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May Development Update

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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!

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As I have started to read through this text my immediate thought was about the UI.
I know why you used the X1 interface, no prob here. I am quite certain you will find an improved version, let it be with a certain resource or via the community.
One comment from me; please don't forget to implement all possible actions with icons or tool tip descriptions. I personally always forget how to use the Medkit, or that I can stop the walking soldier with the space bar.

Otherwise, thanks fo this update and the description of next development steps.


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1 hour ago, Chris said:

Branding & UI

I suppose this is indeed more of finding someone / some people that are able to make prettier things than you / we are able to.
It certainly will be a challenge, as you already have pointed out. But hopefully you'll be able to find one or more people to be more or less permanent to your team, especially if they are multi-talented.

It's indeed a luck-issue of finding the right-people for this kind of work, or pretty much any work when it comes drawing and such.
But hopefully we players (mainly via "word-of-mouth") also are able to lure some of people you are looking to apply this job.

(( To elaborately-clarify a bit: I am one of those people who heavily endorses making studying at least the "basics".
As I've said I have two vocational / trade-education, one being a farmer in which we were taught of (basic) welding
(well I actually got to practice some during junior-hight / 7th-9th-grade with "MIG"("metal-inert-gas")-welding-machine. But in that farmer-school we got to use the "old-fashioned-sticks" (or in "pro-terms", "Shielded-metal-arc-welding (SMAW))).
Point of mine is, is that I can do very basics when it comes to welding and I know how some of the more advanced equipments work (like the "plasma-arc-welder").
But would I take a high-responsibility-job? Absolutely not, because I know well enough that my skills aren't par with super-experienced-professionals and other naturally-talented workers.))


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