April 16th, 2019
What you are about to read is the latest information on the continuing development of Squadron 42 (SCI des: SQ42).
From alien concepts to player control over cutscenes, momentum remains strong. Naturally, there’s a litany of restricted intelligence awaiting review for potential declassification, so keep an eye on these updates for access when release is permitted.
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
The SQ42 Character AI Team kicks us off this month. They spent the month making general improvements, firstly to combat behaviors enabling the team to assign different tactics to different characters more easily. This work fixed a few bugs with vision perception and cover selection too. Secondly, NPC locomotion saw the integration of the collision avoidance system into smooth locomotion, which now takes into consideration the edge of walkable navigation areas. A handful of dynamic cinematic scenes were also worked on and the first pass of a new solution for blending gameplay animations into cinematic scenes was finished.
Ship AI implemented new pilot skill levels to vary the agility of enemy ships and determine how they balance self-preservation and aggression. Improvements were also made to how non-player traffic behaves around landing zones.
The Social AI Team finished the first pass of ‘scooching’, which made its monthly report debut last month. If you missed it, scooching enables a character to fluidly move from one action to another within a group of useables. Design supported the setup of Master at Arms Duncan Chakma by providing necessary tech pieces where needed. Optimization started on usables too, including the caching of usable entries and TPS query time-slicing.
March saw the Animation Team focusing on two important features: the finalized system for jumping and completing the first iteration of the female playable character.
They also teamed up with AI to start connecting character animations to specific usable dimensions for more realism when picking up and inspecting items. Although currently in development for SQ42, these developments will eventually make their way to the Persistent Universe.
Finally for Animation, they worked on the combat AI system to give enemies several new weapon options to choose from when encountering the player and hostile NPCs.
The Art Team worked on two important locations throughout March: one near a blasted and dying planet and the other close to the Coil. In the coming weeks, more of the team will move onto these locations, with the aim to get them ‘content complete’ for a handful of chapters by the end of the quarter.
Deep space has been getting an art overhaul too, with three key locations (called ‘mini-systems’ internally) now in place and ready for polish. These systems form three separate parts of the overall Squadron 42 map and each has its own unique flavor.
A capital ship is being brought up to scratch by the same team who worked on the Idris. They’re also designing a social hub, a foundry for a major space station, a visual target for an asteroid base, and a number of other tasks that can’t be divulged just yet. All of this is alongside working closely with the design, UI, and cinematic teams to ensure they each have what they need to move forward.
Last month, the Character Art Team further developed concepts for SQ42’s alien species, including finalizing textures for the Vanduul. Modeling work continued on several outfits too, such as the Basilisk armor and pilot flight-suit, both of which are awaiting low-poly texturing. Progress continues on the female character model too, which is closely related to the customizer features recently added to the Persistent Universe.
When the team planned cinematics for SQ42, they were torn between using the player perspective for increased immersion and a more ‘filmic’ camera that could focus on the cast and reveal performance details the player could otherwise miss. As the game doesn’t ‘cheat’ the player’s presence in cutscenes (due to the unified first and third person player rig), they realized they could potentially have both. Additional code was added to enable the player entity and camera to be controlled via Trackview, which allows the team (and player) to switch between points of view (POV) with a button press. By default, these new ‘breakfree’ scenes use third person, but players can choose to break free and watch the scene from the player character’s POV when they want. The player can return to the filmic version with a press of the same button. This also allows the team to show more of the customized player face and body. And, when the player looks around in first person (via limited look ranges specifically for that cinematic), their actions are visible when switching back to third person.
The Engine Team continued work on Temporal Sample Antialiasing (TSAA) with general quality improvements that translated to less flickering and a sharper picture. They also adjusted the TSAA bicubic filter frame time to prevent the accumulation of ringing artifacts at high framerates. For hair, they added an experimental option for custom tangents, removed the temporary scatter model, moved the hair mask to variation map alpha, improved edge masking, and added card support for the hair physically-based rendering (PBR) shader.
They also completed rendering support for CPU-accessible textures for RTT video comms calls and optimized shaders to avoided unnecessary resource creation (e.g in GPU skinning). The Initial ImGUI integration was completed and will be used to unify and improve the in-game profiling tools. System and module integration were added to avoid an unorganized collection of tools and a text/tag searchable configuration system for registered tools (similar to Visual Code) was implemented. To better improve load times, the team created a new load time profiler to track file access (times accessed, data transfer, etc.), amended the IO scheduler for SSDs and HDDs to give faster load times and response, and vastly improved file access in the shader system to speed up initialization at start-up.
In addition to the compile-time analysis tool developed last month, they finalized an add-in tool to generate optimal uber file sets and, as a result, reshuffled game uber files for even better compile times. Work also began on a physics debugger that will allow the team to record issues, play them back, freeze time, etc. to help understand and speed up fixing complex physics issues.
The Actor Feature Team finished off Vault & Mantling, which included validating the mechanic with the new female player character. They’ve now moved onto the next iteration of jumping, making progress on animations by simplifying the selection count, giving more weight and polish, and utilizing time-warping tech. The first pass of unarmed, non-lethal stealth takedowns has been implemented, which allows the player to punch and knock down enemies.
The team experimented with a new over-the-shoulder camera for cinematics and started looking into how to track the player’s mission performance and what variables need to be exposed to the designers.
The AI Team adjusted the way story scenes are set up and how NPCs enter and exit to make sure they’re positioned correctly. AI ‘push/pull’ behavior has been improved too, so NPCs flying with the player can’t get too far ahead or fall behind.
The Gameplay Story Team tackled scenes from chapter four, with the majority now either done or planned for implementation. The remaining scenes will be worked on for the next few months until complete. They also managed to get a couple of scenes properly interacting with the environment and working correctly in operator seats, which was a significant technical achievement. They're currently working closely with the Social AI Team on usables and are starting to see improvements throughout the system.
Regarding vid-comms and general render-to-texture, the teams fixed a few issues that were interfering with brightness along with intermittent cases where lights on holograms were disappearing. They also switched most holographic scenes over to a forward-shaded render pipeline to improve efficiency.
The SQ42 Design Team continued the push towards ‘broader’ vertical slice gameplay for the first third of the game. This focus threw up a number of technical challenges that had to be overcome to get all of the game chapters linking correctly and consistently within the mission flow.
Updates to performance capture and in-cockpit scenes are currently being swapped from the narrative placeholders to more polished final representations that support branching conversations, reputation, and player actions.
AI focus was mostly on the social side, with the team building behaviors and schedules for ship crews, which is now possible thanks to the usables pipeline delivering final templates for integration.
Narrative continued to sync with the Art Team on the new characters being introduced in Squadron 42. They’re also moving ahead on how mission markers and placement are to be perceived.
QA assisted with mocap recordings for a few scenes where AI characters were missing transitions between their animations. Fixing this makes the animations during certain movements entirely seamless and fluid.
They also worked on creating a cinematics ship zoo test map. Different ship issues will sometimes occur in-game rather than in Trackview, so having them pre-set up makes reproducing (and fixing) bugs much quicker and easier.
They’re currently providing dedicated support to the Cinematics Team, investigating any issues they may encounter that hinder their workflow.
Tech Art continued work on the ‘look-at’ system for redirecting mocap animations, in particular, the head and eyes. Due to recent improvements, eyes are now perfectly aligned and look right into the camera and the player’s eyes in a natural way. Following on, the team began investigating ways to add saccadic eye movements. These rapid and often subtle eye movements happen subconsciously during conversation, with eyes ‘scanning’ the face rather than staying entirely focused on one spot. If these quasi-random movements are missing entirely, the eyes appear to stare at you in an uncanny, almost robotic way. Soft rotation limits were also added to character eyes and the look-at system to improve on the unnatural cutoffs used previously.
The team also worked on multiple prop rigs for cinematic and gameplay-story animations and began work on the first version of a remote exporter for animations. In its final version, this will speed up the team’s workflow, especially for cinematic animation, because the animator can outsource the export to another machine and continue working.
Throughout March, UI supported the SQ42 Environment Team with graphic design needs, such as keypad iconography and background UI displays for Aciedo Station.
The VFX Team have been working on a custom VDB batch tool for the designers. This allows them to run a simple mesh shape through several custom Houdini presets and have it automatically create a volume the designers can use without them having to open the program themselves. This way, the designers can efficiently iterate on layouts without requiring direct support from the VFX artists.
They also worked on various cinematics using vector fields to make particles move in a more realistic and interesting way around certain ships. For example, particles flowing around a ship’s hull.
Last month, the team continued to block out key destruction sequences whilst working closely with the Art and Design teams. They also began reworking EMP effects, making use of some of the newer GPU particle improvements to make sure it doesn’t look too similar to lightning. The EMP doesn’t deal physical damage, so it’s important to emphasize that from a readability standpoint.
The Weapon Art Team started work on the Apocalypse Arms Animus missile launcher, the Klaus & Werner Lumin SMG, and new upgrade levels for various ship weapons.