Comm-Link:Monthly Report - August 2016
It should come as no surprise that August was a very busy month. Teams all around the world were hard at work on the Gamescom demo, which showcased staggeringly new tech from a variety of disciplines. Meanwhile, we also pushed 2.5 Live, releasing the Grim HEX outlaw station, Argo and Reliant Kore out to all of our backers.
There’s no time to rest as we have big plans for Citizen Con, which is right around the corner, and 2.6 development and testing is well underway as well.
- 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
This month the Engineering team was focused on several priorities, which included crushing bugs for Alpha 2.5.0 and ensuring target Gamescom features functioned properly. All while also getting Item System 2.0 ready for prime time.
LA Design split time between long and short term goals. Immediate needs had us knocking out fixes for SC Alpha 2.5.0 and Gamescom. Meanwhile, we updated ship mass and health calculations for a number of flyable ships, made improvements to the Hornet, and did tech setup to the Constellation Aquila. We also worked with Engineering on features for Item System 2.0.
Besides the normal bug fixes, Art focused on generating new content in August. Major advancements were made on the Drake Caterpillar, which entered the final art stage. Marine suits updated, fun new costumes created, heads polished to push them to that next level, and much more.
Gamescom allowed us to introduce you to Miles Eckhart, who represents our first crack at a PU mission giver. We captured the actor during the July shoot and it was incredible to see the subtlety of the performance translate into the game. For 3.0 we fleshed out the tone, flavor, and characters of Stanton’s various locations, and worked with Design on needed text for missions and NPCs.
LAQA’s kept busy testing the Gamescom demo, 2.5, Star Marine, and Squadron 42. In addition, the team worked with developers on Item 2.0, ship LOD’s, lighting, and landing gear. 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!
The Austin Design Team helped ensure that the elevators in Grim HEX worked properly (you might recall that this is trickier than it sounds when accounting for localized physics grids), and coordinated with LA Engineering to guarantee that they will work with the upcoming Item 2.0 system. Lead Designer Rob Reininger focused on the “Selling Kiosk” plan, which lets players sell stuff. He also created Blueprint Documents for additional Grim HEX shops, and synced up with other teams on content to sell in those stores. Finally, Pete Mackay identified the first twenty commodities that will be available to collect, transport, and sell. He also iterated on designs for resource spawning, trade routes, and quantum fuel models.
Lead Server Engineer Jason Ely wrapped up work on the Service Beacon feature, and passed it along to other teams to finish. Senior Server Engineer Tom Sawyer and Ian Guthrie at Wyrmbyte implemented Service Discovery, which will be extremely helpful once we have Dynamic Server Spinup/Shutdown online for the PU. Tom also worked on hooks into the Player Info Service that will provide details on NPC relationships. Finally, Ian and Turbulent continued to create a bridge between Platform and Services, so the two can share information like player presence, UEC transaction history, Org members, and contacts/friends.
The Animation team was excited to see their assets breathe life into the Star Citizen universe. They implemented and polished numerous NPC animations, and finally saw their work function within Subsumption (our AI system). The Ship Animation Team reauthored enter/exit animations to “combat speed” for the Gladius and Vanguard, added Dropship seat enter/exits to the Vanguard Hoplite, and completed an initial pass on character interactions with the Ursa Rover and Drake Dragonfly.
Chris Smith’s update of the Constellation Aquila is in Greybox and will be into Final Art soon. Josh Coons is doing a final polish on the Herald, which is set for a lighting adjustment next. Lighting artist, Emre Switzer, completed his final pass on the Levski landing zone and Grim HEX station.
Austin QA put in a tremendous amount of work on the Gamescom presentation. Special recognition goes to Don Allen and Todd Raffray for heavily testing the Stanton system, documenting it, and staying late to test builds for our UK and DE teams. Jesse Mark, Bryce Benton, and Scott McCrea field tested requests from our Developer groups to ensure a quick turnaround and integration of their work into our builds.
In August, Austin QA supported the deployment of 12 PTU builds and 2.5.0 to Live. Michael Blackard and Elijah Montenegro were integral to the process, which involves extensive test passes of the build, deployment services and patch note support. Tyler Tumlinson and Bryce performed vital work on 2.5.0 involved coordinating with the Game Support team to gather feedback and data from the community.
Once 2.5.0 went Live, future content became our focus. Scott McCrea and Brandon Crocker worked with the UK on daily smoke tests and helped organize frequent Star Marine playtests. Tory Turner and Andrew Rexroth focused on Squadron 42 while also building level flow and guides for other testers.
Chris Danks, Eric Green, and Will Leverett spent time hammering 2.5.0 on the PTU with Evocati Test Flight. We wanted to express our appreciation for the volunteers who donated their time and energy to test a frustrating build. Game Support also worked with the Community team to produce Austin’s episode of Around the Verse and publish a post on the migration from combat visors to in-ship multi-function displays.
We’re very excited about some things coming up for 2.6.0, and will be adding additional testers to Evocati Test Flight. The additions will come from the top contributors on the Issue Council, so if you want to participate, make sure you’re active on https://robertsspaceindustries.com/community/issue-council
Austin IT set up and tested all the equipment prior to the event and then shipped it to the venue. At Gamescom, our IT ground team, along with many helpful volunteers, set up and tore down the rigs. All the way up to show time, we provided 24-hour support on builds and fine tuning the network so all content from Austin arrived in Germany with time for testing and the live stream.
We also continued to work with DevOps on reducing our patch size. By migrating the new patching process into the build system output pipeline, we’ll be able to work with real build data rather than test data. Soon, we’ll be able to get new data to the internal teams using this system, and finally get to see the results of all this development work.
In August, the LiveOps/DevOps team deployed 11 builds to PTU and published 2.5.0 to Live. Since we also publish a lot of builds internally, every minute we shave off a build or build replication time makes a difference. Here are a few fun stats that demonstrate the size and scope of information that we’re dealing with —
August Build Stats
- 161 builds completed successfully
- Depending on branch and type, build sizes varied from 40-200 GB each
- 7,728 GB of build data was generated
- Users deployed 78 servers across all build versions
- 30,912 GB of build data was replicated between studios
- We transfer nearly 1,000 build copies a day to the desktop level across all studios with most testers and developers consuming multiple build versions per day
- The central build system is currently made up of 48 servers
- Currently configured with 524 cores and 812 GB of RAM with access to 400 additional cores during heavy build activity
FOUNDRY 42 UK
The Gamescom demo premiered the initial implementation of the Star Map in-game. Based on the application already on the RSI website, the version we’ve been working on will match the UI and feature numerous functions. For example: you’ll use it to select a Quantum Drive destination rather than the current system in-game, which, while functional, is less than optimal when trying to pick out a specific destination from a POI cluster at long range. .
In addition, our FPS team has been refining and implementing new game modes for Star Marine. Since it will be a focused FPS experience with its own specific maps, we’ve tidied up a lot of the code and repurposed much of the CrySDK. We also fixed a nasty performance issue that was blocking 2.5.0 from going Live. The bug, a low level CPU instruction — specifically a memory alignment issue with atomic memory access, didn’t appear internally, and only showed itself once the servers were filled with players. Thus the benefit of backers helping us test PTU releases. After an extensive investigation, we identified the bug and squashed it with a one-line fix.
There was a lot on the table in August, including props both large and small. Soon you’ll see stuff like spiral fruit appearing in shops. mobiGlas got another pass to provide flexibility with the characters and more customization options. We also pumped out ship sale brochures, worked on a new ship we’re all excited about!
On the weapons front, the Kastak Arms ballistic shotgun is in development and a K&W energy handgun is about complete. We also running a Knightsbridge Arms weapon through our streamlined ship weapons process. Hopefully, it’ll cut down the amount of work needed and increase the production rate for in-game items.
For the 2.5.0 release, our team fixed bugs and polished effects, which included a final pass on Grim HEX’s environment effects and the ARGO and Reliant thrusters/damage. We also improved the Aurora’s thrusters, and are steading working through all existing ships to ensure boost effects are consistent.
Our work was also all over the Gamescom demo. We created the burning effect on the Freelancer during atmospheric entry, polished all weapon effects seen, did a full flight/hover-ready pass on the Dragonfly, and made ship landing effects improvements. In addition to that, we added surface dust kicking up from the Ursa Rover, provided atmospheric effects (dust, steam, smoke) to Levski’s interior and exterior.
The Gamescom event showcased a number of cool environments, from the beautiful vistas seen when traveling from space to planet, to Levski’s interior. There was also a moon base of small compounds built out of temporary structures. This is an idea we’re excited to develop further with structures half-buried in deserts or engulfed by overgrown jungles. We also polished Grim HEX and continued steady work on Squadron 42.
When animators weren’t off sick, on holiday, or injured from crashing bikes, we’ve provided support to the AI teams, revisited the player animations (specifically fixing some of the aimposes, select/deselect animations, crouch movement and smoothed out the headcam when jumping) and did some previz explorations on new FPS (personal) weapons.
2.5 and Gamescom allowed us to progress with some of the core systems in the game that needed some love: coming soon will be flight model improvements, the landing and take-off systems were tweaked to feel more intuitive, and the Cargo system has begun to come online with the first tier design being implemented.
The tech designers have been getting to grips with the conversion of all our existing ships to Item 2.0, which is a huge but super necessary task to add the layer of usability that Chris described at Gamescom. They also got the Argo and Reliant flight ready, and are pushing on with the Dragonfly and Ursa Rover among other things.
Focusing on future releases, our Star Marine designers have been working with the environment art team to craft some cool FPS levels, and for Grim HEX, we are working on a slalom race track that will be awesome for all the Dragonfly pilots. Lastly, we have been updating the Arena Commander maps as well as adding some cool new missions to SC Live.
We dedicated some of our time to polishing up and bug fixing any assets that were being shown on stage and I believe only one bug made it through. Damn you, popping container!
Alongside Gamescom and 2.5 release, we spent some time investigating photogrammetry and working with the environment team on the procedural planet tech. We have shifted our focus back onto Squadron 42 and the CitizenCon demo, locking down the backlog and putting together a solid plan through CitizenCon and towards the end of the year.
We’ve also started developing the damage and destruction pipeline for the ship items. Ultimately we want to create a system so when you pop open the ship panels and see your items, we can visually represent damage so you know what’s gone wrong and what needs to be fixed.
Last month the graphics team focused on polishing the Gamescom demo, as problems often arise in areas we don’t expect. We also began to work on tech to populate the universe with asteroid fields, gas clouds, lightning, and VFX on planets. This tech will allow us to seamlessly spawn hundreds of thousands of asteroids at once and have asteroid fields containing billions of asteroids in total. The current focus is on the placement algorithm and making sure it’s fast and visually pleasing. The gas cloud and lightning tech are both coming along well and should set the scene for spectacular dogfights!
We’ve also worked on low level tech, like adding the ability for the engine to render secondary cameras (for video comms, holograms and UIs), and adding LOD mesh merging support to the new ‘object container’ technology (which will enable us to load and stream such large levels).
Collectively we had Gamescom, 2.5 and our usual tasks for Squadron 42, but here’s an overview of what CIG Audio has been up to over the past month.
Bob Rissolo headed up the charge for integrating the dialogue into the Gamescom demo. Working with Phil Smallwood, they handled the dialogue support for our mission giver, landing coordinator and NPCs as well as the various soundscapes you passed through.
The whole team contributed to building the incredibly dense soundscapes for the demo, from the general ambience of the locations (Levski, the derelict ship, Olisar, etc.) to the specific (the Dragonfly, in-atmosphere wind-drag sounds, even footsteps).
Ross Tregenza and Sam Hall continued working on the music system and incorporating the various musical cues into the game. The big system they’ve been working on is the music logic system, which triggers dynamic musical cues based on your actions during the game, allowing the musical score to change based on your actions and the situation. It’s a tremendously exciting addition to see develop.
We touched many new exciting areas in the Gamescom demo: procedural planets, AI Subsumption, HUD alterations, the Dragonfly and the Ursa Rover. We worked in tandem with the QA in Frankfurt, Austin and L.A. and learned many valuable lessons about cross-studio testing that will come in handy for CitizenCon and any future events.
We’ve also devoted a lot of time to Star Marine, headed up by our main FPS testers Mark Tobin and Nathan Rigby. They have been drafting test case documents and really getting into the nitty gritty of the Free for All and Team Deathmatch game modes. We are really looking forward to getting this into your hands, as free EVA offers new tactics and gameplay opportunities to FPS which you just can’t find anywhere else!
FOUNDRY 42 DE
Shortly before Gamescom, team members from Frankfurt flew to the Wilmslow studio to provide on-site support while the final builds were being put together. There were numerous tech systems working in conjunction that introduced unique challenges with the local physics grid, like carrying a functional vehicle inside another ship. Throw multiplayer into the mix and we’re on a whole new level of complexity. We also improved ground vehicle and landing gear suspensions to make them more realistic, did some more work on vis areas culling and continued to develop the planetary system.
The AI team made a big push on the navigation system to allow designers to setup navigation meshes in different object containers. A navigation area placed inside an object container will now be loaded at run-time, and it will connect to the right zone and the right local physics grid.
In the image you can see the navigation mesh on the landing pad, in Blue, and the one attached to the zone and local grids of the Constellation. We also worked on fixing several bugs related to the characters moving on non z-up surfaces, we still have some work to do there but things are progressing nicely.
We are now consolidating the usage of GUID for all the elements inside our Subsumption Editor and the actual core code, so that we can allow designers a large amount of flexibility when changing names of variables or renaming activities and subactivities, all without breaking any logic. We also introduced several new tasks that are now available to the design team:
- SelectTarget: this node allows an NPC to select a perceived object/character as a target.
- TokenScope: this node allows designers to specify the maximum amount of NPCs that can execute a specific section of the logic.
- ReserveScope: this node allows an NPC to reserve an object for the duration of a specific action.
- IsEntityPlayer: this node allows an NPC to distinguish between an AI character and a Player character.
- IsTargetWithinDistance: this node allows the designer to create a specific logic when the target is within a specific distance.
Over the last month we began moving the combat activity into Subsumption, so that we can start the complete unification of the human behaviors under the Subsumption system.
Regarding the perception system, we can now enable NPCs to track both friendly and hostile characters, allowing us to craft more complex relaxed behaviors. We also submitted the first pass on the Large Object Vision map, this is a very similar system to the normal vision map we use, but oriented towards tracking large objects as capital ships.
The Cover System received the same love as the Navigation System, we completed the first pass to allow designers to properly setup cover surfaces in different object containers and load the cover data connecting it to the proper zone and local grid.
On the Systems Design side, we implemented the mission giver, Miles Eckhart, and got AI working properly in our new Container system with proper physics and local AI navigation meshes using our Subsumption system. This will allow us to create a variety of behaviors to make the universe come to life. We’ve also started designing new Space Flight maneuvers with the goal of creating more advanced Dogfighting tactics for the single-seater AI ships.
There has also been some design work done on our Gathering systems for various professions, specifically outlining how our core gameplay loop works for gathering different types of resources, ranging from harvesting asteroids or gas clouds to the gathering and selling of data. This coincided with developing ancillary game loops like being hired to either gather or transport materials.
We have almost finalized the FPS suit design, defining how we break up the suit for modularity as well as adding components and other attachments to the suits, allowing the player to customize suit pieces to fit their play style.
We have also finished up our R&D for the unmanned satellites, probes, landers, as well as small modular bases for procedural planets, that will eventually populate the nascent Stanton System in Alpha 3.0. It will still be some time before we implement these, but with the proposed system we will be able to build a large amount of these infrastructural devices fairly quickly for the Stanton system in 3.0.
The Environment Art team in Frankfurt was fully tasked in August with supporting the Engine Team to develop the procedural planets. We spent a good amount of time working on ground materials, authoring new height maps and continuing work on the functionality and general usability of our “Planet Editor.”
August, the Tech Art team in Frankfurt primarily worked on updating all weapons with proper individual mass and physics, so they can correctly collide with other items and the floor.
Last month, we finished a bunch of prototype models for upcoming new weapons and gadgets, and completed a set of modular barrel attachments such as compensators and suppressors. We also finished another Behring rifle, the P8-AR, and are in the final stages of art production for a set of Behring grenades. On the ship weapon side, we wrapped up the new missile racks in all sizes and variants and have started to polish, optimize and adjust the missiles themselves.
The cinematics team in Frankfurt contributed animations, blocking, lighting, and camera work to the “quest giver” portions of the Gamescom playthrough. Going through the full process from beginning to end allowed them to test the existing pipeline and make it more robust for upcoming scenes and characters. We also worked closely with our Lead Engine Programmer to test how the look IK will perform in cutscenes where the player has full control and freedom of movement.
When August began, DEQA hit the ground running focused on Gamescom demo testing. We worked tirelessly with UKQA, ATXQA and LAQA toward the goal of smashing all critical and blocking issues encountered during our testing up to the event. The QA team, with the addition of Grégoire Andivero from Design, were also given the opportunity to assist on the show floor for a few hours to ensure that all PCs were set up with the proper demo build. All the long hours paid off though with Chris Speak’s epic final play of the demo.
Since Gamescom, we spent the last week and a half of August creating Feature Test levels and testing Star Marine.
With the delivery of the 2.5 patch came along a lot of clean ups and long overdue fixes for us at Behaviour. On the engineering side, this meant making sure things were more stable and simpler for future features, as well as reducing the time spent updating the UI each frame. On the art side, we introduced the abandoned Green Imperial Housing Exchange asteroid base we have been working on for the past several months. A big focus for the team was on the lighting in order to reinforce the story conveyed by the level art and modeling. And we’re not done yet. We’ve included some before and after shots to show where Grim HEX is headed in future patches. We hope you’ll enjoy the new look once it has been integrated in game.
Not even us devs in Montreal were able to escape the Gamescom excitement as we designed and built a special web page for the event. This page contained the Twitch 5-day livestream, as well as a new chat module featuring improved tech. It was great being able provide this cool experience to backers during Gamescom and we look forward to using this in the future for other events. In addition, work is underway on new search functionality, allowing for more intuitive, platform-wide results. This new search module will eventually replace the current website’s search altogether
This month saw the introduction of the Anvil Terrapin, an exploration ship with a proven military track record able to take a hit… or two, and keep on going. It was offered up alongside a couple exploration themed combo packs. And while not a ship, the newly revealed Ursa Rover was there as well. The 2.5 patch saw the release of three flight ready ships: two Argo MPUVs, both cargo and personnel variants, and the Xi’An influenced MISC Reliant Kore!
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!
Between our first major showfloor booth, five days of gameplay livestreaming, our fourth-annual Gamescom presentation where we demo’d Star Citizen Alpha 3.0, trips to our Frankfurt and Wimslow offices, and more Bar Citizen events in Germany and the UK than you can shake a stick at, August has been one heck of a ride.
While Around the Verse and Reverse the Verse continued their trek around the globe, it was our Fourth-Annual Gamescom Presentation livestream hosted again by Chris Roberts himself that drew all the attention. We we’re able to show the community, not to mention the world at large, a preview of the upcoming Star Citizen Alpha 3.0.
Additionally, our five days of game streaming from the Gamescom Showfloor booth both before and after the presentation was a tremendous success. Members of our Star Citizen livestreaming community shared their experiences, and we gave away a whopping 42 game packages. It was such a hit that smart money says we’ll be continuing the program in the future.
The Community continues to blow us out of the water each and every month with the amount of talented and detailed contributions submitted to the Community Hub. This month was one of the toughest to choose an MVP each week, as there was an abundance of deserving content. If you see something in the Hub worth highlighting for MVP, it’s not too late to vote! Even if it didn’t get MVP in August, this does not rule out a highlight in the future.
One of the best parts of our jobs is when we get to meet all of you in person! Gamescom alone had three fan gatherings in addition to the presentation after-party. These are an incredible way to get in touch with local Citizens, so make sure to check and see if there are any in your local area. As always, thank you to everyone who came out to support us and hang out: stuff like this really recharges the ol’ batteries.
And did you see Dastro34’s Big Benny’s costume? Big hit here.
Thanks again to everyone for an awesome month. We’re going to get back to work and keep plugging away at Squadron 42, SC Alpha 2.6 and 3.0.
We’re almost a month away from Citizen Con 2016, being held this year in Los Angeles. Check back to find out more details about events and schedules. It’s definitely going to be a showstopper.