PAX East 2015 – Star Citizen’s New Damage Technology

For anyone not familiar with Star Citizen (have you perhaps been stranded in space for a few years?), well it's a Space-sim currently in development by Cloud Imperium Games (CIG), which is headed up by the old Industry legend Chris Roberts, whom in the past created the Wing Commander series. Star Citizen usually pops up in the news for breaking new funding milestones since it's a 100% crowdfunded game, and at the time of writing Star Citizen has made just shy of 74.8M$ (74,778,635$). But for once we are going to talk about the game itself instead of how much money it has managed to bring to its development.

Blowing Up Ships in Star Citizen Has Never Looked This Good

CIG held a panel during PAX East, as they have done on other occasions and showed off a bunch of stuff that is coming in the future, as well as what's right now available on the Public Test Universe (PTU). One of the new things that Chris Roberts showed us was the brand new and redone damage system which they have tried out on the latest "Arena Commander Ready" ship, The Gladius. Or rather The Gladius is flyable in Arena Commander on the PTU right now.

Star Citizen
Star Citizen
Star Citizen
Star Citizen
Star Citizen
Star Citizen
Star Citizen

From the images we can see that compared to the old damage system, well this is one hell of a visual upgrade, but that's not all. Roberts stated that with the new system, the ships themselves have less "pre-built" meshes and states, which translates into the new damage tech being less of a performance hog, both on the hardware front and the bandwidth front. And yet it manages to look better, and work functionally better (as you will see in the video below), since you can now shoot off parts, say a wing in more ways than you could before.

When you examine the current damage states in Arena Commander you’ll notice that the first two damage states tend to just contain minor dents, some burn damage, and perhaps a few panels that have been blown off exposing some internals. It’s only when you get to the 75% and 100% damage states you start seeing major silhouette changes, however the earlier damage states still carry the same memory cost. So our goal was to try and achieve the minor damage without having to create whole new meshes, saving both memory and artist time. To do this we decided to record the impacts on the ship within an extra set of textures that wrap around the entire ship, and to then use these in the shaders to dynamically add the dents and burn in precisely the location your ship took the damage. However rather than just opting to blend in a simple damaged texture in these areas, we instead chose to model the type of damage much more accurately by recording four different quantities:

Temperature: The Current temperature of the hull

Burn: The maximum temperature the hull has been burnt with

Thickness: How much of the outer hull remains. Paint comes off first, then the underlying metal

Deformation: How much physical focre the hull has taken to bend and distort it

The first minute of the video is just showing the damage effects, the real breaking of ships comes after about a minute or so.

The really interesting thing about us having access to four different measures of damage is that these can be imprinted on your ship in a pattern and strength that is unique to each weapon, explosive or type of impact. So while lasers will cause your hull to light up for several seconds leaving burnt paint and exposed metal, a powerful ballistic might tear a hole straight through your hull. We’re just scratching the surface of how far we can go with this system, and we plan to soon upgrade the weapon/ammo code to expose more unique and physically realistic damage behaviors.

The usage of the new damage system, means that they are now working on creating, simulating and rendering particle effects purely on the GPU. Performance wise they should be able to spawn 10-100 times more GPU particles than CPU particles for the same performance and memory cost. They are also "working on some major optimizations to the damage system using DX11 features" so that everything still runs smooth when you have larger battles. Roberts mentioned during the panel that long-term they are obviously aiming for DX12 and Vulkan, since they do like to push the boundaries of visuals and your PC-hardware.

It seems like 2015 is the year when most of the different parts start to fall into place for Star Citizen, and I'm wholeheartedly looking forward to it. In the meantime, I guess I'll jump into some Arena Commander now and then. If you want to read the entire design-document, they made a post over at the Star Citizen homepage after the panel, which you can check out here.

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