September was a busy month for all teams at Cloud Imperium. Alongside preparing for the excitement of this October’s all-digital CitizenCon, the final touches were added to many features coming in Alpha 3.15, and great progress was made on content coming later in the year.
Read on for all the details, including the latest on the Personal Inventory, various news ships, Pyro, and jump points.
Star Citizen Monthly Report: September 2021
In September, AI Content concluded their work on the new ‘worker’ behavior, which the designers will use to quickly add life to various environments. This will replace many legacy behaviors until environment-specific AI is added. They also added security ‘T0’ to outposts. Now, NPCs can find and use usables on their patrols, making their routes feel more believable and less robotic. NPCs can guard entrances by blocking entry or checking IDs too.
The bartender (vendor) was expanded with new ‘cafe’ usables to allow players to order soft drinks at locations in Area18.
Progress continued on the patron and goods dealer behaviors detailed last month, and doctors and nurses were to New Babbage and Orison’s hospitals. These are progressing well, with a QATR taking place early next month.
The AI Feature team continued to work on perception changes for stealth, including creating a mechanism to tweak the ranges of sound events like weapons firing, bullet impact, footsteps, and vaulting. They also updated the debug renderer to show the type of sound event, enabling designers to identify the sound events they’re working on.
Progress was made on melee combat, improving the combo system to make it more data-driven so that designers can add new combos quickly and easily. Previously, combo attacks were set up in the Subsumption logic of the melee attack behavior, stringing together multiple single attack tasks. Now a single ‘combo attack’ task is used to improve responsiveness between the parts of the combo. AI Features also worked with the Actor team to come up with a solution for the AI hitting low or high targets with melee attacks, adjusting the spine bones’ rotation up and down to bend towards the target.
The clean-up of motion capture animation assets for cowering, surrendering, perception reactions, and unarmed cover usage continued too. Finally, the team fixed some issues with ships defending a lead ship getting stuck in a loop trying to select a new target.
Last month, the AI Tech team focused on optimizing several AI systems to improve performance, including turret behavior.
Focus was given to making 3D collision avoidance for AI Ships work in complex scenes with narrow spaces where bounding boxes for obstacles aren’t a viable solution. There was a variety of updates to pathing, pathfinding, path execution, and movement alongside continued progress on planetary navigation too.
For the Subsumption Editor, they finished implementing the docking system, which will enable them to reorganize the UI.
Bugs were also fixed for Alpha 3.15, and the team continued to write technical documentation related to AI systems and server meshing.
The Animation team spent September improving vendors, including adding new items and location-based assets and transitions to give a more life-like result. They also discussed how to best implement emotional state idles to characters to give them life when idling. Work on behavior blockouts and animations for the patron continued – some of the assets previously shot for patrons sitting at bars is being implemented to give a more robust feel to NPCs at bars and counters.
“We dropped in a considerable amount of new idle animations for characters sitting, and are working towards the day when no character looks like a statue but rather a living, breathing person. Some of these animations have not been fully edited yet, but we wanted to get them in so we can feel out the results in the PTU and PU.” Animation Team
On the player side, the team began reworking various select and deselect asset sets so that they work well in all instances, including with the new inventory system. Improvements were made to drunk locomotion that will, alongside a new asset drop, significantly improve the visuals.
Last month, Character Art prepared assets for Alpha 3.15, and beyond. The tech artists also finished skinning two new armors debuting in the coming patch that will help fill out various gameplay archetypes.
For Subscribers, two new helmets scheduled for release at the end of the year were modeled and passed to tech art for skinning. These will be paired with color variants of existing armors, like the recent Star Kitty and Kabuki helmets.
They also put the finishing touches on the prize assets based on the Ship Showdown’s final four.
Character Art progressed with Alpha 3.16 content, including a texture update pass on all DNA archetype heads. This will massively improve the quality of the Character Customizer and NPC heads for both the PU and SQ42.
For Pyro, the concept artists continued creating costume packs of the frontier-style clothing that will serve as the basis of clothing for the whole system. Multiple armors were also modeled for the XenoThreat gang using the CDS armor as a base.
In the US, the Ship team completed final art for the Crusader Ares, which involved implementing the new large-scale glow workflow into the thrusters for improved lighting. They also set up a bifurcated material system to support both the non-armored Ion and armored Inferno branches when applying tints, so each version of the ship will appear slightly differently.
The Drake Vulture moved into the greybox stage – the interior is now completed, and the team are focusing on finishing the exterior, including the reclamation arms, nose grinder, body, cockpit, landing gear, and thrusters. They also added a collapsible exterior ladder to allow players to access the cockpit from the arm.
One of the previously mentioned unannounced ships is currently in the final art phase, with a focus on polishing materials and nacelles. Attention is currently directed at dynamic animations to give players more feedback when the ship is in motion.
Another ship discussed in the last month’s report is now art complete. The team is planning a bug-fixing pass and preparing to set up the final tint range.
In the UK, an unannounced ship moved down the pipeline while several others reached the final-art stage. Tasks for the Crusader A2 Hercules were closed out, including minor polishing and bug fixing.
The upcoming MISC cargo ships progressed well – the Hull C had numerous details finalized, while the Hull A is approaching its whitebox review.
The Audio team spent September closing out goals set in Q3 and supporting the build-up to various events.
Orison had a final push, with the SFX and dialogue for Cousin Crow’s and the Crusader Showroom completed alongside an ambiance polish, VO tours, and mixing. Plans for Orison Spaceport’s music progressed, and the rest stop and Grim HEX hospital locations received their final SFX and dialogue passes.
“The ‘gruesome treatment VO’ is a particular highlight for Grim HEX now it’s implemented in-game.” Audio Team
Tech Sound Design and SFX worked together to add effects to the medical bed and bomb delivery UI. Finally, Audio worked on SFX and dialogue for IAE.
Community’s month began supporting the returning XenoThreat event, including publishing an infographic detailing various facts and figures. After the event, the team invited the backers to an AMA on dynamic events. Once complete, they posted a comm-link to make it easier to recap.
Outside the game, the team supported the annual Ship Showdown competition. During phase one, the community was challenged to support their favorite craft by submitting an original creation to the Community Hub or Twitter, with the team rewarding the 10 submissions they felt were particularly outstanding with an Origin 100i. During phase two and the finals, Community supported the accompanying Free Fly and detailed the knockout rounds that ultimately crowned the Argo MPUV-1C as the overall winner.
In August, the Physics team continued to optimize backend code, including for soft body implementation. Various parts of relevant collision detection routines were optimized algorithmically by improving their bounding volume representations and hierarchy. Soft body topology loading and building, baking code, and memory management were improved too.
Additionally, terrain meshes are now flagged so that they can be exclusively raycast against along with allowing meshes to cluster with a single raycast. Moreover, kinematic parts are now used as valid moving ground colliders on actor entities.
For the renderer, work continued on the global draw packet cache. A mechanism was added to rebuild the cache when necessary. Its logic was also refined to prevent the unnecessary recreation of draw packets with identical arguments, which is important for brushes.
On a higher level, the Gen12 render interface is now used for stat OBJs and render proxies throughout the engine, which marks another step in the transition to the new render paradigm. The shader system saw several changes too – shader parser initialization was streamlined, and the user cache was moved to the ‘Window’s APPDATA folder’. This will be rolled out post Alpha 3.15 and should fix a long-standing issue for some users. There were also various changes to refactor and transition code to Gen12.
The stepping code for local cloud shadows was refined to be easier to control by the artists and optimized so that it’s not evaluated unless necessary. Aside from self-shadowing, clouds now also cast their shadows onto the entire scene, which is important for proper scene integration as the team begin to use them on planets as well. Additionally, work to improve cloud edge rendering was completed and parameters were exposed to the artists to give them a more volumetric look.
On the core engine side, support for ‘APPDATA’ access was added to the P4K system. Aside from now storing the user shader cache folder there, the team plan to eventually move all temporary game-client files to this new location. The P4K file system was also improved to properly deal with Unicode paths.
Work on the performance regression system picked up again with numerous supporting changes, as it’s becoming important to daily progress and development stability.
The team also supported server meshing by decoupling code so that it can run as a standalone service. They started focusing more on optimization too, with certain game scenarios frequently analyzed, reported, and updated. This brought various improvements that will be rolled out post Alpha 3.15. For example, entity-component wakeup was improved by keeping components active for some time. Server Object Container Streaming code was heavily optimized, and memory allocation when using CigFunction (lambdas) was improved. There were various other amends too, such as moving runtime GPU buffer updates to background threads.
Lastly, the engine code received further cleanup to remove legacy code support for last-generation consoles, and the core memory allocators were customized to give developers more control over memory layout for debugging purposes.
Features (Characters & Weapons)
The Feature team continued focusing on bug fixing and quality-of-life improvements for the new Player Inventory and Actor Status features. In particular, the inventory was running slower than experienced on internal playtests, so significant effort was put into making it more responsive wherever possible. Item filtering is at the top of the list of quality-of-life improvements.
The Greycat Multi-Tool is now the first weapon/gadget with two types of reloading action – one for the healing attachment vial and one for its battery. This means the user has to manage two different resources to get the best from it.
The first iteration of the new underlying logic for the actor-control state machine began testing this month. This logic is purpose-built based on the use of the old state machine and should scale significantly better with project size and complexity. It will also offer better debugging tools, reducing the time it takes to find and fix bugs.
Gameplay Features continued supporting local inventories and getting the NikNax app ready for Alpha 3.15, with bug fixing and UI polishing taking a majority of the team’s time.
They also supported various mission teams in connecting content to the reputation system, set up shops and bartenders in Orison, and prepared for IAE.
Looking further ahead, work began on allowing items to be sold at shops, the future cargo rework, and Jumptown v2.
September saw the Vehicle Feature team progress with jump points, significantly progressing with party jumping. In addition, the team further developed new animation techniques for the Hull C, and supported VFX with improvements to ground effects. The remaining time was spent on ship data debug improvements to further support development processes.
Vehicle Experience tested the bombing mechanic in QA after a successful review and polish period last month. They’re now in the final bug-fixing and optimization stage leading up to release and are awaiting feedback from the Evocati and PTU phases.
Improvements were also made to turrets for a future release, and experiments were done on missile tuning and balance across the game. The team are also exploring how to further build on operator modes.
Vehicle Features also prepared for Alpha 3.15’s ship releases, supported Actor Features with the intoxication mode for piloting and driving, completed general bug fixing and improvements.
Graphics & VFX Programming
The Graphics team made further performance improvements to the render profile as well as optimizations to post effects (depth of field and motion blur), terrain rendering, and fog to maintain the same performance at higher resolutions.
Alongside this, they improved the water shader. These changes allow shading to be based on available tiled-lighting data rather than the nearest environment probe to create more consistent lighting in scenes involving water volumes. They also changed water volume lighting to take into account volumetrics, such as clouds and fog, avoiding previous issues where water volumes would ignore local fog volumes when shading.
They also progressed on the render-to-texture refactor by implementing region copy for static RTTOs to reuse the existing content instead of re-rendering it. This will ultimately increase performance and save on scene pass usage. They also re-wrote the RTT atlas packing algorithm to support the new region copy feature, making it more robust and easier to maintain.
Finally, Graphics looked into validation errors and collated captured Vulkan analytical information for future extensions.
The Lighting team polished and optimized Orison’s new shops; Cousin Crow’s, Providence Surplus, and the Crusader Showroom.
“A lot of effort went into ensuring these new locations thematically fit within the style of Orison but that each has a unique style and flavor. To help support the addition of these locations, we made further lighting optimization work around their respective platforms.” Lighting Team
They also continued to finalize the upcoming hospitals and clinics, implementing feedback from the art directors and fixing visual bugs.
Support continued for colonialism outposts, with lighting passes almost complete on all current modules and components. Optimization and polish work is ongoing and new dynamic lighting was added to support airlock cycling.
As the release of Alpha 3.15 draws closer, Narrative worked to ensure all final elements and last details are in place before it goes live. This included a pass of the hints added in support of the new gameplay features and journal entries to help explain some of the more complex systems. For NikNax, the team adjusted item names and stats, specifically changing all armor capacity amounts from Storage Points (SP) to microSCU (µSCU).
The Delphi reputation app also received attention to ensure everything is as clear as possible now that organizations can have multiple scopes for players to earn ranks in. The team also spent time playtesting to identify and resolve as many bugs as possible.
Beyond Alpha 3.15, time was spent discussing details about the in-development hacking gameplay, Pyro’s space stations, and non-water-based oceans. A recording session to capture mission and public address system dialogue was also completed, and work continued with AI, Design, and Audio on new NPC behaviors.
“For the lore lovers out there, September brought a whole host of new narrative posts to the website. This quarter’s Loremakers: Community Questions went out with some tasty tidbits regarding military ranks. A book excerpt from Always Forward: A UEE Marine History, originally featured in Jump Point magazine, was released to non-subscribers. (For those of you who might not be aware, every month Subscribers receive a new issue of Jump Point magazine that features new lore, in-depth interviews, dives into design, and a delightful forward from editor Benjamin Lesnick. Definitely worth checking out!) We also released a deep dive into the new medical lore behind regeneration. Last but not least, a new batch of fascinating entries were added to the continually growing Galactapedia.” Narrative Team
QA’s primary publishing focus was on preparation for the Alpha 3.15 cycle, specifically ensuring they have proper coverage for Evocati and wave one PTU.
For development, the team predominantly worked through QA Test Requests (QATR) as they arrived. Many needed significant testing as they included interconnected features that fundamentally change how the game is played.
A new publishing checklist was created to manage the inevitable requests for daily publishes, and the team’s training path was reworked to better align with wider development.
For embedded testing, the AI-based team focused on movement fixes for NPCs, which has far-reaching implications. They also tested turrets, targeting, and general functionality in response to player threats.
For the Engine team, support continued with minimum-spec PC stress testing along with continued PageHeap testing to catch memory leaks. Furthermore, automation training continued, with the aim to ultimately create automated test cases for different departments.
QA also continued to support the Tools team with DataForge, StarWords, ExcelCore, CopyBuild, and the sandbox editor.
Systemic Services & Tools
Throughout September, Systemic Services & Tools (SST) continued to work on the economy, tools, and Quantum (the AI simulation). Edge cases were also wrapped up for easier use and recording.
SST wrapped up some foundational adjustments to diffusion and how it communicates with the DGS in the form of adjustments to the DirectConnect DGS Thread Bridge. The service engineers are now working with their Gameplay Engineering counterparts on a new gameplay system “for the mercantilely minded player.”
Work continues in earnest on intelligent NPC spawning, with an impressive internal milestone hit by the team.
Finally, in preparation for Alpha 3.15, new edge cases in the inventory system and backend services were addressed.
Last month, Turbulent’s Live Tools team deployed a new launcher. This contains updated logic for the verify feature, extending the time of the warning message on game launch and updating bindings with a new loading sequence.
The Game Services team progressed with the discipline service, with most critical calls being delivered. The launcher and in-game work for this is done too, with the QA phase beginning soon. The team continued to refactor the entity graph and worked on the matchmaking service.
The Web team worked on pages for CitizenCon and IAE and created a new backend tool to improve the appearance and functionality of all website content.
Last month, the UI team focused on performance improvements, optimizing some of the more costly areas of the user interface.
“We made more progress on the underlying code work of the Starmap, and started to get some placeholder UI into development builds so we can really start playing around with it, as you will eventually!” UI Team
UI also worked on screens for the upcoming infiltrate and defend mission archetypes, and finished the screens for hospitals and the personal inventory.
Vehicle Tech put the finishing touches on a Squadron 42-specific vehicle mechanic, with the aim of expanding it into the PU. Alongside this, bugs for Alpha 3.15 were fixed, and the groundwork for incorporating radar and scanning into FPS gameplay progressed. Some functional radar and scanning design changes are in the works too.
Major improvements in how players control doors and other room-related interactions (such as lights, atmosphere, and communication systems) are in the prototyping stages. The aim is to fully immerse players by allowing them to control their environment while exploring on foot.
“Expect more door control panel interactions to come soon!” Vehicle Tech
VFX finished off their work on the new vehicle wakes, which was done alongside the Vehicle Feature team, and effects were completed for an unannounced ship.
Finally, further development work was done on Theaters of War.
WE’LL SEE YOU NEXT MONTH…