tl;dr Still not out.
TO: SQUADRON 42 RECRUITS
SUBJ: DEVELOPMENT UPDATE 01:10:2024
REF: CIG UK, CIG DE, CIG LA, CIG TX
FAO Squadron 42 Recruits.
Welcome to November/December’s Squadron 42 development report. Enclosed you will find details on the latest progress made across the campaign, including birds and rodents, the Starmap, and Fortune’s Cross.
Thank you for your continued support of Squadron 42.
Through November and December, AI Features continued to develop a key combat encounter by improving locomotion and simplifying weapon firing to use the same Subsumption control nodes as Human AI agents.
Vanduul combat encounters were also iterated on, with the team fixing issues with enemies entering combat and moving into melee range. They also implemented Vanduul death animations using re-targeted core directional Human animations, which were then further polished. The Vanduul execution takedown window was improved and telegraphed correctly to ensure players have the opportunity to escape.
A range of other combat areas were worked on too, including changes to the tactical target query system, which can now spread targeting across a group but prioritize the player.
A new cover tactical position query term was finished, allowing non-line-of-sight cover posture queries, and an issue was fixed with characters in flow-graph-controlled non-combat custom assignments not going into combat after exiting the assignment.
Tech-debt work was done on firing validation to ensure that it better encapsulates the new debug render improvements, while synced melee attacks were connected to the AI melee combo system so that follow-up attacks can be data-driven. This is used in a boss encounter to drive a follow-up synced weak attack if the previous one fails.
Finally for AI Features, the team implemented a new invulnerability system to allow AI to take damage but not go below a specific threshold. This is used to script the various damage-induced stages of a boss fight without making the character completely invulnerable.
At the end of the year, AI Tech progressed with features and support for release builds. For boids, they’re close to finalizing the first iteration that will allow the designers to place fish, rodents, and birds in the environment. Recent updates include rules to avoid dangerous areas or actors, transition rules that will detect weapons fired/bullets hit, and the ability to switch from idle/wandering to a fleeing rule set. The team also further iterated on killing boids agents and how they transition from an animation-driven state to ragdoll. For birds, they extended the number of wandering states. For example, besides flying, birds can also walk after a landing transition. Synchronization between the server and client is currently being worked on.
Effort was also put into optimizing and improving various features, including the pathfinder algorithm, collision-avoidance system, navigation system, and Subsumption loading logic.
For Apollo tools, AI Tech continued to support the designers with additional functionality, including the ability to create PNG files from behaviors, improved readability for Subsumption flowgraph nodes, and improved undo/redo actions.
Several existing features were polished and finalized, including NPCs utilizing trolleys, which received improved collision avoidance. This was achieved by updating the PID controller logic and how it’s used for path following when NPCs are pushing trolleys.
For AI using ladders, new functionality was added. For example, NPCs can now check if the ladder is available and will only use it if free or another NPC is climbing it in the same direction. In case the ladder is being used the opposite way, NPCs will find a free spot at the top or bottom and wait.
On the ship AI side, the team improved and extended spline functionality. This involved allowing ships to move along a spline while staying orientated toward the target and moving to the beginning of a spline that’s already moving (e.g. a spline attached to a different ship).
Toward the end of the year, AI Tech started to look for a better solution to generating navigation mesh on planets, as the current implementation could be faster and has problems generating navigation mesh close to planetary poles (which is affecting some outpost locations and their associated NPCs). This is currently in progress and an update will be provided in a future report.
The Animation teams worked on player skill level animations, such as takedowns, vaulting, mantling, and exercise, and continued developing first-select animations to show off the unique aspects of the game’s weapons. They also continued to develop the combat AI sets, including a unique boss fight.
The Social team worked alongside Level Design to add life across various chapters, which was supported by the Mo-cap team.
On the facial side, the devs continued to develop facial content for the cast characters and combat and social AI that drive the narrative.
Gameplay Features spent time toward the end of the year looking at what’s needed to implement some of their SQ42 features into the PU, including additional requirements not needed for the single-player campaign. Most features are moving over smoothly, though the new mobiGlas requires work to support existing apps not found in SQ42.
The Starmap is currently being polished, with fixes for labels and better transitioning between the solar system and mini-map views. This was adapted to work well on the 2D vehicle multi-function-display screens, which will need to support multiple solar systems when Pyro comes online. There were also developments using mini-map rendering inside the Starmap holosphere for the new landing UI so players can see the walls, floors, and ceilings in their ship’s radar when coming in to land.
The character customizer was polished, including better rendering for the head library grid. The team also experimented with a different UI for face sculpting and made other general usability improvements. They’re currently looking at ways to better serialize the data and reduce size requirements.
The SQ42 frontend received polish, with saved game profiles now displaying the relevant customized character and a dynamically changing environment depending on progress.
A big focus for Gameplay Story during November was the Fortune’s Cross level, including a scene featuring an NPC talking to the player with branching dialogue.
“This is quite typical of many of our scenes apart from the fact it is taking place on a moving escalator! Whilst looking into this, we decided to take responsibility for getting the NPC to traverse all four escalators in the level. This was quite a technical challenge that required a lot of difficult investigation. However, with some help from Design, we were able to get the character to seamlessly enter and exit all four escalators whilst they are moving.” Gameplay Story Team
Alongside this, the team worked on a range of scenes across various chapters, using new mo-cap, updating poses, and fixing problems.
In December, Gameplay Story made several significant updates to scenes in chapter five. This involved using new mo-cap to improve how two characters meet and walk up stairs at the start of the chapter. New mo-cap was also used to animate four characters exiting a tram before six get on, which was a challenge for timing and space but works well.
The team also implemented a new dialogue-heavy three-person scene in the Shubin hangar and used additional mo-cap to make a key character walk to and from a meeting scene in chapter four.
Graphics & VFX Programming
At the end of 2023, the Graphics teams largely progressed with their longer-term tasks. For example, work continued on improving the visual quality of gas clouds through the addition of a directional occlusion effect. The gas-cloud-system output is also being unified with the planetary-cloud system so that the new cloud upscaling solution can be used by both.
The Global Illumination team added support for transparency via a dense view-frustum voxel grid of low-resolution probes along with a sparser zone-space grid of higher-resolution probes. Work is also ongoing to improve the representation of materials in the raytracing system.
Vulkan is reaching the final stages of development, with the team wrapping up the last of their rendering tech. Ongoing work is targeting reducing stutter by working on shader/PSO compilation caching and general performance polishing before the initial release.
The Planet Tech team continued wrapping up the water feature, focusing on robustness, memory usage, and performance. Alongside this, the Graphics team improved the water-edge effects against both the environment and visor/camera lens.
VFX Programming worked toward finishing off fire-hazard visuals, investigated networking support for the fire-hazard system, and added support for water VFX. On the tools side, support is being added for unique IDs associated with each particle effect to allow robust referencing and the reorganization of effects.
Level Design’s Social Narrative team pushed on with Idris interstitials, prioritizing the med-bay and corridor sections and clearing out the backlog of bugs and tasks along with other miscellaneous blockers.
Chapter one’s Javelin social section was also a key focus. Though a comparatively small section of the chapter, as the opening of the game, it’s hugely important as it sets the scene for what’s to come. November featured multiple reviews and several rounds of feedback, which led to the team tweaking content and adding new mo-cap, with the latter making a significant difference in quality. In the past, mo-cap turnaround could be lengthy. However, thanks to the new on-site studio, content can be in-game within a matter of days.
Chapter four was also a focus, which involves an NPC leading the player through the social area of a rundown stopover station. There was also a concerted push on Archon Station, which has hundreds of background crew going about their daily business. This involved collaborating with the AI Content team, who have been striving to make the AI in these sections as convincing as possible.
Toward the end of a busy year on SQ42’s development, the Narrative team continued to support the editorial selects for content shot in the summer and fall. Over the past two months, they worked with Production to assess all tasks that are currently assigned to the Narrative team to make sure they cover all known remaining work. These tasks might change based on continued development, but this process allows the team to figure out what they can jump into in 2024. The team also revised the script treatment to reflect any changes in the flow since the last version.
Narrative continued to define the collectibles that will be scattered throughout the levels. Some of these are a little more involved than others, but the team synced with Design and Art to understand the number and placement of the various objects.
“As more and more content makes its way into the game, reviews of the various levels with the other teams will be important to make sure the intended tone is coming through. The Social teams have been focusing on the larger social areas lately to make sure they feel populated and alive.” Narrative Team
The Technical Animation team spent the end of the year on deliverables for the content teams across both projects.
These include an outfit manager that will pull together a full set of assets for any character outfit in-game, which will help the Animation teams author specific content.
Previously missing from the pipeline, physics proxy tools creation was added for an intuitive and streamlined way to create physicalized skeletons in Maya. An animation-events editor was also added to keep audio linked to animations across projects. New ADB diff tools also help the devs track and diagnose problems with complex XML format files that need historical context to be useful.
A replacement for a very old toolset that validates content being exported from Maya was created.
“We’re now in a position to add to the tests and potentially change some low-level paradigms to enable exploration of new pipeline possibilities.” Technical Animation team
Additionally, Technical Animation authored and fixed more head assets, refined existing pipelines, continued developing engine animation systems, and ideated on additional ways to help them approach gold master.
In November and December, the VFX team continued to provide effects support for a variety of locations as well as some key cinematic sequences. They also continued to fine-tune water, including underwater effects.