Hello everybody. This is a long-overdue (and very long) update to all our backers, one which I'll begin with an apology for not having done an update since August. Sorry guys! As always, the freshest info is available on our forums, which has a specific Development Updates subforum. If you're ever wondering what is going on with the project, that's the place to check!
The first point to address is about the beta for our game. The original plan was to hit beta in September, but we didn't manage that. In the interests of brevity, I won't explain why here - but if you're interested in the reasons, there's a full post on our blog that covers them here. In short, we're working on it now and the next release (V18) will be "beta stage 1" where we unlock the entire tech tree.
Despite our best efforts, the game will probably be horribly unbalanced and full of bugs when this happens (any time you dump a load of new content in a game, this tends to happen happen) so if you're not the adventurous type then I'd give us a few weeks after that to tighten things up again. If you're interested in the beta, though, the link above should give all the info you need.
Onto actual updates then! Quite a bit has changed since August. As a direct result of the money raised on Kickstarter, we're now renting a couple of desks in a bigger office as of October and I've also been joined by Aaron, our tile artist, full-time. Both of these have made a huge difference to our productivity!
In terms of tile art, we've now finished all the buildings for all the tilesets we're planning to put in the game and are now working on the props to fill the levels. In the last few months we've added the Arctic, Desert, Middle East and Soviet Town tilesets, and are working our way through the Xenonaut Base one. We've also added significant numbers of new props to the Industrial and Farm tilesets, to the point they're basically unrecognisable from before. Further props are going to be needed to fully complete these tilesets, but it gives you an idea of amount of content we've generated in the last few months.
Here's a few examples of the Xenonaut Base tiles; these are used when the aliens attack your base and you fight a battle in an exact (and destructible) replica of the base you built on the strategic map: laboratory, workshop, hangar, missile battery (cutaway). Remember, these tiles need to be painted over in 2D still, so they're not finished - but they are the colour guide and in-game test tiles we use.
Also, if you're interested in the tile generation process, Aaron wrote an in-depth explanation of his work on our forums here, in which he also discusses how he got involved in the team.
Our AI coder, GJ, joined the team as a result of the Kickstarter some three months ago now. He's studying for an MSc in AI at a university in the Netherlands and is doing full-time work on our AI model as part of his course. We've made a lot of progress on this, too, although the results aren't as immediately obvious. If you're interested in what he's doing, he's started a blog on his work here which should be updated more in the coming weeks.
Basically, we've managed to move the AI aliens from being stupid and cheating, to being stupid fully within the realms of the game (so they have proper shared sight / awareness and don't cheat with decision logic etc). Now the AI can understand the battlefield, we're pushing it towards actually being a challenge for the player. It might not sound like much, but it is actually progress!
Next, interfaces. We've almost finished implementing the updated Ground Combat UI, which is the same as the old one in terms of functionality but has had a graphical facelift - it should be the final version, barring a few possible small adjustments in the beta.
We’re also working on the final designs for the strategic UI, and have completed the concepts for seven of the ten strategic screens and have two more nearly finished. You can find previews of the new look in this thread, but it’s essentially a fusion of the existing ugly-but-usable black style and the pretty-but-not-very-navigable immersive style we revealed in our Kickstarter pitch, producing something that is much better to look at and also more functional than the current design.
We've just started work on implementing it in the code, but this is a LOT of work so won’t be finished immediately. It is probably the largest remaining piece of work to be done on the strategic part of the game so it’s great to have it started. I think when it's implemented our game will suddenly seem vastly more professional; the existing style was great when we were adding new features all the time and changing things, but it was simply too ugly for the final game.
Finally - level / scenario testing. We've started community testing of some maps on our forums. So far only one has been posted up, but we’ll be posting more up over the next week and still more after that. After spending quite a bit of time analysing the new X-Com (my thoughts and lessons in a short essay here), we’ve realised that we probably weren't taking level design as seriously as we should, and Aaron's arrival finally gave us the chance to try iterating our levels a bit more.
We are testing our levels for a lot of things; whether they are too big / too small for the number of aliens on them, whether they are too open or too convoluted, whether destructibility can be used for tactical purposes, whether they are visually coherent etc. Basically, we’re trialling a more realistic level design philosophy with larger, more open maps that are divided into smaller sections by larger obstacles that block line of sight (walls / hedgerows / buildings). We think this will make maps that are large but quick to explore, while still giving the player plenty of “what’s just around that corner?” X-Com moments.
The other facet of this is the scenario testing, where we send a squad of Xenonauts armed with specific equipment against specific aliens in a specific map type. This will allow us to test the pacing and difficulty of various scenarios – like various UFO or alien base attacks, or terror sites and base defence missions. We've changed the way UFOs are to be displayed in our battlefield missions, which has given us a chance to test all of their interior layouts (blocked out with placeholder art) before we update the final art.
The same is true with the alien bases; we want to test their layouts so we know they’re not too sprawling before we get all the final props done. We've completed all the code so we can start this type of testing very shortly, although we’re still reliant on further refinement of the AI before the missions will be genuinely challenging. We've got high hopes for this level testing though; we're serious about getting the feel of the missions right and this seems a really good way to help us do that.
As for the beta – we’re still working on it! We’ll post up some more updates as we get closer to it being finished. The scenario testing is part of this, and it will also include advanced Xenonaut equipment and aliens in it – so if you’re bored of the current build then maybe check our forums out in a week or two to try out some of those missions!
I'll try to make the next few updates a bit more frequent than the previous ones!