Development Updates Latest Topics Updates Latest TopicsenXenonauts-2 January 2018 Update! Happy new year everyone! Hope you all had a great Christmas / festive season! We've been back at work for roughly a week now, so it's time for a quick update on what we've been working on recently and will be working on in the near future.

Development Status:
The game is continuing to progress towards being feature complete. Our priority is to have a working skeleton of the game that you can play from start to finish,  albeit with obvious gaps where there is missing content (missing aliens / research art and descriptions / not enough maps / etc). I've played a lot of "Early Access" games recently and that definitely seems to be the expectation these days - people need something they can properly play, even if there's missing content because there are only a few maps / a limited number of characters / etc.

If you've not been following the project in much detail, here's where we currently are: the public builds show that the ground combat missions already have all of the fundamental mechanics in place. They're still a bit rough and there are a number of non-critical features that still need to be finished ... but in most cases you can have a nice little battle with the aliens without there being any game-breaking issues.

The strategy layer has a Geoscape that spawns UFOs / ground missions, interceptors that can be used to shoot down those UFOs (with autoresolved air combat) to make crash sites, a base where you can build structures and house your staff and soldiers, a screen where you can hire new staff, base stores that log all the items recovered from battle, an armory screen where you can equip your soldiers, and a working research tree that unlocks new tech and awards items / pops up a research report when the research project is complete, etc. So lots is already working but it's definitely feels less "complete" than the ground combat.

The join between the strategy layer and the ground combat is somewhat complete. It correctly loads the big things like the appropriate mission objective / map / aliens / Xenonauts / equipment loadouts when you start a ground mission, and we're also at the stage now where the models are correctly displaying the appropriate gender, ethnicity and hair colour to match the portrait. However, tracking of other important things (e.g. post-battle item recovery and soldier XP gain) is not yet functional. 

The TL;DR here is that we're close to having a skeleton of the entire game working that can be played from start to finish. Sure, it'll be missing a lot of content and non-essential features, but it would still mark a big milestone for the project and it's really not too far away.

Design Update:
The development process for Xenonauts-2 started with a lot of big ideas about how we could change all sorts of things in almost every area of the game, but over time the design has pulled back closer to original game. Generally we implement some cool new totally features that we're really excited about, but after a few months of experimentation we usually end up picking a few bits we like and then merging them back into the old Xenonauts 1 system instead.

I think this works out pretty well. A good example of this is the "unique character" system we were talking about a few months ago, where every person you hire was a unique character who could fill any role in your organisation (as they had a competency score in everything from combat to research). I won't bore you with the reasons why that turned out to be less awesome than it sounded, but it did - so the result has been for us to move the design back towards having separate soldiers, scientists and engineers whilst retaining elements of the "unique character" system.

Basically, your staff all have a competency score for their role and you can hire them based on "templates" that control their starting stats - e.g. soldiers have Riflemen or Snipers or Assault templates (likely available at different veterancy levels) etc, all of which have different starting stats or traits that make them better suited to that role. Similarly if you want to hire a scientist, you can choose a talented scientist who costs more but produces more science per turn vs. a cheaper one who is less competent. Essentially it's the Xenonauts 1 system of recruitment but expanded to allow you more strategic choices and more control over who you hire. Several other areas have expanded in a similar way, although for the sake of brevity I won't list them all here.

Whilst certain things have been dropped and other things have been shifted around, in many ways the picture taking shape isn't dramatically different to the first Xenonauts. I suspect if some of the people who ragequit the forum during the idea discussion phase had stayed the course they would have been quite pleased to see the way the game is turning out; I think we're going to end up with the classic Xenonauts feel but with improved graphics, a more cohesive setting, more varied ground missions and a number of new / more complex Geoscape systems that will allow you a bit more freedom about how you approach the strategy side of things.

I'm looking forward to showing some stuff off in the next few months when we finally launch our Kickstarter and then launch on Early Access. There's still quite a lot of development work left to do, but it's not long until the community can start pre-ordering and getting properly involved in the process. Lots to look forward to in 2018 then! :)

19337Tue, 09 Jan 2018 18:04:24 +0000
Resuming the public builds! Just a quick note to say that we thought we should bring back the public builds to show off some of our recent progress and to give people a little something to play over Christmas!

Our internal target is to put out a new public build on Tuesday 5th December (i.e. one week from today), but that's dependent on the next week of fixes going smoothly - failing that we'll push things back and release one week later on Tuesday 12th December. So even if we don't hit our internal target you won't have too long to wait until you've got something to play!

What's going to be in the build? It's going to be another ground combat mission, this time in a large military base. We'll rotate through different types of missions as the builds continue, so the build after will probably be a crash site mission showing off one of our new UFOs in our remastered farm tileset. Even though a lot of the recent work has gone on "invisible" things, there's still been a number of visual improvements to the game over the past four months so I hope you guys will be impressed.

The idea is that we will polish one or two of these missions up to the point we can use them as a Kickstarter demo for the game, so we'll be interested in hearing your feedback on what we've currently got and what we should prioritise to improve the demo as much as possible in a relatively short time.

(The strategy layer will not be included in the public build ... or at least not yet. Parts of it work quite well and other parts work less well, and I'm uncomfortable showing it off in that state because I worry people will leap to conclusions based on what is not yet working / implemented yet. But maybe we'll show a video or something soon.)

19308Tue, 28 Nov 2017 16:53:57 +0000
Xenonauts-2 November Update With the Christmas period only six weeks away, I thought I'd take a moment to tell everyone what exactly we're working on at the moment. The short version of it could be summed up as: we're connecting everything together, and things now work ... but are also clearly broken.

What? Things work... but they're also broken?
Let's start by talking about exactly what "connecting up" is - essentially it means we're now joining up all the information on the strategy layer and the ground combat layer. On the strategy layer you can hire your unique soldiers and put them to work in the base or send them out on missions, and if you send them out on a mission then we need to create a battlefield map with all the parameters sent from the strategy layer. That includes the type of mission (UFO crash site, VIP rescue, etc), the type of biome and sub-biome  (arid wilderness, temperate farm, desert military base etc), the number of Xenonauts involved and their stats and equipment, the number and type of aliens, etc.

The good news is that this all now works in the sense that data is correctly passed from the strategy layer to the ground combat, then results are passed back up to the strategy layer again once the mission is complete. However, making the gameplay correctly reflect all this information is an ongoing process that be going on for a long time. We're making a lot of progress fixing up the obvious issues, but whilst the code is indeed working the gameplay just isn't there yet.

Anyone who played Xenonauts 1 more than six months before it was released will know very well what we mean when we say that!

Can you give a bit more detail on where exactly you are and why this is so hard?
The key issue here is the the missions in Xenonauts require a long list of design work, art assets and code in order to play like a game should play, and if any one is missing then the whole thing looks totally broken.

I'll take the example of us implementing the VIP rescue mission which we put in the game a few weeks ago, because that both clearly works but is also obviously broken. These are the (simplified) steps required to get it working:

  • Have a functioning Geoscape where missions can spawn
  • Have the ability to hire and equip soldiers on the strategy layer
  • Write the spawn logic on the strategy layer for when the opportunity for a VIP Rescue mission appears on the Geoscape
  • Write the intended alien units that you should be fighting on the mission (these should change and get harder as the game goes on)
  • Write code that defines the victory / loss conditions for this specific type of mission and implements anything new (e.g. you fail if the VIP is killed, you win if the VIP is evacuated even if everyone else dies)
  • Have a level editor that can create a level for the game
  • Implement VIP spawn regions and evac regions in the level editor and ground combat code
  • Have a tileset with enough models that levels can look good
  • Create a level for the mission with the appropriate layout, meta regions and visual attractiveness
  • Create art assets for all the required aliens
  • Create art assets for the VIP
  • Set up combat stats / equipment for all these aliens
  • Set up combat stats / equipment for the VIP
  • Make sure this equipment also has the required stats and art assets
  • Ensure you have the appropriate variety of maps to cater for all the different places this mission can occur
  • Write the code that pulls this together and loads the appropriate map, mission type, aliens, equipment and Xenonauts when you fire up the mission
  • Ensure the aliens have the correct AI behaviors to deal with the mission objectives (e.g. they will aggressively attack you and try and kill the VIP)
  • Pass the results information back to the strategy layer and ensure the strategy layer acts on it (killing your dead soldiers, crediting you with a new unit if you rescued the VIP, etc)

Something that sounds relatively simple - "adding VIP rescue missions" - therefore actually requires a huge amount of work across many different areas of the project if you want it to have an acceptable level of gameplay. And even when you've done all this, there's still plenty more to do ... for instance, the VIP currently doesn't get a little quick-selection minitab in the UI when you get control of him, and he doesn't start sharing his vision cone with your team until you select him for the first time. Those are pretty major bugs that clearly need to be fixed.

And even when you've got the obvious bugs fixed, all you've done is created a mission that the player can play. Then the long and difficult process of balancing starts. Is the VIP too close to the spawn area, or too far away? Are the enemies too tough for this stage of the game? Is the map too open, making the VIP too hard to protect against alien snipers? Are shotguns too good? Does that alien have too much HP bloat?

I'm sure you get the picture. The point of this update is to illustrate that the "fun" part of game development that everyone wants to help out with is the balancing and polishing stage, which happens right at the end of development. That's when you get to look at the game and say "hey, I've got this one great idea that'll make it much better!" and I find myself writing 1000-word forum posts about tiny details like why ballistic rifles need to have slightly higher armour penetration than they already do.

I love that part of game development and we're getting steadily closer to it. We've nearly finished the box that sits around the game that we all want to play, and soon we'll be properly working on the game itself. The level editor and level creation process in general has sucked away a lot of this time, but we've now got pretty much all the functionality we had in the X1 level editor and therefore should be able to produce missions with the same complexity as the first game. Then we'll start pushing beyond it.

We've got a few more things to fix up before we can put anything out, but what I'm currently planning for is to re-introduce the ground combat builds in the near future with the new ground mission types in them (currently we're working on UFO Crash Site, Alien Base Attack, Capture Supplies, VIP Rescue, VIP Elimination, Xenonaut Base Defence and they're all mostly working). Hopefully that gives a bit more insight into what we're doing right now, and why we've been quiet - although you'll get to see it for yourself soon enough!

19304Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:19:09 +0000
Xenonauts-2 October Update I think it's time for another update on our progress on Xenonauts-2 as I've been alluding to cool new stuff for several weeks now. I'm not going to show off any media yet, but I am going to fill you in on what we've been doing for the past couple of months and what our thinking currently is with Xenonauts-2.

Setting: The key thing to know is this - both the aliens and the Xenonauts are trying to keep their existence secret. The aliens are VERY few in number and don't have the military power to destroy Earth, so are trying to start a nuclear war that will wipe out most of humanity first (using infiltrators and psionic powers to raise global tensions and suppress any evidence of their existence). The Xenonauts are even fewer in number and must keep stay in the shadows otherwise the aliens if the aliens are not to find them and wipe them out. Because the world governments have been partially infiltrated by aliens, the Xenonauts cannot work too closely with them or risk being discovered.

Strategy Mechanics:
Basically we've shifted the strategy layer away from just being a clone of Xenonauts 1 and we've drawn some additional inspiration from Jagged Alliance. Most of this is on the strategic side rather than the tactical combat (so don't expect us to add the prone stance etc in the combat), but it includes things like:

  • The staff available for hire are no longer randomly generated; they're the same each game. There's currently 40 and they are priced differently depending on their skills. We expect the player to have 10-15 staff in total towards the end of the game.
  • There's no distinction between soldiers / scientists / etc. Each person has a competency rating in Combat, Science, Technical and Communication and you can set any to do any role, and use any of them on the battlefield.
  • The base functionality is now generated mostly by assigning staff to buildings - e.g. a lab doesn't produce science until you put someone in it, and it produces more science the better that person's Science rating is.
  • The combat missions are flown (although not always fought) at night, so people can perform a task in-base during the day and then still fight a combat mission at night. However there is a fatigue system that stops you from pushing your staff too hard - they accumulate a lot very quickly if you don't let them sleep.
  • You can't do every combat mission - the number of combat missions you can run is limited by the airworthiness of the dropship. If you want to run more missions you can assign engineers to help repair it faster, but obviously those staff could be doing other things instead.
  • We've borrowed the "covert operations" from the XCOM 2 expansion, which are small non-playable missions with skill requirements that invite you to send one or two people away for X days in order to receive a reward (basically they force you to shuffle your assignments and combat teams regularly instead of always using the same guys in a given role).

In short, we've zoomed the focus in a bit. The base is smaller but more detailed - e.g. the current mechanics tie the rate of staff stress regeneration to how comfortable the base is, so having enough living space and fresh food and a rec room lets them recover from missions faster. I'd like to make the stores management deeper if we can, too. Plenty of scope to do cool stuff here.

To make the alien invasion more strategic, we've made things last longer on the Geoscape. The player is actively choosing from a multitude of missions which ones they think will best advance their strategic position, rather than in Xenonauts 1 when you were reacting to what the aliens did as soon as it happened.

The aliens themselves are now persistent missions on the map; they slowly generate infiltration markers in the region they are in, reducing Xenonaut relations with that region and bringing the world closer to nuclear war. Launching a mission and killing that alien removes the infiltration markers, but it also levels up that race and makes all future missions more difficult against, say, the Sebillians. Kill enough of that race and they drop out of the war entirely.

The other key strategy mechanic is Threat, which is a bit like the wanted level in Grand Theft Auto - it goes up when you attack the aliens, and declines over time. If reaches a certain level, the aliens launch an attack on your base. Not all combat missions generate threat, as not all involve fighting the aliens - there's plenty of missions available where you are stealing resources from local governments etc that you can do instead if your threat is too high. So base attack missions are still in the game, but you have direct control over when they will (or will not) happen.


Ground Combat Mechanics: 
As a result of the setting shift, we want an alien to be something that the player should fear on the battlefield (not something a random dude with an M16 can deal with). So instead of a mission containing a dozen aliens, missions will now usually feature a single powerful and tough "boss" alien and a dozen weaker human bodyguards. This is thematically appropriate, but also the majority of the combatants being humans with weaker weapons mean your soldiers should suffer more serious wounds and fewer RNG instakills, which should improve the gameplay.

If you're wondering how the Combat Rating feeds into combat stats, the idea is that it controls the Accuracy and Bravery of the soldier. HP, TU and Reflexes are now set by the armour equipped by the soldier, so lighter armour gives less HP but allows units to move faster and do more. Certain equipment will probably be gated by skills, too - so a first generation laser rifle might require a certain amount of Science to use it, or explosives might need a certain level of Technical, etc. I think that opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of battlefield equipment.


Public Builds & Progress:
Expect the public builds to restart in roughly a month, but don't expect the strategy to be included. We've been adding a lot more to the strategy layer than we originally expected (when we were just cloning X1), so whilst many of the features are already in place it's obviously going to take longer and need more testing. We will however be releasing more information, artwork and some UI screenshots in the near future.

The public builds will be focusing on polishing up a single ground combat mission to be used in a Kickstarter. The action will be moving from the wilderness to a military base, with a new (non-box) UFO, better destructibility, and an extra layer of visual polish. I've taken over level design duties now so expect the new map to be more like the ones from Xenonauts 1 (more limited sight lines), and the improved map editor we've spent a long time working on means I can much more easily edit the existing map and generate new ones than before.

In the slightly longer term I'd like to improve the ground combat AI, and also to try and implement a stealth system that is a cross between the one in XCOM2 and JA2. Basically this means the enemies don't turn hostile until they detect your forces, allowing you to scope out the map and the enemies before the fighting starts. We can potentially then add things like suppressed weapons to make the stealth phase more interesting, and hopefully set up the AI to react to detected events to allow diversions and so forth (e.g. if you set off a bomb elsewhere in the base then the aggressive forces will run in that direction, etc). That'll definitely take more than a few weeks though!

Anyway, I'll report back with more concrete plans and show off some artwork in a few weeks, but I hope this post is enough to keep people abreast of our current progress and thinking. TL;DR - things are taking longer because we're adding some cool new stuff!

19288Thu, 19 Oct 2017 15:56:41 +0000
Xenonauts-2 July Update - Pausing the Public Builds! The work on Xenonauts-2 has continued to progress over the last couple of months since the last update, but we're now in a situation where all our work linking together the strategy layer with the ground combat is causing problems for our free public builds (which are single standalone ground combat missions).

As a result, we will not be releasing any further public builds until the strategy layer is ready for testing - we expect this to be six to eight weeks. The problem is essentially that the ground combat is becoming increasingly reliant on information passed from the strategy layer (soldier stats and portraits, their equipment, alien composition, map types, etc) and to make standalone missions work we need to either remove that stuff or waste time spoofing it. We've decided it would be easier just to discontinue the public builds until the merge is complete.

The resumption of the public builds will also be one of the last steps before our Kickstarter, and will also see the Xenonauts-2 Ideas sub-forum reappear (I've been reluctant to talk too much about my plans for the strategy layer until people can actually play the entire game). Hopefully it will mark the point where most of the gameplay elements are in place and we can start to worry about game balance and fixing up usability issues and all that, which is the time when the community can really start to get involved and shape the final game.

As well as the strategy layer, we're planning to add some new combat stuff in the interim too:

  • The Xenonaut helicopter dropship
  • Some different mission types other than just crash sites
  • Urban areas and the ability to climb up on roofs etc

If you want to hear about the resumption of the public builds as soon as it happens, please ensure you've signed up to our mailing list here!

14509Tue, 18 Jul 2017 14:48:28 +0000
May Development Update I realised this morning that it's been about three months since I last did a proper project update, so I decided I should write one to accompany our most recent release of the Xenonauts-2 public combat build (V0.9.0).

Biweekly Builds: First of all, I'd like to mention how big a success the biweekly builds have been. Most of the reason why I don't feel the need to write so many updates is that people can see most of the progress by playing our builds (or reading the patch notes) every two weeks. As a developer it has also become much easier to release builds when we're not trying to get a certain set of features in for each one; we're just pushing out what we have completed at the time and then moving on with development.

I've only got download figures (i.e. people adding the game to their GOG Galaxy account) for up to the end of March 2017, but about 6,500 have played the free builds until then. Roughly a thousand people played in the last quarter of 2016 and then the extra 5,500 came from Jan-March this year. I imagine there's been more downloads in the six weeks since then too, so I think these free builds have done pretty well!

Ground Combat: I'm pleased with the way ground combat is progressing at the moment. The addition of the UFOs has made the missions much more exciting and there has been a steady drip of graphical and gameplay improvements in the six builds since our last update. The game is still quite a way from being finished but the rough blocks are shaping up nicely and most of the "core" mechanics related to the ground combat alone are now in place. Sure, the missions don't feel particularly meaningful when they are just one-off missions that have no strategic context, but we've added a lot of equipment to the game and made slow but steady improvements on the key systems like movement / line of sight / line of fire. The changes don't always seem that big week-to-week but they make a huge difference over time!

Leaving aside the strategy merge (discussed further down), there's a few big things we'll be working on in the coming months for the ground combat:

  • We're going to start moving the combat into inhabited areas, so you'll start seeing more buildings in the map and then the new AI civilian / local forces units that come with them.
  • The current AI is very primitive and one of our near-term priorities is to spend a couple of weeks getting it set up properly.
  • You can't see nor climb on top of buildings or cliffs at the moment, but that's something else we intend to address in the near future.
  • Aliens don't currently have any special abilities, but this will change soon.

Strategy: The strategy layer has had a code refactor in recent weeks in preparation for the ground combat / strategy layer merge, but there's still a few weeks more of work to be done setting up all the data so we can pass it back and forth between the two layers. The good news is that this process has very similar requirements to the save / load system, so once we've got the ground combat and strategy layer merged together we should be pretty close to finishing our save / load system too. We're expecting to properly start on the merge either late this week or early next week, once we've finished some required work on the level editor. Hopefully it'll be implemented and the major kinks all worked out by the end of the month.

In terms of playabilty, the strategy layer now has a functional implementation of the Geoscape complete with an escalating alien invasion that spawns UFOs and ground missions (with crews and research items), it supports radar coverage over regions and a simple autoresolve interception system that mimics the effects of the air combat in X1. The research mechanics from X1 are in the game, the base construction grid is functional, you have working base stores, and you can equip and assign soldiers on the armory screen. That said, none of it is particularly polished - we're just concentrating on functionality until the merge is done and then we'll start to improve how it looks and the user experience.

Branding & UI: All of which brings me onto branding and UI design. I've been aware for some time that the presentation of the game in terms of things like the UI, the promotional art, the logo and game icon, etc is not keeping up with the pace of the coding and the 3D art and animation. This is actually one of the reasons why we've not yet gone to Kickstarter - successful pitches are generally very heavy on presentation, but light on content ... but at the moment we're the other way around.

It's really difficult to find good branding and UI people, because few of them specialize in games and fewer still do the sort of military-style UI / branding that we're interested in. I do sometimes see a really good portfolio and get ready to drop the artist an email about freelance work, but then I usually see that their current role is "Head of UI Design, Blizzard Entertainment" or something. I've done another trawl for someone to fill the role and I've found someone that I have very high hopes for, so hopefully in a month or two you'll start seeing some more professional branding and UI concepts appearing.

If not, I'll have to find a replacement in fairly short order as we can only push our Kickstarter back so far. But you'll get to enjoy free builds for at least another couple of months until then!

14466Tue, 09 May 2017 16:51:20 +0000
<![CDATA[Xenonauts-2 Publicity & Progress]]> Just a quick post to let the forum community know what our short-term plans and behind-the-scenes progress is! 

Upcoming Releases:
Firstly, our biweekly release schedule is still on track and there should be a build on Tuesday next week (28th Feb) as promised. It probably won't be too big an update on what we already have given that we only put a build out two days ago, but we're going to try our best to stick to this biweekly release schedule as development continues.

Publicity & Community Building:
Secondly, I want to say that it's really cool to see the forums nice and lively again. Everything was kinda quiet until about a month ago, but the steady progress on the free builds and the new website seem to have helped. We want to continue to build up the community around the game and as such we're going to be starting our publicity work tomorrow (the current build does not seem to have any show-stopping bugs in it).

There's potentially going to be a bit of problem getting news coverage because GDC starts in three days and tends to dominate headlines for quite a while both before and after it happens, but hopefully we'll get some traction - the game is free right now, after all!

We're also going to be hitting our mailing list with an announcement for the first time tomorrow. There's about 6,500 on the mailing list at the moment so hopefully we'll see some more veteran players joining the forum to help us test the game and give their thoughts on development.

Strategy Layer Progress:
There's not a lot of point talking about our progress on the ground combat given it can be seen in the regular public releases, but the strategy layer is also progressing well. At the moment we have most of the UI screens done and things are correctly linking between them (missions are spawning items, items are unlocking research, research is creating new items for the stores, soldiers are equipping items from the base stores, etc) in a lot of cases. 

However, there's still quite a lot of tidying up to be done there and we need to finish putting all this into the Game Editor rather than using hardcoded entities. Unfortunately, because the strategy layer is so interconnected it isn't yet playable in any real sense ... we need to have *everything* in place before it'll work properly. We're getting close to it, but we're not there yet.

We're going to divert some additional resources to working on the strategy layer after we release our next public build next week. At this point we're literally just dumping the Xenonauts 1 tech tree and UFOs and UI screen backgrounds etc into the game, as our objective is just to get the strategy layer operation as fast as possible so we can start linking it to the ground combat.

I'm not sure we'll immediately release the strategy layer in the public builds, but having the game linked up properly will make even standalone missions more interesting - it means that your soldiers will have names and portraits and the mission-end screen will show stat-ups, etc. I'll keep you posted on the progress, but if all goes well we might start showing off screenshots etc of the strategy layer in two or three weeks.

That's everything from me for now - things should be getting pretty exciting over the next month or so!

14381Thu, 23 Feb 2017 18:58:52 +0000
<![CDATA[February Update & Release Schedule]]> After a long period of relative silence we've gone into overdrive - this is the third update in the space of a month! We'll probably calm down a little after this one (for reasons mentioned in this post), but I want to lay out a roadmap for the next few months before we do so.

Biweekly Builds:
The biggest news is that we're going to move to a system of releasing builds every two weeks, starting on February 14th. The fact this clashes with Valentine's Day shouldn't be a problem because this new system should make releasing builds a much more routine process, essentially turning it into something that doesn't interfere with our normal working days. It should also give the community a bit more certainty - you don't have to monitor the forums all the time (unless you want to), you just need to visit every other Tuesday to see what has changed.

How does this change things from a development standpoint? Well, previously we'd come up with a set of features we wanted to put in a build. If they weren't ready in time for our intended release, or they contained bugs, we'd just delay the build until they were ready. For instance, we were determined to include the new ground combat UI in our last release and we ended up pushing back the build release by over a week because it took longer than anticipated to finish, and then testing it out exposed bugs that we wanted to fix prior to the release.

That's not particularly efficient from a development standpoint. Our new system is that we will release a build every other Tuesday and if a feature is buggy or incomplete, that feature gets pushed back to the next build and the current build is released without it. If we discover critical game-breaking bugs that require immediate fixes, we'll release emergency hotfixes to address them ... but anything else will have to wait until the following build two weeks later.

This has a couple of downsides:

  • Some of the biweekly builds might be a bit light on features if multiple updates need to be pushed back.
  • The feedback loop is slowed down a bit, because the earliest any fixes or changes will arrive is in two weeks (game-breaking bugs aside).

However we think the overall efficiency gains outweigh the potential downsides, and I expect you guys will appreciate a bit more certainty about when updates for Xenonauts-2 will be arriving.

Publicity & Promotion:
I think Xenonauts-2 is in a decent enough state to start promoting the game now we've hit version 0.2.0 - it's far from perfect, but the game is significantly improved over our original build from back in October. Three months has made a big difference!

However, we've decided to give the programmers a couple of weeks to do some general cleanup and code refactoring after our last build. The plan is now for us to release a build on Tuesday 14th February and then for me to start the promotional work on Friday 17th February. The intervening three days will give us a chance to hotfix any crash bugs that have arisen in the build.

The PR work will consist of me sending out an email to everyone who has signed up to the Goldhawk email list, getting in touch with the major news sites in an attempt to get them to cover the project, starting to tweet about the project again, maybe doing some Steam / Kickstarter announcements via the X1 channels. It marks the end of the slightly awkward phase of development where we've publicly released free builds of game but are also trying to keep the project quiet ... come Friday 17th the idea is just to make as many people aware of the project as possible!

That's basically everything. Hopefully the publicity will attract some more users to the forums (although they're already noticeably busier than they were a couple of weeks ago) and our clearer release schedule will help keep people interested. 

If you want to help us during this period, please come back on Feb 14th - Feb 16th and give our new build a test. It'd be great to catch any critical bugs before we start shouting too loudly about the project!

14343Wed, 01 Feb 2017 15:00:12 +0000
<![CDATA[New Website & Xenonauts-2 Details!]]> So I only wrote the last update on the project about ten days ago, but we've got more to share. The new Xenonauts website is online and I've also made the Xenonauts-2 Features sub-forum public, which contains a lot of detail on what we are going to be changing with Xenonauts-2 (and when in development it will be happening).

Firstly, though, I'll just mention that there's a new public build due out at some point this week. This will be the build that will hopefully mark the point where we start actively publicising the project - talking to journalists, using our mailing list, trying to build a bit of buzz around the game. We'd really appreciate it if you could give it a play when we release it because we've got a few days set aside for polishing / bugfixing - if you see any problems with the game then we can try and hotfix them before we start shouting about the game.

The build was due out last week, but progress was fast in some areas and slow in others so we ended up merging this build with the next one we had planned. The key features will be:

  • A new map, hopefully one that shows off elements of our map randomisation system.
  • The updated ground combat UI.
  • Support for cut-through of props and buildings above the camera level (e.g. it hides tall trees etc).
  • A new animation system that makes running look much smoother.
  • Various other small fixes and changes.

Onto the website: this can be seen at ( will soon redirect to it) and is a general website for the franchise, covering both the original Xenonauts and the upcoming sequel Xenonauts-2. The design is quite similar to the old site, but other than a general content refresh the biggest change is that the development update blog latest posts are now shown on the front page too. Should make it a bit easier to see when we post updates!

Finally, the Xenonauts-2 Features sub-forum. I've set this live after spending about a week writing the posts inside, each of which covers a specific change that we would like to test in the sequel. There is a pinned master post called the Development Roadmap which explains how the different phases of development will work and splits the planned changes into groups that give a rough approximation of when we will try to implement them relative to the other features.

It's important to note that not all of these features will necessarily make it into the final game. The first reason for this is that we may run out of development funds before we reach the end of our development roadmap - this is why we are prioritizing the different features and implementing the more important ones earlier. The second is that testing a feature is exactly that: a test. If we don't like the change or preferred the old system, we'll reverse it. So don't take these posts as gospel, take them as suggestions designed to keep you informed on our thinking.

That's it - please feel free to read through the new website and sub-forum and let us know what you think, and I'll post up another update when the new public build is good to go!

14327Mon, 23 Jan 2017 16:49:20 +0000
<![CDATA[January Update & Planning]]> Hello everyone - happy new year! Now we've returned from the Christmas holidays and had a few days to settle back into things, we've had some internal meetings about our plans for the coming year. This post is a quick summary on what we've got scheduled.

Next Build:
In the short term, we'll be releasing a new public build of the game. We're hoping for the tail end of next week (Thursday?) but it might be pushed back into the week after dependent on how the work goes, and it should include these features:

  • Outlines for soldiers hidden behind solid objects
  • "Cutaways" for objects that are above the current camera view level (e.g. trees, building roofs, etc)
  • Smoother and more responsive unit movement animations
  • A new map in an Industrial dockyard tileset, hopefully supporting layout randomisation in some form
  • Potentially also a reskin of the GC UI

First Development Milestone:
We talked a bit more about the longer term planning and did some worst-case financial forecasting. I think it's important for us to plan appropriately for alpha funding so there's minimal chance for our backers to get screwed over, and what this means is that we've decided our priority should be to deliver the minimum viable product for Xenonauts 2 as soon as possible. Once we reach that point we can ship the game at any point and our backers will have a completed game that they will hopefully enjoy, and any extra money can be used to extend development and improve the game further. This avoids a situation where we have an incomplete game and no money to finish it.

This sounds like common sense, but it feeds into a deeper question about Xenonauts 2: what do we want the sequel to be? Well, in my view, the minimum viable product for Xenonauts-2 is the first game with enhanced 3D graphics and map randomisation. 

Of course, this is just the first phase of our development plan. We're not planning to stop there and, if funding allows, then we'll continue to add new content and balance and improve the game mechanics (or add entirely new ones). But I am specifically trying to avoid a situation where we start experimenting with new systems too early, run out of money, then end up with something that is incomplete / worse than the original game.

The reason why I mention this is because over the coming few months you're going to see some of the content and systems from X1 reappearing in the sequel, apparently with very little changed. Please don't take this as a lack of originality on the part of the developers; we're just sprinting towards a working proxy of the first game before we start attempting any big changes because that's the safest way to develop. This has the advantage of allowing you to test these new ideas and systems in a live game, so you can test the game before and after the changes and then give us an informed opinion on how they change the experience of playing the game (which is usually much more useful than theorycrafting about abstract ideas that nobody has played yet).

Please also remember that all this is worst-case scenario planning - if the game raises anything like the funding that the first game raised on Kickstarter or Early Access, we're not going to have any financial issues at all. I'm probably being overly cautious here, but that's probably better than the reverse.

Oh, and one more thing - I know Xenonauts 1 with better graphics sounds kinda dull, but even our minimum product would be a substantial upgrade over the first. Here's a promotional screenshot we're currently working on ... although not actually in-game, this is all posed in-engine using game assets and taken via the in-game camera, except the UI (a Photoshop mockup based on the X1 UI). Doesn't look too bad, does it? That's the "worst" you can expect from X2.


Kickstarter & Commercialisation:
We've been talking about all that stuff (and working on the promotional screenshots etc) because we're moving into active planning for the Kickstarter. We're hoping to do this at some point in March. Free builds will continue until the end of the Kickstarter, at which point we'll start preparing for the Early Access launch (likely testing the EA builds using beta testers drawn from the Kickstarter backers).

This means we'll be starting active promotion of the public builds soon, either with the next major update or the following one - I think addressing the UI, the view-blocking objects, cleaning up the animations and finally adding a new map will get us to a state where the game is presentable to non-hardcore fans.

In terms of the Geoscape, we might also be able to cobble together a reasonably functional proxy of the X1 Geoscape in the next six to eight weeks. It's a big job but some of the functionality is already there, and we'll also take the opportunity to add in our dialogue screens which tell the new story and provide exposition beyond that contained in the research projects.

The specific non-build things we're currently working on are:

  • The new is nearly ready, and will be a hub for both X1 and X2 ( will just redirect to it).
  • We're working on some nice promotional artwork of the various environments (e.g. the image posted above).
  • We're pushing ahead with the randomisable soldier portraits, which we'll need for the rewards.

Kickstarter Rewards:
I'm floating this early because I know community feedback on our proposed Kickstarter rewards was very valuable last time around! We're currently planning a £40,000 / $50,000 Kickstarter pitched like our first one: we've got enough budget to ship the minimum game, but we're trying to raise money to fund extra development time that will allow us to improve it further.

I can currently think of two Kickstarter tiers that would work well:

  • $25 - a copy of the game
  • $50 - a copy of the game, plus you get to put yourself in the game as a soldier (creating a face via the face creator tool)

Unfortunately, I can't really think of much more than that! I'm *very* keen to avoid physical rewards because I think we made a net loss on those in our first Kickstarter once you include shipping, even if you ignore the cost of the hours I spent organising them - the art book in particular was a massive endeavor!

On the other hand, putting yourself in the game as a soldier was immensely popular during the first Kickstarter even though the custom portraits were only available at the $200 tier. Unfortunately having our artist hand-paint a portrait from photographs cost most of the $50 marginal cost of these portraits, so we can't really do that this time round either. Instead, we're hoping people will be able to create a reasonable approximation of themselves using our face generator.

Because the portraits in our game are split into layers (e.g. head, hair, eyes, eyebrows, nose, ear, facial hair, etc) it's possible to generate lots of different portraits and we should hopefully be able to avoid the portrait repetition of the first game. But we're also going to put together a program that allows people to manually cycle through all the options for each layer to try and make something that resembles them. We've not yet done enough facial feature variations to give it a test but we hope it'll be a nice way of letting people customise "their" soldier without being incredibly expensive to the dev team.

I'm going to throw it open to the floor here - do you like the sound of that? Would you pay $25 extra to create a custom soldier for yourself? Can you think of digital higher tier rewards (other than creating more custom soldiers) that aren't too expensive for us to deliver?

Happy to listen to thoughts and comments on any of the above. More details on the next build will be provided as they come in, and we'll discuss the Kickstarter in more detail as it approaches!


14301Thu, 12 Jan 2017 15:51:31 +0000
Christmas Shutdown Just a quick news post to let everyone know that we've officially shut down for Christmas. A few of the team are still working on things but I won't be back around until the 3rd January.

We've already got a headstart on some of the cool features we've got slated for early next year, like the map randomisation code and our new animation system and our civilian models, so hopefully we'll be making some real fast progress when January rolls around. Until then, I hope everyone has a wonderful festive season and a happy new year!

14275Tue, 13 Dec 2016 14:54:47 +0000
Xenonauts 2 - November Progress Update Despite Xenonauts 2 being available as a free public build that anyone can try, I think it's time for us to do an overall update on our progress on the project.

Ground Combat:
We're making decent progress on the ground combat coding overall, although the system rewrites we've been doing over the last two or three weeks have been slower than expected. Some stuff has improved dramatically (such as load times) but other things have been frustratingly circular - an example of which is our work on the cursor selection box. We wrote a shader to display this above the decorative vegetation but below the props, granting the visual selection box effect from X1, but the new system had side-effects that made the UI ugly and occasionally buggy ... and eventually we abandoned it, and started down the route of switching from deferred to forward rendering.

If that doesn't mean anything to you (and I wouldn't expect it to), this is just a long-winded way of me saying that sometimes you can sit and work at something for a week and actually end up taking a step backwards in terms of progress. So, to summarise, progress has been patchy on the coding front recently. However we're working hard on finishing up various systems designed to deal with the more fundamental issues in the current builds and I'd expect to see several new builds in the next couple of weeks as we finish them up and roll them out. You can find more specifics about this in the various release threads.

On a happier note, we're doing well on other parts of the game. The artwork in particular is coming along nicely in several areas!

The first is our battlefield environments. You've all seen the "temperate / jungle" wilderness biome tileset we've currently got in the public build, but our tundra and desert biomes are now mostly complete. These are largely retextures of existing assets with some unique props mixed in, and the idea is that we'll have six or seven of these biomes that will allow us to "skin" a level with only a few clicks (long term we want the same for our urban environments too). The code is not yet in place for this palette swapping but we can already construct maps manually with these new tiles if we want; however once we've got some map randomisation code in place (which isn't too far away) we won't need to. We'll be able to have randomly generated wilderness maps across any biome from polar icecaps to tropical jungle to desert wastelands.


The second is the aliens and Xenonauts themselves. We've modeled up some new ones, and done a fresh texture pass on those that already exist. The basic Sebillian and Andron are modelled up and being rigged / animated, and the textures on the Psyons and Xenonauts have been reworked to show more detail at our default camera zoom level. You can see an image of how they look below:


A few things of note: the added detail is most obvious on the heads of the Psyons, as they were essentially just yellow blobs in the previous build of the game but the improved contrast on the new textures means you can now see much more of their bone structure. The new aliens look pretty good too, I think. The Sebillian is perhaps uglier than his X1 counterpart, but he's also much more visually distinctive and intimidating (particularly when equipped with his massive gun) this time around. The Andron looks more mechanical and is significantly larger than his X1 equivalent, and again I think he's got a lot more character than his predecessors.


Other minor things to mention - we've decided not to go for 3D faces on the soldiers, but stick with 2D ones with semi-randomised features that should allow a much larger portrait pool than before. We're using a different artist for the portraits this time and I think the new more realistic style will be better received than last time. We've also been concepting up some of the advanced weapons, specifically the lasers. We've got some cool designs for them but it'll be a little bit of time before we can show them off properly, as right now they're rough untextured models we're using to test animations with. You can see one of them above - hopefully even in this primitive state you can see they may be more interesting that the ones in X1.

The strategy layer hasn't been getting much love in recent times, as the coders have been working flat out on the ground combat ever since we started to prepare for the first public build (a good three months ago now). I've started to move more resources towards the strategy layer in recent weeks.

The main thing I've done is to clean up the appearance a bit, so the game feels a bit more polished and playable, and to try and merge in some of the old functions from Xenonauts 1. I do have new ideas for the strategy layer but a lot of the functionality of the Geoscape in X1 was pretty simple and can be replicated fairly easily in X2 given we already have all the art assets from X1 to use as placeholders. A primitive strategy layer coupled with a bit of the map randomisation tech mentioned above should actually give us the beginnings of a playable game.

I'll detail the mechanics later - most are pretty similar to X1, and those that are not may change in the future. But I figure there's not too much point debating the mechanics until you can play and experiment with them first hand!

Promotion & Monetization:
As most of Goldhawk is disappearing off for our Christmas holidays in mid-December, I doubt we'll do any promotion of the game until the start of next year. Sadly we're in a boring stage of development right now where we're not adding content to the builds, we're just adding new systems and fixing bugs - which is great, but playing the same map against the same aliens every time is pretty tedious.

However, the more observant among you might have noticed that most of the things we've been working on recently are important steps towards a paid alpha release. Having a functional strategy layer that spawns ground combat missions is a necessity for that. Having more battlefield environments and randomised maps are key features too. Going with 2D portraits instead of 3D ones means we can easily create a "portrait customiser" for people who want to back a Kickstarter tier that allows them to put themselves in the game in the form of a custom soldier.


Basically we're hoping to launch a Kickstarter around March, which should be accompanied by a free build of the game that contains both the strategy and combat layers linked together. The Early Access launch would be about three months later, I guess.

As this will probably be my last development update of the year (though not our last build), I'll close with my thoughts on the progress so far. I'd kinda hoped that we'd have made more obvious progress (i.e. added more content) over the past couple of months of public releases, but I'm not too down on things overall. The work we've done is all essential work and the issues would have been exposed as soon as we started doing public builds, so it's probably good we're getting them out of the way now. 

Things probably still feel a bit basic right now but that'll change once we start releasing all the new content we've been working on. Thanks for following our progress through the most boring part of development, and I hope you'll tune in next year when things start to get exciting!

14030Wed, 30 Nov 2016 00:20:31 +0000
<![CDATA[Xenonauts 2 - Feedback & Priorities]]> 'll move this thread to the Xenonauts 2 discussion area once we open up those subforums, but I'll stick it here for now. This is the thread where I outline the issues that are on our radar right now and how we're intending to prioritise them, and also where the community can give their own feedback (which might make us aware of additional issues or make us rethink our priorities).

At the moment I think we should be concentrating on getting the game stable and the fundamental combat systems solid. It's easy enough to imagine extra content being added to a game that is in development, but when the core game systems are not functioning correctly it can give a pretty bad impression of the game. Therefore the feedback we're looking for from you guys would cover these areas:

  • Did you encounter any critical bugs that ended the playthrough?
  • How did the game perform on your machine? Were you getting noticeable slowdown in any areas, or did you experience bad framerate or bad loading times?
  • What issues (gameplay or graphical) did you encounter, and which ones had the strongest negative effect on your play experience?
  • Is there anywhere that the game balance seems so glaringly bad that it is ruining your play experience?

Other feedback is welcome too, but it'd be good if you could cover the points above. We've made a LOT of improvements to the game over the past couple of weeks but now we need to know where to focus our efforts in the coming weeks to make this mission as polished as possible for our "proper" free launch (the one where we promote it through every channel we can). We're expecting that to happen in two or three weeks.

Once we've fixed these key gameplay errors, we'll be adding new content like new enemies and randomised maps and suchlike. This means you'll probably have a pretty repetitive testing experience for the first few builds - for which I apologise - but it should lay good foundations for the rest of the project.

FUNDAMENTAL ISSUES (short-term focus):

  • Missing Animations - at the moment, units don't play an animation in response to being shot and they play their vault animation when climbing / jumping up or down the 1m terrain sections. This breaks the immersion pretty heavily so we'll be fixing both of these as a priority (we already have the animations, we've just not had a chance to set them up in the code yet).
  • Terrain & Elevation LOS / LOF - in X1 each level was 2m tall, and there was no other types of elevation - e.g. you could either be on the ground at 0m or on a roof or raised area of terrain at 2m or 4m and so on. In X2 each level is 3m tall but the ground of each level can be raised or lowered by 1m ... so even a map built entirely in level 1 can contain both 1m sunken river beds and 1m raised areas, both of which offer half cover along the edge. This will be great when it works correctly but we only implemented it last week and we're still suffering issues with the line of sight and line of fire as a result.
  • General Line of Fire Issues - there's a bunch of issues with the fire calculation and line of fire stuff that we need to fix up as a priority, including:
    • Line of fire seems overly permissive and is including quite a bit of cover that doesn't actually appear to be in the shot path
    • Cover only adjacent to the shooter is correctly being disregarded, but "miss" shots can still hit it
    • However this adjacent cover is not being disregarded for the target; i.e. if the shooter and target are standing on either side of a rock, the rock should not offer cover to the target ... looks like it currently is, though.
  • Crosshair - I'm aware that the crosshair is a bit jumpy when you are targeting aliens; it has multiple allowable positions and none are quite right. We need to rewrite the input system a bit and that should allow us to fix this.
  • Camera - the game camera is not working as intended yet. There's several areas we're specifically targeting:
    • If you target an alien and the selected Xenon is not visible, the camera should snap back to show the Xenonaut doing the shooting.
    • During the alien turn, the line of sight of your Xenonauts is not being shown.
    • When the aliens are shooting at your Xenonauts, the camera often doesn't seem to focus on the correct location.
  • Corpses - corpses are not being handled correctly; dead units still block the tile they were standing in when killed and they can still be targetted through the standard fire crosshair.


CONTENT IMPROVEMENT (medium-term focus):

  • Suppression / Morale - this is an important mechanic, as burst fire and the LMG are significantly less effective if they do not have a suppressive effect. Apparently the code for this has been implemented and should theoretically work, but I'm taking that with a pinch of salt and I'd expect it to take a number of days to get up to the standard needed for a public release. The nice thing about suppression in a 3D engine is we can model suppression in a more realistic way based on how close missed shots actually passed to the target, which means that suppression is more reflective of the action happening on your screen and also generates an effect where long-range fire tends to be less suppressive than the same burst at close range.
  • Secondary Equipment - at the moment we only have the weapons and armour in the game; we need to add in secondary equipment like grenades and medikits. Pistols are already in the game but aren't being used in this build.
  • Map Randomisation - anyone who played X1 on release can tell you that playing the same maps over and over quickly loses its appeal, and it was far worse during the development cycle as we only added the majority of the maps in the final six months. Randomised maps will help keep the experience fresh for playtesters, and we plan to do it by slicing up the map into standalone "sub-maps" that are 10x10 or 20x20 tiles and then assembling them randomly. I'm not sure this is a viable approach for our urban maps but it should be totally fine for our wilderness maps (hence why we're starting with them).
  • UFO Crash Site - deathmatch missions are fine, but sweeping a map and then clearing a UFO is trademark X-Com and tends to pace the mission quite nicely. We've actually got a small UFO modelled up and theoretically ready to go (concept / model), but we've not tested it in a level yet and I'll be amazed if adding it to the game as a playable environment is not a massive amount of work. These UFOs will still have indestructible hulls, but they have pre-defined "weak spots" which can either be undamaged or destroyed depending on how much damage the UFO took when being shot down, with destroyed weak spots providing alternative entry points (on the Probe they are the weapon pods on either side).
  • Soldier Loadout - you have a pre-set team in the current mission and that's not very exciting. In the strategy layer we'll be implementing a squad equipment limit, where you get a set number of equipment points per soldier on the mission and each item of equipment has a specific cost. Heavy armour costs more than light armour, powerful weapons like the sniper rifle or the LMG cost more than the basic rifle, and grenades and extra ammo also cost extra. However this is a collective squad limit, so you could tool up a couple of soldiers but then the rest would have to be more lightly equipped. Can your sniper get by without his pistol? Then you can give your shotgun guy an extra flashbang (/ heavier armour / whatever).
  • More Aliens - the Sebillians (concept 1 / concept 2) are being modeled up as we speak, so hopefully we can have them in the game in a few weeks. As you can probably tell we've tried to make the aliens a bit less generic this time round; they've got more variation in terms of proportions and design now.
  • Editors - we're not releasing the game editor or map editor etc right now (we're focused on fixing up the ground combat right now), but they are in decent shape and we'll be doing that sooner rather than later.

So that's our roadmap. It's notoriously difficult to estimate how long things will take, but a rough guess might be that the fundamental fixes are another couple of weeks of work and the content improvement stuff would be for the couple of months after that.

Please give your feedback on the current build and your thoughts on our plans in this thread. We may revise our plans based on what issues appear in the first build and what the community reaction is to it (no promises though!)

13498Mon, 24 Oct 2016 16:13:41 +0000
Xenonauts 2 - Public Build Date Set The first Xenonauts public build will be arriving on Monday 24th October and will be completely free to anyone that wants to try it. The game is still too incomplete for us to consider a paid release, but we want as many people generating ideas / feedback and reporting bugs as possible. We'll therefore be making the first few builds free.

However, we will also make optional pre-orders for Xenonauts 2 available at the same time. This is purely for people who know they want to support the project, as they won't initially confer any extra benefit - but they will automatically convert into a Steam or GOG key for the game when we transition into paid Early Access later in development. We're planning to charge $24.99 for the game during development and then $29.99 once the game is finished and released.

The first build will be a simple test build - a combat mission between eight Xenonauts with basic armour and the starting weapons from X1 (shotguns, rifles, sniper rifle, LMG) and roughly six Psyons (formerly Caesans). The battle map will be an outdoor forest map with no UFO; it'll just be a straightforward deathmatch between the two sides. There will be strong similarities with Xenonauts 1 in the first build, which is intentional - we want to reassure people that we're not planning to dumb things down for X2 despite moving to 3D, and because assets from X1 make excellent placeholders until we create the new X2 assets to replace them. That said, the sequel is not simply a remake of Xenonauts 1 in 3D ... we just want to make a fun and playable foundation for the game based on the first game before we start changing things up. After all, it's much easier to test a new or altered mechanic if it is embedded in a working game and you are able give it a proper playtest.

The build that comes out on the 24th is going to be a "soft" launch for us. We'll be releasing the first Xenonauts 2 build and unveiling a new website for the game, but we're not actively promoting it via Twitter or by contacting journalists or by messaging our mailing list / Kickstarter backers. This is because the initial release of any piece of software almost invariably reveals huge numbers of bugs and issues that the developers were completely unaware of, and we'd like to do a small release to our existing community to identify and fix the biggest issues before we then announce things more widely and try and expand the community.

We have the first week after the build releases set aside for bugfixes, so we're planning to release updates until the 31st that are just bugfix patches and then do our wider announcement on the game on that date. If you've found this information organically by reading our forums / from the Xenonauts 1 launcher RSS panel / from friends / whatever then please help us out by being part of the first wave of testers (and if you're a game journalist, please hold your coverage until the 31st). Similarly, if you encounter any issues with the new website when we unveil it then please report it to us.

If all goes well, we're planning to release a decent chunk of new content for the project every two weeks - we're intentionally holding some back from the initial builds for this reason. This means that in theory there should be a second build of the game with new content available to play on the 7th November (although we may find a fortnightly release schedule a bit of a struggle over the long term), a week after the large-scale public release. We'll continue this pattern of public iteration until we feel that we have a project developed enough for an Early Access launch, at which point we'll likely do a quick Kickstarter and then launch on Steam as a paid-only project.

I'm personally very keen to get the game out into the hands of the community, even if it is still quite rough at this stage. I'll release more on this forum as details firm up, so stay tuned for updates and make sure you come back and visit on the 24th! :)

P.S. - As always, if you want to stay informed about our plans, please sign up to the Goldhawk Mailing List here. We're going to start using it very soon!

13444Thu, 29 Sep 2016 14:12:15 +0000
Xenonauts 2 - September Update 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.

Strategy Layer:
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 idea involved a "defensive line" of AI-controlled local forces and a "timeline" of alien units marching to attack it. The player could use their aircraft to shoot down UFOs spawned on the timeline (creating a crash site) or use their Xenonauts to attack any of the alien units on the timeline, triggering a ground combat mission. The problem was that the player could only knock out a single alien unit per mission, which was not enough to turn the tide if the player was behind strategically and facing numerous powerful alien units. The reverse situation was also problematic, as if the strategic situation was good the player would not need to do any ground combat missions. These turned out to be fundamental issues that (for various reasons) I couldn't solve without a major rework of the design.

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.

Ground Combat:
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 :)  

13434Wed, 21 Sep 2016 16:24:45 +0000
Xenonauts 2 July Update I think it's time for another update on Xenonauts 2. Lots to say but I'm going to try and keep it short, as things are moving quite fast at the moment. 

Where are we right now?

  • We have a playable ground combat mission
  • We have a playable version of the new strategy layer
  • We have a working level editor which we have used to build the level for the ground combat mission.
  • The strategy layer and ground combat are not linked together, and all three elements still need lots more work before they're a finished game

This week we hit our internal milestone to have both parts of the game playable, and we've got both the ground combat and strategy layer working outside Unity as standalone executable builds. This is pretty big news for us, but for the sake of brevity I won't go into exactly why (basically the game logic and properties are not tied directly into Unity, which gives us some advantages but means we needed to do extra work getting the standalone builds working).

Playable does not include ALL the mechanics, just the core ones - the ground combat contains basics like walls and prop objects, time units, line of sight, shooting, cover, destructibility, basic AI, overwatch, etc. The strategy layer has working research, alien / UFO generation, item recovery, air combat and ground combat autoresolve, soldier leveling, etc. As an example of a missing feature, soldiers don't currently have inventories - you just pick their current weapon from a list of all those that exist in the game.

It's therefore definitely a playable game, but there's still a lot missing. The question we're asking ourselves now is "do we want to show the game off yet?" and so far the answer is "no". This is why we've not announced the game, even though we're putting in place all the pieces that will let us do so as soon as it becomes a "yes" - for example, upgrading these forums etc.

The main reason for this is that we've been concentrating on functionality rather than aesthetics recently, and now we have standalone builds functioning I expect us to make significant progress in terms of visuals, game balance and usability in the next few months. Please don't take this to mean that there will be an attractive and mostly finished game appearing in a month or two, but I honestly do think the extra time will dramatically change the reception to the game when we announce / confirm / whatever it.

What needs to change before full announcement?
The announcement of Phoenix Point by Julian Gollop (the creator of the original X-Com) demonstrated to us that a few nicely-chosen pieces of promotional art can be very effective. Historically we've taken the reverse approach where we get the game functioning first and start implementing the art when we have a better idea of the parameters it has to exist inside, but we've decided that spending a bit of money now should reap rewards.

The two specific areas we're waiting on are the 3D character art and the UI art. We've got a production-quality Xenonaut soldier being modeled up at the moment, which we can use for promotional showbox renders and also to replace the more primitive Xenonaut we're currently using in the ground combat. On the UI front I realised it's going to be important to have some screens to show off that will show customers the visual style we're aiming for, even if the actual game doesn't look that way yet. The UI artist currently working on the "look and feel" pieces has recently worked on Destiny, and if he can nail the "military command-centre" vibe then it'll really help the game stand out.

I'm also writing a series of long forum posts on a (currently) hidden sub-forum that explain a bunch of new mechanics or discuss design decisions made on Xenonauts 2, and I'll make that visible when we're good to announce. It's quite detailed and involved stuff, but historically the forum has liked that sort of discussion. If I've not been replying to posts on design suggestions or sounding grumpy when I do, it's probably because I'd just spent a couple of hours writing a post on that exact issue but I'm not able to show it to you yet :)

What happens after the full announcement?
Other than the fact we'll open the Xenonauts 2 Design sub-forum mentioned above, we'll most likely also make an early version of the strategy part of the game available free. I'm internally referring to this period as the Free Alpha and the purpose of it is to create as large a community around the game as possible prior to the Kickstarter that will follow it (which will be the first time you'll be able to buy the game).

I've chosen the strategy for this free release because it's much faster to iterate than the ground combat. It also gives a better representation of the "feel" of the game (more opportunities for lore / worldbuilding text), and you can play through a whole strategic game by autoresolving the ground combat. At the same time, it should still give people plenty to look forward to - it'll obviously be a dramatically different experience once the real ground combat is added in, which will only happen in the paid version of the game post-Kickstarter.

I don't know exactly when the announcement will come, but I'm looking forward to sharing the strategy layer with you all. I'm sure the design will improve dramatically when there are hundreds of people contributing ideas to it instead of just a few of us - and I hope the experience of seeing the game change and evolve through player feedback will convince people to support the Kickstarter!

(Looks like I failed to keep it short!)

13401Fri, 22 Jul 2016 16:29:30 +0000
New forums online! As you can see, Goldhawk has got some new slick new forums! I'm pretty pleased with the way it's turned out, but let me first start by explaining what it means to you:

  • All existing users and posts have been migrated over (as far as we're aware), so you should still be able to log in with your old username etc
  • Features in the old forum that were broken should now work properly, e.g. requesting password reminders, search functionality, etc

We've not yet had time to test all the forum functionality (and I've also hacked up the forum skin a little too) so there may well be errors with this new forum that we're not yet aware of. Please take this opportunity to try as hard as you can to break the forums, and also post here if you notice any obvious styling issues that you think should be fixed. It would be good to fix up any serious issues before these forums start getting more popular again!

For those of you interested in what's happened, we've migrated the forums from the old vBulletin 4 system to a new IPS board. The visual styling is much nicer, the admin backend is much easier to use, and I'm hoping the overall user experience of these forums will be vastly improved over the previous ones. Once again, our thanks go out to Solver for donating his time to make the migration possible.

Some Xenonauts 2 boards may start making an appearance in due course, as it'd be good to get some community feedback before we make our "official" announcement of the game (but more on that soon).


13382Fri, 08 Jul 2016 13:35:20 +0000
Forum Migrations all - so in preparation for some kind of announcement (what could it be? :) ) we're considering migrating these forums to a new system in the next few weeks.

These forums have served us well for the past few years, but there's also quite a few problems with them that moving to a new system should fix - the search function not working properly, the email password notifications not working properly, the rather poor support for attachments and file hosting etc. Fixing this during a quiet period on the forums seems sensible.

I'm planning to move from vBulletin to IP.Board, having been part of a community that uses IP.Board and been fairly impressed with the functionality and interface. However I think we'll still be able to migrate the users and existing posts across fine, so for the average forum user it won't have too much effect. But non-standard functionality (I assume things like attachments and our file upload plugin) will probably be lost, so likely people will have to re-upload important files etc hosted on this forum after the migration.

At the moment, though, I consider that a price worth paying for a nicer-looking and more functional forum in the long term. However I just wanted to put this post up so people could ask any questions they wanted about the move, and to raise any points that I may have forgotten that I should factor into my decision.

We won't be doing the migration for a couple of weeks yet so there should be plenty of time to discuss things before we make any final decisions!

13368Mon, 20 Jun 2016 13:57:13 +0000
Xenonauts 2 Easter Update I hope everyone had a happy Easter, and I figured that I should probably post something up to explain what we've been working on lately with regards to Xenonauts 2 given the unveiling of the game has not yet happened.

That unveiling may be a little further away than we thought thanks to a few snags coming up with the promotional art. The most obvious of these centers around the design of the UFOs, which we haven't yet finalised. The artist who was working on them (the UFO artist from Xenonauts 1) has had to drop out because of the demands of his full-time role, and the work was already proving more difficult than we expected.

What we want to avoid is a repeat of the UFO problems we had in X1, where we designed some cool-looking UFOs and then found putting them in the ground combat missions to be a rather painful experience. This negatively affected the gameplay too, as it forced us to make the UFO hulls indestructible (reducing tactical possibilities) and it led to situations where players found tiles around the edge of UFO hulls to be unexpectedly blocked for line of sight / fire purposes when the tile grid failed to cope with the curve of the hulls.

We're therefore making sure we get things right with the UFO designs this time, but this is awkward from an art perspective because the "main promo image" (the X2 equivalent of the "command room" image from X1) features a captured UFO in an underground Xenonaut hangar, surrounded by the various Xenonaut staff etc. It's going to be a really cool image and the captured UFO is a major plot point ... but if we're not 100% certain what the UFOs will look like yet, it's a bit difficult to finish it.

The other art issue is that of in-game screenshots; we're not yet in a position where we can show off high-quality in-game art assets. To be honest, Xenonauts only started looking presentable about 50-60% of the way through development and the real polishing didn't come in until it was 80-90% done. Xenonauts 2 has some way to go before we're at that stage, particularly because now we're working in 3D it takes more effort to make even good-quality art assets look good (in a 2D game you just stick the pretty art in the game and that's that, but in 3D you need to make sure all the materials, lighting and render settings are all done right to get maximum effect.)

So that's the bad news; we need to at least finalise the UFO design language before we can properly announce the game ... so now I'll try to give you some good news to counter-balance that. We are obviously still working on the art despite that, and we're developing a more realistic and cohesive style for the Xenonauts and their world than before. As an example, here's the rough concepts for the Xenonaut uniforms for X2.


From the left, the characters are: you (head of the Military Division), the Chief Scientist (head of the Science Division), Operations (head of the Politics & Operations Division), and a (unnamed) Xenonaut soldier. We've tried to make the soldier look a bit more modern than before; the basic uniform was pretty lame in X1 but this retains the essence of the original design whilst also looking a bit more believably military. The other three characters have been designed and coloured so the three divisions of the Xenonauts look distinct from one another, but clearly all belong to the same organisation. I think the dark grey also looks more "secret organisation" than the designs from the first game.

We've added a new character to the game for plot reasons, but also because I want there to be another voice in the game other than the Chief Scientist - I want to keep his personality the same as it was in the first game, but I'm concerned the joke will get a bit old if he's the only person talking to you in both games. Splitting the Xenonauts into three divisions doesn't have any gameplay effect, but it should help us add a bit more character to the world and help with the storytelling; your character is very much the junior member of the trio at the start of the game.

Also, I finally bit the bullet about a month ago and learned how to code so I could properly prototype the Xenonauts 2 strategy layer. I implemented most of the strategic game in Excel / Visual Basic, using an auto-resolve system for the air combat and ground combat missions. A bit of experimentation allowed me to figure out which of my ideas for the strategy layer was the most fun, and I'm confident that the one I settled on is going to work for us - even playing the spreadsheet version of it is quite enjoyable!

I imagine most of you will be pleased to know that we think we've found a way to integrate the Xenonaut ground missions into a wider strategic struggle; the final design incorporates elements from a number of the different strategic designs I've raised on the forums in the past and even some elements from our previous concept Pathfinders. In the absence of pretty pictures, I'll give you a bit of information on what we're planning:

Strategy Design:

Defensive Perimeters: The basic idea is that humanity has five "defensive perimeters" against the aliens, with the most remote and least important regions of the planet being the first perimeter and the Soviet / NATO heartlands being the final fifth perimeter. There's no longer any concept of regional funding etc; you lose the game when the final defensive line falls to the aliens (although there may be some kind of super-hard mission that appears if you fall *too* far behind, either getting you back in the game or ending it immediately).

A defensive perimeter contains Infantry units, Armoured units and Interceptor squadrons. Infantry units are the most numerous and soak up most of the damage from alien attacks; if an alien unit attacks your defensive perimeter it will generally kill several units of Infantry before being destroyed (the effectiveness and survivability of Infantry depends greatly on how advanced their gear is). Armoured units are few in number but act as a counter to armoured aliens like Androns; you will automatically lose an Armoured unit to counter a unit of attacking Androns if one is available (if not, expect to lose a LOT of Infantry).

The Interceptors are the planes you control in each region. You use these to counter alien UFO activity in the perimeter, but they are a precious and non-replenishable resource (and attacking a UFO *is* going to cost you a number of planes). However, the key thing here is that the only reliable way to capture most technology for research is through shooting down UFOs and doing the crash site mission - and the UFOs bombing your defensive lines are not necessarily the juiciest targets for this. You've got a limited number of planes and you need to balance protecting your territory against shooting down the UFOs that offer the best potential research rewards.

Event Timeline: The Event Timeline displays all the alien events occurring in the next ten turns / Geoscape days. The Xenonauts start with only limited visibility of the Timeline (e.g. only three days of warning for each attack) but investing in improved intelligence / code-cracking will allow the player to see further into the future.

The Timeline is split into aerial and ground sections, and alien units spawn at Day +10 and work their way towards the player one turn at a time. If they have not been dealt with by the end of Day +1, they will attack the current defensive line and reduce the number of defenders. To prevent this, the player is able to attack any visible alien unit on the Timeline with their Xenonaut soldiers / interceptors. Successfully winning the mission removes the alien unit from the Timeline entirely, and if a defensive perimeter falls then the entire Timeline is cleared and recalculated.

The player can launch one ground mission and one air mission each turn, but in practice the soldier fatigue system and the limited number of interceptors means that this cannot be sustained for long. What actually happens is the player has to makes choices about what rate of attrition is acceptable for their defensive line, and pick off any alien units that look too strategically threatening by running a ground mission against them.

Obviously, this is made more complex because the aliens all have different abilities and some are far more dangerous than others at any given time. For example, in the current draft:

  • Alien "thralls" have no special abilities, so generally are not worth wasting time on
  • Psyons (aka Caesans) gain +1 ATK for every Infantry unit in the defensive line, so are extremely dangerous early on
  • Harridans kill a single Infantry unit every turn, but take no damage in return. Never the most urgent threat but can accumulate a lot of kills if left alone too long!
  • Androns are harmless if you have an Armoured unit available to deal with them, but are extremely powerful otherwise
  • Wraiths will raid your Interceptors or Armoured units and destroy a unit of them if you have any left in the defensive perimeter, if not they will take on your Infantry (which they are much less strong at)

Therefore the strategic calculation is always changing. Letting a unit of Wraiths destroy a full squadron of five Interceptors would almost certainly be a mini-disaster for the Xenonauts and in that situation the player would probably want to intervene to take them out before that happened ... but if there was only one or two planes left in that squadron, it might not be worth protecting them. But in that case, you'd have to keep your air force grounded until the Wraiths had come and gone - after all, if you lose a couple of planes on the next mission, those Wraiths are suddenly targeting a full squadron of five Interceptors again, etc.

Similarly, if you can see from the timeline that a defensive line is about to fall but there's only one alien unit marching towards it in the next three or four days, it might be worth doing even a tough ground combat mission in order to win a few more days of "free" research before the aliens overrun the territory.

Proliferation & Resistance: One of the key mechanics in this system is proliferation of newly discovered alien technology from the Xenonauts to the rest of the world. Doing this brings major benefits; firstly the Xenonauts get access to an unlimited quantity of the proliferated technology (e.g. laser weapons), and secondly it improves the stats of all of the Infantry Units holding the remaining defensive perimeters ... effectively slowing down the alien invasion and buying you extra time to complete the game. We're not sure yet if you'll get controllable local forces backing you up on ground combat missions supporting the defensive perimeter, but if you do then they will also only have access to proliferated technology (so will be much more useful if you've proliferated them some good gear).

Sounds pretty useful, right? Unfortunately, the aliens gain increasing resistance to your newly-developed technology the more it is used against them. Tech that is not proliferated will stay effective for much longer against the alien forces (particularly if you use it sparingly), whereas the aliens will quickly build up a resistance to tech being used against them on a global scale. Coupled with the fact you can further improve and develop tech once it has been researched (e.g. Laser Weapons V2, Laser Weapons V3, etc), the choice of which tech to research next and whether you should proliferate it should be much more interesting than the research choices in Xenonauts 1.

Regional Infrastructure & Population: Under this strategic design, the X1 system of building bases in various regions doesn't really fit in any more. However, I'd like to preserve an element of base-building that exists beyond the abstract main Xenonaut base; I think we can do that by adding infrastructure to each defensive perimeter.

These ideas haven't been tested so they remain just ideas right now, but we'd like to have buildings in each perimeter that they player can build and buy. A lab provides a fixed amount of science, but buying a lab behind the final defensive line would be much more expensive than buying one behind the third line. If you can hold it long enough, the cheaper lab would be a much better investment. But doing so might force you into proliferating tech earlier than you might have wanted to, etc.

Similarly, things like the intelligence level (how many days you can see into the future on the Timeline) could be tied to buildings constructed in each perimeter. That gives the player choices about how much they want to invest in defending a specific defensive line.

The other mechanic I'd like to implement in some form is an evacuation mechanic for the local civilian population in each perimeter. A certain number of turns would be required to evacuate the civilian population, but launching an evacuation too early would prematurely abandon all the local infrastructure and deprive yourself of resources you would otherwise receive. However, allowing civilians to be overrun and harvested by the aliens is also bad news for humanity, as it gives the aliens major bonuses. Maybe this could be made more interesting if there's a random element to how smoothly the evacuation goes; so in some situations players may find themselves needing to hold out longer than they originally expected.


That's not a full explanation of everything in the strategy layer, but hopefully it explains the basic principles that we are working towards. I've been working hard on a design that puts the actions of the Xenonauts in a wider strategic perspective and I think the "defensive perimeter" system and the proliferation mechanics mean that the player will have to think about more than just their own soldiers.

Playtesting suggests that the basic strategic mechanics are good fun, and they should also take Xenonauts 2 in a rather different direction to that of the other X-Com successors that have been and gone. X1 always had the trappings of a somewhat realistic military wargame, but the mechanics never really matched up ... hopefully this time around we'll be able to deliver on it.

This is all I'll be revealing about Xenonauts 2 for now, but I just wanted to thank everyone for their patience and assure everyone that things are coming along nicely at this end. It may be disappointing for some that we're not announcing quite as quickly as we initially suggested we would, but hopefully this post gives you some insight as to why that is (and reveals just enough to keep you interested!) :)


13326Tue, 29 Mar 2016 16:40:58 +0000
Thoughts on XCOM 2 I've now completed XCOM 2 on Commander (using voluntary Iron Man mode) difficulty and I figured I'd post up some quick thoughts on it:

1) Bugs / Performance Issues: The first thing to mention is that the game is in need of another patch. I had pretty serious performance issues even on a powerful machine until I turned down shadows and occlusion, and it still started chugging in some sections. It has long load times even on a solid-state drive, and there's also annoying camera delays at some points, as well as visual and animation glitches. I also encountered some gameplay bugs that stopped me completing missions or got soldiers killed - whilst this really isn't unusual for a newly released game, just be aware they exist and I'd probably avoid using Iron Man right now.

It's not like Xenonauts doesn't suffer some of these issues too - I'm just saying that if you're not in a hurry to play it, maybe wait a few weeks before picking up XCOM 2.

2) Repetition: I found the game got a little repetitive towards the end (I played 31 missions). The game starts off being really hard because four low-level troops don't have the skills required to win a mission if the aliens score a couple of lucky crits and kill half your team, but once you go up to 5 soldiers and they collect a few more abilities you can handle even large groups of aliens without too much trouble. Mid-to-late game is a bit of a cakewalk ... but more on that later.

I think part of the issue is that the XCOM 1 mechanics have become ubiquitous over the past few years. I have over 200 hours in the original game and the expansion, and I've played several other games that use the same basic formula. The dominant strategy in XCOM 2 seems to be stacking damage so you can kill all the enemies before they get a chance to attack you, and the type enemies you are fighting almost don't matter when all they do is get riddled with bullets before they have a chance to move. There's some cool enemy designs and tweaks to the rules, but the same tactics seem to work against all of the enemies so I didn't find the gameplay changed dramatically throughout the game.

3) Difficulty: The game is pretty easy even when going in blind on Commander difficulty, at least once you've got past the first two or three missions ... although weirdly the reasons for this are all quite positive.

Firstly, they've improved the "pod" system ... although the mechanics remain the same, so I'm not quite sure how. Maybe bigger maps? Anyway, in XCOM 1 the main challenge was essentially to fight each batch of aliens without accidentally activating another nearby pod and ending up massively outnumbered. The problem was that this discouraged mobile and tactical play - running a soldier around the side of the map to flank an enemy was a bad idea, because activating an additional pod was a bigger risk than the potential gains of gaining a flanking shot.

Accidentally activating additional pods of aliens is much less common in XCOM 2 even when you are using melee troops, which I assume is because the pods are more spread out. In any case, this allows you to play with a bit more freedom and makes the game more fun ... but it also makes it easier.

The other thing is that your soldiers now have the ability to gain abilities from outside their class. This can lead to some EXTREMELY powerful combinations and is a lot of fun to play with - and you obviously get far more attached to a truly unique soldier too. Problem is, these abilities tend to be fun because they are totally broken, which naturally screws up the difficulty curve of the game.

The only addition to the game that makes it more difficult is the turn limit for missions (about 50% of them have one), which I like as they speed up the game dramatically. I've had frustrations with them - reaching the target on the last turn and then finding out you need an action available to actually disarm the bomb - but they're definitely a good idea. They don't make the game that much harder unless you're a compulsive overwatch crawler though!

4) Combat Mechanic Changes: A few changes to the combat mechanics worth touching on, I think. The first is the much heralded concealment mechanic, which is initially fun but I actually don't find has much impact on the gameplay. I started ignoring it entirely in the later stages of the game (it only affects the first fight) and I still did fine.

The changes to melee are more significant. Melee units in XCOM 1 were pretty weak, but melee units in XCOM 2 are totally overpowered as they can move an absurd distance (both moves) and still attack. Chryssalids don't one-hit-kill like they used to, but along with the early-game Stun Lancers they can still feel a bit cheap.

Thing is, the reverse is true too - your Rangers have melee attacks and they are easily the best soldier class in the early / mid game until their lack of armour shred becomes a bit of a problem. Their mobility and reliable damage is so high than you can just swarm the enemies and shotgun them in the face / hack them to death before they have a chance to react. The net effect somewhat trivializes the tactical game, because cover and positioning doesn't matter too much when most of the action takes place at melee range.

The addition of an Armour system is a neat one though, and their system has some similarities with the one in Xenonauts 2. But basically splitting hit points and armour makes the combat more interesting, as some weapons remove armour whereas others just do raw damage and the interplay between the two adds an extra layer of strategy to the late game. I think I'd definitely miss armour if I went back to playing XCOM 1 now.

5) Map Variety: Their randomised maps work really well as far as I can see; I never saw a repeated map in all my hours of playing. A really good addition to the game, something we'll definitely have to study for Xeno 2 (it looks like it works on a sub-map system similar to what we had in Xeno 1).


Overall, I'd say XCOM 2 is a good game and one that will be very good once they've patched some of the more obvious bugs. It's a big strategy game with good production values and interesting core mechanics that I think is worth paying full price for. I'm not sure it's quite as good as the reviews made out, though - I'd probably rate it at 8.5/10 and I'd probably bump that up to a 9 once the bugs are fixed.

My problem with it is that it doesn't feel as fresh or as interesting as XCOM 1 did, and that's why I'd say the predecessor was a great game and XCOM 2 is merely very good. It has added quite a bit to the game overall, but I think the only mechanic that fundamentally altered the way I played the game were the melee changes (which are a bit overpowered). So for me it came pretty close to greatness but didn't quite make it. That said, Firaxis have a good track record with expansions and it'll be interesting to see what they have lined up for the inevitable XCOM 2 expansion!

(There's not really that much that changes our plans for Xenonauts 2, though - the big successes in XCOM 2 for me are the randomised maps and the armour system, both of which were already on our radar.)

13284Tue, 09 Feb 2016 15:59:58 +0000
Xenonauts 2 confirmed!, some big news - we entered full production on Xenonauts 2 at the start of the year and we are now in a position to officially confirm Xenonauts 2. You can read the full statement on our placeholder website here:

This is probably a bit of an open secret given how much in-depth discussions we've had on the topic on these forums over the past few months, but there was always a small possibility that the game would be cancelled and we'd try something else instead. That is now officially not the case; we are making Xenonauts 2 and we are *hoping* to ship it in 2017.

As a result of this, I have now removed (or rather made invisible) the posts in the Xenonauts 2 Idea Discussion forums. I'm doing this because they contain a jumble of ideas from several months of brainstorming and I don't want people to read older posts and get confused as to what features are or are not planned to be in Xenonauts 2. A complete outline of the planned gameplay is going to be laid out (along with a website, concept art, lore, etc) with the full announcement of the game due in the next couple of months.

Thanks to all the people that were involved in the initial round of discussions regarding Xenonauts 2, as it really helped shape the concept we are currently working on and I am looking forward to revealing it to you when the game is fully announced!

13274Wed, 03 Feb 2016 17:28:05 +0000
Christmas Shutdown quick note as the festive season is upon us - Goldhawk is shutting down for Christmas holidays and we'll officially be back in business on the 4th January. I did write a long post detailing some of our plans for next year but the forum ate it and left me in a spectacularly bad mood, so I'm afraid you'll just have to wait until early next year to find out instead (there's some cool stuff to tell you about) :)

Anyway, I hope everyone has a great Christmas / festive season and I look forward to seeing you all at the start of the new year. I may pop onto the forums in the interim to check there's been no major disasters, but no promises!

13177Tue, 15 Dec 2015 12:02:19 +0000
Xenonauts 2 - Update six weeks ago we posted up a thread discussing the possibility of Xenonauts 2, so I thought I should post another thread letting you know what we are thinking.

In short - we're still evaluating the possibility, but I'd say the chances of us making Xenonauts 2 as our next game are better than even. The response to and feedback given on a potential sequel by the community has been remarkable and has gone a long way to convincing us that it would be a good idea.

If you're interested in hearing about any possible Xenonauts 2 announcements, remember you can sign up for our mailing list here:

So, what have we been working on?

Game-Independent Coding: Well, the majority of our work has actually been to continue developing a codebase we could use for any squad-based tactics game we want to make. If we choose not to make Xenonauts 2, this code will be equally useful to any other game we decide to make.

At the moment we're working on the integration of the combat mechanics with 3D animations (so units point their guns in the right direction when they fire at enemies etc), working on the level editor (which is pretty impressive now) and working on the game editor / translation editor / game launcher systems.

I could talk all day about what features we've been implementing recently but without the context of a game design to put them in it probably won't mean anything to you. But we've got all the basics in place, and guys are running around the map shooting each other. There's just not much in the way of art assets yet, because...


3D Art Style: The image posted above is NOT our final art style. Our biggest concern regarding Xenonauts 2 is whether we can create a workable 3D art style - this not only has to look good in 3D but ideally will also reference the 2D sprite style of Xenonauts 1.

The image shows the sort of quality we think we can reasonably generate in a mission using a standard realistic art style (admittedly we're cheating a bit with the placement of some of the wooden pallets). We've deliberately recreated some assets from Xenonauts 1 to allow us to test and compare it more effectively.

Now we have some decent-quality assets in the engine, we're going to run some tests over the next few weeks on how we can try to make the art style look a bit more 2D and hand-painted. A very important element of this could be creating an outline shader for the game that adds a thin black outline to all of the objects; this was actually something we used extensively in Xenonauts 1 and it played a large part in making props and units "pop" from the background. Unfortunately it's much harder to do in 3D than it is in 2D, but we'll spend some time on it and see if we can make it work.


Aliens: We're working on redesigning the aliens from Xenonauts 1 to make them more interesting, both visually and in terms of the core mechanic for each race. We've got some new ideas for all of the races and we've got some concepts done for the updated Sebillian and Caesan designs that look quite a bit more "alien" than before.

We're playing with the idea of making the Caesans a hive consciousness, with weak drones (above) and more threatening officers. The officers get significant bonuses in combat for each nearby drone, and there is a single collective psionic power attack performed each turn. This might lose power as more Caesans are killed, or perhaps it just gets stronger each turn to encourage the player not to turtle when fighting Caesans (or possibly both).

The Sebillians might have their regeneration turned up to eleven to make them more interesting to play against. At the end of each alien turn, all Sebillians will return to full health ... but in exchange, every time they take damage their maximum health falls by, say, 25% of the damage sustained. However, getting a Sebillian down to 0 current health will only temporarily incapacitate them and they will stand up and start fighting again after two or three turns.

To actually kill a Sebillian you need to reduce its maximum health to 0, but units will get significant bonuses when aiming at an incapacitated Sebillian. Getting up close and empting a few rounds into it would finish it off pretty quickly ... but trying to do it at long range is much harder, so it gives these guys a passive semi-resistance against sniper tactics.

Air Combat: I'm actually pretty happy with the design I have for the air combat now, which is a minor evolution of what I posted in this thread. I think that design could work with some modification even in the strategy layer for Xenonauts 1, so maybe we'll mock that up and start testing it properly in the near future.

Strategy Layer: We've done quite a lot of development on this, but it's still not nailed down yet. I'm relatively relaxed about this because I know the ground combat is the meat of the game and if our attempts to come up with a new strategy layer fail, we could just use the Xenonauts 1 strategy layer with a few modifications and the updated ground / air combat.

Of course, I would much prefer to have a wholly new strategy layer - and I'm actively working on it, I just don't know when it'll be done or even what form it will take yet. I'll let you know when I do!

So that's basically where we're at. Xenonauts 2 is looking more likely than not and we're actively designing and prototyping it at the moment, but it'll probably take a month or two until we're ready to make a final decision.

I'll keep on posting stuff up in the Xenonauts 2 forums, but again if you're keen to stay in the loop about development but don't want to commit to regularly checking our forums you can just sign up for our mailing list here:





12984Fri, 11 Sep 2015 17:42:25 +0000
Debating Xenonauts 2've got back from a brief holiday and I'm once again considering the options for the next game(s) we release. After some pondering, I've decided Xenonauts 2 might be a possibility.

Xenonauts 2 would be an upgrade on Xenonauts rather than a direct sequel, so would cover the same events. This thread is about the changes you would want to see if we were going to start from scratch - I want to see if I can come up with a design that improves sufficiently over the original game to warrant us actually making it.

Why a remake rather than a sequel?

I've been considering ideas for sequels to Xenonauts for a while. Sadly the tech level of the humans at the end of Xenonauts is so powerful that narratively I don't think there's anywhere we can go that would not take the series into completely different territory (e.g. dealing with a societal collapse caused indirectly by alien technology, fighting aliens across different dimensions, fighting a Skynet-style entity etc).

If we're going in a different direction, we may as well start with an entirely blank slate rather than tenuously tying the game to the events of Xenonauts. We'd get much more freedom that way, so in my mind there's no sense in making a Xenonauts 2 that covers different events.

But what about your other games?

This is just something I'm thinking about - remember we've not made any final decisions yet, and I'm just gathering ideas to see how tempting I can make Xenonauts 2 look as a proposition. It has to be different enough from Xenonauts 1 to work as a standalone game (albeit we may give a discount to people who already bought the original).

Still, it's no secret that we've been working on other game design concepts recently. All of these have been squad-based combat games with split tactical and strategy layers. We've been working on tools and code that will support us making any game of that type - the difference between each design is just the story / setting, the design of the strategy layer, and a handful of specific tactical combat mechanics.

Therefore moving to a new design wouldn't cost us too much in terms of development time (this is why I've been bouncing ideas around so much). Moving to Xenonauts 2 would actually be far easier than developing a new game because we know the first game inside out ... although because we could pretty much develop it on autopilot, we'd probably develop it alongside another squad-based tactics game that would be rather more innovative.

Intended Improvements:

These are the improvements to Xenonauts that I'd like to make in a sequel:

  • Full 3D - We'd make the game in full 3D with a (90-degree) rotatable camera. I'd also want to replace soldier paperdolls and painted screen backgrounds etc on the strategy layer with 3D models.
  • Aliens - I'd like to add some more aliens, rework some of the existing ones mechanically to be more interesting and also redesign them so they look more striking and "alien" in the ground combat.
  • Research / Development - I want to add the concept of 'development' to the research tree, allowing you to continue researching "hub" technologies (like laser weapons etc) to increase their effectiveness if you choose. Choosing whether to improve existing tech or research new stuff should add more choice to the research tree.
  • Destructible UFOs - the UFO outer hulls should be destructible, which means we'll have to redesign them visually too.
  • Vertical Terrain - we should have hills etc in the game, rather than purely flat maps with buildings offering the only verticality.
  • XCOM Cover System - I think the cover system in XCOM was very easy to understand and also integrated 'leaning' in an intuitive way, whereas our cover system was a bit of a mess. I think we'd probably switch to their cover system.
  • Soldier Colour Customisation - I want to redesign the armours so they are more recognisable from silhouette, allowing people to customise their colours of their troops (including having role-specific colour schemes).
  • UI - the existing UI is a bit of a mess, particularly with regards to the strategy layer, so we'd redo that.
  • Air Combat - I'm not sure exactly how I'd redesign this yet, but I think it could do with further improvement.
  • Tutorial - the game should use the Iceland Incident as a playable tutorial that explains the setting and the basic game mechanics.
  • Modding Tools - we've been working on some pretty cool game editors and level editors, so the modding / translation / level creation tools will be much better than in Xenonauts 1 and will handle the "modular mod" stuff automatically.

Two questions - one, would you buy an improved version of Xenonauts again if we made it? Secondly, what annoyed you about the first game and what do you think we should improve?

12900Sat, 25 Jul 2015 13:11:08 +0000
<![CDATA["Pathfinders" Update #1]]>'ve now started proper production on our next large game (working title: "Pathfinders") - i.e. we've stopped work on the prototype and are working on the final codebase. This post doesn't constitute an official announcement of the project as details are still subject to change; it's mostly just so you guys know we're not dead!

Prior to this point we had a Unity prototype of the game that has gone through a whole bunch of different incarnations that ended with a test of the basic XCOM ruleset plus some of our own additions. During the past year or so we've tested everything from the simple XCOM 2-action system to a completely free move system (no tile grid) to the first-person shot-aiming system as in Valkyria Chronicles to a staggered Initiative-based turn order system (rather than the standard player turn, computer turn system).

So we've tested a LOT of things during this period, and it has helped us understand what it is we want to achieve with our next game - for example, we've decided that we are definitely a fan of tile grids, because they keep things simple and easy to understand both in terms of movement and shooting. We had bright ideas about a free-move system but it turned out to be horrible in practice.

XCOM 2012 also held some useful lessons for us. There were quite a few things in their design that I like:

  • I like their "board game" accuracy calculation - basically the Accuracy of the soldier is their chance to hit, then you get flat additions and subtractions based on wargear and enemy cover etc. This makes it much easier for a player to understand why a shot is high or low accuracy than the somewhat impenetrable calculations in Xenonauts.
  • I like the way that movement is partially decoupled from shooting, so most weapons are equally accurate if you stay stationary or if you move a short distance, allowing more fluidity in the battles. A full TU system encourages a player to keep all their units stationary all the time because that maximises the firepower they can deliver, which leads to very static battles. The XCOM system was kinda restrictive in that you only got one move and you couldn't move >> shoot >> move, but I want at least some of the weapons in our game to allow a "free" move without losing accuracy / firepower.
  • I like the "chunkiness" of their action system. Having a "Main Action" and a "Move Action" allows rules that players understand more intuitively:
    • An Aimed Shot can use both actions, a Snap Shot just the Main Action. Easy to understand, and because there is only one Main Action the player can't just fire two snap shots like they could in a full-TU system where TU are totally interchangeable (which was a major design problem for us).
    • Alternatively, take a grenade attack as an example. By default a grenade might consume both actions, but an underslung grenade launcher could allow it to work as just a "Main Action"...and thus would also allow it to be used with reaction fire (see below). Cool special abilities are much easier to communicate to the player than in a TU system.

    [*]The overwatch system in XCOM is a bit lacking; we'll probably give units an Initiative score when overwatch is triggered and resolve their actions in order ... including allowing the moving unit to use their Main Action to attack the reaction firing units (if they have it available). That means high-Initiative units can charge into a room and potentially kill all the defenders before they attack even if they are all guarding the door on overwatch. Again, much like Xenonauts system in effect but much simpler for the player to understand.

This doesn't mean we have a complete design for the finished game yet, rather that we've now got a reasonably good idea of how we want it to look and the level of complexity we're aiming for. It's probably best summarised as the complexity of the combat in Xenonauts with the intuitiveness / ease of input from XCOM 2012.

The game mechanics themselves will likely be iterated heavily within that framework during the "Early Access" period; what we're actually working on right now is the code foundations for the game and what we need to formally announce it from an art / worldbuilding perspective. Both of these are rather a lot of work.

The art side of things is coming along well but it's still all concept art at this point. We've concepted up a bunch of cool sci-fi buildings to go in the game, we've started work on the character portraits and their stories / bios, we're working on the soldier armour and weapons and also the various body shapes for the 3D models. These are all going well, but they're not ready to show off yet because it's still being iterated. I think you'll all be impressed with the quality of the art when we do announce the project though.

The code "foundations" for the game is the stuff around level generation / modding / translation. We've had several (very long) internal design meetings about game should handle this stuff, discussing how we wished we'd done things on Xenonauts if we'd been able to rewind the clock. It turns out that the building blocks for 3D tile-based squad based tactics games are actually pretty similar and these things would apply just as much for Xenonauts 2 as they do for Pathfinders or even a real-time squad-based tactics game if we were minded to make one.

The flipside of this is we'll be creating editors that will automatically create modular mods and easy methods of translation for the game, and a level editor that we believe will be extremely powerful but very easy to use and almost impossible to create "broken" maps with. The latter is what we've been programming recently; we're working on the code governing the tile grid and level creation and so forth.

None of this constitutes anything particularly exciting for the average gamer, but it's all stuff that needs to be done before we can do all the flashy game mechanics stuff and it'll reap major rewards later. I'll close this post with a tiny taster of what we're working on; here's a couple of building concepts to whet your appetite:



We'll have plenty more artwork and worldbuilding to show off when we announce the project; hopefully at that point we'll have started on the basic combat mechanics too. Anyway, that's enough from me for now. Stay tuned!





12500Thu, 19 Feb 2015 15:19:42 +0000