Comm-Link:Monthly Report - October 2016
October had the Star Citizen dev team turned up to eleven, with CitizenCon and the upcoming 2.6 patch being the main drivers for the month. While we didn’t wind up being able to show off all our efforts on Squadron 42 (make sure to check out the special ATV episode for more details on that, our Homestead Demo highlighted a ton of new and upcoming features including V2 procedural planets, epic weather effects, and the appearance of a Valakkar – a massive sandworm native to Leir III.
Meanwhile, devs continued their push to get the 2.6 patch ready for release. From constant QA testing of Star Marine to a significant overhaul of the front end menu system, there are plenty of details below on what various teams around the world have been able to achieve these last few weeks.
- 1 CIG LOS ANGELES
- 2 CIG AUSTIN
- 3 FOUNDRY 42 UK
- 4 FOUNDRY 42 DE
- 5 BHVR
- 6 TURBULENT
- 7 COMMUNITY
- 8 THE WRAP-UP
CIG LOS ANGELES
In regards to vehicles, the engineering team progressed steadily on Item System 2.0 and all that it encompasses. They also dug deeper into Object Containers and Object Container streaming, both necessary tech for further expansion of our seamless universe. Per usual, bugs reared their head and were successfully squashed, which aided progress on Star Citizen and Squadron 42.
Our technical design team aided local engineers on implementing Item System 2.0. We also pushed forward on several ships, such as the Constellation Aquila and the Drake Herald, to bring them closer to flight readiness. Finally, we worked alongside the global team to keep the bug queue down.
This month our character team grew, allowing us to make bigger moves on both character quality and deliveries. We took the Sand Nomad from start to finish, while also pushing the overall character pipeline forward. This included solid progress on clothing, other characters, and general pipeline improvements that will help make the best looking characters possible.
Besides providing weekly lore posts, Jump Point magazine articles and marketing copy, the narrative team’s big push involved writing and capturing a ton of content for 3.0 in a mocapa shoot held this past month in London. Progress was also made on additional content for 2.6, the Galactapedia, new component descriptions, and all sorts of really secret stuff.
LAQA was front and center at CitizenCon this month with Vincent Sinatra playing the Homestead demo live at the event. When not tackling CitizenCon tasks, they did daily Item 2.0 tests and provided support to LA Engineering tasks.
Colby Schneider worked on Squadron 42, including the Vertical Slice, and supported LA Production when needed. Eric Pietro assisted the ATX team with PTU deployments for the Evocati. Between his sessions of bug hunting and regression, he also gave gameplay tutorials to some new hires who were eager to participate in our internal playtests. Finally, LAQA began interviews for a tester position, and hope to add a new member to our team soon!
This month we focused our attention on upcoming landing zones. Lead Designer Rob Reininger and Robert Gaither created blueprint level design docs that give a unique look and feel for various shops and services in Crusader, microTech, and Hurston. These blueprints provide the basis to generate requests to other teams, like clothing from the Character artists, so we can begin to populate these locations.
Pete ‘Weather Wizard’ Mackay has been trucking along on “Trade Slayer,” which is an end-to-end economic model of how an item gets created from mining commodities, refined, manufactured, and finally placed on a store shelf. He also aided UK Design in balancing FPS weapons and items for Star Marine, and has been finalizing the first iteration of “Price Fixer,” which will generate in-game values based on the characteristics and component costs for all of our ships and inform their pricing in persistent universe.
Lastly, Rob Reininger has been working closely with the UI team on the “Shopping Kiosk” GDD to create mockups and how that system would be interacted with. Once approved, it will be passed off to Engineering for implementation.
Chris Smith and Josh Coons made good progress on their respective ships. Josh finished the Herald, which is now in QA testing, and has moved on to the Cutlass variants refactor to bring them up to our current standards. Following feedback from Design and Chris Roberts, he’s already progressed the ship into the Greybox Phase.
Meanwhile, Chris Smith completed his Final Art pass on the Constellation Aquila, which appeared in the Homestead demo at CitizenCon, and Emre Switzer worked on the lighting for the Star Marine maps.
Recently, the PU Animation Team tackled implementing a whole new set of background animations, such as characters interacting with datapads, using the PAW tool, getting in and out of beds/bunk beds, and eating at a mess hall table. These will be used in both Squadron 42 and the Persistent Universe and must work within the parameters for Subsumption Usables, which are nodes that AI navigate to and interact with.
Our Ship Animation Team supported animation tasks for the Ursa Rover, Drake Caterpillar and Drake Herald, while providing insight for ships like the MISC Prospector and Drake Buccaneer. We also added “combat speed” animations to the Retaliator, Merlin, M50, Scythe, and Freelancer. These new animations shave off valuable time when entering/exiting a ship.
Lead Server Engineer Jason Ely spent most of this month completely rewriting our Hub Server. This provides more scalability as our community and player base grows. Next, Jason is turning his attention to grander changes within the backend infrastructure to better optimize our services, among other things.
Sr. Server Engineer Tom Sawyer was busy optimizing the Lobby System and smashing bugs to make it flow smoother. As part of our Frontend Refactor, he wrote a new Leaderboard that will allow it to display in-game instead of just on the website.
Lastly, Ian Guthrie at Wyrmbyte has been busy creating admin tools for our servers. These new tools will give our Game Support Team more capabilities, including reserving a game master slot on a server, providing slash commands to better identify specific player info and presence, and allowing for better instance controlled testing.
Throughout September and October, Don Allen and Todd Raffray lead the charge testing the Homestead Demo. Meanwhile, Andrew Rexroth and Tory Turner (with support from Tyler T) tested the Vertical Slice and provided other Squadron 42 support. Scott McCrea, Brandon Crocker and Matt Gant focused on Star Marine. The team also tested and deployed multiple 2.5.0 builds for the Evocati to test and provide initial feedback on a number of ship-balance changes being considered for 2.6.0.
Bryce Benton started rebuilding the QA documentation on server stability diagnostics and bugging. He and Katarzyna Mierostawska also worked with our UK team to test and verify several new automation tests. Jesse Mark assisted in building a new set of web dashboards for the LiveOps and NOC teams. While Michael Blackard and Elijah Montenegro assisted the Austin Animation team with new ship enter and exit animations.
This year for CitizenCon, we provided support both onsite and at the home office, as there was a need to help both attendees and all of our players take advantage of the Polaris and/or combo sales. We also spent a lot of time on Evocati Test Flight and doubled the size of our volunteer group. The Evocati, a.k.a. The Avocados, now numbering over 800 people, includes members from 40 countries and speaking 18 different languages. This group playtested a full game balance pass and provided us with tons of data that will inform changes in 2.6.0.
We also hired a few people, as we grow and scale along with the needs of the service, and are excited to be closely collaborating with the Customer Service team. In time, we’ll unify our teams to provide a better level of service and quicker response times. Finally, we cross-trained our ‘base’ team. They will be the foundation of a much larger organization needed once Squadron 42 and Star Citizen are closer to launch.
IT from all studios came together to support the CitizenCon show in Los Angeles. Prep work took weeks and after the show, it took another week to re-organize the equipment. We’d like to give special thanks to all the volunteers who provided tremendous support with setup, teardown and packing of all show related equipment.
IT also supported a number of developers who converged in LA for the final preparations. Dennis Daniel, LA’s IT Manager, worked directly with Mike Jones, IT Director, and the rest of the staff to oversee the builds of over a dozen matching computers used for the final development polish, testing and the presentation itself. The computers used included:
ASUS X99-A Motherboard
ASUS STRIX 1080 GPU
Intel i7-5820 CPU
64 Gig Corsair Vengeance RAM
Corsair H55 Cooler
Intel 750 Series 1.2 TB PCI-Express SSD provided by Intel.
In October, the LiveOps/DevOps teams delivered around the clock build and deployment support for CitizenCon. We acted as the gatekeepers controlling each branch and their respective build timings so there would not be conflicts preventing replication to the dev teams around the world. After CitizenCon the team shifted focus to live server infrastructure optimization and patch size reduction. The goal is to deliver smaller patches, and every single member of the team is now committed to this task.
FOUNDRY 42 UK
In case you hadn’t heard, CitizenCon happened this month. This awesome event kept us busy, as we produced all the great artwork and designs for the RSI Polaris. We also started on a new MISC ship and Banu archetypes, wrapped up the first round of the Esperia Prowler, finished a Kastak Arms sniper rifle and pistol, and the usual smattering of ship items and props.
The Environment team had a wide range of tasks waiting for them. We worked to bring a captivating mood to two Star Marine maps. We also collaborated with our DE studio to ensure both art and engineering have what they need to make our planets look even better and allow us to more easily integrate assets. As work continues on the microTech, Crusader and Hurston landing zones, it is important our planets work well with the different settings these each have.
The DE studio designers also supported our artists on brand new ideas such as surface outposts, modular space stations and satellites. These are the bread and butter of what players will be visiting, so we hope to show more of this soon! Finally, we are hard at work on S42. All of our levels are in final art and we are gearing up to unveil what we have been doing with the Vertical Slice, which will be the first true look into what we are doing across S42.
Let’s not have the Environment team hog all the spotlight. The ship team was busy with the Drake Herald and Vanguard Hoplite for 2.6, both of which are flight ready and testing with QA. The team was also busy with capital ships and are in the final phase of closing out the Idris, Javelin and Bengal. In addition, we have started development on the Vanduul Hunter! As the Driller wraps up, we can take a lot of what that team has done and apply it to the next Vanduul set of ships so these get done faster.
The graphics team focused on several new features this month, including rotating asteroids, physically accurate spot light falloff (important for headlights and torches), and a complex shader-glow effect for alien spaceships. We’ve also started on a major rework and unification of the shadow systems. It will vastly increase the number of simultaneous shadow casting lights we can support, while providing higher resolution shadows and improved performance.
The last month was hectic but rewarding. CitizenCon also provided the added bonus of highlighting areas of the pipeline to be improved and refined. A large amount of work also went into Squadron 42, the “low tech” set continues to grow, and we converted some older assets over to the new material system, which looks great and is much more efficient.
The dressing asset library (think handheld sized props) continued to grow. Destructible props are being worked on now, so soon you’ll be able to shoot exploding barrels, blow out lights and windows, and create mayhem!
Besides setting up the music-logic system and cinematic cues for CitizenCon’s Homestead demo, the audio team also did work on ambience, scavenger voices, the epic sandstorm, and more. Work on Star Marine included setting up the music-logic system, ambience and SFX support, grenade bounce work, and bug fixes.
The team also refined various ships, like the Dragonfly and Caterpillar, and refactored the Xi’An Scout engines. Improvements were made to quantum drive, ship weapons, and player death. The music system was reworked to support multiple concurrent music suites so there will be seamless music throughout the game. The cinematic flow node was made more robust, and the audio dynamic range changed to a dropdown box with three choices. Amongst many other things, we also improved workflow and collision interpretation with the goal of different clothing, armor, and weapons making specific sounds when bumping or scraping various surfaces.
QA focused on Star Marine and really put the control game mode through its paces to weed out some nasty crashes. We tested the new music logic system, which really adds drama to the experience. With new ships coming in, like the Vanguard Hoplite and Drake Herald, we made sure they match the exacting standards required of spaceflight ready machinery!
In addition, sweeping balance changes for the flight model, shields and ship weapons kept us extremely busy. 2.6 adds a huge amount to Star Citizen and we’ve enjoyed our part in bringing it to you!
This month VFX did clean-up and optimization of Arena Commander in preparation for Alpha 2.6. The team also worked on the Herald and Vanguard Hoplite, which will be making their flight-ready premieres in that patch. We made effects improvements on both ships and also updates (including shader fixes) to FPS weapons. We also worked on general ambient VFX for Star Marine levels as well as bug fixes and particle library/texture cleanup.
For the Homestead demo we supplied ship contrails (fully driven by code/data), general ambient effects (sand, debris, weather), weapon improvements (including blood impacts), and upgrades to Dragonfly explosions and Ursa Rover effects. In addition, atmospheric entry VFX are now fully driven by code/data. Last, but not least, we also continued R&D for planetary VFX automated placement.
For 2.6.0 we completed a large overhaul of the camera system and unified code between the different modes such as the chase, orbit, passenger and spectator cameras. This allows us to have more dramatic and cinematic cameras, and provides more control over DoF, FoV, operator shake, point of interest and zoom.
2.6.0 also contains big changes for the lobby UI. Now you can change your loadout without having to go into the hangar. We’re also investigating a new “mega map”, which would allow you to go between Arena Commander game modes and environments without having to load in/exit out of the maps.
We did a lot of work in Star Marine, implementing looting animations for weapon pick-ups, working on grenade functionality and visuals, and bringing legacy weapon reloads up to our current quality standards. Must say, they’re looking quite nice in first person.
Beside general bug fixes, we also captured assets for stealth kills from various angles and combat ready AI responding to noises. There was also work done on AI combat animation sets. Most of it was focused on enter/exit cover, blind fire, and under fire.
In October, the UK design team have been split between 2.6 and Squadron 42. The ‘Live Team’ added mission content for Crusader (including many secrets). We put in new asteroid tech that vastly improved the ring around ‘Yela’, tweaked station security, and bolstered the belt with improved wreck sites. There were widespread Arena Commander upgrades as well, including persistent missile inventory between deaths, pickups and Pirate Swarm rebalance and improvements.
Squadron 42 designers worked on various elements of the Vertical Slice. This section of gameplay was deliberately picked as it contains almost all aspects of gameplay required overall, but also lacks major spoilers. The intense focus on this section is paying dividends in terms of fixing issues that can sometimes persist late into the development cycle.
At the start of October, the team focused on HUD & UI needs for the planetary demo showcased at CitizenCon. Since then, the entire team has been working towards the UI needs for 2.6. This involved a significant overhaul to Star Citizen’s front-end menu system. It affects the game lobbies for Arena Commander and Star Marine, new in-game leaderboards, and provides a much needed visual update to the main menu and pause screens. We hope this overhaul will present a much improved end-user experience, especially for new players.
Aside from the new front-end overhaul, we also worked with the Character team on creating new first person helmets & HUDs that will have their own individual look and feel. We want the game-mode specific UI to function properly and be visually consistent with the rest of the game UI. Finally, we supported the environment team with ambient screen assets & animations, which gives some life & movement to our environments.
FOUNDRY 42 DE
A large amount of this month’s work focused on getting the code for CitizenCon where it needed to be, in combination with our global road map. We did a lot of work on the current ecosystems, vegetation and object spawning, as well as terrain blending. We worked on the vegetation rendering to further improve the performance on CPU. The atmosphere received some attention, including work on cloud modelling and shading, as well as really good progress on improving the visual quality of ocean rendering. We focused some time on occlusion culler optimizations and Physics improvements in conjunction with the local grids. We continued work on our internal Planet tools, iterating on a constant basis with the Environment art team. Finally, we improved the accuracy of our facial rigs and wrinkle map triggering/blending.
A large focus for AI this month has been on Squadron 42 functionalities. For Subsumption, we added several new tasks that can be available to the primary and secondary subactivities and the future mission logic. To give you an idea of the functionalities we exposed here are some names of the implemented tasks: MoveToTarget, SetAimStance, SetStance, LookAround, GetTargetForEntity, DisableLookAndAim, PeekFromCover, EnterExitVehicleSeat, AttachObject, DetachObject, SelectGadget, StartTimer, HasTimerFinished, SetCurrentTime, TimeComparator, RandomNumber, PickUpItem, AddItemToInventory, SetEmotion, LoopWhile, AnimateOnSpot, PerceiveFactionMask.
We also added a personal logger; a system that allows each NPC character to log some information useful for us to debug their state and behavior decision process. We also progressed on the implementation of the first pass of the combat behavior into Subsumption. The cover system was improved to correctly work in non z-up environments, and we extended it to allow cover surfaces to be stored into the zone system.
Character movement was also a big focus. We refactored the pathfollower to add the ability of raycasting on the navmesh to correctly identify possible shortcuts. We also made fixes to the collision avoidance code, including the ability to recognize the player as an entity so it can be avoided by AI characters.
For NPC characters, we reintroduced the pseudospeed calculation in the game code, so that Animators and designers can correctly use Mannequin to select animations based on the AI’s current movement speed. We also developed an Emotion component that will become the central place to drive the emotional behaviors of each character. Of course, the information of the emotion will be driven by the relation the NPC has with the character they are interacting with.
AI Spaceships can now correctly request the usage of both the quantum travel and the afterburner, and those requests can also be triggered by designers. The latter can now also request AI space vehicles to target characters and leave a formation without requiring it to be fully disbanded.
Last month, the entire system design team travelled to the UK to help with CitizenCon. Since then, we are putting what we learned to good use and readjusting some of those systems to improve the quality and make future production faster. The Landing system also received attention, as we continue to refine various landing scenarios such as pilots landing (either on pads or in hangars), docking (either with stations or other ships), and how this looks in-game (e.g. take off procedures, requesting permissions, landing queues, etc.)
The Level Design team worked on space station locations for the 3.0 release. A lot of progress has been made in designing a modular system for building space stations and cross disciplinary conversations have moved this forward. The earlier work on modular surface outposts and modular satellites is continuing with Level Design and Art working closely together.
This month we optimized the Resource compiler process, which currently takes up the most time in our build process. The idea is to run RC through waf (a Python-based build framework) and then distribute it through IncrediBuild. This system will then be hooked up to the new patch/pak system, which is close to being finished. We also provided the usual Tools/Build support to keep things running smoothly.
Frankfurt’s Environment artists spent the majority of their time generating the ecosystems that were shown at CitizenCon. As seen in the demo, we created five unique ecosystems within a short amount of time, with a good amount of trial and error along the way. Now we are working closely with the Engineers and UK artists to create additional assets and terrain types for more unique looks and systems.
At the beginning of October, the Cinematic team finished work on the planet v2 “Homestead” demo for CitizenCon. For it, we created a camera path that should probably qualify for a world record since it went from high orbit above Leir III into the planet’s atmosphere and then travelled hundreds of kilometers towards the Homestead site. We also built all cinematic moments for the demo, as well as various dressing and lighting efforts.
Alongside Homestead, dozens of in-cockpit and in-helmet comms were prepped for Squadron 42. Ongoing PCAP to AI animation R&D was done by Jason Cole and Ivo Herzeg, as well as the AI team and designers, with the goal of making Look IK and AI locomotion blend fluidly in and out of narrative performance captured story scenes. As a little side project, we also created a 3d logo reveal for the upcoming Star Marine release.
Last month the ship weapon artists were mainly focused on ship missiles. The existing missile assets were optimized and polished and a handful of new variants added.
The FPS team was busy with grenade variants, as well as building iron sights for the Behring P8 weapon family. Here’s a small preview of the incendiary grenade.
For DE QA, once everything calmed down after testing S42 and Homestead for CitizenCon, we resumed our normal activities with test requests ranging from the Engine and Star Marine, to Physics based testing with ragdolls using Gravity boxes and Gravity Areas, as well as checking zone transition changes to interior physics grids. QA Engine Specialist, Melissa Estrada, also appeared in Around the Verse episode 3.11 DE where she shared insight on the life cycle of a test request – how it goes from start to finish and prevents new issues from being introduced into a working build. You may have also caught a sneak peek of the Physics based test request being worked on by Chris Speak using Gravity boxes and Gravity Areas. Being part of ATV this month was an exciting experience, and QA was happy to share the work we do with the community!
In addition to test requests, Glenn Kneale also worked closely with the AI team on Squadron 42, as well as the UK QA Star Marine test team. We wrapped up the month with in-house play tests with Chris Roberts, Erin Roberts, Todd Papy, and Ian Leyland to review Star Marine’s current state and obtained valuable feedback.
The Frankfurt VFX team focused on effects for CitizenCon and Squadron 42, including various environmental effects such as clouds, heat refraction, sand blowing in the wind, falling rocks and dust around the canyon and the crashed ship. The demo also required several unique bespoke effects like the IED explosion that hits the rover, the sand eruption for when the worm emerges from the ground, and the massive sandstorm. Several of the effects required us to work closely with the cinematics and animation department. This included the sand falling off the worm’s body and the spit effects as the worm roars at the camera.
We’ve been focusing on some major upcoming milestones and are putting a lot of effort into showcasing the diversity of the Star Citizen Universe with a variety of planet climates, architecture, and overall story of the different locales. We’d like to share some of the current progress on locations being constructed for the Stanton System as they compare to early concept art below. These are all work in progress images, but the Stanton locations are coming together quickly thanks to the building blocks we’ve been constructing.
Hurston is a desert mining world, controlled by a powerful corporation. Life on the planet is harsh, and people working there live no better than indentured servants. Reflecting the condition, the architecture of the planet generally exhibits significant wear and tear. Daily life is constantly monitored by the planet security, a prospect reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984.
Our second planet is microTech, an arctic environment. The natural conditions of the planet are inhospitable and domed cities were constructed to ward off the natural hazards. Inside the domes, cleanliness, technology and simple elegance are the theme of the architecture. Transparent glass is the most prevalent building material, reinforcing the architectural themes with interactive technologies and a view matching the environment’s color scheme.
We are also working on Crusader, a gas giant with a city built on the clouds. The city consists of multiple floating platforms that are long and slender in nature. Between buildings, ships traverse through the skyline. Structures on top of the platform contain varying elevations, allowing breathtaking vistas to surprise the players in between silhouettes of buildings.
At CitizenCon we finally revealed the new community platform we have been working on. “Spectrum” was designed to integrate forums, chat, and other key features into one streamlined platform. The initial launch will be a web application, but subsequent releases will include more functionality, such as a fully integrated in-game overlay and voice chat. Looking further into the future, you will even be able to launch the game from Spectrum.
October was a very busy month for ships! The RSI Polaris, a military-style corvette, went on sale at CitizenCon and was met with great interest. Simultaneously, a number of other ships and ship packages, many with a militia theme, were made available. CitizenCon also kicked off a backer-only free fly which included all flyable ships. After that ended, we launched another free fly that was open to anyone who wanted to try Star Citizen, showcasing the Super Hornet as their trial ship!
The official Star Citizen newsletter saw an overhaul as we moved away from the standard RSS news update, and into a new layout that favors curated content and more information from the community as a whole. Not only does it include each week’s top stories, but it also recaps updates for RSI Subscribers, current promotions, and showcases top Arena Commander pilots, fan creations from the Community Hub, and sometimes, brand new content you’ve never seen before!
What. A. Month. I really don’t know where to start. The month of October was nothing short of EPIC!
We had an unforgettable time meeting many of you in San Diego at the TwitchCon Bar Citizen. Great food, great drinks, great people. And then there was CitizenCon. The amount of support you all gave us was incredibly humbling and an experience we won’t soon forget! We have said it before and we’ll say it again: having the opportunity to interact with all of you REALLY recharges the ol’ battery. The conversations, memories, stories, and moments we shared have us fired up and focused on 2.6, 3.0, and beyond!
And if the official CitizenCon was not enough, the Star Citizen community in Germany organized and held their very own CitizenCon event as well! Alongside almost 500 citizens that attended the event, some of our own from Foundry 42 Frankfurt showed up and had a blast getting to speak on panels and meet everyone. I could go on, and on, and on about how much fun we had with all of you, but I’ll save us all some time and simply hope that you all understand how much we appreciate your support.
On the streaming front, it’s become difficult to keep up with the amount of new podcasts and Star Citizen Streamers! This is a problem we are okay with having. We spend a lot of time interacting and lurking on Twitch, and it has been heartwarming to see many of the veterans answering questions, creating adventures, and fighting the good fight alongside our newer backers.
On the Community Hub front, you all have successfully made choosing MVP one of the most difficult tasks of our week. The sheer amount of new content we have being posted is overwhelmingly awesome. From a full size 3D printed Behring P4-SC Rifle by RiceMaiden, to another hit piece of music by the legendary Uthos Riley, we are having a blast sorting through all submissions flowing in, so keep them coming!
Thank you all for making October one to remember. We can’t wait to see what you all come up with in the month of November…
Thank you all for an incredible month. There’s plenty more work to do, so we’re going to keep working hard on Squadron 42, SC Alpha 2.6, Alpha 3.0… and beyond.
In two weeks, we will be kicking off our yearly Star Citizen Anniversary Livestream, which celebrates the end of the original Star Citizen crowd funding campaign. The event is going to focus heavily on our ship pipeline, and there will be plenty to see. Tune in or catch it later in this space!