tl;dr Is it out yet? NO!




FAO Squadron 42 Recruits.

Welcome to July’s Squadron 42 development report. Enclosed you will find details on the latest progress made across the campaign, including ship UI, weapon aiming, and fire propagation.

Thank you for your continued support of Squadron 42.


AI (Content)

Last month, AI Content made a strategic decision to concentrate resources on a single location, which brought several benefits; one being a more iterative review process, as they now meet daily with leadership and receive detailed feedback, allowing them to raise the quality bar to a shippable level. Additionally, this fostered greater teamwork and knowledge sharing among team members, expanding developer skillsets.

They also progressed with the hangar and mess hall locations. In the hangar, they introduced an overseer behavior that underpins supervisors for the deck crew, ordinance officers, and fuelers. These supervisors dynamically interact with their colleagues using datapads and oversee their work, similar to a ‘middle manager’ role. For the landing officer, they drew inspiration from aircraft-carrier takeoff-and-landing videos to create realistic deck crew actions.

In the mess hall, scripted AI was added alongside random systemic interactions. This allows the team to implement more interesting actions that might be challenging to achieve with a solely systematic approach. For example, a new addition sees NPCs watch and react to a TV show.

Looking ahead, the team will shortly move on to various ship interior locations.
AI (Features)

In July, AI Features improved the quality of various behaviors, including unrestraining. For example, AI can now wake up while restrained and call out to others to come and rescue them.

They also developed interfaces and behaviors for AI-driven vehicles equipped with specific radar gadgets. This enables the AI to locate enemies when they hide or move out of sight.

Work continued on close-combat encounters to ensure that the AI locomotion performance looks good, which included integrating new performance capture animations. Environmental searches were also improved to allow NPCs to evaluate their environment and then attempt to flank the target using cover locations. The team are currently improving the combat behavior that allows NPCs to use MedPens to heal themselves in combat.

AI Features continued to implement buddy AI, including a behavior that enables the buddy to crouch and locomote between cover. Buddies now also have improved reviving, acknowledging when the player is downed or unconscious.

On the animation side, polish was done on a variety of features, including grenade throwing, healing, unrestraining, crouched sharp turns, and weapon reloads.
AI (Tech)

Last month, AI Tech finalized work to allow NPCs to transition between EVA and environments with gravity. This required an update to the usables code, including exposing it to enter and exit location information. Now, NPCs can enter and exit ships through airlocks or hatches by vaulting over ledges. The team also implemented simple behaviors and assignments for entering and exiting ships, which compute a path to a location and utilize the most suitable usable to finish the transition.

On the navigation-system side, AI Tech upgraded navigation links to connect two volumes from different zones, which is needed for moving platforms. The previous implementation only allowed links between parent and child zones rather than between two unrelated zones. Further optimizations and improvements were made for navigation-mesh raycasts too.

AI Tech also picked up the ongoing work on boids. They’re currently working on 2D boids agents, such as rodents, that will move across terrain within the confines of the navigation mesh. They’re also adding constraints to avoid navigation-mesh edges to ensure the boids stay inside navigable areas. Next, they’ll look into boids agents playing animations while moving or idling.

The Subsumption editor received numerous improvements, including a variable-type editor, the ability to copy/paste states while editing a mastergraph, improved views of how mastergraph transitions are presented, an improved activity view for available sub-activities and functions, and a validation panel that presents errors and warning when loading and saving files.

Various features and AI systems received improvements too. For the usable-group coordinator, designers can now specify that a group of NPCs should synchronize when transitioning from one group of usables to another. For NPCs pushing trolleys, the team optimized the PID controller and adjusted the default parameters to stabilize quicker after turning on a path.

For NPC perception of audio stimuli, AI Tech began using new functionality exposed by the Audio team, which will utilize the room system to understand if an audio event should be received.
AI (Vehicles)

Vehicle AI focused on supporting Level Design throughout July; vehicle AI has a significant impact on level design, especially for flight chapters, so time was spent looking into issues, supporting designers, and adding new features.

Further work was done to integrate the new vehicle aiming system into AI. NPC pilots will make use of the new system just like players, which has resulted in significantly improved AI accuracy. Though this requires balancing, they now have much more control than before.

Improvements and changes were made to atmospheric flight. Now, when in-atmosphere, AI fly with control surfaces and dogfighting reverts to a more traditional “get-on-your-six” style of combat. As part of this, the team wanted to give players more opportunities to get behind the AI, so now, enemies occasionally make mistakes and break away, leaving windows they didn’t before. This has resulted in a far more enjoyable experience.

Last month, the Animation team moved from alpha to beta work. This involved improving the visual results of reloads and takedowns as well as basic idles for weapons and knives.

The team continued working on background and systemic AI, taking a larger role in driving visual fidelity. They also kicked off reload animations for enemy spec-ops weapon types and began implementing two high-intensity combat fights.

They’re currently making updates to player-prone animations and adding an increasing number of player interactions to improve immersion in specific environments.

On the facial side, the team continued developing final-quality facial animations for various cinematic scenes alongside supporting new incoming lines for combat and social AI.

Support is also ongoing for two mo-cap shoots: one for narrative requirements and another for ad-hoc social and combat AI needs.

Audio continued their ongoing task of tagging generic animations with new Foley sound effects. This will add to immersion game-wide, including non-gameplay scenes (such as cinematics) where generic animations are reused.

The team also designed and implemented new weapon sound effects; a significant step to improving the sound across all FPS features. Several gadgets received their initial audio pass in pursuit of having sound on all interactable devices across the campaign too.

Audio also assessed the workload for the planned flight experience improvements, identifying areas of tech that need developing or improving. Alongside this, the Technical Sound team will soon begin writing up a new vibration system to amplify the tension and immersion of dogfights and large space battles to greatly improve the overall flight experience.

Time was spent reviewing all existing ambiance work in preparation for the next stage of development; currently, all base ambiance is implemented, which will be refined with smaller, nuanced details. They also completed the sound design for the large turrets that players can use during an early portion of the game. The cannon effects were redesigned to sound more powerful and “beefier,” while the Gatling turrets received a new barrel spin effect.

Finally for Audio, the Dialogue team spent time on set shooting a selection of scenes and mastering in-game dialogue.

The Core Engine team progressed with the development of StarBuild, the new in-house code-build system that will replace WAF; last month, they fixed issues and implemented improvements based on feedback from wider dev use.

For MemReplay 2.0, the team introduced VirtualMemoryAreas as a concept to the memory allocation system, which will better track OS committed memory and provide an improved visualization of sub-allocations.

Progress was then made on removing the remaining ‘MapAndWrite’ discard calls in the renderer in preparation for the new Vulkan backend. They also reworked the game-launcher code structure to reduce code duplications and enable Linux-based headless clients, which will help with automatic testing.

The Physics team continued helping the game teams fix various physics-related bugs in the game code. They also updated the new cloth system and Maelstrom, and began improving active and animated ragdolls.

The Entity System team primarily supported various technical initiatives, including RaStar and the Resource Network. This involved exploring ways to create and limit generated locations to provide a rich experience without negatively impacting performance.

Finally, they provided bug fixes for the recently enabled ‚async editor loading,‘ and are currently adding more safety checks for correct entity access.
Features (Gameplay)

July saw work begin on the in-game simpod, where players can load into different simulations to practice their skills.

“This is a fairly involved process, where we need to teleport the player into a new environment, change their loadout and status, change the game mode and game rules, and restore everything back again when the simulation has finished. It’s not like the Matrix – if you die in the simulation, you don’t die in the real world.” Gameplay Features

Elsewhere, a pass was done on formation flying based on feedback from the ongoing mission reviews. This led to various changes, including how players join the formation, the way it flies to match the orientation of the leader, and numerous UI improvements.

Progress was also made on the mini-map, including culling markers outside of the camera view and clipping important markers to the view edge. New markers for dangerous objects, such as grenades and missiles, were added to both the mini-map and Starmap too.
Features (Vehicle)

Last month, the Vehicle Features team worked alongside the Level Design teams to close out various chapters and improve how the game plays and feels.

One of these key areas is the vehicle aiming and gunnery system. As part of this, the team explored options to make aiming more challenging, which is partially driven by the slightly overpowered auto-gimbal system. New aiming modes, dynamic zooming on targets, and other elements will make the combat experience more engaging.

Control surfaces was finalized last month, with the team making UI changes to show additional information, including stall speed, selected mode, and thruster and control surface. Further control options will be considered following playtesting.

Vehicle Features also began supporting the Physics teams with physical damage tech, which requires a lot of lower-level vehicle-system refactors. This will update vehicles to use much more modern systems in the engine and work far better with physical damage and other recent features.

July’s work on multi-function displays (MFDs) focused on scanning. This is by far the most complex MFD screen, showing information from the scanned target and allowing players to find out about its internal components by utilizing a deeper scan. This is now working as intended.

Turret seats are currently being converted to use the new MFD system. Turrets also have a modified version of the vehicle self-status MFD, which shows more turret-relevant information.

Another smaller UI element worked on was rearm and refuel terminal located at some landing pads. This required a few new UI tech elements, which were resolved.

Lastly, the vehicle loadout terminal is now largely functional, allowing players to see all the items available in their profile and equip them onto their ships in the Idris’ hangar. Vehicle Features are currently working with the UI team to finalize how this terminal will look.
Gameplay Story

At the start of July, Gameplay Story completed the setup for the air-traffic controller (ATC) operator seat. They followed this by updating all their scenes that involve operator seats to work with the approved metrics.

“This was quite a big undertaking but it was great to see so many scenes that have been blocked for a long time finally get to a finished state.” Gameplay Story Team

Alongside this, they did an implementation pass for a scene in chapter 12 and used new mo-cap to update the start of a scene in chapter 14.

Recently, Gameplay Features joined a large strike team to review and improve animations on the Idris. Last month, this involved creating new TrackViews for deck crew entering the Gladius‘ cockpit, checking the Gatling gun, and testing the main thrusters.
Graphics & VFX Programming

Several new features were added to the Global Illumination system last month, including the initial implementation of temporal smoothing for screen space probes, which will produce more stable results at a lower cost. G-buffer support was also added to environment probes to provide a cheap scene representation for secondary light bounces. In addition, new debug modes were added alongside a new mechanism to gather lights for the GI system.

A basic implementation of Temporal Super Resolution was completed, which will continue to receive fixes and improvements as it’s integrated into the graphics engine.

AMD’s memory allocation API was integrated into the Vulkan backend, improving the system’s stability, streaming speeds, and buffer read times. A reduction in streaming/rendering dependencies has improved performance, and new parameters will allow the devs to modify the RenderGraph’s ShaderStage and ownership state. These features were added alongside ongoing bug fixes to visual regression tests with a focus on the render-to-texture system.

As part of ongoing UI refinements and unifications, the silhouette/highlight feature is currently being improved with a softer and brighter outer glow. The mini-map also received a ping effect, which will blink around objectives for improved in-game navigation.

The Feature team is working to bring the new unified water shader to the game, adding details such as puddles that splash on impact and fixing collision-detection issues on large water volumes. A new system to manage water simulations is also in progress that will activate regions upon collision, deactivate them when they have settled, and constantly monitor and protect performance by limiting active simulations. Meanwhile, a new hash-map system for allocating water buffer regions and large surface-area-friendly water volumes is actively being worked on so the new unified WaterBuffer system can be enabled by default.

The WorldBuilder system saw a variety of improvements last month, including a major refactor to the high-level logic that runs background jobs, which should significantly reduce latency, avoid stalls, and simplify the code. In addition, planet ocean patches no longer render in duplicates, and the planet streaming system was fixed for Gen12.

The VFX Programming team fixed issues impacting damage maps; attached objects now correctly update their damage maps and an issue causing unexpected data to appear in snapshots is being investigated. For VFX-specific work, an issue preventing grouped child effects from spawning correctly was addressed, and bugs on separator tags and external referencing were fixed.

Multiple Squadron 42-specific issues were resolved too, such as gas-cloud lightning problems, inconsistent damage maps, and a crash in chapter seven. In addition, planet effects now use a LOD cull to prevent unnecessary simulation when an object is out of bounds, and the team added functionality to allow plasma ammunition to attach to characters.
Level Design

Level Design’s main focus throughout July was interstitials, including bug fixing and maintenance. With all of the team’s scene content now in-game, they moved on to ensuring scenes reach the expected quality threshold and addressing specific details. For example, ‘Are characters in their correct outfits, are they aligned to the environment/props, do the interrupt/rejoin points work as intended, are they head tracking, do they work from various approach angles?’

This significant undertaking requires working closely with the Cinematics, Gameplay Story, and Character teams to iron out various issues.

Outside of scenes, progress was made on fail states. For example, punching a colleague will see players taken to the brig and getting a dressing down from a superior. Work continued on save and checkpoints too.

Narrative’s focus in July was preparing for the two upcoming performance-capture shoots. Dialogue is used to support so many gameplay features that there have been a lot of recent reviews to ensure that the tutorials, instructions, and help that the various characters provide are in alignment with the gameplay experience. The team also identified several dialogue triggers that occur more frequently than initially estimated, so they went back to capture more line variants so that players won’t have to hear the same audio quite as frequently.

“These recording sessions also mean that much of the team’s placeholder dialogue will soon be replaced by the actual performances. People across the studio are making sure to enjoy these inspired temporary performances by fellow team members while they still can.” Narrative Team

Additionally, the team supported localization, assisting with subtitle validation. This process will be ongoing as some of the more recently captured audio still needs to go through the pipeline. It’s important that the actual audio recordings are validated to the script to ensure that the subtitles are as accurate as possible, as often during the recording process, actors will slightly adjust lines to make them sound more natural.
Research & Development

In July, further updates were made to atmosphere and volumetric cloud rendering. Guided sampling used in the cloud raymarcher was updated based on last month’s improvements to transmittance profiles. The profiles themselves received additional filtering (stochastic resampling) to reduce occasional block artifacts due to profile reuse. Moreover, the temporal render mode currently being developed for atmosphere and volumetric clouds was switched to a low discrepancy-based sequence of sample offsets that are used to set up rays for raymarching over time. Based on recent research publications, cloud shadow maps can now be stochastically filtered, which considerably improves performance and render quality. The new temporal render mode will use the stochastic texture filter by default.

July saw the UI team iterating on display layouts for Squadron 42’s flyable vehicles to ensure they all look and feel unique but retain the ease of use built on throughout the project. The concepts for the second main vehicle in the game are now signed off and ready to add, and UI are working closely with the vehicle artists on the cockpit for the third.

The MultiTool UI was also updated to make it much simpler and cleaner, while improvements were made to the AR markers and health widget. UI also updated several interaction menus and continued developing one of the key 3D displays in the game.

The Core Technology team improved Building Blocks’ runtime performance, as the recent addition of new UI assets led to an increase in size and complexity. This involved coding more aggressive solutions for skipping hierarchy section updates, which led to a reduced CPU footprint and significant performance gains.

The team also continued adding new features to Bindings and Building Blocks, including a color picker, pagination widget, and stepped lines for the designers.

Finally, UI worked alongside Graphics to develop a new internal map system to help players navigate the game’s complex cities, planets, and capital ships.

“This will be a real game changer for players and we’re really excited by its progress.”

Last month, the VFX team continued to focus on fire propagation. With the shader improvements from the previous month adding greatly to overall visual quality, the artists created new fire particles (including looping fire texture sequences) to work in harmony with the shaders.

“The results, though still work-in-progress, are very encouraging!” VFX Team

Further improvements were also made to gas-cloud lightning effects, including a new option to allow lightning to follow a moving vehicle.