If Picasso Sprited X-COM

by Kyzrati on 20130427 , under

The next stage of development is focused on re-working and fleshing out the interface, and you'll notice on the roadmap that among the new elements is the UFOpaedia database. As I imagine it, you'll be able to access the database directly from the battlescape for detailed information about items, creatures, terrain, and more.

Ideally each entry will be accompanied by an image, albeit drawn as ASCII art. Note this does not mean conversion of images to ASCII (which doesn't count as "ASCII art" in the same way that simply lowering the resolution of an image doesn't qualify it as "pixel art"). According to the current plan, images will be comprised of the standard 256-character code page 437, probably including at least some use of background colors as well.

ASCII art fits well with roguelikes since both tend towards abstract representation of objects,
so I figure that many RL players can also enjoy ASCII art. That said, enjoy these samples I've been working on while testing concepts and tech/tools:

ASCII concept art, who would've guessed...

I'm still a beginner at this ASCII art thing (this being my first attempt ever), but your discerning eye should be able to recognize them. One can hope.

When doing RL GUI mockups a few years back I used ASCIIPaint and WEPaint over on the TIGForums, but they suffer from clunky interfaces and are a pain to use, especially when compared to eigenbom's ASCII Paint fork which I discovered only recently. He's done an awesome job of making this type of software relatively user-friendly, and his fork is what I used to draw the above images.

I used only the colors provided in his standard libtcod palette, which was in some cases limiting (sure there's the whole "limitations breed creativity" idea but in this case I was missing a few shades that would've helped a lot). The point of my tests was elsewhere, anyway: Attempting to determine whether ASCII art looks good enough at large sizes using a square font, the main issue being code page 437 is traditionally represented using the non-square IBM font, and trying to force it into square cells tends to result in far too much empty space that can impact the density and thereby cohesion of an ASCII image.

Obviously we want the art to work at any size X@COM can be scaled to, so I drew the above with a 16x16 font, then reloaded them with a smaller font to test their appearance. What do you think? Both look viable to me.

Having said all that, I'm pretty sure that my next task here will be to take a quick detour and code a new ASCII editor, one that will write to a format that X@COM can read and display directly in game. While the main purpose is to create a tool to streamline creation of the game art, and there is a chance it will later be used to create multi-cell UI pieces that could be a component of for map overlays (though at this point I'm not sure whether that will be necessary), and it will also be useful for drawing UI mockups in the near future. I also enjoy seeing what creative works users come up with, as seen in the TIG thread (there is some cool-looking stuff over there), though it would seem that by now everyone is kind of ASCII'd out so I'm not too hopeful on that front.

The editor of which I speak, likely titled REXPaint after the engine it's based on, is feature-wise more or less eigenbom's fork minus a few elements I don't need, plus a few I do need that it lacks.

On the new/different side you'll be able to
  • browse through all art assets from within the editor itself and switch over to painting mode at the press of a button
  • do in-program palette editing and manipulation (with a true color picker)
  • use layers for easier tweaking (and possibly other advantages later)
I have a more detailed design doc outlining features-to-be, but those are the highlights. Feel free to make suggestions or feature requests. Besides saving to the X@COM art format (*.xp), the editor will export PNG images so it's perfectly possible to use it as a general purpose stand-alone ASCII art editor.

Below are some REXPaint UI mockups, not exactly feature complete (or even correct, since I've changed my mind on a few parts since drawing these up). The second one includes the concept for a browsing mode interface.

The color choices aren't too important at the moment, since re-skinning the interface will be very easy.
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Mod: "Farm"

by Kyzrati on 20130422 , under

Remember those eerily vacant farms? Wading across cornfields and searching barns while looking for the UFO crash/landing site? Modder 10101 has done an excellent job of recreating that experience in his aptly-titled mod "Farm".

This mission varies widely in scale since your squad lands in either a Skyranger, Lightning, or Avenger and begins with tech-level appropriate equipment as you face off against any of the possible UFO types including the scout, harvester, supply ship, terror ship, or even a massive battleship. (It's an impressive job considering the current limitations of the modding system.)

HQ will notify you of the class of UFO at the site (which may be either crash-landed or on the ground carrying out its own mission) and you can opt to press F10 to randomize the mission. As usual, beware facing off against against psionic races since they won't hesitate to mind control your soldiers with perhaps dire consequences for squadmates...

While the experience should be very similar to the original, at least one tactical difference I noticed while playing is that you'll be able to smash through hedges instead of always shooting your way through (jumping over low walls and fences would've been another option, but we decided to postpone the parkour functionality). Then of course there's the fact that we have gravity in X@COM, so you can literally bring down an entire barn with explosives if you like, or collapse upper floors by shooting out lower walls.

Get it on the files page, of course.

Can you guess what's on top of those four round things?

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R9: "Sound Like a Hero"

by Kyzrati on 20130401 , under

Hear that?

It's the
hum of nearby power cores,
the twittering of alien terminals,
the footsteps of soldiers making their way across a lawn, pushing their way through foliage, and trampling crushed glass as they investigate a decidedly large opening in the side of a now-abandoned house, or the sound of aliens sneaking down a wooden hallway towards that very opening. Or not sneaking. You'll definitely know a sectopod when you hear one--let those mechanical steps strike fear into the heart of many a brave field commander!
It's the
charging of powerful laser cannons,
brick walls crumbling from an explosive impact,
spent shells rattling across the concrete,
bullets ricocheting off UFO hulls,
grenades bouncing down the hall (if you're close enough to hear this one, um, was nice knowing you),
glass storefronts being blown out (try the pressurized gas explosion of a small launcher for the coolest effect--since it just gets the windows ;p)
falling furniture smashing into a lower floor,
a growling reaper that must be right around the corner,
and the roar of a massive... well, you'll hear it when you do (hopefully before you see it so you still have time to run).

And that's just the beginning.

Weighing in at 850 sounds, R9 is the true beginning of creating the sense of immersion I envision as being core to the X@COM experience.

It's been a while since we had a nice whole number release following the modding bonanza that was R8 (which resulted in some very beneficial iterative development).

The highlights of this release are a super fast (relatively speaking) engine refactor (old post) and, of course, the new sound system, which I've posted a bit about recently, but here's a quick overview:
  • Ambient sounds are sourced from objects in the surrounding environment (area-based ambient sound will come at a later time when the map generation supports it)
  • Volume is distance-based, and allows for different falloff models depending on what makes the most sense
  • Weapons and explosions currently use a temporary set of sounds, a quick job meant just to cover the basic X-COM content
  • The system is, as usual, easily moddable: there are hooks in the data/code for weapons, destruction, various types of impact, death and injury, ambience, item interaction, etc.
  • Sound is also integrated with the event/ability scripting system, meaning just about anything can be audible if necessary

Among the smaller additions, melee attacks that fail to destroy terrain objects now show messages indicating how effective the hit was. This was a great community suggestion, since you generally don't have any idea whether what you're using to bash down that heavy door is going to knock it down anytime today. Later this will be slightly less of an issue once you can examine damage and integrity values in-game, but for now it could save you some time, especially useful in Rookie's Tale where melee items are the norm.

The log now implements message folding, so consecutive identical messages will just increase the count on the first one by using a suffix: "<x#>"

Proxy grenades now require priming as in the original. Don't drop them at your feet after priming them! Dropping them and picking them up again will deactivate them (of course you can only do that if you haven't moved from their location, or you use some kind of psionics to move them, entirely possibly one day as we've seen in Rookie's Tale--unlike the original, flying units cannot drop down to pick them up.) The game still supports grenades that auto-activate when thrown, for modding potential (that and X@COM smoke grenades still automatically explode).

On the scary side, aliens can use grenades! Oh my... This feature has not been retroactively added to old missions, though--it's only available in mods, and only where the modder intends it (by putting 'nades in alien hands ;p). At least there's only a *chance* they'll throw it at you.

So you want to finally hear all these new sounds? There are currently three ways:
  • The simplest (though not quite as fun) is to download the demo and run the sandbox, where you can play around with the weapons, shoot the house, etc.
  • You can also replay the old demo missions, but because game sounds are *deactivated* by default, you'll have to turn them on manually by editing the mission's .bat file: add the "-fullSound" command line switch. I recommend against this option since the experience will be fairly inconsistent given that they contain additional non-standard content for which there are no sounds.
  • Or... play this new mod created specifically to show off sound effects!
Welcome to Ground Zero.

So after years of playing X-COM you're a pro at taking on one landed UFO, sure, but how about multiple UFOs at once?

The weakest opposition you could face will be two medium scouts, plus whatever has taken up defensive positions in the surrounding structures, plus whatever else decides to show up depending on your performance. On average there will be around 3-4 UFOs, though, among them sometimes a large scout or even a terror ship.

As usual, expect some surprises along the way, though this is still a more traditional tactical mission, so don't bother using anything in the environment--I didn't go crazy with that system like I did when testing it in Rookie's Tale.

Beware of sectoid and ethereal leaders, since some of them may be capable of mind control (requires LOS though), and also try not to bunch up too much lest a well-placed alien grenade wipe your whole team out.

If you feel outgunned, Malachai can be a useful ally if you can find him early. He'll join you and follow around, hopefully covering your back with his minigun and super deadly skill with throwing knives (close combat only). Once he's joined, shift-f to highlight his position since he's an allied unit not under your control. (Malachai is one of our fans from YouTube whose enthusiasm for R9 has earned him a place in this mod =p)

Like exodus, completing this mission "successfully" shouldn't be too difficult (you could always hide, wait most of it out, and at least survive...), but scoring well will be quite difficult due to the various penalties for failure to achieve objectives.

Your primary goal is to take out power sources, and for that purpose you have a good number of remote charges. As a reminder of how to use them, (p)rime them with an empty hand to create a detonator, then place the charge and (u)se the detonator when ready to set it off. Make sure to place/throw them close enough to the power source to be able to destroy it!

This mod also includes a special new kind of remote explosive, the Hull Breacher, designed specifically for breaching UFOs and giving you a different point of entry for alternate tactics. Make sure you place them immediately adjacent to a UFO hull or wall, flip the switch, and surprise some aliens from behind!

Jackpot! Look at all those power sources...

So now's your chance to command a newly audible heroic squad to prevent the equivalent of a local Armageddon. Good luck if you're forced to land at night...

My advice: Move quickly, because the longer you take the harder it will get.

X@COM is finally getting some truly video-worthy content (sound makes a huge difference), and I was working on a Ground Zero compilation to show off this release, but lacking the time to edit and polish it I've put that aside for now. In any case, you can always download and play a round if you'd like to experience it now, or wait until I do get a video out there--now that sound is mostly in place the visuals/UI are going to start improving in leaps and bounds.

I'll be leaving for a couple weeks soon so there won't be any new posts for a while, but when I return in late April there will be a brand new sound-enabled mod ready from one of our modders.
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