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Subscriber Town Hall: September 2016 Written Wednesday 28th of September 2016 at 05:00am by CanadianSyrup, Erris and

This month's Subscriber Town Hall features members of the Austin development team, check it out.

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

As is with any information on our transcripts and summaries, everything posted is subject to change by CIG and in some cases may not always be 100% accurate at the time. While we strive for accuracy, mistakes do happen so please let us know if you find something amiss that we didn’t catch. Enjoy the show!

  •  Today's Townhall featured three developers from the Austin team: Lead Animator Bryan Brewer, Austin Studio Producer Jake Ross, and 3D Modeller Josh Coons.
  • Bryan has been working on background animations for the PU such as NPCs and making them feel alive along with thousands of other animations that haven't been seen yet for upcoming releases.
  • Jake Ross has also been focused on getting the background animations for NPCs hooked up in the PU along with CitizenCon prep and the eventual 3.0 release.
  • Josh Coons is finishing up the LOD's on the Herald which is nearing its final phases. He has also started white boxing the Cutlass and bringing it much closer to its original concept look and feel.
    • Josh also is working on the Phoenix, still in planning stages but he wants it to feel "Baller" on the inside.
  • They talked about metrics and how important it was for them to define various things such as cockpit seats, chair placements, etc in order to prevent issues down the line.
  • Disciplines working together is something they all agreed is a constant and necessary thing. It's very helpful to know what comes before and after your work. Bryan knows rigging and design, so when it comes to him animating a character or something, he knows what works and if it doesn't he can send it back right away with what needs to be fixed before he can start work on it.
  • To follow up, communication is vital in the project, very rarely do things get missed in the lines of communication such as bugs, features, etc. Every studio communicates with each other daily. Austin is centralised in the sense that they are able to talk to all studio's at some point throughout the day and schedule meetings, priorities, etc.
  • They also said it's not uncommon for a studio to need something from another that's across the world when they're unavailable. However they have enough people spread around that they can diagnose it with the help of another studio in the same area like Austin to LA, or Frankfurt to UK until they can get a hold of the studio they need the next day or later on.
  • Grabby hands is no more, it's now Loot system 2.0! It's essentially a more refined grabby hands that has one hand and two handed pickups and an array of styles to hold items.
  • Blending animations such as walking up to a ship to enter it and preventing that "Snap" to animation is something they're working on. It's easier with NPCs, but more difficult with players.
  • Beards are expected when you work at Austin, except if you're female.

Full Transcript

  • Bryan Brewer - Lead Animator at Austin. He's been around for a long time. They've got a small team. One of their animators, Vanessa, just went out to LA, but they still have the ship team there so most animations for ships come from them.
    • Lately they've been working on background animations for the PU, getting the NPC's to feel alive. Having NPC's fixing things, lots of animations for the PU. They've been putting in thousands of animations that we've never seen that we'll hopefully start seeing soon.
    • Bryan's watched the development pipeline grow too. He was the first animator to join CIG, so he set up the original pipeline. He's been a part of the project from the very beginning.
  • Jake Ross is beside Bryan, he's producer at the Austin studio. Jake Ross oversees the dev team there and manages the live release process on the US side of things. He has his hands in everything to an extent. If it touches something in Austin, Jake needs to be intimately aware of it. Ship pipeline, ship team, animation, AI, he keeps the ship running.
    • Lately they've been focused a lot on working with the AI team to get animations hooked up for the PU background animations. Lots of working towards CitCon to show off something there, and working vigorously towards 3.0. Lots of planning for that release.
  • Beside him is Josh Coons. He recently got involved in a Reddit thread about the Cutlass. Right now he's doing LOD's on the Herald, which is one of the final phases of that, but while he was waiting for some back and forth for tech design hookup on that, he started white boxing the Cutlass. He's excited about it.
    • The Reddit thread is good, cause it keeps them on track with what fans expect, brings to light things that the fans and backers want with the ship, and gives a good test on what the ship should be, and what everyone wants out of it.
  • They're going to start with some questions from the forums.

[Hear a lot about importance of metrics; with animation, what does that mean?]

If you have a chair and your character has to sit on that chair, and you have one that's 25cm high and one that's 50cm high, you can't have an infinite number of animations to sit on all these chairs. You need just one chair height. Every character in the game will sit on chairs at the same height, and everything in the game needs that. Everything needs a defined measurement. This happened in the past where ships would come in and animations would be all over the place. Now they've got defined metrics for ship cockpits, how to get in and out of ships, etc... it unifies animations and heights of things in the world. Say you had four people at a bar, you need to have some space between the bar stools or the characters will clip through each other. And the idea goes beyond just items too. There are some bugs in some of the ships right now as well, metrics have to be used in ships as well.

[On the look of the Herald computer station, what were you going for?]

Started off with a block out for the metrics - a 'sitting console' metric. It defines the chair, the height of the console, the height buttons will be pushed at, etc... Josh was going for 'cramped, wires & exposed stuff' for the console. It's very Aliens-y, industrial tech type feel.

[How frequently does one discipline work with another? Artists working with animators etc...?]

- If you're a good artist, you're always talking to the other departments. Animation and art they have metrics for lots of things, but they have to be in-line for other things as well. As an animator, It's very helpful to know modelling and rendering. It's always good to know what's ahead of you and behind you in the pipeline. Bryan knows modelling, rendering, rigging, etc... if he's handed a character, he can see if it's going to break. If it's something like a ship that they're getting ready to work with, he knows what's required on the ships pipeline face as well. Makes people downstream's life easier. The more they communicate, the less rework will be needed. - The metrics that get set up set all the rules, so that they know what all the spaces and heights need to be. It's almost like Lego; need to fit it in and make it work in the bounding box of the template. And once a template is established, they don't have to think about it anymore, they just have to make it look good.

[For Jake - when it comes to communication, how do you facilitate these types of conversations? How do your days look?]

- Jake thinks the Austin studio is best placed. When they start it's nearing the end of the EU day, and then in the middle of their day the LA people show up, they can interact and communicate with the other studios easily. He starts by keeping up with the other studios, then meetings for things like live release, CitizenCon preparation, etc... - He can hit up the global pipeline producers so if there's something that needs to go to animation, or if there's an issue with something, he can help make it happen, whether it's doing an email or starting up a Skype chat etc. This morning they're talking about setting up usables, things that AI NPC's use subsumption to go and interact with, and this morning they were running into some animation issues with those. They talked with the people in the UK to find out what can be done to solve it etc... - Communication isn't just about the teams in any one studio. Various studios have builds at the beginnings of their day, there's a lot of syncing, and the teams feel very unified even though they're all over the world. Makes it so if they're doing their jobs right, the dev's don't have to be involved in the communication as much, it's the producers that do that so dev's are free to work.

[Will you be at Cit Con?]

Tyler is going. Josh was scheduled to go, but CitCon is on his child's first birthday, so he's not going.

[Is facial hair a prereq to work at Austin?]

- Bryan's just lazy. It's just convenient. - They have a candy store across the street. Jake went in one day, and the lady was like 'do you work at the game company?' and he was like yeah how'd you know, and she was like 'you have a beard' - Most game companies will have 'crunch time' beard competitions. We're crunching for x amount of time, no-one shave. *Tyler hopes INN got all that on the transcript. WE DID TYLER.*

[Has much progressed on the Connie Phoenix?]

- Josh looked through the old model; the Phoenix is your 'baller' connie. it's like, top of the line, Maserati, Bentley, comparable to the Million Mile High club. He was looking at the wood finish and thinking it could be more 'baller'. He was looking through car interior designs, found some wood patterns he wants to use. He thinks there's too much wood in there, wants to use it as trim, and start using more 'baller' materials. He's gonna find more exotic materials to use. - Always remember though, a lot is subject to change. Things still have to go through design and such. But the Connie and Cutlass are in good hands.

[Release process. We've talked to the community about the release process from DevOps and community stand points. What's it like from production?]

- With production it's a lot of communication between the US and UK, who are the primary live release studios. For 2.5.0 there was a long list of blockers that Chris normally says 'we can't release with these'. They identify those, if it's not in Jira they put it in, then they find resources for the bugs. Lots of Jake's job is making sure the blockers get a high focus from the resources assigned to them. At the end of each day there's a hand off, saying these are the remaining blockers, these are what're being handed off, etc... - Everything gets handed around between the studios, so there's no real lapse in communication, no situations where a bug will sit for days without getting looked at. It's always being picked up and the highest priority issues get called out to focus on most. As the blocker list gets whittled down, they look at criticals. Then they look at 'high' bugs, etc... - At some point they see they've got most of the bugs fixed, and they pick a release date. Then they keep working, and inevitably thing go wrong, and fixing one bug causes more, so they push the date back because blockers have to be gone, and you can't always schedule for things. At CIG they're a lot more forthcoming with that information than normal, they tell us lots of what's keeping them from releasing things. The word of the day is communication. They all talk to each other, all the time. Jake gets tons of emails, QA has 'flair' threads, where they point out the new blocks, Jake hands those off to the UK, etc... lots of communication to get releases ready for live. - Jake is a sentient, walking, breathing schedule. Lots of documentation, lots of fuse of confluence and Jira.

[How do you manage; on top of managing tasks and bugs and communication, how do you keep up with it?]

- It's all about communication. On email all the time, have a laptop on at all times even in meetings so he can keep up with things, and not everything goes through Jake, some things go to the various other producers around the company, so no-one's getting overwhelmed at any one point. - A lot about making sure things get handed off, making sure that documentation is there for specific things for QA to test, what things they need to do if there's a new feature, what things aren't ready to test yet, etc... - Tyler - At first it was overwhelming, so many things you have to pay attention to at any one time. When QA writes a bug, it's not just fill in details and submit, it's also about knowing. Jake focuses on PU, it's about knowing which producer to assign it to, then the producer needs to know which dev to assign it to, etc...

[How much impact does it have when midday there's a blocker that requires interaction with the UK studios?]

- Happens all the time, it's a part of being a distributed company. Just have to include it in the handoff, and say we need someone to look at it tomorrow. Sometimes you say 'I know the person who normally does this is in the EU, but there's someone in LA who's familiar, lets ask them and try to diagnose, so when the person in the EU is in tomorrow, it's all laid out and they can just start working.' - And they try to be sensible about that too. Don't want just LA to spend all their time diagnosing things for the UK. Sometimes you know, hey, Mark could figure it out, but maybe it's better to let him continue working on this feature, and let EU diagnose it when they get in. It's about knowing what bugs there are, who can handle them, who specialises in any one thing, etc...

[What tool has increased productivity the most / blown the most mind?]

- For Tyler in QA it was a tool called copybuild. Back in the day, when you needed a build, it was a manual process. connect to network drive, need 'this' folder, 'this' folder, the .exe, etc... it's easy to grab the wrong thing. Eventually they got copybuild. It's basically drop-down menus, I need this build with this version number, I need a dev build or not, etc... made the process easier. - For Bryan - the best tool he's ever used, it's a program called Direct Folders. Bookmark anything on your computer, and it works in browsers as well. Makes him much faster doing his work. Back when he was at ID, there were nested folders within folders. Being able to bookmark folders is awesome, and it's free. For 20$ you get the pro version where you can make nested folders within your bookmarks. Second tool is KUtools for Excel. It does a lot, but Bryan uses it for a way to go into a folder and whatever files are in that folder, or hierarchy of folders, it'll give you all the assets in an excel file. And you can say 'i only want mdx files', or 'I want all files' etc... If someone says 'I want to know what's in the mocap library' he just generates a new list in excel. - Josh - for the ship team, it was the damage shader system. It's why they redo ships. They used to do the damage system differently; you used to build a ship, and then it took forever to build the damage pieces. You'd have a piece - the nose, you'd have pristine, then damage 1, damage 2, damage 3, damage 4, etc... And you'd do that for each piece. If there's 37 pieces to a ship, you had to do all those tiers for each of those, and then you had to do LOD tiers for each one. When the damage shader came online, not only when you shoot a ship it literally puts the hole on the ship, but now they don't have to make damage pieces ever again. It's saved... countless, countless hours. Doing the Connie with that hierarchy could have taken months. - In the end, game dev is all about that reiterative process.

[Updates on the Cutlass, what vision is there?]

**this is all subject to change** When they're doing changes, Josh normally gets assigned a designer, then he and the designer (with Chris at the top) will kick back and forth ideas. It's why they like things with the Reddit thread, they can look to it to help with ideas. If the ideas deviate from the original plan; the other day they had a list of features, some which would simplify the pipeline for the Cutlass and the variants, and some were 'we really want to do this', and they run those by CR, and he's either thumbs up or down. The last one he was okay on everything. So the proportions on the Cutlass look more like the concept now.

  • The interaction with the fans really recharges the team. Barcitizens, events, everything... seeing what the fans think and how they react is great for all the team. It's what Josh likes as well. Fans give lots of good feedback, and answering fans questions is great. The game industry is normally so secretive, CIG is awesome because the devs are allowed to talk to people.
    • It's why Tyler says 'everything is subject to change', because Josh says they want to have less wood trim, but it's all just 'where their heads are at', things change over time. It's what Bryan said back in the day early in Wingman's Hangar. People who aren't in the game industry; this is a great look at what goes on behind the scenes. When you start a game, there's a lot you want to do that over the course of the years change. Scope changes, you figure out what you can and can't do, and that's what CIG are doing now. Somethings work, some don't, etc...
  • It's one of the great things. They go back and forth not only internally, but with the backers as well. One of the things they've started doing is blocking out time for developers to go into the forums and interact with people. Check the forums, they've been pretty active lately.
    • Communicating with the public is just as important for CIG as communicating in-house. Fans help steer things in cool directions. They try to be mindful of what it is people are asking about ships. Though they know they can't please everyone. No ship can have everything. You want specialised rolls for ships. Tons of good ideas. A C130 pilot posted some pictures in the Reddit thread, pointing out what this stuff does, and it was great info to help Josh in his design stuff.

[Animations - when it comes to animations, do you ever think there'll be animations like two playable characters high-fiving each other, or will your char flip a switch on and off?]

All in the works. Biggest hurdle they have to solve is, when Bryan initiates, the other character has to do the same. With NPC's it's a little easier, there's more flexibility, they'll navigate and play the animation. If two players go up to each other and want to high-five, you probably have to like 'accept the high-five' or something. But there's a gameplay element that, they have to make sure not too much control is taken away from the player. It's a balancing act.

[When you walk up to a ship and 'use' and it snaps to the ladder, will there ever be a more blended animation for that?]

- That's a question for code. There's a 'node' for every ship that sits at a ladder. (this is one of the bugs in the game) if you watch an NPC, they're supposed to line up with the node. It's all part of the snapping problem. If you watch an NPC use a usable, they'll line up so they're in-place. Players can walk up right up to the couch, and they'll snap into place to get into the place. They're solving that issue of how to blend which, right now, looks like it's code-side. It's on the radar, it's being talked about. - For flipping switches and buttons, it's on the plans. Used to be able to get into the ship and go touch panels and things. Worked pretty well. The tech is there, but it needs to be developed more. There's a full set of switch flipping and hand scanning animations and stuff though. We've seen some in 3.0 as well.

[In 3.0 demo, they picked up a crate, can you pick up any 'there's a mouse on the table, can I pick it up? can you pick up any object?]

- You want to come up and pick up a mouse, and the mouse could be at any angle. How do you pick it up and grab it? They had a system, Grabby Hands, they worked and polished for a while. They were faking it where you do a little 'swipe' that as you swiped it would attach and blend into the hand. Could walk around, set it down on a box, then pick up the box, etc... - 2.0 version of that is a looting system. It's got more defined metrics. Before, if you picked up a pistol, there was a little animation that'd fake getting it into your hand correctly. With the new looting system, you have one handed and two handed pickups, where you can come in and pick up an object of a certain size. There's some fudging, but they want to stay within the metrics for it all. There's right handed and left handed, there's things for holding a datapad in your hand, which is different from grabbing a coffee or whatnot. They've already established lots of metrics for useables in the universe; consoles, doors, railings, etc... but they're also starting to get into the realm of metric'd props that you pick up and carry around. After CitCon, Bryan is now the metric guru, he'll be going through and grabbing objects, saying every object within a certain class, he'll put it in hands, they'll make stuff look good, and they'll create a node inside the object so every object, when you pick it up, it'll have an animation where he goes down and picks it up, and he'll have it in his hand. In the hand, you can inspect the object. - If you wanted to put on a helmet; You'll grab it, look at it, you can examine or inspect, if you want to buy it you can look around at it and look at the stats. Then you could purchase it. But you say, I want the object, whether you got it off a dead soldier or whatnot. I want this guy's helmet. Now you can walk around with it, put it under your arm and walk around, and then when you're ready to drop or equip, you can go back and examine it, then you can drop it, equip it, whatever. And when you're done with it you can take it off, etc...

[Do you have a favourite animation?]

- Bryan's favourite was the helmet flip. Story behind it - it was Josh's helmet, and Brian's animation - They had the demo, got word at the last minute that Chris wanted to put the helmet on, needed to get it on the helmet cause they were gonna show dogfighting for the first time. (yes they do have their own motion capture studio). They got it all last minute, so they called up a studio on a Friday to do some motion capture. They went in on a Saturday, loaded all the mocap gear, drove to start setting stuff up. They came in on Saturday, captured five animations etc... Bryan put on the mocap suit, and knew what he wanted. he sat down in a mocked-up hornet, did straight put ons, flipping putons, etc... - Also thought to do some standing versions as well. Did all that, they were there for 30 minutes capturing stuff, then tore everything down. They got the animations, cleaned and polished it up, etc... anyway, all this lead to the helmet flip demo.

  • But that's all the time they had today. Final words from Bryan - Just wait, there's a lot more coming, and it's gonna look fabulous. Jake wants to thank the fans cause without us they wouldn't be able to wax poetic about helmet flips and beards. Josh says thanks, it's no fun if no-one's watching. And Tyler says thanks as well.
  • Tune in Tomorrow for AtV, and Friday for RtV. That's all folks.

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.

Erris

Founder

Erris is Canadian. He does some random things for Relay, no-one really knows what, but still they're stuck with him. He’s also written one Young Adult novel that he can’t stand, which can be found here.

You can find him on Twitter too, if you want.