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Chris

Xenonauts-2: The Geoscape

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The Geoscape is the central command and control screen of Xenonauts-2. It is here that the war against the aliens unfolds, with extraterrestrial units and UFOs appearing on the map to threaten the funding regions and you deploying your aircraft and soldiers to defend them as best you can. The goal for our changes in Xenonauts-2 is to give the player more choices and make the strategy map feel more reactive to what the player is doing.

These are the systems covered:

  • Invasion Balance & Reactivity
  • Liaison Offices (Scientist & Engineer Recruitment)
  • Orbital Bombardment
  • Alternate Ending
  • Other Mechanics

Invasion Balance / Reactivity:
The strategy layer in Xenonauts had a few problems that would show up when the player was doing well. The optimal way to play the game was to gain interceptor cover across the entire planet as quickly as possible, and once you had sufficient numbers of interceptors (assuming you kept them appropriately upgraded) spread across the world the strategy layer ended up being rather simple - the UFOs would spawn and immediately get shot down.

One of the problems this caused was that the player would ONLY encounter crash sites from the point they gained air superiority. Almost all alien activity in X1 was driven by the UFOs, so shooting them down shortly after they spawn stops them from even spawning terror sites, creating alien bases or attacking your bases. Clearly, this doesn't make for a very interesting player experience and it's something we've addressed in X2 - the creation of some terror sites and alien bases is now independent from UFOs, so achieving complete air superiority will not lock you out from ever seeing those missions (in the final game ideally about half of them will be spawned from UFOs and thus preventable).

The other problem was that long stretches of the game could be kinda boring when you were doing well. You gained Relations with a region by shooting down UFOs, and shooting down the UFOs also prevented them from damaging Relations - so any region where you had strong air forces would quickly trend up to max relations / funding and just stay there for the whole game. We're tweaking the way Relations (now "Panic") works and adding more strategic pressure from the Orbital Bombardment mechanic (see below) to try and balance this out.

Finally, we're trying to make the alien activity more closely related to the player's actions. For instance, the aggressive UFOs on Air Superiority missions that will attack any of your aircraft that they encounter now possess squadsight, so they if you approach any other UFO within a certain radius they will light up their afterburners and attempt to protect it. Alien base missions now spawn resupply missions like in the original X-Com, and we plan to make alien base attacks more likely to be targeted at bases that house your most active interceptors, etc.

In conclusion, we're aiming to make the strategy layer more interesting through a number of subtle improvements and balance changes that should collectively make for a much more engaging experience.

Liaison Offices (Scientist / Engineering Recruitment):
One of the larger mechanical changes to the strategy layer is the addition of Liaison Offices, which add a degree of territory control the strategy layer. Conceptually the construction of a Liaison Office represents the Xenonauts setting up an embassy / local command center to co-ordinate with the local region, granting permanent bonuses to both your organisation and the local region.

There's about 25 of these in pre-set locations on the map, with 4 to 5 in each of the six funding regions. Construction costs $200,000 and takes 10 days. On completion, funding in the local region will be permanently increased and local Panic will be lowered, and a number of Scientists and Engineers will be added to your recruitment pool. This is your only source of scientists and engineers, so players will need to expand across the world to grow their research / engineering efforts.

Crucially, you need to protect these Liaison Offices once constructed, as alien Bombers will frequently target them and attempt to destroy them. If they succeed, you lose your investment and will suffer a significant panic increase in the local region. Building a bunch of Liaison Offices you then can't defend is an expensive and potentially terminal mistake!

 

orbital_bombardment_cropped.png

Orbital Bombardment:
Within a couple of minutes of starting the game, you'll learn that the Chief Scientist has discovered an unknown orbital object designated UOO-1. A few days later you'll learn that it is not friendly. The alien space station hovering above Earth is in fact an alien superweapon that will destroy a major city from orbit every 10 days, causing a large Panic spike in the affected region.

Although there's nothing you can do to stop this, if the player is progressing through the campaign at a reasonable rate the orbital bombardment mechanic will not affect the game very much. The repeated Panic increases are balanced out by the passive Panic reduction that you now gain from completing important research, and the bombardment will always hit the region with the lowest Panic (i.e. the one furthest from surrendering to the aliens).

The purpose of this system is to quickly close out games where the player has fallen behind and would eventually lose anyway. Thematically, it is intended to make the invasion feel more dangerous - even if you have complete control over the skies of Earth, the aliens will still be slowly bombing humanity into submission. Naturally, you'll get your revenge on the space station at the end of the game!

Alternate Ending:
The core storyline of Xenonauts 2 is learning enough about the aliens to figure out how to stop the invasion and destroy the orbital superweapon. Following a fairly straightforward research chain and winning a couple of unique story missions (an alien facility assault and a unique UFO assault) will eventually unlock the final mission, allowing you to save humanity and win the game when you've got an appropriately experienced and equipped squad to carry it out.

However, the game will also include a second (better) ending that any player interested in reading the research text and learning about the aliens will probably achieve. It's not exactly going to be a hidden ending but it will require a bit more effort to achieve; capturing high-ranking aliens and reading research text will be a necessity.

The idea here is that players can engage with the game world / lore as much as they like. If people want to ignore the research text and just blow up some aliens, that's fine - they can happily complete the game without ever knowing where the aliens come from or what they're trying to achieve. But I've done quite a bit more work fleshing out the aliens and their society / empire this time around, and if players want to take the time required to delve into that information they'll be able to engineer a better outcome.

Other Mechanics:
Some other smaller mechanical changes that don't warrant a multi-paragraph explanation have also made it onto the Geoscape:

  • Panic: each region now has a Panic score rather than a Relations score. This doesn't change much except countries are lost at 100 Panic, rather than being lost at 0 Relations.
  • Static(ish) Funding: regions no longer increase their funding as your Relations with them improve. Instead, any region not lost to the aliens gives you a set amount of funding each month. This funding is reduced by 25% if Panic is above 50, and 50% if Panic is above 75.
  • Geoscape Agents: these are a simple strategic resource that will reduce current Panic by 10% when assigned to a region. I think there's scope to expand this system in the future, but we'd likely only look at this at the end of development.
  • Tech Proliferation: completing certain research projects will give a global Panic reduction and equip the local forces with the appropriate equipment after a certain amount of time has passed. For example, once you've researched Laser Rifles you'll get an immediate Panic reduction and will see the friendly AI forces in terror missions etc start to use them ~30 days later.

 

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So would you consider continuing the Strategic Operations concept in the future? I found it a interesting concept and can make player take good use of spare soldiers/pilots/staffs instead of assgining them to blow up aliens or just working in basements, some missions relating to Geoscape Agents can also made numerous opportunities to insert new lores into the story.

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As an Beta-Tester I can say:

The most of that implementations could be tested since the last Betas. And they give Xenonauts 2 an hughe improvment against Xenonauts 1. The already implemented Features workes fine.

The new implemented ones (Tech Profileration and Geoscape Agents) will be tested in Beta 13 now as well the bugfixed / reworked implemented Features should work finer now. 

I personaly like this new Geoscape-Features and hope to get more with eventually DLC´s.

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On 5/18/2020 at 11:28 PM, Chris said:

the creation of some terror sites and alien bases is now independent from UFOs, so achieving complete air superiority will not lock you out from ever seeing those missions (in the final game ideally about half of them will be spawned from UFOs and thus preventable).

This should be addressed lore wise and with some added mechanics to make these separate spawns different from actual terror missions that involve alien ships. Maybe the independent terror sites are deployed using orbital drop pods so the enemies would be exclusively Androns and  Reapers as they’re the only ones that can handle the G-force and the later impacts. And the bases that get built independently will feature special builder drones and huge portal setup that continues to spawn in aliens (basically an upscaled teleporting elevator) with the fallback of not having any AA guns that have to be disabled. To destroy the base the builder drones have to be killed and the portal must be destroyed. While normal bases have ship hangars, AA plasma turrets and multiple levels to them that makes it necessary for your transport planes be protected by fighters to even land and bombers being unable to destroy the base

 

On 5/18/2020 at 11:28 PM, Chris said:

This is your only source of scientists and engineers, so players will need to expand across the world to grow their research / engineering efforts.

This is quite restrictive in my opinion. Scientists and engineers should also be recruited from special events and factional favors for the added factor of choice to the game. Maybe an alien ship abducted a genius scientist and by shooting down a UFO you can find him in a holding pen/stasis prison. Maybe the Soviets will give you a group of 10 scientists if you help them attack a West German base or give them some tech in making plasma weapons. These people can also be recruited from special operations and field agents using choice dialogue similar to how FTL does it.

 

On 5/18/2020 at 11:28 PM, Chris said:

Naturally, you'll get your revenge on the space station at the end of the game!

 

You should also have a choice in this as well. This could work by your decision in what to do with the station after invading it. Maybe you could take it over, destroy it or give it to either the US or USSR. Kinda like the ending to the first Deus Ex.

 

On 5/18/2020 at 11:28 PM, Chris said:

Alternate Ending:

Oh yes! The endings shouldn’t be too elaborate but not as simple as a “you win” screen like the first game. The best option to implement this is have it being similar to old RPGs ending screenshots having a slideshow and commentary on how your decisions changed the world (like Arcanum or the Fallout games). For instance if you decided to not share tech at all, overthrow both sides of the Cold War and takeover the UOO-1, the world would be under the complete control of the Xenonauts ruling it with a iron fist. If you decide to help both and destroy UOO-1, the status quo would continue, both sides continues to threaten each other with nuclear annihilation and Xenonauts is once again disbanded after serving its purpose. The other two endings will depends on the side you support. 

 

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I just came here to say how much I love the giant orbital laser. Playing the backer builds every now and then, just to see how things have changed and that zap, boom, city destroyed just came out of no where for me! It's a great big timer of, "this is what the player wants to stop." It's what the avatar project should have been in XCOM2. Something big and mean and fully understandable without any clear path to victory which makes just **want** to knab as much alien tech as you can as fast as you can. There will be no sitting around comfortably enduring the invasion day after day like in the end game of X-Com, there's skyfire to stop!

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The Example with the XCOM 2 / XCOM 2 WotC Avatar Project is perfect. That´s what make a Game interessting.

The Limiter in XCOM Enemy Unknown / Enemy Within is an Panic Level like here. The Limiter in XCOM 2 / XCOM 2 WotC is the Avatar Project. And in Phoenix Point it´s the Virus Nebula.

Such things you can handle for a while with Destroying that or doing whatever like Research something and share it with your Founders etc., but you can´t do anything until you get to the Main-Threat (in XCOM = Templer Ship; in XCOM 2 = T´Leth in the Atlantic; in Phoenix Point = ????). And here it´s the Alien-Orbital-Station wich you can destroy or you can talk to the Aliens and make a Conference as an Alternative.

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