Around the Verse – Pirate Swarm returns with a new format that focuses on specific aspects of the game rather than one particular studio. Chris Roberts and Sandi Gardiner host this week’s show, which features a look at the work that went into the new and improved pirate swarm in Alpha 2.6.
Around the Verse – Pirate Swarm Full Transcript
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Chris Roberts (CEO, Director of Star Citizen and Squadron 42)
Sandi Gardiner (VP of Marketing).
SANDI GARDINER: Hello and welcome to the first regular episode of Around the Verse in 2017, last week we featured a special Around the ‘Verse, which unveiled a first real look at our alien languages, specifically the Vanduul and Xi’Am, or Xi’An as we learned that’s how the military pronounces it. Definitely, worth checking out if you haven’t already seen it and I’m Sandi Gardiner and with me is Star Citizen’s game director Chris Roberts.
CHRIS ROBERTS: Thanks, Sandi and happy new year everyone, I hope you’ve all been having as much fun with Alpha 2.6 and Star Marine as we have.
SANDI GARDINER: Especially the new players who may have gotten Star Citizen as a special holiday gift. Welcome.
CHRIS ROBERTS: Yes. Speaking of gifts, look at this. This is amazing. This is a fairly large Caterpillar model that was 3D printed and painted and assembled. It has a really, cool cut-away back over here and you can see one of the crew members moving cargo around, different moving parts. This was done by Mark “Deadweight Fig” and his son who did it for us as a present so thank you so much and they didn’t just do this larger model luckily enough is for me, so that’ll go pride of place, thank you very much.
But there’s also smaller 3D printed Caterpillars and a Cutlass and even a Buccaneer which is actually, really cool. It even has these little guns on the bottom and everything. So, awesome, thank you very much and the smaller ships are for the ship team who I know will be incredibly excited to see this. They love building the ships and seeing how everyone gets excited by them and doing their own 3D modeling of them and printing of them.
So it’s totally awesome and this is one of the many reasons why I think Star Citizen is so special. We have such an amazing community, so into the universe and the world and do cool stuff like this. So yeah, it’s really awesome, thank you so much and I’m very happy.
So anyway, back to business as it were. Things are already well underway in our studios as we focus on our next milestones and upcoming patches. After any major release like 2.6, we make sure we take all the information and properly adjust our production moving forward. There’s a ton of discussions and post-mortems happening right now, directors and producers from all of our studios in LA this past week and even this week meeting and planning and working through our whole schedule for this year. We’ve got a lot of work to do but a lot of cool stuff to get done.
SANDI GARDINER: Also for the new year, we’ve made some adjustments to all the content we create every week to incorporate a lot of the great feedback we’ve been getting – old favorites like Loremaker’s and Bugsmashers will be sticking around but we are experimenting with adding a few new shows to the line-up.
CHRIS ROBERTS: Yes, last week saw the premiere of our new livestream show, Star Citizen Happy Hour, where various team members and streamers will play and discussing game, which is obviously the important part, discussing the game so you get some of the developer insight into why some things are the way they are.
The first happy hour had Design Director Todd Papy and Senior Producer Alex Marshall answering questions from the backers and providing some great info on Star Marine.
SANDI GARDINER: It was definitely a great start, and I’m looking forward to seeing what community managers Jared and Tyler will have in store for us tomorrow. Also since our community has grown so much, we decided our coverage of it needed to grow too. The community update portion of Around the Verse will be moving to its own show on Mondays called Citizens of the Stars which will be premiering in the upcoming weeks.
CHRIS ROBERTS: Yep! I saw a pilot of it and it was looking quite fun, actually, so that’s great. Around the Verse has a few other changes as well, while we still provide the detail, behind the scenes insight into the game’s development, we’re building our feature stories with a more global approach to better represent how our team works together rather than focusing on one studio for each episode.
So, we’ll still have each local studio update, but the background feature isn’t necessarily going to be from that studio and it’ll be a more in-depth ten to twenty minute piece, rather than the shorter four or five-minute piece we’ve had.
SANDI GARDINER: So, let’s first go to the L.A. office and see what they have been focusing on.
Los Angeles Studio Update
Eric Kieron Davis (Senior Producer)
Happy New Year everyone, I’m Senior Producer, Eric Kieron Davis, here with your studio update. We’re cranking through some really, exciting things here in Los Angeles, so I want to give you a quick glimpse into what we’re working on.
Filling a universe with unique clothing is no easy task, and as you’d expect, clothing and outfit production is in full force with our character team. One example that’s currently in production is the explorer flight suit. You may remember early concepts of this suit from a while ago with the idea being that different suit types will offer customizable options; each providing advantages and disadvantages for ultimately enabling different styles of gameplay.
We’re also deep into the polishing process for different head options, as well as hair, and they are going through some thorough rounds of feedback to put them in your hands at the highest quality as soon as possible.
We’re also diving deeper into production on the Drake Buccaneer, which, if you are following along on the ship pipeline steps, we moved into the gray-box phase since we last talked. As of today, we’ve already completed the fuselage, engine, wings and front landing gear. We’ll be moving on to the nose, cockpit, and rear landing gear before going on to our final art pass.
Now, engineering has had a lot going on, such as Radar 2.0. The main reason we’re revising the radar system is so they can easily take advantage of Item System 2.0 and also provide some opportunity to clean things up and redesign things just slightly.
We’re also far, far into the mega-map code. Specifically loading and unloading of object containers, which will open up a universe of options in the PU and beyond.
Well, that wraps us up for this week’s update. Thank you for joining us and see you soon.
Back to the Studio
SANDI GARDINER: I love seeing those new hair options, seems like everyone…
CHRIS ROBERTS: [touches Sandi’s hair] [Laughter]
SANDI GARDINER: …Thank you. Seems like everybody came back to the office ready to dive back in and it feels like we’ve already started making some great progress.
CHRIS ROBERTS: Definitely. I’m also really excited about the Buccaneer coming together as you can see there’s a really cool little, where is it, Buccaneer. Look at that. 3D printed one and, we’re building it and it’s looking really good. Gin and Daniel are both working on it and it is going to be awesome. So, you guys will like it. (It is) using a lot of the stuff we’ve developed in terms of materials, feel and look, as we’ve done for both the Herald and the Caterpillar. So that should be very, very cool.
SANDI GARDINER: Should be very, very cool. And the mega-map code. That’s going to make a noticeable difference when it comes online, right?
CHRIS ROBERTS: Yes, so definitely. The mega-map is basically us retro-fitting all the Arena Commander and Star Marine content to take full advantage of our new object container streaming system. Once in, it will significantly reduce the loading times for players getting into the game and that’s a big queue for us since we want to let you play a match of Arena Commander or jump to a match of Star Marine with a minimum amount of loading.
We did do a lot of optimization for 2.6 so getting into a game is much quicker in 2.6 than it was in 2.5 but we’re still working on it and making that better.
SANDI GARDINER: So, for those of us that don’t have patience like me, that is a great thing. Speaking of Arena Commander, our special feature this week takes a closer look at Pirate Swarm and the design and tech it took to bring this game within a game to life.
Behind the Scenes: Pirate Swarm
Francesco Roccucci (Lead AI Programmer)
Ben Lesnick (Director of Community Engagement and Content Strategy)
Luke Pressley (Designer)
BEN LESNICK: Hey everybody, my name’s Ben Lesnick. I’m Director of Community Engagement here at Cloud Imperium Games.
With Star Citizen Alpha 2.6 we introduced a pretty exciting new game mode called Pirate Swarm. Pirate Swarm is essentially a gauntlet mode that throws you against wave after wave of enemy planes. Unlike our previous gauntlet mode, Vanduul Swarm, Pirate Swarm has a whole variety of different ships, ranging from the M50 interceptor to the Constellation multi-crew ship.
Pirate Swarm is not just a great new challenge for the community to take on, it’s also an essential test bed for the future of Star Citizen and Squadron 42. What Pirate Swarm has let us do is create new AI behaviors for the different types of specific ships. It’s let us introduce new technology for our Artists that allows them to update ship art rapidly, skin interiors, all sorts of exciting things that we’ve been working towards. So a lot of what you see in Pirate Swarm today is what you’ll see powering Star Citizen in the future.
Now to make Pirate Swarm possible it took the efforts of developers from all four of our studios around the world. Let’s check in with them now to see they made it happen.
FRANCESCO ROCCUCCI: Pirate Swarm has been an evolution of Vanduul Swarm as well, we wanted to give a bit more unique feeling for the player. So, they would still play against a swarm of enemies but not feeling the same as with Vanduul faction.
LUKE PRESSLEY: What differentiates Pirate Swarm from Vanduul Swarm is not just the enemy and the ship types. We focused very much on the archetypes. And what I mean by that is we don’t just look at a ship, we look at the whole package: the ship, its weapon loadout and its combat personality.
FRANCESCO ROCCUCCI: This is also a consequence of the fact for Pirate Swarm, we tried to close-up a bit the combat environment. So, instead of being really far apart the spaceship and trying always have this optimal combat fight approach; we tried to have more a bit of tailing. So, the player has a bit more story chasing one of the spaceships and being able to see a bit closer the enemy and shooting from a closer perspective. So, of course, the AI must be able to escape from you in that environment.
LUKE PRESSLEY: So, if we look at what archetypes are present in Pirate Swarm you’ll find the backbone is made of Gladius, Sabre, and Vanguard. These are our vanilla light, medium, and heavy fighters, and they mark your progression through the waves.
When we came up with the more, unique, archetypes, we started with the Aurora LN. We wanted this to be our brawler; something able to get up in the face of players and worry them if they were inexperienced, but something that was such a poor shot that it was just fodder and would be easy in the starting waves.
Next, we wanted to make a sniper style ship. So, we chose the 350R. This is because whilst being fragile it’s also extremely quick, so that meant that it could keep a distance from the player and be a struggle to hit if you did manage to get close.
Once archetype I was extremely keen to get into the game was the nuisance ship. The natural choice for that is the M50 because it’s so small and so maneuverable that it is, by far, our most frustrating ship to fight anyway. On top of that, we added Suckerpunches, which are our distortion weapon that completely take-out the shields. On its own, it’s completely harmless but you add in some fighters with it and suddenly it’s an extremely worrying little ship to have around. And, on top of that, just to give it a sting in the tail, we added a couple of Marksman missiles. So, once you’ve killed all those fighters around you, it’s still a little danger there.
Obviously, we couldn’t make a pirate themed game mode without including the Cutlass. This is our gunship. It is armed to the teeth. It’s got Pyroburst shotguns, Tarantulas and Longswords. You don’t want to get in front of this thing.
Now that we had our close-up monster we needed our long-range punisher. For this, the natural choice was the Gladiator with its huge array of missiles and torpedoes.
Finally, we wanted to give players the opportunity to fight against a fully-manned Constellation. For us, the intention was this would be our battleship; something that would hang on the edge of the battlefield and pound the player with its cannon. And if the player did manage to get close enough it would open fire with its turrets.
FRANCESCO ROCCUCCI: There were mostly, let’s say, two parts we have been worked on. One was making sure that the flying ships would use some of the functionality that was already available for the player.
One we can discuss is, for example, the afterburner. So the afterburner for the player passed through several iterations and also the AI use it in different ways. It was trying to use it to accelerate over specific splines or specific areas of the environment.
Now we change it to (make more conscious decisions about how it uses the feature). So, when the pirates try to escape or break-out from the player chasing then they can use the afterburner and get this extra trouble boost so they can, let’s say, be a bit further away from the player and try to occupy some space that allows them to attack the player a bit easier and safer way.
Another one has been the usage of specific new behaviors that we tweaked especially for escaping and breaks. We tried to make it a bit more dynamic.
Subsumption work is our big goal and we try to have all the characters driven by activities and sub-activities. So they have jobs. So, a pilot will have a pilot job. Or a guy that controls a turret or the shield of a specific spaceship will have their own activities to do their jobs.
The idea is that Vanduul Swarm and Pirate Swarm will benefit (from) all these improvements we will do in the future. Eventually we will try to create more coordination in the crew of each ship so that a pilot can try to chase one target while one turret is attacking him, but maybe the spaceship is composed by different turrets so some other player that is in the level can be also attacked by the same ship and so on. So, it just creates a bit more natural feeling.
LUKE PRESSLEY: So, with the line-up sorted for 2.6, what we’re going to be focused on for 2.6.1 are the Aces. Now naturally these guys are the best pirates of all, so they should have the best weaponry on their ships and that’s what route we’re going to take. We’re going to give them the most overpowered weapons their ships can handle. So, in conclusion, 2.6.1: Get ready. Because Pirate Swarm is going to get even harder.
BEN LESNICK: So, that’s how we teach our characters how to think and fight but that’s not much good if we don’t have cool ships for them to fly and for Pirate Swarm we wanted to update our existing ships with some of the new technologies that are coming down the pipeline. A lot of the updates we’ve done are showing off technology you’re going to see in Squadron 42 and Star Citizen, in terms of ship customization and just our ability to rapidly update ships for a particular purpose. Let’s go over to some of the artists who worked on the mode to see how they did.
CHRIS SMITH: For the Pirate Swarm, we went ahead and made custom pirate skins for ships. For the pirate skin, it was decided to go with a crimson red and black scheme which gives the ships a little bit of a menacing look which is good for a pirate ship. Then we go into the material and start tinting the main color channels for the hull, the scheme that was chosen should also make it easier to identify a pirate ship amidst all the other ships out there. Some of which will have colorful custom paint schemes and such. The crimson red is also supposed to stand out against other red color paint jobs that will be out there. When we create the materials for the ships during the build process, we go ahead and carefully plan the main 3-4 sub-materials that will be applied to the main hull of the ship, giving us the ability to, later on, change or tint the color for various custom paint schemes.
Special Edition: Caterpillar Pirate Skin
Elwin Bachiller Jr. (Lead Ship Artist)
So, what’s cool about the skin is that it changes the colors a bit and it comes with a nice pirate emblem on the wing a couple tick marks on the side the ship. My favorite part about the ship is actually all the raw metal parts on the ship which are very reflective and easy to see in space have been painted over with black. So, you’ve got a little bit of a stealth element going on with the pirate skin.
BEN LESNICK: And that’s how you form a swarm. We’re really excited about the fact that Pirate Swarm is now in backers’ hands and we’re very eager to have your feedback. What do you like? What do you not like? How’s the new flight model treating you? Let us know on the forums and we’re eager to get your feedback, be sure to tune in tomorrow when Jared and Tyler will be taking on the Swarm themselves live on the Star Citizen Happy Hour, until then back to you guys.
Back to the Studio
CHRIS ROBERTS: Thanks, Ben and thanks to everyone for shedding a bit of insight into the process that went into making Pirate Swarm. The archetypes and the AI behaviors have added a lot and I know the team is eager to expand and grow Arena Commander with new modes, ships, and levels in future patches. We’re doing some fun stuff coming down the road.
SANDI GARDINER: And it was fun to seeing how all the different studios contributed while they all have their own specialties, it’s a nice reminder how the entire team is really just one big dev family.
CHRIS ROBERTS: Yeah, great to have a couple different accents mixed in there so, you know, you got the English and American and…
SANDI GARDINER: Australian.
CHRIS ROBERTS: Australian on your side.[Laughter]
SANDI GARDINER: Well, that’s all for today’s show. As always we want to thank our subscribers for helping us produce all our extra content and behind the scenes shows. Let us know on the website what you think of the changes and all the new shows as they come online.
CHRIS: Yeah, or let us know on Spectrum if you’re one of the testers helping us try out our new social tools. Backer testing is a big part of what makes Star Citizen what it is. We could not do this, without your help, and support, so thank you.
SANDI GARDINER: Yes! And to start your weekend off right, make sure to tune in to our new live stream Star Citizen Happy Hour. Also, Squadron 42 Hoodies and Drake Dragonfly posters will be on sale so don’t miss out on your chance to grab one.
CHRIS: Yep, just in time for the cold weather. So, until then, we’ll see you
BOTH: Around the ‘Verse!