TL;DR Is it out yet? No.
TO: SQUADRON 42 RECRUITS
SUBJ: DEVELOPMENT UPDATE 10:06:2021
REF: CIG UK, CIG DE, CIG LA, CIG TX
FAO Squadron 42 recruits.
Welcome to September’s Squadron 42 development report. Enclosed you’ll find details on the latest progress made across the campaign, including updates to vital backend services, AI behaviors, and cockpit communications.
Thank you for your continued support of Squadron 42.
The AI team spent part of the month rolling out the T0 engineer behavior to a key location, which is now fully functional with only a few minor remaining bugs. The workzone usable used by NPCs repairing things received a large refactor, making it easier for the designers to use within their locations. The team also created the ability to inspect, inspect with datapad, and inspect with welding tool at various angles to make it as useful as possible.
September saw AI deliver the Aciedo usables using blockout animations, with motion-capture animations currently in the polishing stage. Search spot, railing lean, stare spot, and several others are now considered final and ready to be used throughout the level.
The hygiene behavior was updated and is now complete, with new animations added for the toilet and shower cubicle. This was rolled out, with bug fixing underway.
Work also began on a new gunner behavior. Currently, NPCs find and use ship turrets. The next step will allow them to rush to turrets if their ship is under attack.
The Story team continued to work through scenes, working closely with Level Design on implementation and revision. The Facial team created animations for various story scenes, making improvements as new heads came online. Vanduul combat continues too, with a focus on melee and searching.
September saw Character Art continue to up-res existing content, with the most commonly worn outfits scheduled for Q4. When done, the completion status of all characters will be around 85-90%.
Skin textures and hair were also updated to bring all characters (hero and background) to a next-gen quality level.
Environment Art continued to work through all campaign locations while leaving enough flexibility to adjust for in-progress design and gameplay elements.
In September, the Physics team continued to optimize backend code, including for soft body implementation. Various parts of relevant collision detection routines were optimized algorithmically by improving their bounding volume representations and hierarchy. Soft body topology loading and building, baking code, and memory management were improved too.
Additionally, terrain meshes are now flagged so that they can be exclusively raycast against along with allowing meshes to cluster with a single raycast. Moreover, kinematic parts are now used as valid moving ground colliders on actor entities.
For the renderer, work continued on the global draw packet cache. A mechanism was added to rebuild the cache when necessary. Its logic was also refined to prevent the unnecessary recreation of draw packets with identical arguments, which is important for brushes.
On a higher level, the Gen12 render interface is now used for stat OBJs and render proxies throughout the engine, which marks another step in the transition to the new render paradigm. The shader system saw several changes too – shader parser initialization was streamlined, and the user cache was moved to the ‘Window’s %APPDATA% folder’. This will be rolled out post Alpha 3.15 and should fix a long-standing issue for some users. There were also various changes to refactor and transition code to Gen12.
The stepping code for local cloud shadows was refined to be easier to control by the artists and optimized so that it’s not evaluated unless necessary. Aside from self-shadowing, clouds now also cast their shadows onto the entire scene, which is important for proper scene integration as the team begin to use them on planets as well. Additionally, work to improve cloud edge rendering was completed and parameters were exposed to the artists to give them a more volumetric look.
On the core engine side, support for ‘%APPDATA%’ access was added to the P4K system. Aside from now storing the user shader cache folder there, the team plan to eventually move all temporary game-client files to this new location. The P4K file system was also improved to properly deal with Unicode paths.
Work on the performance regression system picked up again with numerous supporting changes, as it’s becoming important to daily progress and development stability.
The team also supported server meshing by decoupling code so that it can run as a standalone service. They started focusing more on optimization too, with certain game scenarios frequently analyzed, reported, and updated. This brought various improvements that will be rolled out post Alpha 3.15. For example, entity-component wakeup was improved by keeping components active for some time. Server Object Container Streaming code was heavily optimized, and memory allocation when using CigFunction (lambdas) was improved. There were various other amends too, such as moving runtime GPU buffer updates to background threads.
The SQ42 Feature team spent part of the month looking at TrackView performance and how it can best support the complexity of the cinematic sequences currently in production. Alongside several productive optimizations and fixes, sequence updates were broken into smaller individual jobs that can run through the batch-update system to make the most of modern multi-core processors. This was a great success, with some sequences seeing a six-fold improvement.
They also moved the character customizer (that previously used the PU frontend) into the campaign’s levels. The UI is currently being converted to the Building Blocks system, so a major part of the work involved untangling it from the frontend so it can be added to any object container in the game. It’s now fully working, albeit with blockout UI. The team is currently assessing where they want to take it in both appearance and usability.
The Gameplay Story team started the month polishing utensil interaction in several mess hall scenes before achieving a technical breakthrough by getting NPCs to walk correctly while holding helmets under either arm.
“Having managed to solve the helmet problem, we then did a rapid sweep through all our scenes with helmets to update them accordingly. It’s been great to see so many scenes take a leap forward and to see our characters holding and interacting with their headwear in a realistic way in-game.” Gameplay Story
Alongside this, they overhauled the ‘Graves walk and talk’ in chapter five.
Work also began on an emergency handle setup involving prop animation, a particle effect, mesh swapping, and entity setup. This is a particularly complicated task but the setup is nearing completion and appears to be highly accurate. Soon, the team will be able to finalize the scene with all separate elements correctly working together.
Graphics & VFX Programming
The Graphics team made further performance improvements to the render profile as well as optimizations to post effects (depth of field and motion blur), terrain rendering, and fog to maintain the same performance at higher resolutions.
Alongside this, they improved the water shader. These changes allow shading to be based on available tiled-lighting data rather than the nearest environment probe to create more consistent lighting in scenes involving water volumes. They also changed water volume lighting to take into account volumetrics, such as clouds and fog, avoiding previous issues where water volumes would ignore local fog volumes when shading.
They also progressed on the render-to-texture refactor by implementing region copy for static RTTOs to reuse the existing content instead of re-rendering it. This will ultimately increase performance and save on scene pass usage. They also re-wrote the RTT atlas packing algorithm to support the new region copy feature, making it more robust and easier to maintain.
Finally, Graphics looked into validation errors and collated captured Vulkan analytical information for future extensions.
The Space/Dogfight team expanded some of the patrol spaces at the beginning of the game to better work with the new scanning implementation. They also added wildlines to cockpit comms, making them more contextual and granular. The ongoing AI work progressed too, with a specific focus on the Oldman behavior.
Level Design further fleshed out the FPS play spaces with additional details, while Social Design Team continued the significant task of implementing all in-game scenes for review and sign-off.
Narrative spent part of September supporting Art and Design on various levels, generating the dialogue and vignettes needed to help populate areas or clarify intended gameplay. They also created environmental storytelling docs to not only dig deeper into the history and character of a location but to also provide initial ideas for set dressing, such as appropriate signage and branding.
While working on the placeholder dialogue mentioned in last month’s report, the team outlined some tech solutions to remove potential roadblocks in the pipeline. This will be helpful as more requests come in, allowing both Narrative and Design to quickly iterate on dialogue by hearing it in situ.
They also planned a potential performance capture shoot for later in the quarter, with the aim to pick up content originally scheduled before lockdown. This will include a mixture of PU needs and new SQ42 scenes.
QA continued to work alongside Cinematics on new chapter content, with the wider team picking up testing until an embedded tester is brought in. The team also supported the ongoing Vanduul AI development and general AI function upgrades.
Last month, the UI team worked on the Aegis and RSI interface styles so that they can be used on various interactive screens. Progress was also made on the upcoming Starmap rework that will be used in both the PU and SQ42. Posters and signage were created to make an unrevealed area feel more lived-in and realistic too.
Finally for September’s report, VFX set up a mini strike team for an epic scene featuring a significant number of enemies.
A new particle rig for distant vehicles was created, which allows Cinematics to easily animate a whole set of effects on low-poly (non-AI) vehicles. This was well received by the Cinematics Art team, who are looking forward to populating various locations with background action.