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  1. Dear all, I’m very excited to have discovered Xenonauts and to see that a second part is planned. I must admit, that I have not had the chance to play Xenonauts 1 yet, but I purchased it from GOG and am looking forward to discovering and playing it! :-) About the upcoming part 2, I am old ‘connoisseur’ and lover of properly ‘ripened’ Tactical Turn Based games. Over the years I have played some of the best and I have thought a lot about what makes these games so darn gripping and addictive - especially compared to real-time games, which is not self-evident and I think really worth contemplating and thinking about. Right off the bat, my two all-time favorite turn-based games are probably Jagged Alliance 2 and, before that, The Bard’s Tale IV (on C64). (Of course, XCOM original and Shadows over Riva (Das Schwarze Auge 3) were awesome too!) Never mind the Bard’s Tale, that’s probably too old for today’s gamers (but do check it out if you want to see the appeal and great identification happening with first person view combined with a multi-character party and turn based tactical combat). I would very, very strongly suggest to everyone EVER developing a turn based tactical game to have played Jagged Alliance 2 at least once in their life. Really, if you haven’t done it yet, you really, really should do so now! Why? Because in that game, a lot, lot, a lotlot of things were done right. Especially and most of all, under the hood! And unfortunately, these are things which many modern turn-based games, such as the new XCOM 2 have forgotten, simply because their developers seem to be too young to ever have played it and learned from it! I think there are a lot of things learnable from other great turn-based games such as JA2 which the new Xenonauts 2 could profit of tremendously. In that regard, I would like to suggest to “Dare to be Different” from the original XCOM and the first Xenonauts (although as said, I haven’t even played that yet), and to shamelessly copy some of the very best things from other great games. And by that I don’t mean just superficial things, but most of all, core game and (game) combat engine design decisions. If you have ever played Jagged Alliance 2 (and don’t bother with part 1), and then play the new XCOM 2, you will be GREATLY disappointed by the sloppy, half-baked and just generally lacking in every division but graphics combat engine of XCOM 2. Sure, it looks nice, but there’s nothing under the hood compared to Jagged Alliance 2. And make no mistake: The combat engine is the heart of every turn-based combat or tactical game! So it’s the most important thing. Mark these words. Let’s take a look at some of the differences: At first view, you might only see on the surface, that in Jagged Alliance there were not only tons more, different weapons, where in XCOM 2 there seem to be only 4 different weapons. Namely the ones of the Ranger, the Specialist, the Grenadier and the Sharp Shooter. In JA2, there were I think, without exaggerating, at least 50 or probably more likely about 100 different weapons, modeled after real-world weapons. AK-47’s to weird hybrid British prototypes and secret US military sniper rifles, everything. Really, the Terminator (in part 1) would not have been able to ask for any kind weapon which the game didn’t carry! And that’s not all. Not be fare. After all, what’s a name if there’s nothing beneath it to back it up? The weapons were so elaborate like characters! They had a whole set of characteristics which really made them behave VASTLY different in the field / Game!! The had characteristics like: - Weapon range - Weapon accuracy (close range and max range) - Percentage to jam (those cheap Asian guns just suck!) - Chance (%) and time (Action Points) to unjam a jammed weapon - Reload time (in Action Points) - Type of Ammunition needed - Damage (single shot and burst shot) - Clip Size - Firing Time (Action Points to fire, single and burst fire) - Automatic Mode (Single and Burst Shot) - Addons (silencers, etc.) - etc. This really made weapons the second protagonist in the game. And the angry exclamations of characters missing a shot, like Bobby Gontarski, such as “There is limit to what I can do with these goddamn cheap supplies!!” *really* had a real-life or real-simulated background! And finding something that really was of good quality really felt like Christmas. Currently I am playing XCOM 2 with the Jagged Alliance 2 voice packs and it really shows, or *tells*, what XCOM 2 is missing! Where weapons in Jagged Alliance 2 were like women, some a little unpredictable perhaps, but if you treated them good, they rewarded you with good service through an entire life, err game-time, in XCOM they are just bland and boring pieces of cardboard. Without any character or personality, or background or life of their own. But that’s just the surface... If you dig deeper, you will find much more things which make XCOM 2 not really work. Things where Jagged Alliance 2 shines. Really shines, as in The Shining ;-). One of the worst things about XCOM 2 is, that it does not feel realistic. Jagged Alliance 2 is the PURE opposite of this! Where XCOM 2 feels like it is totally and shamelessly CHEATING on you, always processing hidden numbers, which the computer players should not have access to, Jagged Alliance 2 *never ever* feels that way. The pure opposite! Like have you ever had your guys set up an ambush with ‘Overwatch’ and then have the computer move a guy precisely to that square where your invisible visibility supposedly stops, only to throw a hand grenade at you without triggering your overwatch? The AI is CHEATING!! And that’s by far not the only time XCOM 2 does this. You can just feel it doing it all the time and in all kinds of circumstances. The sad thing is, kids of today who never played classics such as Jagged Alliance 2 which did not do this kind of cheating or peaking behind secret game data don’t know any better. They believe, that’s just the way turn-based games were... Jagged Alliance 2 *always* feels totally realistic and predictable and it never ever feels like the computer or AI is accessing game data that the real enemy would not have (it if were an equal other player). That’s what makes combat, and thus, because combat is the heart of every turn-based game, the entire game so believable and therefore so damn fun, realistic and great! This feeling of the game cheating on you really has a bad impact on XCOM 2. I’m talking just for starts, for instance about the to hit percentage numbers. Sometimes you have a to-hit percentage of like 90%, but every time you take the shot you miss. Ten times in a row! Of course this has a lot to do with the random seed, or the dice roll that is stored within in the Save Game. When you miss a shot and load a Save Game, you will miss it again, because the to-hit rolls have been pre-rolled and stored inside the Save Game. How stupid and messed up is that??? So those fancy hit percentages lose any and all of their believability and credibility, when you miss an 90% hit 10 times (or infinite times) in a row. And besides this, a lot of calculations are also just flat out false. Sometimes you can shoot enemies right through solid walls, were the hit chance should be 0% and sometimes you’re standing right next to a big alien, and the hit chance is like 36% for no apparent reason. This kind of stuff totally wreaks havoc on the initial trust you have in a combat engine, in the believability and realism of a game. Is very bad. Now, let’s look at why Fireaxis went to such a pain of storing pre-rolled to hit chances inside the Save Games: The problem was, Fireaxis did not want people to be able to simply re-load a Save Game when they missed an important shot. Why not? Good question. Probably because even Fireaxis understood at least partially, that you cannot have a good and exciting game, if that same game is not at the same time also capable of frustrating a player (Fireaxis just didn’t understand, that this frustration must be perceived to be “fair” or realistic). If players can just walk through a game without any effort and simply re-load every time they miss a shot, why bother for upgrading your weapons? Or your characters? Etc. The problem is, Fireaxis, like many other modern games, goes about this the entirely wrong way. I said previously that Jagged Alliance 2 and The Bard’s Tale IV are my all-time favorite turn-based games (along with XCOM original). Now both of those games did something very, very important to create realism: They both disallowed saving games during combat entirely (or JA2 at least was built with this as the way it was supposed to be played and later added a weanie-non-ironman-mode for beginners). And frankly, I am convinced, that this is mandatory to create a really good turn-based combat engine. And since the combat-engine of a turn-based tactical game is it’s heart, this I believe is also MANDATORY for a good turn-based tactical game. At this point, many people will probably ask why this should be so important? ESCPECIALLY those who have never played games that disallow saving during a turn-based combat. These kinds of people always argue, that you can have BOTH, if only you build-in the possibility of saving games during combat, because then, supposedly, those people who don’t want to load or save games during combat could simply abstain from doing so. – Or, a little more limited, you could add different difficulty levels which would allow such or disallow it. The whole problem, however, as can be seen with XCOM 2, is *NOT* the players, but the developers!!!! If a game such as XCOM 2 is DEVELOPED, right from the start, with the possibility to save and load games during combat, - even if it’s just for beginner players – then the whole combat, and thus the whole game will be built around that! And this, in such a manner that it becomes fun / playable ONLY WITH that feature! On the other hand, if a game, such as JA2 is built right from the start WITHOUT the option of saving or loading a game during combat, then the whole combat system and thus the heart of the game, the most important part of the game and thus the whole game will be developed and built around that. In such a manner, that the game becomes fun / playable WITOUT that feature! And the big thing about this is, that the second option, a game that is PROPERLY built without allowing saving during combat is A HELL OF A LOT MORE fun to play, because the combat engine, the heart will be made so much more fair, predictable and realistic, if the developers had to play test it and play it like that all the time, as opposed to being able to load and save during combat all the time. In this sense, really, the developers ARE the most important players of a turn-based tactical game. That’s why you, as an independent developer have EVERY possibility to make your games exceed, where big commercial games such as XCOM 2 by Fireaxis must fail: Because you can actually take the time to play test your game, and just like in Jagged Alliance, re-build the combat engine from scratch 3 times (!!!) if you see that the game would profit of it! (I think this is mentioned in the book “Jagged Alliance 2 Boss Fight Books #5” by Darius Kazemi.) Look at it this way: Compare turn-based combat to chess: What is chess, if you look only at individual moves? Isn’t that as crippling as looking only at an individual frame of a movie? Say you drop in a chess game in the middle, with half the figures already gone. It becomes a stop-motion type of deal. That’s what happens when you allow saving during combat. Turn based combat, just like chess, or a movie, can only start moving, can only star writing its own glorious story, can only come to life, even more, can only become poetry, when the individual moves of all turns in a combat become one inseparable and entire entity that goes down into history and memory as a whole piece that is not, and must not be hacked into pieces! Only then turn-based combat can become more than the sum of its individual components, only then can turn-based combat become poetry, and create a life of its own. If you keep saving and loading during combat, as you must if a game has been developed with this feature in place, combat becomes a stupid succession of individual freeze-frame puzzles or pictures, that lack the correspondence and interdependency of previous and later events / frames. Only if turn-based combat is NON-INTERRUPTED, can it really shine. I felt this very strongly in JA2 and in Bard’s Tale IV. The suspense which you experience during combat, while it may be great even in games such as XCOM 2, literally becomes almost unbearable when you know, that you cannot save or re-load, until the conflict is fully resolved (and your guys dead or alive). And, this is only possible, if a combat system was designed and developed from the start, to be like this. Which is so clearly not the case with the combat engine in XCOM 2, which feels so extremely unfair and cheating. Just play about 5 – 10 good fights in Jagged Alliance 2 (after rolling up your main character) and you should start to notice the difference! Yes, not being able to save or load during combat may require re-playing a few combats from scratch one or two times. And yes, that will make the game take a little longer to complete. Just a little. But it will add TREMENDOUSLY to the overall game quality. Why? Because it will FORCE the developers, even against their wills, to make the combat FAIR, PREDICTABLE and REALISTIC! Which XCOM 2 fails at miserably and what is missing so direly in XCOM 2 (everyone agrees, less randomness, and thus more predictable realism in XCOM 2 combat is the most important thing to want to get more of). And if the combat is forced to be developed more fair, predictable and realistic, then, the *ENTIRE* combat engine will be better, much more honed out and filed to greatness! And if the combat engine is the heart of turn-based games as I said it is, then that makes the entire game so much butter. So you see, you must disallow saving during combat, not as much for the players, but most of all for the developers and the development process. And when the game has been developed to greatness without the option to save during combat, really, nobody can add any fun by putting it back in. So, long post short advice: Do not allow saving the game during combat. Don’t add the option, don’t plan on adding it, don’t even think about it. Make a game, that is fair, realistic and works great, if you like with different difficulty levels, but WITHOUT any option whatsoever to save or load a game during combat! Believe me, the game will profit of it. Tremendously! More than anybody, not even the developers can possibly *ever* forsee or imagine! I believe that’s what happened with JA2 and Bard’s Tale IV. Remember, Jagged Alliance 2 re-designed their combat engine from scratch 3 times! They took their combat engine, and thus combat very seriously. And you can’t take a movie seriously, if you are only looking at it frame by frame. You *must* look at it in motion and most of all, develop it, from scratch, to be looked at and experienced only in motion by everyone. Otherwise you should perhaps produce and sell photographs, not movies. That’s why JA2 is so good and XCOM 2 is so poor (below the glossy graphics). Bobby Gontarski
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