Revisions to Marine and Outlaw armor as well as Port Olisar costume sets continue for 3.2 release
Gameplay quality is prioritized for focus due to feedback from last month's backer's survey
Shopping is improving with the economy balance in mind as well as improved kiosks and a greater variety of items
Upgrades to ship weapon and component configuration will affect gameplay as to things like overheating and system failures from factors such as wear and tear and component quality
VMA and PMA mobiGlas apps continue to be polished
Playing with friends, assisting and communicating with other players along with quantum linking and new and expanded service beacons are being implemented in response to community feedback
Mining, harvesting and the selling of ore along with the mining HUD and their intuitive visual and audio cues are coming along nicely for Alpha 3.2
With respect to AI, combat behavior and wildlines are being improved in regards to bounty hunting, interdiction and dogfighting with pirates in the PU
Ship designers continue their work on the Origin 600i, the Aegis Avenger variants, the Vanduul Blade and the Anvil Hurricane along with new weapons and props for the PU
Location Teams are prototyping Hurston, its moons and Loreville as well as making progress with the procedural layouts and lighting for rest stop stations
Sandi Gardiner (SG): Hello and welcome to another episode of Around the Verse. I’m Sandi Gardiner.
Dave Haddock (DH): And I’m Dave Haddock.
SG: Good to have you back again Dave.
DH: Thank you.
SG: In today’s episode we’ll see the process that brought the character customizer to fruition, and we’ll take a look at the Roadmap to get an update on early progress toward Alpha 3.2.
DH: Yep. As some of the devs continue to add polish and improve stability to 3.1 through smaller patches, most of the teams have shifted their focus to the next quarterly release.
SG: Yes they have, and things do move quickly on this schedule and work is already underway on various features and content planned for 3.2 as you can see if you checkout the Roadmap.
DH: Yeah. You can always follow along for yourself on the RSI website, but for a bit more insight into what the devs have been working on let’s go to Ricky Jutley in the UK.
SG: Take it away Ricky.
Ricky Jutley (RJ): Thanks guys. Let’s kick things off at the top of the Roadmap with characters. Work continues on revisions to several legacy armor sets with the light, medium and heavy versions of the marine and outlaw sets coming along, and the Port Olisar costume set ,also scheduled to be released in 3.2, is being worked on as well.
Gameplay is getting a lot of attention this quarter as we are trying to focus on quality of life improvements and upgrades to current ingame systems and features. We’re prioritizing development goals based on the feedback we received through last month’s backer survey and the need to make the current version of the game as fun and fulfilling as possible.
Improvements to the shopping experience currently being worked on including balancing and augmenting the ingame economy adding improved shopping kiosks and an expanded variety of items available to purchase.
We’ve also been upgrading ships and their components, so that the way you can configure weapons, shield generators, and allocation of power all factor into your ship performance and affect gameplay in significant ways. You’ll also see weapons overheat, misfire and suffer system failures based on configuration as well as factors like wear and tear, damage and the quality of the component itself.
The VMA and PMA mobiGlas apps continue to receive polish to visual presentation as well as tweaks to functionality. Some of which we saw on Around the Verse a couple of weeks ago.
From our community feedback some of the improvements you are most excited about relate to forming groups and interacting with fellow players. To that end we have teams working on enhancements that will make it much easier to play with friends, assist, and communicate with other players. Things like quantum linking, new and expanded service beacon contract types, like escort, will go a long way towards improving the cooperative Star Citizen experience.
All you perspective prospectors out there will be glad to hear that the mining mechanics are coming along nicely. With a full loop of mining coded we can see the mining laser breaking large rocks into smaller pieces. The extraction tools harvesting resources from the fragments and storing them in the ship’s storage containers. We can even sell the contents back in civilization for ingame currency. Work is also being done on the mining HUD and the audio/visual aspects of the mechanics. The idea is to make the gameplay intuitive using sound and graphics cues minimizing player’s need to refer to the UI especially as they become more familiar with the process.
[Audio/Visual Mining Laser Demo]
In the coming weeks these visual prototypes and audio work will be integrated with the code to create a cohesive experience that will continue to be tweaked and improved before making into Alpha 3.2.
Moving on to the AI, combat behavior and wildlines are being worked on in relation to PU bounty hunting missions, interdiction, and dogfighting with pirates.
Our ship designers have been working on aspects of the Origin 600i and reworked Aegis Avenger variants as seen in last week’s Ship Shape installment, and they continue to work on other vessels like the Vanduul Blade and the Anvil Hurricane. Meanwhile new weapons and props are in various stages of development and set to be unleashed in the PU.
Our Location Teams are turning out some very impressive visual prototyping for Hurston, its moons and its landing zone, Loreville. Those teams are also making exciting progress on the procedural layouts and visual detail work like lighting for the rest stop stations.
That’s all for now. We’ll see you next time with more on the PU.
DH: Thanks Ricky. It’s cool to see these early stages of the mining mechanic. I mean even in a pretty raw state you can see all of the components working together, and it’s going to be pretty exciting to see the audio and visuals coupled with this system in the coming months.
SG: Yes it will be and with a lot of improvements to existing features Alpha 3.2 is going to open up gameplay in a lot of fun ways, but now we’re going to take a closer look at a feature that was just introduced in 3.1, the Character Customizer.
DH: Even though it’s only the first iteration of the system that will eventually have many more options, the ability for players to tweak their character’s appearances already added a welcome bit of visual diversity to Star Citizen. This week’s feature we’re going to learn more about the inspiration and process behind the Character Customizer.
Josh Herman (JH): So in 3.1 you’ll be able to customise your character. This is the first time we’ve really been able to introduce this to the players. So we’re super excited about bringing this to you guys. You’ll be able to select from your head shape, your eye colour, your hairstyle, your hair colour, and your skin tone.
It is relatively simple Character Customiser and it is again just the first iteration of that, but we wanted to get that in front of you guys. Firstly because we’ve heard obviously, and we’ve been talking about this for a long time: wanted to get customisation, wanted to get it out for the players and let you guys play around with it. Second off we have to experience and go through a lot of tech setup issues: so how are we going to deal with items, how are we going to deal with persistency - ‘cause every time you customise your character we want everybody else to see that in the same way. We want to see … you want to see your friends just like you’ve customised yourself. You want to see what they’ve made of too.
There’s a lot of things that came in with persistency. A lot of things came in with how we’re creating and generating and choosing our items, but this is the first time that player’s will be able to customise anything.
Calix Reneau (CRu): Our characters are made up of items the same way everything else is made up of items. So those categories of your head and your hair are items that have that geometry that load in together and make up the “cobbled together” character that you end up with.
There are a couple of unique items in that set: the colour is not actually geometry. The way that we handle the colour switching on skin tone and hair colour is that when it attaches to an item it will actually alter the properties of the thing it’s attached to - swap out the materials that it’s using.
Kirk Tome (KT): Right and then the Character team that were working on each of the elements were able to provide us with each of those parts that we could piece together to form your custom character. But the modification that Calix was talking about were a special case. Right?
CRu: Yeah, we had to make those so that they could inject tags back into the parent entity. We needed to be able to control which items would be allowed to go with which other items. And for this, the first round of assets that we actually created, we’ve been able to accomodate all combinations; but the system we’ve built in such a way that if we made a particular hairstyle that was going to have some special colour or wouldn’t support certain colours - because we didn't’ have the art ready or may be if it didn’t fit the design of what was desired for that art - it would correctly populate the list of “here are hair colours that you can pick; here are the styles that you can pick”. So we had it so that it would correctly identify which things you had access to so that we wouldn’t have asset issue where they tried to combine things that would conflict.
KT: And so you did that via the tag system right?
CRu: Yeah. We had tags to define which things were allowed. We had tags that defined which things were ready to be in the customiser at all. And we had tags to alter things about which colour would be used.
KT: And then also we had issues where we hadn’t foreseen skin tone was applied to the head … was a fairly new system and slightly different than what the Character team was using in the past in that we found that the body tone that was made to match the skin tone they applied to the head - which again wasn’t a thing in the past - was something that we had to implement specifically for the Character Customiser. You want to talk about that?
CRu: Well because their all separate items they actually had to be addressed separately as well. So when you put a skin tone on your character it’s attaching to the head and also injecting that tag into the body. So it has to be able to traverse the whole skeleton, the whole hierarchy.
KT: Right and then by applying that tag to each of the body parts that were associated with the one they specifically modified it automatically allowed that particular tone to be applied that tag that cascaded down from that hierarchical implementation.
CRu: It made the data propagate correctly.
KT: Right and because of that it’s great because now allows - once we implement a system - it allows the Character team themselves to create new assets and it’s all data driven. So they make a new head and make a new skin tone, because they apply their tags in the system that we’ve implemented for them … once they create that asset and put it into the build it automatically populates into the menu as a selectable item and all of the different cascading properties that are applied just like any other head can happen simply by creating the asset.
Gaige Hallman (GH): And then once they get it set up we’ll take over the implementation and I’ll work with the Art team to actually get their work in the game properly. It’s complicated in that it never really works the way it’s expected. So the artist will sometimes have something else in mind or there isn’t always a perfect communication going on there - which is pretty normal just ‘cause things always develop in their own way - and also just the way the engine will handle the art it doesn’t always go as expected. So the artist will make their piece and it’ll look perfect when they make it but then the engine may interpret it a different way. So then a Tech Artist’s job can be getting what they actually made into the engine in the way they desired it to. This can go wrong with texture maps, normals, geometry: all kinds of things really.
CRu: One of the things for the Character Creator is that you have to have a UI. It’s a pretty obvious thing but everything … everything that interacts together is going to have tack on effects. And so, for instance, when you made the scene of the … where you’re seeing your character standing … and we initially had problems because our whole front end is unified so when you move screen to screen your in the same “level” and so we had issues where the geometry would still be visible from other screens. You’d go to Arena Commander and you wouldn’t be able to see your ship because it was behind a wall now. So we had to … we had a couple of surprises there.
And similarly for how we’re handling the actual layout of the UI to switch from the generic list of items to having the preview icons; having the preview of the character happening on roll-over so that you’d be able to have really, really fast and responsive previewing of the thing that you were going to chose.
KT: Obviously we wanted to make that experience of being able to see what you were going to do to your character as pleasant and as appealing as possible. And because of this - even though Calix is a designer - he was tasked to learn ActionScript specifically for the Flash side of things to make the menus work. So he quickly learned that and was actually the primary implementer of all of the front end that you see in the Character Customiser itself.
CRu: So getting all those … the grids to come in correctly and keep track of which items are which and … there’s a lot of moving parts in even something as simple as the Character Creator. So for this first iteration we wanted to make sure that it was reliable, and stable and that it performed as expected. And having the preview there, having the icons - although we’re having an issue now where the icons are suddenly not working in client only and so looking into that now, trying to find out what’s happening incorrectly … maybe it’s a pathing issue or inclusions but there’s always … very interesting problems with the Character Creator.
GH: The Character Creator can be described as player’s version of our Loadout Editor. Our Loadout Editor is the way we’ve assembled all the characters in the game so far. So all of our A-list actors to just our random NPC; we do those in this editor called Loadout Editor which works within our Lumberyard Space Engine. And essentially it’s just picking from massive lists of assets that we have that we’ve gotten from Character Art, implemented into the game, and then assembling together as the whole character. And really just the Character Creator that we’ve created now for the player is just a much, much nicer version of that.
Of course the implementation to simplify it that way is where things can go wrong. That’s why this process was a little more complicated. Because of course you want to make it more user-friendly whereas on the developer side things can become very un-user-friendly just in the process of moving forward.
We have a texture that we put on this skin - like you put a face on this character’s model - and then for the player to do it it seems like it’d be the same thing but there’s a lot that changes in terms of markup and limitations. Because on our end we can do a lot wrong whereas for the player you don’t want them to be able to do anything wrong. You want to remove any chance of error for the player and that’s essentially what the peak of the Character Customiser is: giving them as much flexibility as possible in the most stable environment.
KT: Just like a level or any type of logical system, Calix had to set up the menu itself so that it had a logic tree so that selecting this particular category brought up this submenu that showed … populated that item list by the number of items that were exposed to the Character Customiser itself then laid out all the icons in a nice easy format. Hovering over them did preview those items for you so that you didn’t have to commit to them before you did that. Once you hit accept then all the windows disappeared and then the confirmation window comes up giving you a clear view of your character that you can see. Making all those buttons do the correct thing so that by saving or cancelling it goes to the right place and saves out that particular loadout for your characters was … all the hooks for that were done through the front end of the menu.
CRu: Once we had the character up and ready to preview it felt kind of lifeless just standing there. Even swapping things out was very clinical and weird. So we brought in the animations to try and give it some life and we found quickly that a lot of our animations were not suited for standing around and being stared at for extremely long periods of time. So you’d start getting a lot of repetition, a lot of patterns that you wouldn’t normally notice just wandering around with our animations it would ... it’s very apparent when it’s right on screen in front of you for five minutes. So we started putting in the fidgets that we have, to be able to randomly choose between different expressions, and just the idle state. So we had to make some new tech for that because the way we handle Mannequin relies on code to trigger everything because we never want you to be beholden to animations: we want to make sure that the game is in charge of what you’re doing.
KT: Right and it’s the way to make the character feel a little bit more alive. And we want to, again, represent what you’d see in the game as someone that’s moving around and doing all your actions within the game.
CRu: So once we had that we had to make Mannequin able to actually loop which animation it would choose because it’s capable of choosing from a variety of fidgets but all the loop tech that we had lock you into a single animation and so you would keep doing the same thing which just puts us back in the same problem. So we had to make a modification to that animation code in order to make it choose the Mannequin fragment each time it completes. And so we have a new kind of loop that’s a “meta loop”.
KT: Since we’re talking about technical aspects of the Character Customiser some of the basis of the Character Customiser came from the same method in which you customise your armour and your clothing in the game which is through the PMA. And so we definitely need to disconnect some of those ties that were directly accessing those bits of code. Specifically because the Character Customiser required a little bit of different methodology as far as handling the different bits of the items that made up your character. And so that was one of the first tasks that we embarked on was to see which parts of the PMA that we needed to keep and see which ones we needed to a different path for to make the Character Customiser work fully. That was a bit of a growing pain situation but as we started iterating and finding bugs in the system we were quickly able to identify what needed to be changed and what was perfectly good.
CRu: Even something as simple as the order that items appear in the list, the Character Customiser just has different goals than Personal Manager does. So when you’re dealing with your inventory you’re not expecting to see your hair colours all in a row move from a lighter colour to a darker colour and make sense as opposed to kind of a random order or based on just their name. Even something as simple as just getting the sequence of these items into a familiar, logical order would often run into problems with the way that we needed to handle it elsewhere in the game using the same item methodology. So we had to add in a different sorting method.
KT: Right so some of the assumptions we made about the PMA, thinking that it had the infrastructure in order to allow us to identify what order was, found out that wasn’t the case. So we … as we wanted to present the information or at least your choices in a nice format we found that that’s something that we needed to inject into the Character Customiser itself.
Once you hit “accept” and then go into the game, you are able to return to the main screen and then re-customise your character if you find that you don’t particularly like your choices you made or just want to experiment with the other possibilities. Believe in the future we’re going to make that a function in which you need to go to, say, a specialist shop or some sort of cosmetic surgeon area …
CRu: Yeah. Yeah, there would actually be body modification vendors that you would seek out in the Universe and maybe some would have a different selection of the kind of things that you can change about your character. So it would be more of an immersive thing that you’d see somebody with particular features that means they’ve done particular things to get that.
KT: Right. So there’ll be physical locations in which you actually go to and make these changes occur rather than just being a menu at the beginning of the game.
JH: So for the Character team the biggest challenges for the Character Customiser were getting all the assets ready. So making sure that skin tones were blending between the bodies and the heads. Those are technically separate assets so it’s a little bit of work to make sure that they all line up well.
Additionally just creating different assets. We’ve shown this before but different hairstyles, different hair colours, different eye colours; and just making sure that they really work together.
The biggest challenge was actually the hair. So whenever you start including hair, especially in our game where your able to wear lots of different outfits, it creates problems. For example some bugs that we experienced were, let’s say I put on a hairstyle that’s a longer hairstyle - so maybe it’s the mohawk or something like that - as soon as you put on a helmet now that mohawk sticks through the helmet and that’s a problem. So we have to set up a bunch of tags which basically say “Am I wearing a helmet? Yes? If so, do something.” So for longer hairstyles when you’re inside of a helmet it will automatically swap your hair to be a snoopy cap or a skull cap that you wear. If your hair is short enough to go underneath the helmet, and not go through the glass, we actually keep your hair.
Other things were hats. So let’s say you customise your hairstyle - there’s nine hairstyle available in the customiser - and you put on any hat. Now before whenever you would put this on the hair would just go away and you’d be bald which is a problem. So we had to create “hat hair” for every hairstyle we have to create a custom variant or custom mesh that fits all the hats so that when you put on the hat it culls out, or deletes, the geometry above the hat line and just the things that are below the hat line so your character isn’t bald.
So there’s a lot of just making sure whatever is being chosen is also being maintained and kept up and keeps that visual look.
SG: Thanks everyone. I can’t wait to see how this feature grows over time. You can already pull together some pretty wild looks, and the options are only going to allow for more and more diversity.
DH: That’s right and with more armor and clothing choices being added with each release, which we saw earlier in the update, you’ll also be able to personalize your character’s gear and wardrobe.
SG: BritizenCon is coming up this weekend in Manchester and tickets to that are still available at BritizenCon.UK, and we’ll have details about our very own CitizenCon event in an upcoming Comm-Link so stay tuned for that.
DH: Remember those large scale replicas of Star Citizen props and furniture we saw last year at CitzenCon?
SG: I do, and you can purchase some officially licensed Star Citizen items designed by the same team that produced those very props. Check the video description for a link and more details. You’re definitely going to want to check them out.
DH: You can also check out our latest concept ship, the innovative Origin 100 Series on the RSI website now. There’s lots of information about the ship themselves and their cutting edge fuel system in the Comm-Link section. And for those of you who still haven’t had a chance to get into the game we have discounted starter packages available in the pledge store for a limited time.
SG: And that’s all for this week. Remember to check out tomorrow’s episode of Reverse the Verse live at 9:00 am PDT tomorrow on Twitch where Jared chats with Lee Banyard and Philip Peers-Smallwood from the audio team. It should be quite the listen.
DH: And be sure to check out the new episode of Calling All Devs that aired earlier this week for answers to backer questions about persistence, snub craft and more. A big thanks to our subscribers for sponsoring all of our shows.
SG: And of course thank you to all of our backers. Your support allows us to continue to make Star Citizen and Squadron 42 the best they can be. Until next week we will see you …
DH & SG: … Around the Verse! [Iconic Hand Wave]