Monthly Studio Report: September 2017

GRAPHICS

The graphics team focused on improvements to tech for 3.0 and continued with a few longer-term tasks for the next release and Squadron 42.

They added shadow map support to the Render-to-Texture system, along with many other improvements to RTT. The tech behind static (cached) shadows was improved and this feature enabled for 3.0. This saves on CPU and GPU cost for distant shadows, especially on lower spec PCs. They also made many quality improvements and bug-fixes to static sun shadows for space stations and landing zones. The asteroid system had several changes to make it more widely usable for 3.0; including better randomization/noise, physicalization-on-demand and AI avoidance volumes. On the VFX side, they focused on bug fixes and a new streaming-update system to vastly reduce the CPU cost of distant particle emitters.

For the longer-term tasks, they added hierarchical voxel support to the gas cloud system and enabled support for third party volumetric simulations to be imported into the engine. The material blending shaders were also generalized and improved so that the team can more easily add new shader features. This will be the foundation of the new glass and various layer blend shaders.

UI

This month the UI team continued the big push for 3.0 by working on new features, as well as incorporating feedback for existing 3.0 features in order to provide players the best experience.

Over the past month, the team was involved in various sprints relating to Item2.0 in order to wrap up specific areas of the HUD and MFDs. The UI team was also involved in the Item2.0 sprint that focused around closing out all areas of Item2.0, bringing online the final remaining UI elements for ships.

The contract manager had some additional tweaks this month. As design progressed with the mission setups, they identified small tweaks to the contract manager UI that made the app more accessible, and more importantly, easier to use. The StarMap and PMA went through a few rounds of bugfixes as well. Finally, the ship selector was revised to use the updated UI, which incorporates additional functionality within the terminals for insurance claims.

PROGRAMMING

Animation flow was looked at by multiple sprint teams. The usable tech underwent a rewrite to integrate it better with the AI decision making, allowing for more seamless transitions between movement and interaction. They made improvements to Mannequin, our animation selection system, to handle situations where a performance should play on a specific idle set and then, optionally, return to some other idle. For example, Eckhart leaning forward to whisper something conspiratorial and then staying in that idle pose after delivering the line. The actor system state machine also enhanced how it deals with animation requests, specifically improving queuing and interruption, as well as opening up a new event-based communication path between the animation states and the AI Subsumption system.

The team also made improvements to the mission system by implementing and testing some new glue-code that allows for random events to be triggered throughout the game via probability back-end services. This includes dynamically spawning entities (like a character, ships and props) in any environment, like space or on the surface of procedurally generated planets. Programmers continued the ongoing work to add additional variables and Subsumption nodes to the mission system, which the design team uses to create mission content. This included hook-ups for templated descriptions and its effect on dynamically spawned mission content – a simple example would be ensuring that a mission called “WANTED: Pirate Roberts” actually spawns an enemy called “Pirate Roberts”.

SHIPS

A total remake of the Vanguard cockpit was completed to give players a more immersive experience, and to push the artistic style towards that of the Retaliator. Lighting was revamped and the player’s controls were developed for the interaction 2.0 cockpit experience sprint.

The Sabre cockpit was revamped to function better with the new interaction system. The geometry for the dashboard and displays was remade and the rest of the interior updated to add more detail and flair.

In addition, the entire lighting was redone to add more character and take full advantage of the new systems.

The Reclaimer team finished all the LOD’s and lighting optimization that resulted in some big performance gains. In addition, a full pass was done on emergency and auxiliary lighting states, complete with transitions using the new light group entity.

The entire block out of the 600i interior was completed along with a first pass on the exterior. The hub and exploration module areas were taken further by adding the modelling detail and fleshing out the molded shapes that come with the Origin style. A base set of materials were also set up and will continue to be iterated on as the ship develops.


The interior layout of the Carrack was blocked in based on designs requests. Next comes the more detailed whitebox phase that defines the shapes of the rooms and corridors, alongside a basic lighting pass.

The Void is almost fully textured with some areas underneath the ship and a POM pass remaining. A detail pass and the creation of damage states will follow. The Vanduul Blade remake has progressed well. All major shapes and functionality were blocked in following the new art style established for the Vanduul ships.


In other news, the Hull C is art complete and ready for other departments to work their magic. They are also reworking the landing gears of numerous ship to make them compatible with the new compression system. Finally, the Ursa Rover is currently undergoing a derelict pass.

CONCEPT ART

Work has continued at a furious rate for the Concept team, and they’re are still looking to bolster their numbers and hire an additional four concept artists to continue to grow the team.

Starting with Squadron 42, as levels came together they identified the visual targets, which are areas that describe the beats within the game. Then they create loose high-level images and slowly focus in and define them more and more. This enables the whole team to understand what they are driving for on a visual and emotional level. This month, they tackled a few more areas of Shubin mining station (really, it is huge!) and some of the space scaping.

For the PU, work continued on Hurston exteriors and interiors, ArcCorp and Orison. This occurred along with the props needed to support these areas.

In the world of ships and vehicles, they worked on the X1 from Origin alongside four others, which will remain nameless for now. These ships/vehicles range in size from large to small with some being simple while others are super complex. Despite the differences, they are really excited to eventually show off all of them to you.

The concept team also maintained a steady throughput of ship weapons, creating a sweet electron beam gun from Hurston Dynamics. They also finalized a Xi’an weapon, which is very different than anything the team has done to date.

VFX

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This month, the VFX team put lots of cool new tech to good use! For example, now they can spawn volumetric fog via our particle system. This allows them to greatly improve smoke, dust and (of course) fog effects in the mid and near distances. Previously, they had to fade out these types of effects when close to the screen but now they fade in the fog at close range for results that are incredibly immersive.

They’ve also improved ship “deathmask” explosions by putting to use a variety of new features, which were used when blowing up the Idris at Gamescom. This includes the ability to control camera shake and screen blur directly in the particle system. They’re keeping this very subtle though and just want to add a little extra oomph where necessary. They also fixed a long-standing issue that forced them to limit the life of our deathmasks to a couple of seconds. Now they can layer them to have a bit more pop, crackle and fizzle in the initial frames before the boom!

Work continued on updating the Quantum Travel effects. A lot of time and effort went into creating new spool-up/enter/exit effects, and thanks to the extra power of the GPU particles, the team is really happy with how these are looking for the 3.0 release.

Speaking of, this month saw continued iteration on all existing effects, using the added power of GPU particles (read: higher particle count) to weapon projectiles/impacts, environment effects and basically everything else where possible.

Finally, they began a new sprint for space landscaping VFX. This starts a new collaboration between VFX, Graphics and Gameplay engineers to allow them to control particle effects based on environmental data. A simple example would be using a fluctuating density value inside a gas cloud to control the count and opacity of a camera-bound particle system. This should allow them to bring extra texture and flavor to a huge range of environments without having to resort to manually placing hundreds of entities. The team is really excited to see this tech taking shape!

AUDIO

Throughout September they primarily worked on issues relating to the 3.0 release. This included the usual iteration and revision work on ship audio, which has had to absorb various changes to upstream systems. They also kept plugging away at persistent universe locations, dialogue content and related systems, user interfaces, character Foley work, etc. Optimization and fixes were mostly the order of the day (or month!).

FPS weapons were also worked on. Iterations to the Behring P8-AR and other weapons got them to a better place. They supported some broad enhancements to the Star Marine game mode by adding new secondary weapon content and refining the differentiation between ADS (or ‘iron sights’) and usual aiming modes to give gunplay a more visceral experience when bringing guns up close.

Work on Squadron 42 continued to progress. The move to use Subsumption to drive music logic is ongoing but it’ll eventually give a more robust solution than previously. Where appropriate, they took the opportunity to do more bespoke sound design for environments and ambient sound in Squadron 42. This allows them to differentiate particular locations and have them stand out a bit more.

Also in September, they supported FOIP by improving its audio performance. This is a task they’ll continue to work on in the future.

Speaking of the future, some of the Audio team will be in attendance at CitizenCon, and look forward to getting to speak to some of you there.

ENVIRONMENTS

The Environment team completed a sprint for creating large (up to 20km!) asteroids for 3.0. They’re hoping this sprint helps our tech development create a system which allows for a greater level of detail from the ground to space. As a part of this sprint, artist Luan Vetoreti experimented with world-machine to generate larger mid-range forms to great effect!

The AsteroidField entity was updated for the 3.0 release. This uses procedural noise breakup to create more natural space rock formations. It also greatly improves the efficiency of building space scenes, as it is no longer necessary to hand place asteroids unless desired. The team also experimented with ground based atmospherics for 3.0, like thermal winds around Yela. These elements could provide some great visual interest from the surface of our planets.

Space landscaping sprints for Delamar and Yela were also finished. This utilized the new SpaceDust shader to create larger planetary scale atmospherics and space dust.

The environment team also started development of some exciting in-engine volumetric simulations for Squadron 42 and the Odin System. Finally, the space-scapes in Squadron 42 were improved based on 3.0 development sprints with asteroids and spacedust.

Additional surface outposts were placed on all three moons. Various branding and logos got their final pass, including new logos and iconography for Terra Mills and emergency shelters. A final pass on all outposts was done to guarantee that there are spaces to pick up and drop of items necessary to completing certain missions. Exterior elements were given thicker bases so they can be dropped on uneven terrain. In addition, landing pads received their final pass to bring them in line with the look of high tech outposts and to better integrate them onto the planet surface.

Now, let’s turn our attention to rest stops. The final pass on all interior rooms was carried out. They knocked out a pass on props, dressing and advertisements. Elevators from the landing pads to the main hub were set up and are now working. Rest stops were also adapted to use the procedural layout system and the team is currently iterating on these early tests.

All older locations had a bug clear out, and an optimization pass was done on the worst offending models and materials. In addition, Area18 was exported and placed onto ArcCorp. Preliminary work on the entire planet is under way, as the team iterates on how it looks from positions close to the planet surface to much farther away.

A Squadron 42 art sprint is almost finished being integrated. There was ongoing support for bug fixing, design requirements and systems. Showstoppers (including lighting) are in the process of being fixed, and an AI sprint was started. Also in progress are relighting, a props/dressing pass for three key areas to accommodate the new AI, and an optimization pass.

DERBY ANIMATION

The Derby Studio was busy moving into the new studio! After spending four months split between two offices, they’re finally back together under one roof where there’s a lot more space.

The Motion Capture and HeadCam systems were set up to run tests with the Audio team, who came down from Wilmslow in preparation for an upcoming shoot. The team also completed a bunch of facial animation and polished cinematic facial animations.

Over the past month, the Animation Team created assets for the Alpha 3.0 release and beyond. They have been updating the placeholder animations for the Player stopping. The goal is to provide a higher visual fidelity and realism to how Players move within the new speed gearing system. Animators also worked on jumping. They needed to balance Star Citizen’s signature high-fidelity look with a manageable amount of assets for when the animation bank is extended to the female model and various stamina types. Plus, they worked on stealth takedowns.

In addition, they worked on developing daily routine and life animations for characters and mission givers. A recent shoot in the Austin office focused on these behaviors, which the Derby team is now tracking and solving. The animators also added more life to the Star Citizen world with conversations characters have as they go about their routines. Finally, on the ship side, the team delivered updates for the Sabre ship set and captured enter/exit animations for the new ground-based vehicles.

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Friday, 20 October 2017
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Latest Article Comments

tynmanz Monthly Studio Report: May 2017
11 June 2017
I don't think they should continue to put features into it. They can add them later.

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