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Game Armada Monthly Studio Report: November 2017

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Monthly Studio Report: November 2017

Greetings Citizens!

Welcome to the Monthly Studio Report, where we collect updates from our various studios around the world to show you what they’ve been working on this past month. As many of you know, there’s been a concerted push among our various studios to get the Alpha 3.0 to the community. Since our last report, we’ve gone to Evocati and begun a staggered release to the PTU, so the team’s busy fixing bugs discovered by the testers and working on overall stability and performance. With that, let’s get to it.

CIG Los Angeles




LA Engineering has been racing towards 3.0 at a breakneck pace, with the primary focus being on resolving bugs from Evocati and PTU and adding final polish to features like cargo, item components, atmosphere systems and more. Part of this work has been integrating all the item systems in ships with UI in order to bring a real sense of control to the cockpits. Lastly, updating Quantum Travel has been an area of focus for several weeks, pushing to deliver a more immersive experience.


This month, LA Tech Design spent the bulk of their time closing down tasks and knocking out the remaining bugs for the Item 2.0 Ship Setup. They’ve solved several issues with the 300 series, Mustang, Nox, Starfarer, and Scythe while identifying some more dependencies on the final lighting setup as well. The updated animations for the Gladiator were delivered this month so a total setup refactor has been completed.

In addition, the team also finished setup on all the ship headlights as well as the “SaveGameLogOut” functionality that allows for logging out anywhere there’s a bed.


M_heavy_marine_keyshot_front1-002.jpg This November, the Character Team spent a lot of time polishing the cast of Squadron 42. They also polished many new Star Citizen characters and assets that they are excited to release with 3.0.0 while working on developing concepts for clothing, finalizing the legacy armor sets and more.

The LA Ship Art team has spent much of November updating a lot of ships to take advantage of new tech. In particular, the ships now use new Light Groups set-up, new fog tech, new Render-to-Texture screens and to made proxies airtight now that oxygen has been introduced to Star Citizen. They’ve been juggling these various tasks with fixing a lot of art bugs in preparation for ships included in the Alpha 3.0 release. Additionally, they’ve made progress on the art for future releases, including the Anvil Hurricane, Tumbril Cyclone and the Consolidated Outland Mustang update.

Hurricane_001.jpg Hurricane_002.jpg Hurricane_003.jpg Hurricane_004.jpg


In addition to working with the PU design team on polishing Alpha 3.0 mission content, the Narrative team continued to expand the Xi’an language with the help of the community, and worked with the cinematics team to create the Galactic Tour Hammerhead piece. For Squadron 42, they spent time discussing additional set dressing with the prop and art teams to help further expand environmental storytelling in the game. Looking ahead, the team also spent time this month continuing to plan out narrative content goals for 2018’s quarterly updates.


For Environments, the Global Technical Content team has been continuing work on the features that were revealed at the GamesCom Procedural Tech Demo. In addition to supporting asset and code performance improvements, they have been investigating bugs with lighting and visareas, and have been working side by side with the graphics team to develop scripts and shader tech to help catch performance issues as well as improve other areas like the procedural cities. They’ve also worked in conjunction with our tech animation team on animated environment assets, and with engineering and design on new tech for Derelict Systems, Outpost Locations and a Planetary Placement Systems.

For Ships, the team has been busy handling damage implementation for the new ships coming down the pipeline for the 3.0 release. All of this whilst juggling a variety of ship bugs related to UV2 damage, landing gear compression, visareas and log spam errors. Progress was made to support gas effects for the incoming Breaching feature. They’ve also been supporting Tech Design and the Ship Art teams with some new tech for ship lighting and ship proxies. On the Weapons front, the team has continued to work on new weapons in the pipeline, including working on Mannequin set-ups, weapon bugs, an adjustable stock, and some exciting R&D on animated weapon attachments which will have many additional uses beyond just weapons.

A lot of work for the Tech Animators was in support of Squadron 42, rigging and simulating new costumes coming down the Character & Heads Pipeline. As with the other areas of focus, ample time has been spent on fixing bugs, mainly related to skinning and character item implementation.

The team has also been making great progress tracking, trimming and solving a vast amount of MoCap data for Squadron 42. The list of accomplishments rounds out nicely with the implementation of new health checks, a CIG Tools Installer, Tools management/migrations, and a ton of support for facial animation, usables, wildlines and cinematics.

Finally, there was a lot of miscellaneous support that the team had their hands on, including technical direction for WAF asset builds (which reduce build times significantly!), website development, R&D and some due diligence on a prospective upgrade to our internal DCC tools Max and Maya and MoBu.


LAQA’s primary focus was testing lighting and the new light groups, LOD’s, breaching mechanics, character art, the myriad of new updates to the code base made by the engineering team, and the way Item Ports were set up by tech design. They also aided the global QA team with publishing checks for PTU and Evocati deployments and several live internal gameplay reviews.

CIG Austin




The ATX design team have been tackling all things shopping to get the game ready for the PTU Release of the 3.0 build. There have been two core elements that we’ve been focused on since the handing off the Mission Givers implementation tasks to the design team in Frankfurt. The team also outlined the desired income per hour goals and has adjusted both the mission reward calculator and the item prices accordingly. This work has also included the ship respawn time and prices. While we expect to dial in these values over the next several Alpha builds based on player feedback and analytics that we collect, we feel like this is a good representation of where we want it to be.

Shopkeep1.jpg Shopkeep4.jpg Meanwhile, the rest of the team tidied up all the physical shops in the three major locations: Port Olisar, Grim HEX, and Levski. In total, there are roughly fifteen separate places where players will be able to buy items in the game and we’ve been able to spread the items around the different shops with very little overlap. The team also worked with the LA Programmers and the UI team to add some new features for the shopping experience. Among these new features are:
  • AR Markers have now been replaced by the new item highlighting system to fall in line with the overall loot system.
  • Inner Thought is now being used on the objects where Try On, Inspect or Buy are concerned.
  • Armor can now be purchased as separate pieces.
  • All Item names are now unique
  • First pass of shopkeepers are now in.
  • The shopping UI has been cleaned up.
While there are still have many new features they wish to add, or existing ones they wish to clean up, the team hopes that the new shopping experience will make all players happy, and they look forward to continuing the refinement of the shopping experience in the new year.


The ship team knocked out 3.0 bugs for the Drake Herald and Cutlass Black, including fixing up their lighting states and visareas. They also finished up the whitebox modeling and a first pass at interior lighting of the Constellation Phoenix, so it’s now in game and can be walked through. In other Constellation news, the Andromeda and Aquila had their interior and exterior lighting states updated and their LODs were refactored to be much more efficient. Several other ships went through similar updates, including the Hornet (F7C, F7CM), 300i (and variants), M50, Scout and Nox. The team continued their work polishing and optimizing the materials on all the ATX ships. Work also began on the whitebox modeling process of the Anvil F8 Lightning.


Server Engineering team focused on helping with features and issues in 3.0. The team has been tuning parts of the back-end services to accommodate the volume of data that flows between game servers, persistence caches and the database, and solved several issues, including the ability to reconnect to the same instance if you lose your network connection. Over the course of the month, they also improved data integrity if a server or service would go down, improved caching services functionality to allow items to exist in the universe outside of the player’s possession, and lastly solved many login and connectivity issues.

Looking to the future, the engineering team has been building the next generation of back-end services. The team is aiming to split up all larger services into smaller stateless services and enhancing the service architecture and Ooz scripting language to comply with the ever-growing requirements the game demands.


Gladiator_pilot.jpg This month, the Ship Animation Team fine-tuned the player bed enters and exits as part of our persistent save system, which will allow the player to enter a bed and exit the game while saving their location in the universe. Next time when you load the game, you’ll wake up in your bed with your ship in its last location. In addition to this, the team finished updating the Gladiator enter and exits as part of the cockpit experience sprint. The speed and technical setup of the Gladiator has vastly cut down the time to enter and exit the pilot and copilot seats. The Austin studio also held a motion capture shoot to capture animations for the Tumbril Cyclone.

IMG_29112017_174514_0.png Meanwhile, the PU Animation Team helped support work on Squadron 42 and worked closely with Design to make all usables fully functional and bug free. Some of the challenges the team faced included syncing props to animate with characters, such as chairs sliding as a character sits down and getting a female version of every animation implemented into the game. The goal is to have a large batch of the Usable animation assets polished and finalized by the end of the year.


The DevOps Team worked around the clock to support our internal teams and the Evocati as we closed in on our 3.0 goals. In addition to publishing at least one game version every day, they have been able to complete some major internal projects designed to massively improve build times and error handling.


Since CitizenCon, 3.0 has been an all-consuming focus for the QA team as incremental updates were released to Evocati and to the first wave of PTU. Between Evocati and the PTU, there have been 26 builds published so far under Austin’s belt for 3.0 and 2 publishes for our sister team in UK. QA has been gathering fresh performance captures for our engineers with each new build that goes to PTU to focus on stability. The team worked with the LiveOpS cohorts to compile all the various new client and server crashes with metrics to show which has the greatest impact. With so many new missions in 3.0 and new gameplay mechanics associated with them, the team ensured they function both in ideal scenarios and when a server is at full capacity. At the same time, they’ve been testing various new configurations with UK QA and the engineering teams to increase the player cap. Squadron 42 testing has been proceeding at a brisk pace, with regular tests of levels run on new builds each day.

For leadership, the focus has been training new hires and keeping in constant communication with the other departments, talking to Production to ensure that the right bugs are on their radar for PTU and Live triage, attending stand-ups with the Development teams to find out what needs to be tested coming out of the sprints, and working with Player Relations and Issue Council every day to keep up to date on the latest feedback and reports from backers. All these different avenues combined to ensure QA is consistently on the same page across the company.


The month of November kept the Player Relations team on its toes. After assisting and moderating a phenomenal CitizenCon, the team rolled right into helping backers with their interest in our game-changing Pioneer. The team also worked with Evocati every day to publish new 3.0 builds, run playtests, assess stability, and gather crucial feedback. With the push to PTU, they wanted to thank all our relentless Avocados who are always there to answer the call! Lastly, the team expanded in Austin and Frankfurt as their list of duties continues to increase. They are excited to hire our first full time German support staff, as well as roll out moderation support in several new languages.

Foundry 42 UK




The graphics team spent their time bug fixing 3.0. When QA/Evocati get their hands on completed features and assets there’s always the usual influx of unexpected issues. This included numerous problems related to rotating planets/moons because much of the older rendering code made assumptions about things being stationary, and especially doesn’t cope well with changing the frame of reference when moving in/out of orbit.

The team also created a new glass shader that provided a great visual improvement over the past one, and they were really keen to see it implemented as soon as possible. A pass was done across all ship canopies.

They also closed down some minor feature work for 3.0, such as RTT functionality for ship MFDs and the ability for game code to control the camera’s exposure to make the mobiGlas more legible in bright lighting conditions (though more improvements are coming for holographic displays). In parallel, two team members continued their longer-term R&D tasks on the new shield effect, which uses particles rather than meshes, and improvements to the volumetric ray-tracing tech (gas clouds & fog), which is nearing the point where they can share some pretty cool visuals!


Hammerhead_01.jpg Hammerhead_03.jpg The Hammerhead has made rapid progress in a short time period. Work on the exterior was prioritized for its Galactic Tour appearance. After receiving the concept mesh, the team did more than trace over the shapes but also made sure the mesh was efficient and game ready. Now that the Aegis brand is so well established they have a wealth of shaders and assets to pull from for quick iteration.

600i_Bridge.jpg 600i_Landing_Gear.jpg The 600i’s interior corridors were fully fleshed out, making sure they capture the higher class feel that is Origin. Further work was done with the exploration module, along with passes on materials and lighting. The block out of the bridge is done and work on it has started. For the exterior, the thrusters are almost complete and the landing gear should be wrapped up shortly.

The Idris has entered a polish and bug fixing phase. The team supported design with useables set up and are starting to see interactive items such as seats, benches and beds being useable by the player and AI.

Vanduul Void art is complete. Damage and LODs are being set up. Void_02.jpg

Carrack_engine_room_greybox.jpg They chipped away at a more detailed greybox by picking two areas to focus on — engineering and habitation. The plan is to take these sections to final geometry before going into engine to create materials and lighting. This approach is taken to maximize the time spent being creative with the designs at the start and lays the groundwork for future tasks.


Hurston_wip-1.png November saw the concept team finish and deliver two spaceships, the Anvil Hawk and the Aegis Hammerhead, with another ship and vehicle in development. They also reshuffled artists and moved some people to new disciplines to keep things fresh and reduce the risk of burnout. As you know, the team pumps out a huge amount of work and it’s important to stay on top!

On the environment side, they further explored areas of Hurston, landing sites, hangars and general building look dev, and some high-level exploration of Microtech. They continued with weapon development, making the first of the Associated Science and Development Distortion repeaters and refining the Hurston Electron Beam cannon.


Monthly_report_November17_2.jpg Monthly_report_November17.jpg Long-planned work on shield improvements finally commenced this month. This included the generation of ‘signed distance fields’ by our team in Frankfurt and a R&D-intensive collaboration with the Graphics team to generate energy effects that closely conform to the hull of a ship. This work was previously mentioned in Around the Verse and can be used to improve numerous ship-specific effects, like atmospheric entry burn-up and Quantum Travel.

Speaking of QT, recent design changes required the team to rebuild the effects so they fit the new code ‘hooks’ (triggers that call upon the effects to be activated). Once the timings and functionality were back in place, they continued to polish/optimize the effects. This was a time-consuming process and required careful collaboration with Design and Game-Code, but was worth it given the results.

This month has seen a company-wide push to clean-up log spam. For the VFX team, this is a case of removing references to missing textures or finding particle libraries that were moved/had their name changed, as reported by the editor when loading a level. It’s one of the less glamorous sides of the job but actually very satisfying to whittle away the error logs.

They also conducted our usual “sanity pass” for 3.0 by checking every effect in the game and making sure they work as expected. This is where QA is invaluable, as it simply wouldn’t be possible for the VFX artists to check through all the game’s effects in such a time-frame. They are still working through these checks due to the size of our VFX library!

Last but certainly not least, lots of Squadron 42 specific tasks were tackled. As usual, the team can’t go into too many details but work ranged from Coil-specific plasma experiments, to mysterious debris clusters, and distant storms brewing.


CIG Audio has been all about working towards delivering 3.0 and making improvements to the player experience sound great and work as solidly as possible. Thus, bug-fixing and optimization has been taking up time for everyone between feature work (and often because of feature work!) in addition to the continued work on Squadron 42.

On the music side of things, the team have rolled out a new music composition pipeline to help step up productivity and improve communication for persistent universe music production. In addition to that, they are also working on a new logic-based music system to cater for points of interest such as space stations and moons with outposts – part of a move to make music transition more seamlessly overall.

In sound design, the pressurization system coming online is something that’s a big step forward. When on foot and EVA, you’ll find space doesn’t necessarily sound as if it has an atmosphere now. There are still a few teething issues to readdress a lot of sounds and ensure they’re set-up correctly within our Wwise bus structure, but when complete, it will add a lot more to the dynamics of the audio in-game and goes hand-in-hand with our ‘sound sim’ lore that justifies sonic feedback when in-cockpit.

Door and elevator sounds have also undergone much maintenance and re-work in response to upstream system changes. Outposts have had their foundational work done to account for different power states. Weapons – on both ship and human-scale – have been iterated upon, with some great work done on the HDR tech for those. The Character Foley system has been extended to account for landing/jumps more elegantly. Ships have been continually addressed and Quantum Travel, having been refactored upstream, has been improved and extended. In-game displays and MFDs now also emit their sounds in 3D from their perceived point of origin.

Where dialogue is concerned, ship computer voices have undergone some extensive rework with a lot of emphasis on producing runtime effects to simulate speakers and other playback mechanisms diegetically (which will prove especially satisfying once players can use them with live input from their own FOIP set-ups/mics). The team’s also continuing to improve the dialogue mix, add more dialogue to mission givers and NPCs, and making improvements in dialogue spatialisation.

As well as the above, the team has been making lots of incremental improvements and as always, it’d be great to get your feedback on the forums in case there’s anything in particular you would like them to address.


IndustrialZone_Composition_001.jpg The team worked hard on this year’s CitizenCon demo. The positive response was great for the team to hear. They have been planning the tech roadmap for further city development work, as making a living and breathing cityscape has many complexities. Memory budgets, engine rendering, city building shaders, and day/night sequences are all being developed.

They also made sure that the 3.0 release build was as stable as possible. There were only a handful of bugs so this should be a very strong environmental experience for the player. The team continued to refine tools to enable more efficient workflows. An example of this is an automatic dropping system for landscape POI’s, like outposts, being implemented to remove a lot of the brute force work which was previously required. Also, after internal playtesting, they wanted to improve the experience at outposts on the dark side of a moon. The lighting engineers worked on a solution to provide these areas with more light so players could see what they are doing. They also started converting all the old shops in Area18 to the new systems for things like usable, doors, etc. The new layout not only improves the plaza’s performance but enables it to be filled with more NPCs and allows the team to add some new beautiful areas where you can take in the vistas of ArcCorp.


The Derby Studio was super busy with tasks for 3.0 and the Anniversary Sale. They ran the in-house headcam system for a motion capture shoot in Nottingham for the Galactic Gear Hammerhead segment.

Face scanning at CitizenCon 2947 was a great success. The scanner went from in pieces to fully built on a new frame in two weeks. It was tight but we did it! The rig took an epic 12-hour ferry journey to get to mainland Europe, then a 300-mile drive in the “Scan-Van” to Frankfurt. A massive thanks to all the volunteers who helped set up and tear down the scanner. The team couldn’t have done it without you! All 10 scan winners enjoyed their scan sessions and it was great to meet a bunch of super enthusiastic SC gamers.

Finally, the team is excited to see the characters in 3.0 and are currently working through the levels to polish and improve their facial animations.
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November was focused on 3.0, getting it to Evocati and then to PTU. This means there were a lot of bug fixes and optimizations, as well as the finishing of features like persistent spawning, player interaction, missions, and so on. However, this doesn’t mean they didn’t get to work on any new features. The team was split into those that support the PTU and its requirements, and those working on new tech to incorporate into future builds when it’s ready.

For example, there’s a team working on the making the social AI have more life and feel less robotic. This started with the NPCs delivering wildlines, one off lines of dialogue dependent on the situation. These could be simple greetings, if they already know you or other NPCs, or a warning that they’re coming through when jogging and coming across another character. They were also given a bit more interest in the environment, glancing at items as they walk around or if nothing’s taking their fancy just looking at where they’re going. Layered on top of that are fidgets, where a character will scratch their head or look at their watch to help break up a repetitive animation. They’ve also been adding in custom locomotion sets for different characters so everybody doesn’t have the same walk/run gait.

The team also looked at cinematics in an effort to polish them so they look their best. They explored how the cinematic team can better control the lighting whilst in a scene without breaking it for the rest of the environment and how to dial in the depth of field and field of view. This is to give that cinematic feel and show off the characters without negatively impacting the control of the player. Other than that, there were lots of gameplay sprints and getting through all the functionality required.


The animation team has been working in tandem with design to focus on combat AI – chopping assets up to fit new metrics, providing placeholder assets to prove systems out, cleaning up existing assets. They have also been going through the performance capture data and creating game ready locomotion, idle & fidget assets for cast characters. The Idris armory has had a full sweep, so that design have all the animation assets for the master-at-arms and his weapon interactions. In line with this work, they worked hard to create some cool first weapon selects.

Outside of feature development, the team did bug fixing and debugging issues that are currently in 3.0 and beyond.

Foundry 42 DE




DE_Update_Weapons_msr_amrs.jpg DE_Update_Weaponsmsr_h29.jpg This month the weapons team completed the final touches on the Kastak Arms Custodian skins, which were made together with attendees at the CitizenCon demo stand. The FPS team also started production on two new weapons: the Gemini H29 HMG and the Torral Aggregate Kahix Missile Launcher. The ship weapons team has started production on the A&R Laser Cannons (Size 1-6) and the Gallenson Tactical Ballistic Gatlings (Size 1-3), which should allow them to replace another big batch of legacy ship weapons with shiny new ones in the near future.


DE_Update_Lighting_Shop_01.jpg DE_Update_Lighting_Shop_02.jpg The DE lighting team focused on finishing our remaining 3.0 lighting tasks, which involved more polish and performance items in Levski. In addition to other general 3.0 bugs, they supported the shop team to help differentiate lighting in shops based on the location. A large amount of focus will now shift to various areas for Squadron 42.


The DE QA team did a wide range of testing this month to focus on issues found in the Evocati builds and testing the 3.0 branch in general. This included a streaming issue that occurred after being connected to a server for an extended period and the black screen some encountered when initially loading into Stanton. These issues were speculated to be the result of potential memory corruption and required more testing with Page Heap to provide the engineers with additional information to fix them. The fixes will ultimately increase the overall stability of the full game.

Subsumption testing also continued with new features and bug fixes going into the Subsumption tool weekly. The team collaborated with Design to learn their workflows in an effort to better test the varying uses of the Subsumption tool. This will expand the scope of QA subsumption testing to include test cases outlining how the Subsumption Editor works with our other tools used by the Design Teams, such as Dataforge and the Lumberyard Editor. Additional focused testing was also spent on the Sabre Raven’s EMP and its effects on other ships. These effects were recorded for multiple types of ships and reviewed by Design to make sure there weren’t any discrepancies between the design and how it’s currently working.

DE QA also worked closely with Marco Corbetta to get to the bottom of ships falling through the planet surface when players powered off and exited their ship. This was particularly tricky to reproduce as it only occurred on Shipping builds and could not be reproduced on internal Development builds. The Engine team discovered that the Shipping builds were specifically missing certain .r16 files which contain sample displacement textures made by artists. These are also used by the server for generating collision data but not for rendering. The issue was resolved by Build Ops and confirmed fixed the next day.


This past month, the Frankfurt Engine team tackled numerous fronts, such as wrapping up new items for 3.0, investigating and addressing existing bugs, as well as general optimizations.

The team made a lot of progress optimizing for both the server and client, and started conducting routine network stress tests to better understand how the engine scales on the server with a large number of players and learn what areas are still expensive and need optimization. With the increased number of players on the server and more code being moved to jobs for parallel execution, changes were made to the job system to allow utilization of more than 16 worker threads on servers without introducing extra overhead in job distribution. This is needed to allow an increasing number of player counts. This change to the job system will also translate to the client, so people with high-end CPUs will see extra performance benefits in areas where they are typically CPU bound. On the low-level optimization side, they changed the signaling mechanism of the core threading synchronization object on Linux from semaphore to futexes. This change spares one syscall in 99% of the cases, which provides a small performance boost.

Area Management was optimized by disregarding an Octree for Areas they never search in. An “area” is a special markup for the designers which tracks all objects inside a specific location, such as a bar. The system now allows them to send Events when an object (like a player) enters an Area (the bar), on which the game code can then react. They also support spatial queries against those areas (using the same code as the Zonesystem, as this allows them to support areas of nearly arbitrary size). This behavior requires that for each moving object, they check if it is no longer in any area or if it entered a new one. On top of this, and for them to have efficient spatial queries, they need to maintain an octree per Area. The team realized that many of those areas were never used for spatial queries, which means they had numerous unneeded computations with the octree’s. This is now fixed and they only maintain the octree when actively searching in an area.

They also spent some time investigating memory leaks, and developed a lightweight memory tracking system which can be run on the server in the background with an acceptable performance impact. They can then review the results in an effort to analyze and fix specific memory leaks people encounter. The team also did some minor bugfixes for the Patcher Library, which implements the functionality for the delta patching. Improvements were made to the new temporal antialiasing technique to improve overall image sharpness and preserve luminance of bright objects. Additionally, motion vectors for software skinned meshes were fixed, so that postprocessing technique can properly take them into account (temporal antialiasing, motion blur, etc).

Regarding skinning and characters, the team fixed code to allow mesh compression on skin meshes with morph targets. Since faces are very detailed, this will result in substantial memory savings and lower rendering overhead. Lastly, with respect to future engine improvements and memory savings, they made good progress in implementing GPU based ray intersection tests to offload these types of computations from the CPU and reuse the already existing high-fidelity render mesh on GPU for precise intersection test. The results of those computations are provided asynchronously as to not block the CPU mid-frame and can be used on any type of effect that doesn’t need server authority (anti cheat measure).


The Level Design team polished the locations for 3.0 with the focus being bug fixing for Levski and surface outposts. As that work was completed, they turned towards the future and to something called “Common Elements.” These are components that each location will use, like hangars, garages, housing, offices and so on that will be tied into our modular system and combined with the various tilesets. The team will quickly be able to use them to add essential components to locations. They also looked into train stations and monorails for our flagship landing zones, as well as early work on city Space Ports.


The DE VFX team worked on particles and VFX that are used throughout the universe. They’ve gone over almost every existing visual effect again to ensure there are no issues. One recent challenge has been staying on top of the physics system for particles. With such an active development cycle, sometimes things that previously worked need to be modified to accommodate the updated system(s). They also continued to flesh out the GPU particles system and added new features to it. The team is approaching the point where the old CPU based system can be phased out and rely solely on the GPU for most effects throughout the levels and universe. They also worked on applying signed distance fields to our particle effects. These are 3d textures that specify the distance to the surface of an object. With these textures, they can reconstruct the interior and exterior of geometry and have the motion of the particles affected by the SDF. It can be used for collision detection as well as allowing particles to flow over the surface of the SDF.
DE_Update_VFX_SDF_Raw_Image.jpg DE_Update_VFX_SDF_Ship_Surface.jpg


The System Design team took over the mission givers behaviors, finalizing the implementation and making sure all the edge cases matched the design. The first case was to finalize Miles Eckhart so they could utilize the same defined template for future mission givers. Another related task was to implement the admin officers behaviors and integrate it into the mission system. The admin officer’s main job is to deliver mission items to the player and to accept deliveries of incoming mission items. FPS AI combat saw major improvements, as the system design team worked with AI to make sure the characters enter, exit, peek, and shoot from cover and that their behavior looks as natural as possible. They also addressed bugs and tweaked things required for 3.0 with the focus being on AI, usables, doors, rooms & breathing.


The Environment team polished areas that are used in 3.0, making sure that players get the best possible visual experience and encounter no visual bugs. Next to polishing, the team focused on what will be coming after 3.0. A glimpse at this post-3.0 Environment work was shown during the CitizenCon demo and is just a small example of what will eventually be on Hurston. A whole new range of ecosystems are being worked on that are visually very different from what’s been seen before. They’ve also been hard at work on unique vegetation, large trash mesas, and the city of Lorville, which is another major landing zone using the procedural city tech.


The DE Tech Art team spent the month tackling content creation, new tool building, and supporting various teams, while also addressing issues for 3.0. They added a new Usable for both AI and Player characters, and fixed bugs for existing Usables such as minor animation popping. For characters, they did various skinning tasks that will be used for both the PU and Squadron 42, which will help with character variants. They developed a tool which can help artists export animated geometry into engine more efficiently. This tool combines multiple manual processes into one and error checks before export, making the process much quicker and less prone to human error. For weapons, they finalized the setup for the Gemini R97 shotgun and prepped the Torral Aggregate Kahix Missile Launcher for production. The tech art team also grew by one member and time was spent getting him familiar with the toolset, workflow, and best practices. His focus will be to improve and extend our internal character editor, as well as enhance our existing systems for cloth, hair simulation, and similar physics-based secondary animation effects on all characters.


DE_Update_AI_Subsumption.jpg The AI team split their attention between different in-game functionalities and raising the bar on numerous aspects at the same time. Regarding Subsumption, they worked on improving features related to the usability of the tool and exposed new functionalities to the design team. Subsumption conversations now allow designers to specify multiple input parameters and not just the input participants. This allows the creation of a more complex abstraction of logic and more complex conversation branching. They also introduced two new subsumption functionalities — the support for Event Parameters and Trackview scenes. Event parameters simplify the logic, exposing sub parameters for each event, which then allows designers or programmers to create more complex logic using events to carry more information across different actors. The Trackview support requests the execution of Trackview scenes as needed and tied to the conversation logic which allows the alternative option to create scenes using Trackview to achieve the best visual results, but still allows the Subsumption logic to react or take over when necessary.

The team also continued to refactor the way the AI controls different vehicles. In the future, behaviors won’t run anymore on the spaceships themselves, but the different seat operators will control the different items they have on any given ship and have the appropriate behaviors. Different operator skills can now directly influence the different actions, and vehicles like multi-crew ships can benefit from the different NPCs operating the various seats. They also worked on manned and automated turrets. Both of those possible controllers will take care of executing all the required operations to turn on the turrets, activate their functionalities, search for targets using the radar, predict where to shoot and so on. Work on NPC on-foot AI mostly focused on human combat, polishing the different entries/exits to move into/out of cover, and the different actions that can be performed while in cover (peeking, shooting from different sides of the cover, changing body directions and so on).

Regarding the other systems, a huge number of fixes and improvements went into the Mission System, offering all the functionalities requested by designers for the current missions. The Spawning Manager received lots of optimizations and new improvements, especially on the environmental validation to spawn elements correctly and safely in space and on the ground.




A new release of Spectrum, a major milestone for the Launcher and additional 3.0 launch support kept Turbulent very busy for the month. Here’s what we’ve been working on:


Spectrum-038-Custom-Emojiss.png Spectrum-038-Custom-Roles.png The release of Spectrum 3.7.1 consisted of bug fixes, quality of life improvements and unnoticeable changes to sustain long term development and maintenance. Let’s talk about latter first.

The team is improving the code base and release process so that launching new versions remains a frictionless process as much as possible. Spectrum also adopted a new versioning scheme to better communicate the scope of a release and then proceeded to update a lot of internal dependencies to avoid potential future breaking changes. There’s also discussions about bumping React to the latest version as well as migrating the code base to TypeScript. Those changes would allow us to trap more bugs before going into production and refactor parts of the project without affecting stability.

Also, the team set to improving how to handle change requests, better manage priorities coming from different sources (Jira, Issue Council, Forums, internal communications, etc.) and get better at tracking/communicating progress.

Last, here’s summary of the latest application changes: * Addressed several pain points for Android device users where entering text would produce unpredictable results. * Spectrum now suggests a list of mentions based on the authors of the last messages in a lobby when typing ‘@’. * Embedded Twitch clips will no longer automatically play. * Significant progress has been made on Custom Emojis and Custom Roles and with the hope to deliver those for 3.8.


Launcher testing started in October with the release of the RSI Launcher 1.0.0-alpha.20 to Evocati for testing. This is the first exposure public users have had with the Delta Patcher.

Users have been very happy with the Delta Patcher, as some patches are as little as 100 megabytes! Pretty dramatic reduction in patch sizes compared to the previous technology used to deploy Star Citizen Alpha 2.6 and below.

With help from the great Evocati, the team has been able to gain exposure to a multitude of user setups, hardware configuration, Windows versions and personal user preferences that affect the function and operation of the launcher. Most of the following weeks have been spent iterating on issues found during this phase and fixing bugs that affect patching and gameplay. Most notably, issues related to Windows N and file permissions have taken a lot of time to figure out. As always, the Issue Council has been our greatest ally in getting the bugs vetted, verified and checked before being tackled.

  • The application will now properly trap game crashes and application errors.
  • The game library polling mechanism have been tuned to a real world case with many users listening for updates.
  • The application will now properly repair permissions on the game library if a permission error is detected.
  • During a “Verify Files” the launcher will also check for an update!
  • The sound system has been expanded to provide a better sonic experience in the launcher. Volume slider!
  • 5 new background music tracks have been added from the SC soundtrack!
Only one major item remains for 1.0.0 of the launcher — the specific handling of the initial download, which is a problem with the new object based Delta Patcher. A game build is comprised of many files (upwards of 300k-400k) many of which are smaller files. Currently, when patching from scratch, your launcher will fetch all those files. This process is not only highly inefficient but also slow and error prone. The team is currently working on solving this by allowing the distribution of a “Kick Start” pack that will contain all small files and the base assets to start the game minimally. This base pack can then be fetched first, with a multi-threaded range downloader, if you have no pack files on disk. Once the kick start pack is downloaded, a normal delta patch can be applied to bring you to the latest version.
The team plans on tracking on base pack file per minor release (semver) of the game, which will always keep it fresh and fast.
They’re excited to get this in your hands as they believe this significantly improves the onboarding and update experience of Star Citizen.


Hammerhead-Sale.png This month, the Turbulent team brought to life the 2017 Anniversary sale. The sale unveiled two concept ships: the Anvil Hawk a small, light fighter with an emphasis on weaponry, and the Aegis Hammerhead an impressive patrol ship with multiple turrets designed to combat fighters. These two concept ships were just the start, as each day passed they released a chance to nab some your favorite ships, including a limited allotment of the Idris and Javelin.

Observer-Test.png Along with this sale, the team created the Observer test, which was your chance to test your knowledge of all-star citizen ships. The test proved to be too easy for our most die-hard fans, however it was still great to see the community brag on spectrum with their gold badges.


Media_sneak_peek.png The team is happy to reveal a new website with the Live release of 3.0. The design and development team have been working hard to tie up loose ends and are extremely excited to release the new designs and continue building on the new and improved platform.

In addition to the re-design they are taking the opportunity to add a new Production Roadmap. Its purpose is for you, the community to be able to better track the features that are important to you. This is will be vastly different than our text version of the production schedule.




The second half of the year is traditionally a busy period for all things Star Citizen and this year was no exception. A lot has happened since the last report back in September with CitizenCon 2947 surely being the highlight on the community side.

Alderin-Snow-New.jpg Citcon2947_sabre.jpg Almost 1000 Citizens gathered in Frankfurt to explore new worlds, experience the latest technologies, get together and speak to the developers of their favorite Space Sim. During the show, Intel showcased their new Optane 9 SSD and with it, the brand-new Sabre Raven. The team also revealed our capital-sized Consolidated Outland Pioneer and with it the new gameplay mechanic of staking your claim and building outposts.

Evocati_Tests_11-09-17.png Another highlight over this month was the release of Alpha 3.0 to the Evocati and eventually the PTU. After burning down the remaining issues and bugs, we released our latest update to a selected group of testers, who helped us to iron out the kinks of 3.0 to release to an even broader audience, the Public Test Universe.

The team’s continuing to make steady progress on Alpha 3.0 by releasing new builds with our delta patcher and reviewing the improvements made. With the PTU in the community’s hands, the devs are not only polishing features but also addressing the bugs that come in thanks to this expanded group.

Everyone here wants to thank all our testers who helped to make this possible with stress tests during ungodly hours and myriads of bug reports sent in. Keep testing and stay awesome!

As a special anniversary perk, our Subscribers had the pleasure to take five ships on tour during October, namely the Constellation Andromeda, Aurora MR, Freelancer, Hornet F7C, and 300i. Currently, they’re enjoying the MISC Starfarer & Origin M50 as the two ships of the month. November’s town hall featured Senior Systems Designer Will Maiden, Lead Gameplay Engineer Chad McKinney, and Associate Gameplay Engineer Spencer Johnson as they answered your questions about cargo and hauling. If you missed the show, catch it on Youtube with all our other shows; from Citizens of the Stars and Bugsmashers to newcomers like Xi’an language lessons with Britton Watkins. So, if your response to a “.ath .u m.uexy.oa?” still is a “e yo nai”, you might want to catch up.

Ah-Space-Hunt.jpg Hammerhead_Missile_Fire_2.jpg Last week, the Anniversary Special kicked off with eight episodes of ATV each highlighting a ship manufacturer. It welcomed some new additions, too: Anvil Aerospace’s Hawk, a light fighter with a diverse arsenal of weapons and the Aegis Hammerhead, a fast and light warship.

To close this month’s report, here’s a look at what will be next.

Make your vote count! Join our upcoming live stream (12/1 at 12 pm PST) and help us decide on a Drake ship to add to Star Citizen. If you haven’t yet, also check the new episodes of Galactic Tour and the return of Ship Shape, featured in our ATV Anniversary Specials. We’ll be saying goodbye to 2947 with our Holiday livestream where we’ll focus on Squadron 42and share our roadmap for completion.

Until then, we’ll see you in the ‘Verse!



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      A recorded hymn played as they sent Arun “Boomer” Ains­ley into whatever great adventure awaits in the everafter. Gavin set the service in the Rhedd Alert hangar, and the recording sounded terrible. The last somber note rebounded off the room’s hard surfaces and harsh angles.
      He wished they could have had a live band. He would have paid for an orchestra, if one were to be had on the orbit­al station. Even a bugle would have been a better tribute for the man who had brought Dell into his life. For the man who taught him and Walt so much about living a free life.
      Dell’s arm felt small around his waist and Gavin pulled her in close to him, unsure if that was the right thing to do. He turned to kiss her hair and saw Walt’s lean form looming beside them. Walt’s face was fixed in a grim mask.
      Gavin knew his brother well enough to know that Walt was berating himself inside. He didn’t deal well with guilt or re­sponsibility, and Gavin suspected that was a big part of why Walt always ran.
      The gathering started to break up. Pilots and the hangar crew busied themselves with tasks around Rhedd Alert’s battered fleet of fighters. Dell didn’t move, so he stayed there with her. Walt rested a hand on his shoulder.
      “Gavin. Oh gods, Dell. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
      Jazza leaned in and spoke in a low tone, almost a whisper. “Landing gear up in ten, boss. Your rig is on the buggy.” She motioned with her chin to where his ship waited.
      Dell turned into him and squeezed. “Be careful.”
      “I will, babe.”
      “You come home to me, Gavin Rhedd. I’ll kill you myself if you make me run this outfit on my own.”
      He pressed his lips to the top of her head. Held them there.
      “Wait. What?” Walt’s jaw was slack, his eyes wide. “Tell me you aren’t going back out there.”
      Jazza bumped Walt with her shoulder, not so much walking past him as through him. “Damn right we are, Quitter.”
      “You know what? Screw you, Jazz. All right? You used to quit this outfit, like . . . twice a month.”
      “Not like you. Not like some chicken sh—”
      “Jazz,” Gavin said, “go make sure the team is ready to roll, would ya?” With a nod to Gavin and a parting glare at Walt, she moved away into the hangar.
      “Let it be, Walt. We really do need to go. After last time, we can’t risk being late for the pickup.”
      “Screw late!” Walt’s eyes were wide and red-rimmed around the edges. “Why the happy hells are you going at all?”
      “Walt —”
      “Don’t ‘Walt’ me, Gavin. There is a pack of psychopaths out there trying to kill you!”
      “Walt, would you shut up and listen for two seconds? We don’t have a choice, okay? We’ve got everything riding on this job. We’re months behind on this place and extended up to our necks on credit for fuel, parts, and ammo.”
      “They can damn well bill me!”
      “No,” Gavin said, “they can’t. Your shares reverted back to the company when you quit. But I’m legit now. You think we lived life on the run before? Just you watch if I try to run from this.”
      Walt turned to Dell for assistance, “Dell, come on. You gotta make him listen to reason.”
      “Boomer’s shares transferred to me when he died,” Dell said. “We’re in this together.”
      “Okay, boss,” Jazza called. The three of them looked to where she stood with a line of determined crew. “It’s time.”
      Walt watched the big bay doors close as the last of Gavin’s team left the hangar. His fighter and the few remaining ships looked small and awkwardly out of place in the big room. Standing alone next to Dell gave him a great appreci­ation for that awkwardness.
      “I’m so sorry, Dell. If I’d been there —”
      “Don’t,” she stopped him with a word, and then contin­ued with a shake of her blue-tipped hair. “Don’t do that to yourself. I’ve been over the tactical logs. He got beat one-on-one, and then they OK’d him. There was nothing you could have done.”
      “I still feel rotten,” he said. “Like, maybe if I hadn’t left . . . I don’t know.”
      “Gavin blames himself, too. That’s just the way you two are built. But believe me, there was never a soul alive able to keep my dad out of the cockpit. He was flying long before you Rhedd boys tumbled into our lives.”
      That gave him a smile. A genuine smile. It seemed to bright­en Dell’s mood, so he did his best to hang onto it.
      “Come on,” she said. “It’s been a long couple of weeks. Join me for some coffee?”
      He did, and for a time they spoke softly at the tall tables in the hangar’s kitchenette. Dell caught him up on life aboard Vista Landing since he had left. She was clearly exhausted and not simply from a sleepless night and her father’s funeral. Her shoulders sagged, and dark circles under her eyes were the product of weeks of labor and worry. The constant apprehension of the Hornets’ vi­cious attacks had apparently exhausted more than just the pilots. It seemed odd that the attacks felt strangely personal.
      “You know what I can’t figure out?” he mused aloud. Dell looked at him, tired eyes politely expectant. “What the hell are these guys after?”
      She nodded, “Yeah. There’s been a lot of speculating on that question.”
      “Hard to say, isn’t it? Could be political wackos opposed to the research in Haven. Or maybe it’s one of the old gangs that don’t like us going legit. Could be it’s a group of Tevarin lashing out against UEE targets. Who knows?”
      “Naw. If they were Tevarin, we could tell by how they fly.”
      “Then you tell me, if you’re so smart. I mean, you were out there. You fought them.”
      Walt shrugged and took a sip of cooling coffee. Something she said nagged at him. “Hey, you said you had navsat tac­tical logs from the fight, right?”
      “Yeah.” What remained of her energy seemed to drain away with that one word. Walt cursed himself for the insensitive ass that he was. He’d just asked her about re­corded replays of her father’s murder.
      “Dell. Ah, hell . . . I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
      “It’s okay,” she said. “I’ve been over and over them already. Really, I don’t mind.”
      They moved to a console and the lights dimmed automat­ically when she pulled up the hangar projection. She se­lected a ship, and oriented the view so that the hologram of Boomer’s Avenger filled the display. No, Walt reminded himself, it wasn’t Boomer’s ship any more. Dell was his heir and — along with his debt — Boomer’s assets now belonged to her.
      Dell bypassed the default display of the structural hard­points and dove into the ship’s systems. Something caught his eye and he stopped her. “Wait, back up.” She did, and Walt stopped the rotating display to look along the under­carriage of the ship. He let out a low whistle.
      “That, Walter Rhedd, is a Tarantula GT-870 Mk3.”
      “I know what it is. But where did you get it?”
      “Remember those pirates that gave us so much trouble in Oberon? I pulled it before we sold the salvage.”
      He certainly did remember, and the bastards had kicked the crap out of two of their ships with their Tarantulas. “How’d you get it mounted on an Avenger?”
      “Hammer therapy,” she said. He gave her a confused look, and she held up one arm, curling it to make a muscle. “I beat the hell out of it until it did what I wanted.”
      “Damn, girl.”
      “Did you want to see the flight recorder?”
      They watched the navsat replays together in silence. It looked like one hell of a fight. Chaotic. Frantic. The Rhedd Alert fighters were hard pressed.
      Jazza had moments of tactical brilliance. As much as she rubbed him the wrong way, Walt had to admit that she made her Cutlass dance steps for which it wasn’t de­signed. Gavin orchestrated a coherent strategy and had committed extra fighters to drive off the attack. Some­thing was wrong, though. Something about the fight didn’t make sense.
      Walt had Dell replay the scene so he could focus on the marauders. It didn’t look like much of a fight at all from that perspective. It looked more like a game and only one team understood how all the pieces moved. The Hornets flew to disrupt, to confuse. They knew Gavin would send a force forward to protect the transport. He’d done it every time they had met.
      “See that?” he said. “They break apart there and get called immediately back into formation. They never leave a flank exposed. Our guys never get a real opening.” He pointed out one of the attacking Hornets. “That one calls the shots.”
      “That’s the one that OK’d Boomer.”
      Reds and greens from the navsat display sparkled in Dell’s eyes. Her voice was emotionless and flat. Walt didn’t want to see her like that, so he focused again on the display.
      The marauder he’d identified as the leader broke from the melee. Gavin gave chase, but from too far behind. Boomer intercepted, was disabled, and his PRB flashed red on the display. The Hornet took a pass at the transport before turning to rejoin its squad. Then it decelerated, pausing before the overkill on Boomer.
      “Why take only one pass at the transport? They’ve hit us, what? Six times? Seven? And once they finally get a shot at the target, they bug out?”
      “You said, ‘us’,” Dell teased. “You back to stay?”
      Walt huffed a small laugh. “We’ll see.”
      “We’ve been lucky,” Dell offered in answer to his question. “So far, we’ve chased them off.”
      “You really believe that? They had this fight won if they wanted it. And how do they keep finding us? It’s like they’ve taken up permanent residence in our damned flight path.”
      That was it. He had it. The revelation must have shown on his face.
      “What?” Dell asked. “What is it?”
      “Back it up to the strafe on the Aquila.”
      Dell did, and they watched it again. He felt like an ass for making her watch the murder of her father over again, but he had to be sure of what he saw.
      And there it was. Strafe. Turn. Pause. A decision to com­mit. An escalating act of brutality. And then they were gone.
      “She’s not after the transport at all. We were her target this whole time.”
      “Wait,” Dell said, “what she? Her who?”
      “Please tell me your ex hasn’t drunk himself out of a job with the Navy.”
      “Barry? Of course not, why?”
      “Because I just figured out who killed your father.”
      Morgan Brock called the meeting to a close and dismissed her admin team. Riebeld caught her eye and lifted one hand off the table — a request for her to stay while the others shuffled out of the conference room.
      Riebeld kept her waiting until they were alone, and then stood to close the door.
      “I take it,” Brock said, “that our Tyrol problem persists despite the escalation?”
      “I got word during the meeting” — he took a seat beside her at the table, voice pitched low — “that they should be making the jump to Nexus soon.”
      “Our discreet pilots? Are they deployed or here at the sta­tion?”
      His answer was slow in coming, his nod reluctant. “They are here.”
      Brock checked the time. Did some mental math. “Disguise the ships. We will leave at 1700 and meet them in Nexus just inside the gate from Min.”
      “Morgan,” Riebeld’s eyes roamed the room, “these guys aren’t taking the hint. I don’t know what losses we have to hand them before they back down, but . . . I don’t know. Part of doing business is losing bids, am I right?” She didn’t disagree and he continued. “Maybe . . . Maybe we ought to write this one off?”
      “A comfortable position to hold in your seat, Riebeld. Your commission is based on the contract value. I barely turned a profit on that job for years. I did it willingly, with the expected reward of windfall profits when traffic to Haven surges.”
      “I get that,” he said. “I really do. But at some point we have to call it a loss and focus on the next thing, right?”
      “Then suppose that we let the Tyrol job go, and Greely and Navy SysCom see what they want to see from bou­tique contractors. I can already imagine anti-establishment politicians pushing for more outsourced work. Hell, they will probably promise contracts to buy votes in their home systems.”
      She watched him squirm. It wasn’t like him to wrestle with his conscience. Frankly, she was disappointed to learn that he’d found one.
      “If Rhedd Alert won’t withdraw willingly,” she said, “then they will have to fail the hard way. Prep the ships, Rie­beld. We have done very well together, you and I. You should know that I won’t back away from what is mine.” He seemed to appreciate her sincerity, but Brock wanted to hear the cocksure salesman say it. “Are we clear?”
      “Yes, ma’am,” Riebeld swallowed and stood. “Perfectly clear.”
      “Any luck?” Walt pulled up Barry’s record in his mobiGlas and hit connect.
      Dell sat at the hangar console trying to reach Gavin and the team. Her brow furrowed in a grimace and she shook her head.
      “Damn. Okay, keep trying.”
      Barry connected. The accountant wore his uniform. He was on duty, wherever he was, and his projected face looked genuinely mournful. “Hey,” he said, “long time no see, man. Listen, I can’t tell you how sad I am about Boomer.”
      “Thanks.” Barry had known Dell and Boomer for most his life. He’d probably been torn between attending the service and allowing the family to grieve in privacy. Regardless, commiseration would have to wait. “We need your help, Barry. Please tell me that you have access to the propos­als for the Tyrol contract.”
      “Of course I do. And who’s we? Are you back with Dell and Gavin?”
      “I am,” he felt Dell’s eyes on him when he said it. “Anyway, we need a favor. I need to know the ship models and con­figurations proposed by the incumbent.”
      “Morgan Brock’s outfit, sure. No can do on the ship data, though. That information is all confidential. Only the price proposals are available for public review, and those only during the protest period.”
      “Come on, Barry. We’re not talking trade secrets here. I could figure this out with a fly-by of their hangar in Kilian. I just don’t have time for that. I need to know what ships those guys fly.”
      Barry breathed out a heavy sigh, “Hold on. But I can’t send you the proposals, okay? You guys are already on thin ice with this contract as is.”
      “Tell me about it. And thanks, I owe you huge for this.”
      Walt waited, throat dry. He scratched at a chipped edge on his worn mobiGlas with a fingernail.
      “All right,” Barry read from something off-screen, “it looks like they’re flying a variety of Hornets. Specifically, F7As. I can send you a list of the proposed hardpoints, and I hap­pen to know that Brock herself flies a Super Hornet.”
      The mobiGlas shook on Walt’s wrist. His face felt hot, and he forced his jaw to relax. “Barry, if you have any pull with the Navy, get some ships to Tyrol. It’s been Brock this whole time. She’s been setting us up to fail. And she’s the bitch that OK’d Boomer.”
      “I’m going, Walt. That’s final.”
      Walt rubbed at his eyes with the flat part of his fingers. How did Gavin ever win an argument her? Forbidding her involvement was a lost cause. Maybe he could reason with her. “Listen. When’s the last time you were even in a cockpit?”
      “I know this ship. I was practically born in these things.”
      “Dell —”
      She threw his helmet at him. He caught it awkwardly, and she had shed her coveralls and was wriggling into her flight suit before he could finish his thought. She stared at him with hard eyes and said, “Suit up if you don’t want to get left behind.”
      Dell was as implacable as gravity. Fine. It was her funeral, and he realized there was no way his brother had ever won an argument with her.
      They finished prepping in silence. Walt pulled the chocks on her Avenger when she climbed up into the cockpit. He gave the hulking muzzle of the Tarantula an appreciative pat. “You have ammo for this bad boy?”
      “I have a little.”
      “Good,” he smiled. “Let’s hope Brock isn’t ready to handle reinforcements.”
      Walt mulled that thought over. It was true that Gavin had split their team in each fight, but Rhedd Alert had never sent in reserves. Each engagement had been a fair and straightforward fight. Brock wasn’t likely to know anything about their resources, however limited, beyond the escort team. That could work to their advantage.
      In fact, “Hey, Dell. Hop out for a tick, will you?”
      “Like hell I will.” The look she shot down at him was pure challenge. “I said I’m going and that’s that.”
      “Oh, no. I’ve already lost that fight. But you and your cannon here got me thinking about those pirates in Oberon. Tell me, did we ever find a buyer for that old Idris hull?”
      “No. It’s buoyed in storage outside the station, why?”
      Dell looked at him skeptically and he grinned. “We’re going to introduce these military-types to
      some ol’ smugglers’ tricks.”
      Gavin held the team at the edge of the jump gate between Min and Nexus. “All right gang, listen up. You know the drill and what might be waiting for us on the other side. Jazza, I want you and Rahul up on point for this jump. I’ll bring Cassiopeia over after you and the rest of the team are in. Anyone not ready to jump?”
      His team was silent as they arranged themselves into position with professional precision. The pilot aboard Cassiopeia sounded the ready and Gavin sent Jazza through. The others were hard on her heels, and Gavin felt the always-peculiar drop through the mouth of the jump gate.
      Light and sound stretched, dragging him across the inter­space. Another drop, a moment’s disorientation, and then Nexus resolved around him.
      Without warning, Mei’s fighter flashed past his forward screen. Incandescent laser fire slashed along the ghost grey and fire-alarm red ship, crippling Mei’s shields and shearing away sections of armored hull. Mei fired back at a trio of maddeningly familiar Hornets in a tight triangular formation.
      Jazza barked orders. “Mei. Rahul. Flank Gavin and get Cassiopeia out of here. Gavin, you copy that? You have the package.”
      He shook his head, willing the post-jump disorientation away. He didn’t remember bringing up his shields, but they flashed on his HUD and his weapon systems were armed.
      “Copy that.” Gavin switched to the transport channel, “Cassiopeia. Let’s get you folks out of here.”
      The crew onboard the UEE transport didn’t need any more encouragement. Gavin accelerated to keep pace with the larger ship as two Rhedd Alert fighters dropped into posi­tion above and below him. Together, they raced toward the jump gate to Tyrol.
      The Hornets wheeled and dropped toward them from one side. Gavin’s HUD lit up with alerts as Jazza sent a pair of rockets dangerously close over his head to blast into one of the attacking ships. Her ship screamed by overhead, but the Hornets stayed in pursuit of the fleeing transport.
      Alarms sounded. They needed more firepower on the Hornets to give Cassiopeia time to get clear. He yelled a course heading, and Cassiopeia dove with Mei and Rahul on either flank.
      Gavin pulled up, turned and fired to pull the attention of the attackers. He spun, taking the brunt of their return fire on his stronger starboard shields.
      The impact shook the Cutlass violently, and his shield integ­rity bar sagged into the red. Gavin turned, took another wild shot with his lasers, and accelerated away from Cassiopeia with the Hornets in close pursuit.
      Navsat data for the jump into Nexus crept onto the edge of Walt’s HUD. Several seconds and thousands of kilometers later, the first of the embattled starships winked onto the display. His brother and the Rhedd Alert team were hard-pressed.
      Walt watched Brock and her crew circle and strike, corralling the Rhedd Alert ships. Gavin tried to lead the attackers away, but Brock wouldn’t bite. By keeping the fight centered on the UEE transport, she essentially held the transport hostage.
      Time to even the odds.
      Jazza tore into one of the Hornets. Walt saw the enemy fighter’s superior shields absorb the impact. He marked that Hornet as his target, preparing to strike before its defenses recharged.
      He killed his primary drive and spun end to end, slash­ing backward through the melee like a blazing comet. His targeting system locked onto the enemy Hornet, and his heavy Broadsword blasted bullets into it.
      Mei’s battered fighter dove through the streaming wreck­age, but the Super Hornet, presumably Brock, waited for her on the other side. A blast from her neutron cannon tore through the Rhedd Alert ship. Mei ejected safely, but their team was down a ship.
      “Gods,” Gavin’s voice was frantic. “Get the hell out of here, Walt. Form up with the transport and get them away from the fight.”
      Walt ignored him. He came around for another pass and triggered his mic to an open-area channel. “The game’s up, Brock.”
      His words cut across the thrust and wheel of close com­bat, and for a moment the fighters on all sides flew in quiet patterns above the fleeing Cassiopeia.
      “You know,” Walt said, “if you wanted us to believe you were after the transport, you should have saved your big guns for Cassiopeia instead of overkilling our friend.”
      “I suppose I should be disappointed that you have found me out,” Brock’s voice was a pinched sneer, and every bit as cold and hard as Gavin had described. “On the other hand, I’m glad you’ve shared this with me. I might have been content disabling the majority of your so-called fleet. Now, it seems that I will have to be more thorough.”
      She fired, he dodged, and the fight was on again in earnest. Walt switched his comms to Rhedd Alert’s squad channel. “Brock was never after Cassiopeia, Gav. She’s been after us.”
      “Maybe I’m a little distracted by all the missiles and the neutron cannon, but I’m failing to see how that is at all relevant right now.”
      “We’re no match for the tech in her ships. If she goes after the transport, they’re toast.” He rolled into position next to Gavin. Together, they nosed down to strafe at a Hornet from above.
      “Great,” Gavin said, “then why did you tip her off?”
      Walt suppressed a wicked grin. “Because,” he said, “she can’t afford to let any of us get away, either.”
      “If you have any brilliant ideas, spit ’em out. I’m all ears.”
      “Run with me.” For all Walt knew, Brock could hear every word they were saying. She would tear them apart if they stayed. He had to get Gavin to follow him. “Run with me, Gavin.”
      “Damn it, Walt! If you came to help, then help. I’ve got a pilot down, and I’m not leaving her here to get OK’d like Boom­er.”
      “This ain’t about doing the easy thing, Gav. Someone I truly admire once told me that this game is all about trust. So ask yourself . . . do you trust me?”
      Gavin growled his name then, dragging out the word in a bitter, internal struggle. The weight of it made Walt’s throat constrict. Despite all of their arguments, Boomer’s death and his own desertion when things got hard — in spite of all of that — his brother still wanted to trust him.
      “Trust me, Gavin.”
      Brock and her wingman swept low, diving to corral Cassiopeia and its escorts. Jazza redirected them with a blazing torrent of laser fire and got rocked by the neutron cannon in return. The shields around her battered Cutlass flashed, dimmed and then failed.
      Walt gritted his teeth. It was now or never.
      “Jazz,” Gavin’s voice sounded hard and sharp, “rally with Cassiopeia and make a break for it.”
      Walt pumped his fist and accelerated back the way he’d come in.
      “Walt,” Gavin sounded angry enough to eat nails, but he followed, “I’m on your six. Let’s go, people! Move like you’ve got a purpose.”
      Walt pulled up a set of coordinate presets and streaked away with Gavin close behind him. The two remaining Hor­nets split, with Brock falling in behind Gavin to give pursuit. Even together he and Gavin didn’t have much chance of getting past her superior shields. Instead, he set a straight course for the waypoint marked at the edge of his display. When incoming fire from Brock drove them off course, he corrected to put them directly back in line with the mark.
      Brock was gaining. Gavin’s icon flashed on his display. She was close enough to hit reliably with her repeaters. As they approached the preset coordinates, Walt spotted a rippling distortion of winking starlight. Correcting his course slightly, he headed straight for it. Gavin and Brock were hard behind him.
      “Come on,” Walt whispered, “stay close.”
      On the squad display, he saw Gavin’s shield integrity dropped yet again. Brock was scoring more frequent hits.
      “A little farther.”
      Walt focused on the rippling of starlight ahead, a dark patch of space that swallowed Nexus’ star. He made a slight course correction and Gavin matched it. Together, they continued their breakneck flight from Brock’s deadly onslaught.
      The small patch of dark space grew as the three ships streaked forward. Walt opened the squad channel on his mic and shouted, “Now!”
      On his HUD, a new ship flared onto the display. It appeared to materialize nearly on top of them as Dell’s Avenger dropped from her hiding place inside the blackened hull of the derelict Idris.
      Walt punched his thrusters. The lift pressed him into his seat as he pushed up and over their trap. He heard Dell shouting over the squad channel, and he turned, straining to see behind him. Bright flashes from Brock’s muzzles accompanied a horrible pounding thunder. Dell had left her mic open and it sounded like the massive gun was threat­ening to tear her ship apart.
      “Heads up, Gav!”
      Dell’s voice hit Gavin like a physical blow.
      He saw his brother climb and suddenly disappear behind an empty, starless expanse. Then Boomer’s Avenger materi­alized from within that blackness, and Gavin knew that his wife was inside the cockpit. She was with him, out in the black where veteran pilots outgunned them.
      His body reacted where his mind could not. He shoved down, hard. Thrusters strained as he instinctively tried to avoid colliding with her. A brilliant pulse like flashes of light­ning accompanied a jarring thunder of sound.
      Gavin forced his battered ship to turn. The Cutlass shud­dered from the stress, and Gavin was pressed into the side of the cockpit as the nose of his ship came around.
      He saw the first heavy round strike Brock. The combined force of the shell and her momentum shredded her for­ward shields. Then round after round tore through the nose of Brock’s ship until the air ignited inside.
      “Dell” — the flaming Hornet tumbled toward his wife like an enormous hatchet — “look out!”
      Brock ejected.
      Dell thrust to one side, but the Hornet chopped into the hull where she had hidden. The explosion sent ships and debris spinning apart in all directions.
      He swept around to intercept her spinning ship. Walt beat him there. Thrusters firing in tightly controlled move­ments, Walt caught her Avenger, slowed it and stopped the spin.
      Gavin rolled to put himself cockpit to cockpit with his wife.
      She sat in stillness at the controls, her head down and turned to one side.
      “Come on, baby. Talk to me.”
      She moved.
      With the slow deliberateness of depressurized space, she rolled her head on her shoulders. When she looked up, their eyes met. Dell gave him a slow smile and a thumbs-up. He swallowed hard, and with one hand pressed to his heart, he shut his eyes silently in thanks.
      Gavin spun his Cutlass and thrust over to where Brock floated nearby, his weapons systems still hot. He paused then, looming above her as she had hesitated over Boomer.
      Her comms were still active. “What now, Rhedd?”
      He remembered her from the meeting with Greely. Tall, lean, and crisp. She seemed small now, drifting not more than a meter away from the battle-scarred nose of his Cutlass.
      “Gavin?” Dell’s voice sounded small after the ruckus of the fight.
      Walt eased into view alongside him. His voice was low and calm, “Easy, buddy. We weren’t raised to OK pilots.”
      “She’s not worth it,” Dell said.
      Brock snarled, “Do it already.”
      He had studied Brock’s reports for months. She had more ships and more pilots than he could ever imagine employing. What drove her to harass them and kill one of his crew for this job?
      “I just want to know why,” he asked. “You’ve got other contracts. You’ve probably made more money than any of us will see in our lives. Why come after us?”
      He held Brock’s eye, the lights from the Cutlass reflecting from her visor.
      “Why?” she repeated. “Look around you, Rhedd. There’s no law in these systems. All that matters here is courage to take what you want, and a willingness to sacrifice to keep it.”
      “You want to talk sacrifice?” he said. “That pilot you killed was family.”
      “You put him in harm’s way,” she said, “not me. What little order exists in these systems is what I brought with me. I carved my success from nothing. You independents are thieves. You’re like rodents, nibbling at the edges of others’ success.”
      “I was a thief,” he said, “and a smuggler. But we’re building our own success, and next time you and I meet with the Navy,” Gavin fired his thrusters just enough to punch Brock with the nose of his ship, “it’ll be in a court­room.”
      She spun and tumbled as she flew, growing smaller and smaller until the PRB on his HUD was all he could see.
      A pair of Retaliators with naval designations were moored outside the Rhedd Alert hangar when Gavin and the crew finally limped back to Vista Landing.
      Crew aboard Cassiopeia had insisted on helping with medical care and recovery after the fight. The team scheduled for pick-up at Haven was similarly adamant that Rhedd Alert take care of their own before continuing. Technically, no one had checked with Navy SysCom.
      Did the Navy fire contractors face to face? For all he knew, they did.
      Gavin saw to the staging of their damaged ships while the others hurried the wounded deeper into Vista Landing. When he’d finished, he exchanged a quick nod with Barry Lidst who stood at ease behind Major Greely.
      “Major,” Gavin held out his hand, “I assume someone would have told me already if I was fired.”
      His hand disappeared in the major’s massive paw. “I sup­pose they would have, at that.”
      “Then to what do we owe the honor?” Dell and Walt joined them, and Gavin made introductions.
      “‘I’ first, then ‘we,’ ” Greely repeated, “I like that, Rhedd. I appreciate a man who accepts consequence personally but insists on sharing accolades with his team. Tell me, son. How’d you get Brock?”
      Gavin nudged his wife. With a roguish grin, Dell pulled her arm from around Gavin’s waist and stepped over to pat the Tarantula on her battered Avenger.
      “Nice shooting, miss.”
      Dell shrugged, “Walt pulled my tags, nav beacon and flight recorder before we left. I was sitting dark inside a decoy when the boys flew her right down the barrel.”
      Barry leaned toward Greely and in a completely audible whisper said, “It might be best if we ignore the illegal parts of that.”
      Greely waved him off. “This is what the ’verse needs. Men and women with the courage to slap their name up on the side of a hangar. A chance for responsible civilians to create good, honest jobs with real pay for locals. That an ex-military contractor tried to muck that up . . .”
      Gavin and the team got a good, close look at what angry looked like on a Navy officer. It was the kind of scowl that left an impression.
      “Anyway,” Greely composed himself, “not a soul in the ’verse would blame you for writing us off as a bit of bad business. I’m here to ask that you stick with it.”
      Gavin was reluctant to bring their financial situation up in front of their one paying client, but they were tapped out. Rhedd Alert didn’t have the cred to buy ammo, much less repair their downed fighters. “Actually, sir. I think we may need to find something a little more lucrative than getting shot up by disgruntled incumbents.”
      “About that,” Greely rested his hand on Gavin’s shoulder. He led him to look out one of the large hangar windows at the Retaliators buoyed outside. “My accountant tells me there may be some room to renegotiate certain parts of the Tyrol contract. But that job won’t be enough to keep your team busy now that Brock’s out of the way.”
      Gavin laughed. “On that point, I most certainly hope you are right.”
      “Well . . . I’ve got more work for an outfit like yours. I hope you’ll accept, because you folks have surely earned it. Tell me, Rhedd, are you familiar with the Oberon system?”
      Behind them, Walt dropped his helmet.
      The End
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