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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Two Years of X@COM

by Kyzrati on 20130608 , under

Two years of development squeezed into "one" image. Imagine that. Okay, no imagination necessary--it's right there.

It might change at some point soon (if/when I move), so here's a shot of the X@COM dev station as it's remained since the game's inception:
For the curious.
The screen setup is me working on the 3D particle system yesterday, adding support for more dynamic map objects as a first step towards an improved battlescape UI.

The IDE scrollbars are especially useful, since they show the code formatting/indentation and other important information for reference. Here are some examples, because they just look neat by themselves:

X@COM source! Sort of.

Beginning tomorrow I'll be out of town for a couple weeks so there won't be much to show in the near term.

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Do it for the Earth!

by Kyzrati on 20130601 , under

The project will be going on two years soon. Wow.

Interestingly enough this is the result of a... slight deviation from the original plan. I started with the intention of making a simple, quick X-COM project--after all, the game mechanics are widely documented, and I could've made a complete clone in a year if I stuck to that plan.

But after only the first few months of development it became apparent that this could be much more epic, and therefore much more meaningful (on its own, an exact remake in ASCII has gimmicky appeal at best). So it's taken a while to get to this stage as I created a flexible engine and tested it with a long series of increasingly feature-rich demo missions. While there's still a long way to go, we now have a strong foundation to build on and the potential is evident.

And there's been a lot of fun along the way--the semi-regular blog posts have been well-received, and at least some of you have already gotten many hours of enjoyment out of the alpha demos. I know many more are waiting on the sidelines for the geoscape and sacred 1.0 release. We'll get there.

In the meantime, I'm finally opening the project to donations. Check out the new "Donate" page for more details. Tell your neighbors! Tell your parents! Tell your rich uncle! On second thought, tell people who might give a damn ;p  (Later that day...: Okay, I changed my mind for now. No donations. They were available for about a nine-hour window but fortunately (?) no one took advantage of that, so this change affects approximately 0 people. After thinking it over some more, I don't think donations will be significant enough to enable me to continue putting lots of time into development (big assumption but I don't want to take the chance), and a lack of progress would rub people the wrong way. So from here on out things might slow down a bit while I work on something that will actually be at least a little profitable for a change. But hey, though short-lived at least donations were a good reason to finally put up the associated post containing my first geoscape mockups--now back to that post...)

And because I do try to have something visual for you with every post, here's a little peek at what I've been researching lately. (Plus it was a good tie in for a post title :) Keep in mind these are MOCKUPs (and rough ones at that) thrown together with a combination of REXPaint and Photoshop. The geoscape still doesn't even exist in the source code aside from that global pointer I wrote in when I first started the project. (FYI: It is currently NULL ;) The geoscape will most likely end up looking very different from these, but hey, they were fun to make!

There's the obligatory terminal green map. While simple, it's nice that all the important dynamic stuff is easy to spot.

This one just looks neat. And besides, land is where most of the important stuff is anyway (this not being TFTD), so having it clear is helpful, too. Unless of course you want terrain details...

A colored terrain-based map is useful, though this version doesn't yet look very ASCII-ish (or X-COM-y). (Each terrain should have its own ASCII, but I did those you see manually using PS patterns, and I wasn't going to spend forever choosing ASCII and placing them properly!) Ideally the foreground (character) would have the primary color, and the background would probably be black, but since it currently only contains two different characters that version is *very* hard to read, so I tried this one out.

The geoscape isn't a near-term development goal, mind you, but it's definitely something I've been researching a lot lately because getting it right will take some time--there are a lot of issues to consider, mostly surrounding how to best store and display Earth data (everything else is trivial by comparison).

I'll start an in-depth discussion of the geoscape once the forums are up and running.

In case you haven't seen it yet, there is an ongoing discussion regarding a new name for X@COM. See the previous post, and the Bay 12 thread starting here.

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Taking the "X-COM" out of X@COM?

by Kyzrati on 20130527 , under

Well, yes and no.

What I mean is the game is going to be re-branded with a different name and content while keeping the same mechanics and premise--you'll still be leading an organization tasked with defending Earth against aliens; soldiers, battlescape, geoscape, bases, craft, and all. This will enable more freedom in both design and fundraising. (If you *really* want to play the original in ASCII form, I'm sure a mod will be able to help you with that--we more or less have one already, minus the geoscape.)

We don't really need another X-COM clone, anyway, which X@COM is already decidedly not, so... first thing's first: we need a new name to
  • preferably represent what the game will be (or at least some aspect thereof)
  • get at least a little further away from "X-COM"
  • be easier to search for, '@' characters not being all that search engine friendly
  • be pronounceable ;p
Since this plan has been in the back of my head for a quite a while now, I've already had plenty of time to come up with, mull over, and throw out the window lots of ideas. The only one that's stuck to date: Company X.

While X@COM is not a clone and does/will include lots of additional features, it obviously has its roots in X-COM (as well as some of the trunk as well, considering core mechanics and gameplay), so I preferred a name that still embodied those roots (okay, trunk), hence the 'X', and "Com..." (cleverly reversed, mind you!)

In 1973 a close group of respected scientists exploring the entertaining possibility of alien life on Earth made an important discovery. Although based purely on a confluence of soft evidence, it appeared that aliens really could be responsible for a series of unexplained and seemingly unrelated events across the globe in recent years.

While they couldn't take their views to the public without risking their reputations in the scientific community, they were convinced that given more time and information it might be possible to piece together enough evidence to prove the Earth was in fact under alien surveillance for an unknown purpose.

They called themselves "The Company," a joking reference to not being alone on the planet.

Uniquely positioned to gain access to normally restricted data, The Company slowly pieced together behavioral profiles and hypothesized about technological advancements behind various unnatural phenomena, all rooted in real science. For several years they silently investigated and monitored suspected alien activity, even developing technology capable of detecting Unidentified Flying Objects and tracking them for a short distance.

It is now the year 1985, and the aliens are becoming more aggressive. No longer are incidents limited to brief sightings and random abductions. Inexplicable small-scale attacks have begun to shake the public psyche even as governments are quick to initiate cover-ups and attribute them to terrorists.

The Company decides it's time to act.

Through one part pattern analysis, one part behavioral science, and two parts luck, they successfully predict the next target site. Acting in coordination with local law enforcement contacts, they have an entire squad of officers briefed and waiting in ambush when two armed aliens arrive at the scene, immediately surprising and subduing them before they can react.

Major world governments are impressed at the group's success, and unanimously agree to fund them as a new independent initiative tasked with combating the alien threat in all its forms. Knowledge of the alien threat is not yet ready to be brought before the public, thus the deal is kept secret and for now the group appears on government defense ledgers as simply "Company X."

The term "Company" can be taken in the military, economic, or even "group" sense. Obviously you're leading a paramilitary organization, as well as essentially a company what with manufacturing and selling equipment on the side to supplement income...

The story is not incredibly unique, just another possible way such an organization could be formed that covers most of the necessary bases while keeping it generic enough that it could play out in any number of ways from your starting point.

More or less this same news was first posted yesterday on Bay 12, so you can check there for other responses if interested.

Unfortunately while the name fits the theme, series, and story fairly well, it isn't all that amazing on its own as a name, which is definitely a drawback. I've also come up with an alternative which stands on its own pretty well and you may prefer instead: Xenocorps.

The good thing is, either name could essentially use the same logo concept I'm rather fond of (which is really just a modified X@COM logo, at that):

What do you think about all this? (Before you suggest it, just this afternoon I was thinking of other names and already came up with Hot Pink Elephants From Space Ate My Pajamas. I'm a little on the fence with that one.)

This re-branding is not happening right now, but will come eventually once the project enters the refactoring stage where I clean up all the crap I've been stitching together just to keep the project playable and fun while new features were added.

What are the specific implications? I'm glad you asked, because you'll get...
  • new races!
  • new weapons!
  • new... everything!
Well, under the hood you'll still have X-COM's familiar core mechanics which are, after all, what I developed this elaborate prototype for in the first place...

In time there will be plenty of room for discussion regarding the new content and overall game design. Before then, once the new name is determined we'll likely have a new general forum to help direct future development and provide a place for players to interact. 

Several days ago I had a nice post ready to publish, complete with geoscape mockups and all, but the focus was the announcement of donation support and I discovered only at the last minute that PayPal donations aren't allowed in my country (seriously, they told me to "start a company and sell a product or service"...), so... we're suddenly talking about this instead.

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by Kyzrati on 20130517 , under

So... now that I've got some ASCII art lying around, I figured I'd see what it looks like in the actual game, where it is in fact intended to go one day...

After writing a simple base class for importing and displaying images from REXPaint (*.xp), I decided it was pretty boring just throwing the images up there on the console. Our UFOpaedia's going to need a little more pizazz than that. What to do...

I know, why not integrate the image display class with the particle system? All we need are commands that particle scripts can use to interface with the various components of a REXPaint image (ASCII, foreground/background colors). Done. Particles are now capable of drawing their data from images, and thereby manipulate their appearance.

Here are some simple examples recorded from a test console running in the game:

And those examples use only one image layer, while the system is capable of reading each layer of the image individually, some of which could be pure color/ASCII effect layers designed in REXPaint to enable a mixture of procedural and designed art. Theoretically the system could be used to create some far crazier effects, or even animate images (though I don't imagine going that far myself).

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Paint Me an Alien Invasion

by Kyzrati on 20130511 , under

REXPaint is ready for use/abuse.

For any of you interested in the modern computer-aided impressionism/abstract art scene, and I'll bet there are at least 0.63 of you, this announcement should be cause for an immediate download! :)

I've set up a separate blog for it here where you can download the latest release and read about the features, find more screenshots, etc. All further REXPaint related news will be posted over there.

Here's the main paint mode interface in action, along with a floater for all of your ASCII floater needs:
You can see earlier stages as I worked towards the "final" design (though not really final--just me doodling).
Check out the REXPaint blog for more.
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Mod: "Terror"

by Kyzrati on 20130504 , under

10101 has done it again and brought us another mission from the original X-COM. Remember scurrying through malls, shops, gas stations, and warehouses searching for civilians before the aliens found them, only to hear the screams of their death when you're too late?

Yep, it's a terror mission.

Like the Farm mod it has high replayability given that you can start with different squads and craft, and face off against different randomly chosen races (intel will tell you which at the outset, in case you'd like a different opponent).

While it's probably not too difficult to at least survive this mission, getting a reasonable score is an entirely different matter.

One advantage you'll have compared to the original game is you can press 'n' when a soldier is facing a civilian to have them follow that soldier, and even lead them to an evac zone if you want to get them off the map (to make room for bigger explosions, of course ;p).

Another change from X-COM is that the Lightning squad can carry sniper rifles, described here by 10101:
  • Light Sniper Rifle:
    Weakest of the sniper rifles. Only slightly more damage than a normal rifle. Slow but accurate aimed shot and a snapshot like the rifle, but slightly slower (best snap of the sniper rifles). Eight shots per clip.
  • Laser Sniper Rifle:
    Superior to the light sniper rifle in everything but the snapshot which is horribly inaccurate as you have to aim while waiting for the beam to charge. Damage ranges between laser rifle and heavy laser. Unlimited ammo like all laser weapons. 
  • Heavy Sniper Rifle:
    The mother of all sniper rifles. Due to its bulk the snapshot is both innacurate and slow. Aiming takes even longer than with the other sniper rifles (90% TU) and you have to load each bullet seperately. On the other hand it is the third most accurate weapon in the game (after the blaster launcher and the HWP-blaster) and its damage is as high as other explosive weapons (approximately equivalent to an alien grenade or small launcher).
We've so got this--an Avenger carrying four tanks, and two mutons with their backs facing us... (First tank rolls down the ramp and is shot to pieces by plasma fire from a different angle.)

10101's Farm mod has also been upgraded to X@COM R9.1, which fixes the ambient sound bug on restarts.

REXPaint update: X@COM's ASCII art editor is almost complete--the only bit remaining is its built-in file browser, so the next post will most likely introduce the new development tool and its features.
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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.
8 comments more...

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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The Sound of Fluff

by Kyzrati on 20130319 , under

More than 750 sound effects later, I'm done (for now).

This phase of development only goes as far as implementation of the core sound system, and inclusion of a majority of the "generic" sound effects that we know we need:

  • bullets/projectiles colliding with different materials
  • spent shells hitting the ground (again, material based)
  • item throwing and colliding/landing/falling/dropping (not all the same thing)
  • melee swings and strikes (dependent on object struck--and whatever is swung, but for now that's mostly the same metallic objects)
  • door manipulation
  • grunts/screams from injury (pretty limited for now, esp. on the alien side)

So nearly none of the "unique" content you see in the demo scenarios has sound, instead all I've done so far are the parts that are sure to go into the final game. Obviously as you heard in the recent video there are sounds for the core weapons and explosions, for testing and, of course, fun :)

As for ambient sounds, while I had previously labeled them "unlikely", they are just so easy and beneficial to the atmosphere that I had to implement them, too. So now your soldiers can hear the pulsing hum of the UFO power core, beeping of terminals, wind in the trees, and fire. More will come later with the actual game content, although yesterday I couldn't help myself and added an event-based sound that plays on mission start if you have a Skyranger: the sound of the craft bay doors opening and lowering the ramp. Ambient sounds are heard by the currently selected unit, if any, and fade in slowly when selecting a new unit so as not to get too annoying while cycling through many units.

Check out this debug shot visualizing the volume of ambient sounds heard around a UFO:
Obviously you have the UFO power generating the strongest source of source in there (though it falls off quickly), with the terminals on the left chiming in. Outside is a tree, and if you're not too far away from it you'll hear a gentle breeze occasionally blowing through the leaves.
As mentioned before, sound volume is distance based, so the amount of control the engine now provides over falloff rates (attenuation) is useful for making different kinds of ambient sounds more realistic and changes in distance sound less harsh as units move nearer/further. The engine supports linear, logarithmic, reverse log, and inverse rates (you can read about them and see their graphs here). They don't work absolutely seamlessly, this being a grid world with discrete positioning rather than one with the more fine-grained resolution you'd see in a normal 3D game, but they get the job done well enough.

As with everything else, the entire sound system is controlled through text files. You just drop files in the audio directory, add their path to the sound definitions (along with their ranges and falloff model), and use them wherever in the data. The engine also supports the creation of sound channel groups for more precise control through particle script commands.

For the player, sound control is divided into three groups, UI, game, and ambient, which you'll be able to toggle and set volume for individually, though for now I'm not going to include commands for that since it will be handled through an options menu.

With this R9 is pretty much done, though I'm thinking of creating a quick mod that can better showcase the sound system, as all these cool new sound effects will be deactivated in the normal demo scenarios (you can manually activate them, but the overall experience will be inconsistent).
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Disaster Averted

by Kyzrati on 20130316 , under

So this "dark cloud" previously mentioned, the one that was threatening to hinder development in a big way (= stop it for a year), has thankfully dispersed! I'll still have to be away for a couple weeks next month dealing with related matters, but once that's done nothing will stand in our way!

Okay, maybe there is another little cloud brewing out there, just about the only other thing that could get in the way... like the funds to continue at a good pace.

To date I've put all my own money (+= lots and lots of time) into this project, but it just so happens that my current sources of income are drying up in a few months and rather than looking for more of the same type of work I've been considering using the opportunity to try something different. I'd love for that to be game development, but X@COM is probably not something that can really make money, and working on an alternative simpler game would essentially mean putting this project on hold, which we obviously don't want. So after a few months development may start to slow down depending on how the money situation develops.

I may open up the project to donations and see how that goes--who knows, maybe we'd be surprised. Given that the game is generally well-received, a full-on crowd-funding campaign (assuming the necessary re-branding of the content) would almost certainly be successful enough to work full time long enough to bring the project to completion, but non-U.S. citizens can't use Kickstarter which is still the only truly viable platform these days (barring a few exceptional projects), making that a non-starter for me.

We'll see what happens. For now it's back to regular development and we'll see about getting R9 out there before I have to take that short leave.

Progress: I'm still expanding the sound system, which is now almost complete and includes some great stuff, but I'll save the juicy details for another post when everything's in place.
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"Testing, 1, 2... *KABOOM*"

by Kyzrati on 20130307 , under ,

There's finally something new worth a video: sound effects! Hear footsteps, guns firing, shooting through windows, blasting down walls, a stompy colossus wrecking houses, and finally the almighty blaster launcher.

The video doesn't include all the new sounds (by far)--for that you can play with the R9 sandbox (when it's available).

The weapons and explosions you hear are quick placeholders I put together for testing, but footsteps, destruction, and impacts are about where I want them to be besides still needing to be expanded. Right now there are 372 sound effects that fall under the above types, with still more categories to be added.

Sound effect volume is based on distance from the nearest unit under your control (and the inherent range of the sound itself), but most of the action takes place up close so you won't really notice it here.
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Into the 4th Dimension

by Kyzrati on 20130223 , under

As we're all aware, atmosphere is an integral part of the X-COM experience, and an important element for building that atmosphere is sound. The sound of unfriendly footsteps echoing through the darkness; civilians screaming as the aliens find them before your squad does; hearing gunfire pierce the silence as unseen aliens fire on your position, but miss their mark so you still have no idea where they are. These add to the suspense, while also making the "hidden movement" phase that much more interesting (and informative).

This aspect of the game has been on the back burner for quite some time while we squared away the core mechanics, and with that done it's now time to decide what needs to be heard.

  • Weapon fire / attacks
  • Projectile impacts (projectile+material-dependent)
  • Explosions 
  • Throwing/landing (latter could be material-relative)
  • Dropping (essentially same as landing)
  • Picking up
  • Melee swings / misses
  • (Ammo loading/unloading probably unnecessary for now since only possible through inventory window, which has its own sounds)
  • Footsteps (usually terrain-based, but units may override that in special cases, such as flight or huge stompy aliens)
  • Death
  • Footsteps (us. material-based)
  • Door open/close
  • Destruction (us. material-based)
  • Falling prop impacts (unbroken, us. material-based)

Aside from the lists above, the sound system is already accessible through special abilities scripting, so sounds can be connected to just about any game element to create unique situational sounds like a terror unit roaring on spotting a target, or a chryssalid screaming on injecting a victim, etc.

Much of the functionality already exists, as particles and anything that uses them (attacks, explosions, throwing, melee...) are already capable of playing and controlling sounds (which is how the UI emits sound). We still need control for sounds related to non-particle objects, and to [elegantly] deal with various issues like the extreme cacophony that would result from huge explosions destroying wide areas of terrain, footsteps out of sight (it will slow down turns to always have NPC unit steps heard--not sure by how much), and many more I no doubt have yet discover.

After that it's mostly a question of putting together the assets, but I won't be doing all that now, just a core set used for testing/R9.

Fortunately I have handy a nice library of 157 footstep sounds I put together for an old game, so hopefully they'll work well for X@COM without too many adjustments (although I may have to edit them all--doh--to get them to work with the faster movement speed than the game they came from). Categories include dirt, grass, gravel, metal, mud, puddles, water, wood, rocky, snow, stone, and undergrowth. Because you need something other than my wall of text to look at, here's a color-inverted shot of one of the snow footsteps in Audacity (my primary sound editing tool):
Another issue at hand is to determine what level of control the player needs over sound. Besides the obvious option of muting the game entirely, will it be sufficient to split sound effect control into two categories, UI and game? That's what the plan is, in any case.

Other features under consideration (any opinions?):
  • Dynamic sound effect volume based on the distance of the source from the nearest unit under the player's control
  • Music isn't appropriate, but some kind of ambient drone or beat as heard in X-COM can help set the mood (as long as it's not too intrusive).
  • [Unlikely:] Very subdued map-wide ambient/background sound effects, like distant shouts and screams in a densely populated urban map, wind through the trees in forests, etc.
  • [Unlikely:] Environment sounds emitted by props, and heard only by the currently selected unit; examples would include fireplaces, gushing streams, machinery, alien facilities, etc.
  • Radio chatter?

I'm not going to press forward on all this immediately. First there are a few little items sitting on the to-do list that need cleared away while awaiting any comments/input you guys have to offer.
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by Kyzrati on 20130215 , under

The game has always been a bit demanding on older computers when sub-windows are open (it causes those funny graphical anomalies you see with the text and borders), and I figured now was a good time to deal with that.

Of course the first option that comes to mind is... hardware acceleration! So I spent the previous weekend attempting to integrate OpenGL into Rogue Engine X. It sure brought back memories of the times I used DX9 in years before, trying to figure out what the heck was going on in the background when all I wanted was some simple result. Several days later, after fiddling with OpenGL and pulling my hair out, I pulled the plug on that idea.

After all, this is a 2D game, so using the GPU shouldn't be entirely necessary.

Approaching the problem from a different angle, I decided to profile the game code itself and look for bottlenecks. (Bonus: I learned of an awesome application profiler called Very Sleepy--so easy to just attach it to a running program and go! And it should perhaps be called "Very Fast", because it really is. Before I was always copying the source over to my XP VM and testing it with a very old profiler.)

As suspected, the engine code handling preparation of the screen data to be sent to the renderer was eating up a majority of the processing time. It was using a method I called "drill blitting", checking for all screen objects positioned over a single cell and blending them together to create the screen's final appearance at that location. It was the easy way to write the code back when the engine was first created, but the game has become more complex since then with lots more objects to handle. So I completely re-thought the way the screen is drawn and switched from cell-wise to layer-wise blitting, merging one horizontal layer at a time rather than doing it cell by cell.

Hell yeah!

This was tested on a full-sized, fully-revealed Rookie's Tale map using the default font, the first time with just the default map view open, and the second with a simple inventory open on top of that.

As you can see, the more window objects on the screen the bigger the savings, so opening the inventory and other sub-windows won't cause as big a hit to the FPS as it used to. FPS used to take a 23% hit while the inventory was open; now reduced to only 3%! (We're definitely going to need this boost, because the new UI will have a lot more little windows and interactive parts.)

Obviously your actual FPS will likely be lower unless you've got one of these wicked core i7 chips (or whatever better stuff has come out since). I captured those shots from my title bar FPS readout (F5), but you won't see values this high unless you uncap your FPS (Ctrl-F5).

I'm guessing it's possible to improve on this even more with some tricky OpenGL shaders, but that's beyond me--we'll be sticking with software rendering for the foreseeable future.

As there always is with any rendering WIP, there were several blooper-worthy screenshots (from the OpenGL attempts).

Rookie's Tale intro, as written in alienscript.

Complete mess.

More alienscript.

Inversion of foreground and background colors.

These were the fun ones. The most annoying, and prevalent, screen was the seizure-inducing flashy yellow one. Ouch my eyes!

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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.
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Missiles/8.6 Away!

by Kyzrati on 20130203 , under

The people have spoken! Truthfully, not a whole lot of them, but the handful of voices heard make it fairly obvious that overall you guys would prefer to avoid too many intentional roadblocks (a.k.a. feature creep) on the way to 1.0. Probably a smart move.

So as discussed in the previous post, I've postponed parkour and plowed through a series of quick features while clearing up the near-term to-do list in preparation for the Next Big Thing.

While these new features come with R8.6, uploaded today, some of them consist of engine support for future content and mods, not something you'll immediately have access to in the game. Nonetheless, I'll mention them here so that you know what's going on, and so I have an excuse to put up some related screenshots :)

Hand-held light-emitting items will now illuminate the nearby environment (I'm talking mechanics here, not some new visual style). This means little to X-COM right now since their own unit-based light is equivalent to that given off by an electro-flare, but it could have some interesting implications for mods where you might not have so much light available and have to carry a source of light (which may not last forever, like a lit torch). Varying amounts of light may also be emitted by armor itself.

Pathfinding has been slightly modified. I believe most players will prefer the more predictable direct route when allowing the game to take you to a chosen destination (as in X-COM), even though that route generally costs a tad more TU due to extra turning costs. I could add an option to disallow this behavior, but if you're in a tight situation where a few TU will really matter, you can always move in shorter sprints (which you should probably be doing, anyway) or use the keyboard. Do note that if the direct path (meaning a straight line towards the destination) is blocked, the normal pathfinding calculations will take over and will always take the cheapest path, which is not straight.

Burst fire weapons now support numbers of projectiles other than three, so some weapon could theoretically go full auto on a target with six shots, or more. For even scarier stopping power, burst mode supports a "salvo" setting that fires *all* those projectiles at once. Of course, my first inclination was to make a launcher that fires 12 large rockets simultaneously. Just a test, mind you ;p
X-COM sends primitive village back to the stone age?
When first testing I had all the rockets moving at insane speeds, and blew a path of destruction right through the Exodus city map (it looked even cooler when animated):
Hope there aren't any civilians in those buildings...

The aftermath. This is what 12 rockets can do for YOU!

Finally got around to adding ammo counters to the inventory window. This was postponed a looooong time ago when the original inventory window didn't have much room because it used the full-width font. Now you can actually identify at a glance what weapons are loaded with how much ammo, and the amount remaining in each clip in your inventory without having to remember / check all these values manually. Always one step ahead of the aliens, we are! (I also went ahead and made the HUD prioritize the display of remaining ammo, even though we'll be getting a new HUD in a few versions.)

  • Rookie's Tale has been updated with a few fixes and a new sword (Vampiric Blade).
  • 10101 has again updated the Aggression mod, this time with a huge garrison. Woe to the orc raiding party that runs into that thing (10% chance; you'll know at the beginning there's one nearby because you'll hear the commander's call to arms at the end of your first turn--keep retrying with F10 until you get it if you've played before and are just interested in the garrison).

Around the corner: A bit of optimization, and sound++.
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