Przez Game Armada
Writer’s Note: Brothers In Arms: Part Four was published originally in Jump Point 3.8. Read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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!”
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.”
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.
Przez Game Armada
Last week, Star Citizen Alpha 3.5 hit the live servers! As always, thank you to everyone who helped test on the PTU in preparation for this release. You can find out more about what’s in 3.5 here.
Also last week, we kicked off a screenshot contest to celebrate Easter. We’re currently sifting through a mountain of epic submissions so look for an announcement coming to Spectrum Wednesday!
Finally, if you haven’t already, make sure to check your email inbox for the latest and greatest Squadron 42 information in our Monthly Report for March.
Now, let’s see what’s going on this week:
Tuesday, the Lore Team brings us the thrilling conclusion to Brothers in Arms.
Wednesday we’ll discover who will fly away in a new Reliant, when the winners of our Easter Screenshot Contest are announced.
On Thursday we welcome the return of our weekly look inside the world of Star Citizen development.
Friday sees a Roadmap update and the RSI Newsletter delivered right to your inbox. We also welcome a new episode of Reverse the Verse, which broadcasts LIVE at noon Pacific on our Star Citizen Channel. This Friday, we’re going to play through the Pacheco mission with live commentary and Q&A with Lead Designer, Luke Pressley.
Lastly, folks from our team in the UK will be on-site at BritizenCon on Saturday. We can’t wait to see you all there!
See you in the ‘verse!
Lead Community Manager
*Screenshot by MrKoddy
The Weekly Community Content Schedule
MONDAY, APRIL 22nd, 2019
TUESDAY, APRIL 23rd, 2019
Lore Post – Serialized Fiction: Brothers in Arms (Part 4) (https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/spectrum-dispatch)
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24TH, 2019
Easter Screenshot Contest Winners Announcement
THURSDAY, APRIL 25TH, 2019
Around the Verse (https://www.youtube.com/user/RobertsSpaceInd/)
FRIDAY, APRIL 26TH, 2019
Reverse the Verse LIVE (https://www.twitch.tv/StarCitizen)
Roadmap Update (https://robertsspaceindustries.com/roadmap/board/1-Star-Citizen)
SATURDAY, APRIL 27TH, 2019
Community MVP: April 22nd, 2019
We are constantly amazed by the contributions made by the Star Citizen community. Whether it's fan art, a cinematic, a YouTube guide, or even a 3D print of your favorite ship, we love it all! Every week, we select one piece of content submitted to the Community Hub and highlight it here. The highlighted content creator will be awarded an MVP badge on Spectrum and be immortalized in our MVP section of the Hub. Don’t forget to submit your content to our Community Hub for a chance at seeing it here!
MISC Prospector 3D Print by Philippe38
Philippe38 took the time to 3D print a MISC Prospector, and it turned out incredible!
Check out the pictures on the Community Hub.
Przez Game Armada
Narrative Director Dave Haddock and Lead Writer Will Weissbaum take us inside their process as they develop story elements and lore aspects essential for the future of Stanton’s Rest Stops.
To watch Reverse the Verse LIVE each and every week, tune into http://twitch.tv/starcitizen.
Przez Game Armada
Send Your Tips to StarWatch!
Time to set your sights on the stars and let me, Callie C, shine a light on everything you need to know about today’s hottest socialites and celebrities. Turns out they’re just like the rest of us, only attired in more fetching threads. Welcome to StarWatch!
Let’s begin with the hot topic currently setting spectrum aflame. Boyce Baudin is back! But don’t you dare call him “Babyface” anymore. The beloved comedic actor with the cherubic visage disappeared from the public eye for months, canceling several spectrum appearances without warning. Rumors swirled that the notoriously hard partying prankster might’ve finally allowed his cravings to control him. Now we know, thankfully, that wasn’t the case. But many of Boyce’s longtime fans are less than pleased with the real reason for his self-imposed sabbatical…
Turns out that Baudin couldn’t deny the call of the Calliope. The actor felt his signature look was keeping him from landing the leading roles he truly desired, so he became the latest celeb to get the BiotiCorp reboot. Bye bye rosy red cheeks and round chin; hello chiseled cheekbones and devastating jawline. I believe the desired outcome was “ruggedly handsome,” but to my eyes it’s more “rough around the edges.”
Initial reactions to Baudin’s new appearance on spectrum were savage. Some of Baudin’s most dedicated devotees spun wild theories to explain the change, including one group convinced he’s going to yell “Triggerfish!” at any moment. From what I’m hearing, the star may be wishing that the new look had been a prank. Sources close to the bygone babyface claim he’s despondent about the public’s reaction and has been debating restoring his classic countenance. Let this be a lesson to all those stars considering similar procedures; sometimes perfection has a price.
Now, let’s go to a “say it ain’t so” scenario. There’s a new headline crashing its way out of Oso that kid-vid heartthrob Sindre Alby has been arrested for an unprovoked attack on a civilian ship. Representatives for the former star insist that Alby’s intentions were honorable and that the incident is nothing more than an unfortunate misunderstanding.
Alby rose to fame for his role as the mysterious yet sensitive stock clerk in Open for Business, one of my fav vids growing up and still my go-to drunk rewatch. Of course, we all remember when, at the height of the show’s popularity, Alby quit the show and acting entirely to go fight for animal rights across the Empire. Be still my beating teen heart!
He’s been at it for a while now, making vids and leading protests to raise awareness, but I guess this time he might have taken the fight too far.
Sources say the handsome heartbreaker had taken up with a watchdog group dedicated to staking out the Oso system and scanning ships to ensure Osoians aren’t being smuggled out. When Alby became convinced a vessel travelling well off the system’s normal shipping lanes was smuggling the protected creatures, he reported it to the local authorities. Though he was explicitly told not to engage, Alby got nervous when the ship’s quantum drive began to spool and decided to blow their main thrusters to bits. When the authorities finally arrived at the scene and boarded, guess what they found? Nothing illegal! Not a single cute Osoian! Nothing! They arrested Alby and the rest of the activists on the spot for attacking a civilian vessel.
Sure, Alby didn’t follow proper procedures, and the family aboard the ship suffered some injuries, but no one died. The former actor has promised to replace the damaged ship and pay all medical costs, but he’s still facing serious charges. Are you kidding? If you ask me, the ‘verse needs more valiant individuals like Alby who are dedicated to the greater good.
Fans of the former star have already started a “Free Alby” campaign to advocate for his release. I’ve pledged my support and so should you, so Alby can go free… and maybe star in the Open for Business reboot.
Enough with all this serious stuff. It’s time to have some fun!
It takes only one look at me to see that fashion is a passion. I’m not afraid to admit that the longest and most important relationship in my life is with a pair of Venti Penrose suede pumps. For me, it’s an expression of individuality and a way to stand out from the crowd.
That’s why, when I’m not scooping scandals, I’m scouring spectrum for all the hottest trends. To help me assess the latest looks, I’m joined again by my fab friend and fashionista, Nisco Hobbins.
Nisco Hobbins: Thank you, Calcee. I love being here almost, almost as much as I love OpalSky’s new line.
Stop it. Didn’t you call last year’s fall look, “chintzy casual clothes for those too rich to shop at Casaba?”
Nisco Hobbins: In my defense, I’m not paid to pull punches. My job is to form fashion opinions based on my gut reaction and years of experience. Expressing honest, cutting comments is what got my butt a spot on this show, you know.
And won your way into my heart… which I’m now reconsidering.
Nisco Hobbins: How dare you?
I just don’t understand how adding stuff like a subtle paw print pattern to the same boring and basic clothes suddenly converted you?
Nisco Hobbins: What? I can’t change my mind?
Only if you back it up by wearing OpalSky’s new line the next time you’re on the show.
Nisco Hobbins: Done and done.
Before I reconsider ever asking Nisco back on the show, let’s talk about what I think is the hottest new trend… gems, gems, and more gems.
Nisco Hobbins: Are you talking about those new Laren’zo designed dresses?
So amazing, aren’t they?
Nisco Hobbins: I almost don’t even know what to think.
This boldly beautiful new look from Republic of One features gems sewn into the seams around the peekaboo panels. It provides this mesmerizing sparkle and an eye-catching pop of color that is incredible.
Nisco Hobbins: It’s ostentatious. It’s shocking. And I love every damn thing about it.
The fashion house is even pitching these dresses as a potential heirloom quality asset. So, if you like keeping a little physical wealth around, a dress encrusted with gems isn’t a bad option.
Nisco Hobbins: So true, ‘cause from what I heard, these handcrafted pieces are mondo expensivo. I’m already debating which organ to sell so I can afford one.
You heard about what they had to do to make their first run, right?
Nisco Hobbins: No, what?
Republic hired a bunch of independent miners to hunt down exactly the stones they needed.
Nisco Hobbins: Big thanks to all those out there making this ‘verse a more beautiful place! You did your part for the greater good.
Now, all I need is someone to send me one to wear on the show. Wink, wink.
Nisco Hobbins: Winking doesn’t work that way.
Guess we’ll see.
Nisco Hobbins: Honey, trust me, Laren’zo is not watching this show.
Stop crushing my spirit, or I’ll have Ravi mute your mic.
Nisco Hobbins: Love you, Laren’zo! Your new line embraces the entire Republic aesthetic while also giving it an intriguing new spin. Just like what OpalSky did.
What’s going on here? Are you getting paid by the plug?
Nisco Hobbins: Can I be honest?
That’s a loaded question.
Nisco Hobbins: I hate OpalSky’s new line. I just wanted to have a little fun. Please don’t make me wear their clothes on your show.
Oh! You are so bad! We might have some Opal lying around here that I should make you wear for the second half of this segment.
Nisco Hobbins: You wouldn’t.
Better keep your eyes here, watchers. There’s more StarWatch coming up after this quick break.
Przez Game Armada
It’s all go across our studios at the moment, as devs from the UK, US, and Germany put the hours into getting Alpha 3.5 into the Persistent Universe. Naturally, the latest patch features heavily this month, but look a little closer and there are plenty of tasks for Alpha 3.6 and beyond being worked on to wet your whistles.
Star Citizen Monthly Report: March 2019
Last week, we updated the public roadmap with content all the way up to Alpha 3.9, where we’ll be flying Vultures to Crusader and beyond. If you missed the latest update, take a look, as progress for these new features will start appearing in your monthly reports soon enough.
AI – Character
We start with Character AI, who spent the month making general improvements, firstly to combat behaviors to make it easier for the team to assign different tactics to different characters. This work happily fixed a few bugs with vision perception and cover selection too. Secondly, NPC locomotion saw the integration of the collision avoidance system into smooth locomotion, which now takes into consideration the edge of walkable navigation areas.
Naturally, bug fixing, stability fixes, and optimizations were also done for Alpha 3.5.
AI – Ships
Ship AI implemented new pilot skill levels to vary the agility of enemy ships and determine how they balance self-preservation and aggression. Improvements were also made to how non-player traffic behaves around landing zones.
AI – Social
The Social AI Team finished the first pass of ‘scooching’, which made its monthly report debut last month. If you missed it, scooching enables a character to fluidly move from one action to another within a group of useables.
Design supported the set up of the bartender/vendor character by providing necessary tech pieces where needed. Optimization started on usables, including the caching of usable entries and TPS query time-slicing.
March saw Animation readying mission-giver Tecia Pacheco for her Alpha 3.5 debut and finishing the animation sets for Recco Battaglia and the ship dealers. They also implemented new female emotes and brought the male versions up to the current quality standard, which included stopping a plague of different technical issues.
Focus was also on two big-ticket items: developing the final jump system and the female playable character. Finally, the team worked on the combat AI system, adding new weapon options for enemies to use against the player.
Art – Characters
Character Art were one of the many teams collaborating on Alpha 3.5’s facial customizer. This coincided with the adding of the female playable character into the game and creating new armors wearable by both sexes (which will continue into the foreseeable future). Tecia Pacheco’s hair was tidied up before launch and the few non-Alpha-3.5-related hours were spent refining the hair creation pipeline.
Art – Environment
Many Environment Art devs devoted the month to Alpha 3.5, making quality-of-life improvements, bug fixing, and polishing assets. Several locations, including Hurston and Lorville, were refined and tweaked to give an overall improved visual experience. The ongoing planet tech development rolls on too, with current efforts becoming the foundation of wider improvements coming later in the year. The team are also looking into ways to better scale natural features like canyons, with first tests looking promising.
The final touches were added to ArcCorp ahead of its big release, with huge strides made early in the month when Area18, Riker Spaceport, and the surrounding city received finalized textures, materials, and finishes. While the planet was ‘content complete’ a while ago, the last stages of development saw countless optimization tasks completed to make it good enough for players to explore. The final level of detail (LOD) tweaks were completed to enable the assets to perform well in-engine, along with other technical aspects like tweaking view distance ratios, altering vis-areas, and merging meshes. Art of distant buildings and advertising added the final touch to the city’s vistas.
Art – Tech
Tech Art worked on the user interface for Character Customizer v2, which will see the light of day in Alpha 3.6. While the current version gives users all the required functionality, the process can be thoroughly streamlined through a number of layout and functionality amends. These changes have been prototyped and are awaiting implementation by the Gameplay Team.
Tasks towards extending the character creation ‘DNA gene pool’ were also completed, which will eventually increase the number of heads the user can choose from and blend together. While still being significantly fewer than the planned final amount, the enhanced pool will give players much greater variety compared to the nine heads per male and female available in Alpha 3.5.
Alongside customization, they fixed a few weapon-related bugs for both dev builds and Alpha 3.5, such as wrongly-oriented attachments, broken or missing animations, and a tagging issue causing the player character to be assigned the wrong animations. They supported Weapon Art with rigging and engine setup for several upcoming releases and worked with Animation and AI Programming on the first implementation of the new usable system.
Alpha 3.5 features the new flight model, the development of which presented an unmissable opportunity to expand on the ship audio experience. Improvements include new sound effects for strain and vibration, afterburners, maneuvering thrusters, and atmospheric flight. They also include accurate point source sound emitters and general improvements to the overall design, implementation, and mix.
Naturally, attention was given to ArcCorp and Area18, with new environmental dialogue, music, and sound effects implemented to contribute to the overall sense of a thriving metropolis. These include PA announcements, diegetic music, spot ambiance effects, dynamic advert audio, and systemic planetary ambiances. The team’s work is again complemented by the brilliant ArcCorp music cue from composer Pedro Camacho.
Audio was also produced for the Kastak Arms Coda pistol, Gemini S71 assault rifle, Xi’an Kahix rocket launcher, and Banu Tachyon ship cannon.
Finally for Audio, notable developments were made to the Foley system, including better footstep material recognition, redesigned depressurized footsteps, and varying footstep effects dependant on character heaviness and footwear. The Foley sound effect sync was improved when running too, as were collision sounds when rag-dolling.
Throughout the past month, Backend Services supported Alpha 3.5, fixed various bugs, and adjusted backend-supported features. On the main development front, great progress was made on the GIM rewrite, with the new matchmaker successfully tested internally. The GIM’s internal match/group management system also came to life. These changes are significant because, rather than being code existing inside the legacy GIM application, they are now individual and highly fault-tolerant services that can be scaled as the project develops.
Another major change was the introduction of the variable service, which came with a surprisingly high volume and rate of data.
One of the team’s goals this month was to provide much needed insight and analytics on various types of data coming from the DGS. So, a new system was created to track the rate of individual DGSs along with information about specific variables, enabling the team to fine-tune how data is serialized and how often it’s pushed to the backend.
The first major part of the iCache has been completed and tested internally, too. The iCache is a highly distributed and fault-tolerant storage/query engine that greatly out-performs the current pCache. It provides an indexing and query system that can be utilized by other services for specific and complex item queries. This system is important going forward, particularly as the Persistent Universe sees greater volumes of players and server meshing comes online.
The community celebrated St. Patrick’s Day (or Stella Fortuna!) with a screenshot contest calling for in-game party pics. Plenty of outstanding images of memorable moments were received, but there were only three pots of gold to hand out – the lucky winners taking home a Constellation Phoenix Emerald, Mustang Delta, and Ursa Rover Fortuna.
March saw the unveiling of the multi-crew explorer, the Corsair. Should any prospective pathfinders be unsure whether they want to sail the stars in Drake’s latest, the recently released Q&A should help. Jump Point, the monthly subscriber-only magazine, took an even deeper dive into the Corsair’s design process along with a behind-the-scenes look at the new character customizer, a Whitley’s Guide on MISC’s Reliant series, and more.
Shouts of ‘Triggerfish!’ could be heard across the ‘verse when we announced our first new merchandise offerings of 2019 on April 1st: The Scents of Star Citizen collection. Classic fragrances of the past meet the mysterious essence of the future in Quantum, an innovative cultivation that transcends space and time.
Content – Vehicles
While the Vehicle Content Team predominantly focused on the three MISC Reliant variants and continuing work on the 300 series, they found time to work with Animation on a better system for setting up character ship entry and exit animations. The also tackled a variety of vehicle bugs leading up to the release of Alpha 3.5.
Design’s focus throughout March was on Area18, which included adjusting the AI, usables, stores, and more. Tecia Pacheco was given a design pass, while a new team member was inaugurated with tasks to improve both the Emergency Communication Network (ECN) and NPC spoofing missions (where NPCs send out service beacons asking for help).
Regarding the in-game economy, a system built to create a robust and modular representation of item variance was polished and is now ready when needed. Inventories were also added to all new locations, including the new Alpha 3.5 weapons and items created by the Weapons Team.
The culmination of this year’s first publishing cycle was especially busy for DevOps. The team publish internal builds every day of every month for internal testing, but demand increases drastically when additional publishes are needed for the Evocati and PTU. As the game grows, so does the complexity of deployments and the reporting requirements, with this month seeing a 69% increase in build activity. Most of this is due to the ‘feature streams’ that the team have worked on for the past few months, which isolate features from each other during development to avoid collision.
The Engine Team supported Alpha 3.5 with extensive profiling, optimization, bug fixes, and improvements to help Sentry, the PU crash database, better analyze and catalog existing issues.
Rendering wise, they continued work on Temporal Sample Antialiasing (TSAA) with general quality improvements that translate to less flickering and a sharper picture. They also adjusted the TSAA bicubic filter based on frame time to prevent the accumulation of ringing artifacts at high framerates. For hair, they added an experimental option for custom tangents, removed the temporary scatter model, moved the hair mask to variation map alpha, improved edge masking, and added card support for the hair physically-based rendering (PBR) shader. For planetary ground fog (currently scheduled for Alpha 3.6), they refined the proxy mesh tessellation and moved pre-tessellation to jobs, did the first ray marching test and implementation, refined modeling of the fog gradient over terrain, and spent time rectifying floating point precision issues.
They also completed rendering support for CPU-accessible textures for RTT video comms calls and optimized shaders to avoided unnecessary resource creation (e.g in GPU skinning). The Initial ImGUI integration was completed and will be used to unify and improve the in-game profiling tools. System and module integration were added to avoid an unorganized collection of tools and a text/tag searchable configuration system for registered tools (similar to visual code) was implemented. To better improve load times, the team created a new load time profiler to track file access (times accessed, data transfer, etc.), amended the IO scheduler for SSDs and HDDs to give faster load times and response, and vastly improved file access in the shader system to speed up initialization at start-up.
In addition to the compile-time analysis tool developed last month, they finalized an add-in tool to generate optimal uber file sets and, as a result, reshuffled game uber files for even better compile times.
Work also began on a physics debugger that will allow the team to record issues, play them back, freeze time, etc. to help understand and speed up fixing complex physics issues.
Features – Gameplay
Throughout March, most of the team dedicated their time to working with the Character Team on the customizer, including the design flow, user interface, and the implementation of the female playable character. The rest focused on implementing comms video streaming improvements. All of the team’s work this month made it into the Alpha 3.5 build, so can be seen by anyone in the Persistent Universe.
Features – Vehicles
Improvements to gimbaled weapons were finished for Alpha 3.5 and the radar and scanning systems received a polish, including the implementation of focus angle and ping fire. Under-the-hood progress was also made with vehicle item port tech, specifically with the vehicle .xml migration to Data-Forge. March’s final stretch was spent fixing game crashes and bugs for the upcoming release.
Alongside visual tweaks and fixing stability issues for Alpha 3.5, the team better aligned the sun and shadows with fog in large spaces (such as hangars) and fixed a persistent glitch with indoor lights. For vid-comms and general render-to-texture, the teams fixed a few issues that were interfering with brightness along with intermittent cases where lights on holograms were disappearing. They also switched most holographic scenes over to a forward-shaded render pipeline to improve efficiency.
Graphics also got in on the gas cloud feature by supporting Design, adding the ability to rotate tunnel pieces, and creating a more intelligent streaming system to enable them to lay out large sections of the game without running over the memory budget.
The Level Design Team barreled on with Area18, fixing bugs and generally preparing it for its unveiling. This included a lot of playtesting and tweaking of the room-system, landing areas, transit system, and more.
Planning began for the upcoming procedural tool and next set of procedural space stations. Prototyping was done on cave layouts and potential gameplay was ideated in close cooperation with the Environment Art Team. There were also updates to Lorville, with the addition of small and medium hangars and a new transit line between Teasa Spaceport and the Central Business District (CBD).
Like many others, Lighting almost entirely dedicated their month to finalizing Area18, which required collaboration with a lot of other teams. Particularly, they worked with Props and Environment Art in the final push to raise the visual standard and unify the look across the wider landing zone. Performance is always a concern, so special attention was paid to ensuring the maximum lighting quality was achieved within the defined frame budgets. After lessons were learned during the development of Lorville, the team were able to optimize the new location’s lighting far more efficiently.
Aside from Alpha 3.5, Lighting had a hand in the development of the character customizer by providing a clean, high-quality lighting rig for the UI. They also supported the reworking of the Echo 11 Star Marine map, providing additional polish, optimization, and clean-up.
In March, Narrative worked with Design to identify the production nodes and manufacturing locations of all of Star Citizen’s corporations for the expanding economy system. This led to a review of the item inventories of Stanton’s shops to make sure stores were carrying items appropriate for their location. The team also worked on generating names for various vehicles, including the Ursa Rover Fortuna.
Narrative filled Area18 with a variety of posters, ads, and props to flesh out the lore of Stanton’s newest landing zone. They also worked with the Live Design Team to support mission content for Tecia Pacheco. Finally, Alpha 3.5 will also provide a first look at the new Banu language that is being developed, so keep an eye out for more info on that.
Player Relations were busy throughout March supporting the Evocati and players smash bugs in the PTU. Initially, they worked alongside the Evocati for several builds to test out the new flight model. Once it was stable, they added Concierge and Subscribers to test out the other key features. Eventually, all backers were welcomed into the PTU before Alpha 3.5’s wider release.
“We say it every month, but we can’t thank our volunteers enough for the wonderful efforts they put into helping us build this game (especially you Avocados!).”
At the start of March, the Props Team took Area18’s assets from the ‘modeling complete’ phase through to ‘final art’, which included the technical set up, LODs, prefab setup, and bug fixing. They reached ‘content complete’ status half-way through the month before heading into the final polish pass. The area’s food carts were pushed a little further with branding and dressing prop variation, while the lighting was separated out to give the Lighting Team more control. Updates were also made to older street furniture to bring it up to standard and the team helped with the branding and signage assets used throughout the level.
With persistent habs included in Alpha 3.5, a pass was completed to convert a whole host of props from static objects to interactive entities, while hand grip was set up to work with the player animations and additional physics set up.
The team also took a pass at the Spectrum Unlimited kiosk, creating additional dressing, props, and magazines. The month was rounded off with a final bug-fixing pass and, of course, turtles.
QA’s testing focus was on feature integration for the Alpha 3.5 branch. They tested all the new content such as ArcCorp and its moons, Area18, the character customizer, female playable character, Origin 300i rework, and Reliant Variants. In addition, stability and performance testing ramped up in anticipation of the release and included daily performance captures to help narrow down and fix performance-related issues.
The AI feature testers in Frankfurt worked hard to stay on top of the various issues that cropped up with the addition of new mission givers and changes to collision avoidance. The embedded tester for the Transit Team was kept busy debugging various low repro issues that seemed to be tied to server performance and caused issues such as players falling through floors and Lorville’s trains not turning up. Memory corruption testing is currently ongoing to help track down crashes that occur randomly during normal gameplay. This testing is being done in the PTU using custom binaries provided by the Engine Team.
Lead Vehicle Artist Chris Smith completed the refactor of the Origin 300i and spent quite a bit of time getting the components modeled. He has now officially moved onto a new ship, which is currently in the whitebox phase.
3D Modeler Josh Coons continues his work on the Banu Defender and is working diligently to complete the greybox stage. Since everything on this ship is brand new and almost nothing is re-used from other ships, he is being assisted by Associate Vehicle Art Director Elwin Bachiller to ensure it’s completed in time.
The System Design Team finalized the current iteration of the no-fly zones around Area18 and ArcCorp, which required new features to be added to allow it to work at the scale required. Walla and Lyria both received their share of mining resources, with Walla getting unique Atacamite geode deposits. They also finalized their work on the unification of the vendor/bartender AI, which will allow the same behavior to serve drinks at a bar and give players items from a shelf and weapons from a rack.
Turbulent supported the Alpha 3.5 features promotion, which highlighted character customization, ArcCorp, and the new flight model. They also supported St. Patrick’s Day, which featured the new Ursa Rover Fortuna and a screenshot contest.
The CMS backend migration continued and was deployed to the PTU (the changes will appear in the live environment within the next few weeks).
Voice servers received an upgrade which will benefit from RTCP (data channel) improvements and enable active speaker detection in comms channels. The security of voice channels has also been improved. The Services Team continued working on video streams in comms channels in order to improve long-distance calls, too.
Turbulent’s upcoming Game Admin tool will support game designers as well as the Player Relations Team by providing key statistics as well as granular technical information on groups, lobbies, and voice channels. The design is now done and development has started on its first functionality, the general information display.
Finally from Montreal, the Game Services Team continued working on the new framework that will impact all upcoming development of Star Citizen services. Thanks to this core modification, services including group, lobby, and voice channel will be more standardized and upcoming development milestones will be reached quicker.
Last month, UI finalized the in-fiction advertisements and branding for ArcCorp and Area18. They progressed with the area map, including the ability to visually distinguish between different floors of an interior. As release day drew closer, they worked on various optimizations and bug-fixing.
This month, the Global Vehicle Team put the finishing touches to the Alpha 3.5 ships and steadily progressed with those beyond the latest release:
The largest sub-team is focused on the Origin 890 Jump, which has just completed the greybox stage and is now heading into the final art phase. Work is progressing on the Carrack, which now has the whole of the engineering section in the rear done to greybox and the habitation deck is only missing the captain’s quarters to be greybox complete. The Vanguard series is heading to the final art stage, with the rear section and cockpit both receiving a pass. The exterior is up next. Greybox of the Banu Defender rolls on, while the Character Concept Team was called on to build a foundation for the Tevarin species that will be used to help design the Esperia Prowler.
Finally, pre-production began on the P52 Merlin update, P72 Archimedes, and the Esperia Prowler.
The VFX Team rolled out their recent GPU particle lighting changes, which includes a new optional specular shading model for particles. This multiplies the level of lighting the particle receives from the cube maps, causing it to sit within the environment more realistically. In the photo below, the left smoke effect uses the old lighting (without specular shading), while the right uses the new system.
The team is currently looking at some of the older effects in the game and are reworking them to take advantage of the updated systems, such as the EMP, which was added some time ago and has since degraded due to issues with the old particle system.
Regarding weapons, the team polished and optimized the new ballistic pistol and assault rifles and took the first pass at the Tachyon cannon; a brand-new weapon type that was in its R&D phase last month.
On the ship side, the reworked 300i had a full VFX pass. Finally, as is usual in the run-up to a release, the team began their twice-weekly playtests, from which a fairly large ‘snag list’ was created and fixed.
The Weapon Art Team started work on the Apocalypse Arms Animus missile launcher, the Klaus & Werner Lumin SMG, and new upgrade levels for various ship weapons.
WE’LL SEE YOU NEXT MONTH…