Xenonauts 2 – February Update

As we gear up to release version 18 of the closed beta next week, we thought we’d let you know what we’ve been working on for that.  This month we’ve been focussing on your feedback from the Steam Demo, so let’s dive into that a bit…

The reaction to the demo was generally good, but we also saw a lot of people who bounced off the game because they just didn’t understand what was going on and how the controls worked. Reading the feedback from players and seeing what streamers struggled with when they played the game gave us a good opportunity to try and improve the controls and accessibility, as a lot of the pre-release feedback we get tends to be from experienced X-Com / Xenonauts players who already know how things work…

Usability Improvements

We have therefore implemented a number of systems that make things easier for players. Many of these things are small things – the fire path better shows when weapons are being fired beyond range; the camera briefly focuses on newly-sighted aliens; bleeding wounds are more clearly displayed, etc – but we’ve added a number of larger new systems too.

The first of these is the “soldier finished” system that exists in classic X-Com and was added to Xenonauts by the Community Edition. There is now a “done” button you can click to select a soldier as finished for the turn, and it will automatically select the next soldier that is not finished. If you click it and all your soldiers are now marked as finished, the turn Ends. Additionally, clicking the End Turn button will now check whether there are any “forgotten” soldiers (i.e. not marked as done, and have not spent any TU) and automatically select them if there are. This just ensures the player doesn’t accidentally forget about their soldiers, and I think in practice there won’t be many situations where it’s annoying (although you can just Ctrl+click the End Turn button to instantly end the turn if you want).

We’ve also updated the “ability buttons” that appear above the UI during tactical combat and allow you to select the different weapon fire modes and reload / throw grenades, etc. The most important change is that these are now a “stance” – clicking a button to set a fire mode as active just means that fire mode will be used when you hover over an alien, or when you activate free fire mode by holding Ctrl. Clicking the button no longer activates “sticky” free fire mode (which can only be cancelled by pressing Esc) unless it’s a specialist item like a grenade or a medikit.

This change to free fire mode is probably the biggest usability change we’ve made. Free fire mode allows you to target anything, so it’s very fiddly and it’s easy to accidentally click a nearby object such as the ground tile that the target is standing on rather than the target themselves – we saw a lot of people doing this in the demo. The standard targeting method where the game only shows a fire crosshair over things you actually want to shoot at is the best method of targeting in most instances, and if you do want to use free fire mode then it’s much easier to simply hold Ctrl as you can then cancel it by letting go of Ctrl (having to press Esc is much more clunky).

Key Rebindings

We’ve also been experimenting with some changes to the control system. I’m unsure if we’ll persist with these control system changes, but we’ve implemented key rebinding functionality so people can switch them back if they don’t like our changes (plus it’s something we’d have needed to implement before anyway). This system was a surprising amount of work but we’re in the process of ironing out the final few kinks with it right now.

Air Combat Rebalance

Chris has mostly been busy with the air combat for the past couple of weeks. The first balance pass is now complete, so interceptors and their equipment are now balanced to inflict and receive the appropriate amount of damage when fighting different tiers of UFOs. The various items are set up in the research tree, and as part of the next closed beta update (v18) we’ll now be able to start balancing the air war in the context of the campaign (are aircraft too expensive, do they unlock at the right point in the tech tree, etc).

Several new systems / changes will be made to the X1 air combat model. Only the first of these (a change to the way Armour works) has been implemented so far, but you’ll likely be seeing more polish added to the air combat in the next month or two.

Animations & Particles

A curveball recently thrown our way was that our animator / particle artist needed to finish up his contract with us sooner than we anticipated, so we had to devote some extra resources to making sure all his work was done before he departed. Various kinds of new explosions have been added to the game and we’ve got some gib animations done too, but the two big things we’ve been looking at are the jetpack movement animations and the Reaper zombie transform animations.

The jetpack animation work is fairly straightforward (it works the same as in the first Xenonauts), but we’re planning the Reaper zombies to work a little differently. Instead of replacing the unfortunate target with a generic zombie unit, what will now happen is that the target falls dead to the ground and will then rise back to life with a special set of zombie animations and an additional “covered in blood” texture. Not only does this look cooler, we might be able to make it more interesting from a gameplay perspective too – e.g. the zombie could retain any remaining Armour HP that the unfortunate victim had when they were killed.

The jetpack work is now mostly done and the animation work on the new zombies is now done too, but we still need to implement all the code for the zombies. I’m not sure if they’ll arrive in V18 yet or whether you’ll have to wait until V19, but they’ll definitely be a big improvement over the current zombification visuals when they do arrive!

Performance Improvements & Stability Issues

We’ve done a load of other work, but we’ll close out by mentioning that we’ve dramatically improved the speed of our prerequisite system. This system is a piece of code that governs many different parts of the game – everything from when research projects are unlocked, when UFOs spawn, which units can equip which items, anything to do with the power capacity / living capacity / stores capacity systems, etc.

We’ve rewritten this to speed it up and give us access to more functionality, and in some cases it’s made the Geoscape up to 100 times faster than before. There are still plenty of other slowdowns on the Geoscape that are caused by other things, but it should hopefully fix the persistent slowdown that starts to occur as the game enters the mid / late game (particularly if there’s an alien base on the map).

Sadly, because the prerequisites are used so widely we have ended up having to deal with a lot of bugs in a lot of different systems. I think we’ve now found and fixed most of them but we imagine V18 is going to have some stability issues when it is first released!  These will of course be worked on as soon as we can.

As we mentioned at the top of the post, we’re hoping to put V18 out either at the end of this week or the start of next week. We’ve been working hard on it for a while now but we keep finding little gremlins that slow us down .. but we’re nearly there now.

As you have no doubt inferred, this means that we don’t have a firm date for the Open Beta yet but we will, as ever, keep you posted.

Many thanks for reading and for staying up-to-date with our work – as ever please do join us on Discord, the forums or the Steam community if you have any questions.

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