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Around the Verse: Pillar Talk Written Thursday 8th of November 2018 at 12:00am by Nehkara

Chris and Sandi get down and dirty with the latest tech pillar... and new cloud tech is shown off!

Full Transcript

*Winning Mustang Beta Ship Commercial - by Hasgaha, Damnshame, and Utho Riley*


Sandi Gardiner (SG): We just saw the winning entry in our recent Consolidat Outland Mustang Commercial Contest. Congratulations to the crew that made that pretty impressive ad!

Chris Roberts (CR): Yeah, it was very impressive. There are some familiar names in the credits there like Mr. Hasgaha but you know what? All of the entries were actually really impressive so I would definitely recommend…

SG: Check them out!

CR: Not just checking out the winning one but the runners up and the other entries too. There’s a thread that has them all in. The community content is awesome, so well done everybody!

SG: It is and with that we welcome you to another episode of Around the ‘Verse! I’m Sandi Gardiner.

CR: And I’m Chris Roberts.

SG: Today we’ll dig into some ongoing progress with core tech but first we’re going to take a look at the state of Alpha 3.3 and some upcoming changes to the roadmap.

CR: Yes, so we’ve got some good news and some bad news.

SG: Okay, give me the good news first.

CR: Okay, that’s always much better.

So, Alpha 3.3 is going live tomorrow which is really cool and 3.35 with Hurston and Lorville, part of it, is coming to the PTU in short order as soon as we go live on 3.3. We had to get 3.3 out live before we could move the next release into the PTU phase. So, that’s a really important step and people will be able to play a nice stable 3.3 but also explore Hurston if they’re willing to put up with a few crashes in the PTU and that gets us closer to the next thing up the list.

SG: So, that doesn’t suck.

CR: No, it doesn’t. It’s a little later than we wanted to be but it’s a lot of content and the most important thing is that the Object Container Streaming technology is now stable enough for us to go live and that’s a big, big thing as we’ve been working on that for well over a year.  It’s the tech pillar that’s going to allow us to scale the rest of the world on the client side and on the technology side we’re really happy because that’s passing a pretty big goal post that we needed to get past. It’s taken us, obviously, longer than we thought and it’s been a bit more complicated and difficult than we thought but that is the case with that R&D that you have to do and there’s so many issues that go into it that we’ve already discussed. It’s good to be done. Good to get that work in.

SG: Very cool. So, what’s the bad news then?

CR: Okay, well, the bad news is that some things are going to move out of 3.4 and into 3.5. I think people understand or are aware of the fact that 3.3 is running late, so it’s been putting a lot of pressure on 3.4 and the biggest knock-on, and this is probably not particularly apparent to people, is the fact that each one of our releases - when we make a 3.3 or a 3.2 - comes from GameDev which is our main development stream.

It tends to be a combination of slightly unstable and full of a whole bunch of content that you’re not ready or you don’t want to put in the current release. Instead of excluding things, because there are so many things, we include things - okay we want these things in this release - and so it takes a lot of time, anywhere from… I think we’ve never done it shorter than 2 weeks but it’s usually more like 4 weeks because we have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of files. GameDev itself is almost 2 terabytes of just the data set of GameDev itself, and that’s not just the archived stuff - that is like the actual working set. So, most people only have a small portion of it depending on what area they’re working on.

So, we have to make sure the right ones are going across and it’s only the stuff that you need for 3.3 which then also takes time to stabilize. So, if we go back after we get 3.3 back to GameDev and then try to stabilize it and get it out, everybody on the development side - and this was something that came up just this week - essentially have said, “It’s going to put us in risk of releasing 3.4 by the end of this year.”

So, we still want to be date driven when we can when we’re not waiting for some tech pillar, so we’ve made the hard decision to basically stay in the 3.3 branch which will become 3.4 once 3.3 and 3.35 is out and then move the bits of content and functionality across that we can easily from GameDev. That means that we can’t move everything that we were planning to have for 3.4 and some stuff is a bit of a bridge too far, so we’re going to lose some…

SG: So, what are these “things” that are being pushed out?

CR: So, some of the things we can move from GameDev and some of the things we can’t. Now, we’re going to have the Hurston Business District in 3.4, so we’re making sure that that’s going to be in and polished. We’re going to do a lot more work and improvements on the FOIP and VOIP stuff. The other ships that we had scheduled for coming in for 3.4 will be in 3.4 as well because it’s much easier to bring a ship, or a weapon, or a gun across. But, you’ll know in the roadmap that’s going to be updated tomorrow what has moved and what hasn’t moved.

The biggest one is the female player character because that touches a massive amount of stuff.

SG: But why is it so hard for me to get my female character that I want?

CR: It’s not just the fact that there’s thousands of animations that have to be done, we have the same issues that you do in the real world where in your car seat you can adjust your seat if you have different length arms and different length legs.

The female skeleton is 5’8” and the male skeleton is 6’0”, so we have to have solutions for the female getting into cockpits and not having the hands hyperextended or the legs hyperextended.

So, there is some tech that comes in there. There is some stuff that happens in the character customizer. Clothes are another issue. So, there are a huge amount of touches, a massive amount of departments, and there is a lot of work and people have been working on it for quite a while so it’s not something that we just started. It just is in GameDev and we’re not in a position to bring it into the 3.3 stream.

The other one is ArcCorp. ArcCorp has a whole bunch of proc planet improvements that have happened in GameDev. We have some shader work we have done for the new city stuff that is sitting in GameDev so we can’t get that across which kind of stops the LODs for the cities and stuff so we can’t bring that across. Also, ArcCorp’s big and we want to take the time and do it right and that’s okay because ArcCorp itself probably… we’ve been compressed by how long 3.3’s taken, so it would be nice to make sure that’s done. So, those are the two big headline ones.

On a ship basis we’re in pretty good shape on all of the ships except the 300 series has run up right against the end of the year and that’s not including the things like the LODs and the setups for the damage states and stuff like that - and the variants - so we made the decision to move that out to 3.5 to give them time to finish all of that up properly.

Those are the big headlines ones that have moved out.

SG: But making this decision, why now? Why am I hearing about it now? Why do you make these decisions - it seems late is what it feels to me.

CR: This came - we do our Monday morning leadership meetings and in the most recent meeting basically production came back, crunched the numbers, and said, “Look, if we go from GameDev into 3.4 - if we come into the worst case scenario and it takes us 4 weeks to stabilize that, we’re going to have no time to get testing, PTU, and Evocati, and be out for December 20th.”

So, basically everyone came back on the development side and said, “If we do this, we’ll be in grave risk of missing a 3.4 release at the end of the year on December 20th.”

SG: So, it’s either no 3.4 for me or 3.4 light?

CR: Yes.

SG: I love finding these things out.

CR: Yeah… well, you’re not the only one. But we’re a big company and there’s a lot of things going on.

We have better tools now to look at how long it takes us and estimate trajectories and make decisions in soon enough time to not have everything - for instance miss having 3.4 get out at the end of the year.

SG: So, is there any silver lining in my bad news?

CR: I don’t know if there’s a silver lining other than we’re working on all of these things. We try to share everything as it happens live. Really, the proper answer on why it’s so late is because you’re basically learning about it within a week of us deciding that and coming to that realization. It’s not something we’ve been sitting on for months.

We were hoping and projecting to get 3.3 stable and out weeks ago but we haven’t, it’s taken a little more time. But, it’s worth it because 3.3 - and this is one of the reasons why we deviated slightly from the date-driven model - because Object Container Streaming is foundational tech. It’s a major pillar to be able to have worlds with the detail and fidelity we want on a universal scale and we have to get that working or else you just won’t be able to load all of this extra content in - whether it’s ArcCorp or microTech or another star system. And you also won’t be able to have it perform well if everything has to be loaded into memory.

People definitely have been seeing an improvement in performance because of Object Container Streaming and Bind Culling which are two critical parts to make it work and once we have it done - and we’re almost there, we’re just about ready to… we’re at the goalpost…

SG: So, you’re still working on everything… but I thought you guys were working on making the GameDev more efficient?

CR: Well, our goal with GameDev is that we’re going to quarantine it and we’ll have some downstream development streams that people do their feature development in and so what will happen if that’s the case, they’ll develop a feature in the feature stream and once it’s done it will get reviewed and once we say, “Okay this looks good,” it will go through a QATR which is a QA Test Request and will get fully tested and then we decide, “Is it stable, does it work well, does it hurt performance?” If it is stable and doesn’t hurt performance and it all works well, then it gets put into GameDev.

So, we’re only going to put things into GameDev that are working and have been tested and have been polished which will mean that GameDev itself will be a lot more stable and therefore it will have several benefits: 1) People like artists who are always at the mercy of someone putting something unstable in GameDev and crashing the editor. They get the editor tool and they want to build an environment and it crashes because someone has got some other feature that is broken now.

To be able to test these streams and have all of these multiple - whether it’s a release stream, and a game development stream, and a feature stream (there are multiple feature streams) - the build system has to be able to handle all of those streams and deal it and what we call Copy Builds, our internal tool where you download whatever build you want to do, has to be able to take that…

SG: This is the short answer folks.

CR: So, anyway… it’s a lot of work. Everyone’s been working on the DevOps side and the tool side on this for over a year and that’s our goal and we’re planning to have this rolling out in the beginning of next year.

SG: So, we’re still working on all of this stuff then?

CR: Yes. We are most definitely working on all of this stuff. Some of the other things that are in GameDev - like the cloud tech which we are extremely excited by, and we’re actually doing some real cool stuff with it. So, I think we actually have a little piece to show about that.

SG: Cool. Here’s Jake Matthes and Jake Gainey to show us the current state of the cloud generation tool and its various uses.


Jake Matthes (JM): So, this is the new volumetric tool that I’ve working on for not too long now.  It’s still in very early development. The main focus of the tool is to allow the artists to create volumetric clouds and gas clouds in much faster iterations than we have been in the past.

So, we can see here is a relatively nice and simple shape.  At this stage we just want the silhouette of the clouds. So, if you look at the borders here - this is our body we’re going to start with. By adding more geometry tool to it using the tool procedurally and automatically we’ve gone from a really simple shape of the gloud into a much more traditional cloud that you’d see with these nice soft edges here. This is the key thing that we’ve really been lacking in the past and from there you can iterate on it really quickly, really fast and we’ll be cutting down development from weeks and months to days and weeks.

Moving on from there, we’re now moving on to the L system or lines and splines. So, we created this tool to help artists create the more organic look within the coil. We do that by using curl noise wrapped around using the initial spline that you saw before to really add all of these really intricate patterns and lines that wasn’t there on something. Again, it’s this iteration that really helps drive development.

From that simple spline that we saw, turning into something more intricate and more detailed such as this here - we can see all of these gaps within the clouds, we can see all of the fluffiness.  It’s not really something that was done if we look at the clouds now, they’ve got really hard edges and it’s not really a cloud, it’s just geometry turned into volumes.

So, as you can see from the demo, the tool is really quick at creating volumetrics with a lot of detail that we just weren’t able to in the past. Because it’s so easy, designers can now show artists what they were talking about and what they envision rather than telling artists what they’re thinking.

We’re hoping that as development continues, we can take this tool into Max and Maya to allow artists to actually work in their native program rather than having to learn a whole new set of programs just to work on one new scene.

Jake Gainey (JG): So, I’m just going to take you through how we normally approach setting up a space scene in the game. In Squadron 42 we’ve got various spacescapes to make. One of the challenges we have is trying to create interest within space scenes. As you can see from this, this is just a derelict location in the middle of space and it’s okay but all you’ve really got is the derelict plus the starfield. So, we use a technology called gas cloud which uses volumetric VDB to create interest within the spaces.

I just dropped one of those into the engine and I’m taking you through how I would normally set up and approach one of these space scenes within the game. So, this is our volumetric entity which is called a gas cloud VDB. I’m just going to drop one of the stock volumes that the VFX team have made in their tool into the scene and put this in place.

You can see that even though this is the base VDB and it’s got no colour information or anything like that at the moment, it’s already creating something quite interesting in the scene. Once we’ve placed this, we can then start to play around with colour which I’ll do now. Let’s go for something more towards the orangey reds and then we can also play around with the density of it as well. So, you can have something that is a bit more wispy and kind of vague or then you can go for something which is quite dense and volumetric - something along those lines.

As an artist, it gives you an awful lot of control to craft these space scenes in the way that you would want to. So, we’ll just drop that guy in there. You can place them how you want to, scale them up a little bit and create something quite interesting.

I’m just going to drop into the game now and show you how that feels to fly around. So, you can see straight away we’ve gone from something which is in the middle of open space - not much interest - to something that feels very cool. As a player, this feels like a cool location to come and find in the game.

Here’s just a few different examples of different results that you can achieve with the same technology and the same tool that the VFX guys have been making. This is probably, I would say, the more extreme end of the example - it’s quite dense and volumetric, and this is more towards the coil - but then you can do stuff which is a little bit softer. More the Star Trek style nebula. It’s just kind of colour and space really.  You can get some quite wacky results from it too, this is all using the same technology and you can see from just three different examples there how you can craft pretty much free, quiet, independent visual space locations.


SG: Wow, that looks pretty cool!

CR: Yeah, it’s definitely. We were developing the tech first off for Squadron but we’re going to use it extensively throughout the PU in a lot of different situations. In fact, in some situations like just around a derelict or a small asteroid that you may not even think that it’s using the big volumetric cloud tech but I’m looking forward to - we’re going to scape space almost like an environment and have space weather. It’s going to be cool!

SG: Alright! And that just about does it for us today. Tune in to Reverse the Verse live tomorrow on Twitch where Environmental Art Director Ian Leyland will followup on his team’s various CitizenCon presentations and talk Lorville with Jared.

Thanks of course to the subscribers for sponsoring these shows.

CR: Yes, thanks to all subscribers and also a huge thank you as well to the backers supporting the development of Star Citizen and Squadron 42 - we could not do it without you guys.

And, until next time, we’ll see you…

Both: Around the ‘Verse!



Writer and inhabitant of the Star Citizen subreddit.