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Around the Verse: Eclipsing the competition Written Thursday 25th of May 2017 at 03:33pm by CanadianSyrup, StormyWinters and Sunjammer

As per usual, anything said during the show is subject to change by CIG and may not always be accurate at the time of posting. Also any mistakes you see that I may have missed, please let me know so I can correct them. Enjoy the show!

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Studio Update

The Frankfurt office has grown to 74 employees with the annual summit taking place in Frankfurt for several days to get everyone synchronized.

AI:

  • A sprint has been started on human combat with the goal of improving combat work done in previous months to bring it to a representation of the final quality. 
  • These improvements include shooting functionality with accuracy and friendly fire and behaviour to non friendly opponents both visual and hearing.
  • Ship AI has been updated to now use Item system 2.0.
  • Work on AI modules to allow players to dictate what they want controlled via AI on the ship.

System Design:

  • Worked on the air traffic control system by adding conversations and a smart system for pilots wishing to land or take off.
  • Doors have been updated to item 2.0 which is needed for other tech such as breaching, hacking, and atmosphere.
  • Prototypes on dynamic advertising in game which will display relevant information to the player in the form of broadcasts or warnings to screens nearby to them in stations.

Lighting:

  • Continued work on surface outposts, specifically the habitation sets.
  • Team has been trying to solve the issues of the dark side of planets being too dark and adding another layer to the atmosphere that will brighten the dark side just enough to where a player can make out silhouettes and the horizon. 
  • Supporting Squadron 42 in providing benchmarks for the environment lighting team to achieve for visuals in the levels.

Engine Team:

  • Implemented the initial version of the new IO scheduler which will improve streaming performance for textures, meshes, sounds and whatever else is being streamed in and out of the game to keep it within the memory budget. 
  • Eventually it will enable the job manager to better utilize CPU cores in cases where jobs are waiting for IO.
  • This also lays groundwork for a version of the scheduler to exploit the advantage of SSDs and their superior random disk properties to allow for multiple concurrent data streams with high throughput.
  • Incremental patcher has moved to an internal phase of QA testing which allows for devs and gamers to download only what has changed or been added.
  • Revived a tool called Memory Play to help seek out memory leaks and fix them when they crop up to allow for better server stability.
  • Improvements to atmospheric lighting detail in darker areas.
  • Further work on the object container streaming, SolED, PlanED and a rewrite of the living entity code.

Environment Art:

  • Exterior of Levski has been getting some attention and the surrounding area around Levski is being populated with slightly larger mining structures than what was in place before.
  • Optimizations to Levski has been ongoing as well.
  • Delmar is getting polish and the assets and rocks are being finalized.
  • Setting up specific asset scattering presets for the different ecosytems to populate the asteroids with defined objects.
  • Planet tech improvements now allow for significantly more textures on terrain which allows for more diverse surfaces.

TechArt:

  • Work on animations for useables and for the cinematics steam.
  • Prototyping a Vanduul weapon and physical simulation R&D for weapons.

VFX:

  • Animated decals have been implemented which allows them to project certain animated textures on objects so that it'll follow the contours of the objects instead of them being flat plane.
  • VFX team grey by one memory who has been responsible for the large amount of cinematic work left for Squadron 42 which includes soft and rigid body simulations, destruction, particle effects, and scene setups.

QA:

  • John Land has joined the team and has become a valuable asset with regards to GameDev client issues.
  • Testing of the new stamina system is ongoing to provide data for game programmers to use for fixes and improvements to the system itself.
  • Testing the patcher, the editor, server connections, and the SC Client using the new PAK system to catch crashes and differences between builds pulled with the old patcher versus the new patcher.

Weapons: 

  • R&D on weapon skins which include camouflage, decals, and material variations.
  • Ship weapon team is working on the Preacher Armaments Distortion Scattergun S1 to S3 and the Apocalypse Arms Ballistic Scattergun S1 to S3

Cinematics:

  • Focus on Previs pipeline to bring almost all cinematics into the game regardless of their current state for designers and directors to get a better idea of flow and pacing for the full playthrough.
  • Set up an area within the studio for Mocap that can be set up within an hour for animations needed for R&D, background characters in scenes, and linking animations that aren't aligning properly.

Game programming:

  • Did a pass on improving door and airlock functionality. Both of which are being hooked up to the Item 2.0 system.
  • Added the feature of having different muzzle flashes based on a weapons current rate of fire.
  • Planning has started on the improved weapon system which will be based on the Item 2.0 system to allow for designers to create wider variety of weapons more easily and address certain technical issues such as clientside prediction and server authority. They hop to have implementation beginning in the new few weeks.

Ship Shape: Eclipse

  • Aegis is one of the older companies; their ships generally have long sweeping lines and clean bodies

  • Design brief was for a stealth bomber with echoes of other ships like the B2 bomber (often with Star Citizen you start with something familiar and advance it)

  • Original design started with the Avenger but moved more towards the Sabre as it developed

  • Started with two intakes, then four (two top and two bottom) but settled on four on top

  • It has a clean profile and minimal cross-section which help it to be stealthy (and menacing)

  • It has two size two guns and holds three size nine torpedoes within a new rotating firing mechanism

  • It has multiple wing configurations: in atmosphere the winds fully extend and winglets deploy on the nose and towards the back

  • It has folding wings for landing and the landing gear is part of the folded wings

  • It will have a niche: it's no dogfighter, it's not agile but you find a big target you can kill it!


Full Transcript

Intro With Josh Herman (Character Art Director), Sean Tracy (Tech Content Director). Timestamped Link.

Sean Tracy (ST): Hello and welcome to Around the Verse, our weekly look at Star Citizen development. I’m Sean Tracy

Josh Herman (JH): And I’m Josh Herman. In this episode we have a ship shape focus on Aegis Eclipse, the newly declassified stealth bomber unveiled at the UEE last week. 

ST: But before that let’s go to Frankfurt for a Studio Update.

Studio Update With Brian Chambers (Development Director, Foundry 42 Frankfurt). Timestamped Link.

Brian Chambers (BC): Hello everyone, my name is Brian Chambers and I’m the development Director of Frankfurt Office of Foundry 42. This past month the team welcomed a few new members, bringing us up to a total now 74 employee’s.

 We routinely visitors to the office and this month was no exception with people here from both our US and U.K. offices. Most of the senior production staff from across all the offices came together in one place for their annual summit. Had some intensive meetings and discussed upcoming and ongoing plans and we found that a few days face to face without distraction can actually go a long way.

 So let’s kick off this month with checking in with the AI team. The AI team has worked on numerous items over the past few weeks and I’ll just mention a few and show you a few things. They started a sprint focused on human combat. With the end guild of improving all the combat work done in the previous months into something that represents our final quality. Their initially focusing on all the shooting functionalities, making sure the basic controls for accuracy and friendly fire are implemented correctly. They’re also diving into improving the behaviors related to the first initial reactions of something non friendly seen or heard from a wide range of distances.

 They also finished converting the ship AI to a newer updated version meaning that weapons shields and countermeasures now work with the new SC item 2.0 system. For now it also supports the old ships to void any compatability issues that creep up. This is part of an ongoing effort to move ships away from Kythera AI control and brings us one step closer to fully switching to subsumption based AI for all the ships.

 Both ship and vehicle seats can be controlled by either players, NPCs or an AI module. The past month the AI team did some work on the AI modules. The AI module represents an item that can be attached to any seat of a spaceship or turret and execute a behavior logic defined with the subsumption editor. You might look at it as a custom piece of software that could be instructed to take control the same items that are available to players sitting in the same seat. It might work for example as an autopilot or autonomously take control of the turret and fire at any target. This feature is crucial ion multi crew ships where the pilot might assign certain activities to the AI modules instead of another player or NPC.

 The system design guys have been pushing forward with the air traffic control system. Adding conversations with the traffic controller and a smart system for allocating landing pads for pilots wanting to land or take off. They also updated all doors to version 2.0 which now makes them modular and a lot easier to implement. Each door having switchable loadouts, the ability to connect two rooms so air can travel between them and generally a lot more functionality needed for new systems that are already in the works such as breaching and hacking. They also started reworking airlocks so they can work better with the room and atmospheric system. They did some rough prototyping work on dynamic advertising which will contextually fill in the ingame panels and screens throughout stations with content that’s reflecting the interests of the player that enters its proximity. The same system could be used for showing large scale broadcasts and warning throughout the universe based on what’s happening in the game at that specific moment either globally or locally.

 Our Lead Lighting Artist, Chris has been continuing work on the surface outposts, particularly on the habitation sets as well as keeping in sync with the U.K. environment art team with all their updates to assets and dressing. One issue lighting has been trying to solve for 3.0 is how to improve of visibility on the dark side of moons. Previously without any interest objects in the sky, relying solely on cube maps would mean the planet's surface would be visibly too dark and the player really wouldn’t be able to see any detail in the environment around them. So Chris worked with the engineers to add another layer of the atmospheric glow and radiance. The glow allows us to brighten the atmosphere, give it a nice gradient that shows the shape of the horizon and gives some depth in front of the player and the radiance gives us a base level of brightness on the actual surface geometry so the player can faintly see themselves as well as the surface around them. Finally he’s also been providing support for S42 environment lighting and helping set visual benchmarks for each of the levels.

 The engine team recently implemented the initial version of our new IO scheduler. This system will improve streaming performances: textures, meshes, sounds, etc, are constantly being streamed in and evicted based on what’s being used to stay within a certain memory budget. Eventually it will also allow the job manager to better utilize CPU cores in cases where streaming jobs are waiting for IO. Moreover it lays the groundwork for a version of the scheduler, specifically designed for SSD drives to exploit their superior random disk properties that will allow for multiple concurrent data streams with high throughput. All in all this ensures all data is available in time for complex scenes to render without having to wait for LOD’s and all the related artifacts. Meanwhile the incremental patcher moved to an internal phase of QA testing. As previously discussed this system is designed to deliver builds incrementally to devs and gamers alike. So every time you update the game you’ll only need to download what is actually changed or been added since the last time. This update process will be therefore a lot, a lot faster. .

 We also revived our internal memory analysis tool for Linux called Memory Play. This was to help us find out and fix memory leaks on server instances much faster. Memory leaks are one of the contributing factors for server stability and we want fixed as possible to make sure our servers can run for a long long time without any issues. On the rendering side several improvements have been made to the atmosphere and night skies as I mentioned in the lighting update. The night side of the planet and moons now exhibit more details due to in scattered moon light and visible sky gradient in the distance when close to the terrain surface. We’re also looking into additional improvements for stronger ground based haze to further increase visual cues, perseen readability and make our lighting artists happy. They also continued working on the object container streaming, SolED, as well as PlanED, and rewrite of the living entity code as previously mentioned is on track.

 The environment art team continued to work on the Levski exterior in combination with the level designers. Both art and design work regularly closely together to verify that the art that's been created is made in a way that doesn’t break any portion of the design. The last layout changes for Levski are coming in and the set dressing pass is close to being complete. The area around Levski is also being populated with slightly larger mining structures than what we previously had. Since the Levski exterior has grown a lot of the past few weeks, it’s also going through an optimization pass with the artists looking to reduce memory consumption wherever applicable and making each individual asset as efficient as possible.

 The terrain of Delmar is getting polished up and both the assets and rocks are all being finalized. We’re also setting up the specific asset scattering presets for the different ecosystems to populate the asteroids with defined objects. The planet tech has gotten a couple new features recently, the overall amount of materials that can be used on the terrain has increased significantly, therefore new materials are being created to make the surfaces even more diverse from one another. Along with that, the moon's also got a performance boost by optimizing which assets are being drawn on the surface of the procedural entities at any given time.

 The techart team worked on multiple Manikin tasks, including animations for both usables and the cinematics team. Manikin is a tool within Lumberyard that allows us to construct complex interactive character animations fairly easy. They also refined some of the earlier shown pipeline tools by adding new features and fixing bugs to make them easier to use and more dependable. They did a handful of additional things such as prototyping a Vanduul weapon, some physical simulation R&D for weapons and bug fixes to name a few.

 The VFX team in Frankfurt has been continuing to work on particles for the planet effects. One of the new features we recently implemented are animated decals. This now allows us to project certain animated textures on the objects so it’ll follow the contours of those objects instead of having them on a flat plane that is roughly aligned to the surface. This helps to integrate certain effects into the world a lot more efficiently and with much better results than what we could do previously.

 The VFX team in Frankfurt also grew by one member this month. He’ll primarily be focused on the large amount of cinematic work that needs to be done for Squadron 42, including soft and rigid body simulations as well as destruction, particle effects, and the scene setups to go along with those.

 The QA team this month grew by one member, John Land. He got up to speed fast and soon became a primary point of contact for any GameDev client issues in Frankfurt. Ensuring that he knows the current state of GameDev at any given time. He’s also been heavily involved with various system testing this month such as the new stamina system currently being worked on in both Frankfurt and U.K. offices. Together with Glenn Neil they were also to being the initial testing pass in an effort to gather data for our game programmers to use for bug fixes and overall improvements to the system.

 QA team’s also been working on testing the patcher itself, the editor, server connections, and the Star Citizen client using the new PAK system in order to catch crashes and differences between builds pulled with the old patcher versus the new patcher. It’s an ongoing test that they perform daily to stay on top of any potential issues that arrive from build to build. Additionally they spent time testing various multiplayer issues for the stem system which included moon collision testing. They work extremely close with the engineers and test very specific things in a very specific way to get the data the engineers are after. The engineers then take those findings to work out fixes for issues and also improve things such as stability and potential memory issues.

 This month the FPS weapons team was primarily focused on R&D efforts for weapon skins. They spent time prototyping camouflage patterns, decals, and material variations. This will set us up for future weapon customization and allow us to quickly and easily create specific one off variants when we want. The ship weapons artists are currently working on the Preacher Armaments distortion scattergun, S1 to S3 and started work on the Apocalypse Arms Ballistic scattergun S1 to S3.

 The past month the cinematics team focused on Previs pipeline with the goal of getting most of the cinematics into the game regardless of their current state, either polished or rough. This will help designers and directors alike to get a better idea of the overall flow and pacing for the full playthrough of Squadron 42. The next few weeks they’ll be working closely with facial and audio team to get a full representation of performances working in engine. They also spent some time getting a small motion capture system setup in one of our common areas with help from Kyle Moody from the U.K. For those that don’t know, motion capture or mocap allows us to capture an actor's motions and map them to a digital character. It’s a way for us to quickly generate a base animation for the animators  to then modify if they need. We set up 11 optitrack cameras in total which gave us a small capture volume of roughly three meters squared. The cinematics team will primarily use it to capture background characters for individual scenes as well as transition animations to help link animations that are not quite aligning. Can also be used to capture quick animations that we can use for outstanding R&D tasks for our animation engineers and save the animators some time. This system won’t be set up permanently, but once we have a small list of animations that we want, the team can set it up in about an hour and quickly get working.

 The game programming team in Frankfurt has grown over the past few months. The team is currently three people with one lead and two regulars. This month they did a pass on improving the functionality of doors, then started working on airlocks. Both the doors and airlocks need to be setup as simplified as possible and integrated with the latest changes of Item 2.0 system. They also added a few small features to the weapons such as the ability to have different muzzle flash effects or different vent effects based on the current fire mode as well as fixed numerous bugs.

 They also started planning the work needed for the improved weapon system. This new system is based on the Item 2.0 system and will allow the designers to create a wider variety of weapons more easily. It’ll also address technical issues such as client side prediction and server authority. It’s still in the research phase and it is a long term effort, however we’re confident that we’re on the right track and implementation can begin within the next few weeks.

 So that wraps it up for Frankfurt this month. Appreciate all the support. You enable us to do what we love to do and I will be back next month with another update, see you in the verse.

Back to Studio With Josh Herman (Character Art Director), Sean Tracy (Tech Content Director). Timestamped Link.

JH: A lot of interesting stuff in the update, imagine being stuck on the dark side of the moon when they didn’t add the atmospheric glow, it might be pretty realistic but not every good for visibility.

 ST: Yeah, that’s a good example of how game design works. Figure out a way for one sun to light an entire system only to create this new problem. So considering how hard the environment and art teams work to make this game look beautiful, it would be a shame if you couldn’t see any of the textures.

 JH: Yeah, exactly. Let’s talk about something that’s supposed to be hard to see, the Aegis Eclipse. This new stealth bomber has several great features including different wing positions for atmospheric and space travel.

 ST: Here’s a Ship Shape for more details on this exciting new ship.

Ship Shape With Paul Jones (Art Director), Geoff Coffin (Senior QA Tester). Timestamped Link.

Paul Jones (PJ): My name’s Paul Jones; I’m one of the Art Directors here at Foundry 42.

 Geoffrey Coffin (GC): I’m Geof from Tech Design; Tech Designer that made the Eclipse or made the spec for the Eclipse.

 PJ: Aegis is meant to be one of the older companies in our lore. Generally long, long sweeping lines - quite clean body. Always well thought out, not greebly and not like … it’s not industrial. There’s a certain level of clean industrial design that’s gone into these.

 GC: The Eclipse was the first ship I got to actually create in Tech Design. I’ve been in Tech Design for about a year now but I’ve picked up a lot of other people’s ships like the Argo and the Idris. But this was the first ship I was given the design brief of. We want to make a stealth bomber. It needs to have echoes of other ships like the B2 bomber. And then I just got to run with it.   

 PJ: Most people have a certain idea in their head’s of what a stealth bomber is. And we haven’t really strayed far from that. That’s always the way in Star Citizen: you often deal with things that people are familiar with and then you advance it. Originally started with Avenger - sweeping lines - and then as we’ve developed we shifted away from that and went more towards a Sabre styling.

 GC: Initially we … I envisaged it being a descendant of the Avenger so it would have lots of the similar tellings Avenger - the smooth shape, the long profile - but as the ship design went along the ship became a bit more angular, much like the likes of the Sabre.

 PJ: In the concept process we’re starting with … we always start with a rough shape. We then started pushing towards Sabre styling. And then it’s always that top profile - that sort of delta - cockpits and then your intakes. We started off with a traditional two intakes and then we decided to bisect them and then have two intakes on the top, two intakes on the bottom: see what that does. And they was like “Okay, I don’t like that” so let’s try four on the top which make a really striking feature of the ship. And then that was pretty much it, that was it, that was like “Okay, that’s the one we’re going for”. Because this is meant to be stealth bomber of the future, sort of felt it worked … it worked better to push in that direction.

 GC: So this, even more so than the Sabre, is going to be a very stealthy vessel. But unlike the Sabre it’s no dogfighter.

 PJ: We stuck fairly close to the brief, and we gave Chris his options of slightly wilder ones - ones that were sort of entering probably more into Batman territory maybe. Chris was like “Oh no, I like this one”. From there off we go. Basically it’s how can we take something familiar, how can we advance it but still keep it recognisable.

GC: The Eclipse is … it’s very much a military ship. I was looking at a lot of the stealth fighters, obviously, that exist. The B2 was a very heavy inspiration for the design of the ship. Just looking at the ship from the front you have this clean profile where you have the wings and it just bulbs out the body a bit. And that’s kind of what I wanted to work out with the Eclipse. Having it loaded with loads of bombs and loads of guns dangling off it all over the place; it wouldn’t look stealthy and in a way that minimalist design is kind of menacing. You’ll see the shape coming and you’ll know immediately what it is.

 Currently the way stealth works is your ship has a cross-section and that’s how easy you are to detect and, yeah, a lot of that is radar. One of the guys in QA used to actually play with the Hornet Ghost where you could turn off all these systems like you’ve got your engines and you could turn off your shield generators and it reduces loads of your signatures so much that you can only detect it when you are looking directly at it. And that was one of his favourite strategies in Arena Commander. And that’s the sort of thing I was thinking of with the Eclipse is when you’re flying towards a target, if you know roughly where they are, you fly towards them and you go dark a bit - you’ll turn off any systems you don’t need right now - and then when you get closer light everything up and try and get them.

 PJ: We’ve got a bomb bay that holds three torpedoes.

 GC: They’re size nines; the same as the Retaliator. And while a lot of the space on the interior of the Retaliator is occupied with its torpedo bays, in the Eclipse we had to tone it down a bit - keep it a lot more compact. So we’ve created a new torpedo firing mechanism which is just like a … it’s like a tube inside the ship that will have three torpedoes inside it. It will fire one torpedo and then rotate and you can fire another one.

 PJ: And then also featuring in functionality adding to the ship part way through the process. So it’s got multiple configurations of the wings.

 GC: When the ship is in atmosphere the wings … the wings actually fold back a bit and when it’s in atmosphere they’ll fold out fully so it’s got the full flat profile. And it’s got a handful of little fins - on the nose and towards the back - and they’ll be popping out to give the guise that it flies better in atmosphere; and if we can we’ll definitely be giving it that kind of profile and update. But in space all this stuff is going to pop back in and the wing’s going to tuck back a little bit and … which should make its profile slightly smaller so it will be slightly harder to shoot, slightly harder to detect.

 PJ: And the the other defining feature was its landing state. So it's a very … it’s quite a wide ship and so it wasn’t going to work for quite a lot of landing areas. So this rifts off a lot of what the military do on a lot of aircraft carriers so we’ve got folding wings. It isn’t quite … they don’t fold over as far as military. We’ve kept … we’ve gone for a very certain graphic style - cuts a very noticeable silhouette. And then the landing gear is part of the folded wings.

 GC: It’s one of those … it’s going to have a niche. It’s definitely not going to be …  you're not going have it like a Hornet and take it anywhere and see what you can do. If you take this off fighting regular pirates near a station you’re wasting your time because these size nine torpedoes are going to take forever and a day to hit. They’re going to take forever to lock on. You’ve only got two size two guns and the ship doesn’t … it doesn’t … it can dogfight at a pinch but it’s no dogfighter. It’s one of the key things I wanted to stress is it’s not so much ponderous but definitely it’s not agile. But then if you do know where a big target is, you can get a Constellation on it’s own you can kill it.

PJ: It’s going to be a really cools ship to watch come in and then wings fold up and it’s sat on the ground so it looks really intimidating. Those … which is what we were driving for and it’s what you want as a stealth bomber; you want something that’s going to cause trouble and look like it too.

Outro With Josh Herman (Character Art Director), Sean Tracy (Tech Content Director). Timestamped Link.

JH: Great work guys, if you want to add this stealth ship to your fleet, the Aegis Eclipse is on sale until Friday, June 2.

 ST: Subscribers can also learn more about the Aegis Eclipse by checking out the latest edition of Jump Point and visiting the vault for some concept images.

 JH: We also answered some questions about the Eclipse earlier this week so check out the ship Q+A for more information.

 ST: So that’s it for this episode of AtV, a big thanks to all of our backers for your support, we couldn’t build a game like this without you.

 JH: Thanks for watching, we’ll see you…

 ST/JH: Around the Verse.

CanadianSyrup

Director of Transcripts

A polite Canadian who takes pride in making other peoples day brighter. He enjoys waffles with Maplesyrup, making delicious puns and striving for perfection in screaming at the T.V. during hockey games.

StormyWinters

Director of Fiction

Moonlighting as a writer in her spare time StormyWinters combines her passion for the written word and love of science fiction resulting in innumerable works of fiction. As the Director of Fiction, she works with a fantastic team of writers to bring you amazing stories that transport you to new places week after week.

Sunjammer

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