Sandi Gardiner (SG): Hello and welcome to another episode of Around the Verse. I'm Sandi Gardiner ...
Chris Roberts (CR): ...and I'm Chris Roberts.
SG: This week we'll take our usual look at the Roadmap with a PU Project Update, take a deep dive into the continuing development of Service Beacons, and welcome Bugsmashers to AtV.
CR: Yes, so more on that later. Now, let's go once more to Ricky Jutley for this week's Star Citizen Project Update.
Ricky Jutley (RJ): Thanks guys. Let's kick things off at the top of the Roadmap. First, let's check back in on characters. More progress has been made on the legacy armor sets due out with the release of 3.2 and some new mission givers and shopkeepers have animation phases wrapping up. Moving down the Roadmap into gameplay shopping kiosks continue to be tweaked from the UI and player experience to their physical design. These rough work-in-progress clips show the progress being made on the flow and working path for the kiosks. Eventually there will be several unique designs for the kiosks with specific looks and branding.
Audio continues testing sound design for the different function and phases of the mining mechanic. We can hear different effects for the laser itself and the rock being destroyed. As you can tell the sound element is going to go a long way towards enhancing the mining experience ramping up the anticipation and ending with a satisfying payoff. VFX has started work on visualizations as well, and here we see tests being done to see how the effects differ depending on whether or not the mining attempt is successful. In that first clip, it seems the laser is off target or something went awry. We can see in the second clip how a well aimed mining laser created minimal blowback from the rock.
VFX have also been working on some R&D for Xi’An ship explosions and QT effects. We made them with the new GPU kelnoise functionality which allows us to apply distinctive visual language to all Xi’An effects. Previously we had to bake this wispy ethereal style into textures, but now we’re able to make use of high particle counts to achieve ideal visual clarity.
The Ship Teams have been working on several vessels to become flyable in 3.2 and others that will be unleashed in subsequent releases. Work has been done on the EMP capabilities of the Avenger Warlock, and the Constellation Phoenix is currently in final art with passes being made on as many bells and whistles including the fish tank and the hot tub. Ship Teams have also been working on improvements to already flyable ships, as seen here with adjustments to the animation for the Starfarer’s landing sequence.
The Props Team continues to turn out hangar props like this repair drone, these extractors, and this large machine sledge. These props will comprise a set that can ultimately be mixed and matched to create a sense of realism to hangars and other blue collar settings throughout the verse. And speaking of hangars and space stations, procedural layout work is ongoing as more passes are done on various configurations to see what looks good with lighting and set dressing and what still needs to be added or adjusted.
The Environment Art Teams also implementing CR’s notes to add more variation in terms of shops, signage and material swaps. More work has also been done on the hangar elements for modular stations as NPC stand-ins, props and other kinetic objects are being tested. The goal is to make the spaces buzz with activity and feel lived in. The Rest Stop exteriors are also looking good with the team awaiting delivery of the advertising graphics from UI at which point they’ll be able to replace the work-in-progress ones.
Environment Art has also been testing the visuals and procedural generations for biomes and environments that you’ll find on the planet, Hurston, and its moons in Alpha 3.3, while identifying natural points of interest where gameplay will take place. Here you see some tests being done on the dense forests and how they’ll fit into the topography of the planet. A placement tool has also been developed to assist the Live Design Team in placing outdoor locations and a footprint validates tool has been implemented in order for designers to predefine what they want to do spatially with a specific location. It’s backend tools like these that will make live design and implementation much easier as the team populates planets, moons and more with structures and viable points of interest for gameplay.
Finally, looking to foundational core tech work for upcoming releases planet tech continues to receive enhancements some of which we may see in Alpha 3.2. Some of these improvements include increased channels to allow for more complex biomes and integrate minable entities into the environments, improved color tinting, and soft blending which will lead to better integration of objects on the terrain.
That’s it for this week. We’ll have more updates next week. Now, back to you in the studio.
SG: Thanks Ricky. Remember to check out the public Roadmap on the RSI website where you can follow along with PU development yourself.
CR: Yes. It’s cool to see so many gameplay improvements coming along as much of the focus for 3.2 has been put on them. One of the gameplay elements that we are currently working to improve and expand are the service beacons.
SG: Yes. Making their debut 3.1 service beacons represent the evolution of player created missions in the game.
CR: So let’s take a look how the devs have been implementing the system and continuing to improve on it in this week’s feature
Rob Reininger (RR): The service beacons are player generated missions, and we wanted to give the players the opportunity to interact with each other on a level that most MMOs don’t really do. A lot of them have PvP, but this is like I’ve taken a mission that’s too big for me to do, so I want to give other people an opportunity to help me with that.
Tony Zurovec (TZ): At a conceptual level the service beacon is a mechanism that allows players that want something to easily form a short term contract with others that want to provide it. This is a much more important feature than it might initially appear, because it effectively means we’re leveraging the player base to supplement and enhance the scripted and systemic content that’s available within the game, while at the same time because other players are involved injecting a very unpredictable element that’s ultimately going to result in a lot of very unique gameplay experiences. Just as importantly by constantly pushing players together, when they’ve got compatible interests, the service beacon is going to help foster the creation of relationships within the community, and that in turn will lead to the formation of a lot of new friendships, alliances and in the case of deals gone bad sometimes even vendettas.
So, 3.1 laid the architectural framework for all this functionality and introduce the first couple of beacons, and you can now hire other players to defend you or ask them to transport you to wherever you want to go, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of where we want to take this system. We’re aiming to push it a lot farther in the future.
RR: You’re going through the exact same way that you would do any other mission. You open up your mission manager. You have a beacons tab, so if you want to generate a new beacon for somebody else to take, you need a service, then you can go there and create a new beacon. So like the beacon type. Fill out the parameters. It’s really simple right now. Fill out how much money you’re willing to pay. Either combat assistance is by the minute or the personal transport is just a one lump sum payment, and create a beacon, and you can respond to it directly through that, or you can actually go into the mission manager and go into the general tab and other player’s missions show up on a beacon header in there.
Zane Bien (ZB): On the UI side we figured it made the most sense to utilize the existing mission manager screen to implement these new features. So along with our mobiGlas overhaul that we did to expand the amount of real estate the mobiGlas took up on the screen, we factored in the service beacon correction screen.
Michael Dalston (MD): Our goal with the UI on the beacon creation screen was that it would be fairly self-apparent as to how a player would interact with it. There were very few pieces of information needed for the player. They needed to know what kind of beacon they wanted to create, and then based on that other elements would turn on. In this case I want to go somewhere. Well where do you want to go? We need to give that to the player. If you’re wanting combat assistance. That information is not needed, so we would need to turn that on and off as applicable, and then validate everything is correct. That you have a price, you have a reputation request, you have a location, and then send that off to the code.
So we had to layout the different drop downs, make sure they would work out correctly there just so that when you look at it, it’s not … we don’t have to do a tutorial. We don’t have to explain how this works. You see it. It makes sense, and you’re able to just run with it. That was the core goal of the way we ended up setting up the UI. Also making sure we’re going to have additional beacons going forward, and when we do that we want this system to easily adapt, add in, or change out modules in there as needed and just be able to just punch these out from the UI standpoint relatively quickly compared to the initial framework setup.
ZB: So in designing the service beacon system we implemented a rating system where players can be rated both on how they provide the contract and how they actually execute the contract. So, both sides. Also the players are rated on a per contract type basis, so essentially … For example you are very good at doing personal transport type of contract, however you may not be so good at combat. So you have different ratings for both of those. So it doesn’t make sense to have an overall rating, because you could be really good at one thing, but not so good at another, and so we have that split out. So as a requester of contracts you are able to specify what the minimum rating is for people to accept your contracts, so a person with a two star rating won’t be able to accept your contract if you specify that as three or four stars. So right now you can’t as a requester of contracts … as a person who configures a contract you can’t necessarily see the rating of the person who’s accepted the contract. As a player who accepts contracts you are able to see what your rating is compared to what the minimum rating of the contract is. So contracts that are higher than your rating won’t show up in the mission manager. So you can’t see a four star contract if you’re rated at only three stars.
MD: Another thing we had to set up is the missions need to show up to other players. So, once I create the beacon, it gets broadcasted out, and another player would see it show up on their mobiGlas. Through the existing mission system we already have a lot of that happening. Well we just needed to expand that to allow these player created missions to also be picked up and broadcasted to the rest of the mission screen, which is why when you go in you can see - when you go to the beacons - tab it shows other created missions that the players able to select and/or the one you’ve created to cancel out, and then in available missions you can see which missions players have created, and you can accept those just as though it was any other mission. So we are using the player’s ingrained knowledge of how the system already works and letting that drive how they interact with this.
ZB: Right now our existing notification system is a little bit rudimentary. It only handles single strings, and it’s just a simple cue for those messages, but later down the line we want to introduce designers the control to be able to push in notifications that require an accept or decline action, or a mission objective which has a timer, and different types of notifications would have different ways of being presented on the screen, and transitioning off the screen to be able to visually associate with other HUD elements. So for instance, a mission objective that comes on would flash on the screen for maybe a second, and then that would tuck away in the direction of where you have a persistent objective list on your HUD. So we want to have more visual association with those notifications so it’s easier to see what they apply to. Basically expanding the capability of the notification system so we don’t have to have a hacked totally separate layer of UI. We … it could all just factor into the same thing.
RR: When we created the personal contract beacon and the combat assist beacon we had to make different game rules to make those things work, so we had to think about the logic that needed to be implemented, and what I mean by that is … what does it mean to be successfully transported from one location to another? I needed to be picked up. I needed to be detected within the bounds of somebody else’s ship. I needed to be successfully landed at the destination that I chose. And so, we want to try and make it so that these things are … players can’t exploit the system. So as we move forward we’re going to make it so … oh well combat assist, you actually have to be within a certain range of somebody in order to be considered assisting them. If you’re across the universe you’re not really helping me out, right. So, as we go through these different contract types and the different beacon types we really need to make sure that we catch all of these edge cases and try and put in some game logic that really focuses on removing those exploits from the system. So tailoring each mission and each beacon type to what they really need and how to get those exploits out, that’s really important task, so it really enhances the player experience, and it gets rid of some of the trolling that can happen in some of the MMOs that you see out there.
Chad Mckinney (CM): The service beacons are part of a new class of features that we’re making in the game that are really leveraging the services technology that we’re writing for the backend, and what this allows us to do is write game features that can communicate with players that will be in the future across several server instances, and this is a requirement as we look towards a future where the game is actually running in a server mesh, so not the entire universe or solar system even is running on one server, instead we have a mesh of servers that are running the logic in simulation for regions of this space. So because of that, we need to write some kind of infrastructure that allows gameplay … gameflow to occur even with players that are across these different server nodes and when they may traverse the bounds of the different server nodes. And so, this adds some interesting complexity to the development process, but also lot of excitement I think as well.
TZ: The interface for the service beacon is going to gradually evolve in a number of different ways. Cosmetically notifications are going to become diegetic so that the presentation of the information doesn’t rip you out of the game. Reputational feedback? That’s going to expand from a simple good/bad rating to a more flexible five star system that will allow you to more precisely rate the other party. We’re also going to add support for hot keys so that you can do things like quickly and easily dispatch calls for combat assistance when you’re under attack and doing everything you can to evade enemy fire. Now you can already limit your interactions with other players based on their reputation, and we’re going to expand that system to allow you to limit your dealings to just those players that are friends or members of select organizations.
One of the most interesting upcoming features to me though is going to be the ability of the system to record a variety of stats relating to the provider’s performance and give you that feedback in real time. So, combat escorts will have things like their hit ratio and kill percentage tracked, personal transports will record things like elapsed time and average speed, and fuel suppliers will have their transfer efficiency monitored. This information will allow you, the employer, to more effectively determine when and whether to terminate a contract as well as what kind of reputational feedback you eventually want to give.
ZB: Right now the service beacons are just factored into one category that you see on the mission screen, and to actually create that beacon … to create a player generated mission you/we implemented a new tab for specifically for service beacons in which you are able to view all of your beacons that you have created previously, and you are able to have a form to create a beacon as well. So, right now it’s very basic. You can specify the type of contract. Basically there’s only two types at the moment and yeah, we’ll specify a location and a price, however later down the line we want to massively extend this to be able to configure it in various ways, so you can set up logic like pay a certain amount if they’ve done a certain task or whatever. So there’s going to be a much more robust functionality later on down the road for creating contracts.
TZ: We’re going to expand the system to allow some contract types to support multiple providers. So for example, if you want a combat escort to tag along and protect your valuable cargo as you make a run through a particularly dangerous area of space, you’ll be able to specify how many hire slots are available for that particular job with each provider working as an independent contractor towards that common goal.
Another big change is that NPCs are going to gain the ability to interface to the service beacon, and what this means is that overall on the employer side this is going to help us inject a lot more life into the world. So based upon what the backend simulation dictates we’ll be able to ensure that a given area always has the right mixture and quantity of contract jobs on offer and players can elect to respond to or ignore those opportunities however they see fit. And over on the provider side NPCs will do their own mental calculus to determine whether the reward offered justifies the effort and expense, and if so then they’ll compete with players for those opportunities. And what this means in the long term is we’ll be able to guide prices for these jobs into a reasonable range and also ensure that we’ve got the ability to fill in the gaps with an NPC when players aren’t willing to step up. Perhaps because there aren’t any in that area or maybe because they are just doing … they’re just busy doing something else.
We’re currently in the process of working on several new types of contracts with escorts slated to be the next one out of the gate, and it’s going to combine regular payments with quantum linking so that you can travel anywhere as a group. Another interesting one is assassination which is going to allow you to put a price on someone’s head and introduce the concept of multiple providers vying for a single prize. The point of interest beacon is going to take things in a slightly different direction and allow information you’ve discovered such as the location of a derelict ship that can be salvaged or a rich deposit of ore that can be mined to be shared or sold to others. Refuel and repair, those will come along a bit later along with the associated gameplay and eventually a number of other contract types.
RR: It’s the beginning of the system and it should be … it’s ... players are already talking about it and having fun with it, so it’s pretty exciting.
CR: So as service beacons continue to be improved and expanded in 3.2 and beyond these player generated missions will become an intrical part of the Star Citizen experience fleshing out the universe, adding a lot of variable content, and unpredictable situations for players.
SG: As mentioned earlier Bugsmashers is joining us this week as a segment here on AtV. Without further adieu let’s give our resident Bugsmasher General Mark Abent a warm Around the Verse welcome. Take it away.
Mark Abent (MA): Hey everyone. Welcome to Bugsmashers I’m your host, Mark Abent. Let’s get smashing.
[Title Sequence Plays]
Hey everyone we’re here in my fancy dancy … well not test map, but Port Olisar. One day it’ll get renamed to Port Bugsmasher, and we got a fun little bug where supposedly when we spawn ships all of our weapons fall off, so I’m going to spawn my favorite ship, Cutlass, mostly because I can type, “cut”, and it spawns. And I’m going to zoom around. You can kind of see my guns just floating around in space, because they’re like, “I don’t like you anymore. I’m just not going to be part of your ship”, so like fly away. There go my missiles, and yeah. Apparently this is happening in all of the game. You know you come in one day, everything’s fine. You come in the next day, and all your guns and missiles are flying off your ship.
So, let’s see what is happening. This was a very weird one, and it caused a lot of confusion, because well this makes no sense. And one of the first things we were looking at in what was happening is looking at the server console, and we’re finding … oh where is it … somewhere in here so many things. Where? Go down. Console doesn’t even show it anymore. Showing other stuff. Oh, there it is. We’re seeing … there it is. Entity component network set network parent and what this is basically is saying is if we have a gun, and we have a turret, and we have a ship the parent of the gun should be the turret and the turret’s parent should be the ship, but what this error is saying is the mount or the turret is not yet bound to the network, so the gun can not be parented to the gun, so it’s parenting it to the ship, and this is bizarre, because the ship’s supposed to spawn, then the turret, and once the turret is bound to the network then we spawn the gun. It’s this whole batch system that we have to make sure things come in the right order, and we’re getting network spam saying, “Well that’s not happening.”
So, let’s go to … ah ha … the set network parent. We’ll put a breakpoint on there and see what is happening. Let me get out of my fancy dancy ship, and we’ll spawn inside of another Cutlass. Shazam! We got the debug. All right. Looks like we just hit it. Take a look at the call stack, and we are … ah ha. So we’re spawning the entity. Then we’re spawning a bunch of the item ports, and then that’s calling more things to spawn, but the interesting thing is in the spawn entity function we are going through this top level instead of this bottom level. Now this top level is meant for as you’re loading in the game as a client, we just spawn stuff directly, while this bottom level was meant for if I’m spawning a ship, a turret, and a gun, we put them in a batch so they spawn correctly in order and we don’t spawn the next thing until … well it’s all ready. However, we’re bypassing this and the even stranger part is this bit where it’s called, “IsLoadingScreenActive”. The loading screen is not supposed to be enabled on the dedicated server. In fact, it should never be enabled, because that means that we’re loading UI code on the dedicated server. So what I’m going to do is go into the bit of code that turns on that pool and if we’re the dedicated server we shall basically cause a debug break, so we can see what’s turning it on.
Alright, so let’s compile the code and give it a try. Alright, code got compiled. Let’s start up the dedicated server and see what’s enabling the background screen, which should not happen. Start up cepew level. Should hit a breakpoint … one day. Ah ha! We hit it. So let’s see how we’re doing this. It’s interesting enough. We’re hitting it from the loading screen. So yay, it is the UI. So when the UI gets enabled it sets it’s background screen, and I guess it’s never turning it off, because well the server’s not meant to be doing any of this. So what we’re going to do is look for where all the UI gets created. Ah ha. Found here. So we have the global game UI, the front end and then the menu screen pause. What we’re going to do is move this bit of code into here, and what this will make sure is that if we are running the dedicated server we’re not going to run some UI codes, so it won’t turn on the background loading, so that the spawn system will spawn correctly in the batches and then everyone will have their amazing weapons on their ship. So let’s give that a compile and see what happens.
Alright, through movie magic we are back at Port Olisar with the new improved compiled code. So we will spawn the amazing Cutlass and see what happens. This time I have to go into it ... into the amazing pilot seat, and I still have all the guns attached to the ship. Sweet. So if I fly out ... out of the green zone I should be able to go pew, pew, pew. Warp speed! There we go. So all my guns and missiles are still attached and everything is back to how it should.There you have it. UI code causing shenanigans on the dedicated server. Guys … liked that one.
So as you guys saw we had a fun little incident where all of our weapons well were falling off and that’s a little big thing, and funny enough it was because UI code was loading in the background dedicated server when it shouldn’t have setting some bull to true and then the server … I’m sorry ... the spawn system was checking to see if it was the client spawning, and it caused havoc, which bypassed the spawn batch so things were spawning incorrectly and ugh, a whole big mess.
[Dulcet Solution Tones of Finality via Zyloh-phone]
Luckily this is the stuff we have to deal with as a gameplay programmer, and all we had to do was just shut off the UI loading code and dedicated server. Everything was good to go. Hope you guys enjoyed. Until next time.
CR: Thanks Mark. Smashing as always.
CR: Who writes this stuff?
SG: Most definitely. You still have a few days to enter our Intel screenshot contest. NarayanN7 took the top spot in round two by capturing this inspiring vista. Check out Spectrum for a closer look at all the entries and your chance to win your own Intel Optane 900P solid state drive.
CR: Yeah, and there’s been some really pretty impressive shots submitted so far. You can check them out on the Spectrum forums, and I’m looking forward to seeing round three.
SG: Tickets for CitizenCon are now available. We look forward to you joining us on October 10th at the Long Center in Austin, Texas for a full day of presentations, interactions and fun.
CR: Yeah. We’re going to be bringing everything you loved about last year’s event back and building on that foundation. It’s a really beautiful venue, and it’s going to be great bringing CitizenCon back to Austin where it all began.
SG: You can find all the details and purchase tickets in the Comm-Link section of the website, and while you’re there check out our newest concept ship, The Crusader Hercules.
CR: Yeah. You saw it featured last week on Ship Shape and this ship is definitely brew the ability to transport ground vehicles, small ships and massive amounts of cargo.
SG: That’s all for now. Tune in this week’s new Calling All Devs for answers to questions about pretty much everything related to flight control.
CR: And this week’s Reverse the Verse Live will feature more on service beacons, so get your questions in. Thank you to our subscribers for sponsoring our shows and we hope you’re enjoying those new exclusive ICC edition weapons.
SG: And of course thank you to all the backers for supporting the development of Star Citizen and Squadron 42.
CR: Yeah, and remember it’s Mother’s Day this weekend in the US and I think in Germany too, so don’t forget to call your mom. She’s probably always wanted a Hercules A2 gunship. If not, settle for some flowers.
SG: [Chuckles] And until next week we will see you …
Both: Around the Verse