Update July 7, 2021

tl;dr

Is it out yet? No.

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 Aciedo station, Screaming Galsons, and the Greycat tractor beam and salvage tools.

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)

For Squadron 42, the AI designers further developed Aciedo station, supporting the creation of several usables required for the mission’s story. This gave them the opportunity to set up ‘stocked AI’ that interact with usables for the first time. For example, attack spot, search spot, rail lean, door opening iterations, console hacking, stare spot, and more.

The next step is to work alongside the Design Team to implement them into the level, finish the cryopod interactions, and make use of the First Reactions system to allow transitions from systemic behaviors to the combat activity.
Animation

Throughout June, the Animation Team progressed with player idles to ensure that, when the player character is standing still, they don’t look like an inanimate mannequin. Development of zero-g movement continued along with the medical pen, wake up, medical beds, player jumping, and the drunk locomotion set.

AI-wise, the team began closing out character wildlines and improved seating poses in the mess hall to make it look like a real cafeteria. The male ‘hurt’ locomotion set was completed, with the team moving onto the female set. They’re currently editing juking assets for combat, assets for perception reactions from useables, and Vanduul combat locomotion.

A motion-capture (mo-cap) shoot was conducted to gather content needed for the work mentioned above. The team is currently working through the results before handing them to the animators. The Facial Team continued with the character improvements mentioned in previous reports.
Art (Characters)

The Character Art Team wrapped up the final rules of the modularity system for the Screaming Galsons, creating initial loadouts to test the system and provide placeholder characters for the designers when they begin working on related gameplay. Though the team is moving onto higher priority tasks in Q3, they’ll return to the Screaming Galsons later to flesh out the assets and create the required bespoke characters.

Trejo’s outfit and helmet are in the final stages of modeling and will be ready for the tech artists to skin soon. Once complete, they’ll will focus on chapter 1, which includes major characters like Bishop, Wade, MacLaren, and Mason.
Art (Environment)

Environment Art continued to work towards their quarterly milestone, and planetary work made significant strides, with the team preparing to focus on secondary points-of-interest to allow Level Design to progress with their primary objective.

The interior of the Bengal is approaching completion. The team closed out several small iterations in support of the Cinematics and Gameplay Story team’s scene work and made the main Hangar feel more alive, lived in, and like there’s a process to launching ships.

Archon received further interior and exterior work, while chapters 15 and 19 made great progress.
Art (Weapons)

Development of the standalone Greycat tractor beam and salvage tools continued, with the Art Team beginning the animation pass and finished iterating on the rigs.
Audio

Alongside composer Geoff Zanelli, the Audio Team produced music for chapter four of the campaign and recorded additional dialogue as required.
Cinematics

In June, the SQ42 Feature Team’s engineers worked on adding ‘frames of reference’ to cinematic sequences that run relative to a scene. For example, a scene in a tram would have the tram specified as the frame of reference and work automatically at all points across the scene. Before this, scenes required parent/child linking, so the team is excited to add this new functionality to some of the game’s more complex moments.

Another major focus was on a cutaway that introduces players to a remote mining outpost. As art is still in progress, the team built a previs blockout to inform how the scene will play out and how it should look and feel. This encounter features the player and Old Man flying their Gladiuses towards an outpost located on a remote asteroid in the Odin system.

A lot of animation polish was also completed last month as scenes progressed from implementation to the production pass. One key scene received an arms, hands, and fingers contact pass to adds significant impact to the characters’ interaction.
Engine

In June, the Physics Team moved the generation of surfel data used for radar cross-section queries to an offline precomputation step in the resource compiler which, in general, optimizes various types of assets (textures, meshes, sounds, metadata, etc.) for final consumption in-game. A great deal of time was also spent on various optimizations.

All tiers of physics geometry instancing were completed. As a result, the cloning and sharing of brush physics was enabled, leading to physics now using only 50% of the memory it previously had on the client and server. This was made possible by sharing all common geometry-related data (such as geometry transforms, sub-mtls, and surface types) across all clones of the same static instance. For example, a set of static objects using the same geometry. With the pending release of Orison in the PU, the tracking of terrain is skipped for gas giants. AVX instructions are now utilized to block set entries in spatial grids and ray-box intersections in spatial grids have been optimized.

Networking-related data was moved between internal structures for more efficient access and synchronization, while the structure size of physical entities and alignment was optimized to ensure hot members are always on the same cache line. Page sizes for event factories were tuned, resulting in a net gain of 100 MB in system memory. Additionally, the physics queue for the biome builder was reduced, several areas of thread contention were reduced, and a race condition in the optimized priority queue was fixed. Lastly, the precision of quantized bounding volume hierarchy trees was improved.

For the renderer, the team continued working on the transition to Gen12. A Gen12-exclusive mode for forward-rendered deferred pipelines was added, numerous rendering issues were fixed, and editor support was improved. Support for instance constant buffers with reflection data was added and vertex input caching was extended. In terms of visual features, support for detail cavity and gloss blending was added too.

With regards to volumetric clouds, the rendering of secondary views (runtime cubemaps, RTTs, etc.) including clouds was addressed. For empty space skipping, which is still in the very early experimental stages, computation of the narrow band SDF for cloud coverage has been revised along with the generation of associated MIP maps in a signed format. An initial set of quality options was exposed to the game menu (combined as a single quality option). These quality settings will see further refinement and extensions as the system matures in releases post Alpha 3.14. A driver issue on the 10xx GTX line of video cards affecting the computation of scattering queries was investigated and a workaround implemented. The team are still in the process of clarifying whether this issue is a driver bug and, if that’s the case, hope that it can be fixed properly.

The Core Engine Team finalized the switch to Clang 11, which is used to compile the game server. Clang-related code vectorization and math optimizations were enabled and a code generation bug was identified, worked around, and reported. The memory tracker was improved to detect deallocation of memory that’s not allocated (double free, without the use of page heap). Also, it can now filter allocation stacks by specified engine modules and the engine’s memory statistics update has been optimized. Preliminary support for a new profiler frontend was added alongside various improvements and optimizations on relevant engine components to utilize the profiler to its full capabilities. The component update scheduler received support for multiple passes and event handlers were separated from component updates. Vis areas now use more fine-grained locking for updates to reduce contention and the queuing of animation vis area updates is now lockless, as is event queuing.
Features (Gameplay)

Aside from the usual bug fixing and quality-of-life support, Gameplay Features added additional UI functionality to the firing range to give more detailed feedback to the player. They also wrote an editor tool to help identify rogue entities that have, for various reasons, ended up in invalid positions, costing performance and memory. A new task mode was added to allow the designers to script target selection for the player, meaning NPCs can share their targets with the player.

The team began designing a new system for development skip points, which allows a developer to start the game at any point through any mission. This will behave in a similar manner to the save game checkpoints, simplifying the whole setup and flow.
Gameplay Story

Gameplay Story made great progress on chapter 5 last month, taking responsibility for another scene with characters getting in and out of a lift.

“This proved to be quite complicated but we were able to work with Design to break down what was required and deliver placeholder animations so they could set the scene up. We are now eagerly awaiting the delivery of some new mo-cap that will allow us to bring this scene up to a really high standard.” -The Gameplay Story Team

The team also tested and documented new tech that should get trams and elevators working correctly in-game, which will allow them to play chapter 5 from start to finish.

They also updated various scenes in the mess hall and supporting Design with their work on chapters 12, 13, and 14. Planning for Q3 began and a two-day mo-cap session was booked for the first week of July. This will allow the team to record everything they need for the additional chapter 1 scenes and to add additional lines to many of the random-to-NPC conversations mentioned in previous reports.
Graphics & VFX Programming

June saw the Graphics Team complete work on the window and PingCIG shaders. The window shader allows them to simulate the windows of static rooms without actually modeling the interior, enabling large buildings filled with ‘fake’ interiors for minimal cost. This approach has been used in several other games and, while the visuals are naturally constrained compared to bespoke rooms (which would be impractical for performance), the results are vastly better than black or empty spaces. The PingCIG shader is a new version of the ping effect that will be used for the upcoming improvements to the radar and scanning feature; it creates waves that trigger various visual effects when they intersect solid geometry, such as an edge highlight.

For Orison, improvements were made to the performance of real-time environment probes and bugs were squashed ahead of release. Improvements to the LOD Merger to support tint-palettes and wear were also completed to allow huge draw-call savings for distant renderings of the city.

The team also made improvements to the UI compositing and post-effect pipeline to achieve the specific look the team want, such as drop shadows, glow, brightness adaptation, and color correction while minimizing performance impact.

The VFX Programming Team added support for querying cloud density from planets and used this to trigger a variety of effects. Several particle-streaming issues were addressed and the final bugs with the new lighting system were resolved. The fire feature progressed well too.

Both the Graphics and VFX Programming teams also made great progress on the Gen12 renderer and Vulkan backends, with the vast majority of post effects now running Gen12 by default. This doesn’t result in major CPU performance savings as the post effects were already cheap on the CPU side, though major benefits will be seen in scene rendering.
Level Design

The Space/Dogfight Team continued with the ‘AI buddy’ space flight behaviors that mostly relate to Oldman. They also updated existing chapters with the additional functionality for radar, ping, and scanning that came in last quarter. Space-based stealth gameplay was built out too, meaning the player needs to be aware of their own emissions and cross-section to avoid being spotted.

The Level Design Team pushed hard to make the most of increased support from the various feature teams, making their first FPS space as polished as possible. There were a number of technical challenges to overcome and there’s still more to do this quarter.

As always, the Social Design Team implemented scenes for the various chapters for review and signoff, which now encompasses all FPS crossover scenes that could switch into combat at any time.
Narrative

Last month, Narrative met with Design to go over the latest milestone goals and determine what support was needed to achieve them. This included walking through the latest iterations of levels to outline additional content. Once agreed upon, the team would generate an initial pass of lines and review with Design to see what was working and what wasn’t. This back-and-forth allows the teams to understand exactly what’s necessary before capturing the final dialogue with actors and mo-cap.

They also worked with Design and Gameplay Story to prepare for the upcoming mo-cap shoot in July, where they’ll capture some of the lines mentioned in last month’s report.

Narrative also supported a Production initiative to assess the descriptions in the Character Pipeline so that all teams and disciplines have the same expectations for delivery. For example, whether a character is expected to have a bespoke face or whether they can be modeled using the DNA system.
QA

Cinematics again relied on QA for recordings of each level for review, and support for the dev teams continued, with QA testing changes and updates to the project. They also tested Vanduul behavior implementations for the AI Team and performed an open bug sweep to ensure the QA databases were up to date.
Tech Animation

Looking back over the quarter, Tech Animation made great progress with their pipeline and tasks, balancing the fine line between user support and productivity to deliver many of the features and content they wanted to.

R&D into streamlining the ‘facial-scan’ and ‘scan-creation’ pipelines was completed, with the outcome saving the art teams significant man-hours over the coming years. This also formed the cornerstone in Tech Animation’s own facial rig building process and will ultimately expedite the entire facial pipeline.

One main aim of the quarter was to upgrade the head asset and facial animation system codebase, which is currently well underway. The team also managed to overhaul the weapons pipeline with a facelift and new toolsets to assist with technical elements.

Tech Animation were supported by Tech Art in upgrading their export processes. Once complete, they moved onto the skeletal optimization process that will improve character hitboxes when completed.
UI

Throughout June, the UI programmers worked on a system to allow the level designers to connect one of their tools, Flowgraph, to the main UI tool. This will give them more independence when adding screens to new gameplay elements.

Work also continued on improving the underlying tech of the Starmap, and they began investigating how the final version of the mobiGlas UI will look and move.

The artists also continued adding screens to SQ42’s levels and began work on environmental branding to help build the backstory and ambiance for one of the locations.
VFX

The VFX artists continued updating SQ42’s location effects to make use of the new lighting model, this month focusing on a flagship location being worked on by Art and Design for an internal milestone. Work also continued on the internal space of a key location that makes great use of gas cloud tech.