Squadron 42 Update

tl;dr It’s not out yet.

Attention Recruits,

What you are about to read is the latest information on the continuing development of Squadron 42 (SCI des: SQ42).

Thanks to the work of dedicated field agents and operatives, we’ve uncovered information on the Aciedo comm relay, the Bengal, Vanduul Warriors, and more.

The information contained in this communication is extremely sensitive and it is of paramount importance that it does not fall into the wrong hands. Purge all records after reading.

UEE Naval High Command

AI (Content)

AI Content progressed with their work on SQ42’s wildlines, with July seeing them finishing various clean up tasks. Currently, the only remaining characters are specific cases that need in-level implementation.

The team also wrapped up the usables for the Aciedo level. Aside from a handful of usables that require further design discussion with the Art team, all usables are now implemented with working blockouts. The designers are currently implementing the new ‘usables first reaction system,’ which allows NPCs to break out of the usables when being interrupted by the player.
AI (Feature)

Last month, the AI Feature team primarily focused on reviewing combat, with the aim of refining the existing behaviors and functionality to provide a more intelligible and enjoyable experience. The first part of this was reviewing the settings for perception and reactions to give the designers greater control over how the AI behaves when encountering a stimulus. Next, they worked on the basic combat behaviors, ensuring cover selection is working as intended and that the AI provides the base level of functionality after the first reaction to the enemy.

“Often the majority of the technology for improving combat already exists; it’s more a case of reviewing very specific situations and ensuring that the AI behaves as intended and fixing sometimes simple bugs that produce bad behavior. From these beginnings, we hope to do a full review over all of the combat behaviors, which will lead to better and more enjoyable gameplay.” – AI Feature Team

They also worked on specific behaviors to enable AI to spread out and surround the player and taunt them while in melee combat. This required changes to the tactical point system to support a new metric allowing them to weight points spread out from other AI. Melee behaviors received attention to ensure they quickly switch to combat when the situation requires too

Finally, the animators continued working on the ‘speed protocol’ and ‘polish’ stages for the mo-capped cowering and surrendering animations. This will be useful for both unarmed and untrained AI and the AI combat behaviors currently under review.
AI (Tech)

AI Tech enabled the planetary navigation system to make connections between adjacent mesh tiles, which is part of the base work to add support for planetary pathfinding. This means that triangles from a navigation mesh tile will create links to triangles from other adjacent tiles at the generation step.

They updated the tile generator debug draw to also work with planetary navigation mesh tiles to help them debug issues that could appear during the planet mesh generation step.

Work was submitted to allow NPCs to push a trolley along a path. The work for this includes playing an animation to connect to the trolley, selecting a path, pushing the trolley along the path, disconnecting from the trolley at the end, and moving away. For movement with the trolley, the team considered the size of the agent for collision avoidance and looked at the animations used for pushing it uphill and downhill or when NPC needs to turn the trolley to orient it with the path.

Work was also done to automate testing by extending functionality on the flowgraph to use references to other entities inside the same object container. Related to this, the AI teams began creating small levels and test behaviors that will be enabled later for automated testing, which will ultimately provide better stability to their systems. The previously mentioned collision avoidance work continued in July, this time on performance optimization and creating cleaner functionality. Time was also dedicated to improving quantum travel behavior in a group. Now, the leader checks that all participants (including the player if they’re part of the group) have finished spooling before sending the signal to jump.

Development of the Subsumption editor continued too, with AI Tech adding functionality to watch or modify multiple Subsumption functions from the same view, which was named the ‘multi-graph view.’ They also adjusted save functionality to work alongside it.

July saw the Animation team refactor weapons select and deselect to better work with the new character editor UI. They also continued developing zero-g movement, drunk locomotion, Vanduul locomotion, cowering and surrender, arcade machine state machines, hacking blockouts, and vendor development. (The latter of which is used for getting food, drinks, and other items.)

The salvage weapon and useables for medical gameplay were also worked on, and they began refactoring the AI locomotion system to prepare for the new personality-based locomotion cycles, which will ultimately improve realism.

Elsewhere, the aircraft carrier launch crew animations were factored to the female character model. Work on vending machine use is in progress, and the team looked at existing assets, closed out any useables requiring further work, and resurrected any worthy but unused usables.

For facial animation, the team improved facial animation results for the new incoming models, added facial animation to various useables, and supported Narrative on a motion-capture shoot.
Art (Characters)

Character Art finalized work on all ‘hero’ heads, including Wade, MacLaren, and Mason. They also made a geo polish pass, added an eye assembly, completed a hair refinement pass, and tested a new in-house skin shader. They’ll implement the same procedure as they move onto other character heads later in the quarter.

Additionally, they put the finishing touches to Trejo’s outfit, the Concept Team began creating Vanduul warrior variants, and the first pass on the Screaming Galsons was completed.
Art (Environment)

Throughout July, Environment Art provided support for chapter 4g’s quarterly milestone goals and an internal showcase for all CIG staff.

The Bengal’s medical bay is approaching completion:

“We are extremely pleased with the results as we fine tweak it to hit a standard of quality we aim to set within Squadron 42.” – Environment Art

For chapter 19a, the team pushed towards a visual target that will set the tone, style, and quality of the tail end of the campaign. For chapter 7, they began the initial investigation and breakdown into secondary points-of-interest along the critical path, and progress was made on chapters 12, 13, and 15.

July saw the Dialogue team record additional voiceovers, which are currently being prepared for implementation. Composition also continued, with Pedro Camacho working on music for quantum travel.

In June, the Physics team finished support for compressed meshes. This means the representation of render meshes inside physics is now compressed, leading to memory and bandwidth savings. More code, such as preparation of vertex positions and normals for planetary patches, was also moved from C++ to ISPC to allow for faster processing on the CPU. Further optimizations include pre-allocating mesh blocks to avoid stalls during on-demand allocation, caching the current grid of vehicles to prevent stalls in physics, optimized binding of secondary node data during CGF loading, and a new round of terrain mesh generation improvements. Additionally, the set of analytical SDF primitives supported by physics was extended and torus added.

For the renderer, the team continued with the transition to Gen12. A lot of work was completed on the global draw packet cache and related changes on the high-level render and 3D engine code, which will be used to speed up the streaming in of object containers and sharing of data for multiple instances. Additionally, Gen12 received the following changes: support for referencing refraction during rendering, tessellation support in the G-buffer pass, and a ported z-prepass. Several pieces of legacy code were removed to simplify the render pipeline. Also, Gen12 now runs with async shader compilation enabled by default.

Volumetric clouds and atmospheric rendering saw improvements throughout July as well as continued research. For example, runtime cube maps that are used for ambient lighting around the player. Density queries now also include the cloud’s tint at the requested location, which is important for the seamless integration of particles into cloud volumes. Cloud shaping was changed slightly to improve the local vs global read, particularly with regards to combatting the occasional tiled look of cloud details when viewed from orbit.

For rendering performance, the entire filter chain that reprojects and upsamples raymarching results is being revisited to improve quality so that this performance mode can always be enabled. Lastly, work on SDF integration into the raymarcher (efficient empty space skipping) is still ongoing.

On the core engine side, work continued on the entity component update scheduler (ECUS). Its internal structure was revisited to allow more than one update within a pass. Several improvements were also made to support and improve the new profiler frontend that was introduced in June. For instance, CPU sampling support was added for Linux builds of the server. Moreover, several tree optimizations were made inside StarHash.
Features (Gameplay)

The SQ42 Feature team continued their ongoing TrackView support. Added functionality includes a new frame of reference where the content creators can specify what the entities in a sequence are relative to so, when the sequence moves, everything else in the sequence automatically moves relative to it. For example, in an elevator sequence moves, the carriage and all the characters inside move along with it.

Development began on the new checkpoint tool – basic creation and positioning functionality was implemented, which will allow a large amount of scripted setup to be removed. There was also additional support for the weapons track, allowing more control over firing.
Gameplay Story

At the start of July, Gameplay Story completed a two-day mo-cap shoot and are currently preparing to process the captured animations, facials, and audio.

They also continued to work on a variety of chapters, each with a slightly different focus: For chapter 4 the completed maintenance work; for chapter 14 they made a polish pass; and for chapter 18 they worked on scenes for the first time.

However, Gameplay Story’s major focus was on chapter 5, where they replaced all placeholder content with new mo-cap animations to bring its scenes up to a particularly high standard.

“It has been great to see all this work pay off as the entire first half of chapter 05 is now playable from start to finish. This was no easy feat, as there were lots of animations, two walk-and-talk sequences, and plenty of technical challenges involved.” – Gameplay Story Team
Graphics & VFX Programming

For the shader, Graphics and VFX Programming made improvements to the quality of hair rendering in comms calls (though work continues) and refactored the shared code responsible for the depth pass, shadows, motion blur, and silhouette rendering. This will fix various bugs and prepare for some of the Gen12 features and requirements.

The reworked render-to-texture post-effect pipeline was completed and is now with the UI artists for testing. This introduces custom bloom, drop shadow, color correction, and brightness adaptation that will apply to all visor and lens UIs, improving the visuals and legibility. The logic controlling the allocation of memory between the various UI screens was also adjusted to maximize quality while sticking to a fixed memory budget.

For Gen12, various validation issues were fixed along with issues on specific laptops where the dedicated GPU was disabled from the OS/driver level, meaning the Vulkan renderer wouldn’t initialize. Several architectural amendments were also made to improve the readability and usability of the new renderer.

On the VFX-programming side, various new features were added such as tinting for space-loop particles based on planetary cloud albedo, new rotation features for particles, and the ability to attach vector fields to characters to achieve effects. The latter includes leaves being pushed around by characters‘ feet.
Level Design

The Space/Dogfight team are currently finalizing how the AI buddy works for space flight, which involves both combat and non-combat ambient behaviors.

They’re also in the process of implementing and refining the new features they received last quarter, such as scanning and ping, and how they’re used by the AI. The team also focused on maintaining the handshake between the FPS and social areas of the game to allow continuous play.

Meanwhile, the Social Design Team continued to implement various in-game chapter scenes for review and sign off.

Narrative kicked off the month with a motion-capture shoot in the UK, with several team members attending remotely. They worked closely with the Gameplay Story, Audio, and Animation teams to pick up some of the additional vignettes and conversations mentioned in previous reports. The editorial selects were turned around the following week so the data could start making its way through the pipeline.

The team also reviewed several levels with Design to look at updated layouts and flows. Some moments that would benefit from additional scripted content were identified, so drafts were written and passed along so placeholder versions of the lines could be added in-game.

With additional work being done on the scanning mechanic, Narrative attended several meetings to talk over various topics, such as how various enemy groups will be identified and what kind of information will be visible to the player.

Cinematics relied on QA for recordings of each level so they can ensure scenes are working and are of the intended quality. Support continues for the development teams too, with QA testing changes and updates to the wider project.

QA also tested behavior implementation, running daily checklists and reproducing issues so they can be fixed by the relevant teams.
Tech Animation

Tech Animation completed their planning for this quarter and are well underway with deliveries. This quarter sees the team coming back to their support roles, assisting in the creation and implementation of key deliverables, including AI combat iteration, usables, and head assets that require art refinements.

Additionally, the team took on some interesting challenges, one of which is to create a cross-platform RBF solder to assist in character deformation. The mandate is to create the same codebase to be used in Maya and the engine for improved usability. This will also speed up the processing of Maya animation assets and potentially the game too.

The team also began alembic cache animation support. While existing tools already support this technology, the team need to further integrate it into the animation toolset for a number of key deliverables.

The embedded UI team members supported various HUD-related features, such as the scanning, inventory, and vehicle UI. The core team worked on various tech used across the game, including improved holographic 3D objects, lists, and controls.

Last month, the team put the finishing touches to a key location for their internal milestone. This included effects for a key location and a vast interior environment. VFX also helped prototype and test a new tool to allow artists to export positional data from Houdini straight into the game engine. This opens up various opportunities for creating more-complex but flexible art and design setups.