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FPS Status Post Analysis Written Tuesday 12th of May 2015 at 09:54am by Erris

Citizens!  Last week, CIG released a bevy of new information about the upcoming FPS mode.  Check below for The Relay’s analysis thereof! CIG’s report was broken into segments, and this analysis will look at each...

Citizens!  Last week, CIG released a bevy of new information about the upcoming FPS mode.  Check below for The Relay’s analysis thereof!

CIG’s report was broken into segments, and this analysis will look at each segment on its own, starting with the intro from Chris Roberts.

Star Marine – FPS Update

In the intro to the post, Chris talks about where Star Marine comes from; that it comes from the same place as Star Citizen itself; a dream that has existed since the days of Wing Commander.  A dream that kicked off the First Person Universe of Star Citizen.

CR acknowledges that the FPS Module will be the next big release for Star Citizen, and that, unlike Arena Commander, Star Marine will be launching as something more.  Star Marine will launch with animation fidelity and attention to detail that we would not normally expect from an ‘Alpha’ game.  It will not be a finished game, but it will be more finished than the ‘alpha’ moniker implies.

What CR’s intro, and truly the entire design post, lacks, is any indication of when we might finally be able to play Star Marine ourselves.

Still, even without that most crucial piece of information, a release date, the FPS post is still filled to the brim with interesting, important information.  So here we go.

Characters

Written by CIG Austin and Santa Monica, the Characters section of the design post begins to detail the impressive amount of detail that has been added to the Star Marine characters over the last couple months.  All of the characters currently in development have had major overhauls, as can be evidenced by some of the videos included in the post.

One important bit of information to glean from the Characters portion is that, while characters in Star Marine and the Persistant Universe will allow some customization of your characters, Squadron 42 will not.  In Squadron 42, you will be able to select the gender and appearance of your character, but will be unable to customize gear, outfits, etc…

That CIG are intent on specifying that Squadron 42 won’t allow that level of customization, it suggests that we will be getting that same customization in Star Marine.  Expect to be able to select outfits, gear, appearance, and more, if not at launch, then soon after.

The rest of the Characters section talks about the efforts to bring new rendering techniques, PBR materials, etc… to bear, ratcheting up the quality of the FPS characters, and ensuring that the character models feel truly ‘Next Gen’.

Specifics in Development:

Increased poly-count

More physically accurate materials

Fixing and limiting Anti-Aliasing issues

Laying the Groundwork for customization system

Character Modularity

Character Optimization and levels of detail

Multi-Layer Blending

Character Class and Type specifics

PU Character Standards

All in all, it sounds and looks like the extra time CIG have had to get Star Marine ready for the public has drastically increased the quality of the characters we will be playing with.

Animation

CIG Santa Monica have been re-vamping the Animation system for Star Marine.  Large portions of their efforts have been going into making sure that the zero-G animations look realistic.  This includes R&D, hand-keyed animations, etc…  Santa Monica mention that while they had problems getting a solid zero-G motion set in the game,

‘our partners at Illfonic and our very own Sean Tracy were able to help us solve that.’

While they also confirm that the fixes are still in development, and will require a lot more work on the animation side, it sounds like they’ve made enough progress so that it feels good.

Santa Monica also talk about, and show brief video of, the work going into making the ground combat for Star Marine look realistic as well.  The animations look amazing, especially the slide into cover clip from later in the report.

The talk about different animations for the normal Marine and the Heavy Marine is welcome, and hopefully there will be a separate animation set for the Light Marine as well.  The further the armour classes differ from each other, the more unique the game will feel. Having characters that feel like they’re moving the way they should grants a lot of realism, and in a game like Star Citizen, that realism is key.

Art and Environment

Illfonic speak next about Art and Environment work that they have been conducting, key of which seems to be a new lighting model for the game.  Interesting to note here is that the new lighting model is not only a big step over what Illfonic were working on for Star Marine, but it is also being applied to the game as a whole.

Illfonic list a number of important tweaks to the art and environment that they have been working on, and it sounds like many of them are not only focused on creating a better looking game, but a better playing one.  Game-play layout changes in the Golden Horizon level, Game-play specific artist level changes for Astro-Arena and Golden Horizon…

The delays to Star Marine are giving us a better looking, and better planned-out, game.

Art and Environment changes list:

Adjusting the ambient lights

Game-play layout changes in the Golden Horizon level

Adding stadium style canned lighting on the ring and above the goals

Increased fidelity on the advertisements on both ring and ad drones

Added frosted back-lite panels on the cover modules

Overall increased the global lighting contrast

Added smaller human scale lights

Added more smaller human sized details for scale across many assets in each level

Creating animated advertisements that are used on the Ad drones buzzing around the exterior of the Astro-Arena

An Improved skybox with additional nebula assets

An additional lighting pass on Golden Horizon

Game-play specific artistic level changes for both Astro-Arena and Golden Horizon

SATABall & Zero-G

The section on SATABall and zero-G movement talks a lot about SATABall, and how the game works.  What matters to us though, is the reason for SATABall.  As per CIG, SATABall is a way to test the zero-G environment, to test the animations, and to test their new zero-G ragdoll system.

Examples of ways the new partial ragdoll system will be used are:

Getting stunned by a weapon, and having the character go temporarily “limp” before returning control.

Allowing the extremities to go limp while incapacitated or injured.

This is currently functional for full-body transitions, with partial-body support coming next.

To me this suggests this:

You get hit by a shot in the leg, your leg is incapacitated.  The rest of your body works, and continues attempting to move, to run and duck and hide, etc… but your leg is gone, limp.  This will affect your movement, the way you deal with taking damage, the way you continue playing after taking damage.

One common thing in FPS games is that, regardless of how hurt you are, the only noticeable change you might have is some reddening of the screen to show that you’re bloody, perhaps the sound of a heavier breath.

Here, if you get injured, you won’t be as effective in battle.  You will have to go slow, take cover, seek out a medic.  This is the first true hint we’ve had in this post of the pace of the game.

The animation system talked about here, and the injury system detailed in the health mechanics design post we got several months ago, both intentionally slow down the game.  They make it so you simply can’t go running and gunning and expect to be effective.

I could go on about this point, how it changes a lot of the notions that have been held onto in FPS games for decades, but we’ll get to that later.  For now, lets move on.

Jukes and Movement Transitions

Okay, we’ve moved on enough, I want to talk about how Star Marine will change FPS games again.  And look!  Jukes and Movement Transitions!  Perfect timing.

In the post, CIG themselves say:

‘This encourages players to think more tactically about their movement and to stay aware of their surroundings. It also makes the animations look much smoother by removing pops from quick input changes. So we’re sorry to say but we won’t be supporting 180 no-scoping or strafe-jumping.’

So what are jukes and movement transitions?  Simply put, they’re the stages a body goes through when changing directions.  Run forward, even for a few steps, and then reverse and run backwards.  In many FPS games, there is no transition time, no momentum.  You go from forwards to backwards in a split second.  In Star Marine, that transition will be drawn out, because the entire action will be animated.

While not all games have 180 no-scoping and strafe-jumping (ARMA, for example, doesn’t even have jumping), most do. For decades, most FPS games have not modeled realistic movements. Current-gen games like Battlefield and Call of Duty, all the way back to the origins of FPS like Duke Nukem, Doom, and Quake… these games are built around movement that is never hampered. They’re built around the ability to seamlessly transition from running in one direction to running in another to jumping, going prone, etcetera.

The only recent example I can think of a game conforming to the idea that momentum exists was Battlefield 4.  When it first launched, momentum was carried over; changes in direction took longer, and the gameplay changed as a result.  Unfortunately, the devs caved under pressure, and they removed the effect of momentum on player movement.

Star Marine will be doing away with this.

Whether this will be a good change or not (and I very, very strongly believe it’s a good change), Jukes will slow down the pace of the game.  Between Jukes, movement transitions, more detailed animations that support and reflect injuries, the more detailed medical system… Star Marine should end up being a much more methodical form of FPS, something more akin to the old Rainbow Six games.

Routes and plans of action will have to be thought out much more thoroughly, as the game will likely rely more on planning and coordination than twitch movements.  If you’re running through a corridor, and someone opens fire on you, you will not be able to instantly change directions and duck for cover.  So your plan of movement through that corridor will have to change.  Movement will take time, patience, supporting fire and short, cover-to-cover movements.

And it’ll look excellent as well:

Matchmaking

In this section on Matchmaking, CIG admit that, in order to get Arena Commander out the door nearly a year ago, some corners were cut, leading to stability and performance issues.  In the year since then, and especially more recently, CIG have been working on fixing the issues created all those months ago, and the first comprehensive update will arrive with the Star Marine module.  It will include ‘a completely new matchmaker, game instance manager, and party service’.

The hope is that the new system should a smoother multiplayer experience all around.

They’ve also inputted a number of fixes that should decrease loading time (some of which are apparently already visible in Arena Commander), and are building with the future in mind.

Efficient netcode is extremely important for both Dogfighting and FPS games, and the revamped Matchmaking system coming with FPS should be incredibly welcome.

Technology

‘x64 bit world coordinate system, the conversion to x64 global entity id’s, geometry streaming,GOST (Game Object State Machine), Voxelized Local/Multi Physics Grids and many more. Star Marine will also sport an updated renderer using a unified diffuse/spec attenuation model and re-factored area lights’

If you don’t understand quite what CIG are talking about above, you’re not alone.  This section, unfortunately, goes mostly over my head.  What does come clear from this section is what we’re playing now in Arena Commander, it’s old tech.  When Star Marine launches, we can expect a more efficient, more consistent, more reliable client.

We can expect a more visually and technically stunning game.  And while we can expect that it will have bugs at first launch, we know that everything CIG learn from stepping up their game for FPS, they will carry over to turning the Social module, Squadron 42, and the Persistent Universe itself into the best damned game they can.

Audio

In short, Star Citizen has recently been migrated to a new integrated, interactive sound engine, Wwise.  This new toolset:

‘gives Sound Designers the ability to manage resources such as memory, CPU, and audible bandwidth – and make decisions as to how the balance between them falls’.

Switching to Wwise has allowed CIG to make use of the following tools:

Wwise Meter: As well as assisting with mixing, with this we can actually feed signal back to the game: we’re talking with VFX about driving certain parameters based on audio signal. Fire sounds can change fireVFX, for instance. We sample reality and that can drive things realistically

Ducking: If you absolutely require critical-path dialogue to be heard, it can move the rest of the soundscape down so it’s definitely delivered

Loudness Metering: We want to ensure consistency and dynamic range, and this can be configured to match the hardware that the player is using, to their preference

HDR: Perceived loudness can be achieved without assailing the player with sound pressure that would be actually deafening

In CIG’s own words,

‘Where the longer term goals of Star Citizen are concerned: we’re restructuring our sounds and approaches to audio to be more extensible, more re-configurable and layered and/or granular. Rather than mixing complex layers of sound down into single assets, which can be quite inflexible, we can cater for a more variable open-world (or open-universe, even) by recombining them at runtime. We will have a higher voice count… Where the game is based around components that the player can reconfigure into any number of permutations, the audio can follow.’

In short? If you thought Arena Commander sounded good now, prepare to be blown away once the transition to Wwise is complete.

Conclusion

And now for the saddest part of the post.  In the conclusion, CIG promise to provide regular updates on the Comm-Link and during Around the ‘Verse until they’re ready to kick off the first public release of Star Marine.  While they say they’re just as eager to launch the module as we are to play it (they clearly haven’t spoken to me), this sentence does suggest that it will likely be a few weeks, at least, before Star Marine sees the light of day.

Did you see something we missed?  Do you have thoughts on what we talked about?  Let us know in the comments below!

Erris

Founder

Erris is Canadian. He does some random things for Relay, no-one really knows what, but still they're stuck with him. He’s also written one Young Adult novel that he can’t stand, which can be found here.

You can find him on Twitter too, if you want.