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.
Covering the Star Citizen technology demonstrations and planetary procedural generation v2.0, we noted that the live framerate, although variable, seemed to stick around the ~96~100FPS AVG range. Even the hardest dips fell to about 75FPS, mostly when the Constellation star ship entered the camera frustum, but overall frame throughput was consistent and fairly fluid. (Note: Some folks reporting low dips to ~36-43 at times. We did not watch the FPS counter for the entire demo.) Frametimes were also on-point, sitting at an average of about ~8~10ms delta between frames, or effectively perfectly fluid on a 60-120Hz display. Z-fighting and artifacting occurred in the demo, but that is known to the team and is mostly a result of the LOD scaling and pop-in. Runt frames, however, were not much of an issue during the gameplay demonstration.
That comes down to hardware. As we detailed heavily in our Pascal architecture and Polaris architecture deep dives, this generation of hardware has focused efforts on stabilizing frame throughput for greater consistency. Variance between frame delivery exceeding that of the monitor's refresh rate, e.g. 8ms for a 120Hz display, 16ms for a 60Hz display, will create more runt frames and screen tearing at time of playback. This is because the monitor, without adaptive sync tech (which the projector almost certainly did not have), slaves to the GPU and either waits on refresh (V-Sync) for completed frames or immediately “publishes” the frames to the screen (V-Sync off). The latter creates tearing by producing runt frames which don't fully “paint” to the display, with the former producing stuttering when framerate falls below the V-Sync threshold, triggering what is effectively a reprojection of the previous frame.
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.
It's been three years since we first visited the Cloud Imperium Games studios in Santa Monica, though we've conducted a dozen interviews with CIG CEO Chris Roberts in the time since. Now, taking a victory lap through Southern California's hardware manufacturers, we stopped over at CIG's offices for a second in-person visit.
A lot has changed. The studio, for one, is now in a new location that's farther from the Santa Monica beach, but in a larger space. The team has grown significantly in both organization and team size, and challenges faced, and Roberts has adjusted his interview technique just enough to ease off on providing release dates.
Our latest visit had us focusing on the new planetary procedural generation tech, version 2.0, the predecessor for which we originally detailed two full years ago. Roberts talked us through the start-to-finish plans for CitizenCon's presentations, additional Alpha 3.0 launch details, Star Marine, procedural generation, character tech, and engine refactoring in a forty-minute interview. We've split the interview into two parts, the second of which will go live on Monday (September 26). Our time spent in the office was doubled to accommodate a second interview with Technical Director Sean Tracy, responsible for answering our deeper hardware and software engineering questions. That content will go live next week, after the first two parts of the interview with Chris Roberts.
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