R7: "Chryssalids in my Backyard"

by Kyzrati on 20120916 , under

The zombie apocalypse is coming to a small town near you! Brought to you by... chryssalids!

It's a zombocalypse, X-COM style! Now don't get too scared. I wouldn't make you face an army of chryssalids--that would just be a massacre and not much fun at all.

I present to you R7 along with the grandest scenario yet: Cataclysm. (Yes, it's named after the cool zombie apocalypse survival roguelike which you can find here.)

A virus of alien origin suddenly descends on a town where a small group of X-COM operatives happen to be enjoying some R&R. It's time to show those aliens what off-duty X-COM soldiers can really do! WE'RE GONNA... wait a minute... we're off duty... we don't have any weapons... or armor... or anything except our wits and a sledgehammer in the garage. ****.

As you can see, this scenario is very non-traditional in design. It's all about survival, and *if* you get confident enough that you'll be able to save yourselves, you may even lend a helping hand to your neighbors, who are otherwise soon to be alien food.

Before my brother even started playtesting yesterday, he pre-announced his strategy: "I'll just kill all the civilians I see to prevent the zombies from spreading." How noble of him :) But smart. After all, you know what happens when there's even one chryssalid loose among civilian meatbags. But chryssalids are only one part of the problem, as you'll see. There is actually more than one kind of zombie out there, and only those that were created by chryssalid injection will contain eggs to hatch new chryssalids. Most zombies come from... other sources. You'll see.

Besides, you can even use civilians to your advantage (other than scoring points for rescuing them): Hold a weapon in your *left* hand and stand adjacent to them--if they think it's better than whatever they're carrying (some carry common household items as weapons), they'll take it from you at the beginning of their next turn. Be careful what you give them though, since their accuracy is even more terrible than the worst rookie, which can mean collateral casualties. In most cases it may be a better idea to just arm them with a better melee weapon rather than giving them a gun. The results of handing them a rocket launcher would no doubt be catastrophic (civilian apocalypse? :). I added this feature as an afterthought just yesterday because it only took a few minutes and sounds like fun ;) Arm your neighbors and create your own militia!

Aside from regular civilians, you may also come across any number of different NPCs. (Not all of them are friendly, mind you.) So there are lots of potential allies out there, but don't rely on the NPCs too much or expect the AI to be very smart. X@COM is still running on the same simple placeholder AI thrown together for the *last* ARRP. I've tweaked it a bit so your allies aren't complete morons and will at least stick close to you and fight only when necessary or convenient. To recruit someone, just walk up to them; if they want to join/follow you, they'll say something to that effect. (I haven't yet added the triggers necessary to have them join you on sight or some other way, so I used what I had on hand--an adjacency check script trigger.) Be careful of trying to hide in tight quarters with a bunch of friends, because they can block you in--unless you stick to the open areas, you'll have to effectively "herd" your civilians by blocking doorways; moving quickly also works, as does crashing through windows and going out back doors--most areas have quite a few access points, just don't try to visit the bathroom with all your buddies in tow ;). Also, because it can be difficult to keep track of your friends without constantly looking around to see where they are or if they're actually following you, I added a temporary command 'C' for highlighting your followers, even when outside your FOV (this also simulates the fact that you should know where they are by sound, anyway).

All this talk about the icing on the cake, and I haven't even gotten to the cake yet: Cataclysm takes place in a completely randomized town. Moreover, it features over three times as many terrain pieces as Exodus, so there's a lot of variety, and of course the huge amount of replayability that comes with it. Naturally not every structure can appear in every town, and even some that do will be destroyed by the... um... you'll see when you find them. So each time you play you may gain access to resources and allies you didn't have before (and vice versa). You could easily play a dozen different games and still not see everything. Here's a sample town:

As much as I want to describe all the fun stuff out there, I don't want to reveal too many details just yet. I'll let you play and be surprised. Find cool stuff. Kill enemies. Die. Etc. I may post some spoilers and more details later on once everyone's had their chance to explore the town.

You'll need to use everything at your disposal to survive and come up with a good strategy if you're going to survive and/or score well. Here are some essentials:
  • There are only four soldiers at the house, and relatively inexperienced ones at that; they also only have standard coverall armor--so they're pretty squishy.
  • The previously neglected 'u'se command is now more useful. All generic items currently represented by '&' have a special use. So use them. Well, you should probably first consider what may happen as a result =p Many are simply flavor items, but some can be pretty useful. This is how you use things like food, bandages, medi-kits etc.
  • Remember to turn on "smashing" ('h') if/when you want to crash through a window as an alternate entrance/exit (you may even consider doing this from the second floor of a house, rather than face what you know is downstairs :)). If you gain an insane amount of strength (somehow...), you could very well push through walls this way (though be wary of knocking walls and debris on yourself!).
  • Melee attacks ('m') are now much more important since you don't start with any guns. Hopefully for your sake you can acquire some real firepower quickly; there are a few fairly good melee weapons to be found, but it's obviously preferable to stay outside melee range of zombies. I've also somewhat lifted the original restriction on melee damage affecting terrain, so with enough strength and/or a good enough weapon you can bash through objects (ex: a sledgehammer should work fairly well on a locked door), useful for quick escapes or gaining access to new areas.

Another thing I do have to mention up front is a special little place you'll almost certainly come across, as it's the only structure besides the X-COM house which is generated on every map: Kyzrati's Curiosities. This aptly named little antique shop is stocked with a random selection of toys to play with. While many of them don't really belong in an X-COM game, most are nonetheless lots of fun--just me playing around with the script files doing weird things... Some are prototype next-gen X-COM tech which you may see in future games; some are not-so-subtle references to other roguelikes; many are fantasy-oriented. You may get lucky and find something that could increase your chances of survival, or completely doom everyone. It's a small place, and you can ignore it if not interested and would rather focus your attention on the zombocalypse. If you are interested, note that Kyzrati's will tend to carry a very different set of items each time it's generated, so visit often :)

Have some more randomly generated towns:

Despite all the content, there are several things that didn't quite make it in, but I may add them gradually as I test other features in the future and release an updated version of this scenario. I'm also considering opening up this scenario to modding, making it possible to randomly insert new structures and define what kinds of items/NPCs you want in them. (Of course you can already create new items and NPCs.) I'll see if I have the time, and if there are *multiple* people REALLY interested in having a serious go at modding, even though right now it's a bit of a pain (compared to how much easier it'll be later) and the mods wouldn't at all be futureproof. The primary purpose would be to extend the life/interest of the demo, because Cataclysm could very well be the last new scenario before I scrap the whole demo map system and put in the real one, and there will be a bit of a wait in the interim.

Moving beyond Cataclysm, let's look at what general new gameplay, mechanics, and interface features R7 comes with:

Obviously you've got your chryssailds, zombies, and silacoids as described in an earlier post.

There are the medi-kit, motion scanner, and mind probe, which I've covered before (here, here, and here). These are all activated with the 'u'se command.

While I don't like to hack together temporary incomplete features, the HUD now features a mini log. The true HUD, waiting on the sidelines until the big UI overhaul, will of course feature such a log as well, but it will be scrollable and properly animated. For now the huge number of crazy things that can happen, plus NPC speech etc., necessitated an easy way to read about them as they happen without opening the full log window every time. [Note: While playtesting, I once encountered a strange case where the mini log started writing messages where you can't see them. (Well, it was a hack to begin with...) If you do happen to run across this, it can be easily fixed by just saving and loading (F8 then F9), which reloads the log. Only ever saw it once, though...]

I also removed the extraneous unit stats from the HUD, both to make room for the mini log, and because you can now access them through the new stats window ('c' for "character", or '@'), which was added along with the mind probe.

Similar to the 'u'se action, there is another new action called manipulate ('n') which enables units to use terrain objects and other units for effects unique to / determined by the target (e.g., open furniture, activate computer terminals, remove spare ammo from a mobile storage unit, and so on). Although already processed by the game and accessible to modding through script triggers, I chose to de-emphasize this feature in Cataclysm's design mostly for lack of time. (This action is not even documented on the commands list for now.) I was going to exclude it entirely, then just today for the heck of it threw in a couple manipulable pieces of furniture: So if you happen across a gun case or sword stand, face it and press 'n' for a present. Consider it a reward for making it this far down this sheer cliff of text ;)

Morale mechanics have also been implemented. After all, what good is a frightening scenario if your troops aren't afraid of anything? Gone are the nerves of steel you took for granted in earlier releases! That said, seeing as you only have four soldiers in this scenario it's unlikely morale will matter much since you don't have many soldiers to lose anyway. Regarding morale, I wrote about the details a loooong time ago. Civilians are not currently affected by morale--their stupidity is a big enough disadvantage as it is. I'll gladly add in civilian morale penalties once maniacal charging melee berserk attacks are possible, but those aren't in yet, so you'll just have to wait if you want to see a civilian lose it and run straight at an alien to pummel it in the face with a frying pan :)

Speaking of morale, check out these rather amusing log lines I happened to see while the game was playing itself over the past couple days for testing:
(Also note that Donald was sitting on the toilet at the time :)

As with most releases, some of the new content has been retroactively inserted into old scenarios, so if you replay them you'll now have access to medi-kits, motion scanners, and the new canon aliens (so they're now *all* in there). Of course, you'll now also have to deal with morale in those missions as well, so do try to shoot more than get shot =p (Note: If you want to play without the drawbacks of morale failure, add the "-noPanic" command line switch when you run the game to ignore morale effects.)

You'll notice there is now a rudimentary help system. It's not really all that helpful yet, but the framework is there, so it's a start. Each window now also has its own command list, accessible either by keyboard or mouse (through the little '?' near the bottom right corner). Windows also have a button to close them by mouse, if you insist...

Melee attacks are now allowed to hit units on different z-levels. In fact, there was a problem preventing huge units like the colossus from even attacking targets... some fearful monster THAT was. I was wondering why it never seemed to be much of a threat despite its size, but I figured walking through walls and trashing the Area 51 base was good enough. Since melee attacks play a larger role in the new scenario, I spent a little more time with them and noticed the issue. If you go back to Area 51, beware the bite of the Colossus! (Same with the Mega Reaper in the default ARRP scenario, I believe.)

Check the change log for the full list of mods and fixes.

Overall, R7 comes with a large number of additions, but as fun as it is, in my opinion it's approaching "the more it includes, the more it leaves to desire" territory. This release was more about a mad sprint to increase depth, and it definitely succeeds at that, but a lot of it now needs fleshed out with more breadth then polished. The next several releases will be headed in that direction (sideways).

By the way, for those that don't know, this release is a part of ARRP 2012, which makes it a kind of anniversary for X@COM--the first pre-alpha tech demo was released for ARRP exactly one year ago. Things have come quite a ways since then, yet there's still so much more to do. Mechanics-wise, the battlescape is almost feature complete compared to the original. We're only missing the psi-amp now, and beyond that I have a backlog of improvements to implement before doing some serious work on the overall UI to make it truly awesome (in theory, anyway).

Under the hood, R7 also comes with a more powerful error recording system which records exactly what the program was doing even on a hard crash (beautiful line numbers, baby!), giving me one more tool to use to track down bugs remotely. But that's only if you send me the data! The crash data will be appended to the end of the run.log file, so if your game crashes and you want to help prevent the same problem from happening again, please e-mail me that file. (Be sure to make the copy *before* starting up the game again, since subsequent runs will replace the old file.) Better error data is something I've wanted to do for a while, but kept putting off since a good solution was tough to find and it wasn't absolutely necessary yet. Now it's going to be essential since the special abilities system can theoretically cause all sorts of mayhem (read: bugs) through emergent effects.

Unfortunately, this is the slowest version yet. There are several parts of the UI architecture awaiting optimization, and I know specifically what parts will be changed and how--just haven't gotten around to it. So if you don't have a fairly fast CPU, you may notice some slowdown and/or UI artifacts (possibly many). Press F5 to check your FPS (appears in title bar while windowed)--if you're not consistently getting at least 50+ (especially while opening a sub-window), your CPU is too slow to run a flawless game. It'll definitely still be playable, but your UI will likely look funny. I should get around to optimization soon.

Technical/Modding Addendum:

ALL of the neat special behaviors and interactivity with objects you see in this scenario are scripted through the new Special Abilities system (specialabilities.xt)--not a single bit is hard coded. If you look at the file you'll see I also left in many of the original test abilities I was using just to make sure the triggers and effects work as intended, though still others are not listed. (Warning: Looking at that file will likely spoil a good bit of the fun and surprises.) In previous scenarios I was forced to hard code any interesting scripted events. Now even though there are lots more interesting things going on around the map, it's all automated through these abilities. Besides adding content to the text files, the only thing I had to actually code for this scenario was the map generation and initial object spawning code, since there's no map editor yet. (The entire map format has yet to be written.)

It's ridiculously easy to add new scripts. A whole new NPC with special behavior(s) and/or weapon can be created in moments: Think of an idea, jot down a few lines in the SA/item/entity files, and *bam*, done. Granted, I'm familiar with the system and know the variables, but it's pretty simply nonetheless--actually, I don't even remember all the variables myself, I just copy and paste everything from another similar scripted object and tweak as necessary. With all the mixing and matching that's possible, even with the incomplete set of triggers/conditions/effects that exist so far, there's a lot of potential for imaginative designs.

Now that you've made it to the bottom of The Great Wall, get out there and kill some zombies! (More realistically, run away until you find something you can use, then kill them...)

"Revelation 11:11: But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them." --Rev. Jones (you'll know him when you meet him--look for the shotgun-wielding clergyman handing out molotovs ;) )
17 comments more...


  • Kyzrati

    That you did ;)

    I threw in some references to other games--while most were confined to Kyzrati's Curiosities shop, you may happen across Urist just about anywhere (plus he's mighty good with that pickaxe, will join you if you ask nicely, and even suggest you find some magma!).

  • sylverone

    I just tried this for the first time. In my third game I managed to find Kyzrati's Curiosities and get a Psi-Amp and Personal Teleporter, and managed to stay alive until the... uh... cataclysm. A third or more of the map had been corrupted and there were zombies and chrysalids all over, yet one civilian survived all of that and was still standing when the blast was over. I Am Legend?

  • sylverone

    Just found the place again. This time there was a scroll, a crate, and a monster manual. Read the the scroll, and now Sergeant Gunter Hafner is trapped, doomed to read the monster manual for all eternity... and two civilians got stuck with him too, so I suppose they'll be playing D&D whether they like it or not.

  • Kyzrati

    Ahh, the random stuff I put in there back when the special ability system was in its infancy... Their D&D session is going to last about as long as it takes a nuclear missile to arrive ;p

    No, don't worry, the "impenetrable wall" will disappear after a time. The crate should then be mighty useful.

  • sylverone

    Sadly, I used it while trapped. The wall has disappeared now, but it remains to be seen whether the automaton activated or just disappeared. If I can get the sergeant to the second evacuation zone, this could be a victory. All of my other guys are over there lobbing the last of their molotovs.

    On the aside, I was half hoping the monster manual was going to summon a monster for me (although I don't see why it couldn't be against me, on the other hand). ;)

  • sylverone

    By the way, the gang members seemed to die for no apparent reason. Are they suiciding, or fighting amongst themselves?

  • Kyzrati

    Nah, the monster manuals just give background info on the possible creatures from the abyss you could meet. Only Rookie's Tale has summoning. And if you were trapped and completely surrounded when you opened the crate, there would unfortunately be no place to put the automaton :(

    The gang members are enemies with pretty much everything, so you may find them dead from zombie attacks (most likely), police, armed civilians, and even terrorists (though it's unlikely the two will meet). So while they don't fight among themselves, finding them dead is not uncommon.

  • sylverone

    Huh, it seems like it shouldn't let you use the automaton with no place to put it, but in any case I'll know for next time.

    Actually, the gang members were dying for no apparent reason while I was in the room with them. No messages as I recall. Free glocks. I snuck in from behind and only one of the three saw me. He fired once or twice, but missed, and as I was manoeuvring, each one turned to %, seemingly one by one. Not sure what happened. I didn't think to check the log file.

  • Kyzrati

    Hm, the log file probably wouldn't have told you much in that case. The only causes of "sudden death" should still give messages, like being hit by enemies from outside FOV or bleeding to death from critical wounds sustained earlier. It's unlikely they died for no reason, certainly not while you were looking at them as it would've told you why. Unless of course some silent invisible alien has invaded the world, in which case no promises :)

    True that the automaton shouldn't be allowed to be used if it's not going to spawn. That happens because the creation of a new entity occurs in a different section of code a fair bit after the use is confirmed. I'll jot that down as something to address, though it's fairly rare since you have to be *completely* surrounded and blocked off. Normally a new search routine I added would place it some distance away beyond any blocking entities, but it's still stopped by walls so we don't go placing things on other sides of walls.

  • sylverone

    Yeah, all that makes sense. In any case, I think I'm unlikely to run into either situation ever again, so no big deal.

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