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Chris

Xenonauts 2: Research Tree

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The research mechanics in Xenonauts 2 are the primary method of storytelling in the game and also the avenue by which the player unlocks all the exciting new equipment they get to use in battle against the aliens. The tech tree in the original Xenonauts was adequate but took some criticism for being too straightforward, so we're hoping to add a bit more player choice in Xenonauts 2.

The topics of discussion here are:

  • Game Lore
  • Research Structure & Equipment Tiers
  • Modular Armour

 

Game Lore:
How interested you are in reading technobabble about your latest invention and discovering the story behind the aliens you're fighting is really down to personal preference, but I know a lot of people appreciated the fact that Xenonauts makes an effort to maintain an internally consistent universe and justify why the game works like it does. If you're one of these people, good news - this is something we're expanding on with Xenonauts 2.

The research writing isn't yet finished, but we're planning to include more lore that the player can seek out if they want to read it - indeed, doing so is planned to unlock an alternate ending. I've tried to make the backstory of the aliens a little more interesting than before, made an effort to make fundamentally unrealistic tech sound a bit more plausible, and made the actual game storyline more complex than just capturing aliens of increasing seniority until the final mission gets unlocked. Hopefully people will enjoy it.

I'm also conscious that I don't want to force this stuff onto people if they aren't interested, so you can also safely ignore it if you don't particularly care.

Research Structure & Equipment Tiers:
The research tree in X1 was fairly straightforward in the sense that it was mostly just unlocks of tech that were universal upgrades over what came before. This didn't really give the player much in the way of research choices - e.g. there was no reason to prioritise plot research over upgrading weapons or armour, and if unlocking plasma weapons requires you to have first unlocked laser weapons then there's no way to skip past tiers of technology to gain an advantage, etc.

The first change is therefore to try to differentiate the different weapon tiers more than in the first game. Although more advanced weapons should still be better overall, there's still space to make them behave differently - e.g. the laser weapons could have recharging clips and be unusually accurate. Certain enemies may also have a resistance to either kinetic or energy weapons, encouraging the player to change out their loadouts if they know what type of enemy they are facing. This is a more interesting setup than the "more advanced weapons are always better in every situation" model we used in X1.

Swapping out loadouts based on the enemies present is only possible if the player has access to the X2 equivalent of the Hyperwave Decoder, so in the current design the early plot research / missions unlock better radars and the Hyperwave Decoder. It's therefore possible to get these very early on if you prioritise them, but doing so obviously means you're not getting advanced weapons / armour / aircraft etc as early as you would otherwise.

Another change is that there's no longer any research projects that auto-upgrade things (like the explosives projects did in X1) - these now unlock engineering projects that take time and resources to do this. In the current design there's also a "V2" upgrade for each of the weapon technologies that improves the stats of an older weapon tier, the idea being that people can either commit to the new weapons or run an upgrade project to try and keep their existing weapons relevant for longer.

Overall, we're just trying to make a few sensible changes to the research structure to make it a bit more interesting. We'll only be able to see the full effects of these changes when the game is fully playable (most of them represent fairly fine balancing) so we're not completely sure yet that they are good changes, but I'm fairly confident they'll improve the game!


Modular Armour:
One of the biggest improvements to the equipment / research system in X2 is the addition of modular armour. In the first Xenonauts most armour tiers had two armour variants - for example, the Wolf armour was heavy and protective, and the Buzzard was a similar tech level but offered less protection and integrated a jetpack.

In Xenonauts 2 all of this would be represented by a single suit of armour. Equipping a soldier with Wolf armour would offer them a certain amount of protection and give them access to a number of additional armour modules that can be independently activated, such as:

  • Heavy Armour: this adds extra armour to the soldier, but increases the weight of the armour.
  • Rebreather: this makes the soldier immune to gas damage, but slightly reduces their Accuracy.
  • Tactical Visor: this gives the soldier an Accuracy boost, but reduces the protection offered by the armour.
  • Jetpack: this allows the soldier to move vertically, but increases the weight of the armour.

You can probably see how you can create an equivalent for the X1 Wolf and the X1 Buzzard using that system, but there's additional customisation options too. Maybe most of your soldiers want Heavy Armour, but only your close range shotgunners need a Rebreather. You probably want to give your snipers a Tactical Visor, but do they need a Jetpack as well?

Individual modules can be unlocked or upgraded by research; e.g. the Heavy Armour can be upgraded to offer better protection via research, and the appearance of the Jetpack module could be tied to completion of a research and subsequent engineering project. Anyway, this system should make your soldiers more flexible than before, and I'm also very keen to see what modders can do with it once our mod tools are released!

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Good to have more lores! I'm always excited to read about the settings of Xenonauts and i even find it interesting for adding personal comments into lore articles like X:CE did, which made me feel that we are having an "alive" staff with a decent sense of humor, I hope the new lore stories can dig deeper into the Cold War authentic elements as well, like the counter-espionage for stolen technology story in X:CE was a really interesting side plot.

I'm also curious about the new story of this case. What would be triggering the alternative endings then? Would players still get this ending if they chose to research the specific project even if they dont know what it is, or if they completely ignore what the lores are saying, they won't unlock anything related to the alternative endings?

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Like before in the Other Parts I can say as an Beta-Tester:

1. Read the Game Lore Texts for the Storyline. They are very interessting and Chris as well as his Helpers invest much time in it. People which don´t read it have to play Ponnyhof.

2. The Research Structure & Equipment Tiers are a very hugh improvement to the Game. Here a big Thanks to Chris and his team for what we could see in the already existing Betas. It´s not finished yet and need a lot of work to do. We will see what have done to Beta 13 in this case.

3. The new Modular Armor System is amazing. Thank´s for that and keep up the good work. :cool:

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more lore, alternative endings :)

One thing that confuses me is that AAA games always seem to have a pretty weak story line. Sometimes it feels intentional, like they want to spend $$$ on the graphics but only pennies on writers. XCOM2 did a good job of crafting a scenario to fit the gameplay (i.e. guerrilla fighters), but the story line was not at all compelling and didn't drive you to discover things through research. This is not to say that the X1 story line should've won the Booker Prize but the way the story was delivered was interesting, almost neo-noir (yes, I did just look that up). I really like the idea of burying something in the research reports, so you as the player/commander actually have a role in reading them and putting two and two together.

For the research structure and equipment tiers - this sounds a bit more like a skill tree for an RPG or something. So each campaign you can create a different 'build' (but if you have the patience you can unlock every upgrade). On that point, I think it is preferable to go down the route of a research-based skill tree for the squad, rather than a perk-based skill tree for each soldier. 

In terms of the engineering upgrade projects - that better reflects the reality of R&D / R&T. As a suggestion, could this involve live alien captures? Speeding up the project by getting info on advanced tech through interrogation. In line with the above (about creating a tech-based build for each campaign), such games usually involve some kind of crafting or grinding to get the optimal equipment. I think linking actions in ground combat (e.g. captures) to progressing tech would make both aspects of the game more rewarding. Ideally, I love to see some elements of 'snatch and grab' missions, where you specifically target the aliens with heavy weapons, loot their corpses, then leg it before you get pwned.

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On 5/20/2020 at 8:22 PM, Chris said:

Another change is that there's no longer any research projects that auto-upgrade things (like the explosives projects did in X1) - these now unlock engineering projects that take time and resources to do this. In the current design there's also a "V2" upgrade for each of the weapon technologies that improves the stats of an older weapon tier, the idea being that people can either commit to the new weapons or run an upgrade project to try and keep their existing weapons relevant for longer.

Oh this is just my jam! I always love how old and tested weapons can be kept relevant in universes like 40k. But these shouldn’t be just v2 upgrades as you say but they should have certain perks over other weapons so that they can be kept around after more advanced types of weapons are made. For instance:

- normal guns -> ETC guns (v2) -> RAVEN guns (NATO exclusive v3 - a high rate replacement for rocket launchers) / Chemogyrojet guns (Soviet exclusive v3 - just straight up the heavy bolter from 40k but can only be used with power armor)

- laser guns -> alenium focused lens (v2) -> Heat ray (NATO exclusive v3 - basically Martian death rays from Mars attack, only comes in rifles variant; a burst laser weapon with higher chance of critical hits that turns enemies into cartoonish steaming skeletons) / Las riffle (Soviet exclusive v3 - shoot a continuous but short ranged beam that increased in damage the more TU given to it, the mechanism was mentioned by some posters on the general discussions, only comes in carbines, practically very similar to the las guns from Dune and Judge Dredd) -> point defense armor ( a kinda v4 version of laser weapons that offer 25% of shooting down grenades or missiles about 5 tiles from the soldier, only if you go all the way with NATO)

- mag guns -> rail guns (NATO v2, big damage, good accuracy but small ammo capacity) / coil guns (Soviet v2, less accurate but can use multiple ammo types like Flechette shot) -> mag puller (Soviet v3, use the magnetic field itself as a weapon to break down the target molecular bonds, really powerful and long ranged but only have one shot per magazine) / grav immobilizer (Allied v3, pretty much Jojo’s Echoes Act 3, increases the target weight so much that they can’t move, do no damage to normal enemies but drain their TUs for the turn if hit, deathly to drones) -> mag shield (a v4 upgrade to mag tech and also the best version of the riot shield, you can only get if you follow the USSR all the way, have a 10% chance of reflecting the damage back to the shooter)

- plasma guns -> plasma capsules guns (NATO exclusive v2 - offer more control bursts but lower damage, a sniper only variant) / Sun guns (Soviet exclusive v2 - extremely powerful to the point of vaporizing alien officers in single shots but is very unstable as it works by overcharging the plasma charge to the heat of the sun, can explode violently if overheated comes in only pistol variations)

On 6/9/2020 at 3:35 AM, Ninothree said:

So each campaign you can create a different 'build' (but if you have the patience you can unlock every upgrade).

This could add a huge amount of replayability if implemented right. For instance you could go for a pure dakka run with lightly armored soldiers using overwhelming firepower to kill enemies before they can hit you. Or a stealth run where most of your soldiers is equipped with deflector shields, neural implants, cloaking fields and plasma sabers to charge at the enemy like techno knights.

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