Pen, Paper, and Electrons

by Kyzrati on 20130206 , under

X@COM started back in 2011 with a single text file, a quick brainstorm listing essential features and examining the feasibility of such a project given the technical challenges. Among other topics, it touched on 3D, unit facing, and extant/previously attempted X-COM and 3D roguelikes.

After that came a rather short file considering what the underlying architecture of the program and its data should look like. Do we want component-based objects? Inheritance? State machines?

Both files were quickly tossed to the wayside when coding actually began and a pair of somewhat organized files took over:

"Program notes" covered implementation details but grew excessively long when its "to-do" section began including things that could be quite a ways off, or may never even come to be, so aside from its "known issues" section to which I occasionally tacked on new items as they appeared, I retired that file.

"Design overview" was a design doc in the traditional sense, summarizing the game's appeal, gameplay, GUI, etc., and it was onto that file that I started pasting more and more "ideas" that will become the future of X@COM.

All that information became fairly useless, though, since it was just one massive list. Seeing as how we've come to a rather big milestone, with the Battlescape very playable and many of the core mechanics not only complete but fleshed out, this was a good opportunity to organize that information so it can be useful today (or one day). "Fortunately," X@COM's scope has grown beyond what can be efficiently handled by a normal text file :)

Ever since the good old days of DOS edit, I've been using .txt files to keep notes. I still have thick binders of game rules printed out from the DOS edit days (as much as I'd like to have them, the floppies have all disappeared). Even a more recent game I worked on was documented through dozens of text files, some containing dozens of pages themselves, mostly written in... Notepad.

Switching from this familiar medium is going to take a bit of getting used to, but I'm testing the waters with some new software. After a day searching around for what's out there, I found a few of the better programs more suited to my needs, and settled on a program called CintaNotes. *All* of the X@COM notes have now been migrated a local database file and organized with tags (this alone took a couple days):

I'm not really used to the idea of tagging things, but we'll see how it goes. In any case, I still prefer and will continue to use text files, at least in spurts, after which their content will be integrated with the note database.

The database is for storing mostly long-term ideas that are still way out there. For near-term work I keep a separate to-do list at the top of the internal changelog, and for exploring the details of whatever I'm currently working on, nothing beats pen and paper, which I use most frequently.

Below are some sketches from Rookie's Tale design (colors inverted because they look better that way). The final blueprints didn't necessarily adhere to these; their purpose was to get an idea of the general layout, flow of movement, and choke points.

The Warlord's Keep.

The huge crypt housing the Greater Lich and full of nasty traps.

Garrison under siege by the Half-Orc mage and his followers.
When working on any major new feature set, there's an interesting nested development process where feature/element 1a ends up requiring element 1b and 1c, which then perhaps require even more elements, or even feature 2, and each of these has a piece of paper (or two or three), and they get stacked on top of each other and/or spread out until the pile/surface area begins to get a little daunting. As with coding any program, they just have to be tackled one at a time, piece by piece, and they *will* eventually make their way to the recycle bin. Always quite relieving to finally reach that "oh, so that's what my desk looks like" moment, as I did recently. A temporary state, of course, as we prepare for the next major step.

R8.7 Already?

Well damn, R8.6 had a pretty serious regression due to not fully testing code handling the new burst-fire mechanics that allow for alternate rates of fire: unlimited-ammo weapons were allowing an endless barrage of fire. That means we've already got an R8.7, and anyone playing R8.6, who I would assume are likely to have already encountered this bug, should definitely update. (Save games are compatible if you have a game in progress, by the way--just copy over the save file.) Both Rookie's Tale and Aggression have also been repackaged with R8.7.

This update also comes with another modification to pathfinding: You don't have to change your map level to move to a location on the ground, such as when descending slopes or the Skyranger ramp--just click in the air and the unit will move to the ground below that (obviously this doesn't work for flying units, which can just fly to the above-ground position itself). Not a big deal to seasoned players, but newcomers are often confused by the multi-level map and become frustrated from the very beginning (despite the basic tutorial mentioning it explicitly), so maybe now the demo will scare away fewer potential players.
7 comments more...


  • Kyzrati

    I only made one or two more than you see here, as it was only necessary for the very large areas which can benefit from extra pre-blueprint planning to ensure they'd come out right. It's much easier to plan a large area on paper than it is in the piecemeal blueprints.xt file (re-designing directly in ASCII is not fun). Can't wait until there's a real editor and we can say goodbye to these annoying blueprints.

  • Anonymous

    Hi there,

    I really like your game so far.

    You don't want a forum ? The comments are quite crap to discuss anything game related, and i've only seen the modding forum. Am i blind ?

  • Kyzrati

    Nope, you're totally correct--there is no regular forum, yet. A full forum would definitely help the game take off by giving regular players and followers a good place to exchange ideas and provide feedback. It will come when the game is further along and there's a dedicated URL. More importantly, there's a personal issue which is preventing me from opening the community too much right now: There is a chance I may be forced to take a fairly long break from X@COM development, and until that's behind me, I don't want to build a community only to seemingly abandon it for such a long period. I haven't wanted to mention this possibility because it may not come to be, but for now it's hanging like a dark cloud on the horizon.

    The Bay 12 forum thread is the best place to share ideas for now.

  • sylverone

    Is the "show destinations within range" feature in the current version? I was looking for it when I played A Rookie's Tale last, but maybe that's not the right place to look.

  • Kyzrati

    It is. (To know what features are introduced when, check the changelog.) Rookie's Tale includes it, as long as you have the most recent version. For now you have to press ctrl-p twice to turn it on--the pathfinding visualization command now cycles between modes.

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