Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Chris

Xenonauts 2: Aircraft & Air Combat

Recommended Posts

The air combat mechanics in Xenonauts 2 are another area of the game that have seen substantial changes throughout development. Way back in the original stages of the project the Geoscape was actually turn-based, so we had a turn-based air combat model to go along with this. We started properly experimenting with this once the Kickstarter was done and despite several iterations it became clear that the turn-based design we had was pretty bad and thus we reverted back to the X1 air combat model.

Although we've added a few features to add a bit more variation, I still think there's potential for improvement. This is discussed in more detail under the following headings:

  • Current Implementation
  • Modular Aircraft
  • Potential Future Implementation

Current Implementation:
We're currently using the air combat model from the first Xenonauts in Xenonauts 2. Some people really liked this air combat, some people really hate it, and I'm somewhere in the middle. However, the important thing is that if we are unable to improve on a specific part the original Xenonauts we should at least not make it any worse - so we're committed to the X1 model unless we can come up with something I think is definitely better.

As there's a good chance the game will ship with X1-style air combat, I've looked over the mechanics and made a few changes to try and make things a bit more varied. For example, some UFOs now have shield bubbles on the map that absorb incoming damage, but you can fly your interceptors inside the shields to bypass them entirely. Some UFOs won't engage your fighters and will instead try to fly away from them while slowly gathering speed and peppering your jets with beam weapons capable of slowly rotating to track targets.

Additionally, most of the UFO designs will be new. I therefore think the air combat will still feel fairly fresh to most players if we stick with this combat model even if the fundamental mechanics haven't changed a great deal.
 

Modular Aircraft:
The original Xenonauts had four combat interceptors with different capabilities and weapon slots. This setup worked, but I feel it artificially limited the freedom of the player and the lifespan of any given aircraft. Once your Condors became obselete and were too fragile to use in a dogfight, you couldn't for example convert them to carry heavy missiles and fight weaker UFOs at long range because they were physically incapable of doing so. Instead, you had to scrap them.

In X2 we're experimenting with a setup where there are fewer interceptor types, but a wider variety of equipment available to them. Your starting interceptor type can carry any kind of weapon and can either be configured as a light fighter (capable of performing an evasive roll) or a tougher and more heavily armoured fighter that cannot roll. That way, it's possible to set the starting fighter up in either of the "dogfighter" (Condor) or "missile mule" (Foxtrot) roles from X1 - and the player can switch between configurations in a matter of hours if the need arises.

More advanced interceptors have do have better base stats than the earlier interceptors and are superior to their older counterparts, but aircraft now have an armour slot as well as weapon slots and the early interceptors still have access to the same upgradeable armour as the advanced interceptors do. This means that even the starting interceptor remains somewhat viable throughout the game, because it'll become tougher as the game goes on.

Honestly, we don't yet know whether this is an improvement - it's kinda cool to research and build a shiny new advanced fighter, after all - but it's easy enough to switch back to the X1 setup if we want. The feedback from people playtesting the game will probably play a big factor in which way we decide to go.

Potential Future Implementation:
I haven't entirely given up on the idea of finding a better air combat system. On reflection, I think our last attempt at the turn-based air combat failed because it was trying to do a very similar thing as the X1 air combat system, but doing it worse. Coming up with something fundamentally different is more likely to be successful.

So, what are the aims for any new system?

  • Each battle is relatively fast to play through
  • The skill comes from playing percentages / weighing up the risks and rewards of different moves, rather than "twitch" skills like pressing a button with perfect timing
  • To keep things varied, battles shouldn't always play out the same way each time even if the same combatants are involved
  • Ideally, the system would allow pilot progression

I'm currently experimenting with a system I think works quite well. The battlefield has 5 range bands between your interceptor and the UFO, and weapons have different damage / hit chance % at different ranges. All the player does each turn is issue their fighter a stance, the key ones being Close Distance, Fire Weapons or Evade, and this controls which types of weapons can fire - Heavy weapons only fire if you give the Fire Weapons command, whereas Light weapons can also fire while moving forwards (Evading prevents any weapons from firing).

This system works because the UFO is made up of a series of modules with different effects and cooldowns, so the UFO does different things each turn. A UFO might have a powerful long-range main cannon that can only fire every three turns and a short-range secondary cannon that can fire every turn. It might also have a shield generator that provides a shield every 4 turns that dissipates over several turns. It might have a point defence weapon that destroys all incoming missiles, but takes 3 turns to recharge once it fires. Picking what action to take is mostly dependent on which systems the UFO has on cooldown that turn, and which systems your own interceptor has on cooldown.

The nice thing here is that the player attack specific systems on the UFO (although this incurs an aim penalty) - e.g. if you think the shield generator is going to cause you problems, you could try to pick it off at the start of the combat with a long range volley of missiles. There's also a random chance modules suffer damage when you hit the hull of the UFO with a normal attack, which can change the way the battle plays out.

There's also room for pilots that can level up with experience, because the weapons have hit %s and pilots could simply grant a +hit % bonus as they level up. Another interesting idea is that each UFO type might have several slightly different module configurations to increase variety, or that the modules on a particular class might level up and become more effective as the invasion goes on. Maybe a Fighter UFO with a Plasma Blaster isn't too dangerous an opponent, but once the aliens start deploying Advanced Plasma Blasters then those same Fighters suddenly become much more of a threat.

The system still needs more iteration before I think about trying to integrate it into the game, but I'm going to keep working on it in my spare time. It's pretty quick to play but does still offer up interesting situations and there's some quite exciting ideas there (being able to shoot off specific UFO components, having pilots that level up), so if I can solve a few of the thorny design issues that still remain then perhaps the dream of an improved X2 air combat model will rise from the dead!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Falcons become obsolete now by June with any weapon upgrades due to their low speed. So buying 6 falcons and then realizing you have to replace them all with other fighters is quite unpleasant surprise and bad experience for player.
I wish there was only 1 type of the fighter in the whole game from the start to the end but which could be upgraded and modified in diffirent ways further. So you could always adjust it to your current situation  

 

Edited by Rusknight

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Rusknight said:

Falcons become obsolete now by June with any weapon upgrades due to their low speed. So buying 6 falcons and then realizing you have to replace them all with other fighters is quite unpleasant surprise and bad experience for player.
I wish there was only 1 type of the fighter in the whole game from the start to the end but which could be upgraded and modified in diffirent ways further. So you could always adjust it to your current situation  

Thanks. I wasn't aware of that and it probably shouldn't be happening, but it's just a balance issue; the game already supports equipment or upgrades modifying the speed of interceptors.

It wouldn't take me long to, say, add an Engineering project in that upgrades the speed of all of your Falcons. That's something I'll take a look at once my current writing and level design tasks are done.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Anyway the problem with several generations of fighters will still exist while the next generation is better than the previous. Just make a look at it as a new player who knows nothing about the game yet and knows nothing about all these generations so he cannot plan his progress in the game in advance. He starts playing, finds that he needs fighters, invests money in them (a lot of money probably) and then... Get a new generation, boy! You invested money in the wrong thing! You are an idiot! Try again maybe? :p

If it was one basic fighter with further upgrades - there wont be such a problem.

At least the game should inform player in some way from the start that there will be new generations of fighters later. And maybe let players actually sell old fighters for 50% of their price instead of just removing them without compensation. 

Edited by Rusknight
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

I like the Upgrade-System for the Fighters. And I agree with the Falcon. Since the Betas we and especialy I could find out following:

1. The already implemented Upgrades and Change-Abilitys for the Existing Fighter are a must have in X2. That´s includes the already existing Armor- and Weapons-Upgrades / Changes.

2.1: The Falcon have to be modernised in Speed, Range, Hitpoint and Maneuverability. That could be in upgrading the Hull to say a 2 Engine-Jet (like the Foxtrott-Look) for that like the others mentioned already. Then you have an upgradable Standard-Earth-Fighter and the Maximum you can have to Mid-Game, before you need a new Generation Fighter.

2.2: An alternative to the first Modernisation is to expand the existing Implementations and Change-Abilitys for the Existing Fighters. It´s getting (like in the first Betas with the Atlas Base) not only Armor- and Weapon-Upgrades. There were to be Fuel-Tank-Upgrades (Range-Modernisation), Maneuverability-Upgrades (Stearing-Modernsiation), Engine-Upgrades (Speed-Modernisation) and Hitpoint-Upgrades (Hull-Modernisation) up to a Maximum Point. Such implementations (Fuel-Tanks and Engine-Upgrades) we had already in and could get reactivate them.

2.3: The new Fighter Generations (I would personaly say the 3rd and 4th) should get an light Shield-Generator later on, after the Shield-Generator from bigger UFO´s get reserached and testet.

3. The Airfight from X1 is one thing I hated in that Game. The interim Airfight from X2 is an lightly advanced version of it, and do it´s job until a better one can hopfully implemented fast.

4. The UFO´s are a good enemy now, because they are react on players Choises. The beginning of an UFO-Encounter is not easy and you have to splitt your Fighters. One is trying to bait the UFO, while the other 1 (other 2s) will try to crash land the UFO while attacking from the Side or better from behind. Not often this Bait works, sometimes the UFO changes direction and attack the 1 Attack-Fighter (2 Attack-Fighters). Such Fights are giving a very nice surprising to your Pilots and make the Airfights much more interessting. Esp. the UFO´s with a 360-Defense are not bad and very hard to beat. :cool:

5. The Automatic Fight should only used in Emergency, because you have mostly more and better Chances with the Manually fight.

Edited by Alienkiller

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I actually love all of these changes. Especially love how so much more varied the ufos are now. And this could even be better if the ufos are just as modular as our fighters, kinda similar to how they make the same kind of rebel ships in FTL with different configurations of weapons and room systems. The shields could also be adapted to this the modular build. Rather than just a bubble, it only cover the part with a shield generator in a 60 degree arc. The weapons could also be like this.

On 5/21/2020 at 6:17 AM, Chris said:

More advanced interceptors have do have better base stats than the earlier interceptors and are superior to their older counterparts, but aircraft now have an armour slot as well as weapon slots and the early interceptors still have access to the same upgradeable armour as the advanced interceptors do.

Newer more developed fighter frames of late game should have different slot configurations and more slots than the first aircraft. For instance the first Condor should always have only one engine slot, so that even with upgraded jets, they’re still not as fast as a later plane with 2 engine slots. However they should be balanced in a way to make them a huge investment but not really needed to complete the game. You can of course play it by continuing to make new better frames and transfer all of the old plane equipments and pilots to the new one like a more complex version of the first game. Or you can just make a swarm of the cheap easily replaced Condor with upgraded weapons and pilot protection to attack the big ufos from multiple directions.

On 5/21/2020 at 6:17 AM, Chris said:

so if I can solve a few of the thorny design issues that still remain then perhaps the dream of an improved X2 air combat model will rise from the dead!

I’m still really not warming up to the first system at all. It’s just not only lack the fast pace of how air combat should feels like, it would make implementation of fair auto-resolve next to impossible which forces the people that already hate it into playing like the Total War Warhammer games. Not to mention the amount of complaints from the fan of the X-Division people and the old fans being riled up about it last time. And weirdly enough the people that vocally pushed for the turn based system are like three people on this forums while the people from the steam forums and subreddit largely oppose to it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The challenge around air combat is that it is just a mini-game.

Players come to Xenonauts for the ground combat and stay for the strategy layer. Ground combat is the core game, but on its own would get tedious, so the long-term planning of the geoscape gives a sense of progression. But air combat doesn't really fit into either the tactical or strategy layer. It is used to setup ground combat missions (i.e. part of the strategy) but it is nothing like the rest of the geoscape activities which are planning and logistics. And because air combat is such an abstracted, simple combat system it doesn't chime with the tactical elements of the game either.

Pretty much all of the strategy around the air war stops when a wave of UFOs is launched (i.e. you've already built, armed and positioned your condors; and you know what territories you need to prioritise). And in terms of tactics, the current air combat is quite shallow, at least relative to ground combat. That makes it quite perfunctory as a mini-game. This is the crux of the problem - air combat means different things to different players, and they would each want it to challenge different skills or in some cases, none at all. As an ill-fitting distraction, the air combat certainly can't satisfy everyone and possibly not even the majority.

With this, I think the solution is to make air combat more closely resemble either the strategy or tactical layer:

  • Resembling the strategy layer: here the player would interact by selecting the actions that would lead to the desired outcome, e.g. use these planes, target this module, fire missiles at this range. With that, air combat would be conducted through something like dialogue boxes. This would be simplistic but the variation would come through evolving dialogue options that relate to the UFO's response, e.g. if the player tends to rely on long-range missiles the UFOs start to focus on evasive maneuvers, but an experienced pilot can stagger the missile barrage to catch the UFO coming out of its barrel roll.
  • Resembling ground combat: here the air combat would play out something more like Enter the Breach, with a battlescape grid, time units and multiple craft engaging one another. The player would interact by controlling the positioning of craft, their target selection and the times at which they fire. This could be a moderately simplified version of ground combat but it should still feel similar. Stripping it down to a one dimensional space (as in the 5 range bands) is just too far to keep the attention of the player. That would be like a game of rock paper scissors in the middle of a chess tournament. Similarly for the classic X1 air combat, that wasn't testing the same skills as regular ground combat so it felt out of place.

I guess the conclusion is to either simplify air combat or beef it up, because a dinky mini-game just won't cut it once the novelty wears off.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Personally I love the air combat. While I understand the criticism it receives for being reflex based in a turn based tactical defence sim, I enjoy the change of pace it provides you from the slow, tense ground missions and it really does a good job of imparting a feeling of pressure that let's you lose yourself in these dogfights. At least the auto-resolve system allows players to bypass it entirely, even if it doesn't provide any real satisfaction comparatively. 
I picked this game up years ago and flirted with it here and there before falling in love with it in late 2018. I was really surprised to see the problems people had with the air combat, and I was disappointed to hear it wouldn't be returning for X2. Obviously now it's being looked at (great idea for the turn based system there Chris to be fair. Sounds a lot like FTL.), excited to see what you decide at any rate my man.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×