PU Monthly Report
Happy New Year! We’re kicking off 2024 with a look back at the last couple of months of 2023. Read on for a full rundown of everything done for the Persistent Universe throughout November and December, including new creatures, vehicles, planet tech, and more.
AI Content spent the end of the year bug fixing to improve social AI. Once in a more robust state, they’ll start implementing various SQ42 features and behaviors.
In the meantime, they revived the civilian behavior. This involved fixing basic AI usables such as chairs, seats, and rails across various locations and identifying outdated usable setups and communicating with the Props team to bring them up to date.
Voice packs and basic behaviors were updated for the hawker, vendor, admin, and bartender AI across different stations and landing zones. Now, NPCs will have the proper voice packs assigned to them with their behaviors triggering lines correctly. NPCs will also use their usables correctly with better animations rather than just standing still (however, some shops might not have full functionality due to lacking proper usables).
The team also identified and fixed a selection of security AI bugs in Lorville’s transit area. This involved implementing some of SQ42’s security behaviors, including sentry and guards, and giving NPCs appropriate voice packs.
Finally, AI Content worked with Level Design to implement SQ42’s engineer and security behaviors across different areas with limited functionality.
As part of the Alpha 3.22 release, AI Features spent time investigating issues preventing the improved combat behavior from working as intended during missions, including slow-reacting AI.
“Like the infamous ‘standing on chairs’ issue, AI being slow to react doesn’t have a single cause but highlights a range of issues that appear to manifest as the same problem. Each cause needs to be individually investigated and a solution proposed, and often this requires hours of testing and debugging to find the precise conditions under which the specific issue occurs. Often issues are intermittent or only manifest in specific missions at specific locations.” AI Features Team
The team are aiming to reduce the amount of time it takes to debug these issues via three approaches:
The first is to improve knowledge of the AI debugging tools, particularly among the QA team, so that when an issue is first encountered, all the right information is available. This can often highlight issues with specific mission or location setups that don’t require further debugging. For example, missing or badly placed navigation mesh, missing animations, or poor server frame rates.
The second is to speed up the process of getting to the right location; if an issue only occurs in a specific spot during a certain mission, the team need to be able to quickly reproduce it rather than waiting for the mission and location combination to line up as part of the normal flow. When investigating issues, one of the biggest time sinks is flying to the location (even using the no-clip god mode), so they’re looking at providing teleport functionality to active mission locations.
Finally, when they’ve identified a cause that might occur again, they’ll improve the debugging tools to highlight it so that they can more easily identify subsequent occurrences.
For the Alpha 3.22 release, AI Features worked on several causes of slow-reacting AI, including:
Fixing an issue where increases in the AI perception meter were not being recognized in the general reaction function, causing NPCs to ‘hang’ in a reaction idle animation.
Fixing an issue where AI weren’t exiting the investigate behavior correctly due to not checking the current target.
Debugging an issue where the hostility and perception systems weren’t correctly encapsulating the specific requirements for hostility in a particular mission and location. However, this requires a better specification of the intended design and will come with planned improvements to the hostility system. The team are also investigating if they can add a hotfix to work around this issue in the next release.
These aren’t the only slow-reacting AI issues, so the team will continue to investigate and fix issues in subsequent releases while ensuring they maintain the improved combat functionality.
AI Features also worked on AI issues identified with the replication layer. The replication layer is a core component of server meshing, allowing the AI to migrate between servers or restore their state after a server crash. The team identified that when the AI was serialized back from the replication layer, its observable state (alive, dead, unconscious, etc.) was not correctly restored, which led to issues. For example, the AI thinking another agent was dead and not trying to attack them. As part of this fix, the team are making the switch between these states more consistent and less ad-hoc by tying it more closely with the status component that controls when the switch occurs.
At the end of the year, AI Tech progressed with features and support for release builds. For boids, they’re close to finalizing the first iteration that will allow the designers to place fish, rodents, and birds in the environment. Recent updates include rules to avoid dangerous areas or actors, transition rules that will detect weapons fired/bullets hit, and the ability to switch from idle/wandering to a fleeing rule set. The team also further iterated on killing boids agents and how they transition from an animation-driven state to ragdoll. For birds, they extended the number of wandering states. For example, besides flying, birds can also walk after a landing transition. Synchronization between the server and client is currently being worked on.
Effort was also put into optimizing and improving various features, including the pathfinder algorithm, collision-avoidance system, navigation system, and Subsumption loading logic.
For Apollo tools, AI Tech continued to support the designers with additional functionality, including the ability to create PNG files from behaviors, improved readability for Subsumption flowgraph nodes, and improved undo/redo actions.
Several existing features were polished and finalized, including NPCs utilizing trolleys, which received improved collision avoidance. This was achieved by updating the PID controller logic and how it’s used for path following when NPCs are pushing trolleys.
For AI using ladders, new functionality was added. For example, NPCs can now check if the ladder is available and will only use it if free or another NPC is climbing it in the same direction. In case the ladder is being used the opposite way, NPCs will find a free spot at the top or bottom and wait.
On the ship AI side, the team improved and extended spline functionality. This involved allowing ships to move along a spline while staying orientated toward the target and moving to the beginning of a spline that’s already moving (e.g. a spline attached to a different ship).
Toward the end of the year, AI Tech started to look for a better solution to generating navigation mesh on planets, as the current implementation could be faster and has problems generating navigation mesh close to planetary poles (which is affecting some outpost locations and their associated NPCs). This is currently in progress and an update will be provided in a future report.
Animation spent time bringing creatures to the ‘verse, starting with a four-legged predator, a bird, and fish. They also continued to work on facial animation for increased line count and fidelity.
In November and December, Character Art completed the legendary Duster outfit and the racing flightsuit helmet. They continued working on the racing flightsuit itself and prepared an outfit for Subscriber flair. Alongside this, R&D was done for creatures.
The Character Concept Art team started an exploration phase on features for the character customizer and for other creatures.
Toward the end of the year, the RSI Polaris passed its whitebox review gate and progressed into the greybox phase where all of the surface modeling and animations will be completed. Emphasis was on modularity for the interior to improve reuse and scalability.
Work started on the gold-standard pass for the Aegis Sabre Raven, which includes a component pass and dashboard polish.
Three new variants were worked on: one entered production, another continued through greybox, and the last progressed into LOD0.
November also saw work wrap up on the Gatac Syulen and structural salvage support for the Aegis Reclaimer.
November and December were busy months for the Community team, who supported Pyro on the Preview Channel for the first time. The team was incredibly grateful for all of the positive feedback, and had a blast gathering sentiment around Star Citizen’s second system.
Alongside general housekeeping related to winding down CitizenCon 2953, the team uploaded all panels from the event to YouTube, along with chapters and timestamps, and published community pictures of the life-size Drake Dragonfly taken on Saturday and Sunday at the event.
They also continued to connect with citizens across the globe at a variety of Bar Citizen events, alongside planning for the 2024 Bar Citizen World Tour.
“We had a blast at the recent Bar Citizen events we were lucky enough to attend! Thanks to everyone who joined us in Dublin, Ireland, and Milan, Italy, as well as the Virtual Bar Citizen put on by the great folks at Sol Citizens! That’s a wrap for the Bar Citizen World Tour for 2023, but as a reminder, we’re looking to hear from you on where we should visit in 2024, and already have our first Bar Citizen attendance locked in with Barcelona, Spain, coming up on February 3!”
The team worked with the Player Experience group to highlight a selection of Test Universe Champions who contributed significantly to the recent round of patch testing. This initiative will continue in future patches, with new categories each cycle.
They also teamed up with Intel and CLXGaming to give away Star Citizen game packages (along with the exclusive Sabre Raven ship) to five lucky winners, and a custom Sabre Raven PC, during the Dreamhack gaming festival in Atlanta.
The team then supported the release of Alpha 3.22: Wrecks to Riches. Alongside the Player Experience team, they tracked and directed player feedback on the latest features and discussed solutions to bugs and quality-of-life issues with the development teams. They also updated the Salvage & Repair Guide to help players better understand the new gameplay introduced with Structural Salvage.
Last but not least, the team has started working on CitizenCon 2954! More on that later…
November and December saw the Economy team finish price-balancing armors and vehicles. They then began looking into the prices of FPS weapons as part of balancing the wider economy to bring all systems together. A contextual inventory inheritance was designed to tag items in shops that will allow them to more easily rebalance prices too.
The team worked on the economic implications of freight elevators and started balancing the time and cost of using them.
They also investigated UEC income and began taking actions to prevent exploits and rebalance mission rewards, and investigated exploits relating to ship claim time and prices.
Features (Arena Commander)
Throughout November and December, the Features team focused on closing out essential refactors and polish tasks before they transition to supporting the Persistent Universe in a more permanent capacity. They also supported upcoming special events and the Alpha 3.22 release.
Engineering completed work on the ‘Kill Collector’ Experimental Modes for Alpha 3.22, including a system that allows devs to replace the collection item depending on both the game mode and active events. Further work was done on the special events and award systems, including prerequisite requirements allowing the team to implement exclusive awards. This work also included the addition of unique loading screens, backgrounds, and a banner that displays on the frontend when an event or experimental mode is active, the latter including a countdown until the next rotation. Experimentation also began with an in-game FPS loadout customizer utilizing the new spawn screen.
For engineering, the team successfully completed the initial tests of enabling streaming in Arena Commander. This will enable them to deliver improved performance to the module and use any Persistent Universe location without limitations. Previously, some locations, such as ones near cities, were unable to be used without significant additional work – with streaming, the turnaround on porting any location to Arena Commander will be minimal.
Design supported work for Kill Collector, Duo Showdown, and other game modes and special events for Alpha 3.22 and beyond. Alongside a number of quality-of-life updates and polish to the frontend, spawn screen, and multi-crew systems, they also began planning for the year ahead.
Level Design completed work on three new racetracks (with one more in progress) for a new game mode. A brand-new track around the Pyro jump point was also created specifically to test the new Master Modes: Classic Race game mode for Alpha 3.22. The team created a prototype game mode that saw a successful playtest and will be further worked upon in 2024 too.
Finally, the team completed a new grav-lev racing game mode, which was debuted at Dreamhack Atlanta.
In November, the Features team began implementing a deadline system within a few missions across the ‘verse, which will ensure missions can’t be kept indefinitely if the accepted players are not engaging with them. This is for a few reasons. For example, players can lock out other missions and, narratively, it doesn’t make sense that a contractor would wait five hours for players to kill someone when they know their exact position. However, this is not a universally implemented system; each mission’s deadline will be individually considered.
The steal/recover mission continued to be polished and variants are currently being made.
The New Player Experience was also polished, with the team adding new parts to introduce some of the more important in-game systems. The team then turned to cleaning up and polishing the existing infiltrate and defend missions. And with Data Heist’s release, the team kicked off a counter mission using one of the modular missions.
Jumptown saw changes to how players engage in combat, while the journey started to make each location feel unique.
In December, Missions Features began prototyping a time-trial foot race to utilize more of the Ledge Grab v2 feature.
Finally, converting missions to use the freight elevator began. For example, Blockade Runner, XenoThreat, and other missions are being assessed to determine what needs to be updated to ensure they align with the new feature ahead of its release.
Graphics, VFX Programming, & Planet Tech
At the end of 2023, the Graphics teams largely progressed with their longer-term tasks. For example, work continued on improving the visual quality of gas clouds through the addition of a directional occlusion effect. The gas-cloud-system output is also being unified with the planetary-cloud system so that the new cloud upscaling solution can be used by both.
The Global Illumination team added support for transparency via a dense view-frustum voxel grid of low-resolution probes along with a sparser zone-space grid of higher-resolution probes. Work is also ongoing to improve the representation of materials in the raytracing system.
Vulkan is reaching the final stages of development, with the team wrapping up the last of their rendering tech. Ongoing work is targeting reducing stutter by working on shader/PSO compilation caching and general performance polishing before the initial release.
The Planet Tech team continued wrapping up the water feature, focusing on robustness, memory usage, and performance. Alongside this, the Graphics team improved the water-edge effects against both the environment and visor/camera lens.
VFX Programming worked toward finishing off fire-hazard visuals, investigated networking support for the fire-hazard system, and added support for water VFX. On the tools side, support is being added for unique IDs associated with each particle effect to allow robust referencing and the reorganization of effects.
The end of the year brought with it a flurry of activity for the Narrative team as they worked to close out strong and set themselves up for an even better 2954. November was host to IAE, which featured immersive career dioramas on the show floor and new vids from security professional Garman Humble and social-media influencer Mahli. For the release of Alpha 3.22, the team worked on supporting a wide range of new features such as structural salvage, derelict settlements, cargo containers, Arena Commander additions, and a variety of Luminalia items (including the holiday favorite biscuit, Ringalings). The team also worked on the development of the San’tok.yāi, with a focus on the Xi’an language and lore.
Looking ahead, the team planned upcoming work for the PU, including new missions that will be more narratively focused, and discussed how best to utilize guilds and factions as players progress and earn reputation. Time was also dedicated to improving the generalized NPC voicepack to streamline it and make it more functional with an eye toward making the universe more immersive while still manageable for the scope of Star Citizen.
As always, a selection of lore posts was featured on the RSI website – a look back at Banu first contact with Jerry: A History Half-Remembered, a November Galactapedia Update, a Loremakers: Community Questions, and to end the year, a December Galactapedia Update.
In November and December, the R&D team spent a significant amount of time on the temporal render mode for atmosphere and clouds. As a result, the first WIP version of advanced history rejection, as well as refined disocclusion detection and preparation of dilated motion vectors, was submitted. More research went into the upsample and history blend process to achieve highly detailed results that match the reference full-resolution render output as much as possible.
For ground fog, experimental support for fog density maps was added and is currently in review with Tech Art. The signal encoding and reconstruction code for volumetric cloud shadows received a fix to minimize ringing artifacts occasionally visible in areas where (unattenuated) sunlight first hits clouds. The atmosphere light pass received refined irradiance estimates based on community feedback, which had reported that the bottom of ships approaching a planet in higher orbit were almost entirely black as opposed to receiving reflected ground light.
Aside from the work on visuals, various improvements were also implemented to the postmortem crash analysis tool, which processes reports submitted via internal testing as well as the PU and PTU. The tool now supports the deduping of callstacks for all threads in a process and sorts them so that important threads are listed at the top. The tool now also supports dumps written by ‘fast-linked’ binaries. Additional support is planned to capture and extract auxiliary callstacks for memory corruptions (specifically, double deletes and writes after free events). Those will then be used for issue deduplication in Sentry to allow the coalescence of memory crashes much more effectively.
The Technical Animation team spent the end of the year on deliverables for the content teams across both projects.
These include an outfit manager that will pull together a full set of assets for any character outfit in-game, which will help the Animation teams author specific content.
Previously missing from the pipeline, physics proxy tools creation was added for an intuitive and streamlined way to create physicalized skeletons in Maya. An animation-events editor was also added to keep audio linked to animations across projects. New ADB diff tools also help the devs track and diagnose problems with complex XML format files that need historical context to be useful.
A replacement for a very old toolset that validates content being exported from Maya was created.
“We’re now in a position to add to the tests and potentially change some low-level paradigms to enable exploration of new pipeline possibilities.” Technical Animation team
Additionally, Technical Animation authored and fixed more head assets, refined existing pipelines, continued developing engine animation systems, and ideated on additional ways to help them approach gold master.
Specifically for PU, the team spent time authoring new creatures.
During November and December, the VFX team worked on structural-salvage effects for the Drake Vulture and Aegis Reclaimer.
They also provided effects support for new locations and existing location reworks, including several new derelicts and Rappel, a “rather hellish environment with the ground literally burning!”
Vehicle-effects support was provided too, including for the Aopoa San’tok.yāi and the Origin X1 series.