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Game Armada Monthly Studio Report: December 2017

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Monthly Studio Report: December 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. In the rush up to the holidays, the entire company was focused on accomplishing two major tasks: pushing Star Citizen 3.0 to the Live Servers and polishing up work on the Vertical Slice, which featured an hour of gameplay from Squadron 42. Afterwards, everybody broke for some much needed rest before coming back to hit the New Year running. With that said, let’s get to it.

CIG Los Angeles




Alpha 3.0 was a monumental engineering milestone for Star Citizen, particularly for the LA vehicle team. During December, the first tier of Item 2.0 for ships was finalized with several bug fixes and important features closed out for 3.0. The team tackled a major hurdle with the integration of UI with this very complicated system. Finally, some of the underlying systems that play a huge role in Squadron 42 and the Persistent Universe (Scanning and Quantum Travel) saw some iteration and prototyping that they were really proud to bring to fruition.

As the 3.0 release came together, the core system team focused polishing and stabilizing some key parts of Star Citizen. Cargo and shopping saw significant bug fixes, bringing these features in alignment with long term goals. Infrastructural game code such as the room system, interaction system, and even damage saw significant bug fixes right up to the release.


LA Tech Design spent the majority of December getting the new Item 2.0 ships working as smoothly as possible for Star Citizen Alpha 3.0. They knocked out a multitude of bugs, including but not limited to enter/exit alignment issues on the Scythe, an issue where damage was not passing to all parts of a ship, seat access issues with the Caterpillar, atmosphere bugs in the Herald, and IK issues in the Mustang seats. The team also spent time balancing the shield stats to account for better power retention and heat generation, hooked up cursors to all player interactions in the ships, and finished setting up bed conversions from Object Container to ItemPort.

Beyond Alpha 3.0, they continued to work on ships like the Anvil Terrapin, the revised Consolidated Outland Mustang, and Tumbril Cyclone to get them set up and flyable (or drivable, as the case may be). They also completed design briefs for the [REDACTED] ship that they are really looking forward to.

Lastly, the team supported the UI Team in completing the Scanning Visor, MFD, and hooked up all assets to be released in the future.


TMBLBuggy.jpg The Ship Art Team wrapped up 2017 with a bang. The new RSI Aurora was completed and officially released. Major progress was made on several other vehicles such as the Anvil Hurricane, the reworked Consolidated Outland Mustang, and the Tumbril Cyclone. The team had their fair share of bug fixing and support tasks for various features released with Alpha 3.0 in addition to upcoming releases.

OMC_LightArmor_InGame.jpg OMCLightArmor_HighPoly.jpg The Character Team put the finishing touches on the Squadron 42 cast for the Vertical Slice. One key development was the work done with the graphics team to implement a new hair shader to make the characters shine. Finally, the team added wear and tear to some of our character loadouts, giving them an authentic feel in-game.


In December, the Narrative Team worked closely with Design to chase down any lingering bugs and issues that arose to ensure that mission content, item descriptions, and even posters were ready for Alpha 3.0. They also helped provide additional environmental storytelling and prop write-ups to help sell the world of Squadron 42 in the Vertical Slice. In addition, they delivered weekly lore updates, wrote three pieces for Jump Point, continued the development of the Xi’an language, and supported the marketing department on numerous tasks including the Tumbril Nova brochure.


The Global Technical Content Team delivered some great accomplishments in December to wrap up 2017 on a high note. The Tech Animation team was busy with tools support, character rigging, and various MoCap tasks throughout the month. For tools and related work, they improved Mannequin Python Tools, the CIG Tools Installer, a Jump/Spike Detection Tool, and the Skeleton Table as well as added several new health checks to the pipelines. The team also supported the S42 Vertical slice by rigging several characters and fix a ton of skinning bugs as well. The MoCap team tracked, solved, and processed a large group of characters in support of Squadron 42. A MoCap shoot was also held to capture some additional footage needed for key characters.

On the Tech Art side, the team sub-divided between Environments, Ships and Weapons. For Environments, a lot of support and R&D was put into our glass shader and a vertex curvature script. Additionally, they planned for Procedural Layouts work coming in 2018. A lot of bugs were investigated as well… for lights/shadows, hair rendering and texture streaming. For Ships, the team supported the release of the several new vehicles in the Alpha 3.0 release. This included work on damage and VisAreas, as well as bug fixing and investigating a lot of log spam issues. The team also worked on landing gear compression for the ships in the Around the Verse holiday special.

Finally, on the Weapons front, the team was in R&D mode for Animated Attachments/Magazines. They made progress on the P8AR magazine, Gemini F55, and a skin transfer script/tool. They also fixed several weapon bugs. Lastly, the Global Technical Content team supported other areas, such as the reorganization of the tool branches.

CIG Austin




Getting 3.0 ready to go live was the big focus this month for the ATX Design Team. Using feedback from those testing the PTU builds, they were able to tackle a variety of bugs relating to shopping and cargo trading across the stations and moons surrounding Crusader. The economy and item pricing continued to be balanced based on collected analytics. Of course, there is still a lot more dialing in to be done once the systems function together on the live servers.

Further work on Mission Givers Ruto and Miles also was an important task for the team. Representing a complex mix of numerous systems like animation and subsumption, it has been encouraging to see the progress made on getting these first two characters into the game. We have already learned a lot so far that will help streamline and improve the process in the future.


A.jpg B.jpg With the release of 3.0.0 to Live, the community finally got to see the updated Constellation Aquila, Drake Cutlass and Aopoa Nox. The ship team spent the month providing support to push the Persistent Universe to the Live servers. The Constellation Phoenix was whitebox complete and progressed onto greybox. Meanwhile, the Anvil F8 Lightning entered the whitebox phase at the beginning of the month and progressed nicely in between bugfixing tasks.


To start the month, the DevOps team delivered multiple PTU publishes each week. They monitored performance and feedback from the Evocati and PTU players and pushed out builds that contained fixes and feature deployments as fast as possible. They also worked with IT to ensure everything was ready for the Live release. This included dealing with a number of system failures just prior to 3.0 going Live.

After the intensive 3.0 publishing process, the team carefully tracked the bandwidth being used and adjusted the servers accordingly. They also worked with design to apply a number of hot fixes to address unexpected issues that negatively impact performance and gameplay. They accomplished this without affecting players by carefully watching servers and restarting them with the better code when the server population reached zero.

In addition to everything surrounding the Live release, the team continued to support devs with diagnostics, performance captures, and more.


The Animation Team this month spent time looking at the Player experience in Alpha 3.0 to make sure that all the animations associated with the various interactions that people would encounter while running missions and exploring around Crusader were looking good as possible. This included some bug fixes, some adjustments on various transition elements, as well as just general polish. The team also began work on the Tumbril Cyclone animations that were recorded in a motion capture shoot last month. On the ship side of things, there was additional technical set up that was needed to be looked at on several ships as the team investigated a few linger issues that had been noted by players testing the PTU.

Outside of Alpha 3.0, a lot of time was spent on the Squadron 42 vertical slice as the date of the Holiday Special approached. As the directors and leads reviewed the content daily, the team performed polish passes on the numerous interaction animations on the Idris to make sure the crew looked as good as possible as they moved around the ship performing various tasks through the usables system


As Star Citizen Alpha transitioned between the PTU and Live, needless to say ATX QA had a busy month, tirelessly testing the bugfixes and change submissions to the 3.0.0 build. One of the biggest challenges, especially with a release that incorporates as many new updates and features as this one, is making sure that fixes to the game don’t destabilize a build in other places. To help minimize this risk, the devs adopted the QA test request system more vigorously, and every single feature-related check-in towards the end had to be tested thoroughly. Although this increased the team’s workload in order to maintain the daily pushes to PTU, this process helped ensure that the army of testers would have a stable enough build to keep providing key feedback.


With the holiday season right around the corner, there was a lot to be “tonkful” for this month. Right on the heels of Star Citizen’s Anniversary, the Player Relations team assisted backers with the newly announced Aegis Hammerhead and Anvil Hawk. Plus, the Holiday Special brought with it the Tumbril Nova tank and three exclusive Holiday Game Packages perfect for sharing Star Citizen with friends and loved ones. The team also continued to coordinate with the massive ongoing testing effort as alpha 3.0 PTU continued to roll out to more and more backers, and most excitingly, the build went Live! Thanks again to all the Players for their ongoing contributions to the Issue Council. Your help is vital to the project.

Foundry 42 UK




ClothShading.jpg Over the last month, the graphics team focused on both 3.0 and the Squadron 42 vertical slice. Most of that time involved bug fixes. Highlights included major fixes to texture streaming bugs (they’ve since found another bug in Lumberyard and the fix will vastly reduce VRAM usage on the next release), a fix for facial animation glitching, and various fixes for hair and temporal anti-aliasing. They also continued to develop the Render-To-Texture system, including adding expose control to video comms calls and using the system for the new ship targeting displays.

The Squadron 42 vertical slice also benefited from some of their new features, such as a new cloth shading model, improved light-beams, the debut of volumetric gas-cloud tech, and a new particle-based shield effect that uses signed-distance-fields to allow the particles to flow smoothly along the hull of the ship. Their r-focus for the new year will shift to improving performance and various planned shader improvements to enable more dynamic materials.


Hammerhead001.jpg Hammerhead005.jpg The team was really excited to reveal the Hammerhead in November and since then they’ve been hard at work finishing the exterior sections not seen in the video. They did a detail pass across the hull and engines, and gave the underside more attention. The landing gears were also added, so the exterior is now ready to start on the damage set up. For the interior, they blocked out the floor plan using existing Aegis kits from the Idris and Javelin. They also worked out what bespoke and new pieces are needed to finish the interior and have a couple of guys at work on these now.

Revised Avenger
Avenger_cargo_01.jpg Avenger_cargo_02.jpg The Avenger has been undergoing a complete re-make to address issues with the original and make it conform to the current ship metrics and requirements. The updated Avenger revealed in the Around the Verse holiday special was a combined effort between the ship team and the newly formed Squadron 42 team. The cargo and bounty hunter variants are art complete, and work on the EMP variant is scheduled for January. Work to finalize the remaining exterior parts, such as landing gear, damage and LODs, will start soon.

Bridge_02.jpg Corridor_01.jpg The 600i is entering the final art phase. On the exterior, the thrusters and landing gear are near completion, and work is due to start on the turret. The interior is going through a polish pass, while work on the bridge, corridors and exploration module are due to be wrapped up soon. Since the last update, the team listened to backer feedback and removed the struts from the bridge windows.

The Gladius was a big part of the Squadron 42 Vertical Slice, so they spent time tweaking it for the demo. This included implementing the new glass and screen shader, cockpit lighting and headlight tweaks, screen sizes/positioning and adding the new starmap. Cockpits are the most complex parts of the ships, bringing together input from across the company, and they went through many iterations before satisfying the requirements of all departments.

Work continued on the Eclipse, as the cockpit and exterior were grey boxed. The mesh is currently going through a detail pass before starting on textures and shaders. Eclipse_02.png

The Vanduul Blade exterior is almost complete, and has been brought into line with other Vanduul ships. The team’s current focus is on the interior and working out the enter and exit mechanism for pilots. Blade_01.jpg


Gladius_shield_on2.jpg The UK VFX team spent December bug-fixing and optimizing for 3.0, following on from the sanity pass discussed last month. R&D work continued on signed-distance-field shield effects, including power-on, power-off and impact effects for the Gladius, Cutlass and Buccaneer. They also honed in on the finer effect details seen in the Squadron 42 Vertical Slice demo. There are too many to name individually, but highlights include the Coil itself, the lightning storm inside the giant asteroids and the Slaver base cryo-pods.

The team also made solid progress on VFX for the Scanning feature. Amongst other things, it will emit a virtual particle grid (only seen via the UI) that allows players to better visualize 3D space when they’re in, well, space.


PortOlisar_Artboard-1.png PortOlisar_Artboard-2.png The UI team spent December splitting their time between wrapping up features for 3.0 and working on bugfixes for the Squadron 42 Vertical Slice. On the PU side, the team had daily standups for each feature with Directors to get feedback straight away. These daily syncs not only helped progress for the Starmap, PMA, VMA and MFD/Visor holodisplays, but ensured that communication was kept close between the various departments involved in pulling these features together ahead of 3.0 going Live.

In the run up to the Holiday Special, the UI focused on various bug fixes, including ensuring that the Visor UI would turn on at the correct time, removing quantum linking text from the Gladius HUD, and providing performance fixes alongside others to polish the experience. In addition, fluff screens for Chemline were designed and implemented ahead of the stream.


Hangar_concepts.jpg In December, the environment team delivered final optimizations and bug fixes deemed as ‘must fix’ for the release of 3.0. As those tasks were completed, the team began to work on the next environments. A big focus of 2018 will be on getting spaces that are shared across locations functional, so the team worked on whiteboxing the kits for both hangars and habitation modules. The idea is to create kits for all these ‘common’ elements in a specific art style so they can be used across different locations. The whitebox stage allows design, art, and code to lock down the features of an element before committing to final art.

Elsewhere, the DE team has been looking at improvements to the planet texturing systems. The main goal is to improve the diversity and breakup of terrain types across a planet’s surface. The new tech increases the number of supported distribution channels by 5x, meaning there’s some improved visuals across terrains in the not too distant future.


The audio team had all hands on deck in the lead up to the Squadron 42 Vertical Slice. They ensured the demo was fully supported with all the Dialog, Music and SFX content required. This work included additional sound design for cinematics, location ambience polish pass, ship SFX balancing, dialog attenuation/mix pass, and new music content/logic implementation via Subsumption.

The audio team simultaneously supported the Alpha 3.0 release with content creation, implementation and polish of dialog, SFX, and music assets. These included implementing new music logic and content for PU armistice zones (Olisar, Levski and Grim HEX), improving definition and intelligibility of weapon sounds, and adjusting thruster sounds for the Dragonfly and Nox in light of ongoing flight model tweaks.
Going forward, the audio team looks to iterate on the current Foley system and actor status system (breathing component). They also plan to begin work on a fully fleshed out sound simulation system.


The Concept and Tech teams introduced a new core structure and narrative behind how Lorville on Hurston function and come together. They developed an exciting and visually interesting city archetype for integrating procedural and landing zone elements. The team did an extensive amount of concept work to solve most of the major design issues.

The base archetype for a utilitarian habitation was established for the first procedural and fully interactive room. Concept is busy investigating and solving both material and theming diversity for generating these units across the Stanton system.


This month, the team wrapped up the super large Tumbril Nova tank plus three other new ships of varying sizes and roles. They also provided support where needed and helped with marketing and new website revamp. For ship weapons, the team completed the Trident Laserbeam S4-S6 and the Hurston Electron Beam Alterations S1-S3.


The Derby Facial team was super busy right up until the 21st Dec with Facial animation tasks ranging from polishing the Prisoner Arrival scene to adding more in-game dialogue for random NPC characters.

The team also held their first Studio Christmas Party. It was a fairly small key event, but a good chance for staff and partners to enjoy some good food and a couple of drinks.

The team’s pleased to announce that Senior Facial Animator Tony Wills is moving positions and is now Lead Gameplay Story Animator. Tony will oversee 800+ in-game mini “cut scenes.”


The UK programming team did a lot of bug fixing and polish work to get Alpha 3.0 out of the door as well as the Squadron 42 Vertical Slice in preparation.

On the cinematics side, they implemented the dynamic lighting mentioned last month. This allows the devs to fade up a specific lighting rig for a cutscene to highlight the quality of the characters. They also experimented with a new dynamic depth of field (DoF) mechanic for non-combat scenarios to give the game a more cinematic feel. Rather than having an infinite DoF, which is usually the case, the game focuses on what the player is currently looking at and applies a subtle blur for everything that is nearer/further away.

The networking team worked on serialized variable culling, which will eventually become entity bind culling. This stops the server from distributing the state of variables on an entity after a certain distance. Considering the massive size of the PU and the content required to fill it, sending updates to everybody became a bottleneck. This helps the network bandwidth and performance side, as the server/client doesn’t have to deal with nearly as much data. The downside is that when the code is not expecting this behaviour, these edge cases introduced new bugs that needed to be found and worked through.

Otherwise, they tackled other performance issues and optimizations, polished as many features as as possible before the end of the year, and a enjoyed a nice break over the holidays!

Foundry 42 DE




The DE Engine team spent a majority of the past month focused on improving performance and addressing issues for the current Live release. In the process, they worked with most other disciplines to help profile items and make recommendations and/or fix issues when needed. Some cases are straightforward and addressed promptly, but for others the fix may be deemed it to risky to address immediately. Those items are still worked on, but will take a bit longer to verify and be included in future patches/releases.

In addition to performance improvements, they worked with the Environment Art team to further enhance the visuals of the planet terrain. They made improvements to a new memory tracking tool for both server and clients. Implemented scripts to automatically analyze gathered statistics to quickly find leaks and dubious allocations. Fixed several issues related to how data is collected in our crash database Sentry. They started implementation of horizon based SSDO, and the initial results look really good. They reworked the cloth shader to use a more physically based shading model for cloth, as well as fixed shading discontinuities within it. They also reworked the motion blur implementation in game, and continued work on the Subsumption visualizer.


The Level Design department finished locations found in the 3.0 release ahead of schedule, so they focused on both bug fixing and polish during the latter part of December. After 3.0 was in PTU for a while, the decision was made to increase the server size. That meant they had to add more spawning areas to enable people to spawn in smoothly without conflict with one another. Finally, the DE Level Design team is looking to expand. As more features come online, they’ll need additional designers to keep on top of the increased content and the R&D for upcoming system solutions and releases.


The DE Tech Art team split their time between both 3.0.0 and Squadron 42 tasks. They’re currently extending the FPS weapons pipeline with a new tool called CIGSiknXfe which will enable weapon artists to transfer skin weights to different meshes from one source skinned object. They started work on real-time cloth and flesh sim R&D and development of a live-link between Maya and the game engine, so animators can tweak animations, in particular facial animations, while enjoying the advanced shading quality of the in-engine real-time renders vs. Maya’s own low quality viewport renders. This tech will be particularly useful for integrating and tweaking the p-cap (facial) animations in Squadron 42’s cinematic cutscenes. This artistically controlled lighting will have a huge impact on the look and feel of an animation/performance, meaning that iterating real time and in-game will make things much more efficient for the team.


DE_Monthly_Report_VFX_Coil_RnD_Shubin-2. Last month, the VFX team focused on the Squadron 42 Vertical Slice. They contributed to the Coil volumetric cloud, adding exterior effects to the slaver base on Gainey, and specific effects for the cinematic sequences. They dressed the exterior of the Slaver Base in the low technological style with suitable effects for the dusty planet surface. The cinematic effects were bespoke for the cutaways in the vertical slice. The work on the Coil gas cloud tech went through a good amount of R&D. The team focused on developing methods to create an interior volume while keeping in-line with the base concepts and art direction. It went through numerous iterations, and they paid close attention to how the interior created interesting compositions and visuals while flying.


The FPS weapons art team completed the first art pass on the Gemini F55 LMG and the Torral Aggregate Kahix Missile Launcher. Meanwhile, the ship weapons art team finished the first pass art for the A&R Laser Cannons (Size 1-6) and the Gallenson Tactical Ballistic Gatlings (Size 1-3). The team has also been working on scripts and tools to help further speed up their art pipeline. One such script is a Ship Weapon Tool made to assist in the creation of modular weapons. This new tool creates a larger number of weapons in a short amount of time by allowing artists to preview different component setups in real-time and automates the export process directly to the game engine. All animation exports and engine related meta-files are handled by the script, leaving the artist to focus on making the art.
DE_Monthly_Report_Weapons_AMRS_S4-6.png DE_Monthly_Report_Weapons_f55.jpg DE_Monthly_Report_Weapons_kahix.jpg


The Build Engineers added QA-TR (QA-TestRequest ) options to trybuild, which has already proven beneficial for the team. They also developed a feature to offload QA-TR trybuilds to dedicated agents in an effort to reduce compile times. So far, trybuild has been a simple code validation tool through which coders must check if their changelist compiles correctly against the most recent code updates. This ensures the next build will function correctly if they submit their changelist. This newest feature allows coders to have their changelist compiled against a specific CL. Within the tryBuild UI, the user can select an archive option and will receive an email with a link to a zip archive containing their binaries. At this point, a programmer can send a request to QA (namely QA-TR) asking to thoroughly test their binaries, making sure that their fix and/or new feature works as expected. If QA approves the changes, then the programmer can submit their changelist. This provides an added layer of security, helping to reassure that the current active build is functioning as expected. Since the archive option also involves changing two waf compile options, compilation times inevitably got longer. To work around this issue, IT set up dedicated trybuild machines whose sole role is to accept trybuild requests only when the archive options is ticked. This brought the trybuild system back to normal compilation times.


The DE QA team spent December dealing with various in-house test requests for 3.0 and focused Squadron 42 testing. For 3.0, Hangar and shield test requests were completed for our Level Design and AI team, while additional testing for character movements was done for Animation. They also obtained in-game footage of the current state of various systems to be reviewed at a director level. Mission Giver testing was done for Ruto and Eckhart, as well as specific footage recorded for each of these NPCs with criteria provided by the Design team.

DE QA eventually shifted focus to testing Squadron 42, specifically testing Combat AI, Flight AI wildlines, and AI turrets. They worked closely with the development teams designated for each of these sections as part of individual sprints to ensure that they had the needed QA support. For Combat AI, regular stand-up and review meetings were held leading up to the Squadron 42 Around the Verse holiday special. This involved reviewing the state of Combat AI daily and creating JIRA reports for any new issues called out during the review, as well as regular testing of the Combat AI. To test AI wildlines, they regularly played the vertical slice up to the dogfight that happens after quantum traveling to Gainey moon, then they had to ensure that all intended wildlines would trigger based on certain events performed by the Player.


December was a very intense and productive month for the AI team. Regarding Subsumption, they introduced several new functionalities: the new Subsumption Event Dispatcher, the Mastergraph, and the Dynamic Trackview implementation. The Subsumption Event Dispatcher is a way to fully support the Subsumption events without relying on any other external system. It’s composed by a central system that allows user code to create and send an event. The events are created in a pool to allow the AI system to efficiently handle and reuse the allocated memory, and each signal lifetime is automatically managed by specific structures called Handlers that also allow fast access to the signal itself.

User code can specify a direct event to an entity, or send an event to all the entities in a range from a specific location. Send events in a range is now zone safe and all the code efficiently uses the zone system for special queries and entity filtering. The Mastergraph is a way for building a relationship between multiple Subsumption activities. The team wants a general way for handling assignments (requests from designers), combat and regular activities. The Mastergraph allow them to specify transitions between our scheduled activities and other logic that should be executed when specific events are received. They also provided support for dynamic trackview scenes. A dynamic trackview scene is a cinematic scene where the participants can be replaced at runtime with actual AI NPCs. This allows the cinematic designers to work on their scene in a controlled environment. It also allows level designers to populate their level with NPCs that might have different activities, specific clothing, customizations, etc., based on how the Player affects the game. All the changes in the character might influence the real NPC characters and be part of the cinematic scenes. Also, dynamic trackview scenes can be potentially interrupted, so the AI system needs to know how to take over when and if that happens.

Ships AI also got some attention last month. The Squadron 42 Vertical Slice showed the first version of the updated spaceship behavior. The current Movement System is in control for both on-foot and flying movement requests, and Subsumption is in charge of controlling the pilots/seat operators behaviors. The new spaceships are fully controlled by the NPC seating on the operator seats, each operator has specific behaviors to use the items they control. The first version of turrets has been implemented using Subsumption, and initial accuracy parameters introduced for the NPCs using seats items. The missions system progressed for the Star Citizen Alpha 3.0 release, introducing both environmental missions and interdiction. All the logic required for Office Admin NPCs was implemented to allow designers to create delivery and pickup missions. Additional work was done as well, which they’ll provide more details in the near future.


The Cinematic team spent the month hard at work prepping the relevant sequences and tech needed for the Squadron 42 Around the Verse holiday special . Here’s a small portion of what they’ve been recently working on. They scaled PCap performances for the character Vat Tagaca, played by Craig Fairbrass, to emphasize his real-life, intimidating body stature. They changed the base lighting of the Idris aft hangar deck, featured when the Argo arrives, to be darker and more moody than the standard light setup. There was much back and forth with AI and Cinematic Tools Engineers to get the AI functional and the tools to properly place them.

Work was done to the Trackview Navspline tech that allows them to precisely puppeteer AI ships, like going from the interior zones to outside Shubin space seamlessly. They worked with engineering on several features that enrich the game cinematically. They prototyped and then enabled an always-on autofocus FSTOP based Depth Of Field (mostly for non-combat situations) that adds a filmic realism to walking around and exploring interiors. The team successfully created a couple of gold standard scenes, which take into account all departments necessary and represent the flow and interaction that will be applied to future applicable scenes. Tech that uses lightgroups as cinematic light layers for scenes was also completed. With default or custom individual timing of lights coming online, any scene can be tagged and a corresponding lightlayer triggered to fade in. This can be a light rig per scene or per location, as both are viable. The cine lighting rig will be used to push certain cinematics further than what the environmental base lighting provides. The cinematics team generally doesn’t go into too much detail, so they don’t spoil the story, but they’ll go into more detail on the Vertical Slice in a future update.


DE_Monthly_Report_Env_Art_01_.jpg DE_Monthly_Report_Env_Art_02.jpg Last month, the DE Environment Art team spent time preparing for 2018 and the challenges ahead. It is always good to look back at the progress made during the year and realign the goals for the new year. A lot of preparation and R&D went into updating the planet tech and tools. As the game moves from moons to full planets with more visually diverse ecosystems, the team wanted to have more control and variety of colors and materials. Work is being done on updating the planet tech as well as the shaders used on the scattered assets. This allows them to have the visual palette they want in the upcoming locations. It also provides a nice visual update and boost in quality for our existing moons.


The System Design team spent December finalizing work on both 3.0 and the Squadron 42 Vertical Slice. A lot of the work went into the first major mission givers, Eckhart & Ruto, and ensuring there are no edge cases where they can get stuck or players can abuse them. Both presented different challenges, as each has their own conversation flow, way of being found and triggered. They also completed the first implementation of the Admin Officer for all our major locations. Once again, many edge cases had to be considered and a lot of work went into making sure the players can’t block him for too long or give him items that he can’t properly handle. There are still some issues, but the team is sorting out the solutions.

Another big focus was FPS combat AI. It’s not finished but showing a lot of promise. The combat AI are beginning to act in a more believable manner, as they continue to add behaviors, adjust the timing of combat, and strive to get AI fights to feel challenging and fun to play. Things they also completed include: override pump upgrades to doors, hatches received locks that could be cut through, the beds in the Idris got upgraded with shutters, and more complex usables were added to make the game feel more alive.




December was a release month as the Turbulent team was instrumental in getting 3.0 in your hands!


Finally released, the new RSI Launcher replaces the CIG Patcher that was previously used to distribute the game assets to your desktop for Star Citizen 2.6 and lower.

This release marks a major milestone for the team as the entire system that powers the launcher will allow us a direct integration path with the game where we will be now be able to open communication between your game sessions and the Spectrum client through integration points. This also opens the door for integrated anti-cheat sandboxing systems.

Getting the launcher in your hands as part of 3.0 has been our team’s main focus for while as multiple rounds of testing on multiple platforms have taken place to ensure the new delta patcher, UI, installer and application shell perform well in all supported machine types and versions.

3.0 release also marks the deployment of the launcher backend which provides a new and secure way to distribute game update notifications and asset authorization to backers.


A separate team was split from the main group to work on a new and updated Roadmap display engine for the producers at CIG to use to update the community on the schedule and plans for the game. This new engine will allow the producers to create releases, place them in time and have feature cards on each to describe a feature of the game planned for a specific period.

We hope this new format will make the schedule updates more fun to read and will also help the teams produce more updates, as the backend systems provide more tools to update the schedule per feature card.


Our design team added life to the Tumbril Nova concept in December, fleshing out the first ground vehicle tank in the Star Citizen universe, inspired by 1980’s action figures.

This week is your last chance to pick up a Tumbril Nova in the concept phase!


Throughout December, the web team has been hard at work on the next iteration of the Star Citizen site. You can view a full report of our work on Welcome to SC in the January episode of ATV! We are hoping to launch a first pass of this new iteration in the first month of the year.




VS_Holiday-Special.jpg While December is traditionally an action-packed month for Star Citizen, the team took it to the next level in 2017. On December 22nd, the Squadron 42 Vertical Slice was revealed during the Around the Verse holiday special and shared more than one hour of raw gameplay, including a special version with Director’s commentary from Chris Roberts himself. If you’re interested in more information about Squadron 42, you can enlist now to receive regular updates and exclusives on the updated Squadron 42 page here.

The holiday special also introduced the legendary battle tank — the Tumbril Nova. This battlefield dominator is available through January 15, and you can find all of the details here.

TMBL_HeavyTank_ShotD_TL04.jpg If the Holiday Special was not enough, the team published Star Citizen Alpha 3.0 to Live servers just before the holidays. This required a herculean effort by teams around the globe and we’re not finished just yet! Releasing Alpha 3.0 has opened the gates for what promises to be an exciting new year of updates to the Star Citizen universe. If you’re curious to see what’s next, you’ll be able to check in with our updated roadmap for 2018 that will come online with the revised RSI website.

We said it last month, but we’ll say it again — thank you to each and every one of the dedicated testers who helped make the release of Alpha 3.0 possible. We truly appreciate you and your efforts!

Squadron-42-Star-Citizen-Screenshot-2018 Thanks to the release of Alpha 3.0, we have also seen a massive influx in community-created content submitted to the website. We highly encourage you to browse the Community Hub and check out all of the new videos, screenshots, guides, music, 3D prints, and more. Keep ‘em coming!

Lastly, we’ve taken the time to go through and organize your feedback on a variety of topics. We’re in the process of planning and executing some fun changes that you’ll see rolled out during the new year.

And with that, 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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