This is the last of our CitizenCon coverage from Sunday. Following this interview with Erin Roberts, we flew up to San Jose to tour a few of the hardware manufacturers located in the area. We'll likely have some coverage of those visits online within the next 2-3 days, for folks looking for a return to hardware industry discussion and architecture dives. A few reviews are also pending publication, likely going live next week.
We try to focus on technology at GN, as always, and so spent our previous interview talking about parallax occlusion mapping and 64-bit engine technology. We think that this is interesting and useful information to learn to better understand GPU interactions with game engines, hopefully better painting a picture of what's going on behind the GPU shroud. With Erin Roberts, Studio Head for the Foundry 42 UK branch, we discussed procedural generation edge blending for planets v2 (also defined here), development timelines to build the demo shown, and workload distribution between studios.
Immediately following our already-published interview with Star Citizen's Chris Roberts, we encountered Technical Director Sean Tracy, recently responsible for educating us on the game's 64-bit engine. The Technical Director took a few moments after CitizenCon to share details about the lower level technology driving the night's demonstration, like real-time physics, poly per pixel budgets, occlusion mapping, and more.
Tracy's role for the CitizenCon presentation primarily had him demonstrating the production tools utilized by CIG for planet development. This includes Planet Ed, already somewhat detailed here and here, which is the team's creation kit for planet customization and design. The toolkit takes the approach of getting artists “90% of the way there,” allowing them to fine-tune the final 10% for faster production pipelines and a hands-on polish. The tech demo showed a walk-through of CIG's team using large brushes to paint the surface with biomes, hand-placing bodies of water and buildings, and blending everything together.
CitizenCon 2016 included the biggest technological demonstrations that the game has publicly shown to-date, including fully functional procedural generation 2.0 for planets, real-time spring physics, and authoring tools. The technology suite was detailed in two of our recent interviews with Sean Tracy and Chris Roberts, but was overshadowed in some ways by statements given regarding a potential Squadron 42 demonstration for CitizenCon 2016.
Viewers of the stream (or our content) will know that Squadron 42 didn't make it into the live demonstration, already packed with hours of discussion on Spectrum (comms systems), procedural generation, authoring tools, and roadmaps. The demonstration was technologically and graphically impressive, but Squadron 42 was left out for polish and refinement reasons. Roberts indirectly referenced our interview on stage, stating that, “I gave an interview about 3 weeks ago and probably spoke too soon,” but continued that he hoped the planet and tools demonstrations would make up for this.
In our post-event interview, we spoke with CIG CEO Chris Roberts on his thoughts regarding the event, the roadmap for Star Citizen, and Squadron 42's absence. Learn more in the video, or find a transcript below.
Leading into Star Citizen's annual “CitizenCon” event, held today, we received preliminary details from CIG CEO Chris Roberts and Technical Director Sean Tracy, both of whom heavily focused on an unveil of new procedural planets technology. The first interview (with Roberts) covered the top-level overview of procedural planet generation technology, with the third interview (with Tracy) focusing on the driving tools behind the planets.
But CitizenCon 2016 marks the first time we've seen those tools in action, unveiled on stage in front of an audience of more than 600 people live, with more tuned-in to the stream. Our earlier interviews suggested that the first major, complete Squadron 42 mission would be unveiled at CitizenCon alongside this “Planets V2” tech and character technology updates, but the plans changed in the weeks since that discussion. Planets V2 took the spotlight with its Homestead demo, Squadron 42 has been delayed to allow for quality improvement on the single-player demo.
Note: This was written live during the event for immediate publication. We are continuing to live update.
(7:50PM PT 10/9 - We are done live updating. We've added 4K screenshots to this article, all new from tonight. We've got interviews with Chris Roberts, Sean Tracy, and Erin Roberts going live shortly.)
Before getting to further discussion, a recap of the last two weeks:
The Gears of War franchise may be 10 years old, but this fourth title is only the second to make its way to PC. Third-person shooters in general have never had as big of a following on PCs as they have on console. Gears of War, it seems, has become something of a gold standard of third-person shooters for play with dual-shock controllers. We’re here to give it a pass on the keyboard and mouse.
There are good reasons for the success of the franchise. With a controller, the dual thumbsticks of an Xbox controller suit maneuvering through cover and “locking” to walls. Then there's the trademark thickness of the characters; even normal humans stand out against other games. Against a backdrop of superfluous gore and chainsaw-guns, the Lancer, Gears of War 4 has established itself as one of the meatiest, most visceral shooters on the market.
One of the perennial remarks about the Gears of War franchise has always been the game's character design. Every male character seems have a jaw like a brick, or Robert Z’Dar, and the armor looks built of heavy metals. Now, the Gears of War franchise is five majors titles in, with novel, comic, and board game adaptations. The odd, not-entirely-human look of the characters has become a dedicated part of the franchise, and GoW4 remains true to that aesthetic. The Coalition may have taken over development from Epic, but they’ve also come a long way in design from the first Gears of War. One of the characters in this game -- Del -- even appears to have a neck. As with all the previous titles, females characters still look pretty human. 25 years older, Marcus Fenix still looks more like a bicep drawn by Rob Liefeld than a human.
We had a clerical error in our original Gears of War 4 GPU benchmark, but that's been fully rectified with this content. The error was a mix of several variables, primarily having three different folks working on the benchmarks, and working with a game that has about 40 graphics settings. We also had our custom Python script (which works perfectly) for interpreting PresentMon, a new tool to FPS capture, and that threw enough production changes into the mix that we had to unpublish the content and correct it.
All of our tests, though, were good. That's the good news. The error was in chart generation, where nVidia and AMD cards were put on the same charts using different settings, creating an unintentional misrepresentation of our data. And as a reminder, that data was valid and accurate – it just wasn't put in the right place. My apologies for that. Thankfully, we caught that early and have fixed everything.
I've been in communication with AMD and nVidia all morning, so everyone is clear on what's going on. Our 4K charts were completely accurate, but the others needed a rework. We've corrected the charts and have added several new, accurately presented tests to add some value to our original benchmark. Some of that includes, for instance, new tests that look at Ultra performance on nVidia vs AMD properly, tests that look at the 3GB vs 6GB GTX 1060, and more.e titles distributed to both PC and Xbox, generally leveraging UWP as a link.
Gears of War 4 is a DirectX 12 title. To this end, the game requires Windows 10 to play – Anniversary Edition, to be specific about what Microsoft forces users to install – and grants lower level access to the GPU via the engine. Asynchronous compute is now supported in Gears of War 4, useful for both nVidia and AMD, and dozens of graphics options make for a brilliantly complex assortment of options for PC enthusiasts. In this regard, The Coalition has done well to deliver a PC title of high flexibility, going the next step further to meticulously detail the options with CPU, GPU, and memory intensive indicators. Configure the game in an ambitious way, and it'll warn the user of a specific setting which may cause issues on the detected hardware.
That's incredible, honestly. This takes what GTA V did by adding a VRAM slider, then furthers it several steps. We cannot commend The Coalition enough for not only supporting PC players, but for doing so in a way which is so explicitly built for fine-tuning and maximizing hardware on the market.
In this benchmark of Gears of War 4, we'll test the FPS of various GPUs at Ultra and High settings (4K, 1440p, 1080p), furthering our tests by splashing in an FPS scaling chart across Low, Medium, High, and Ultra graphics. The benchmarks include the GTX 1080, 1070, 1060, RX 480, 470, and 460, and then further include last gen's GTX 980 Ti, 970, 960, and 950 with AMD's R9 Fury X, R9 390X, and R9 380X.
In this final part of our recent Cloud Imperium Games LA office tour, we conclude by talking with Technical Director Sean Tracy about upcoming technology to be shown at CitizenCon. The annual Star Citizen backer event will take place on October 9, Sunday, at ~3PM PST.
Until then, this discussion dives into new character technology that will be shown at the event, resource consumption and management, CPU thread assignment and the jobs engine, headbob and image stabilization, and authoring tools for Star Citizen. The previous three parts of this tour can be found at the links below:
Cloud Imperium Games has been talking about its 64-bit engine conversion for at least two years now, but we've never had a chance to properly explain the benefit of this move. Following last week's interviews with Chris Roberts (Part 1: Procedural Planets V2, Alpha 3.0 & Part 2: Weather System), we sat down with CIG Technical Director Sean Tracy to learn about CryEngine, the technical inner-workings of procedural planet generation V2, and more.
Tracy sat in on our first meeting with Roberts, and was able to prepare some additional points of depth with notes taken from that meeting. The entire discussion with Tracy ran for about forty minutes. We've split that into two parts:
Part 1, today, is on 64-bit engine technology, world space coordinates, edge blending, and meshes and layers.
Part 2, Wednesday (10/5), is on CPU threading, system resource and load management, character technology, and more CitizenCon info.
Note: You may find our previous discussion on DirectX 12 & Vulkan of interest.
It took us nearly 5000 words to cover the first half of our two-part interview with Cloud Imperium Games CEO Chris Roberts, who joins us now for the second half. In the first part, we dove straight into discussion on Alpha 3.0, plans for unveiling procedural generation V2 at CitizenCon, and Star Marine & Arena Commander A2.6 updates. Roberts' procedural generation plans initially disclosed to GamersNexus in 2014 have mostly been realized, and the team is now working on a second iteration of the internally built Planet Ed[itor] toolset. Much of the new procedural generation technology will be shown at CitizenCon on October 9, but Roberts also teased to us that new character technology would be on demonstration at the event.
This is the second and final half of our interview with Chris Roberts, CIG CEO & Chairman, but not the final interview for our trip. Technical Director Sean Tracy joined GamersNexus to discuss deeper engineering solutions to technological challenges faced by the team, offering some insight to game development that we think our 'regulars' will enjoy from an engineering standpoint. The first half of that content will post on Friday, September 30. The second half will be announced alongside the publication of the first half.
Both interviews – with Roberts and with Tracy – ran about forty minutes in length, and contained a trove of new information related to the title's immediate future. With Tracy, we'll discuss engine architecture, what it actually means to “refactor for 64-bit,” authoring tools, and more.