Star Citizen Monthly Report: February 2024

PU Monthly Report

It’s been a busy start to the year across CIG studios, and February was no different. Read on for everything done for the Persistent Universe throughout February, including vehicle progress, cloud rendering developments, and AI updates.

AI (Features)

As mentioned in last month’s report, AI Features continued to develop features for a key initiative, the first iteration of which is planned for Alpha 3.23. Further details will be revealed in the run-up to release.

AI (Tech)

During February, AI Tech focused on a variety of improvements alongside feature work, including for the navigation system. The main focus of this was on extending the planetary navigation mesh to be able to generate across a whole planet. Due to a limitation of the initial implementation, it currently has a latitude limit at which navigation tiles can be created. However, with the new approach, nav mesh can be generated anywhere on the planet following physics terrain patches. The devs are currently improving the tile border simplification step to make sure all nav-mesh tiles connect correctly with each other.

For NPCs using trolleys, focus was on the exact positioning of trolleys in the environment. Now, an NPC can correctly push a trolley to a location with an arbitrary orientation. The team also improved transit and elevator usage while pushing trolleys so that the overall flow is more robust and fluid.

Spaceship behaviors were also iterated on to deliver better ship-vs-turret combat. Fighters will now correctly target standalone turrets and perform appropriate combat behaviors.

Numerous updates were added to the Apollo tool, such as improved feedback for errors in missions. For example, the overall box that represents a function turns red when the logic contains errors. The team also increased usability when navigating between mission callbacks, allowing the designers to jump to the appropriate logic from multiple elements of the interface. A new UI for the Subsumption tool is underway too.

AI Tech continued to support PU releases, while an important upcoming feature continued development, which can be experienced in Alpha 3.23. 

Art (Ships)

Last month, progress was made on the RSI Polaris, with the exterior progressing to LOD0 and the interior approaching its greybox review. Some interior sections were worked up to establish a visual target, while others were redesigned to accommodate gameplay and improve alignment with the art direction.

Two upcoming variants progressed through the pipeline. One continued its LOD0 pass, the other passing the LOD0 Gate review. The latter then moved on to the final damage and LOD passes, while its UV2 and paints were completed and approved.

The gold-standard pass continued for the Aegis Retaliator, which is currently awaiting greybox gate review. Feedback from a recent sanity review is currently underway. The ship’s base, cargo, and bombing/torpedo modules are also progressing well following minor art-direction feedback.

Two unannounced vehicles passed their LOD0 gate reviews, with only one minor issue to resolve between them. Both will now move into the final phase of development that implements damage meshes and LODs.

The RSI Zeus is approaching the end of greybox, with the team polishing geometry around the ship. A redesign of the cargo hold is nearly complete, as are changes to the inner frame of the ramp and ramp-piston mechanism. Additional high-frequency detail was added to help increase the illusion of inner structures between the exterior hull and chassis, while maneuvering thrusters on the nose were moved to allow for better integration into the surface. A redesign of the the ship-to-ship docking ring door and frame was done to better fit the RSI aesthetic, while the mess hall was highly polished. The ship’s habitation is currently being updated. The central hallway bulkheads were widened to allow for better navigation and consistency too.

Polish was completed on another new ship, while yet another progressed through whitebox, greybox, and LOD0. A final lighting pass will be done soon before damage and LOD work.

Art (Weapons)

Weapon Art worked through a host of updates planned for Alpha 3.23, including scope magnification and optic improvements. The aim is to overhaul the whole scope system to bring it up to modern FPS standards. The existing iron sights across all weapons were updated too.

Alongside this, updates were made to improve and streamline reloading across all weapons.

Community

The Community Team supported two major events in February, Red Festival and Coramor, the latter with a First Date in the ‘Verse screenshot contest and a guide to enjoying activities together. Hundreds of pictures and videos taken by the community during the events are available to view on the Community Hub.

The team then supported various community events:

“Congratulations to everyone in the French-speaking community who participated in the Destination Cachée event. The puzzles were particularly well thought out, putting each of the four teams to the test. A pirate team nearly captured a participant, and the security teams had their share of fun as well. We hope that everyone enjoyed participating or watching their favorites on Twitch. We also want to bow to everyone who fought in the recent Verse at War 2° Edition. We loved seeing everyone fighting for their teams in early February! March is coming quickly, and we’re eager to follow the action during the next Crux Cup from Anzia Racing. Ready, set, go!” Community Team

The Community team continued detailing the weekly and monthly schedules with This Week in Star Citizen and This Month in Star Citizen. They also officially announced CitizenCon 2954, which returns to Manchester, UK, October 19-20. The team is already deep in planning for the event, and want to remind you all to NOT miss this one.

Finally, the team updated the Arena Commander Schedule, which keeps players up to date with Arena Commander’s rotating game modes. They also have been working on a variety of initiatives to support the upcoming release of Alpha 3.23, 4.0, and beyond.

Core Gameplay

February saw the Core Gameplay pillar continuing to refine and improve new backpack reloading ahead of QA testing. For example, magazines are now repacked in a player’s inventory, so multiple half-empty mags are condensed into fewer full ones.

Support continued for the ongoing scope updates, including correctly folding down iron sights when sights are attached. Support for blur on the outside of sights is currently underway. The team also enabled the weapon-customization UI to look more holographic ahead of a UI styling pass.

For item wear and misfire, further work was completed on the accumulator system. Additional tools were implemented to make working and testing the system easier too.

For player interaction, the team spent a lot of time bug fixing and polishing. They also added a game option to hide the ‘F�� prompt and added a new control hint for when an offscreen interaction is available.

The devs then added the ability to show the loot screen from the interaction wheel. Players will also now auto-crouch if the object they’re looting is below them. Support was added to automatically open the inventory UI instead of the loot screen if the lootable container is above a certain capacity too.

The team are working on a replacement for the legacy quick-buy UI using Building Blocks. This will also be used for renting vehicles during events. Work continued on the freight elevator kiosk UI backend too.

For the ongoing visor/lens HUD rework, progress continued on various UI elements, including priority notifications, mission objectives, and chat.

Regarding EVA, Core Gameplay continued to implement and improve networking support and ensured that players’ arms and held entities don’t clip into their torsos when traversing and rotating.

For prone, players will now be forced out when they perform actions that require them to crouch, such as melee attacks. Further locomotion improvements were made in collaboration with the Animation team too.

For Master Modes, Core Gameplay continued working with Design to tune archetypes. They have so far completed around 90% of the initial conversion, with further tuning passes and refinement to be done before release.

Work continued on jump points, with the team implementing an updated alignment mechanic. A new UI was also added to give players information on whether their ships are capable of completing travel. Successful tests transitioning between Stanton and Pyro across two separate servers were completed too.

For the resource network and engineering, ‘heat’ gameplay was added, which enables items to generate heat based on their usage. Items will require coolant if necessary and will overheat and degrade in functionality if not addressed.

Life Support is now fully integrated into the resource network, with the life-support generator and tank now functional.

Improved debugging tools for were added for the room system to help better understand how the resource network and life support interoperate.

For Radar & Scanning, Core Gameplay completed an important refactor to reduce the number of radar components on vehicles and share data between seat operators. Previously, each seat operator had a unique radar. Now, vehicles can share a single radar across all operators. This means that a pilot or radar operator can focus on collecting radar and scan results that are then shared between all vehicle turrets, rather than each turret needing to scan for themselves. While it’s still possible for vehicles to contain multiple radars, in time, the team will merge the majority into a single shared unit that will not only improve performance but gameplay too.

The team also supported elevators for the upcoming instanced hangars and supported quantum travel and markers working alongside Server Meshing when transitioning to a new solar system.

For Arena Commander, the team concluded engineering work for streaming. This technology will allow Arena Commander to utilize any Persistent Universe location with ease and avoid duplicating planets or other object containers, which was previously required to cull expensive locations, such as cities and space stations.

The engineering work for custom lobbies is nearing completion. Following successful internal tests, the system is being handed off to QA for release assessment. The team also began work on some basic custom settings, such as score limit, time limit, and match cycle options, to provide players with more control over their lobbies.

Several internal tests were conducted on Engineering Experimental Modes after an update to the backend matchmaker. New loadouts were created with all the equipment engineers will need for the mode, which is being prepared for go/no-go for an upcoming release.

The team also began focusing on the Arena Commander frontend. 

“Recently, focus has been on functionality, but now we are excited to improve not just the overall UX of Arena Commander’s UI but to bring it in line with the quality and style established across the rest of the game.” Core Gameplay Pillar

Finally, the team completed the backend work required for ‘Grav Royale’ and other upcoming game modes and maps. They also continued to enable streaming across all maps while supporting the release of Alpha 3.22.1 with several fixes and quality-of-life changes.

Core Gameplay continued working on an underlying mission system refactor ahead of Server Meshing. Further progress was made on the mission perks and rewards system too.

An update was made to reputation-based hostility, ensuring that if someone is being attacked, any nearby allied or security faction members will come to their defense. This also means that factions with negative reputation with the attacked players will not intervene.

The Contracts Manager was converted to Building Blocks in preparation for the new mobiGlas. Further polish and UX improvements are currently underway in collaboration with the UI team.

For persistent and instanced hangars, work began on the instanced-interior system. This manages which hangar instances exist, need to be created, and which physical gateways are used to transition between the instance and the rest of the game world.

The team implemented the initial version of automated cargo loading and unloading, including displaying information on ASOP terminals that the ship is currently unavailable for retrieval due to being loaded or unloaded.

Progress was also made on the freight-elevator and loading-platform occlusion logic, which determines where items can be placed on the elevator or platform. Support was also given to the Locations team for marking up hangars with loading platforms and freight elevators.

Finally for Core Gameplay, the team worked on various debug tools to aid in testing and debugging the various systems that drive instanced hangars, the warehouse system, and loading platforms.

Economy

Last month, the Economy team made changes to bring Salvage more in line with the PU’s other careers. They’re currently rebalancing commodities to improve the Cargo career experience too.

Support was also provided for the XenoThreat Global Event, and the team began looking at FPS ammo prices.

Graphics, VFX Programming & Planet Tech

Throughout February, the Graphics teams progressed with their longer-term tasks. For example, work is nearing completion on the unification of gas-cloud and planet-cloud upscaling, though challenges caused by animated lights in gas clouds need to be solved. The gas-cloud occlusion effect is also nearing completion, which will increase the detail level of all gas clouds, even in flat-lit scenarios. The team also resolved a long-standing issue that caused a harsh line to appear when 600m from where a gas cloud blends with the near-fog system.

The Global Illumination team continued to work on a system to approximate complex materials within a ray-traced view of the world. Last month, they began looking into performance improvements before tackling some of the more complex issues, like moving objects and zones.

February saw the Vulkan team pushing hard toward release, working through various performance issues such as compiler bugs caused by Vulkan’s complex shaders. They also worked on a shader-caching mechanism to compile shaders while the game is loading to avoid hitches. They’re also considering whether this process can later run in the patcher to further reduce the chance of compiling when the game starts. Although progressing, this may not be fully complete by the initial public release.

Devs from the water strike team closed out the issues that came up in their final review alongside several new features, including SDF interaction for accurate collisions when vehicles hit water and an improved water-intersection shader.

Last month, the Planet Tech team began improving the editor workflow for creating planets and planning out the next version of planet tech (v5). Planet Tech v5 will cover a variety of areas but the primary goals are to make creating planets quicker and easier and to try and achieve more diversity, density, and consistency in quality across whole planetary surfaces.

The rest of the Graphics team focused on improving their upscaling tech ahead of its public release. This involved finalizing a new mesh format that gives major performance improvements.

Lighting

February saw the Lighting team continue to support various upcoming PU initiatives, including Distribution Centers, instanced hangars, freight elevators, and the new character customizer.

Locations (EU)

In February, the Landing Zone team worked with the Feature team to finalize the working prototype for cargo and the new hangar experience. Final art and LODs are now nearing completion on all of the modifications to hangars necessary for this exciting new feature.

The Sandbox 2 team worked toward closing out the upcoming Distribution Centers. For example, art is being finalized and optimized while Level Design added the final tweaks to make sure the various areas can support all the gameplay the Mission team want to add.

Mission Design

Last month, Mission Design continued to work on a chain that comprises various mission types that scale in difficulty.

Elsewhere, designs for new missions are currently being signed off, while content and technical requirements are underway for future hauling content.

The development of XenoThreat 1.2 continued, with changes to gameplay and the implementation of freight elevators, while Blockade Runner received polish and the implementation of freight elevators.

Narrative

February saw a flurry of mission work as Narrative focused on the upcoming Alpha 3.23 patch. Alongside UI and hint text, many of the new gameplay features will have corresponding missions, and the team have been working closely with Design to develop the narrative players will experience. For example, the new Distribution Centers feature a wide variety of missions, new and old. Additionally, narrative work began on new Pyro-based missions to help expand the gameplay at its various locations.

Looking further forward, progress continued on future story missions. These will be more involved than typical missions, featuring things like bespoke dialog and custom logic. The hope is that these types of missions will serve to build out the story of the wider universe and work alongside the more traditional systemic missions.

Last month, the Narrative Design team continued to develop the tourist behaviors that will bring new life to Star Citizen’s large in-world events.

“It has been interesting balancing how to make sure the NPC presence is felt while not being overly distracting from the event itself.” Narrative Team

Finally, several new narrative posts were published, including a Whitley’s Guide to the Valkyrie and a fresh batch of Galactapedia articles.

R&D

In February, the R&D team continued work on the temporal render mode. History filtering was switched to a custom bicubic filter to avoid diffusion and resampling blur due to repeated history look ups. Care was also taken to eliminate potential ringing artifacts during strong camera movements.

The temporal filtering of transmittance was improved to avoid glowing thin silhouettes around objects in foregrounds with clouds and the sun behind them. Various improvements were made to preserve history details for as long as possible (slow movement, no significant cloud disocclusion, etc.), and to quickly converge to a full resolution image in case history needs to be rejected.

Tech Art/Animation 

Last month, the Tech Animation team focused on refining head assets and cleaning up technical debt around their implementation. This comes as a precursor to polishing head assets and refining eye alignment in the editor to ensure characters look as good as possible.

Further to this, a large contingent of the department is working on asset setup for lockers. These will be placed throughout the ‘verse and allow players and NPCs to change their apparel to something more appropriate to their current priorities.

“This sounds simple but, in practice, we have to support a wide array of assets that can be stowed and recovered from these vessels. It can take quite some time to ensure everything is set up correctly.” Tech Art/Animation Team

The team also kicked off initiatives to ensure the health of the build remains stable and triage technical debt built up over the course of the project.

VFX

Last month, the VFX team continued working on several upcoming locations, including freight elevators and Distribution Centers.

They also investigated an issue with planetary ground storms where fog was coming in too thick when light winds arrived. Although it’s difficult to balance dynamic effects such as this, it will be easier for players to see where they are going if a storm is relatively mild.

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