tl;dr Is it out yet? Nah, bro
TO: SQUADRON 42 RECRUITS
SUBJ: DEVELOPMENT UPDATE 02:01:2023
REF: CIG UK, CIG DE, CIG LA, CIG TX
FAO Squadron 42 Recruits.
Welcome to January’s Squadron 42 development report. Enclosed you will find details on the latest progress made across the campaign, including enemy perception, updates to the Starmap, and narrative developments.
Thank you for your continued support of Squadron 42.
The AI Content team began 2023 focusing on behaviors used in the Stanton location. This involved regular reviews and playthroughs to detect and fix issues and looking closely at the ‘chowline’ and the ‘eat and drink’ behaviors.
The team also created a solid foundation of Maya character rigs that correctly match their in-game counterparts, allowing them to properly investigate and fix numerous problems. Time was also spent reviewing areas with 100% correct prop interaction, which was “very satisfying to see.”
The team also began enabling characters to sit in different styles of seats while drinking and polished animations for the medical cupboard and fuse crate interactions.
Lastly, they continued to refine and improve the ‘hygiene’ and ‘medical’ behaviors.
The AI Feature team started the year enabling AI characters to throw grenades. This involved work in multiple different areas, including new logic for when to throw grenades to ensure a challenge without overwhelming the player, parabola collision checking to ensure the grenade lands correctly, and animation so that the AI looks correct when throwing.
January also saw the implementation of ‘attack’ and ‘defend’ areas. These assignments can be given to the AI to direct and control fighting in specific ways. On the most basic level, the defend area is used for limiting where NPCs are positioned when fighting, whereas the attack area is used to limit where they target. When assigned either area, the AI will prepare to fight by equipping their weapons and taking a ready stance before moving to the area on high alert (so perception happens fast and perception reactions are skipped). When defending, the AI will then move to a cover point inside the area and defensively peek out. When attacking, they will use the existing investigate behavior to search for hostile forces.
“The attack area is great for building pressure on the player, whereas the defend area is to provide the player with a tough challenge as AI are hunkered down and ready to fight. The implementation of this feature involved reusing existing systems in new ways – changing the tactical queries (positional and target selection) to take into consideration the attack or defend area that the AI may have.” AI Team
The AI team continued to develop the AI for a non-humanoid character, including work on group behaviors and attack patterns. They also began developing characterful animations that evoke the real-world creature the creature is modeled after. For example, as the creature fights in packs using melee attacks, the team must consider behaviors that space out the character movements in a natural way; partly so that the player doesn’t get overwhelmed but also so that the characters don’t collide with one another when attacking.
Certain sections of Squadron 42 include AI fighting alongside the player, known as “Buddy AI.” Last month, the team developed functionality to control how the buddy plays in these sections, including following behind the player, moving to interest points, and seeking cover. For choosing points to follow behind the player, the team creates a raycast along the navigation mesh to ensure the point is reachable from the leader and that they can move forward without obstruction.
Late last year, AI Tech completed the first iteration of NPCs driving ground vehicles. Last month, they fixed several related bugs as more designers began using the feature.
They also progressed with the feature that enables NPCs to use transit systems (like elevators) and move between platforms. This time, they focused on NPCs using trains to move between locations. This required exposing new functionality on the transit manager and more complex behaviors before and during transit. New functionality includes providing more information about the gateways at specific destinations and information about carriages, such as time spent at a destination and time until arrival.
On the locomotion side, the team added further support for ‘soft stops’ and separated them from ‘harsh stops.’ A soft stop means that an NPC will choose the best animation for stopping even if it will overshoot its destination, while a harsh stop will attempt to stop immediately. Locomotion support was also given for bug fixing and alien-creature movement.
For the Subsumption Apollo tool, the team progressed with implementing feedback and bug fixing. They also added new functionality to the Subsumption mastergraph, making it possible to have functions on top of transitions to determine whether a state transition can be done.
The Usable Coordinator was also completed, which allows the designers to specify a selection of usables for NPCs in specific areas and prioritize the order of selection.
The feature that allows NPCs to perceive threats through audio and visual stimuli and react to hostile vehicles was completed. In a related area, further updates were made to the behavior that enables NPCs reacting to stimuli to enter combat.
AI Tech started work on two new features: One allows overrides for navigation mesh generation so that the team can create navigation meshes for specific agents in narrow areas. For example, this will enable NPCs to traverse areas where only a crouched state is possible, such as vents and underfloor areas.
The second feature enables the team to mark areas with increased navigation cost, which will influence the path chosen by NPCs. This will be used to create areas that NPCs should avoid, like areas with fire, or to encourage them to travel on specific areas, like a sidewalk.
AI (Vehicle Features)
The Vehicle Feature team focused on space combat AI improvements in January. The intent is to have combat AI behave in a more dynamic way that encourages players to move and explore the ship mechanics. This involved breaking the AI into different well-defined trees, which will help players to identify what kind of enemies they’re up against. These improvements also allow the easier integration of more maneuvers to further increase the skill level and interest of higher-level ships.
Similarly, AI Vehicle Features worked on a new behavior logic to deliver improved atmospheric flight combat. This is intended to work with the ‘control surface’ feature being developed by the Vehicle Feature team and will lead to AI ships tailing and chasing players to get behind them, flying more like a plane when appropriate in atmosphere.
They also supported the flight designers on several chapters, adding new smaller features to ease their work when creating mission flow. Several flow-block issues were fixed too.
The Animation team began 2023 by making sure their schedule for reaching ‘content complete’ was agreed upon, which meant aligning closely with up and downstream teams.
Development-wise, further progress was made on zero-g, with the devs using some of the lessons learned to help guide work on ‘prone’ gameplay. They also continued to create new weapons and gadgets, including a trip mine, and worked on restraining and un-restraining.
Animation’s AI teams further developed the Vanduul execution and searching behaviors, along with the female spec-ops characters. They’re currently working on AI background animations related to eating and drinking, sickness, hygiene, and cargo for social areas.
On the facial side, the Chakma character was worked on alongside lines for AI character combat. The Mo-Cap team worked with Gameplay Animation to schedule an upcoming shoot to keep the AI and Player teams supplied with assets.
In January, the Physics team worked on triangle vertex and normal transforms for physics triangle meshes, which were rewritten to use SSE/AVX, saving 30% of the cost. Furthermore, the physicalization method for ropes can now be chosen per rope entity.
On the renderer, various optimizations were implemented into Gen12. Among other things, this included performance improvements for transient lists recording draw requests, a special submission for scene rendering with reduced thread synchronization, and a reduction of calls into the OS for general multi-threading purposes. Additionally, renderer initialization was refactored to prepare for Vulkan. Last month’s Gen12 support for particle refraction now also works as intended.
On the core engine, further improvements were made to the remote shader compiler. Last month’s work on adding support for huge pages was rolled out internally. Huge pages are now also used within the low-level memory allocator (JeMalloc). To further reduce the executable size of the Linux DGS, the ‘gold linker’ is now utilized to fold identical functions and various compiler-generated data inside binaries. Page heap is now also supported for entities, which use a special allocator, to make debugging memory corruptions easier. Lastly, more work was done to support v2 of the pk4 files introduced at the end of last year in the internal development tools.
The Gameplay Feature team worked on seamless transitions rather than camera cuts when moving between the player’s view and cinematic sequences, both when piloting a ship or walking around.
The new ‘field manual’ mobiGlas app progressed, which collates the tutorials players experience during the game. Male and female voice selection was added to the Application Form, and progress on saving and loading was made. Now, the team can save the replication layer and restore it, getting back to fundamentally the same state it was left in, including the correct scripted mission modules. A lot of general edge cases were fixed too.
Numerous Starmap improvements were made, including better transitions between the real and cosmetic scaling as it’s zoomed in and out, correct grid movement when panning, improved culling when objects intersect, and correctly sized and aligned text labels.
General iteration following feedback was also made to the Application Form, character customizer, armorer interaction, armory terminal, and mission-manager app.
January saw the Vehicle Feature team improving numerous aspects of vehicle combat, including ship and weapons balance. Tweaks were also made to the HUD and aiming and targeting to further improve the combat experience.
Vehicle Features also began working on radar, having taken it over from the Arena Commander Feature team to support the needs of SQ42. Recent work included adding various features in support of the new scanning UI and multi-function displays (MFDs).
The quantum-travel rework is nearing completion. Last month, the team completed quantum spawning, which allows them to spawn AI ships as though they have quantum traveled into an area. This is the last feature required to widely use quantum travel in various chapters.
UI was also worked on throughout the month. The MFD rework progressed well, with the team working through numerous technical issues in the UI system. They also fleshed out the new MFD control system, which is designed to be used with keys or a gamepad rather than Interaction mode. The HUD is being reworked and integrated heavily with the new MFD system too.
Last month, Gameplay Story used new mo-cap data across multiple chapters and scenes, including creating new animations for chapter 18 to allow the characters to end the scene in a more realistic way as well as giving them longer end-idles. The new mo-cap also helped a scene in chapter 14, where a character holds a datapad in the wrong hand. They now transition from walking with the datapad into the scene seamlessly. A scene was also fixed in chapter 8 to allow a character to holster their datapad correctly.
Changes were made to chapter 14 following feedback about wanting a character to be able to react if the player followed them down a hallway. Not only can they now turn, deliver a line, and continue walking, they can trigger scenes that start up a conversation with the player. This was done by shooting new mo-cap to give the character more life and the ability to glance around and realize the player is there.
Polish passes were made to various scenes to get them to a much higher standard. One in chapter 12 required using a previously made animation and altering it through a combination of hand keying and mo-cap to create a completely new piece where the character delivers their own lines to the player and encourages them to catch up.
Several scenes were also improved by changing how the character interacts with a console. This was made more believable following a pass on their hands and fingers so they appear to be pressing keys or typing.
Gameplay Story also experimented with the ‘look at’ feature for a scene in chapter 4, as testers had flagged that the characters didn’t seem to be looking at the player.
“We chose to do a full pass on both characters and managed to push the ‘look at’ to allow them to involve the player in the conversation and make them feel included. We have hit the start of the new year running and are delivering lots of high-quality work at a very good pace.” Gameplay Story Team
Last month, the Space and Dogfight team continued to develop the gameplay experience, with the aim of having all dogfighting flow seamlessly from social and FPS sections.
They also integrated new features and AI improvements as they came online, and worked with the Vehicle Feature team on new flight mechanics, such as Quantum Boost and the atmospheric flight model.
Narrative started the year with reviews alongside the Design team.
“With placeholder dialogue being implemented in-game for the additional content generated last year, it’s important to playtest and evaluate the adjusted experience before recording the final release-quality version with professional actors (no offense to the amazing performances from the team members who volunteered to record the placeholder content!)” Narrative Team
The team is currently finalizing the mo-cap schedule with a breakdown of what’s ready to be recorded and what still needs fine-tuning.
Another focus for January was the game’s assorted collectible and discoverable narrative content, including messages that players will find if they explore areas and interact with datapads and terminals. Part of this process consists of chapter-by-chapter walkthroughs to ensure content is appropriately paced. Additionally, the team outlined new personal comms messages the player will receive throughout the campaign from various characters. While some messages in the main game flow had already been written, the team wanted to expand on them to provide even more narrative content that will tie into the player’s actions and decisions.
Finally, Narrative worked with the Core Gameplay Pillar Design team to create detailed reviews of the interactive terminals that players will use for things like puzzle solving and navigating. The Narrative team is helping to ensure that the language used on the displays is not only clear and concise but thematically appropriate for the universe.
The UI Tech team added new debugging tools to help them manage Building Blocks alongside a new array of widgets to speed up their workflow.
The Starmap progressed visually, with the team adding several elements to help with navigation and completing a polish pass.
Alongside concepting visual improvements for various parts of the game, including radial menus, the UI Art and Design team shifted focus to work on functional UI. Several of the game teams began creating complex screens based on concepts, which were returned to the UI Tech team to ensure the interactions look and feel good.
They also tweaked some of the crosshairs to improve the combat experience and continued to develop the looks for two more manufacturer-specific vehicle UIs.
Last month, VFX continued their work on locations, collaborating closely with Art and Design.
The particle library overhaul mentioned in last month’s report was completed, allowing the team to turn their efforts toward making sure all locations benefit from these improvements moving forwards.
Elsewhere, the team continued to tweak and refine the new quantum travel effects.