Apologies for being quiet for the last few weeks; this post is going to explain what we've been up to recently. I'll also explain when we'll be making the first version of Xenonauts 2 available to play and when you can first buy the game.
I've spent quite some time talking about our new strategy design in my previous posts (the one with the defensive lines etc), but having implemented it and given it a decent playtest I've decided to drop it. Most people won't care about the reasons why, but if you do then there's an explanation in the spoiler tag below.
The replacement is a reversion to something much more like the strategy layer in the first Xenonauts. Although we've made quite a few changes to the way it plays, the Geoscape is still recognisably the Geoscape. I'll explain in detail the effects of the changes at a later date, but the overall theme is giving the player more strategic options and making each playthrough of the game less repetitive.
There's a few fundamental changes which we're unlikely to revert (Geoscape is now turn-based, you now build directly in regions rather than via bases) but we now have the freedom to change as much or as little about the Xenonauts 1 strategic design as we want. The risk with fundamentally changing the strategy layer was that we couldn't just revert to familiar stuff from X1 if it turned out our new ideas weren't as much fun to play as the first game, whereas now we know the worst that can happen is that we'll end up with a strategy layer equal to that of the original Xenonauts.
We finished implementing the basic blocks today (geoscape, research, regions and relations, regional outposts, UFO attacks, etc) but there's still quite a bit to go. The priority is to make something playable and hook it up to the ground combat as soon as possible; our initial plan is just to mirror much of the early Xenonauts 1 gameplay / alien activity / research tree and then see how our new mechanics mix things up and go from there.
We've been producing an outdoor mission for playtesting over the past couple of weeks. The idea is to test the concepts behind our new level / sub-map editor combination, and then experiment with palette swapping (more on that below), but it has also led to us sharpening up the combat.
At this point, almost all of the game logic is in place for the ground combat - it's only really the morale and suppression system (now calculated in 3D space) that need to be implemented. This doesn't mean the combat is finished, though, as there's still large amounts of assets and animations and visual effects to be added. All the code to support those also has to be added - which is probably more code than the actual game logic was! Still, we're not far from being able to play out a recreated Xenonauts 1 mission like it would play in the original game, just with shonkier graphics.
The game tools are the Level Editor, Game Editor and Translation Editor. The Translation Editor should only be a couple of weeks of work but we've not started it yet, as it's a lower priority compared to the other two. The Game Editor is a visual editor that lets you create and edit the stats of the game assets (weapons, aliens, etc) and is coming along well, but is currently limited to the ground combat stuff. In the next couple of weeks we expect to have all of the weapon and combatant properties editable and feeding through into the ground combat missions. It's pretty cool stuff for modders, as it automatically integrates the V1.5 / X:CE mod management system into the mod and also allows a bunch of extra properties (e.g. you can set a weapon to have multiple ammo types with different properties).
The Level Editor is a pretty serious piece of kit these days but still has a way to go. We still need to add in the functionality to paint raised areas in the game (both the 1m tall raised areas that offer half-cover around the edges, and full 3m tall cliffs) but once that is in I think we'll have all the gameplay basics done. However there's still a lot of work to be done on the procedural generation side of things - at the moment we're creating levels as a single big map, but we want to split them down into little sub-maps that can be assembled together to create larger maps. We can (eventually) make much better use of this system in 3D than we could in 2D Xenonauts 1, so expect a higher amount of map randomisation this time round. We're also planning biome-based palette swapping - e.g. a few clicks can turn a jungle map into an arctic map / desert map / whatever.
Release & Sale:
We were initially planning to have our Kickstarter as the first opportunity to buy Xenonauts 2, but the plan is now to start releasing free builds of the game in about a month on GOG Galaxy. Anyone who wants to buy the game will be able to pre-order it immediately, but initially won't get anything extra for doing so. We will spend an unspecified amount of time putting out free builds, then we'll do a Kickstarter and ideally launch on Steam Early Access after that. Once we're on Steam, the free builds will disappear and anyone who has not pre-ordered the game will not see any further updates.
I've pushed back the Kickstarter date because we want to push digital rewards over physical rewards this time, and by far the most popular in the X1 Kickstarter was being added to the game as Xenonaut soldier. We want to build a soldier face creation tool (i.e. the sort of thing you see during RPG character creation) which will allow people to create their own soldier face, so adding soldiers does not impose any extra workload on us. We can then price it relatively cheaply ($25-$50) and hopefully enough of the community will be happy to pay that we can get our Kickstarter moving that way. Problem is, we've gotta build this tool first - and I'm not going to delay commercializing the game just for that.
The initial release is likely to be a single ground combat mission from the start of the game. You'll get your starting eight soldiers from X1 and you'll be up against half a dozen Psyons (formerly known as Caesans). There won't be any UFO; it'll just be a straightforward deathmatch against basic but serviceable AI. Later iterations will add in the UFO and improve the UI and AI, and then likely introduce the strategy layer, soldier progression and extra maps.
One More Thing:
Our coding intern has been working on various things over the past year, including prototyping up some of our other game ideas - one of which turned out to be so much fun that we decided to turn it into a full game. It's a small and lightweight game best described as a cross between FTL and Space Hulk. We'll release more details about the game once we've got the Xenonauts 2 public build out there, but I think a lot of you will be excited when you see it in action!
Anyway, that's all for now - and please bear in mind that "one month" is an internal goal for the X2 public build, not a cast-iron promise. We've never been great with deadlines, as I'm sure many of you are aware