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Game Armada Monthly Studio Report: March 2018

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Monthly Studio Report: March 2018

Welcome to March’s Monthly Studio Report with updates from all our studios to provide insight into what they’ve been working on. This month, the team delivered Alpha 3.1, the first quarterly release of 2018, continued development of Squadron 42, and much more. With that said, let’s get to it.

CIG Los Angeles




The US Vehicle Feature Team, which includes team members from Tech Design, Engineering and QA, accomplished a lot this past month. They made some vehicle-related performance improvements, such as with the Vehicle Item Thruster and Landing/Spawning Components. From there, they looked into the previous progress made on the Scanning feature. This included some further investigations, planning, and initial tasks to get this large feature moving towards delivery, and the team is eager to press forward on the feature. Finally, a large percentage of the team’s time was spent fixing over 50 bugs, including several game crash issues, in our SC Alpha 3.1 branch.

TerrapinDamage.png Anvil_Hurricane_Cockpit.png


The Los Angeles portion of the US Vehicle Pipeline, which includes team members from Art, Tech Design and Tech Art, had a busy March. Working together with other teams outside of LA, such as Animation, VFX, SFX and UI, they launched two new vehicles: the Anvil Terrapin and the Tumbril Cyclone. The Art Team completed their pass prior to March, but continued to provide needed adjustments as other teams wrapped up these two vehicles for the SC Alpha 3.1 release, with all teams working through bugs right up to the release.

Cyclone-RC.jpg Tech Art, being a shared resource, worked on some additional vehicles for the 3.1 release: the MISC Razor and the Aegis Reclaimer. Tech Art not only handled the ship damage, but also the rigging, animation and hook-up for landing gear compression. They can’t wait for players to experience landing the Reclaimer in the ’verse.

Meanwhile, Art and Tech Design moved forward on vehicles that will be released after 3.1. Art made advances on both the Anvil Hurricane and the updated Consolidated Outland Mustang. Tech Design worked on design briefs for some vehicles that will be slated for future release.


The Gameplay Feature Team continued to polish the Character Customizer, with the ordering of options, minor UI tweaks, the introduction of idle animations to give characters a more lifelike representation, and the implementation of preview sprites for customization options available in the initial roll out. This should allow players some personal expression so they don’t look too similar to others, while more advanced tech is being developed to realize the rich vision CIG has for this feature.

Character-Customizer-31.png After polishing the Character Customizer, the team shifted their focus to cleaning up bugs around core experiences initially released for SC Alpha 3.0., beginning with UI and reliability bugs in the insurance claim flow for vehicles. There was general ship improvement in missiles and countermeasures, including 3D radar UI for missiles and proper locking functionality when switching between targets. Issues with ship repair at Cry-Astro were also addressed. The team ensured weapons and attachments were being fully restored to repaired vehicles and that the proper aUEC was withdrawn. Finally, some light and cargo-related issues recently introduced were addressed to restore previous functionality.


The Narrative Team handled a wide variety of tasks. They delivered lore content to the site every Tuesday, including part one of the new serialized short story One Good Deed about a Vulcan pilot that runs into trouble during a refueling operation. Subscribers got access to a new portfolio focused on the history of Dumper’s Depot. Time was also spent on this month’s issue of Jump Point, delivering content for marketing materials, and filming a new batch of Loremaker’s episodes.

Besides the usual workload, the team turned their attention to building out the narrative surrounding Hurston and the Lorville landing zone. They used the location to set up highly detailed templates that track specifics of a landing zone and its surrounding biomes. As part of this, a Plant and Flora page was designed to catalogue all the different space plant varieties, their placement in-game, and more. One of those plants, the Emperor’s Bloom, even received a brief Galactapedia write-up in March’s Jump Point.

Narrative also began revamping the system for generic NPCs to help breath more life into a location. They also focused on the Xi’an by creating a document that outlines their habitation spaces. Finally, they wrote numerous descriptions for various weapons and special weapons skins.



The Character Team worked on a multitude of assets across both Star Citizen and Squadron 42. The Legacy armor variants for Outlaws and Marines are close to being finalized, while the Hurston and Olisar Clothing Collections continue to be developed and should get into the ’verse soon.

A lot of work went into the principle characters, outfits, and weapons that will appear in Squadron 42, including the fleshing out of various alien species. In addition to all these assets, the team fixed several bugs across different character related features.

CIG Austin




ATX Designers helped get Alpha 3.1 out the door, while also planning work for 3.2. In this last month they: ServiceBeaconFinal3.jpg

The team wrapped up the last Service Beacon features for the 3.1 release. The final touches included the ability for players to see the required reputation for each Beacon, and their own reputation values, so they can better understand the specifics. Everyone is extremely excited to see how fans receive this, since a lot of games don’t allow for player-created content. ServiceBeaconFinal2.jpg

The shopping service was unified under one umbrella, instead of tracking each server’s economic status. Now, all game servers will pull the pricing information from a single source. This was always the original intention, and it fixes a few commodity trading exploits. With this unification, the team also restructured commodities to better represent the flow of goods. Outposts are now the main “producers” of goods, and stations are now the major “consumers” of goods. This presents a complication though, instead of balancing the game for a single server of 50 people, the team must now balance it for the concurrent player base. This will require a few iterations, since designers need to see the amount of goods being traded by a larger segment of the population. The team is looking forward to the first batch of analytics so they can hone this system for you.

On the character front, the Hawkers are back up and running. While there wasn’t the bandwidth to clean up additional animations, designers did hook up the original animations from the demo where they were originally shown off.

They also converted a lot of basic flair items to the Item 2.0 system. Previously, they were using a lot of prefab spawning, but that system has been deprecated for the new object container system. There are known issues with some of the more complex objects, such as the liquor cabinet and the Jukebox, but there should be a vast improvement in the number of flair items working in the hangars.

Finally, the team fixed quite a few trivial issues, and overall, are happy with the Alpha 3.1 build. They hope you’re happy with the progress and look forward to giving you more in 3.2.


The Constellation Phoenix continues through the high poly modeling phase. The current focus is on the Aquarium (interior set pieces) and other corners of the interior, which are being brought up to almost final detail stage. This work includes POMs (parallax occlusion maps) and decals. There has also been work done on ‘fancy’ custom textures to give the interior a luxurious feel.

The F8 Lightning is currently in the final, high poly (detail) phase that applies the POMs, decals, and final geo tweaks. There was also another pass on the ship lighting (exterior and interior) and materials. Finally, the team addressed ship related bugs for the release of 3.1.0.


This month, the Server Engineering Team supported 3.1, assisting in work required for the Service Beacon. They also made an extension to Diffusion, which makes some communications between services during startup more reliable.

The team discovered performance issues in the one of the back-end caches responsible for holding player inventory (ships, personal items, etc.). They applied optimizations that will greatly increase the responsiveness of those services, and have also been working with the Platform Team to complete the API between Diffusion and Platform services, allowing for easy and seamless communication.

Finally, they finished “Diffusionizing” the game client. Previously, the game client could only communicate with the services via a legacy communication system, which was very rigid and not so easy to extend. Now that it is using Diffusion APIs, the game client will not only be able to more easily communicate with the back end, but all services can communicate with any game client in ways they were never able to before.


ATX PU Animation focused on finishing two mission givers, Luca Brunt and Wallace Klim, and started on a third mission giver, Recco Battaglia. They are working closely with the Facial Animation Team and providing weekly progress updates to ensure the quality is up to snuff. These animations will next go to Design where they will be hooked into the AI system so players can interact with these characters for new mission content. They are also processing data for mission givers and cinematics, and are working to make sure that the quality control of the data is as close to 1-to-1 as possible. The team is having a blast playing with data from actors Mark Hamill and Gillian Anderson.

The ATX Ship Animation Team created new enter/exit animations for the Aegis Reclaimer. There was a strong push to complete the ships featured in the Alpha 3.1 release, as well as various bug fixes for the game. In addition, they made a new Dual Throttle Cockpit Type that will be showcased in an upcoming release.


March was an exciting month for the DevOps Teams. BuildOps made dramatic advances in the stability and performance of the build system with times being again cut in half in certain areas of the build pipeline. Internal build quantity and delivery numbers doubled during the month in support of the 3.1 quarterly release. Publishing Ops worked around the clock most days to identify and deliver the painstakingly detailed performance analytics needed by the dev teams, along with multiple daily internal and external publishes, including Evocati and PTU. It has been highly rewarding to see the dramatic impact of performance work by the dev teams.

March was all about 3.1. At the time of writing, the team has tested over 30 builds as an Evocati or PTU candidate. Each build requires checking of core functionality, the environment, and the launcher to make sure everything is ready to go before backers get access. Each build signed-off for PTU requires additional support after it goes to the environment. They monitor stability, provide reports of new crashes, capture performance data, and hand off everything to the Engineers and Producers to examine the next morning. The day after a publish, UK and ATX QA go over the top bug reports coming from players (via Game Support and Issue Council). They track new issues players are seeing, what is already ticketed, and what new bugs need to be investigated. As you can imagine, it’s a tremendous amount of work for each publish and the team pulled long hours to support the schedule.

Between publishes, there’s also been extensive test passes on actor synchronization, network message conversion, Ship AI, Shopkeeper animations, loadout improvements for Star Marine, outpost updates for the moons, service beacons, and new weapon skins. Ship testers were kept extremely busy as the Reclaimer, Cyclone, Terrapin, Razor variants, and the Nox Kue all come online to test. With the developer sprint teams going full-tilt, testing also started on potential 3.2 content, like the lean system and FPS Combat AI.

The Player Relations Team was all hands-on deck, coordinating with several other teams to get 3.1 through PTU to Live! The 3.1 testing cycle was the first in the new quarterly release schedule, and the team could not have done it without the heroic efforts of the Evocati and PTU testers. While work on features continued, Player Relations primarily focused on troubleshooting particularly nasty server and client crashes and working with DevOps and QA each night to sort them out.

With 3.1 now Live, the team would like to remind and encourage everyone to use the Issue Council to help triage and rate bugs and functionality. They will use that data to prioritize future updates. Plus, Issue Council participation makes players eligible to get into earlier PTU waves.

Foundry 42 UK




Hammerhead_Bridge.png The Ship Art Team continued their work on the game’s ever-expanding fleet. The interior of the Aegis Hammerhead is mostly set out except for the crew dorm and kitchen. Currently, the cargo bay and bridge are receiving a detail pass.

The Eclipse, another Aegis ship, is in full production with the current focus being the exterior. The team is reinforcing its stealthy appearance by tightening the pom (panel-line details), enhancing the materials, and making sure all the moving parts are operational.


The weapon audio system underwent a substantial refactor. Work began on designing full NLPC weapon perspective sets, along with specific sounds for various distances. An environmental weapon report, or tail layer, was added for all weapons on planetside locations to better reflect the environmental response of weapon fire.

Recently, the Audio Team took part in a sound effects recording session at Oscillate Studios, focusing on vibrating various metallic objects using transducers that respond to low frequency sounds. The metals were stimulated via synthesized tones from a MIDI keyboard that played with the pitch to impart different resonances and sympathetic rattles to a diverse range of scrap metal objects. The session’s primary focus was to create source material for ships. This was partly inspired by the sound production on the film ‘Interstellar,’ which used large scale subwoofers to resonate aircraft fuselages, modeling the behavior of spaceships under duress, simulating atmospheric entry and strong gravitational fields, and so on.


The Graphics Team implemented some major performance savings when rendering characters. All characters are split up into many different meshes, not only for swapping out clothing and armor, but also to hide individual portions of an object to avoid interpenetrating geometry. Shaders, textures, and geometry have been organized to render multiple adjacent meshes in one go, which vastly reduces the CPU cost of submitting the work to the GPU and maintains flexibility.

The team improved the quality and legibility of various UI screens with two new shader effects for the render-to-texture system. The first is an edge-highlighting effect for ship targeting displays, and the second is a drop shadow effect to help text and icons stand out against bright backgrounds.


The UI Team researched ways to improve performance by analyzing where the CPU spends its time. Optimizations made to the code of the ECG graph on the visor significantly reduced the CPU cost without effecting visual quality. The ECG graph has a buffer for the heartbeat values. With every update, the game added a new value onto the front of the buffer and removed the oldest from the back, which caused an expensive memory shifting. To prevent this, the team now uses a circular buffer that stores an index to the oldest location in the buffer. When the index reaches the end of the buffer it loops back to the start in cyclical fashion. This is more efficient because memory is only written to rather than being moved around.

Alongside the UI Visual Team, the EU-1 Gameplay Team has had UI involvement with the team focusing on polishing up the VMA and PMA mobiGlas apps. For these two apps, a strong focus has been put on improving the overall user-experience by fixing bugs present in the current iteration, as well as overhauling the mobiGlas layout in general to make more use of screen real estate and breaking the menu layout into a more intuitive structure. On the engineering side, the Star Marine Loadout Customization screen in the Front End has been converted to use the PMA code. This will make fixing issues on this screen much easier, as the PMA replaces the custom code that was previously released.

The second optimization applied to the ECG was to stop redrawing the whole graph each frame. Instead, it now adds the new value to the right-hand side and moves the whole graph along to the left. It uses a clip-window to ensure only the essential parts are drawn, and the graphic data is recycled in a similar fashion to the circular buffer.


AThe Gameplay Story Team organized all the required scenes in Shotgun. Currently, they are working with Design to get the first few scenes implemented in-game and up to standard.


Work is underway on the next generation of space stations. This begins with Rest Stops that are created semi-procedurally, allowing the team to easily populate the PU with many variations. To accomplish this feat, they have focused on developing the tools and workflow needed to achieve it. Truckstop.png

The first iteration of the Rest Stop will feature three main location components. The first being an exterior that presents a unique silhouette to maximize readability from a distance. The team also can vary layout and architecture to allow for individual personality and variety between stations. Diverse building materials, color schemes, and ad placement mean that a great number of visual possibilities are achievable through the modular construction of these stations. That means the team can automate layout generation while maintaining artistic control.

Hangars are the second component. Rest Stops will be the first station type to fully utilize the ‘Common Element’ type of hangar, which can be used in every utilitarian hangar in the game. Even though the ‘Common Element’ hangar will share the same core design functionality, they are built to allow for the mixing and matching of walls, entrances, exits and service modules to achieve varied looks across locations.

Interior2.png The third location component is the interior. The development of a procedural layout tool to generate these Rest Stops has been a big, and admittedly challenging, project. Work has advanced to where many layouts can automatically be generated using the tool and a set library of room and connector prefabs. Maintaining visual consistency and coherence, while still making each location appear different, remains an artistic challenge for the tool and team. Like the exterior, the trick is to randomize many of the smaller choices, like prop placement and lighting, rather than alter the larger room forms. This method allows the team to maintain artistic control over the main spaces flow and form.


The Prop Team made improvements to the entity system within data forge. The change allows for one entity to contain both gameplay features and visual keys, while being set-up and controlled using one system. This means a set-up entity dropped it into any level will retain all working functionality. This makes syncing easier between animation and material effects, such as glows or UI elements. This has significantly reduced the number of lights needed to fake glowing materials or flashing lights during different stages of animation.

Props1.png Another task had the team revising metrics and template assets for usables and interactive props. This makes them easier to understand and allows for improved scalability and functionality support. Building on these tech improvements, they can now create destructible props that mesh swap and update environmental effects, such as lights, VFX, and audio accordingly. These tech developments are still in the early stages, and laying the foundation for future releases.

A new set of “low-tech” medical props are being built out, alongside new medical dressings. Both are planned for use throughout the PU as common medical elements. Finally, the team worked on the sub-items that will be used to customize the performance of ship components. They are also making sure that there is a wide variety of visuals to support the gameplay when the feature comes online.


The Missions Team is in the early stages of replacing the existing AI with an upgraded version. They have been focused on balancing and implementing wildlines for the AI controlled characters. Wildlines are pieces of dialogue that play systemically when the AI receives a trigger, such as damage. The lines personalize each player’s experience, as the AI will communicate with players differently depending on their relationship and history.

As the AI continues to develop, the team also took the opportunity to reassess Arena Commander’s Vanduul and Pirate Swarm game modes. They rebalanced both with the focus on delivering a satisfying experience, rather than an extremely difficulty one. Another exciting creation is a prototype scramble race event, which can occur in space or planetside. These death races have opponents battling to collect randomly generated checkpoints and, more importantly, to stay alive. The races rely heavily on dialogue, so there’s a recording session planned to capture the necessary clips. Finally, the team has been rebalancing the reputation progression system. This was done because it became apparent that accruing a negative reputation was too easy and attaining a positive one too challenging.


The VFX department collaborated with Graphics to improve the GPU particle system. VFX Artists are implementing lean production techniques to prioritize features that will provide maximum impact. Examples would be improved Spawn Inheritance and Curl Noise. Both features create better, cheaper electrical and plasma effects for things like the Coil interior and EMP weapons.

They also worked through a large “snag list” for the Alpha 3.1 release. Tasks tackled included toning down the dust mote opacity in certain environments that underwent lighting updates, and re-adding planet/moon effects to work with the planetary tech improvements.


Tech Design finalized Alpha 3.1 work by implementing and tuning new weapons like the Gallenson Tactical Systems ballistic gatling, Preacher Armament distortion scattergun, and Amon & Reese Co. laser cannon. They also supported the conversion of existing gear to Weapon 2.0.

The team also focused on rebalancing. A lot was covered, including distortion weapons, after fixes allowed them to affect items instead of just shields. Countermeasures were made more effective post Item 2.0 implementation. Iterations of flight balance continued with a focus on atmospheric landing turbulence. Shield setback and regeneration rates were also rebalanced.

At the other end of the pipeline, they worked with Art on exciting new ship concepts. These designs will be revealed throughout the year during Ship Shape segments in Around the Verse.


The Derby office continued to expand its operations and prepare for motion capture shoots to further refine the player and AI movement sets. It was a pleasure to welcome several valued backers during the recent Imperator Subscribers event, where developers demonstrated core elements of their workflow, including facial animation, motion capture, and technical animation. The tour also offered the opportunity to scan three more faces that you can look forward to seeing in the ’verse.

Progress was made on R&D for the Vanduul face rig and internal facial rig technologies, along with iterations to female rigs in Maya. The new 1:1 conversion updates to the rig will break a lot of animations that use props so the team has been developing an automated solution to fix the animation files without an Animator having to manually go through and re-work everything.

Finally, the Facial Animation Team was busy finalizing animations on various PU shopkeepers, bartenders, and mission givers. This includes blending all the animations from the same facial poses, so they all play seamlessly from one to another.

Foundry 42 DE




The Environment Art Team recently wrapped up polishing the existing moons in the persistent universe. Cellin, Yela, Daymar and Delamar all received a visual update that will further enrich the experience at each location for the 3.1 release. With the update of the existing locations completed, the team is shifting focus to Hurston. Hurston will benefit massively from new planet tech updates, and further additions to the planet tech are on the roadmap for the coming weeks. The numerous updates will help make Hurston a unique experience, pushing biomes further than what players have seen so far on the existing moons. The team is also close to wrapping up the whitebox stage of the Lorville landing zone. Layout and locations have been approved by all departments involved, and the team is preparing to start full production to bring the city to its next stage.

DE_Update_Environment_Art_daymar.jpg DE_Update_Environment_Art_yela.jpg


The Engine Team regularly works on both long-term items as well as low level bugs and performance, and this month was no exception. They refined the auto performance capture code and tools used to track heavy stalls on both client and server. The tools automatically take performance captures if the frame rate falls below a given threshold for a specified amount of time. They then analyze the captures and optimize code, content, and level set up if necessary.

They made further progress on the performance telemetry system that will submit data so the team can analyze what typically happens on servers and clients, what actions cause performance slowdowns, etc. The data should allow them to tweak the game and improve the overall player experience. They also continued to work on reducing the initial startup time of the game. They found a lot of inefficient data parsing meant that the game would launch slowly, especially during the first startup on HDDs after the computer had been booted up.

The Engine Team worked on optimizations of the physics terrain mesh generation, and optimized data layout and SSE instructions to improve computation speed. They reworked API for component updates to provide more flexibility and opportunity for further code optimizations, batching of updates, etc. The team handled rendering improvements for the vegetation shader. Good progress was made on skin rendering improvements, which included work on rendering eyes, teeth and tongues. An investigation into pushing the quality and fidelity of facial animations was kicked off. Plus, they continued code size and build time investigations. It’s an ongoing effort to uncover the reasons for increased code size and compile times to see what can be reduced. This is an ongoing task and the findings will be applied globally.


The Tech Art Team built a new tool called cigXfer. It helps artists transfer skin data on various meshes, as well as on LOD meshes, without any assistance from a tech artist. This significantly speeds up the art update process, enabling artists to be more self-sufficient. They also implemented a large amount of animations that will be used for Squadron 42 cinematics.

They collaborated with the Weapons Team to complete the previsualization rig and game entity for the Kastak Arms Scalpel sniper rifle. Work was done on a run time physic simulation for a portion of the handle of the combat knife. Research and development was done to refine the alignment of the camera with the sight of a weapon while leaning. They developed content with an additional bone titled “ADS_align” to help achieve the desired results. They are currently testing the new approach on the Klaus & Werner Gallant rifle, and once verified it will be replicated to additional weapons.

The team worked with Art and Tech Design to produce Centurion and Imperator weapon skins for the Gemini LH86 pistol, Kastak Arms Devastator shotgun, and Klaus & Werner Arrowhead sniper rifle. They also continued R&D and implementation of the tools required for the next iteration of the Character Customizer. They primarily focused on consolidating how hundreds of head and head attachment assets (i.e. hair, beards or helmets) are being authored in Maya and then exported into the engine. Since every attachment is supposed to work with every possible head shape, even procedurally generated ones, they had to ensure the head topology remained 100% consistent during export.


The PU Level Design Team had several locations to design, and tech needed for future content building to work on. Lorville, a flagship landing zones, received quite a bit of attention, and is being used as a test bed for numerous systems and Common Elements. These systems include Security, Smuggling, Transit, Air Traffic Control, Hangars, etc. The Common Elements work in tandem with these systems and serve as their representation in the game world: for example, a Security Office and guards for Security, Customs for Smuggling, Train Stations for Transit, and a Spaceport for the Air Traffic Controller and Hangars. To connect everything there needs to be transitional spaces, arrival areas, and terminals to make it feel believable, while being diligent about not inflating the playable space too much. Here are some examples of these transitional spaces:
DE_Update_LevelDesign_lorville_01.png DE_Update_LevelDesign_lorville_02.png

They also continued work on the Procedural Tool for generating interior spaces. This tool is essential for Level Design to efficiently deliver the amount of content needed for generic locations like Rest Stops, Refineries, Cargo Depots etc. The tool is still in progress and will require more iterations and additions before it’s ready, which is a natural part of the R&D process. Here are examples of two generated layouts seen top down as a comparison:
DE_Update_LevelDesign_a_01.jpg DE_Update_LevelDesign_b_01.jpg


The Cinematics Team supported Squadron 42 level design efforts that previously had a lower priority. For these chapters, they blocked out and completed quick previs animation exports where level sections are still in the whitebox phase. For locations that are further along, like the Idris (Stanton) and the Bengal carrier, they did performance capture animation exports aligned to geometry and a defined scene root for all actors in the scene. This is an ongoing effort, as each chapter has a huge number of narrative scenes ranging from comms calls, conversations, walk & talk greetings, NPC chatter, and more complex scenes with multiple key characters in full-on filmic cinematics. In addition to the previs exports, they also focused on a handful of scenes featuring Gillian Anderson as Captain Rachel Maclaren. With the Vanduul Kingship bridge almost finished, they did a first camera pass on the cinematic Vanduul character sequences required for the story. This work coincides with a concentrated push for the Vanduul across different departments. Currently, Tech Animation is working on the Vanduul face rig, Character Art and Animation tackling costumes, key poses & silhouettes, and the Weapons Team focusing on Vanduul weaponry.

An important part of cinematics work is to regularly sync with ship and environment artists. The teams discuss issues with the default metrics dictated for mechanisms like doors, displays, chairs and the existing geometry, or address problems that arise when performance capture deviates slightly from metrics or meshes. Most of these metrics were in place for the main shoot, but occasional tweaks or updates must be made to either meshes or the animation. It always requires the teams to carefully weigh what requires the least amount of rework and impact. Cinematics also supported Graphics Engineering to upgrade the human skin shading. They built a test lighting setup that mimicked reference photographs and replicated a PCAP head-camera setup in the engine. Results of this R&D and shading work will be seen in the coming months.


DE_Update_Lighting_yela4_new_grade.jpg The DE Lighting Team supported the 3.1 patch. Their recent focus was finalizing a new lighting pass on the Echo 11, as changes to the lighting tools and technology have left the Star Marine maps visually out of sync. They’ve also helped the planet team with minor tweaks and polish to the atmospheres and color grading for Crusader’s three moons and Delamar. In addition, they assisted with several 3.1 goals, such as the new mobiGlas PMA/VMA character and item rendering, the Character Customizer, and general optimizations.


The DE VFX Team worked with UK programmers to further improve various tools, such as curl noise. This is a 3D noise field that perturbs the particles as they travel through the field, which creates some very unique and volumetric looking effects. They’ve also been fleshing out the Vanduul tech style, experimenting with the curl noise in combination with vector fields to create a visual style that sets the Vanduul apart.


The DE Weapons Team finished the first art pass for the Kastak Arms Scalpel sniper rifle, and completed the Centurion and Imperator subscriber flair skins for a few weapons.


The DE System Design Team moved forward with the mining system. Their first goal is to get mining functional for planet/moon surfaces, so the Prospector will be fully operational. They will move on to additional mining types once that is completed. Mining is still being prototyped but the current results are promising from a gameplay and visual perspective. They are currently able to shatter mineable rocks, and are working on the harvesting functionality that will transfer resources from those smaller pieces into the Prospector’s mining containers. Once completed, they will integrate mining with other systems like radar and scanning, which will be used to find mineable deposits and analyze their contents.

Progress was made on FPS Combat AI. After solving low cover, they implemented high cover for Human AI, and focused on making the timings and transitions as snappy as possible. Now, they are slowly moving into more complex behaviors like flanking, which allows the AI to work better as a team and force the player to think tactically and constantly adapt to what the AI is doing. They also considered what elements from human combat could be used by alien races, and experimented with ways to make them feel unique, so players must deal with aliens differently than their human counterparts.

The first batch of the reworked ship AI is now in 3.1, though some additional functionality is still outstanding. The system is being built so players can choose how to train and specialize their hired NPCs. FPS AI will use the same system in the future to achieve similar goals. On the non-combatant side of AI, they experimented with creating small story vignettes for locations, focusing on Lorville. This should infuse the location with more life and grant the AI more storytelling ability than walking around and sitting on benches. The hope is for players to experience what the lives of the population in a location are like, sympathize with them, and potentially choose sides. To achieve that, the non-combatants need to become more lively and complex.

Towards the end of the month, the team worked closely with Level Designers and Artists on the procedural location tool. They focused on the functionality needed for the tool to create nice environments and connect gameplay systems, like rooms, oxygen, gravity, security and generated AI populations. The tool must do it in a way that once the location is generated, there will be only minor adjustments before it can be released. The goal with this system is to ensure the team can output quality content at lightning speeds with a minimal amount of menial work. That way the team can quickly fill an entire universe, while keeping it feeling specific, depending on the location.


The DE Build Engineers added a sanity check for the RC to TryBuilder. While engineers work, they may change the Resource Compiler (RC), which can sometimes lead to failed builds. With so many unique asset types, it becomes difficult for an engineer to ensure that nothing is going to break. Additionally, engineers may touch a cpp file without even being aware that it may affect the RC. To alleviate this, they isolated a minimal subset of assets and now have them compiled whenever any code in the main branch changes. Each code change that goes into p4 is checked and the whole process is quick, essentially compiling one sample of every type of assets in the Engine. Now, before starting the process of creating a new a build, the team can check the state of RC. If it’s red (as in, the process described above is failing) they know there’s an issue to address. They also added some powerful dedicated hardware to the TryBuild cluster for profiling speed improvements in compilation. This has brought compilation times down significantly, which shifted focus back to optimizing other steps whose build-times now contribute a proportionally significant amount towards the entire build time.


The above illustrates a Perforce-state caching mechanism and smart querying method for comparing local workspace to the relevant global branch the code is being built on. This simplified state-caching mechanism is used to determine if any further version-control communication is necessary. Initial optimizations removed 30 seconds from any build regardless of the machine’s state. In further precise situations, where the slave is confirmed up-to-date, it skips syncing entirely. That saves an additional 30 seconds minimum, yielding build results that can potentially be as low as 15 seconds total. In addition to adding dedicated hardware and eliminating time-costing checks from bootstrap steps for code validation, the team is now looking at binary caching mechanisms so the code-building machines can simply retrieve the compilation results that have already been processed.


For the DE QA team, most of March centered around Subsumption testing with a new version available to test each week. As new features are implemented into the Subsumption Tool, the team maintains and revamps the existing documentation and checklists to ensure QA covers all necessary test cases for Subsumption testing. DE QA also supported the in-house development team with various requests from simple tests to verify if issues devs have encountered are due to their local files or an actual issue within the current build, to the more complex tests that require custom binaries and comparing differences between builds. One recent request involved testing changes that could potentially affect prefabs within the Engine. Extensive prefab testing was performed using custom binaries and test cases to intentionally attempt to break the prefab system. When an issue was discovered, this was brought to the Engine Team’s attention, and they proceeded to fix the issue and return new binaries to continue the testing. Similarly, the team focused on numerous physics test requests for changes that could potentially break other functionality within the client. These changes contained stability improvements to address various physics crashes that were plaguing Evocati in the PTU. While they normally work in the Game-Dev stream, most of the testing was focused on 3.1 as the live release date closed in.


Focus was primarily devoted to stabilizing the dogfight behavior. Flight AI is a young system, and the team is working on the skill characterization of the pilot’s abilities to balance the overall combat experience. A pass was made on the target chase velocities and attack ranges, two important factors to render the combat dynamics less prone to collide with obstacles or escape the assigned boundaries. The AI team also worked on improving player interaction with combat AI. This comes in the form of new behaviors, internally tweakable parameters (like accuracy and missile usage) for designers, and adding wildlines for PU pilots. For AI FPS Combat, they are currently implementing flanking behavior. Further work was done to update the logic for bullet rain, and improve flinch reactions when an AI’s cover gets compromised and they need to leave quickly or target and shoot. In addition, the team addressed bugs and optimized the code for the 3.1 release.




March saw major developments in Spectrum with a new release to PTU and Public, a new connectivity API between the platform and the game services, and cosmetic upgrades to promotion pages.


Spectrum version 3.7.4 was released to PTU. This version included custom roles, custom emojis and a user block list. The release to PTU gave the team much needed insight, and as a result they created a list of improvements around these features to be included in the live release.
Spectrum_Blocked-Users_2.png Spectrum_Blocked-Users.png

The team had help from the Evocati, who have been instrumental in hunting down bugs and providing direct feedback, in preparation for the live release of 3.7.4. The UX and Design Team has been building interactions for organizations in Spectrum, which includes direct interaction and survey support with Evocati to ensure that the teams are building with community needs at the forefront.

Over the next month, Turbulent’s Spectrum development team will refocus their efforts on the game overlay, work towards 3.2 deliveries, and make process changes to align their efforts with CIG’s internal pipeline.


Some minor changes were made to the Launcher, with the latest version, 1.0.1-alpha, including consistency check and bug fixes that affect the analytics reporting.


The team continues to make minor adjustments to the site’s new elements. You may notice some changes to readability as well as the resolution of some bugs on IE11.

The biggest platform changes are not visible to the user. The team rebuilt the Backend API to prepare for new services with Diffusion. Although the work is not complete, the team took on this three-week crunch project to build the base required to move forward. The rework will open the door for new features, most notably Spectrum chat.

A new weekly newsletter was launched, with a cleaner sleeker design, includes optimizations for those reading on mobile phones.


The knowledge base designs have been approved and are in development. This project is needed resource for backers and the Player Relations Team. Here’s a sneak peek at the final designs.

The site’s contact form and mobile design are being polished to provide the best possible user experience. The objective is to help citizens find the information they need, and reduce queue times when they need help from Player Relations.
Knowledge-Base_1.png Knowledge-Base_Contact-Us-Form.png


The team supported the setup and design for the St Patrick’s and 3.1 Flyable promotion. It was exciting to see all the in-game shots coming from the new 3.1 flyable ships, and integrate them into the design of the sales page.

You can visit the sale here.




And this is how quickly a quarter of a year can pass. After announcing the switch to a quarterly release cycle at last year’s CitizenCon, everyone at Cloud Imperium Games was eager to hit this self-imposed deadline and provide players with a content update. The team even provided the community with a public roadmap updated directly from internal project management tools. The weeks leading up to the Alpha 3.1 release have been hectic, but the team made the deadline and released the first update of 2018!

Sydney.png Thanks to all the dedicated testers who helped make the release of Alpha 3.1 possible. The entire CIG team sincerely appreciates your efforts during the Evocati and PTU phases, and hopes you have a blast playing the latest version on the live servers!

Even with Alpha 3.1 in the hands of all backers, the team isn’t going to rest. The Alpha 3.2 Feature Survey took the opportunity to reassess development priorities with feedback from the community. It let you vote on what features you were most excited to see implemented or improved, ensuring a fun and lasting gaming experience. Voting is closed, but you can check the results on this page.

As always, the team produced content across various social media channels. If you haven’t already, check out the new crowd favorite Calling All Devs, where Jared Huckaby calls developers from his desk to ask questions voted on by the Star Citizen community. Episodes of Around the Verse focused on performance and optimization, the AI on the living Idris, the sounds of science, and a magnificent Ship Shape featuring the impressive Aegis Reclaimer and the nimble Tumbril Cyclone. Connie_Emerald.jpg

Speaking of ships, the Aegis Vulcan was the first concept ship in 2018 and a gateway to a versatile support career in Star Citizen. The team celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with special offers and the Constellation Phoenix Emerald – an appropriate variation to celebrate the spirit of the Irish holiday. Alongside the promotion ran a St. Patrick’s Day Screenshot contest where you had the opportunity to win game packages, including the aforementioned Phoenix. Check out the event thread to see all the entries. Well done everyone and congratulations to the winners!

Also, the team celebrated a marvelous milestone when the number of citizens hit the 2,000,000 mark! Thank you for joining us on this journey. You inspire us every day through your creations, and we’re happy to be part of such an active and creative community.

And with that, 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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