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Valmont

Improving Ambiance and Immersion in Xenonauts 2

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Posted (edited)

We all love Xenonauts and we all love Xcom none of the new iterations could get something right... something that the original had... and that was the Horror and Immersion it had.

Even with its dated graphics Xcom 1 and 2 manage to scare the hell out of you. Anything moving in the shadows and about to kill you... you felt hopeless but exited.

Of course few games manage to get the sound, lightning and shadows right to induce this feelings in their players. One of the latest of a similar perspective being Darkwood.

This week I had the opportunity to try a new game that manages just that with the same isometric view our beloved Xenontauts use. The game is HellSign and here is a gameplay video of the game so you guys can see what I am talking about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBXWIFsTmgk

So, my question to the devs goes like this: Do we still have time the shadows and lightning working something like this? The volumetric fog and the sounds really add to the immersion and ambiance and this game really have me the same feel that the first Xcom did.

Anyways, I hope this serves as inspiration for the Devs to get the most of their investment and also get a part of the original Xcom soul back into these modern times. 

Edited by Valmont

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Thanks for the post. You're right that none of the modern X-Com sequels including Xenonauts have got the horror feel of X-Com quite right, and it is something I'd like to bring into X2.

The game you linked in that video isn't necessarily a feasible way to do it though; shadows and lighting are very complex things to get right and games like Xenonauts don't translate well to that sort of setup for several reasons - firstly, it's very important to be able to see which tiles are visible and which aren't, which might be kinda tricky if you have eight to twelve soldiers each using powerful torches like in that video at the same time. Secondly, using light cones also doesn't work very well on a tile grid because things tend to look very jagged due to the shape of the tiles and the fact entire tiles have to be lit up or dark, not just parts of tiles. Thirdly, I suspect people want a game like Xenonauts to support both day missions AND night missions, so we can't get too hung up on specific light effects even if we wanted to. Finally, environmental destructibility and fancy lighting don't tend to play nicely together.

To be honest, the original X-Com did horror very well without all the fancy lighting effects. Playing a mission even in broad daylight could be very scary so I think we need to concentrate on trying to bring the horror in in other ways.

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Posted (edited)

Thank you Chris! I totally agree with you... Graphics aren't what made Xcom 1 so scary but still graphics can definitely help increase the immersion and horror of the unknown... but perhaps sounds and gamplay do play a greater role in that department like you very well said.

All I know is that the magic that games like fallout, diablo 1 and other isometric games had has somehow been lost on our transition into 3D engines.

Anyhow, I do hope you get the formula right so we can all experience the terror we are used to from 1994!

By the way a very minimalistic UI really helps with immersion so if possible make everything UI, even the blocks that appear on the ground when moving units, as minimalist and unintrusive as possible.  The more UI we have the more we are reminded we are playing a game and no really exploring a crashed UFO.

Keep it up Devs!

Edited by Valmont

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If there are night missions, there will be light cones, no? I think it might be an idea to distinguish tiles into "fully lighted", since they are completely under the cone of light created by whatever light source the soldiers are carrying, "not lighted" and "partially lighted". This would allow to keep the visual presentation from being jarring as you can just display a light cone as one would expect it, yet is easily understood by players.

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4 hours ago, Drakon said:

If there are night missions, there will be light cones, no? I think it might be an idea to distinguish tiles into "fully lighted", since they are completely under the cone of light created by whatever light source the soldiers are carrying, "not lighted" and "partially lighted". This would allow to keep the visual presentation from being jarring as you can just display a light cone as one would expect it, yet is easily understood by players.

Night missions and line of sight work very badly together, unfortunately, something you can see in X1 - darkening a tile is used both to indicate a tile not being in line of sight, but at night it's also used to show which tiles are not lit, so it's difficult to tell which is which on night missions (a problem old-Xcom didn't have because it didn't show vision cones). I've yet to find a satisfactory solution to that particular issue unfortunately.

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Posted (edited)

Something simple that added to the immersion in the original xcom was aliens that fired(on your turn) from the shroud that you couldn't see(especially on night missions). The fear I would get when I simply exited the starting ship and had multiple shots fired towards me not knowing where they came from, and as I would move through the map in general i never felt safe moving around a corner or in an open space. Knowing the direction it came from is key, but not the exact location and of course it depends on the reaction fire mechanic of the alien in question, TU remaining etc.

The xcom reboot lost this part and the fear associated with it. Yay, lets play a reveal animation clearly showing their location to which you can now clearly set up a return fire. I think the 2nd version fixed this in some limited way.

I must admit though, shadows and lighting really do add to an atmospheric affect. Although and early build, the demo I played simply felt like aliens on a static map which was similar to the first Xenonauts. The first one got by on its artstyle and music working as its atmospheric element. If you change something to 3D and lose that drawing style, it has to be found elseware. Surly there could be a compromise?

Edited by roxxed

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11 hours ago, Chris said:

Night missions and line of sight work very badly together, unfortunately, something you can see in X1 - darkening a tile is used both to indicate a tile not being in line of sight, but at night it's also used to show which tiles are not lit, so it's difficult to tell which is which on night missions (a problem old-Xcom didn't have because it didn't show vision cones). I've yet to find a satisfactory solution to that particular issue unfortunately.

Really, is it that hard to distinguish the two visually (it does not even strike me as something useful for Xenonauts, because both are the same mechanically)? I mean, you could go sepia vs. gray, or hatch or overlay tiles out of vision cones with a dark blue, or even literally outline the vision area of all your troops.

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22 hours ago, Chris said:

Night missions and line of sight work very badly together, unfortunately, something you can see in X1 - darkening a tile is used both to indicate a tile not being in line of sight, but at night it's also used to show which tiles are not lit, so it's difficult to tell which is which on night missions (a problem old-Xcom didn't have because it didn't show vision cones). I've yet to find a satisfactory solution to that particular issue unfortunately.

Adjust brightness for one and saturation for the other, and both if both apply?

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Posted (edited)
11 hours ago, Dagar said:

Really, is it that hard to distinguish the two visually (it does not even strike me as something useful for Xenonauts, because both are the same mechanically)? I mean, you could go sepia vs. gray, or hatch or overlay tiles out of vision cones with a dark blue, or even literally outline the vision area of all your troops.

First there is the option to turn off the fog of war in X2 (but aliens out of line of sight still not visible), so in this case there would be a lot of tiles that should be displayed as visible (seen at least once) but not lit up.

And it could be a mechanical difference if there would be allowed to see some not lit-up tiles. For example allow the soldiers short-range natural night vision. (so you have your standard view angle very short ranged + a narrow view of the gun light with is not as far as the day view range). Or an interesting mechanic because it would be realistic would be if you would be allowed to see alien as dark silouette if it is standing between your soldier and a light source.

Since it is a 3D engine now, I would like it if the game would indicate the fog of war as actual volumetric (but 70-90% transparant) fog clouds. This would free up one darkening/contrast change of tiles to indicate something else.

Edited by wulf 21

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I agree that X2 tried to keep X1 aesthetics while going full 3D does require a different approach to many mechanics, specially the visual ones. I would suggest going for units, physics and lightning looking as realistic as possible while going minimalist with UI.

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Having to throw flares for lighting was great in my opinion. But I'm not sure how much lighting is fit for purpose in a game like Xenonauts. I'm imagining that lighting/shadows really come into their own if there is a stealth mechanic, but that is not the path xenonauts has taken. Which is fair enough. XCOM2 had the stealth mechanic - in some sense, the combat in that game is more oriented towards a series of small ambushes rather than a single, connected skirmish. The fear that gets you in Xenonauts is the fear of stretching your squad too far apart when scouting, or checking blind spots you had assumed were clear. It is the way that enemies can hide within the map. 

Also, much as I love XCOM, the enemies are mostly caricatures. In Xenonauts, they're much more grim. Silent and merciless. It is probably not worth trying to mimic the fear that other games are good at. Instead, play to the strengths native to Xenonauts. Like having Sebillians seemingly return from the dead. Or Androns fight with inhuman inhibition. Or Reapers sneak up behind you. Maybe there is something to be said for a mechanic particular to Terror missions. Something that does make use of lighting mechanics, forcing a much more claustrophobic feel to the map, e.g. the mission taking place in an underwater/lunar base, dark cramped corridors, stray shots risking a breach in the walls. That'd make you tense up and stress out.

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Sound: I really love the new music tracks! :)

On the other hand, I am missing the 3D sounds - it is so strange that I can't tell where that alien was shooting at that policeman, in modern games that is a basic feature. But combat UX is still pretty terrible anyways, so I guess that will improve.

Lights: Jagged Alliance 2 was perfect in this. Ambient light changed by the minute, and visibility changed with it! Knifing were never so easy as in a night mission - but first, you had to find them by ear, as your steps might have been silent, you might have been wearing ninja clothes, but your eyes were the same v1.0 eyeballs! (Or were there any night vision goggles in JA2? I no longer remember...)

On the other hand, I prefer fighting daytime, when I can clearly see. But I would miss the detail.

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