tl;dr Is it out? NO!
TO: SQUADRON 42 RECRUITS
SUBJ: DEVELOPMENT UPDATE 03:01:2023
REF: CIG UK, CIG DE, CIG LA, CIG TX
FAO Squadron 42 Recruits.
Welcome to February’s Squadron 42 development report. Enclosed you will find details on the latest progress made across the campaign, including enemy creatures, saving and loading, and naval behaviors.
Thank you for your continued support of Squadron 42.
Following on from their recent work of enabling characters to drink in usables, the AI Content team began setting characters up to use the mobiGlas at a variety of seats and tables.
“This is actually simpler than drinking and allowed us to get some great results in a short space of time.” AI Content
They also completed a large amount of animation polish, including a medic inspecting a patient, exiting beds from different directions and heights, and sitting on the floor feeling sick.
On the Design side, the team enabled utility characters to load boxes onto a trolley, move the trolley, and then unload the boxes to add additional life to large areas. They also began populating chapter 15 with AI characters in a variety of locations. For this, they utilized new technology to simplify the process and give them more control, the first pass of which is looking promising.
Alongside this, the bridge crew behavior in Shubin Station was refined and a first-pass setup for an interactive weapon rack was completed.
Last month, the AI Features team finished work on a non-Humanoid creature AI. This involved increasing the range of animations that the creature can use, including a slow walk that allows the creature to stalk its prey, and look-poses that allow the creature to turn its head to face the target.
Improvements were also made to the code that distributes the creatures around a target when they attack in groups. This uses the formation system currently used by spaceship AI; when moving towards the target, it checks for and creates a formation around the target, with offsets designed to space the attacks equally. This implementation is currently with the designers for feedback before final adjustments are made.
AI Features continued with the medic behaviors, which allows the enemy AI to revive friends. ‘Downed’ AI are those that have taken near-fatal damage and can only be revived using a med-pen. ‘Unconscious’ AI are those that have been knocked out (e.g. by stealth takedown) and can be revived by any friendly. Recent work saw the team tidying up the different interactions and, in particular, focusing on what the AI does when encountering a downed or unconscious AI during combat. For example, if the AI is a medic, they will respond and revive their friend, regardless of condition. However, if they’re not a medic, they will call for one and any nearby will come to their aid.
Development of the buddy AI mentioned last month continued too. This now includes matching the player’s stance (e.g. crouch) and moving between cover when enemies are near.
On the animation side, the team prepared for and shot additional performance capture to replace various blockout animations.
Finally for AI Features, the team spent time re-reviewing their existing features to check that everything worked as expected as a whole. This led to them testing and fixing issues that could only be seen when all the functionality was working together.
AI Tech began February by completing the NPC Transit feature, which manages elevators and trains. Now, NPCs will understand if a transit carriage is present at their location and whether they can move directly inside, if they need to wait, or if they should press a button to call it. They will also understand when they’ve arrived at their destination and will move outside. While in the carriage, NPCs will look for a usable and idle there until they reach their destination. Upon completion, the feature was passed to Design, following which AI Tech addressed feedback and fixed bugs.
The team then allocated time to improving NPC trolley usage, ensuring that NPCs can use elevators and move trolleys with them if the behavior requests it. To achieve this, they had to write new and update existing behaviors and fix bugs related to path-following while pushing a trolley.
The team also finished the base skeleton for ‘boids’ (bird-oid objects), which will enable groups of small creatures like birds, fish, and rats. This required them to implement new components, including a system that allows designers to write rules and constraints related to spawning and movement, which were exposed to DataForge for easy access.
On the navigation-system side, AI Teach continued to work on cost area shapes that will influence the topology of navigation mesh triangles. This will enable the pathfinder to avoid or prefer to use specific areas. As mentioned in last month’s report, this will initially be used to avoid fire hazards and define sidewalks for social AI actors.
The team also progressed with navigation agent-type override parameters, which are used when creating areas with specific navigation constraints. For example, they enable an NPC to transition from standing in a regular space to crouching in a vent.
AI Tech also exposed new parameters to specify entity properties during the navigation-generation phase. Now, the designers will be able to mark entities as:
Included: The default value – the entity is processed during voxelization and the nav-mesh is generated using that object.
Excluded: One entity will be ignored during generation – for the navigation system, it will be equivalent to not having found that object.
Ignoring Walkability: The entity will cause the nav-mesh to consider it an obstacle – NPCs will not be able to walk on top of that object.
For AI tools, the team progressed their work on Apollo (the Subsumption tool) and added new functionality requested by the designers, including:
Mastergraph editing to allow users to select the default state of each parent state.
The ability to create new multigraph nodes by dragging functions from the outlier.
Support for comments inside XMLs (this was an engine-wide improvement).
Support to read object-container information related to platform creation directly from P4K files.
They also fixed several issues relating to the resizing of the node graph view.
Work continued on the usable coordinator tool, with the team adding support for multiple input types that can better specify when choosing the next usable or usable group. For example, specifying the number of usables required to determine that a group is ‘complete.’ They also fixed an issue preventing the usable group coordinator from working correctly with object containers and implemented the ability to add multiple instances of the same usable with different properties.
AI (Vehicle Features)
Vehicle Feature’s embedded AI team continued working on the new AI combat behaviors.
“We’ve had a lot of back and forth with the Design teams and directors to nail down behavior tactics that we’re happy with, and we are now working to implement and test this new combat AI.” AI Vehicle Features
Additionally, the new control surface feature for the vehicle flight system is being integrated with AI. Adjustments are being made to the AI movement systems to enable them to fly correctly and reliably with control surfaces rather than thrusters.
Throughout February, the SQ42 Animation team worked on various features, including their first creature enemy, Vanduul searching actions and threatens, ammo looting, and AI healing. They also worked on pro-style takedowns based on the recent unskilled versions; some design changes were made and responses to failed attacks were blocked out.
Background AI was developed for sick characters, medical wards, and emergency exits from object use. The team also worked on the Kastak Arms sniper rifle and began reviewing the first pass of the Titan animation rig. Zero-g grenade use for the player was also developed alongside further zero-g traversal and movement.
Various mo-cap data was captured, including a crowd watching a fight, numerous walk styles, use of hygiene cubicles, movement and stacking boxes, security weapon racks, and improved threat reactions for civilians.
The Facial Animation team worked on lines for enemies in Aciedo and captured facial forms and locomotion performances for injured and sick characters.
February saw the Character Art team continue work on the Screaming Galsons faction, including a set of cybernetic arms that the team are excited to implement.
They’re currently progressing with the high-poly stages for the navy pilot flightsuit and other navy assets. Work began on the OMC faction and the model for the enemy creature mentioned above.
In February, the Physics team made several improvements to box pruning. For example, changes were made to avoid bipartite box pruning inefficiencies, to decide when to run box pruning before obb pruning, and to significantly improve box pruning performance in general. Additional optimizations include using the spaceship’s localspace obb for IFCS collision warning sweep checks to reduce the size of the checked volume. Furthermore, support for various unary and binary distance-field operations was added to the physics system as well as support for tapered capsules (aka bispheres) on articulated entities. Lastly, huge pages are now used for physical entity factories.
On the renderer, Gen12 received motion vector support for render-to-texture pipelines. Also, redundant copying of render target data for partial refractions was eliminated. Moreover, the team spent time improving ultra-wide-screen support. As one of the results, rendering of the in-game console was vastly improved, resulting in clearer text display. Improving the visor for ultra-wide screens is still being worked on. Lastly, the CPU side code for scatter queries was optimized.
For the core engine, further substantial improvements and performance optimizations were implemented for the remote shader compiler server. Work on streaming system improvements started, and the final touches on p4k v2 support for internal development tools are being wrapped up. The team also started looking into more advanced tool support for memory tracking of both the server and client.
Last month, Gameplay Features continued working on save and load, getting the Subsumption missions restoring correctly and back to their correct state. They set save points up in one of the missions and passed it to QA to see what wasn’t loading back in correctly so they could debug and fix it.
“We’re now getting the save time down and saving in the background so there isn’t a long stall each time.” Gameplay Features Team
They also implemented a tutorial feature for the designers. At opportune moments, they’ll be able to slow down and pause the game while bringing up instructions for a particular piece of gameplay functionality before continuing when the player achieves what’s required. They also set up consoles and datapads to run mobiGlas apps. This allows them to access the same functionality from different places or even create console-specific apps.
The new Starmap was enabled as the radar in the Gladius, which can transition between radar and full-screen modes and power on and off. The initial implementation of the new display markers was completed too.
Further polish was done on the seamless transition between the player camera and cinematic camera based on the Cinematics team’s feedback. For example, they improved the appearance when the player is moving over standing still.
Finally, the team further developed a feature that controls vehicles remotely. They can now constrain vehicles to a given area and ultimately lock them in a given place.
The Vehicle team spent part of the month enabling the newly redesigned quantum travel feature across various chapters in the campaign.
“It’s taken a lot of bug fixing, testing, and iteration to get to this stage, but so far it’s been going well and the new quantum travel is set to be enabled game-wide very shortly. As well as just bug fixing and testing, we’ve had lots of design feedback from the directors and we’ve been making iterations to the UI, controls, VFX, and general feel of the feature.” Vehicle Features Team
The other major area of focus was vehicle UI. The team recently received new features from UI Tech that enables them to render 3D UI on the player visor as an AR layer. This led to them building up reticles and aiming and targeting UI in this new tech as they work toward a vehicle heads-up display that integrates with the new multi-function display (MFD) system.
On a related topic, the underlying MFD tech is complete and the feature is almost usable in-game. The team now have the goal of enabling it game-wide for use in playtests by all devs in the company.
Ship radar received further work due to requests made by other teams to support their design work. Most of these came from the Level Design teams and involve mission logic manipulating the radar system to generate gameplay encounters.
Lastly, the ship-recall feature mentioned in last month’s report was fed back on, with Vehicle Features further iterating on it to improve and polish the gameplay. This involved collaboration with the AI, Flight Systems, and other Feature teams. When complete, the player will be able to use the SQ42 mobiGlas to call their ship and request it fly back to them.
Gameplay Story concentrated on mo-cap planning and polish passes last month to further improve their scenes. For example, they updated chapters 1 and 13 by completing thorough passes on the characters and reusing animations to make the scenes function correctly. They also created various new scenes by reusing old animations and using new mo-cap to add to others.
A significant scene in chapter 12 received a full pass, with a key character guiding and interacting with the player across a new environment.
The team also worked on a scene used if the player is injured and visits the medical bay to be healed. The scene was initially created using wildlines but didn’t flow as well as hoped, so new animations were produced to make the character interact better with the player. Additional content was also added to allow the player to abandon and rejoin the scene.
Graphics & VFX Programming
Last month, the Graphics team continued to close out the final tasks for Gen12 before they transition to assisting in the completion of the Vulkan graphics API.
The damage-map system was converted to Gen12, and support for profile groups was added to achieve parity with profiling tools in the legacy renderer. Additionally, the render pipeline was made configurable to allow secondary viewports to balance the desired quality and cost. Finally, legacy lens flares were converted to Gen12 alongside initial support for HDR.
Support for TSAA is currently being added to secondary viewports, which will significantly improve visual quality, especially for hair. The team also submitted the first iteration of a new render-layer feature to allow easy customization of objects in the world for use with game features such as scanning and the mini-map.
For features, the Graphics team further developed several shaders, including converting LayerBlend v1 assets to the more recent v2 and adding usability improvements to the new shader. Various improvements were also made to the UI shaders, including stability fixes for anti-aliased borders, the option to render circles on each vertex, and lighting support to allow planets in the Starmap to appear both lit and holographic in a single pass.
For tools, texture processing was made significantly faster through parallelizing filtering and compression, which will be a significant improvement for the artists and build system. Work started on a new mesh format too, with the goal of vastly improving loading times and render performance.
The VFX Programming team’s time was split between fire, quantum travel, and tool work. For fire, work began on decal shading to achieve glow, burn, and soot on objects within the scene. Quantum travel now has support for ‚quantum casting‘ and ‘red shift’ along with various other code improvements. For tools, usability improvements continued and support was added for referencing particle effects from other particle effects.
The Planet Tech team worked on better shaping support for asteroid fields, improvements to the harvestable system, and adding support for instancing to terrain chunks.
Also, the Planet and Graphics teams worked together on a new water system. This is still at an early stage but aims to allow for GPU wave/ripple simulations at multiple scales as well as network-synced impacts for larger events (e.g. spaceships crashing). Shading improvements are also being made to achieve better reflections, refraction, and foam.
Level Design (Flight)
The Space/Dogfight team continued working to get all of the ship combat sections of the game flowing seamlessly into the social and FPS sections. They also continued working with the various Feature teams to get critical system updates integrated into the game flow. Last month, they further improved quantum travel and pinned targets. Save and load was also worked on alongside Gameplay Features.
Level Design (Social)
Last month, Level Design’s Social team made a concerted push on content across various chapters, including a major focus on background behaviors and schedules for the Idris. This content brings ‘interstitials’ (the connective tissue that bridges all scene content) to life. This was rolled out to one focus chapter to enable the team to see and evaluate in situ all of the Idris-specific behaviors, including the deck crew, bridge crew, utility, marines, engineers, gunners, medical, leisure, sleeping, sustenance, and hygiene. A large party scene aboard the ship progressed well too.
A bulk of Narrative’s month was spent preparing for an upcoming mo-cap shoot. This included meeting with various stakeholders to review the content and ensure that the script reflects the latest changes, outline any potential lines they’d like to capture, and go through the casting process.
The team is also planning to use this shoot to start capturing scripts for some of the background characters (codenamed Redshirts) who will be used to populate larger spaces. These characters will utilize dynamic conversation tech along with an array of wildlines to act in a variety of careers. Narrative are aiming to capture a few of these line sets in every shoot to slowly build up numbers as opposed to scheduling them all into a single shoot. They’ll also capture additional combat sets for some of the campaign’s enemies.
Narrative continued meeting with the Design teams to walk through the latest level iterations. This is to assess if any additional content is required to support gameplay, provide guidance, or embellish the tone and flavor of the moment.
Otherwise, the team kicked off outlining the various collectibles that will be scattered throughout the game. Now that the types of collectibles have been decided, Narrative can start outlining each one so the Props team can start creating assets.
Last month, the Tech Animation team were on set at Pinewood Studios in London, working alongside an outsource studio to finalize face scanning to populate the remainder of the gene pool for the head generation systems (DNA). This is relevant for both the PU and Squadron 42.
“We scanned a broad range of models, young and old, from all facets of Humanity available to us, which will go a long way to truly showing diversity in our game. The scanning went exceptionally well, our chosen outsource studio has a fantastic resource in their facial scanning rig, which delivered exceptional results. Coupled with lots of hard work and a good sense of humor, we made the most of our two weeks.” Tech Animation Team
Last month, the UI Art and Design team worked on reusable signage created in Building Blocks to make things easier for the environment artists. This means they can select options from a menu and the sign is automatically generated rather than them having to create a unique texture each time.
They also continued concept work on two UI styles, ensuring they’re unique and the art direction is well received. They also produced concepts for additional MFD screen layouts and tweaked aiming and targeting alongside the Vehicle team.
UI continued to iterate on one of the in-world holographic UIs.
“As it’s the first of its kind in the game, after reviewing the prototype, we found lots of things to improve, so it had another concepting and in-game implementation pass to get it to the level we need.” UI Team
The team made an initial visual pass on the new hacking UI to make it feel more three-dimensional and holographic. UI also supported the SQ42 Feature team in setting up a universal 3D marker in the Starmap, and continued to create UI assets for the Cinematics team.
UI Tech created a color picker for use in the character customizer. They also continued to help polish the Starmap, adding space dust to make it easier to perceive movement, improving the controls, and creating cubic holo volumes. They added workflow fixes too, such as improved comments in Building Blocks, and making it easier to inspect drawn UIs.
Last month, VFX spent time cleaning up data asserts coming from various assets (including particle libraries). This was made easier by the VFX programmers who added more detailed information to the errors, including file paths for missing assets.
The team also completed their overhaul of the particle library structure, meaning older VFX can be swapped out for new and improved versions.
Finally, the team provided close support to Art, Design, and Cinematics on a variety of locations.