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"Pathfinders" Update #1


Chris
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We'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:

industrial_exterior.jpg

industrial_interior.jpg

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!

industrial_exterior.jpg

industrial_interior.jpg

industrial_exterior.jpg.a30fab8d3bed4167

industrial_interior.thumb.jpg.538f105d53

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Everything seems pretty cool. Can't wait to see what you do with the system. It's not a bad system but it felt a little lacking to me in XCOM.

Also, a little idea for a building. It would be awesome to have to go to a factory that is an assembly line for Androns as a little nod.

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Everything seems cool :) I'm really curious to see your furthers developments/works !

Like some others, for me the X-COM 2012 system was far from perfect, even if there were a lot of good ideas inside. It was mostly frustrating at my taste. The TU system of Xenonauts has more flexibility. But you seems to want to "mix" the two : flexibility and strategy possibilites from Xenonauts, with easy to understand and fluid combat system. So as I said: I'm really curious and it looks very promising !

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Probably my biggest gripe with the "two actions" system in XCOM 2012 is that lines of sight are often not immediately obvious when you're plotting your moves, potentially (it felt like "often", but I doubt that it was actually that frequent) resulting in an attempt to move up and fire on Alien X instead moving past a point where you had a clear shot at X to reach a location where X isn't even visible. A full TU system mitigates this by allowing you to move up one space at a time until you get a shot instead of forcing you to get the final destination right on the first try (because, if you need to try a second time, you've just used both actions, so no shooting for you this turn).

If you're set on a two-actions system (and it sounds like you are), then please try to come up with a way to avoid this problem, whether by allowing a move action to be broken up into multiple sub-moves, highlighting which areas will be visible from a move's destination (based on known terrain) before the move is committed to, or in some other manner.

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I'm kinda hoping the combat system will end up having more than just two actions per turn. After 300 hours of playtime in XCOM I still feel that being able to do more per turn would benefit the game greatly, and if Pathfinders is going to have a wider range of different soldier actions, stances, movement options and so on, three or more actions per turn seem almost mandatory to make full use of them.

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Sounds like a nice solid base there Chris, looking forward to see what you do with it.

The concept artwork looks nice as well, also appears to have subtle variations for buildings so the maps won't play exactly the same each time.

I know it is still very early but any thoughts yet on destructible terrain?

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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.

Both XCOM2012 and Xenonauts have automatic overwatch systems in the sense that the player can't choose to do them.

Jagged Alliance 2 had a system where the player could choose which shots to make. If a solider had an overwatch opportunity, the game "broke in" and allowed the player to use TU, or pass, which kept the overwatch opportunity for later.

How do you feel about such a system? (Personally, I love it ;))

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I'm really interested to learn some more about the lore for this game. I know it's not supposed to be connected with Xenonauts but since this is set semi-far into the future it might could be just not explicitly stated. But that is not really important. I'm just a lore-whore.

Although, I must ask, is there any chance that you might put the Scuttler into this game? I really liked it's design.

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imho you must rebield the AP system to make it more truthful:

1) front and diag moving. now we have 2/3 , thats incorrect. I think 5/7 will be better.

2) kneeling must be different (up and down)

3) turning the body AP must be affected by the angel.

4) and the button "undo" )))

more total AP, and more variants to tune it up

thx

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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.

I just hope you can avoid XCOM's "LoS magic" where all that matters are points A and B (shooter and target) while the ballistic implications of things in between get neglected.

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Agreed on "points A and B" stuff, not only it often leads to visual glitches like shooting through walls and other obstacles, the downside of that system is the impossibility to reliably destroy enemy cover (except with free-aiming weapons like explosives), which was quite baffling, given that this feature existed even in the original game.

You can't argue that XCOM 2012 was still a great game, very polished and visually appealing, just not without its own flaws and somewhat lacking in strategic department.

Edited by Rovlad
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Agreed on "points A and B" stuff, not only it often leads to visual glitches like shooting through walls and other obstacles, the downside of that system is the impossibility to reliably destroy enemy cover (except with free-aiming weapons like explosives), which was quite baffling, given that this feature existed even in the original game.

In fairness, this was an intentional design decision. Cover is so important in XCom that being able to deliberately target and destroy it would be unbalancing and make cover-destruction the key objective of a firefight. Indeed, this turned out to be the case anyway, but at least the resources which you need to do it are in limited supply.

I'm actually hoping that Pathfinders is a little less extreme with regards to cover destruction. Once you got to lasers, everything in XCOM felt like it was made of glass and you had hilarious things like frag grenades completely obliterating the hulls of alien ships in spite of the narrative making very loud noises about being "orders of magnitude" more durable than known materials. So - for me anyway - it would be nice if that were scaled down so that cover destruction is something that most weapons don't do very well at all.

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I'm really interested to learn some more about the lore for this game. I know it's not supposed to be connected with Xenonauts but since this is set semi-far into the future it might could be just not explicitly stated. But that is not really important. I'm just a lore-whore.

Although, I must ask, is there any chance that you might put the Scuttler into this game? I really liked it's design.

I am also interested but for a different reason, sometimes a game's lore restricts on how a gameplay pans out.

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  • 2 weeks later...

[*]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.

Can't really aggree with this. Sure in xenonauts it was more difficult to figure out why a Person has a certain chance to hit an enemy. He had less chance to hit an enemy if there was a thing in between that he could hit instead of the person. That makes sense.

In Xcom 2012 an attacker has less chance to hit an enemy because the enemy has trait Y, not because he has to shoot through a freaking wall to hit the guy. That does NOT make more sense that the xenonauts system.

True, it makes it most certainly more easy to figure out beforehand how much of a chance someone might have to hit a certain enemy, but it also makes everything very binary. You're either in cover or your not in cover. Even if there is a massive rock or a wall between you and your enemy it might as well not exist for how much it protects you. Personally i didn't really like that. It really killed the immersion in the game and make it just feel so ... gamey.

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