Why X@COM?

by Kyzrati on 20141106 , under

Time for another obligatory "It's not dead, really!" post ;)

Not that you'd think it's dead, because if you follow my work you'll know that even now I'm still enhancing the engine as part of ongoing work for the development of Cogmind. (When I introduce all these new features to X@COM it's going to blow you away.)

Anyway, I've been asked before by those outside the roguelike community about why one would bother creating an "ASCII X-COM" when we already have so many graphical options. Surely you could just write an ASCII renderer for OpenXCom and get the same result!?

May as well take this opportunity to address that question while the project waits on the sidelines for its day in the sun.

What XCOMRL is Not

First of all, X@COM is not at all a "demake."

ASCII tends to appear "simpler" to the untrained eye, but looks are deceiving--while ASCII is certainly a more abstract representation of the environment, the higher visual density makes it possible to tightly pack a much greater amount of information into a given viewing area, as well as more clearly present that information (a classic "ASCII vs. pixel art" argument). The abstract representation is intentional, and comes with numerous benefits which we'll get to later. Moreover, as you're starting to see with the Cogmind interface style and content (and even art!), ASCII does not have to be "simple."

Nor is X@COM a clone.

Sure you should be able to mod it to recreate a mostly vanilla experience based on UFO Defense content. And it would be great--the original mechanics have proven throughout the years that they are simply a lot of fun. So X@COM takes that as a base and expands on it significantly, because there's still so much that can be done to make the game even more fun. Already the demo battlescape scenarios released over the initial 2011-2013 prototyping phase feature plenty of new mechanics and additional content. (Note: Much of it exists to test new features, not as a sample of specific things to come.) There's really nothing out there like X@COM, which promises to be a very deep squad-based tactical roguelike

The ASCII Aesthetic

Obviously the use of ASCII is a conscious choice here, but why take a deep game and bury it behind a screen of symbols?

Two metrics by which we can measure games are their 1) visual entertainment value and 2) mental stimulation level. These are not mutually exclusive, and while many games might fall somewhere in the middle for both, when either component is taken to an extreme it may limit the degree to which we can apply the other. X@COM strongly emphasizes the latter, games that present the player with lots of information (not necessarily synonymous with "deep," but true in this case) should ideally display it in a form that's easy to parse in order to facilitate decision making. (In many ways the ASCII style can be handled in visually pleasing ways, but that is always secondary to clarity/readability.)

One example is reflected in the map size. ASCII can effectively condense an entire "large" (60x60) map's worth of information on the screen alongside the full HUD/UI. This is a great boon for any tactical strategy game. Sure, most such games provide some form of mini-map or zoom out feature, but X@COM is designed to be played at its native zoomed-out distance--no multiple unique zoom levels in which each object appears differently at each level, no need for disorienting rotation (the world is 3D, but the presentation is overhead 2D)... Moreover, the same large map is entirely visible at even the smallest resolution (800x600), with each individual element just as discernible.

ASCII isn't just convenient, its abstract appearance is also capable of being more meaningful to the active player, in the same way that reading a book is more engaging than watching a movie. At a game mechanics level a given object/symbol represents whatever the developer says it is. An in-game description, or even just a name, provides all you need to know, while details beyond that are open to interpretation.

The style is not for everyone, but there are still plenty of people out there who enjoy exercising their imaginations while playing games (hopefully this will still be a thing in another generation or two).

This leads us to another great strength of X@COM: The modding potential.

Epic Modding!

In the world of amateur gamedevs (or avid players--sometimes the line is a bit blurry), it's well known that there are countless ideas floating around, only a minuscule portion of which are ever born and reach a playable state. Some were never meant to be, but others fail for lack of technical ability or the potentially large amount of time or money required (these two being essentially the same thing). After all, it's far too easy for ideas to quickly outpace the rate at which a game can be developed.

We can even see normal asset requirements as roadblocks to both the creative designer and player. Thus another cool thing about ASCII is it enables us to circumvent these requirements and lift limits on content creation. New content is composed of numbers and text, not pixels, textures, frames, meshes and all that crazy time-consuming stuff.

Games like X-COM are especially fun to mod due to the familiarity of the modern Earth setting. Of course even the setting can be changed to build a whole world from scratch. Several mods have already done just that, creating total conversions to fantasy worlds, or futuristic sci-fi.

OpenXCom is a wonderful remake and open source to boot, giving it plenty of modding potential, but it still has a couple drawbacks: 1) It's tied to cumbersome unique file formats created two decades ago, and more importantly 2) Modding in extra content still requires providing additional assets for that content. If you have programming/art skills and want that kind of visual representation it's a great choice.

The aim with X@COM is to ensure that modding is even more accessible. I envision eventually having a community of modders making scenarios or even their own strategy games, which doesn't seem too far-fetched given that the early prototype stage already resulted in half a dozen mods by individuals other than myself. And that's with map editing based on text files--not the best way to design a 3D world! In the future we'll have a dedicated map editor.

It's an appealing proposition to be able to create a complete and detailed interactive world with no prior experience.

The Importance of Sound

Few ASCII roguelikes explore the usefulness of sound effects, which to me are an incredibly powerful way to augment the experience, stimulating the imagination without completely hijacking it like visuals do. Of course sound effects also have the same benefits they do in non-ASCII games, e.g. providing audio feedback from the environment while also setting the tone and atmosphere.

My focus on sound should be apparent in the prototype, which already includes far more audio detail than you'll find in UFO Defense. Over a thousand recorded sound effects in all... hear the breeze rustling leaves on a nearby tree, boots crunching over glass from a smashed window, material-based impacts and destruction, bullet ricochets, spent shells rattling across different surfaces, alien machinery... everything can be heard.

I must stop here, because it's making me want to start working on this again immediately :)
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OpenXcom 1.0

by Kyzrati on 20140614 , under

Can't get enough X-COM? If you love the original game, then you'll definitely love OpenXcom even more since it's a cross-platform, moddable, open source remake using the original data! After years in development, today they released 1.0, including a massive number of interface enhancements that bring this classic into the modern day.

If you know about X@COM it's likely you've already heard of OpenXcom (it's also been in the sidebar since... the beginning), but it doesn't hurt to give a shout out to this great project! There is already a large and growing number of mods, so check it out--and check out the updated bgm in this video that shows off all the goodies!:

X@COM development is still slated to resume some time next year. See the previous post for a summary of the current state of things.
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2013 and Beyond

by Kyzrati on 20131223 , under

And another year comes to a close...

2013 started out extremely strong with six months of heavy development, probably the number one highlight of the year being SOUND. We expanded beyond UI sound effects to gunfire, impacts, explosions, destruction, screams, ambiance and much more (850 sounds in all). It's definitely the most extensive use of sound in any ASCII roguelike to date, and it's only the beginning.

If you haven't checked any out yet, I highly recommend testing one of the full sound-enabled mods. My own mod, Ground Zero, has a lot of special content if you're looking for a unique X-COM experience. Farm and Terror are what you'll want for the traditional game plus X@COM sound effects. And for something completely new (mech warfare!), try out Union.

The past six months have been less active, though I have been working behind the scenes in several capacities including providing support and development builds for mods, as well updating the engine with features that can be shared by Cogmind and X@COM. So while we haven't had any major releases, the internal change log is still chugging along. Even so, the blog still attracts a lot of visitors and many downloads daily.

Once again it's time for the Roguelike of the Year poll, so if you enjoy the game and all the new features added please consider throwing in a vote for X@COM. You can vote for more than one game, so be sure to pick all the roguelikes you support (or check out some that you've probably never heard of!).

Showing your support for X@COM will help maintain the game's popularity and build more latent potential for when development picks up steam again, hopefully in 2015. I'm sure looking forward to getting back to X@COM, but 2014 will be the Year of Cogmind, and a wonderfully destructive robot-filled year it will be!

I was hoping to release a new mod by Aves Dominari by this month, but it's a rather big one being worked on in spurts so I guess it'll be done some time next year (no pressure, dude!).

1/13/2014: As usual X@COM fared well in the poll, again beating the previous year's record by accumulating 172 votes this time, coming in 14th out of several hundred. This year didn't feature any categorical breakdowns (of which X@COM is likely to top several), but you can check out the overall list here.
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ARRP 2013

by Kyzrati on 20130922 , under

This weekend is the Annual Roguelike Release Party, but unless there are a lot of late comers and devs who didn't pre-announce releases, it's certainly a lot less lively than in recent years.

I usually like to release something myself, but ARRP is sort of a non-event for X@COM itself this year, so here's a little progress update instead.

As mentioned in the previous post I've been working on Cogmind, but at the same time it's been leading to improvements in both the engine and X@COM's source. Most are internal improvements you'll never see, but there is one significant change in the latest development build that optimizes the X@COM GUI to give another 7% boost in FPS. \Awesome/

We also have a nice X-COM mod in the works featuring greatly expanded psionics and selection of tech level, squad, equipment, and alien opponent. Would've been nice to release that for ARRP, but it's a rather big project (though well on its way to completion). If interested in playtesting and offering advice on content etc., feel free to grab a development copy and join the discussion on the forum.

R9.5 will be released with the mod when it's completed.


While I don't have anything to release this weekend, seeing as how ARRP is all about not developing in silence, in that spirit I hereby officially "announce" Cogmind. You can get information through the dev blog, and/or Facebook and Twitter.
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No Guts, No Glory

by Kyzrati on 20130825 , under

A competing title for this post would be "No Time, No Game," but that's decidedly more negative so I'll go with with guts and glory.

Aside from my other real-life responsibilities right now, I have about 6-8 hours per day for both work *and* play. (Helpful tip: When you have a kid be prepared to sacrifice most of your free time, at least in the short term.) As such, I don't have enough time to give X@COM the development love it needs to progress to the next stage.

Trying to fund this project is not feasible until it's further along, mostly because it's a large project with still 12 or more months of full-time work required to reach a respectable 1.0. I need at least $1k/month to get by, which comes out to a rather large investment for something that even once re-branded and sell-able (discussed earlier) may not be able to raise much money.

My entire life I've enjoyed making games, and losing all my project time to boring work obligations is a situation I'd prefer to avoid if possible. So I'm going to go out on a limb and try something new by creating a smaller game for sale. Smaller, but fun, polished, and completable within a shorter time frame. Even if the game doesn't exactly recoup all the expenses incurred (although I hope it will), the required investment of time and money will be worth it simply for the experience.

Where does this leave X@COM?
It's actually not as bad as it sounds, especially considering that the alternative is me doing nearly no coding at all. Because the new game is using the X@COM engine and code base, I can use working on it as an excuse/method to continue improving X@COM. While they will mostly be internal improvements (which have honestly been long overdue), beyond that the secondary goal of creating this new game is as a "pilot project" to see how feasible it is to market a slick console-based game. If it looks doable I'll fund an X@COM spinoff tactical project myself. So this could be very good news for X@COM.

In fact, I recently started work on this other game behind the scenes and it's already led to upgrades in X@COM, one of the largest being a re-write of the data loading system that will enable selective add-on content instead of just full mods.

In general I'd say the situation is less than ideal because X@COM already has a fairly strong (if not broad) following, and I don't want to leave you guys hanging, but this is the best option I can see for X@COM right now. Know that I've by no means lost interest in this project--I really want to continue, but reality can be annoying like that!

In the meantime, mod support will continue and new mods will be posted here as usual. Occasional minor updates to the game may also occur, but the next phase (R10+) is a major step in development so that won't be happening until I can dedicate the chunks of time necessary.

What can you do? Show support for development of the "other game" and if it's somewhat successful then I can more easily justify making a larger investment to create the full game X@COM is intended to become.

Tell me more about this "game":
It's actually no stranger to anyone who's been following my projects for a long time:

Yes, Cogmind is making a return. This time with a real story, greatly expanded gameplay, and a much-improved interface. It's going to rock.

After some initial coding I've been busy putting together a new website and devblog where you can follow my progress, but it's not live yet so there aren't any links to hand out.

More X@COM news, please:
Actually there is a bit of an update to tack on to this post. 10101 has updated his Terror missions mod to the latest R9.4 (means you get access to the new label system) *and* added some nice new content: Now you may find a large police station (complete with police officers who need your help!), or an even larger apartment complex (one-quarter of the map!). Some laser rifles come with attached grenade launchers ('u'se them), and instead of the missile tank you may spawn with a new prototype tank.

Happy hunting!

EDIT: A couple days after posting Strange guy also released a little update for his latest mod Union: "I merged the light sniper and carbine, fixed a few rubble in walls problems, made the shockers and mk8cs weapons a bit stronger and longer range, made what mode executors and mk8cs are in part of their name and reduced the score loss for plasma trooper death a bit with them being short range and fragile." The download page has been updated with the new version.
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Mod: "Union"

by Kyzrati on 20130807 , under ,

Strange guy has finally released his mech warfare mod, Union.

The target, a garrison town controlled by the United Planetary Federation, has already been bombarded prior to your arrival, but the enemy presence is still strong. Lead a mixed squad of Union troops including infantry, special forces, and mechs to clear out the opposition.

I've played this one several times already, and it's full of good old mech-blasting, tree-stomping action. Torch infantry squads with mech-mounted flame throwers, use laser targeting to call in artillery and air strikes, launch disposable rockets carried by special forces, switch some mech shields to different modes depending on the situation, and (lots, lots) more.

Of course, you need to be careful lest an effective assault is turned into horrible losses in the blink of an eye when a unit of patrolling mechs finds you exposed at the wrong place. One of my more recent runs was going swimmingly, having already taken out five enemy mechs and a few infantry before a flamethrowing mech emerged from the darkness and melted one of my own to scrap. In that same turn I'd thought I could sneak up behind a soldier manning his mounted heavy machine gun, but ran out of TUs right before getting to him--he swiveled it around and opened up, blowing through both that guy, the door behind him, and my other special forces guy providing cover outside. (I got sweet revenge with my snub-nose cannon, which caused a *much* bigger explosion than I expected, much to my satisfaction ;p)

Here most of the fires have already died out after the advance across town.

Starting squad in one mission, labeled.

Best run so far.

In a way, this mod is a little before its time, as Strange guy has included a lot of interesting mechanics, details, and lore which aren't accessible within the game itself. Seeing how the game still lacks support for in-game reference information, you'll want to at least skim over the accompanying README-Union.txt file to get the most out of this mission. (Several times I've considered supporting that feature immediately, specifically for Strange guy's mods which generally have a lot of detail, but due to the level of integration necessary and the fact that the HUD isn't ready yet, from a development timeline perspective it's better to put it off rather than have to rewrite it later.)


I've also taken this opportunity to upload the latest build: R9.3.

The most notable features (as seen in the previous post) are the new map labels, animated explosion AOE previews, a new explosive priming interface, and glowing indicators for primed explosives. See the change log for a complete list.

Union uses R9.3 so you'll get to see all these features in this mod as well.
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Paramilitary Intelligence

by Kyzrati on 20130629 , under ,

As part of the beginning of the UI update, the latest additions have been about getting more info on the battlescape map.

Holding different number keys will identify visible objects by name. Here you can see labels popping up for enemies, then soldiers (much more fun with sound):

Your soldier names can also be color-coded by their remaining health.
Enemies are also identified this way when first spotted, as are all of those in line of sight at the beginning of each turn.

Also use labels to quickly check what items your soldiers are currently holding, and those that are lying on the ground (for stacks of items, it will cycle through them as you hold down the key):

Your soldiers' armament is also color-coded by percentage ammo remaining, where applicable.

Any number of types of labels can be displayed simultaneously, depending on how many keys you want to hold down.

Explosives will be (somewhat) safer to use, now that you can see their area of effect without resorting to square counting. It works for both firing explosive projectiles and throwing primed explosives, and uses brighter colors for higher damage--the blaster launcher calculation looks like... a super nova :) Here's a small rocket:

The animation will properly predict explosion dampening by various obstructions based on their material.

There's also a new (proper) grenade priming interface that replaces the old (okay, ancient) placeholder input method.

Since there's rarely reason to prime a timer to anything but 0, that will be the default behavior (skipping the window entirely) unless you press an extra key to manually open the priming interface.

Props and items can now be animated, though I don't plan to go crazy with the feature myself, as it could get distracting. UFO power sources do have a gradual glowing effect now, and explosive devices primed by your soldiers and thrown or left lying in the open will glow, too.
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