Cataclysm Postmortem*

by Kyzrati on 20120925 , under

*so-called because you've played Cataclysm and are now dead :)

I've done a few stealth releases in the past several days, mostly little fixes and tweaks to the scenario, so we're actually up to R7.3 now. Here's a rundown of what changed in Cataclysm:
  • Unarmed civilians will also take weapons you offer them (originally only armed civilians would swap for better)
  • Second evac zone always different from the first
  • Police now talk, and eventually receive orders to leave their station and do what they can to help civilians evacuate
  • Suicide bomber detonation text uses proper actor (bomber detonates, not their intended target...)
  • Mission results correctly shows number of scrolls read
  • Fixed actor reference for one of Rev. Jones' lines
  • Fixed a few typos
There were a few other gameplay issues I found, which you can read about in the changelog. (The updates do fix a pair of pretty serious bugs, so if you're still playing R7, I highly suggest making sure you have the latest version.)

For those of you only following the project and not actually playing yet, I've uploaded a new video showing a quick overview of the new and old game elements. As usual, YouTube manages to ruin the clarity with overzealous mp4 compression, so HD + fullscreen are essential (and even then the quality leaves much to be desired).

In addition to the tips provided on release, here are some more hints and strategies to help you survive long enough to evacuate:
  • Some items may have unexpectedly useful melee attacks.
  • Alien enemies are spawned entirely from the necromass, and both it and all of the spawned units except for one are weak against fire. They're also very slow. If you can get your hands on some "fire"-power (there are several sources), you'll be nigh invincible... until your ammo runs dry.
  • If you see a growing Necrospore Shell or Bulge and have something with which to destroy it, by all means do so immediately, because what it hatches will no doubt be a fairly big problem.
  • Avoid wading through the necrospores--it slows you down.
  • If you can manage to persuade the drug dealer to give you some cocaine (guns being the best form of persuasion), it works pretty well on zombies...
  • If you can get hold of a bible, they have a chance of smiting zombies when you whack them over the head.
  • You should of course immediately gather your family first--they'll be your first rescues, and they all have rudimentary armament, which is better than what you've got, so they can at least shield you if absolutely necessary.
  • Always always grab the sledgehammer in the garage. It's your primary weapon until you can find something in another house/building. Also make sure it goes to your strongest soldier--strength = damage for the sledgehammer. Notice you have two rookies and two sergeants--the latter are generally going to be stronger, and better at just about everything else, too.
  • House garages always contain one common household tool that doubles as a weapon.
  • Remove guns from cases and swords from stands using the undocumented manipulate ('n') command. (They're quite uncommon, but you may find one.)
  • If you see a chryssalid, RUN. The only way you can hope to defeat one is with some fairly heavy explosives. Conventional arms aren't effective enough since chryssalids have thick armor and can close on you way too quickly.
  • If you spot some useful assets, don't think "Oh, I'll just go around this other building then circle back and get them", IMMEDIATELY go straight for them. Things change fast, and there a lot of unknowns. There may be no later, so if you really them now...
  • Food and drink are good for restoring stamina, which you may run low on if you run around a lot (which you probably will)--drinking an espresso and continuing your sprint is better than having to take a breather and wait for those zombies to catch up to you!
  • Flares can be useful later on when the power starts failing and street lights start flickering off. Even worse than fighting a horde of zombies is fighting a horde of zombies in the dark where you can't see them until they're almost on your position. Remember to light (use) the flares before throwing them! (These are standard flares, not the X-COM electro-flare variety).

A few screenshots from Cataclysm runs:

Here I've herded herded my civilians together for a final push through the zombies--the necromass decided to spread all over the evacuation zone to the west... This is right before I discover that unarmed civilians won't take weapons you want to give them (fixed in R7.3)... Fortunately the good reverend hooked us up with molotovs and I had found a shotgun elsewhere. (You can actually see a bit of this exact scene in the video.)

Seeking refuge by the church altar while Rev. Jones does his thing.
No one gets into this church without permission from his shotgun!

A scene I captured while checking on the game as it ran on autopilot just before R7 release.
Man are they screwed.

Field Reports

In the past few days, players on Bay 12 have been sharing some of their experiences as they try to escape the alien-induced apocalypse. Read about their exploits here (post order):

Draxis: "My team was leading a large group of civilians out of a zombie-infested area, when a zombie runs up and attacks my lead man. He smashes down the zombie with a sledgehammer, but an alien emerges from the corpse and strikes him down. He drops the unstable compound he is carrying, and it explodes, wiping out my whole team. This causes the similar compounds carried by the rest of my team--we got them out of an abandoned laboratory, and were using them as grenades--to explode as well, killing most of the civilians following us and leveling a block and a half."

Lesson: Spread out when carrying dangerous chemicals.

Crazy Cow: "I explore the city, finding nothing but a Starbucks until I come across a drughouse in the corner. The gang is dead, but it's filled with cocaine and Glocks. I set up shop waiting for the order to evac, and decide to try one of these cocaine blocks. Toshio Tanida promptly eats the entire block and falls into a coma. *facedesk*"

Lesson: Don't try cocaine while fleeing from zombies. Having a medi-kit handy might make it okay, though ;)

Orb: "I had a grenadier with unstable compounds ready to give fiery death to the necrospores. However, Doctor Faust thought it was a great idea to shoot him instead of the zombie, and proceed to have him, the Zombies, Doctor Faust + Pet, and the laboratory destroyed. Thankfully, the other two members of my team were elsewhere (1st death was due to throwing an unstable compound instead of an Anti-Necro 'nade at close range...never making that mistake again.)."

Lesson: Doctor Faust is a bad shot (he really is).

1freeman: "Just had my first 'successful' run on cataclysm, I managed to find the good doctor's lab early on which allowed me to stock up on unstable compounds and a pair of useful companions. I made my way to the northwestern quadrant and found a certain pick-wielding civilian who also joined me, then the good doctor got a little trigger happy and shot one of my guys with the explosives who died and set off a chain reaction killing another agent and most of the civvies including little Timmy and the doctor himself. The survivors then grabbed the doctor's gun and the sledgehammer, the only weapons I had left. I desperately fought off the zombie horde and just when all hope was lost I received a message from HQ informing me of the new evac zone which miraculously was nearby. Then a crystallid pops out of a zombie like a demonic jack-in-the-box, and kills the guy with the gun. I send my last agent to sprint to the evac site, leaving most of the civilians behind and with my points in the negative but hey I survived the !!FUN!! and came out a victor."

Lesson: Death and destruction is enjoyable, even when it's your own squad.

Crazy Cow: "I sat myself in the police station, used my sledgehammer to knock out the floor tiles around the stairs, blew out the far wall, and shot as many zombies as I could. After a while my limited ammunition ran out, and I sat around lobbing unstable compounds at the necrospores if they came close enough. An unnatural shriek pierces the air, and I don't give a fuck because chryssalids can't fly. The bugger paths up to me, which I found strange, so I just stared at it for a bit. Then... the chryssalid tears through the shelves lining the wall and attacks my weaponless soldiers, killing two and zombifying one before my turn rolls around. >_>"

Lesson: Don't challenge a chryssalid to staring contest. It will tear through the shelves and kill you all ;)

kingfisher1112: "A necro lord fucked up my shit, and a homeless guy killed it. Also, 'Package arriving in 5 minutes'? Is it weapons/supplies?" [he was posting while playing--this point was laugh-inducing for anyone in the know] "So. I played again. I played and I got some pretty good weapons. Rescued some civvies. Then A MOTHERFUCKING NUKE LANDED WHY ISN'T THIS IN REGULAR XCOM?"

Lesson: X@COM just gets more and more fun.

Kyzrati (while playtesting): "Down to one man, obliteration by tactical nuke imminent, I'll just hide in this house here... Miraculously SURVIVE the nuke (it happens) while pretty much everything around me is leveled (the toilet from nearby remains!). 'Wow, this is great, now I can walk around the level and see what's going on *after* the nuke!' Apparently I wasn't the only one to survive: Ten steps later a gang member walks out of the smoke at almost point blank range and shoots me dead with his pistol..."

Lesson: Murphy's law of X@COM: If you survive the nuke, it must be because you deserve some other ironic death.

Kyzrati (still playtesting): "Looking into the drug dealer's house from afar I see that everyone on the first floor is already dead. Must've been hit by a wave of zombies. Guess I'll just go pick up some free weapons. Sure enough, the first floor is littered with corpses both human and undead, and GUNS, yay! So I grab a nice pistol for myself by the stairs. Hm, should check upstairs and see if anyone's left... Ah ha, one last gang member looking out the window with his back to me. Well, I'll just shoot... *click*. DAMNIT, the pistol I grabbed is out of ammo. (That must've been some firefight downstairs.) Oh well, I'll just whack him in the back of the head with my pistol then! Sneak up behind him... *wham*, he takes the blow but doesn't go down, instead spinning around to shoot my guy in the face with reaction fire... [Several minutes later another unarmed soldier dodges into that same house, fleeing a group of zombies.] Nowhere to hide from all these zombies but upstairs... He heads up stairs to find there's already a zombie up there facing off with that same gang member. He has plenty of time and is standing behind the zombie, but decides to wait and hope that dude gets mauled. Unfortunately he blows the zombie away with his pistol. My turn. Walk up and pick up the sledgehammer my earlier friend dropped from his backpack. *WHAM* The hit doesn't kill him, but knocks him right out the window he was standing in front of... right into the middle of the zombies that had chased me up to the house earlier."

Lesson: Revenge is sweet.

That's enough fun for one post. The next one will be about modding X@COM. I've also updated the FAQ with a new section that addresses some questions which have come up multiple times in the past months.

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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 ;) )
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ARRP 2012

by Kyzrati on 20120914 , under

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