin. This month we managed to get the Idris bridge, Gravity Room, Armory, Cargo Room and Escape Pods done. On the Javelin we got through the Bridge and the entire Engineering Deck.
Specifically to S42 we are very impressive with how the Bengal is shaping up. Wrapping up our final texture sheets on the exterior and creating the building sets needed for the interior. Bringing the Bengal up to the quality our community has come to expect from Star Citizen is very important to us.
Finally, we are making progress on the Drake Herald and Caterpillar as well as the new Hornet F7A for Squadron 42. All of these are now in full production and we look forward to being able to share more on the progress of these soon!
This month has seen another big push on SQ42, including one level which is now being moved into Final Art Phase. The whole facility is locked in terms of content and layout which will include terrain based traversal [blending with procedural content], maintenance bays, habitation sections, technical areas etc. It will be a full living, breathing environment by the time we are finished with it which is perfect for a sandbox based experience. Other locations of the campaign are progressing nicely, the guys are Greyboxing out the areas and translating the elements from the concept art into 3D.
Weapons & Levels
A lot of planning the previous month has really been helping get a good flow of work from the concept team, we are tackling both Sq42 content and in the gaps tackling areas for the PU too. Gary has spent a lot of time on the Xi’an Transport ship interior, Jort on Space station interiors and exterior configurations, Dan on components and Javelin hangar, Stu on ship weapons, Sarah on ship components and props, Gavin R on a new small ship, Miles on the second pass of Behring FPS weaponry we need for sq42, integrating a more visually interesting rail system and designing the ‘family’ (sniper, CQB, shotgun etc). We also took a trip down to Lionhead Studios who are sadly closing to see if any of their staff would be interested in the project – fingers crossed for a few more team members!
Some of the eagle eyed will have noticed new character outfits in Nathan’s Starfarer video, the quality is really quite excellent! Mike has been working on Bridge crew outfits and Jon on the Vanduul, with having Chris in the studio it makes for much faster iteration, pushing and pulling and really getting this race to where Chris wants it.
As always it’s been a very busy month here in QA at Foundry 42. As soon as we pushed 2.2 to Live we were hard at work on 2.3, making sure the epic Starfarer looked as good as it should and the Xi’an Aopoa Khartu-al was as fast and nippy a scout/exploration vehicle as it should be. Time was devoted to missile balancing, bringing those staple implements of dogfighting back into the fray as useful parts of the players arsenal and testing new changes to the EVA system, which I have to say is looking so good now! Our dedicated Squadron 42 testers Liam and Lee have been playing through new chapters as they have been integrated into the builds and put the Devastator-12 shotgun and the Arrowhead Sniper rifle through their paces.
Just around the corner is 2.3.1 which we are beavering away at, checking that infinite loading screens are vanquished whilst trying our hardest to shoo (excess) pirates away from Yela, hopefully making it as smooth an experience for you guys as possible and it should be ready soon™!
With every new PTU push Adam Parker gathered much appreciated feedback from the backers on PTU, which helps us immensely. I’d like to thank all of our backers for the help they provide QA with their feedback and Issue Council reports, especially the guys and gals who put in massive amounts of time and effort on PTU helping us find larger scale issues that are otherwise too cumbersome for internal team to reproduce. Your input is really invaluable, a huge thanks to you all! We have also had three new additions come into the QA fold, so please welcome Wayne Owen, Michaela Oliver and Ray Warner to the team! All three have industry experience from Sony Computer Entertainment (Wayne & Ray) and Traveller’s Tales (Mici) adding further strength to our already formidable QA force! They have settled in and are quickly becoming part of the family here.
Right now we are testing the last areas of 2.3.1 whilst gearing up for 2.4 which has some very exciting additions that we can’t wait to try and break so you guys don’t have to!
See you in the ‘verse!
The VFX team have been focusing on Live release priorities this month, including hangar-ready Starfarer (man that thing’s a beast!) which requires lots of subtle interior effects. A lot of this is preparation – putting in the groundwork – for later flight-ready tasks. We’ve also been supporting Caleb in Frankfurt who was tasked with the majority of effects tasks for flight-ready Scout – no doubt you will read all about that in the Frankfurt report!
Away from live release, our new VFX artist Staffan has been getting to grips with weapon effects – we’re working on a couple of new ones and have been tidying up some existing effects too.
We’ve also been working closely with the graphics engineers to finalise several particle lighting improvements. We are really happy with how our particles “behave” now in all lighting conditions (a crucial factor when working on such a complex universe with so many lighting variables). Related to this, we have been testing how our particles hold up with the new bloom and flares settings applied. Hint: they look really lovely; things like sparks, and other “hot” particles look so much more natural now. We’re really looking forwards to showing off these improvements in later live releases. Design
March was another busy month in the UK design department.
In terms of ships, we have a Starfarer flying around in the game now and what a beast it is! Hopefully we will be seeing a working refuelling system coming online very soon, but there is still work to do there in a number of areas. The Argo is getting very close to finished and the Javelin Destroyer has landed on the tech design table. We have seen some funny Idris landing videos doing the rounds this month as that ships gets closer to release. You would have to be a brave pilot to try to land a Hornet in there without Automatic Landing enabled, especially if it was moving. That said, we made good progress with the Automatic Landing system this month, and it feels great to land vertically on a station now, but we are still tuning the horizontal landing system, and waiting for the new UI to be implemented.
The first pass on the controls refactor is going in for 2.4.0, so you we see a much better unification between the various game modes, FPS, EVA and space combat. We are looking forward to getting any feedback on this.
From system design, we got the mobiGlas refactored design signed off and into production. Also, the Holotable updated design is going into the engineering and UI teams hands for final implementation.
S42 is still getting the bulk of our design resources and the levels now locked down from design/art layout standpoint. The mechanics are filtering in and the NPC AI is getting more robust so we are starting to get a better feel for the play spaces.
Thanks again for the fantastic support as always.
Props, short and sweet this month:
This month has seen a bit of a shift in priorities with ship components getting a few more resources and now we understand the feature better we want to make sure that when it goes live we have plenty of components to play with and customise your ships. There is going to be plenty of choices that should allow you to make your ship really feel yours and fly just how you want it.
Shopping has been the other big focus at the start of the month, we spent a bit of time bug fixing and doing some optimisations after getting some feedback and stats from our tech artist as well as putting the finishing touches on some of the props to make them work with the new tech that is being finalised.
Squadron 42 work is continuing, we made an effort to go through and do a really quick pass on getting placeholders in for any props we were missing so that the environment artists and designers can dress their scenes and we can make sure we aren’t missing anything off our plans.
Next month, a lot more ship components and with our new team members settling in fast a few more props!
CIG Audio has been busy as ever this month.
CIG Audio has been busy as ever this month.
Hopefully by now most of you will have enjoyed the Starfarer promo, including some beautifully produced music by Pedro Macedo Camacho for that. For the ship’s sound design itself, Darren Lambourne has been busy working on the thrusters and interior soundscapes, still work in progress but hopefully befitting such an impressive ship. Luke Hatton has been giving many ships a review to ensure all is working as it should be and that the audio is ship-shape!
Matteo Cerquone has been supporting the procedural Foley system and content for that, and is also responsible for a large part of the Xi’An Scout’s sound design – quite different to the usual ship schemes I’m sure you’ll agree.
Ross Tregenza has been keeping on top of all things musical as usual, both for the Persistent Universe (while I’m writing this report, I’m listening live to another orchestral session that’s being undertaken to ensure Star Citizen’s music is performed live as much as possible; Ross is attending to that in person as I’ve not been able to this time round); and we’re also getting rolling with music for Squadron 42 too. We’re hoping to get a new level of interactive score into the live release soon, following in the tradition of Chris Roberts’ work in Wing Commander. We’ll be taking a huge mass of material to a studio to mix with a film score mix engineer in the next month which should elevate this material even further.
We had an exterior gun recording session in March, which took place in Copehill Down in the south of England in conjunction with Steve Whetman (aka AudioBeast). We’ve worked with him a number of times now on gun recording sessions and are now getting some lovely outdoor gunshot material through from this latest session – will take some time to edit and process, there’s a lot of channels we captured from multiple perspectives. Stefan Rutherford headed that session up from our side, ably assisted by Matteo Cerquone and Philip Smallwood. We’ll compile some photos and material for your reference and enjoyment, of course.
Phil Smallwood has been training up with Bob Rissolo to assist him with all things dialogue related, puts us in a good place to deal with the Squadron 42 workload, as well as the vocal requirements for the persistent universe.
Jason Cobb’s been busy working on ship explosion debris cloud sweeteners and providing a lot of support for the build process where audio is concerned, and assisting in Wwise tech support wherever possible. Stefan, myself and Jason have been looking at ways to re-structure the Wwise project to benefit procedural and linear-style mixing.
All the audio programming team have been working on various bugs and optimisations, as well as looking to progress the Ship Computer dialogue system (Sam Hall); the in-game VOIP-style system and procedural/automated Foley/footsteps (Graham Phillipson); and we’ve had Simon Price digging ever deeper into dialogue pipeline tools and systems.
Our general aim is to keep improving all things audio, from tools, workflows, pipelines on our side, to the content and overall sound that you hear and appreciate on the player side. Do keep asking questions and providing feedback on the Ask A Dev forum, that’s always hugely valuable to us.
Thanks for listening!
We’ve been working on the core locomotion – start stops and steps to improve player movement and responsiveness. Additionally, pistol aimpose exploration to strike a balance between first person and third person is working nicely together and the initial implementation of railgun animations has gone in so that we have a functioning weapon. The next stage will be to bring them up to final. There has also been support for ai animation – guys checking vents and reacting to sounds and the like. Finally, testing and feedback of new tool suite that is coming online is continuing!
FOUNDRY 42 FRANKFURT
The Frankfurt office is continuing to grow in size and pick up momentum on all fronts. We grew by 4 people this month and have another few additional contracts started. It’s exciting to see the internal progress, from pushing tech boundaries on the Procedural Planets, to the realism on the cinematics and facial tech, etc. We’ve received a few personal letters and gifts from fellow citizens recently, things to help fatten us up. The team honestly appreciates all the support, it’s a constant reminder of how cool the project is and how fortunate we are to be working on it. Here’s a portion of what we’ve been working on over the past month.
The weapon art team finished modelling a new ship weapon and is currently finalizing materials, textures and decals for it. Two more new ship weapons and a bunch of new FPS weapon concepts are also in production and should be ready to be shown off soon.
Following up on last month’s mesh data compression for normals and tangent frames we started work on compressed vertex index support for meshes.
We did additional work on atmosphere rendering as well as research into large scale soft terrain shadows for planets.
We worked on a lot of trackview support and feature requests for S42 and did further improvements on the WAF workflow.
EVA – After we got the base functionality of physicalized EVA working, we started to make the transitions between gravity and zero-gravity areas as smooth as possible. One aspect that made this a bit tricky is the extensive use of ragdolls as player characters in EVA. In Star Citizen ragdolls are usually not dead, they are just another way to animate a character. When running on ground a player model is a so-called “LivingCharacter” animated mainly by mocap-data. In EVA it’s a “DrivenRagdoll” with a simulated articulated body. And for all other modes where the player is either unconscious, paralyzed or heavily influenced by physics we blend to a “FloppyRagdoll”. The difference between floppy and driven ragdolls is mainly how we use the artificial muscles to control the joints.
The player can do all kinds of actions all the time (running, jumping walking, floating, aiming, shooting, reloading, etc.) and whenever we transition from animation to physics and back to animation we have to ensure that we preserve the velocity and inertia of every single joint. This works pretty well when leaving the gravity area. It also works when entering the gravity area and the feet point towards the ground plane. But if the player approaches the ground plane in the wrong angle you can expect a lot of spectacular crash landings. In such uncontrolled cases we simply switch to floppy ragdoll, let the player crash to the ground and as soon as the simulation comes to rest he will automatically stand up again. If such a crash landing happens in first person view, then the player will experience everything through the eyes of a simulated ragdoll … and that might look pretty disturbing and painful :) Because all simulated, mocapped or keyframed animations are shared in first- and third-person view, we were able to use the same system in both view modes. This is the first time we worked with a player model where a large part of its motions are coming from physics and we feel that we are just scratching the surface of what’s possible with this kind of physical simulations. This is an ongoing task and we hope to show more improvements in the next months.
Optimizations – We did a good amount of work on optimization this month, to make our universe as large and as interesting as we want we need a good amount of objects in it, therefore we optimized various parts of the 3DEngine to increase our supported object count. We now support hierarchical culling for most of our culling operations in the ZoneSystem. This approach allows us to utilize the spatial structure which we use to speed up our visible culling even more: When we know that the bounding box of a group of objects is fully enclosed inside a camera frustum, we no longer need to check all individual objects against the camera. The same idea can be applied to other checks like box/box overlaps or sphere/distance tests. We then looked into the streaming code. Before it was running in parallel but synced with the MainThread, this means our frame-time is affected by the number of objects around the player (as we need to update those). When we now increase the number of objects, the frame-time obviously gets worse. To help with this issue, we have now decoupled the streaming state update from the actual streaming request. This allows us to update the streaming state (the expensive part of streaming) fully in parallel to the MainThread without affecting the frame-rate. We then looked at our JobManger, which is responsible to distribute all this work over the CPU cores. It turned out that we could massively improve our thread communication and improve our load-balancing. This means we utilize more CPU cores in parallel while reducing the latency of those operations. The next focus is on the rendering side, and we’ll have more details on those next month.
As usual in this stage of development we also worked on various code clean-ups and bug fixes.
This month the Environment Art team focused solely on supporting the new procedural planet tech, doing some R and D on detailing the surface of the planet by procedurally scattering geometry such as boulders, rocks, and pebbles.
April has been a busy month full of Automation testing setups for Chris Speak. Chris has been designing automated tests for AI spawning, death, and ragdolling after being killed by ship weapon fire. These tests also test ship pathing using Kythera Navsplines. When AI are spawned in, the automated test will run to check if the AI spawn in correctly. A ship will also fire shots at the spawned AI to verify weapon damage is being taken and that the AI dies correctly with proper ragdoll physics. The test map is still a work in progress, but will be an asset to the testing process once complete. Melissa Estrada made her final preparations for her transfer to the CIG-DE studio at the end of this month, and will be joining Chris Speak on the QA team as a QA Engine Specialist starting April 1st. She is looking forward to continuing her work on the EditorMonkey, which runs a python scripted automated test of the Editor Sanity checks as well as becoming a 2nd QA point-of-contact for in-house Developers to reach out to when needing specific in-house tests done for new features, and bug fixes.
Tech Art worked on expanding our animation pipeline and focused on the Asset Manager, where we will be populating all our assets. Also supported other departments, finalizing a new rig for the weapons team, bug fixes, etc. And of course we’ve been supporting other teams and fixing bugs is out daily routine.
Cine Environment art built some more close-up geometry for an Admiral to admire on our Skydock scene where a spoileriffic super capital ship is currently being built. For a scene that hearkens back to the days where you had to install a speech pack for your Wing Commander II, Robert our part time cinematic environment artist has created additional set pieces and props that we can’t discuss just yet. We also started up work on Shubin station performance capture scenes that involve Old Man & Graves (who looks awesome!) Those scenes will take a while and will involve lots of blending between pcap and AI locomotion as they traverse big parts of the station on foot. We finalized 1st pass on a part of Chapter 3 scenes and are still working on more of Chapter 03.
We also have 2 new starters in our team which brings us up to almost full staffing. We now have a Cinematic Producer and another Senior Cinematic Animator!
Our Level Designers are hard at work building major landing areas that will be used in the Persistent Universe in the future. Port Olisar is getting a lot of work done and a brand new Shopping District will get added to the existing facilities. This should allow players easy access to NPCs, shops, utilities and will make the place feel a lot more alive than it is right now. We are also adding a pirate/lawless base where players that have been a bit “naughty” can respawn after dying or where they can just dock without getting shot out of the sky by the law enforcement. This area will have its disadvantages when compared to a law abiding station of course, so players who do wrong will have to support the consequences. (Remember that the area around Crusader is UEE space. In an unclaimed or unrepresented system, the opposite might be true!) Another area that is receiving a lot of attention is the Hurston landing zone. This will consist of a large planetary settlement cantered around the Hurston family building and its gigantic strip mining operations. This area right now has gone through its layout phase and is moving towards the first art pass.
System Design has been busy this month with setting up the ground work for a lot of AI features. A lot of code work has come online in AI and we managed to do a lot of behaviour prototyping, focusing mostly on their perception and reactions to seeing and hearing events, aiming precision and out of combat activities. At the same time we pushed designs forward on systems that are adjacent to our AI, especially our interactors which define how our AI interact with objects in the world for everything ranging from sitting on a chair or repairing a computer to opening a door or even turning on an alarm. Since all our interactors will also be usable by the player we are looking into how these will be used and how the player will handle interactions with objects that have multiple ways that they can be used. To cater for this we have decided to use the same Inner Thought system that we also use for dialogue selection as it seems to be a really nice fit. Another system we’ve pushed forward is the Loot Generation which will handle how loot spawns across the world (that’s not to say ships will be spewing out gold like a typical MMO, but there will be salvage and other benefits for scoring kills.) We are trying to build a system that encourages exploration rather than staying in one place and farming resources. We want you to have to search through the vastness of space for the areas that have not yet been discovered as those will most likely provide the most rewarding looting opportunities.
While pushing these new systems, we also spent some time refactoring some old systems that were not quite up to par with our vision of Star Citizen. We’re currently talking about the Quantum Travel which will get a major overhaul to make it a challenging part of gameplay where people who are good at it and know what they are doing will be able to enter QT faster (perhaps before being interdicted; see below) and travel for longer distances in one quantum navigation. At the same time we are introducing the concept of Interdiction to allow players to interrupt others from just leaving in the middle of a battle whenever they feel like it. There will be multiple ways of stopping a ship from entering QT ranging from simply damaging them, all the way to specialized weapons and deployable devices focused on stopping ships dead in their tracks. Another system receiving a bit of love is the Power Distribution. While we have worked on this in the past, the system is being reworked a bit now as we are starting to implement it into our first capital ship, the Idris. This system will handle all of the power and every consumer on board from your big laser cannons to the tiniest light bulb and dictate how power is routed throughout the ship, where it comes from, where it goes to and what happens when there’s not enough of it to go around.
This month we actually progressed on multiple areas, let’s start with the character movement. We developed a functionality to allow level designers to pre-place paths on the level that can be followed by the NPCs. As an example, this is going to be useful for creating patrol paths behaviors!
We enabled the new perception system in the build! After the first use we exposed some properties to correctly customize the events received by the different NPC when hearing different audio stimuli and we also exposed some more properties to designers so that they will be able to correctly customize perception properties directly in the different NPCs archetypes. We introduced some new components to control the weapons in use by the different NPCs. This central component will take care of installing different controller to use different type of weapons. If you think about the case in which a character wants to throw a grenade we will need to predict in a different way the shooting direction compared to the case in which the character is equipping a normal rifle. We also use this component to control the character accuracy so that we can create more or less skilled NPCs.
On the behavior side we introduced three main assignments, Defend Area, Combat Move and Hold Position. Those are basic “high level” commands the level designers can use to create some interesting gameplay situations in their level!
A lot of progress has been made on the Subsumption side. Subsumption currently support the following functionalities
- An entity can have an activity associated to it
- Each activity can be composed by several subactivities
- The selection of subactivity is now correctly following their priorities and relative probabilities
- We introduce the basic support for events
- We created our internal expression parser to correctly evaluate any mathematical or Boolean expression inside the pre-requisites of an activity or a task
- We developed some basic debug draw functionalities
- We introduced the following new tasks
- Sort Objects
- Pop Objects
- We developed a functionality to reserve an entity to use it or interact with it and allow other NPCs to know that object is reserved
On the ships side we have worked a lot on improving stability and the flying behavior of the ships, we also started the refactor of the ships behavior to allow the support of multiple crew members inside a ship.
Here’s the latest from what the BHVR team has been doing in Montreal.
This month, the Behaviour design team continued working on shopping and setup Casaba Outlet using the new dynamic spawning system for items. Now, we have items the player can actually wear, as we were working with placeholders before. It required a lot of setting up shelves, spawners and data setup. Now we’ve got a long term solution that we are going to use for more upcoming shop locations. That was a great effort between Bhvr, Austin, LA and UK.
2.3.0 release brought its usual share of hangars and Area18 bugs but nothing we haven’t seen before. We also helped design and setup the extra-large hangar in Revel and York, making sure that new expansion worked with the existing system and the Starfarer spawned correctly when a player owned one. Again, great collaboration between us, Turbulent and the directors.
Finally, we were handed the next hero landing zone whitebox: Hurston in the Stanton system. We are at a stage now, that we clean up the level and connect all the shops to the main paths. We replaced the CryEngine designer meshes for placeholder assets, which respect metrics and setup the level with proper layers and naming conventions. Overall, polishing the level design and getting the map ready for the art team.
Oh yeah, we are also helping and adding new content to Crusader and Port Olisar. It’s great to be able to chip in on every front! Good times!
This month, it was all about shopping and figuring out the best way to give you a perfect shopping experience. This feature has many elements that required a cool collaboration between us and the other studios. Which, so far, has been a lot of fun.
We created a new AR-based shopping interface for clothes and personal weapons. Also a Catalog-based shopping system for vehicle components.
With the different types of clothes that you can buy, we had to create a tryout camera to enable the players to preview them on their character.
There was also work on a new shop inventory and layout randomizer.
We updated the CryAstro services UI and flow recode. Finally the most important task is hooking everything to the persistence.
This month we took the time to polish the Market area in Levski, to give it a really nice ambience that we hope you guys will love once is released.
Of course we had to spend time with optimisations and debugging, to ensure a good map performance. With this in mind, there was a lot of work on the tech art side to profile all potential optimisations that can be applied to Levski.
We`ve also polished the shops facades, to make them look unique and to attract the player’s attention as you explore the map.
On the flair side, we began working on the next space plant.
Finally, we spent some time debugging the new Rebel & York bay area for the Starfarer.
Greetings from sunny-but-windy? Wait, actually snowy… nope sunny! Montreal! Here’s what we’ve been up to in the last month:
We are in the final stages of the design phase for the new ship reference matrix, so we will be able to start development soon. Grouping all the ships by chassis, and switching the layout so that you can see everything on one single page… you’ll be able to select the chassis you want to compare, and view each ship’s production status. This will greatly reduce the left-to-right scrolling, and enable you to easily view all the variants for each chassis. Please also note that, while we are working to improve the ship stats page, different ships are in different stages of development, and some of them have been updated to draw from the new component system and others will not reach that stage until they are further down the pipeline. That means that some of the information may still be temporary or early concept values, and they will definitely need revisions once designers start integrating actual ItemPorts and hardpoints into each respective ship’s in-game assets and collecting information on out what works and what doesn’t. Those values can’t solidify in the ship stats page until that happens, and even then we’ll need to iterate the ships based on feedback from the Live build and Arena Commander testing data. “Subject to change” doesn’t mean we’re changing our minds carelessly or frivolously – it means that during development, they’re going to get multiple balance passes on the road to final launch, which is what it’s really all about.
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Our development of multi-factor authentication is ongoing, and we are now in the static integration phase. The first iteration of this feature will include two options for all members: sending the authentication code by email, or by a specifically-designed and -skinned Google Authenticator. In a future release, we will be able to send the code by SMS directly to your phone.
We have been working on a rough prototype for a new communication platform, which will merge forums and chat systems into a single-page module. Our prototype has already started testing and we’re actively refining its interfaces to make it as easy and intuitive to use as possible. Among other things, we are coming up with novel ways of filtering and organizing conversations and topics. Expect to hear more about it for the next few months!
This month was very exciting for ships. A new concept ship unveiled, the Esperia Vanduul Blade was announced with a concept sale. This light Vanduul fighter joins the ranks of the Scythe and the Glaive, as Vanduul weapons being used by humans against their creators. March also saw a free-fly week, which included all flyable ships to anyone who created an account, giving new and veteran players a like a chance to try out some new ships. To celebrate this huge free fly, we had a ship sale, putting all flyable limited ships on sale.
To close out the month, when 2.3 went live, the Xi’An Scout and the Starfarer went for sale, for which we developed a dedicated promo page with a few new modules like a browsable magazine-like layout. We’ve since already reused it on the much anticipated Big Benny’s food delivery menu. With 2.3 the Scout is now flight ready and the impressive Starfarer is now in the hangar for the first time!
March was also very busy for merchandise. First the new customizable Squadron 42 dog tags were put on sale. Next Starmap posters were offered up, giving people a chance to own a very cool poster of the Star Citizen Universe that’s been in the works ever since the Kickstarter campaign! Finally in preparation for this year’s CitizenCon, tickets went on sale for our most anticipated event of the year, this time in Los Angeles.
I’ll start with a little introduction.
Tyler Witkin here, or better known as Zyloh from the forums, and I am your newest Community Manager reporting in from under the bus in the Austin, TX studio! Yes! Two Community Managers! I am very excited to work closely with my new partner in crime Lando and the rest of the team to continue delivering you all awesome content and information. I am now back in Texas after a very productive and adventurous week of training in the LA studio. Throughout the week I worked closely with the team to better understand my new responsibilities, iron out the new role, and study the tools of the trade. There are some really great things planned in the coming months and I am very excited to dive in!
Can you believe we are already a quarter through 2016?! Let’s take a look at what went down in March!
We continued to put out our regularly scheduled segments and content (made possible by all the awesome subscribers out there!) and finished strong with a very informative 10 For the Chairman with Global Head of Production and Foundry 42 Studio Director, Erin Roberts.
March brought us the flyable Xi’an Scout and hangar ready Starfarer. We released a comm-link detailing our now largest hangar-ready ship yet, the Starfarer. The page delves into the massive hauler and includes a visually stunning video created by Nathan Dearsley accompanied by new music from the talented Pedro Camacho! Definitely worth checking out!
March also saw the release of a behind-the-curtains look at Squadron 42 with the talented Andy Serkis! We are extremely excited and fortunate to have him on board the cast for Squadron 42!
The MVP section of the Community Hub is now fully up to date with AtV’s MVP winners. Make sure to check out some of the awesome content your fellow citizens are putting out there!
While we did not attend any conventions/events in March, we announced details and sold tickets for Citizen Con 2016! Citizen Con marks the original October 2012 announcement of the Star Citizen crowdfunding campaign, and the event has previously been held in Austin, Los Angeles and Manchester. This year, Citizen Con returns to Los Angeles at the Avalon Hollywood on October 9th for an action-packed day that will celebrate the latest and greatest work our developers are putting out.
Space plants! March Subscriber Flair brought us the Tuserac Plena, aka the Terran Emperor Blossom, and in case you we’re worried about your Emperor Blossom being lonely, the Xi’An Space Plant stretch goal was awarded to all who backed before $49 million.
Additionally the servers were jam packed with new players and veterans alike for our Free Fly promotion that ran March 11th-22nd. It was great getting to see the level of camaraderie (and havoc) that took place whilst some of our experienced players welcomed the new crowd.
That’s all for March! 2016 is going to be a big year for Star Citizen and as always, we are dedicated and excited to continue communicating, sharing, and exploring this universe with all of you!
See you in the ‘Verse!