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The X-Com Files / Some feedback after finishing my campaign
« on: October 10, 2018, 10:21:05 pm »
I have recently finished my XCF campaign, starting on 0.9.3 and ending on 0.9.6. I played on Genius difficulty. The following is an account of my collected thoughts. Where I am critical, I will try to be as constructive as possible.

First of all though I will make it a matter of public record that I have immensely enjoyed my time with XCF. Though it is clearly not finished in places, those parts that are are very good indeed.

It's hard to point any one thing out as a high point during my playthrough, but I did generally enjoy the fight against the Syndicate. They have a range of interesting enemies to deal with and their missions are often eventful. The office building infiltration was tedious because it takes so long to go up all those stairs, but the CEO kidnap mission was super smooth because I had flying armor by then. Marched that CEO right into my Skymarshall, only to find out it transformed into a monster as I was pulling everybody back. Surprise!

Probably the low point of the campaign was the vampire castle. Yeah. It's a great map but it's very exhausting to play due to all the zombies hiding away in it. It overstays its welcome more than TFTD's cruise liner ever did.

Time for some more details.

Tone and Theme
XCF deserves its name most in the early parts of the game, of course. The area where this is most so is the dossiers, which can be considered the actual titular X-Com Files. I believe the dossiers as they stand are fine, but that's probably about it. They tie in with the lore of the cults, but they don't seem to connect much to the game otherwise (except for two). When I ask myself, "what would make XCF even better?" the answer isn't "more dossiers".

Instead, the answer is "more Staff Input". I think the various characters are excellent and deserve a lot more screen time. As it is they pop up occasionally and their voice is heard in some of the articles, but I think a lot more can be done with them. The existing Staff Input articles are a good start, they have some context and the gags are funny, but I think the various characters could also comment at important moments as the various arcs develop, for a little bit of individual perspective to go with the somewhat general Ufopedia.

In regard to the covert missions, I like the idea of them but maybe not so much the way they work out. Especially in the late game I ended up ignoring what covert missions there still were, because I simply didn't have any vehicles for the purpose anymore. Why let a Pickup sit in a hangar for months when you can put an interceptor there instead? Especially since shooting down UFOs gets you more points AND better loot than doing the covert stuff. I never did the Reptoid Assassination mission because of this, for example. In my opinion, covert missions should be a thing of the early game, when X-Com is more or less an amateurish agency working out of someone's garage. All missions in urban settings should then be covert, with only missions involving wild animals, zombies and maybe farms allowing heavier gear. Then as the Promotions come in the covert missions should gradually taper off until they are gone completely after Promotion III, which marks the full militarization of X-Com.

And now for something completely different: I miss the commendations. I can see the reasons why they are absent, but I did enjoy them very much in FMP and elsewhere so I was sad to see them gone from XCF. In an ideal world, the commendations systems would kick in and its 'pedia category added once Promotion III rolls around, at which point the "agents" would be renamed to "soldiers". Clearly that is outside the capabilities of the engine at this time, but one can dream.

In this section I will be focusing mostly on Blasters and Mass Driver weapons, because I just don't have much to say about the rest of the arsenal. The firearms used prior to those families are generally quite well realized. Not all weapons are that useful, but that's fine because they're for use by enemies as well as X-Com, and there are so many of them that there's plenty of choice regardless. There's no particular need to strike too fine a balance. Anyway, I'll get to the weapon tiers later. First I have some opinions on mechanics.

With the introduction of the scout/sniper AI we now take a 50% penalty to firing at targets we can't see. This is mostly a good thing, but it has rather dramatically undercut the utility of the grenade launchers. These weapons are all about firing at enemies you can't see. After all, if you have line of sight, you might as well just shoot a proper gun. But when there's a hill or a wall in the way - that's when you can use your arcing weapons to effect. Or you could, in the past. With the accuracy penalty the grenade launchers are just not accurate enough anymore to be worthwhile. Especially since thrown weapons do not suffer from the same limitation (at least I think). I see no easy solution to this. Exempting grenade launchers from the penalty, or straight up boosting their accuracy would likely do more harm than good. Perhaps a hefty kneel bonus? I don't know. I'm not feeling it on this.

Sniper rifles, on the other hand, thrive under the 50% penalty. Since their accuracy rises exponentially with the soldier's firing accuracy they are quite capable of exceeding 200% base accuracy, which means an almost guaranteed hit even beyond visual range. Few weapons can match that. In fact, sniper rifles are so accurate that the penalty for shooting at close range becomes mostly irrelevant. Even at 2 tiles an aimed shot will still be well over 100%. Perhaps that's an area worth tweaking.
Apropos of the sniper rifles, I think the Stormtrooper armor needs a different name. Its current name suggests it is for breaching actions and front-line duty. It very much isn't, at least not from where I stand. The Stormtrooper armor excels at one thing: sniping. The +20 bonus to accuracy is huge, greatly expanding the Firing Accuracy range at which the soldier can fire a sniper rifle accurately without LOS, and it boosts the sniper rifle's power to boot. The armor can also fly, which makes it great for hanging up near the ceiling of the map and picking off everything that isn't in cover. So yeah, definitely a rear-line piece of kit.

Melee then. I am... troubled here. Melee isn't what it used to be. I used to use it a lot in FMP and indeed I still have my ninja Synthsuit builds in XCF, but it's not as good as before. The reason? Dodge. I don't like Dodge. It's not even that I don't like the way it is handled in XCF, I just think it is a fundamentally flawed feature. It is at once ubiquitous and unnoticeable. Everything and its dog has Dodge now, and yet it doesn't come back to the player. It lowers your chance to hit with a melee weapon, but the game doesn't tell you that it does. When attacking with a melee weapon, you'll see a percentage chance to hit, a percentage that happens to be guaranteed wrong because everything has Dodge. This means you'll hit a lot less often than you would expect based on the feedback the game gives you, and that is frustrating.
What is worse is that Dodge hurts low-accuracy melee attacks worse than high-accuracy attacks, at least if I understand the mechanic correctly (and I might not, because this mechanic is obscure in all things). A Dodge value of 30% would reduce a 50% accuracy attack to a mere 20%, while a 100% accuracy attack would still hit 7 times out of 10. So it becomes easier to train melee accuracy the better you are at it. This contrasts with the general stat gain paradigm I've observed, where gains show diminishing returns as stats go closer to the cap.
And that's not all. Dodge isn't even expressed as a value in the stats page, so you can do the math in your head and work it out. No, it's a function of Reactions, which you can't see unless you spend TUs on a Mind Probe! I get it, that's so the game's difficulty setting has an effect on it, but it's yet another thing to dislike.
So, my opinion? Get rid of Dodge. It's too obscure to be part of the player's experience and it isn't constructive to the game. The only time I would use it is for enemies you want to be immune to melee altogether, such as Swarmids, which should just have a Dodge value of 200. You can't punch bees. (Ironically, Swarmids are the only enemies I've seen that lack Dodge altogether, so they are the only enemies against which melee makes sense.)
I know you won't do this, of course, which is fair, but I would at least ask that you explain Dodge in the article about melee weapons, and mention also that attacking from behind mitigates its effect.

A quick evaluation of melee weapons overall: the Plasma melee weapons are terrible, the Tritanium stuff is pretty okay, the Wakizashi was my favorite for the best balance between speed and accuracy. I never found the Photonic Blade, but presumably it's great.

Right then, let's do Lasers! *Cracks knuckles*
The Laser/Blaster Pistol: The Laser Pistol is frankly underwhelming. It's heavy, it's slow, it has pitiful aim. It does feature better damage than contemporary traditional sidearms, but not much. I took one look at the stats and wrote it off. The Blaster version I did build and use on occasion, because the increased damage begins to make up for the drawbacks and infinite ammo always helps.
The Laser/Blaster Rifle: Pretty solid on both counts. Good damage and good accuracy at fair TU costs. A staple for my X-Com until the end of the game, especially on Hybrids (for some reason).
The Blaster Carbine: This is a surprisingly good weapon. At anything other than long-range shots it outperforms the Blaster Rifle so badly the Blaster Rifle is feeling a little insecure. Pretty much my go-to weapon for overwatch, but it also served well to pour damage into high-health targets. Looking at you, zombies.
The Heavy Laser/Blaster: A mixed bag, this. The Heavy Laser is quite solid, marking a good improvement in both firepower and accuracy over the Alien Laser Cannon, which comes in much earlier. One of the better heavy weapons of its time. Interestingly, the same can't be said for the Heavy Blaster, even though it's essentially the same weapon only better. That is because the Heavy Blaster faces stiff competition from
The Blaster Sniper Rifle: Ah, Laser Sniper Rifle, my old, somewhat mediocre love. What a difference some time apart makes, eh? Damage is much better now than it was in FMP, and though it's still the least accurate of the sniper rifles it's also the fastest on the aimed, which is valuable given that the scout/sniper AI cheats plays unfairly gets a lame advantage cheats can take shots at soldiers who have attacked an alien the previous turn. What with accuracy being over 100% even at close ranges (as mentioned above) and only goes up beyond that, this weapon is useful at any range. A 120 Firing Accuracy soldier in Stormtrooper armor boosts the damage up to 85, which is the same as the Heavy Blaster, but in a much more versatile package.
The Scatter Blaster: At first glance I thought this weapon was a disappointment compared to FMP. In FMP, this weapon excelled at training Firing Accuracy - one volley at a MiB HWP and the soldier was done for the day. Now though, 5 shots down from 20, accuracy cut in half (unless kneeled), fewer shots per TU. That said... mmmh, no, it's actually fairly decent. I've used it a bunch and it got the job done. The only thing about it I don't like is its range - it uses the default 7 tile auto-shot range, which is not great for a minigun. Though it has the highest accuracy of all the miniguns, the falloff typically makes it the least accurate of all the miniguns, except at very short range, and at that point it is handily outperformed by the Blaster Carbine anyway. So yeah, it could use a bit more range. Oh, and it should block both hands. I mean, it weighs 51. I don't care how ripped you are, you're not aiming that with one arm.
The Blaster Shotgun: Virtually unchanged from FMP, this is still the worst of the shotguns. It's neither fast nor accurate. It's the strongest per projectile, but shotguns aren't about having strong projectiles. They're about having a high damage multiplier against soft targets, and about sweeping freshly breached rooms. The Blaster Shotgun does neither of these things well.

Altogether I think Lasers vs Blasters are in a good place. Blasters require sufficiently more research and investment that the base Lasers are in use for a respectable time, at least this was so in my campaign.

Next up are Mass Driver and Gauss weapons. I think these weapons are somewhat better balanced than they were in FMP, though there is room for improvement. My criticism at FMP was that the Gauss weapons appeared pretty much simultaneously with the Mass Drivers, and eclipsed them completely. The first statement remains true. In fact, Gauss weapons appear first now. The second statement, however, no longer applies, I feel. Yes, Gauss weapons still do ridonculous amounts of damage and have the same stats as their MD counterparts or better, but unlike in FMP, they now weigh a ton! This matters a lot. Moreover, these weapons are now being used against X-Com, which further serves to de-cheese the Gauss family. I approve.
For my part, I was happy to stick to the MD weapons, but I do still feel they're a little lackluster. Not because they don't have auto-shot modes (I favor snap and aimed anyway), but because they're only marginally stronger than lasers, while being significantly slower. I have a proposed fix though. Remember how the MD weapon descriptions keep banging on about how good the weapons are at punching through armor? Well, why not make it true? A baseline level of reduced armor effectiveness for the whole MD family would do wonders, I think.
A few more general thoughts here: the Heavy MD is slower than the MD Rifle on the aimed, I'd suggest switching these two around. The Heavy and Sniper MDs probably need a substantially smaller clip, considering how the Rifle boasts about having a big clip. I mean, 27 isn't bad. But I've seen bigger. Not that I stare at rifles' clips all the time, mind you.

That's it for weapons, I think. Shoutouts go to the BlOps Smart Rifle for being the best rookie rifle and the BlOps Smartpistol for being the best sidearm.

(Continued below)

The X-Com Files / The Vampire Castle
« on: September 19, 2018, 02:47:11 pm »
I'm making this topic as a followup so some discussion in the bug report thread because I don't want to derail that.

I did in fact get another Vampire Castle mission, and although I didn't run into anything near the same issues as before it was still more trouble to finish than it was worth.

I've attached the save for the last part of the mission, dubbed Operation Let's Melee Cheese The Shit Out Of These Zombies Since Melee Is Really Hard To Train And It's Not Like I Can Make Synthsuits Or Anything Because I Never Get Any Mutons It's Just Sectoids Every Single Time Ugh.

(It does use the 30-turn bug hunt mod as well as a custom submod I made, the latter of which just sets the female frequencies to 50. It doesn't affect the mission at all.)

The last time I was here mentioned I couldn't access a large chunk of the map, but this time around that was not the case. I had the dining hall behind the gate that time, not the crypt block that's there now. I could swear that the parallel passage that connects to the other two rear blocks wasn't there, though I'm not ruling out idiocy on my part.

I didn't have to camp anywhere near as much as before because I had flying armor and once you get familiar with the map moving into the castle is not so bad. Nevertheless, I hung way back for the first part of the mission because of that bloody vampire queen. That thing is just way too dangerous to get close to. It can fry your soldiers at range just by thinking at them. So, since it always hovers around near the walls I just sent my tank after it (which it nearly broke anyway) and relied on long range aimed fire. After that, the tank took out any Strixes it could find because those can ruin your day if you let them, and following that the fliers got down to the business of hacking apart zombies.

So the state of the mission as it stands in that save is that there is ONE enemy that appears entirely unreachable. It's stuck in the underground on level 0 all the way on the east side. A second enemy apparently jumped into a grave near the player start, or downright spawned in it. Killing it is easy enough, but suffice to say I would never have found it without Bug Hunt mode.

At this point I debug killed those last enemies because I didn't have the will to tunnel down, or pull everyone back.

So, overall thoughts.

I think I'm not a fan of the gates. They're kind of annoying to remove because standard grenades won't do it and hitting them with projectiles can be tricky. Maybe they should be solid objects that can be seen through, like the glass walls on some maps.

Ultimately though, I think it all comes back to the queen. Not only is it by far the most dangerous thing on the map, it's also the MacGuffin you're there for in the first place. So far so good, but you encounter it almost right away. Then once you deal with it you face a choice of either killing the rest enemies or going in to collect the queen's body. The first choice can be problematic, as demonstrated by my save. Moreover it feels like a chore because the objective has already been achieved. The second choice can ALSO be problematic because the queen often hovers over terrain you can't get to, so if it happened to fall on such a tile you might as well just abort.

In summary the issue with this mission in my opinion is that it near enough opens with a boss fight, and then follows up with a long and frustrating bug hunt that is potentially unwinnable. Oh, and having to climb out of a hole in the ground at the start is kinda mean.

During my campaign of X-Com Files it turned out that electro-flares, which do not emit light until primed and thrown, start emitting light as soon as they leave the soldier's hand. The upshot of this is that once the soldier does throw, it and everything around it is briefly lit up as the flare travels, allowing the spot/sniper AI to take shots at any thusly revealed soldiers during the enemy turn.

In my opinion this is a bit of an issue, because the point of having primed flares in the first place is to be able to deploy them while remaining concealed in darkness.

Is this something that can be addressed?

--- posts merged sacre bleu ---

Update: This might not be about the flares specifically after all. I did some more poking and found that firing weapons also reveals my soldiers, even if they were unspotted prior. But only if an enemy is hit by the shot.

Edit: I'm told this is intended behavior. I find that very disappointing.

Suggestions / Save custom mission name in soldier mission history
« on: August 07, 2018, 10:28:27 am »
As per the title. The mission name shown in the soldier mission history (Soldier->Diary) is always the default generated name. It'd be nice if custom names would be shown here.

The X-Com Files / Suppression?
« on: June 06, 2018, 08:49:18 pm »
I noticed the UFOpaedia article for machine guns states that "They are quite heavy though and have limited use other than suppressive fire". As far as I know there is no such thing as suppressive fire even in OXCE+, so this feels a bit like misinformation. Perhaps this line should simply read "They are quite heavy though and have limited use".

That said though, I wonder what  suppressive fire in X-COM would look like? I'm thinking maybe a TU reduction for every projectile that passes within 1 tile of a unit, or maybe a penalty to Reactions for the turn, but without player feedback it doesn't seem too useful.

Playthroughs / The story of Maksym Polishuk and Alma Blanco
« on: October 08, 2017, 12:02:37 pm »
January 1997. The beginning of a new chapter in the lives of Maksym Polishuk and Alma Blanco, two former U.N. investigators who now worked for the newly established X-Com Project. Though most people who knew about the project scoffed at it, and at the idea of aliens and supernatural phenomena, Maksym and Alma were believers. They had volunteered for the position, determined to find and eliminate any unconventional threat to the citizens of Earth.

A week earlier they had transferred to their new base of operations, which U.N. bureaucrats had conveniently placed on Crete, settled in and gotten to know their new co-workers as well as each other. Now, at the beginning of the new year, they were ready for anything.

Two weeks later, the call came. Suspicious activity of an unknown nature, in the Saudi desert close to the Red Sea. Galvanized, Maksym and Alma hopped into the base's car and set off to catch the next ferry off Crete.

The trip was long and tedious, filled with hours of waiting at border checkpoints and nosy customs officers. The Middle East was not an easy region to traverse by car, and Maksym had to drive the last leg of the journey through Saudi-Arabia, because it was illegal for Alma to do so. By this time, both agents had grown tired of spending so much time cooped up in one another's company. This had better be worth it.

Their journey led them to a desolate area off the beaten path. Aside from a few crumbling structures sticking out of the sand, there was naught but desolation as far as the eye could see. It was late at night by the time the pair arrived, but Maksym took the high-power flashlight out of the trunk, and they set to work.

At first, all was quiet. Maksym and Alma crept through the old ruins, alert for any movement or sounds that might indicate danger. Then, suddenly, there! In the shadows! A massive shape loomed, something bipedal, with voracious looking jaws.

The creature sauntered over and promptly mauled them both to death.

Following the disappearance of their agents along with their equipment and their car, the U.N. decided to abandon the X-Com project, citing "a waste of time and resources". The money was instead spent on new water coolers in U.N. offices worldwide.

The end, forever.

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