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Chris

Xenonauts-2 October Update!

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With preparations for the closed beta of Xenonauts-2 very much underway here at Goldhawk HQ, it's time for me to give you all an update. As I talked about the strategy layer last time around, this time I'll be focusing predominantly on the ground combat. I'll also be giving a little information on the timelines and progress towards our closed beta.

First up, apologies for the radio silence here on the forum. The harder I'm working the less time I have to spend reading and commenting on forum posts, and this effect is magnified when I'm working on a few big tasks rather than working on lots of little things because I have far fewer 5-minute gaps in my day where I can grab a moment to check out the forums. I've spent a lot of time making maps recently, which is definitely a big task!

Map Variety:
Having a decent number of maps in the beta is pretty essential to keep people interested as we release our updates, because seeing the same map over and over again really kills any excitement in the ground combat. I've made roughly 35 maps for the early-game UFO crash sites and alien base missions in the past two weeks, and I'm still working on more (Terror maps, crash sites for the larger UFOs, etc). I'll write up a longer forum post on the map editor at some point, but these maps support more randomisation than the equivalents in Xenonauts 1 so those 35 maps should go a long way - although naturally we'll continue to make more as development continues.

However, please note that we're concentrating on quantity rather than quality right now. Some of the buildings / props / ground textures look pretty rough in some biomes, but I'm more interested in the gameplay variety than the visuals at this point and so I've just thrown them into the game anyway. These will be polished and improved once we've got basic versions of all the tiles and terrain we want in the game.

We're both expanding old biomes from the first Xenonauts to contain more variety, and also adding new biomes to Xenonauts-2. This should give a really great end result in terms of keeping the gameplay experience feeling fresh and giving the game a suitably "global" feel, but the scale of the work required is significantly more than was needed for the first Xenonauts (which itself contained a LOT of environmental art) so we ask for your patience as we work our way through it all!

New Mechanics, Weapons & Abilities:
Although the focus has been on some core gameplay systems over the past month, we've quietly finished up a quite a few more self-contained mechanics and battlefield items.

Fans of the original X-Com will be pleased to hear that we've implemented proximity detonation for grenades, so the classic proxy grenades are now functional and in the game. We've also got the Reaper "infect" ability working, so units are turned into zombies if killed by a Reaper ... and those zombies hatch into Reapers if killed or after 5 turns. We're now moving on to adding the psionic alien abilities, starting with Mind Control - and we'll probably be adding a psi-amp item to the game for testing purposes so if we do want to give the human side psionics it's going to be very easy to do.

We've also revised a couple of gameplay systems to make them cleaner and easier to understand. Stun Damage used to be a pretty complex calculation but now it just starts at 0 and counts upwards as soldiers take Stun Damage. This is displayed as a small yellow line under the HP bar of the soldier, and if the yellow bar ever reaches the current HP of your soldier then they are knocked unconscious. Same gameplay effect as before; just displayed more clearly.

The other revised system is Armour Penetration and Armour Destruction. Armour now provides a set of resistances - e.g. a suit of kevlar armour might give you 40% resistance against kinetic damage, which reduces incoming kinetic damage by 40%. Armour Penetration is just a percentage set on the weapon that controls what % of the weapon's damage ignores this resistance (e.g. if a rifle does 100 kinetic damage and has 20% Penetration, a target will take 20 damage even if they have 100% Kinetic Resistance).

Armour Destruction is another percentage set on the weapon, and it controls how much armour the weapon destroys with each successful hit. A sniper rifle with 30% Armour Destruction will leave the target with 70% of their starting armour after a successful hit. This means it only offers 70% of the protection (against all damage types) it did when it was undamaged; e.g. that kevlar armour that offered 40% kinetic resistance would only offer 28% kinetic resistance after being hit with a sniper rifle round. Similar to what we had in Xenonauts 1 but a bit simpler for players to track.

Inventory:
I mentioned last month that we were implementing the full soldier inventory system from Xenonauts 1. We've got this system working now, which is a pretty big deal given it touches on all the following:

  • All inventory items have grid sizes and weights, and soldiers have grid-based backpacks / belts and suffer TU penalties for being overloaded
  • Units can open their inventory on the battlefield and spend TU to change their equipped weapons or drop items on the ground
  • Units drop the contents of their inventories when stunned or killed, and other units can pick this up
  • Items from the battlefield are transferred back to strategy (or not), including stuff picked up by your soldiers and brought back in their backpacks, etc

This is a pretty huge system, and it's also pretty notorious for having even more "invisible" work in it than other parts of the game. For example, once you finish all that and start testing it you rapidly realise that there are certain special-case items that actually should not be dropped by a stunned / killed unit - e.g. the claw weapons from a Reaper, or the body armour of a stunned Xenonaut. Today we set up the "integrated" tag that allows us to specify those items, which wasn't a huge amount of work in itself but was just yet another small special case that eats up our development time.

This sorta thing means that the inventory system took quite a bit longer to finish up than we expected, and as a result it's now working... but it's not yet working well. You can do pretty much everything you want with the system, but there's a load of obvious usability functionality missing - e.g. dragging and dropping an item on top of another item doesn't swap the position of those items, so if you want to change the weapon of a soldier on the Soldier Equip screen you first have to unequip their current weapon before you can assign a new weapon in the empty slot. The question over whether this is good enough for a beta release brings me onto the next part of this post.

Progress Towards Beta:
The closed beta for the £35+ Kickstarter backers is slated for the start of next month - the internal date we were looking at was the 6th or 7th of November. We are sprinting as fast as we can to get things ready, but I'm also very conscious that releasing something too rough means there simply won't be much useful feedback you can give us.

A good example of that is the inventory system mentioned above. Fixing bugs and doing all the "invisible" work means we've not made as much progress as we'd like in recent weeks, so we're simply not going to be able to finish on the obvious usability issues with the Soldier Equip screen before the planned beta date - as we're concentrating on actual critical game-breaking bugs at the moment. I think those bugs will be fixed by 7th November, so we *could* release a working build on that date... but I think we'll be wasting everyone's time by doing so.

Here's why - anyone who has played Xenonauts 1 for any length of time immediately pick up on the usability problems with the Soldier Equip screen and will flag them up... but we're already well aware of those issues, we just haven't had time to fix them. There's enough of these problems scattered throughout the game that I think we should try to address them before the beta, else we'll be wasting the enthusiasm behind the first few beta builds just collecting information on issues we're already got on our work lists. Player feedback is a valuable commodity and I think spending a few more weeks fixing the gameplay would make the experience more worthwhile for everyone.

We're therefore going to delay the start beta by few more weeks. I'll announce the updated beta date next week, as we're still working on a couple of areas where fixing bugs revealed yet more bugs hiding underneath - we can't really do any meaningful planning until we've got those things working, as we still don't know how many bugs there are left hidden under the bugs we're currently working on.

Anyway, I hope this post has explained the logic behind the delay - but I nonetheless apologise to anyone disappointed by the news!

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Wow, I've only just realised that I want reaper claws as a weapon that can be picked up from the field. Maybe leave that one in as an second wave setting ;)

This is the first time I've witnessed a project going from discussion to design - it is nice to see how ideas have evolved. Obviously seeing them in play should be better. But I'm patient enough to wait till the basics are ready, whilst fluid navigation/interface issues are easy enough to look past, there is no point in wasting every beta tester's time with tedious clicks. Might be worth sending out some kind of framework for feedback - it is quite easy to just ramble on when submitting impressions. With a given structure, it'll be easier to find things to focus on in the game.

Also, there is a noticeable lack of screen shots in this update...

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No problem if you take some time to make it perfect. We all want to play X2, but sure we can wait a couple of weeks. Keep the good work! 

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As you said, player feedback is a scarce commodity. Have you considered asking players for specific feedback? If the Inventory issues aren't sorted by mid-November, you could always ask players to focus feedback in other areas, or provide a list of known issues for them not to duplicate reports.

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It would be fun if we had a Combat knife in the game.   Kill enemy with combat knife, strip claws from enemy.  Sell claws for cash like psiclone from X-Com Apocalypse!!!  Or have an organization that we can sell enemy body parts for cash(this will solve your "claws" problem and make it a bit more interesting then using explosive weapons and wiping out all the loot)

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