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!
Squadron 42 Update
Bengal Carrier currently getting a detail pass.
Bengal has elevators and sub-deck transit system which allows players to traverse the ship quickly.
Shubin’s Archon station also has a transit system similar to subway.
It sounds like you will need to earn the right to access the entirety of Archon station.
Vanduul ship-to-ship weapons have an organic look and open somewhat like a flower.
The deployed turrets have what looks spider’s eyes on them.
Work also ongoing on alien weapon effects and explosions.
Large Xi’An ships have a lot of distinct design. Complex mechanical mechanisms. Many technological concepts distinctly different from UEE.
Many UEE props being added.
Mess haul menu under development including procedural food.
Recent focus on improving laser projectiles - including better visibility and readability.
Take down system has been improved and expanded.
Massive improvement to the skin shader for characters, making them even more life-like.
Working on a system to make pilots more unique allow designers to tweak pilot's profile from rookie to veteran
December's livestream was crucial for proving all the work refactoring the AI system and AI flight was successful
Flight AI is now complete character centered: the pilot, not the ship, is executing AI behaviours
Focused on breaking out the behaviour differences for flying small, medium, large and capital ships and for flying fighters, bombers and "industrial" ships (e.g. mining, salvaging)
AI has access to all the same ship systems as players: weapons, shields, countermeasures, etc.
Normal flight is based on behaviours (systematic, context base) but AI can be constrained to spline for scripted or cinematic moments
Dogfighting activity tasks are currently acquire a target, engage in combat, and 3 phases of combat (approach, engage and break) but will evolve into something more complex
With pilot behaviours CIG is trying to replicate their personalities in the way they fly, e.g. Old Man is an ace but efficient rather than flashy
Designers can assign regular behaviours to AI much like the player's wingman commands e.g. attack this target, defend this area, follow me, etc.
Subsumption exposes lots of variables on AI and players, e.g. allow access to relationships between characters or factions
AI will have skills which are things that can be learned or improved over time, and traits which are things assigned on creation or by significant events
AI will also have morale which will influence behaviours and be affected by the player's actions, by circumstances and by "sustenance"
The "nemesis system" will allow the game to spawn AI who have a history with you in place of a vanilla AI
The Character Profile Editor allows designers to create and assign profiles, e.g. rookie, veteran, etc. to AI pilots
The AI team is watching how the community improves their technique and is using that to improve the AI
Sean Tracy (ST): Hi there everyone and welcome to another episode of Around the ‘Verse, I'm Sean Tracy…
Eric Kieron Davis (EKD): And I'm Eric Kieron Davis.
ST: You might remember us from such ATV episodes as the one with the live audience or the one with the Los Angeles studio update and Christmas Ape Goes to Space…
EKD: Well, we're back and this week we're excited to serve up a heaping helping of Squadron 42.
ST: That's right, it's time for our monthly Squadron 42 project update.
EKD: We're going to get an inside look into the development of AI systems being used in flight but first let's check in with Nick Elms and see what the dev teams were up to in March.
Nick Elms (NE): Hi everyone. Welcome to our Squadron 42 update for March.
Let's begin with the updates being made to the Bengal carrier. This massive ship is currently getting a detail pass on its internal spaces including crew quarters, bridge, and multiple hangars found throughout the ship. We're attacking it much the same way as we did the Idris.
The Bengal is one of the largest of the UEE fleet and through play testing we found players got frustrated when wanting to access certain areas. We therefore designed elevators and a sub-deck transit system so players can traverse the ship quickly. You can board this monorail that we have running back and forth from one side of the flight deck to the other and will save yourself a long walk when carrying out maintenance, transporting cargo, and other activities around the ship.
Another area in the game so large it requires its own integrated transportation system is Shubin Interstellar’s Archon station. Here you will see examples of how miners and other blue-collar personnel will navigate this huge facility. It's almost reminiscent of a tube station but with a much nicer view once you’ve been granted permission to access other wings of the station.
In past updates you've seen the Vanduul fleet really coming together and so far we've put a lot of focus on some of their lighter craft - fighters and the like - but as we flesh out the capital class Vanduul ships we've been putting a lot of focus on designing the ship-to-ship weapons that will be mounted on their turrets. Here we see some of the progression on these designs and how they look attached to the ship turret. Notice the organic style we've utilized in the design, as the turret deploying from the ship's body is reminiscent of a flower opening - albeit at extremely high speed. This distinct look and feel is present in all of the Vandal ships we've designed and naturally is being carried over to their weapons and components. The turrets play an integral role in several of the Squadron missions, so it's crucial they are easily distinguishable as well as being fun to fight against and take down. To compliment this, the VFX team are working their magic on how alien explosions and weapons may behave.
Sticking with the theme of alien tech and design choices associated with it, let's take a look at some of the art and animation on display inside some of the larger Xi’An ships. As you can see, there are many design aspects that set the Xi’An ships apart from the UEE craft. Some are obvious while others are subtler. The Xi’An aesthetic has a certain elegance you may expect from an ancient race that has been traveling the stars for thousands of years. Their doorways, terminals, even the concept of gravity are just... different.
On the UEE front, the props team continued to provide a bevy of goodies for our design team to place in the world with some of these examples landing in hangar levels recently.
Additionally, shown as one of our sneak peeks earlier in the year, the mess hall menu for the crew the Stanton has been under development. Taking a procedural approach to the food's creation gives the artist an almost unlimited amount of tweaking and variation to play with. Not only do this mean quick iteration times but it also gives far greater control over the look of the food dishes versus using more traditional baking methods - no pun intended. The challenge for the props team is to always create items that fit thematically within our levels and also fit the strict metrics for our animation team to build interactions with NPCs and players all over the Star Citizen universe.
From hangar to cockpit, another recent focus has been on the laser projectiles. One of the major visual improvements required for our improved cockpit experience. The visibility and readability has been prioritized and we've made good strides towards making the player feel that they are firing powerful beam weapons capable of dealing some devastating damage.
Shifting away from dogfights to something a little more up close and personal, our take down system has been improved and expanded as you can see from these animations. We've come up with a bunch more options for armed and unarmed surprise attacks allowing players to take down enemies silently and quickly in a variety of ways.
Finally, we've massively improved our skin shader system. The characters that you meet and interact with in Squadron 42 are already much more believable through their high quality acting performance but these improvements add an amazing life like look to their faces that improves the experience further with something that has rarely been seen before in any game. It really adds to the total immersion we're going for. That's it for this month, we'll see you in April for more Squadron 42 updates.
ST: Thanks a lot Nick.
EKD: Squadron 42 is a single-player action game telling a very cinematic story. The narrative is conveyed through a lot of mediums from the obvious ones like script and the actor’s performances to subtler strokes like sound design, environmental storytelling, and believable adaptable NPC AI.
ST: Above all else, the story should be propelled through the gameplay itself and a big part of Squadron 42’s gameplay will be geared around ships and space combat. As Eric said, this is a single-player affair so a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to both gameplay and story falls on those NPCs and their AI.
EKD: Yeah let's get a look inside at the AI that's being developed and used in relation to ships, flight, and combat in this month's feature.
Niklas Munck (NM): Currently we’re working on a system to make the pilots more unique so that designers can specifically go in and tweak pilots - make them super badass pilots that take every risk they can possibly do and have crazy maneuvers or maybe a rookie who’s just started his pilot education and might do some stupid stuff that will result in getting into dangerous situations for him. So that’s something we’re currently working on but of course due to the focus on 3.1 currently we of course have to fix bugs and issues to get 3.1 in a shape - also for Arena Commander and the Universe - get it into a shape where … where it’s great for the player - great experience.
Andrea Carbone (AC): The December livestream was really crucial for us to - as a proof of concept - that our … that work … all the time that was spent last year on refactoring the AI system and all the concept of AI flight was, let’s say, successful. We were able to show a full dogfight scene involving multiple ships against the player. We … the result was satisfactory and right now we are in the process of converting all AI flight logic into Subsumption.
Consider that the new system is totally new so - both the AI side and the connection with the underlying Vehicle system is all pretty new - has been developed during last year. The crucial difference with respect to the old system is that AI is now completely character centered. So it is not the AI ship it’s actually the pilot that is executing AI behaviour.
Benjamin Anders (BA): We basically have one giant behaviour that drives the pilot. Right? And it doesn’t really matter if you’re in an Avenger or an Aurora you still have the same pilot behaviour. So one of the things we’re working on right now is breaking that down to behaviour differences between, for example, a small ship, a medium sized ship, a heavy ship, and a capital ship because these all behave differently. And these behaviours even then break down depending on what job type you have, for example, you could be a fighter, a bomber, or we have the class called “industrial ship” that would include mining and salvaging.
So we’re trying to nail down and actually make it visible what the differences between. Because, for example, a Starfarer tries to dogfight similarly to, lets say, a Gladius. And that’s not really good because the one thing is fast and agile, and the other one is big and has turrets I think. So we’re trying to break down what the differences between these are. This is something we’re pushing in the next sprint which will not be done for 3.1 but we’re actively working on it.
AC: The AI pilot or gunner has full access to all features and systems that are available to the player for example so we can access and manage weapons, shields, countermeasures, and so on. And all these systems are part of the decision process that the pilot needs to take - to perform each continuously - when flying the vehicle if it’s in … doing a dogfight or just flying in the system to reach a point.
Designers can actually request a pilot to perform certain actions constrained to a spline. So they can design a spline space and the AI following the spline but, of course, normally general flying is performed based on a behaviour so it’s systematic and that means decisions are taken based on the context based on, for example, the position - the current position - of the target, or the distance, or whether the shields are down or up, or if weapons are functioning or not functioning. So there is … the entirety of the AI behaviour during flight is based on a … on a behaviour that is built … that is accessible to the context but we can also have scripted scenes where a ship is ... pilot actually, is requested to fly over a spline.
Let me give you an example. In our current dogfight activity the pilot acquires … first needs to acquire a target. So he will … through Subsumption will query if there are nearby … nearby targets or ___ for example. Once the pilot has acquired the target … consider the pilot is using … his perception is what a player … is just the same as the player so it relies on the radar to detect other ships - any other actual entity - that appears on the radar. So we’ll select a target and we’ll ,,, once there is a target we’ll engage in combat. Now we see the combat as a three phase activity so there is an approach, an engage, and a break. Basically these three phases are executed during the fight.
The approach is to reach a vantage point so he will query the distance ... query the position of the target then decide from which direction is most … is more, say, convenient to attack. Once it decides the position - the relative position - as a goal it will plan to a flight path. And this flight path of course will be collision free so he needs request the AI system for a collision free path towards the … towards the vantage point.
Once it reaches this entry point for the actual combat - so when it will start firing - then this phase is the … the most hot moment of the dogfight. It is based on skills so if it can do a decoupled maneuver it will switch to decoupled mode and gain closer … a closer distance to the target and try to also … to position itself in a way to have more … higher chance hitting the target. If it’s just jousting it will just fly against the target and then disengage when it’s in danger of collision.
And we’ll break. A break basically that’s sort of a way to relieve the pressure on the target and give him a chance to … to being hit … actually to hit the AI.
This is roughly how the dogfight now works. It will of course … it will evolve in being and probably become something more complex. Let’s say that everything so now it’s Subsumption so yeah task implemented Subsumption for chasing, for strafing maneuvers, or just simple query on the state of the target, and query - also queries - like on the level of the shields. So I might want - as an AI - want to disengage from a close combat sooner if my shields are low or down. As well I can disengage if my weapons are overheating because in that case I need to wait for a cool down period before using my weapons so maybe it’s better for me gain some safe distance from my target. All these elements are modelled in Subsumption so we … everytime we need to continuously add tasks to be able to design a Subsumption activity in this case.
So AI interfaces with the vehicle flight control that is also known as IFCS - or autopilot as we call it. This is a new interface that’s been developed last year.
Robbie Elms (RE): So with the pilot’s behaviours in mind we’re trying to replicate their personalities into the way they fly. Much akin to the character’s animations set - the way you see Old Man walking and interacting - we want to bring across the fact even though he’s an ace pilot he’s not cocky - he’s an efficient man and it’ll show in his flying. He’ll pull off the right maneuvers but not try to showboat at all unlike other characters you may find in the Universe.
The Vanduul, their behaviour will very much reflect the aggressive look of their ships. They’ll be in your face, trying to your shields to ultimately ram you with their Scythes or their Glaives. Another example because some pirates you may come across in the universe they’ll be wanting to limit your ship and use it for scrap therefore they might not want to do excessive damage and therefore not use missiles on you.
Francesco Roccucci (FR): We have this big separation between single piloted ship and multi-crew ship. If you want to create a behaviour for a multi-crew ship then it becomes very complicated - then maybe becomes very specific. While if you want to have this emergent gameplay then you get it much easier having specific behaviour for different characters - they control different parts of the multi-crew ship.
So in the livestream you can see that the pilots are controlling directly IFCS as a normal player would do - so giving commands to the AI of the pilot. For example “I want to pass through this points”, “I want to chase this other ship”, “I want to be at this type of distance from another ship” and these type of commands come from their behaviour that is in Subsumption.
So we have regular behaviours that the designer can script exactly like the character AI. Assignments that are a sort of suggestions from what the designer can tell the ship. For example, “attack this target” or “defend this area” or “just follow me”. And their similar to what the wingman commands are in ... from the player’s perspective. Right? The player can give requests to his wingmen and the same designer can give requests to any element of the game.
So bringing the spaceship into Subsumption has given us a lot of flexibility on the way we create behaviours. Lots of variables are exposed on each character - or on players - and in the behaviours we can access those variables. We can access the relationship between different characters, different factions. It can be like a personal relationship that you have with one character, or your wanted level, or how hungry you are for example. Right? All this type of things in a normal character behaviour - that controls if you want to go eating something or you want to rest - the same can be done with the pilots.
So in our current dogfight behaviours what we control is, for sure, the relation with the target. That also controls the way we can acquire a target. Wild lines are one of the best examples in which relationship with characters allow us to communicate different things. For missions - let’s say you want to escort somebody you are a friendly character, right? A friendly player. You want to defend this new escort. What happens is, if you attack him he can tell you. He’s like “Hey you should protect me and now you are attacking me so something is going wrong.” And this type of relationship can be used to communicate to the player what’s going on and how the mission is influenced by your behaviour.
BA: The skill system is mainly split into two things. The one is the skills and the other one is traits. Where skills is everything that you can learn in the game and you can spend the experience of the AI on - which would be piloting, weapon proficiency, aiming - but also other skills which are not ship related. So this is a system that go … will go live across FPS, ship AI and also jobs. This is the one part of it. The other part is the Trait system.
So the Trait system will be defined at AI creation. So they will get certain traits for example someone might be “hot headed” so they lose their temper quickly; someone might be more reserved. And we came up, not with a finished list of traits, but with a decent amount and they influence the personality of the AI. These are going to be set, as I said, at the creation and will probably not change during the lifetime unless under very special circumstances.
For example you hire an AI to fly a mission in the PU and that mission involves some Vanduul. And you have a very fierce fight around a Caterpillar to retrieve the cargo. And you kill all of the Vanduul. And this guy is the only guy that survives. In this circumstance he might gain the trait “Hatred: Vanduul”. This means the next time he fights Vanduul there will be certain things changing in his behaviour, for example, he will prioritize the targets of Vanduul because he likes to shoot them first. Also he will act more reckless towards Vanduul.
So in these kinds of traits, as said, will only be ... a special set of circumstances need to be achieved to really change these traits otherwise these personality values will not change over time. It’s not something you can skill - it’s something that’s inherent in the character.
One of the things skills do will also … they give the AI access to certain behaviours. So the better they get the more maneuvers they can do. For example if you have piloting with a … a pilot with a piloting skill of five he will be able to do almost any kind of maneuver that we specifically describe in the behaviour. That might be something like a “button hook”, or “lead roll”, or things like that.
These are paper planes you can buy and I love them as a kid because they actually fly pretty decent. So I ordered 50 of them and each designer has one so we can actually play out maneuvers. It’s almost like paper prototyping - but we just bought these. Yeah: things you can do when you’re adult but you can’t do as a kid. It’s also that my girlfriend only tells me always play at work - I don’t actually do real work, I just play. I order toys and stuff. So she kind of has a point!
AI will also get the concept of morale. So depending on what happens in fight this morale can get lowered and that will, on the other hand, influence their behaviour again. So it might be that you’re flying with your trusted wingmen and - you’re a squad of four - and all of them got shot down: only one AI survives. That’s severe morale damage. If the enemy is out-numbering you by a vast numbers: high morale damage. And this can get to a point where the AI decides “Okay, this is not worth it: I’m going to flee.” or “I’m going to fly more defensive behaviour.”
A thing that ties in with traits because they could … there are traits like “stubbornness” which gives you less morale damage. Or there’s also traits that can influence how … if you’re a great leader, for example, you influence the AI around you and give them a morale boost or shield against morale damage, for example. So that would be something useful for the captain of an Idris, for example, so his crew doesn’t get that morale damage.
This also ties in with, for example, with “sustenance”. So that would be something like food, and water, and basic hygiene. If that gets too low that also damages your morale. So this is more like a long term effect versus short term effect. So as a captain and someone who hires AI crew make sure you keep them them in check - keep them well fed - so they can work at the highest efficiency possible.
FR: So we’re making a specific UI for controlling skills and traits. So the designer can say “Okay I want to create this characters and I want him to have this predefined, or let’s say these basic skill sets and this traits.” Then with the game running we can influence those values. But I think it might be also that traits influences you but also the environment influences you. For example, yeah you are a cautious guy but you are also the last one in the specific mission. Right? So mission story can also drive the facts like “Okay I really want you to still attack until you are dead.” Right? Or “I want you to let the systemic behaviour run and maybe you have chance since you are very cautious to run away and try to survive.”
And … this is all tied up to what we want to do in the future with the Nemesis system. Right? Because I think it would be very nice when you are fighting specific characters and then some escape or is able to survive, you might find him later on. And I think this gives you this really cool experience because you play with the Universe and the Universe still reacts to your actions. When in the future you will have missions that says like “Okay I want fine you as specific characters that is a pilot and has this specific skill can you give me one of your persistent characters?” It might be that our system says “Wait a second we actually have a nemesis for you because in this other mission you actually left this guy alive and then … now he wants revenge.” So we can instantiate the character and he will tell you “You left me alive once. This time it’s not going to be the same!” And I think this gives really interesting scenarios.
BA: On the technical side we have a new tool set up in the Editor - which is called the Character Profile Editor - where all these can be defined. And then designers can assign profiles to certain characters, from a standard profile - like a newbie pilot just straight off the academy to a veteran. So we’re preparing all these generic ones and then for special characters - like for example Seetow or Old Man - they will have the unique tweaked character profiles where just regular NPCs will be generated automatic.
FR: So what we are trying to do - and it’s very interesting - is we’re trying to study also what the community prepared between themselves to train and learn how to use different type of techniques of flying - what is more effective - and we are trying to apply it to the AI itself. So from one side it’s very interesting to see how Star Citizen is a mixed … learning experience from us as developers and the community that it needs to please. So they learn how best fly, we’ll learn from them what’s best: we try to apply to the AI and they have to learn how to counter the enemies. So, yeah, that’s an interesting challenge for us.
NM: Ship AI is obviously a huge thing because you’re going to … it’s going to be everywhere. Whether that is allies fighting on your side or enemies you’ll be fighting … it might be pirates, slavers, Vanduul ships that you’ll be fighting so you’ll encounter stuff that our team did all the way through Squadron 42, of course the Universe, and Arena Commander.
ST: Thanks guys. From super badass pilots with crazy maneuvers to stupid rookies, a lot of personality and nuance is going to be conveyed through the way characters fly and react thanks to these refined AI applications.
EKD: Yeah it's gonna be really fun to see the little differences between pilots reflected in their flight style and the effect of situational factors like morale.
ST: We'll have another Squadron 42 project update for you next month and if you want to grab one of the official Squadron t-shirts, you're in luck as we've extended this month's St. Patrick's Day special through the end of the month. We only have a few left in the store, so get yours now.
EKD: And in Star Citizen news this week, the PU teams are getting very close to a live release of Alpha 3.1. With PTU testing in full swing, the dev teams continue to polish content and features making sure everything's ready for prime time.
ST: You can always stay up to date on what we're planning for our next quarterly release with the live roadmap on our website and don't forget to weigh in on which feature you'd like to see improved or implemented in Alpha 3.2 in our feature survey up now on the RSI website.
EKD: Yeah and to get ready for flight in 3.1, check out the flyable ship special and secure ships like the Reclaimer and Razor for your fleet.
ST: So, head to the pledge store now to grab one of these ships before they... fly away. You also only have a few days left to pledge for the Vulcan, so check out the Q&A over at the website and check out the previous episode of Reverse the Verse and Calling All Devs for more information on the versatile support ship from Aegis dynamics.
EKD: And remember to tune in to this week's new episode for Calling All Devs now for insights on things like tractor beams, ship modules, and space stations - and check out an all-new bug smashers as well.
ST: Thanks to our subscribers for sponsoring all of our shows. Make sure you get questions in for tomorrow’s Subscribers Town Hall edition of Reverse the Verse airing live at Noon PST.
EKD: And thank you to all of our backers for supporting the development of Squadron 42 and Star Citizen. That's it for us today…
ST: And until Christmas Ape Goes Back to Space, we'll see you...
Both: Around the verse.