User:Spike

From UFOpaedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Hi, my name is Spike. I live in London. My mates all played XCom when it came out, when they were feckless students, but I had a job so I didn't get to play. I'm making up for lost time now. I love retro tactical SF games. I like to play Laser Squad, MegaTraveller, any old rubbish.

I think one of the reasons is these TU-based tactical games are all variants of the old miniatures rules by GDW - Snapshot, Mayday, Azanti High Lighting etc. In the day, how we wished for a computer program to help us with the tedium of playing those games by hand. Even Laser Squad would have blown us away.

Having said that I don't play any head-to-head stuff, like X-Com 2000. I imagine I would get my arse kicked.

This site is fantastic to use, so it's nice to be able to make some small contributions to the site, and the game.

Musings

To avoid spamming the site Discussion pages, and spamming people with 'watch' enabled on those pages, I'm going to start doing the decent thing and composing my musings here on my own page. If I get my thoughts edited and reasonably coherent I will then transfer them to Discussion pages and then onto actual articles.

Here are some of the topics I am interested in at the moment...

Economics

The Geoscape game is a classic resource game and delivers lots of great game play in its own right, even when not intercepting or doing tactical missions. Economics is key. Looking at the the economic articles on the site at the moment, they focus on making money. What I am interesting in is 'fixing' the economics so it all makes more sense.

Efficient market

At the moment it is possible to sell lots of things for either profit or loss that does not make sense. I would like to fix the buy and sell prices so that they balance out and there are no egregious opportunities for arbitrage, or the reverse. For example I've calculated that based on the maximum profit you can make out of Elerium and Alloys (the raw materials in the economy of XCom), the price of Alloys and Elerium should both be quite a lot higher. Or alternatively some of the prices of manufactured products should be lower.

I would like to just true up all the prices of everything to reflect the economic costs of production, and to allow them to be sold at a modest profit. (And bought at a modest premium, see below). It's not good that there are so many 'black hole' items that are hideously unprofitable to produce, and a few 'optimum' items that everyone manufactures all the time.

See Also

Until I incorporate them here, see also my sections in Talk:Manufacturing_Profitability

Capital costs and interest

Correct pricing needs to take account not only of raw materials, labour and maintenance inputs, but also capital costs (initial hiring, facility building). For this an interest rate (cost of capital) needs to be posited for XCom. Given XCom's status as a covert internationally funded organisation, reasonable access to money markets could be assumed. For game purposes a capital cost of 5% - 10% is probably fine. Even 1% per month would probably work fine given the game's short time horizons.

Actually the return to capital can probably be calculated quite easily (based on production costs vs profits on the most profitable items). If X-COM were actually to be allowed to borrow, it should be charged at least near to this much interest or otherwise a free money machine is created. Because of X-COM's short-term, high stakes objectives and potentially massive future cash flow, it would probably borrow very heavily if it could to build up a strong position. But then, who would lend to an entity that not only doesn't exist, but is fighting a life or death struggle against powerful forces beyond our comprehension?

A tricky question though with capital costs is how to amortise them over the production of multiple items. Obviously the worst case is to charge the entire capital cost to the first unit produced (a possibility worth considering under 'External Markets - Buying', below). We could make some educated guesses about the order of magnitude, based on the likely market size. Again, see below under 'Inelastic Demand' for some guesstimates - thousands for small arms, hundreds for aircraft weapons, dozens for aircraft. Unfortunately this is a better 'efficiency of scale' than X-COM gets in the standard game, so it would make the game easier. For purposes of game balance over realism, we need to amortise over numbers that make sense in the time frame of a single X-COM campaign. For balance, that might be more like ten for small arms, 2-4 for craft weapons and 1 for aircraft. This comes in to play more with the 'External Markets' angle.

External market

At the moment you can buy and sell conventional equipment but only sell some advanced equipment (and not all of that), and not buy any of it.

Selling

As long as egregious profits are not being made (see preceding section), I think you should be able to sell all manufactured products eg aircraft. After all, the funding nations (and others) would no doubt like to get their hands on aircraft with such advanced characteristics. The problem of course is setting a fair sale price. Probably the game designers didn't have the time to do the exhaustive manufacturing analysis that has since been done on this site and other fan sites. With the benefit of this data, we can set fair prices for all manufactured components and allow them to be sold (by editing PURCHASE.DAT). Standard (or higher?) fixed profit ratios would apply for buy vs. sell pricing of manufactured goods.

Inelastic demand

Demand for advanced, alien and conventional items is totally inelastic in the standard game: the price does not drop no matter how many units you sell. On reflection, I don't think this is that unrealistic. For conventional items, XCom purchases and sales are a microscopic part of the whole traded economy in such items - outfitting a maximum of 250-odd soldiers will not make a dent. For advanced and alien items, demand is never really going to drop. Once the US special forces have been outfitted with Heavy Plasmas, the Israeli, Russian, and French special forces will want to catch up. (And the British SAS might get around to buying some Laser Rifles, ha ha).

Much less would the nations of the world say no to purchasing high performance hybrid aircraft. They would pay millions (and perhaps this is why the game designers did not permit the sale of aircraft).

I can see buyer fatigue setting in if hundreds or thousands of laser cannon are produced for sale, as these are limited to combat aircraft and there are only a few thousand front line combat aircraft in service at any given time. Another reason to diversify the options away from a handful of 'optimum' manufacturing items.

If you wanted a cap you could probably specify about $1 billion of inelastic demand for advanced items of each type. 7000 Heavy plasmas - about enough to equip 12 special forces battalions. A hundred or so of each aircraft type. After that the market might start to get a bit soft. And maybe the market for e.g. Mind Probes would be more limited.

I think there's a case that the very first few examples of each item would have a much higher price. But perhaps we can posit that as part of its funding agreement, XCom has agreed to sell recovered weapons etc back to the Funding Council nation at reasonable and stable prices. Possibly the sales are allocated to funding nations by rota in the early stages - that would make sense. The funding nations get allocated artefacts "by lots" and are then free to resell them to each other or, eventually, on the open market.

Buying

Slightly more interesting is allowing the 'External Market', in the form of military-industrial firms with links to the funding nations, to produce advanced items. This would then allow XCom to simply buy, rather than manufacture, items such as Avengers.

The pricing would simply be the total economic cost, as determined by the 'Efficient Market' process above, plus some profit margin - probably the standard buy/sell profit margin which is about 33%.

Now obviously you don't want to make advanced items available from the start, that would defeat a lot of the challenge of the game. From a game play point of view what you want to do is give the player a reasonable alternative of buying vs manufacturing the item, once they have done the necessary research.

Options for doing this... say that an item can be bought on the open market:

1. Once the item has been captured.
2. Once one (or more?) examples of the item have been sold onto the market.
3. Once the item has been researched by XCom.
4. Once one example has been manufactured by XCom (this could be hard to check for though).
5. Any of the above, plus a time delay. For 1-2 this would be related to the Research time.

In cases 1-2 the Research is being done outside of XCom which really changes the game. In this case there should be a big premium payable to the external arms company that owns the patents etc. This can be done in PURCHASE.DAT as the buy and sell prices can be set independently of each other, so set the Buy price at 200% of Sell price (vs the more normal 133% of sell price). Or at the very least we could put the price of the item up by say 50-100%. Keep in mind that as part of 'Efficient Pricing' we have (in theory!) already factored in the cost of the research effort (scientists, labs, capital etc).

In general though I don't favour bypassing the Research tree so that favours options 3-5. 3 is easy to check for in the game files. 4 is tricky, at least for alien items, because while you can see items under construction, you might miss the moment they are constructed. For non-alien items, the mere existence of the item in the game proves it has been manufactured.

As an extra variant you might say that only hybrid items, not pure alien items, can be manufactured by the external firms. So while laser rifles, a power suit or an Avenger can be built, and indeed mass produced, by a high tech arms company, only X-COMs "Deep Black" science labs can painstakingly assemble small numbers of genuine alien items like Mind Probes, Blaster Launchers, etc.

I'd be quite comfortable with this variant (hybrid only) and it makes it easier to police option 4 which is the most challenging and probably the best for gameplay. Or you could mix 3 and 4, charging a 50%-100% premium on purchases until such time as X-COM has produced their own example of an item.

There is also the question of delivery times. Delivery times for the Avenger are very long and compressing that to 72 hrs would seriously affect the game balance. I think that PURCHASE.DAT can be hacked to lengthen the delivery times for specific items. Probably the delivery time should be based on a reasonable setup such as a 100-space workshop with as many engineers will fit. We don't really want to provide advantages to buying the Avenger, we just want it to be a not unreasonable option.

One final question is availability of resources, especially Elerium which is the only thing that can't be manufactured. The price of Alloys can be computed with a floor equal to the labour & capital costs of production, and a ceiling based on the most profitable item you can produce with Alloys (Mind Probes I think from memory). The price of Elerium should be at least the value derived from the most profitable item you can build with Elerium. Potentially it is much higher, since Elerium is scarce and has other very valuable irreplaceable functions (hybrid aircraft fuel, winning tactical missions, saving the world...).

A strict interpretation would be track the amount of Elerium sold (and anything else that can't yet be manufactured by the external market at that time, eg Alloys / UFO Power Sources / UFO Navigations). You would then not be allowed to buy more manufactured items than could be built using the total resources sold up to date to the 'external market'. But apart from patching the game I can't think of any way to do this kind of double accounting. Actually I can, in XComUtil you could record all UFO recoverables after each mission, and then subtract from that all XCom stores and the inputs to all existing manufactured items (ignoring anything destroyed - presume comprehensive recycling of such valuable scrap). But that would be a hassle to code up.

There is an argument for a highly elastic price for Elerium, based on the total supply. Of course, as players we 'know' that (apart from variant self-imposed rules like 1-Mission or No Detection etc) there is ample Elerium just around the corner. That's the reality of the standard game, so in a standard game a fixed price for Elerium is probably justified.

The Elerium Standard

This brings me back to the beginning in a logical circle. Prices are all relative, so what is the reference point? You can do this one of two ways. Either take the most profitable item in the game, and work back from that to deduce the correct price for Elerium (pricing all other components along the way, eg Alloys, Power, Navigation). Or, you can take the price of Elerium as it is, and work your way 'up' the chain, correcting the prices for everything built from Elerium. I like the first method because it has the least impact on existing revenue-generating options from manufacturing. The revenue a player can create should stay exactly the same (proportionate to the inputs of labour, capital, raw materials); they just have many more ways of generating that revenue.


Realistic External Demand

Realism is often the enemy of game balance when it comes to selling. The things that governments (and others) would pay highly for, are also the things that are useful to XCom. And the prices that governments would pay would distort the cash balance of XCom. The best explanation is that prices to XCom are merely commissions or honoraria, and the prices of these are "fixed" by the Council of Funding Nations (CFN). Still it's interesting to speculate what governments would actually pay for advanced equipment.

In general governments would pay most for items that affect the strategic balance, and less for items that are of merely tactical value. In the tactical realm, they would pay most for items that create "step change" improvements, rather than just incremental increase in effectiveness.

Potentially the biggest strategic impact comes from the psionic technology, the Psi Lab and Psi Amp as well as the Mind Probe. These offer massive advantages to intelligence agencies, diplomats, security agencies, and repressive or paranoid regimes. It is reasonable to assume these technologies will not be for sale outside the CFN. The offensive capabilities are too great - mind control of Presidents, mind reading of negotiators and senior officials. Even the very existence of these capabilities would need to be kept totally secret. It's not clear how much non-tactical information can be gleaned from a Mind Probe. If we assume that Mind Probes could detect a mind-controlled individual - "which side is he on?" - then for defensive measures versus aliens (or other CFN nations), that require no special abilities to use, these items would be in high demand.

The other major strategic impact is air superiority. Creating or denying air superiority can have a major effect on the strategic balance of power. An aircraft that could enter an attack another country's airspace with near impunity - perhaps carrying nuclear weapons - would be a major power shift. So aircraft, and aircraft weapons, are the next major group. Whether it is the weapons or the aircraft that make the difference depend on the specifics. However I would suspect it is the aircraft. Advanced XCom aircraft have aerodynamic performance characteristics far in advance of the most advanced terrestrial aircraft (the Interceptor). Regardless of combat performance, the aerodynamic performance means that advanced aircraft can avoid any combat that is not on favourable terms. This means that as a strike aircraft they would defeat air superiority and in fact be nearly unstoppable - except by other aircraft with the same performance characteristics. Therefore I believe the advanced aircraft would be the most expensive selling item, after the the psionic technologies.

If we look at the combat capabilities of advanced hybrid aircraft and advanced craft weapons, as opposed to their flight capabilities, there is not such a "step change" in these capabilities. The improvement on the defensive side is more significant than the offensive side, which again suggests that the aircraft platform is more important than the weapons. A Firestorm, Lightning, or Avenger has 5x, 8x, or 12x the damage capacity of an Interceptor. A Plasma Beam has less than twice the firepower (damage per unit of time) of Avalanche missiles.

Defensively, it takes an average of 20 Avalanche launches (10 dual volleys) to bring down an Avenger, versus an average of 1.66 launches (0.83 dual volleys) to bring down an Interceptor. A single Avenger armed only with Avalanches, fighting 4 Interceptors armed with dual Avalanches, would likely kill 3 opponents, sustaining 8 x 60 + 6 x 60 + 4 x 60 = 1080/1200 damage. An Avenger can't carry enough Avalanche ammunition to kill a 4th opponent, but if it did, or if it mounted a single Plasma beam, the odds are about even to wipe out the whole enemy flight. (An interesting thought - max ammo capacity should really be based on the aircraft size not just the weapon type.)

On the offensive side, vs Interceptors the weapons don't make much difference. A dual Plasma beam will bring down an Interceptor on the first volley, on average. So will the first volley from dual Avalanches - albeit the Avalanches (even on Aggressive) take twice as long to reload for the next volley, compared to the Plasma Beam. So not a great deal is gained against conventional opponents by having advanced weapons. In fact, an Interceptor armed with Avalanches will most likely kill an Interceptor armed with Plasma Beams before it enters weapon range. So better weapons are only really needed if you are concerned about fighting UFOs, or advanced hybrid aircraft.

None of the infantry offensive or defensive equipment really gives a decisive advantage. The top items are probably the Power Suit / Flying Suit and the Blaster Launcher / Stun Launcher. The Power Suit gives a soldier the defensive power of a light tank. meaning that accurate or repeated or concentrated fire from squad support weapons is required to stop him. The Flying Suit is slightly stronger and the novelty of flight would attract special forces use. While these are all "force multipliers", as is Personal Armour to a lesser extent, there are no real "step changes" in the infantry area. The Blaster Launcher is the closest thing to a step change, probably, with extremly high destructive power and incredible guided capability. This would again make it a desirable item for special forces, especially those contemplating going up against aliens. But it is expensive to operate, not an essential item, and not a true step change. The Stun Launcher is just a specialised item that would attract special forces because of the ability to more easily capture hostile targets (human or alien).

In all these issues there is an obvious "arms race" effect. Once one government knows other governments have psionics, or Mind Probes, it will want them urgently for itself. Once advanced aircraft are in the enemy fleet, advanced fighters and advanced aircraft weapons become imperative. At the tactical level, advanced infantry armour becomes a strong driver for procuring advanced infantry weapons, and (less crucially) the same kind of armour.

In summary, the demand price ranking of technologies, in order of most expensive first, should be:

Psionics - Primarily Offensive

  • Psionic Laboratory
  • Psionic Amplifier

Psionics - Primarily (not entirely) Defensive

  • Mind Probe

Air Superiority

  • Avenger
  • Firestorm
  • Lightning
  • Elerium - required to operate these craft

Air Combat Weapons

  • Fusion Ball Launcher (very limited market as it requires Elerium-based ammo)
  • Plasma Beam
  • Laser Cannon (if fixed to be useful - might even be the most popular since requires no Elerium)

Battlefield Equipment

  • Blaster Launcher (specialised market as it requires Elerium-based ammo)
  • Power Suit (biggest market)
  • Flying Suit (specialised market)
  • Stun Launcher (specialised market)
  • Hovertank chassis, though none of the weapons are interesting compared to their man carried versions
  • Plasma Weapons (specialised due to ammo requirements)
  • Personal Armour (mass market)
  • Laser Weapons and tanks - non-hybrid tech, serious nations can research this themselves?

Detection

Detection by Aircraft

See my sections in Talk:UFO_Detection#Detection

Fixing Multiple Radar

See my section in Talk:UFO_Detection#Multiple_Radar_Effectiveness_Algorithm_and_Hack

Seb76 now has a brilliant fix for this bug in his UFO Extender. Also see the Tools section below for the Base Fixer.

The algorithm I used for the Base Fixer was:

smallf = (0.9) ** nsmallradar
largef = (0.8) ** nlargeradar
xdetshort = int (round ((1 - smallf * largef ) * 100))
xdetlong = int (round ((1 - largef ) * 100))
#special case backward compatible
if nsmallradar == 1 and nlargeradar == 1 :
xdetshort = 30
xdetlong = 20

I've confirmed TFTD also sufffers from a "Sonar Stacking" bug and is in fact identical to UFO:EU, the only difference being a different offset in BASE.DAT.


Phantom Radar Bug (Talk)

Is listed at ExploitsA#Phantom_Radar_Trick. Thanks for adding, though. Also, I'm under the impression that building a new structure, even starting one, eliminated Phantom Radar; so upgrading-in-place cannot be done. Arrow Quivershaft 21:52, 17 March 2008 (PDT)

OK thanks for that. i will test but you are probably right! removed this text:

This bug allows you to "upgrade in place", for example building a new Hyper-Wave Decoder over the top of an existing Large Radar, and retaining the detection capability of the Large Radar until the Hyper-Wave Decoder completes building. (Unless something else completes building first).

Spike 02:10, 18 March 2008 (PDT)

For XCOM CE (since I stare at this in a hex editor a lot):
* Completing any new structure causes the radar stats to be recalculated at the base the structure completes at.
* Starting new structures is perfectly safe.
-- Zaimoni 7:49 18 March 2008 (CDT)

OK I've done some tests and confirmed what Zaimoni said is right. Upgrade in place is possible. If you dismantle a small radar and build a large radar over it, the SR detection value applies until the large radar (or any other facility) completes building in that base. I see the detection values in base.dat and I also get detections/intercepts from the base that has "no radar". The Base Information screen detection strength shows zero but base.dat shows 10%.

Reinstating the "upgrade in place" comments in the Known Bugs entry!

Spike 17:47, 19 March 2008 (PDT)

Balancing Infantry Weapons

Starting Weapons

Rifle (and the Pistol too, really)

The Heavy Cannon and Autocannon are so finely balanced that it's too close to call, so no work to do there.

High Explosive is already useful as a mega-grenade thrown by Schwarzenegger types, so there is no need to boost it to tear open UFO hulls, in my opinion.

Grenades and Proximity Grenades work fine. Nothing to do.

Rockets

Might be nice to replace the Small Rocket with something more useful, as really this is a wasted weapon. Illumination or smoke rocket? Flechette round - how could that be implemented? A bit like Seb76's Heavy Laser, with say 20 rds of AP autofire into a limited arc? Or how about a proper anti-armour round, something that might punch a hole in a Cyberdisc or a UFO hull. A shaped charge would require hefty coding though, not just fiddling with OBDATA.DAT. All the explosions in XCom are omni-directional (well, planar). Even crimping an explosion down to one hex would be tricky I think? And not terribly realistic. What you actually need is a high-yield HE (190+) that drops off much faster than the standard 10 pts of HE per tile. Say 50 per tile. Is that doable as a UFO Extender mod? "If weapon == HEAT Rocket, explosion_reduction := 50"? A wackier way of doing a shaped charge would be to use a regular HE round but mod the tiles on the near side of the blast to have massive HE block. Then restore normal HE block after the explosion. Again sounds very tricksy.

Laser Weapons

Practically perfect. A curmudgeon might be tempted to toy with the Laser Pistol, suggesting it is overpowered. I dont care. Dumb but effective, it is XCom's first great equaliser in the fight against the aliens. Cant give up that great feeling.

The Laser Rifle of course is immaculate, a masterpiece of human engineering. Cydonia must fall to the Laser Rifle! Plasma is for wimps!

There are various Heavy Laser buffs, including XComUtil and UFO Extender. Any of these is fine.

Plasma Weapons

The Plasma weapons might need to be toned down a bit as there is no incentive to ever use anything else (bar some special situations, e.g. those that have Laser Rifle written all over them). Ultra light, almost no TU penalty for auto fire. Snap shots kind of pointless, especially given the high ammo capacity. In a lot of ways the basic mechanics of them defy explanation. It seems you just kind of wave these guns at the target and kill it. But then, they are "ray guns from outer space". One of the best nerfs is the XComUtil option where you can no longer manufacture them, only use them (and make ammo). But then it's not as if they are in short supply.

It would be good if the Heavy Plasma was not quite so optimum. Making it actually heavy (a UFO Extender option) is a small but good idea. Reduced ammo capacity, more like the Sonic Cannon, would be better. I think the designers of TFTD realised the Sonic Cannon was going to fall into enemy hands, and nerfed the ammo accordingly. Let's face it, aliens don't usually get the chance to run out of ammo. So high ammo capacity favours XCom.

To be honest I have not thought much about Plasma Weapons and I don't have a strong opinion, or barely an opinion at all. But the Plasma Rifle seems odd. More accurate than Heavy Plasma in Snap and Auto, but less accurate in Aimed? How do we make sense of that? A more distinctive role for the Plasma Rifle would be good. Some people hoard them as allegedly great sniper weapons. I don't see that, really. It just seems to be a mostly inferior Heavy Plasma to be tossed aside when its big brother is available. In alien hands, it is just the Heavy Plasma Lite. It is just a "Medium Plasma". It's not a "Rifle" in any sense, is it? You might just want to rename all these weapons, devices, whatever-they-are, "Small Plasma Unit", "Medium Plasma Unit", "Large Plasma Unit". Maybe you aim them with mind waves, like UFO Navigation. Maybe accuracy should be based on Psi Skill. I am rambling now.

What kind of weapon is a Heavy Plasma, anyway? It comes across as a kind of Cosmic Kalashnikov, for when you "absolutely, positively gotta kill every cloner-cloning alien in the room".

You could do some interesting things to restrict the ammunition. You could make it not manufacturable. But there is a lot of ammo laying around. You could make the weapons not reloadable. Now that would be interesting. We can't make them and we can't reload them. We can only fire them. They recharge by being hooked up to a UFO reactor in a way we cannot reproduce. Or hey, they are alien weapons, maybe they just don't recharge them, they are disposable weapons. Certainly explains why there are none left by the time of TFTD.

Tank Weapons

It has often been observed that HWP weapons are often less powerful than their man-carried equivalents. Seems odd on something at least 4 times bigger than a man, which is designed to carry weapons.

But presumably this was a conscious game balance decision by the designers, and not just an accident?

Would it hurt much to uprate the HWP weapons to the same damage level as the man carried equivalent (where that is a higher value)? Not really. Accuracy and RoF would still be HWP levels of accuracy.


Balancing Aircraft Weapons

General Principles

  • All weapons should at least have some niche role in which they are most effective or at least most cost-effective.
  • Historical realism should be observed if possible but not at the expense of game balance.
  • Trade off between offence (firepower, payload) and defence (range, especially stand-off range)
  • Trade off between range and firepower
  • Trade off between firepower and payload
  • Trade off between all factors vs cost (purchase cost and operate cost)
  • Cost factors need to be significant within the context of the game, i.e. relative to XCom budget, income, and yield from Crash Recovery missions.


Roles

  • Cannon-type weapons should be for close-in, aggressive actions, where defence of the XCom aircraft is neglected. Since the XCom aircraft will take damage while closing the range, the firepower (not just the payload) should be better than the longer ranged weapons.
  • Missiles therefore, if they have standoff advantage, should have lower total overall reliability for killing UFOs than cannon-type weapons.
  • Another role for Cannon is finishing the job after missiles have only partly damaged the target. That rarely happens at the moment. Missiles would need to be less powerful for that to happen. Even then, it would never make sense to mount one less missile launcher and replace it with a Cannon.
  • In real life a cannon is often a built in weapon so there is no choice between having missiles and a cannon. A built in cannon is an auxilliary weapon, a freebie, that is not the primary air to air weapon but can be used in certain situations. An aircraft with a pod-carried cannon that used up missile slots would be unlikely to mount that weapon in an air superiority configuration.
  • It is odd that XCom is even bothering to mount Cannon on its aircraft, given how difficult the problem of air superiority vs UFOs is known to be, even before the creation of XCom. We almost need to invent a reason why XCom craft carry Cannon. Apart from just shooting down Small Scouts. It's debatable whether Cannon really are effective even in that role. They are more likely to bring the Small Scout down in one piece IF they get in to firing range. It is so much easier to get into range with Stingrays that despite the high rate of total destruction (57%) you would still generate more Crash Recovery missions per intercept by using Stingrays instead of Cannon.
  • Similarly Stingrays need some justification for their existence.


Common Elements

These elements are needed, regardless of which approach to rebalancing is adopted.

Fusion Ball Launcher

As Cesium suggests in this discussion, the FBL needs to be buffed to be useful and the main thing is to increase the ammo capacity to 3. 2 rounds is such a weird number though, makes me think maybe it was reduced in playtesting. Well if they thought a 3-rd FBL was too powerful in playtesting, the playtesters had too much money. FBLs are very expensive to operate so they ought to have a tactical niche in which they excel. The analysis I did suggests they are tactically superior to Plasma Beams, in terms of 'force protection'. It's a very expensive way of protecting your fleet but it is cost-effective. It is still debatable whether the hassle of switching weapons is justified, because FBLs are only really appropriate for the Big Battleship Defence missions.

I don't think its necessary to increase the FBL damage as well. Particularly since in my Tougher UFOs rebalance I want to reserve 255 damage for the Battleship weapon.

However the 3 rd FBL is the only other mod required to make the Cost Based Solution work. In fact it fits in nicely with the Cost Based Solution because it is yet another bloody ridiculously expensive (but effective) launched weapon.

Extra Initial Cannon Ammo

Normally Commanders immediately throw away most or all of the initial 4 Cannon and ammo provided. If, instead, the Cannon is rebalanced and becomes a useable weapon, the initial Cannon logistics are revealed as being unhelpful (maybe the playtesters never used the Cannon either). Perhaps the XCOM Quartermaster astutely realises that the (unmodified) Cannon is not much use, and conserves store space. Unlike all the other starting aircraft weapons, you don't have enough ammo even to load all the weapons you are given. In fact you barely have enough spare ammo (only 50 rds) to operate the Cannon as a weapon and still be able to keep your initially mounted weapons fully loaded. This is despite the fact that Cannon ammo is far and away the cheapest.

Unfortunately extra Cannon rounds, like all aircraft ammunition types, take 4 days (96hrs) to arrive. This will seriously cramp the style of anyone wanting to use a Cannon strategy, especially if they want to mount dual Cannons on 1 or more aircraft. This is not possible with the initial ammo stocks (because in the rearming sequence, the left weapon must be fully loaded before the right weapon begins to load). Even taking down a single Medium Scout will take about 48 Cannon rounds, nearly the entire initial "reserve".

Therefore as part of Cannon rebalancing, the initial Cannon ammo stocks should be increased by at least 10 units / 500 rds - a $12,400 cost-price value, hardly destabilising. Those that don't want to use the Cannon can still sell everything to clear space and raise a little cash. Their choice of strategy is not cramped in anyway.

(Interestingly it's possible sometimes at least to shoot down a Medium Scout, which is armed, without sustaining any damage to the dual-Cannon-armed aircraft, which maybe suggests the first UFO return fire only occurs after 1 random firing interval of the UFO weapon has elapsed?)

Cost Based Rebalancing

Rather than tuning the stats of the weapons you could just increase the costs. For example realistic prices for missiles (Avalanche $386,000, Stingray $125,000) would give a reason to use Cannon and Stingrays, and make Commanders strongly consider arming only a single missile launcher on each aircraft, rather than always dual mounting.


  • A simple solution to bring Cannon and Stingrays back to life would be to increase the costs of an Avalanche. The Avalanche is clearly a very advanced weapon. Probably the AIM-120 AMRAAM which was in service by the mid 1990s. Nominal range 30nm, around 65km. This weapon cost $386K per missile in 1999. Although you could probably not lease an aircraft to fly it in a high-risk environment for $600K a month. That might cover the fuel...
  • On the other hand the Stingray is probably the AIM-7 Sparrow with max range 30km. Cost $125K in 1999.
  • Cannon ammo costs are basically correct in UFO. So this is more balanced and more realistic.
  • Realistic pricing would also fix the Laser Cannon. It would be suddenly incredibly useful, as it has similar capability to Stingrays but is free to operate.

What about the Launcher prices (Avalanche Launcher etc). Are we just talking about a pair of rails here? Even they probably cost more than $17,000. The full radar and avionics to control a missile launch is going to cost a fair chunk of the purchase price of an advanced fighter aircraft. But then we are not realistically leasing those either.

Realistically, the Funding Nations are providing the aircraft and their launchers for free. The $600,000 is a kickback to cover the costs of maintenance and jet fuel. The $17,000 for the launcher is the cost of delivering it to XCom's base. And $3,000 / $9,000, that was just the cost of delivering the missiles.

If we did charge realistic prices for the Launcher, you would not want to be able to sell them, as it would give a huge amount of extra startup cash. Similarly with the missiles. The sell price should be next to nothing, just like aircraft sell price. The Funding Nations say "ok if you want us to take them off your hands, fine, we wont charge for taking them back". Buying and selling launchers for accurate prices is impossible, the realistic launcher costs would be in the millions, off the charts. Basically all these aircraft, rented or built, must be considered to be already Stingray- and Avalanche- capable.

The game-balance-neutral solution is to leave the Sell Price of Avalanche and Stingray the same as in the unmodified game. This is a derisory sum, but it makes sure the missile stocks at the start of the game don't turn into a massive cash cow.

Nonetheless this means the starting missile stock of 37 Stingrays and 10 Avalanche is worth $8,485,000. I would expect that, under this option, new missiles are purchased very sparingly, if at all, and there is a strong emphasis on developing Laser Cannon and Plasma Cannon.


Stat Based Rebalancing

This seems hard to do now that I came up with the easier Cost Based option. :)

But basically you need to:

  • Increase Cannon firepower x3 (15 dmg, 50% hit) to exceed missile firepower (but at very short range)
  • Increase Laser Cannon firepower x2 (100 dmg, 50% hit) to be a more powerful, longer range Cannon
  • Ensure the Cannon rearming rates (back at base) match or exceed other weapons
  • Improve Stingray relative to Avalanche.
    • Raise Stingray accuracy to 80% and lower Avalanche to 60%, giving the Stingray greater firepower at shorter range.
    • Also increase the rearming rate from 3 to 6, so a full ship rearms as fast as a full ship of Avalanches. (It's not clear where the rearming rate is set, however)
  • Increase Fusion Ball Launcher ammo capacity from 2 to 3

Remaining Issues

To avoid advanced XCom aircraft exploiting the extra firepower of the Cannon weapons and disregarding the return fire from UFOs, this is best used alongside the Tougher UFOs option.

Something also needs to be done about the Plasma Beam, as it is still just too optimal, even with a buffed FBL. You could use the XComUtil alternate manufacturing. NKF's suggestion to reduce ammo capacity to 10 is a good idea. Or you could give it cannon-like range, i.e. much less than 52km, so it is a close-in weapon like the other cannons. Or you could make the ammo cost money. Or require Elerium to reload, just like advanced craft need Elerium to refuel.

Tank mods

I think it would be cool to mod the HWP / SWSs to have additional functions. This would add tactical variety and thus add play value. Of course it would give even more advantage to XCom, which is a concern.

I see this as having a few levels:

At the simplest level, the tank is available during the Equip screen, and you could put an item into its second "hand" slot. This could be a scanner or a medkit.

A step up from this would be an explosive pack, smoke charge, or other grenade, that could be armed and/or dropped, but not thrown.

There would still be no access to the Inventory screen in battle, so no reloading or switching items.

If Inventory access (only) is allowed, this gives the possibility of a Logistics/Recovery Tank that can collect casualties or equipment, friendly or not, and move them to safety. Actions with the second slot could be disabled or restricted.

If Arm/Throw actions are allowed, this can become a much improved Minelayer / Mine Thrower / Smokelayer / Demolition tank.

A Stun Rod -armed Taser Tank is an interesting idea.

Actually arming tanks with man carried weapons, even if they can't reload them, makes the tanks full cyborgs and is probably going too far. Save that for the next war plus one.


A few suggestions: a) Make the tanks have multiple weapons b) Make some weapons on a tank capable of autofire c) Possibly make the tanks have two sets of TU, one for firing and one for moving (NO idea how this could be implemented, maybe make Energy into move-TU and TU into fire-TU) d) Balance this with the same modifications to alien HWP equivalents (ie Cyberdisks, Sectopods, Bio-Drones, Triscenes, Xarquids) Magic9mushroom 08:38, 17 August 2009 (EDT)
Well personally I'm not too keen on adding more direct fire weapon options to tanks, that wasn't my intention, as I think it would be unbalancing without being really much different in terms of game play. I just thought it would be interesting to have different kinds of "Support Vehicles". But you are right, dual weapons on a tank could be interesting.
I don't think creating 2 pools of TUs is necessary (or feasible) for tanks. You can just reduce the TU cost of firing the weapon until it's negligible relative to the movement costs. And for real armoured vehicles, rate of (effective) fire and movement speed have an inverse relationship, so it's not unrealistic for the same pool of TUs to be used for both tasks. As for alien terror units, some of them already have multiple attacks (in TFTD anyway). I'm not sure what would be gained. Aliens would need new AI to figure out which weapon to use in which situation. The AI can't really handle additional flexibility. But it might be able to handle weapons that are more powerful. Having two of them would hardly matter, except in cases of launcher weapons with very limited ammo. What might work, is to just give alien terrorists tougher weapons - Sectopods with dual Blaster Launchers, anyone? Spike 11:04, 17 August 2009 (EDT)

How to Mod Tanks

First of all you need a hex editor as I found out, the BB Toolkit unfortunately does some strange things trying to edit these fields for tanks. :)

To get to the inventory of a tank in the Battlescape you need to set UNITREF.DAT 0x71 from 01 back to 00. This enables inventory access but also makes the tank affected by stun. As the turret weapon overrides anything in the left or right hand, you cant use any functions like Arm, Throw or firing weapons, or attack with a Stun Rod. You could use the tank as a recovery tank, picking stuff up and moving it around. If someone else armed an HE pack, the tank could carry it into position and drop it. In fact it could be multiple HE packs. Or the tank could suicide with one or more armed HE packs on board. I kind of like the idea actually that tanks would not be able to self-arm explosives, that a soldier would have to do it. It is a good field safety procedure.

To actually get the tank to use other equipment, you need to disable the turret weapon by setting UNITREF.DAT 0x75 to 255 (0xff). If pre-battle Equip Screen and in-battle Inventory access is also enabled, this then makes the tank a "full cyborg" - it can do anything a soldier can do, carry and use any weapon or item. This is probably overpowered, even if the tank has lost its turret weapon. Man carried weapons are often as good, or better, especially given the tank can reload, change ammo types, etc. A tank with an HE Autocannon and a Rocket Launcher is pretty fearsome.

Using this method I have got a HE Pack-throwing, HE Autocannon-firing tank. (Tanks seem to have 0% Throwing Accuracy, which is good as I would not expect them to be as good as soldiers, and they have higher Strength than initial soldiers. The results aren't terrible, but lack the precision of a skilled soldier).

The techniques above could be used for any of the tank scenarios as long as the player exercises self restraint, and is willing to live with the tank being stunnable. I dont think I have a problem with that actually. It simulates the common situation where an armoured vehicle is disabled, rather than destroyed, by some mechanical or systems failure.

Things to investigate:

  • Creating a correct paperdoll image and layout file for the tank in the inventory screen using combinations of UNITREF.DAT offsets 0x01, 0x117. E.g. set 0x01 to 4, then get/create MAN_4.SPK and .xsp.
  • Possible create new SPK files for the paperdoll images for the tanks. Or use the SPK files from BBs Toolkit actually.
  • How to enable access to the pre-battle Equip screen as well or instead as the Inventory screen. Without crashing due to mismatches of the paperdoll image and layout file. Or just ask Bomb Bloke how he did it. ;-)
  • If the logic for the turret weapon overriding the held weapons or items can be found and NO-OPd. Thus allowing use of a 2nd item or weapon in addition to the turret weapon.
  • If it is possible to make an item undroppable, so it is "fixed" in a slot. Thus allowing Inventory access for logistics and reloading but not for changing of weapons/items.
  • If the turret is disabled but Inventory is not enabled, then the tank should be able to use only the items placed in its "hand" slots. Not clear how to place them though - either during the Equip phase or by using a game file editor (or UFO Extender!). The tank would also be immune to stun again. This would be a good way to make variant tank types that were not too unbalanced, since then the tank can't reload.
  • Might be able to trick XComUtil EQP into giving equipment to tanks, IF you could hack the name of the tank to contain a /Class suffix?
  • See UNITREF.DAT offset 0x2E for mention of an alternate tank layout. Also for ability to have blank turret graphics (e.g. if turret weapon is disabled).
Not 100% sure, but putting offset 0x71 to 0 may also render your tank susceptible to fatal wounds. Seb76 13:37, 30 August 2009 (EDT)

UFO Extender Tanks

For a mod under Seb76s UFOExtender, you could maybe add a configuration section that says something like - replace turret for tank type X with objects Y and Z (with ammo A and B if they are ammo using weapons). So you could say: replace all Cannon tanks with tanks that have a AP auto cannon plus a Medkit, or plus an HE Pack, or plus a Stun Rod. This would be pretty balanced as the main weapon is weaker. An HE Auto Cannon might be slightly overpowered, though in a way it is a mid point between a Cannon tank and a Rocket tank. It would be nice for the mod to sanity check that the relevant tech is available, or even that the relevant equipment is available (on the transport), and to deduct it from existing stocks.

Basically this would be an extension of the Equipment Screen code of UFOExtender. But probably dealt with under its own configuration section. However there are interdependencies - such as the same pool of equipment - so it needs to be dealt with in the same code.

Here's a mock-up. It's a bit over-complicated, a simpler version would be pretty cool too.

[Tracked Tank Armour]
Apply=0
Health=90
ArmourF=90
ArmourS=75
ArmourR=60
ArmourB=60
[Hover Tank Armour]
Apply=0
Health=90
ArmourF=130
ArmourS=130
ArmourR=130
ArmourB=100
[Tank Equipment]
Apply=1

;apply to first Tank/Cannon in Battlescape (if present)
[Tank/Cannon 1]
DisableTurret=1
EnableEquip=0
EnableInventory=0
ItemRight=High Explosive
ItemLeft=High Explosive
;Mine-Thrower Tank with only 2 charges
;apply to second Tank/Cannon in Battlescape (if present)
[Tank/Cannon 2]
DisableTurret=1
EnableEquip=1
EnableInventory=1
ItemRight=Heavy Cannon
ItemRightAmmo=Cannon HE-Ammo
ItemLeft=High Explosive
;Demolition Tank that can carry additional charges (or change weapons/reload)
;apply to third Tank/Cannon in Battlescape (if present)
[Tank/Cannon 3]
DisableTurret=1
EnableEquip=1
EnableInventory=0
ItemRight=0
ItemLeft=0
;Tank that can be Equipped with any 2 items, but not change them (or reload) during battle
;apply to any/all other Tank/Cannons in Battlescape
[Tank/Cannon *]
;normal Tank setup
DisableTurret=0
EnableEquip=0
EnableInventory=0
ItemRight=0
ItemLeft=0
;apply to all Tank/Rockets in Battlescape
[Tank/Rocket *]
;retain turret Rockets but also use as a Logistics tank
DisableTurret=0
EnableEquip=1
EnableInventory=1
ItemRight=0
ItemLeft=0
;apply to first Hovertank/Plasma in Battlescape
[Hovertank/Plasma 1]
;Very expensive air ambulance!
DisableTurret=1
EnableEquip=0
EnableInventory=1
ItemRight=Medi-Kit
ItemLeft=Medi-Kit
;Inventory access allows loading and recovery of casualties.
;(As we have enabled Inventory access, the ambulance could be re-fitted with weapons/items once in the field)
;apply to second Hovertank/Plasma in Battlescape
[Hovertank/Plasma 2]
;Very expensive alien capturing and retrieval vehicle!
DisableTurret=1
EnableEquip=1
EnableInventory=1
ItemRight=Small Launcher
ItemRightAmmo=Stun Missile
ItemLeft=Stun Rod
;Inventory access allows reloading the Launcher and loading/recovery of stunned Aliens. 
;As we have enabled Inventory access, the tank could be re-fitted with other weapons/items once in the field
;Equip access allows spare Stun Missiles to be equipped at the start
;As we have enabled Equip access, the tank could be reconfigured in a variety of other ways pre-battle.
;Or perhaps we can pre-equip it using a syntax along the lines of:
;Item[9]=Stun Missile
;Item[10]=Stun Missile
;Item[11]=Stun Missile
;Item[12]=Stun Missile

Tools

Data Tables and Spreadsheets

Tactical Firepower

  • X-COM (EU and TFTD) Battlescape Firepower - Spreadsheet comparing "close range/shock firepower" and "long range/skirmish firepower" of Battlescape weapons - it covers XCom and Alien hand-held weapons, XCom HWP weapons, and Alien Terrorist built-in attacks. Includes XComUtil variant weapons. The results are specific to a Target Type (Muton, X-COM Power Suit, etc) and you can set the attacker's combat skill levels. Also includes "lethality" calculations such as the probability of a first-shot-kill, the average number of hits to get a kill, and the average amount of TUs to get a kill.
  • Includes some info for TFTD weapons, not yet including SWS weapons or Alien built-in attacks. The necessary information on TFTD Alien attacks is hard to find. I still need to merge in the TFTD Alien stats from the draft TFTD version of my Firepower spreadsheet.

Tactical Firepower Model

  • Formula for Weapon Rankings

In a nutshell, I figure out the average armour-adjusted damage per direct hit (average of min + max, adjusted for % of range that is zero), then multiply that by the average # of direct hits per 100% TUs (assuming Firing Accuracy = 50). I then divide the target Health by the resulting value, to obtain the "%TUs per kill".

The "Weapon Ranking' number given is for whichever firing mode (auto, snap or aimed) gives the best value. I should probably list what the best mode is!

If your soldiers have a better average FA, it all scales linearly. So if you have FA=100 just cut (improve) the values by half. I picked FA=50 as its a typical starting value, and it was particularly the starting weapons I was interested in.

I tried lots of different "figures of merit" for weapons but I like this one best.

All HE is considered a direct hit on the Alien. For 4-square targets I add the reduced, armour-adjusted damage on the other 3 squares.

I did not bother with Incendiary as the damage model for incendiary is almost totally independent of the weapon used (the only weapon based factor is whether you get the target inside the area of effect or not, and how many times).

The very low (good) average values, such as for Heavy Plasma, will be very volatile around the average. The high (bad) numbers will be more consistent.

This Figure of Merit probably works best when the number is in the range 25% - 75%. Below that level, there is high volatilty and also I may not have accounted for overkill (minimum penetrating damage > Health) properly. Above that level, I have not accounted for reload time, nor "turn rounding errors" - such as: you can't burst-fire an AC 2.5 times a turn, you can only burst-fire it twice.

Another thing to note about this metric is that it is accuracy-weighted, so it assumes a non-trivial "firing problem". For situations such as point-blank where accuracy is not an issue, the rankings will be very different. I'll work on a different metric for point-blank. My Firepower spreadsheet, which generated these rankings, allows you to toggle the "turn rounding" on or off. With "turn rounding" off, the calculations are "instantaneous" measures of lethality, which make sense for intra-turn decisions, or when a mix of fire and movement is important (as it usually is). With "turn rounding" on, you get a better assessment of "continuous" firepower - e.g. when firing continuously over multiple turns.

It would also be good to have others check my assumptions in the spreadsheet!


Spike 22:22, 27 February 2009 (CST)

Near Miss Modelling

One thing I don't calculate is the effects of any area effect/HE near misses. So the figures I give should be taken as a minimum. In practice, HE effectiveness will be somewhat higher due to the extra damage from near misses - but by how much? It depends on a lot of factors, some I don't know and some that are highly variable (density of terrain / map objects etc).

Calculating the range and average damage done by any given near miss is complex but not impossible. There are a large number of calculations, one for every possible 'near miss' square with different GZ+X distance, different armour facings, etc.

What is truly difficult is estimating the absolute and relative frequency of rounds landing in all these possible 'near miss' squares. With sound knowledge of the error angles (vertical as well as lateral) generated by the game engine, it might be possible to estimate a probability distribution, for each possible range from launcher to target - but only for a flat, featureless plain. It's the terrain features - fixed and mobile - that introduce the biggest uncertainty about where a stray round will detonate. This is almost possible to model. Without modelling for collisions with map objects, the 'flat plain' model of near-misses will predict a worst case (minimal) damage level from near-misses. (Assuming that in the typical case, the accurate path from firer to target is relatively unobstructed. When this is not the case, the 'flat plain' scenario might actually predict better results than obtain in reality.)

One more problem with modelling Near Misses: the benefit of lucky near misses - whatever its value - is inversely proportional to overall accuracy. A perfect shooter gets exactly zero benefit from near misses. Which raises an interesting possibility. Maybe the "near miss benefit" could be estimated using a repeated experiments with a logger and a shooter with Firing Accuracy=0. Any damage done to the target would be due to a lucky near miss. This would be the other limiting case - the opposite of the perfect shooter. Then extrapolate between those two extremes to find a "near miss benefit" for that weapon as some function of {TA, range].

A lot of people have noticed this factor when playing, lol... A fresh low accuracy can't hit an alien at 30 feet... UNLESS you give him a rocket launcer or AC-HE, and then he suddenly turns into this deadly killing machine. It's... quite ridiculous. Jasonred 07:12, 22 March 2009 (EDT)

Other Tables

Data table comparing the "firepower", "payload" and other obscure characteristics of aircraft weapons: Aircraft Firepower Table

Also I have uploaded some spreadsheets concerning XcomUtil manufacturing profitability; efficiency of aircraft as radar detection platforms; effect of my proposed multiple radar fix on detection probability.

I have a version of the Manufacturing Profitability spreadsheet for TFTD, which I will put on the main pages when I can figure out how to wikify it. Also, this version calculates full Technician/Engineer costs, including fixed as well as variable costs, and calculates the payback/breakeven period.

Base Fixer

I've written a Python script that

It's working reasonably well now so I've uploaded the BaseFixer utility and documentation to this site. You will also need to install Python for it to work. I have also used XcomUtil's hook facility to integrate BaseFixer into XcomUtil, so it runs automatically as you play (updates whenever you switch from tactical battlescape to the geoscape view). Spike 12:00, 24 March 2008 (PDT)

I haven't given this much of a whirl, but I did have one problem: it searches for 'base.dat' in lowercase, and my BASE.DAT files were in uppercase (UFO is run in dosbox under Linux, and dosbos puts every created file in uppercase). Changing the script to use BASE.DAT in uppercase fixed that, but may break some other case-sensitive system where base.dat is in lowercase (Maybe UFO/Amiga?). Probably best to check for both styles? Also, it returned a somewhat funky result with a TFTD save, but I guess it wasn't meant for TFTD... Cesium 20:28, 30 December 2009 (EST)
Yeah pretty sure it won't work on TFTD as I think the base.dat format is different. All these fixes are now included in Seb76's UFOExtender loader, so I would recommend using that instead. Spike 19:33, 31 December 2009 (EST)
I don't recall if base.dat was lowercase or not on the Amiga, but it doesn't matter, as although Amigas remember case, they use case-insensitive compare when accessing files. "BASE.DAT" == "base.dat" to an Amiga running on the native filesystems (OFS/FFS). Renegrade 01:14, 4 August 2010 (EDT)

TU Efficiency

Analysis and fixes (game file patches) relating to the fact that Aimed fire is less efficient than Snap fire. See Accuracy vs TU Efficiency.


Work in Progress

Underway

Experimental model - do timer tests of XCom weapon RoF vs UFO weapon RoF. UFO weapon RoF is known to be variable, by Seb 76's code decompilation.
Try to give UFOs limited ammunition. Try to force UFO damage to a fixed value (e.g. 1) so that XCom damage becomes a "hit counter". Basically need to use small samples, small N, instead of large N. Instead of getting convergence on an average, you need to do the opposite, which is to look at the range of variation. Use the highest possible ratio of XCom RoF to UFO RoF (eg 2::96 reload rates) in order to expose the variation more easily? You need a histogram that shows the minimum and maximum divergence from the average. This will show whether a. more linear, more moderate variation := XCom RoF is fixed and UFO RoF is variable or b. more gaussian, more extreme variation := both RoFs are variable. Eg if both are variable, min variation would be 4:96, max would be 2:192. If XCom is not variable, min variation will be 2:96, max will be 2:192. So you need to do a large number of runs and find the minimum variation. But it needs to be a very large number of runs because the cannon RoF will tend strongly to the median value when firing 16 to 96 rounds per UFO attack. It's difficult to do without a logger. It would be nice to be able to peek the INTER.DAT-equivalent in-memory structure. Actually maybe it's easier to do if the XCom RoF and UFO RoF are matched at a high reload value, eg both at 96? Need to think this through more. If matched, min variation for static XCom RoF is 96:96, max variation is 96:192. OK, there's the strategy. Match the weapon reload rates, at 96 to make it easier to observe, and if the UFO ever fires faster than XCom, that proves XCom is (also) variable. That should be fairly easy to test. Maybe just use extreme slowdown in DOSBox to be able to manually count the "Interceptor Hit" messages.
      • If the "cannon timer" is variable, what implications does this have? For overall firepower I don't think it has any, it's more or less my current (implicit) assumption. If the cannon timer is not variable, that has a bigger impact, because if XCom does not have variable RoF, XCom firepower just went up by 50%, unless there is some other compensating factor.
    • Write up the results that are reasonably certain, and do high level updates to the relevant articles.
    • Deciphering INTER.DAT


Older Stuff

  • Craft Firepower table for TFTD - haven't I finished this? need to upload it. probably need to rewrite it based on new RoF first.

To Do List

  • Continue TFTD game in TFTD Blog
  • Craft Weapon and Infantry Weapon rebalancing analysis for TFTD.
  • "Standard XCom" definitions
  • Air_Combat_Mechanics#Effect_of_Attack_Mode_on_UFO_RoF
  • Confirm whether there is an Accuracy effect of Attack Mode and/or target size. I thought I saw this with Sonic Oscillator vs a Small USO in Cautious mode. I saw around 10 misses before the first hits, much lower than is predicted by 50% nominal accuracy. Maybe this effect is only for cannon type weapons?
  • Test using a single basic transport, but maintaining extra hangar/pen, containment, stores & quarters at multiple bases. This exploits the assumption that Transporting a craft is faster, and longer-range, than Triton/Skyranger speed/range. Should lead to more, and quicker, crash recovery missions. Less suitable for assault missions (vs landed undamaged craft) as those are very time-urgent and generally require a nearby craft.
  • Revise TU to Kill calculations, including the effect of progressive armour degradation. Complicated.
  • Navigation Utility
    • Interrogate LOC.DAT
    • Compute Great Circle distances between all bases/craft/alien craft/etc (create table)
    • Calculate where it would be faster to transfer a craft via 1 or more bases first (for given to:from pair)
    • Insert extra waypoints into LOC.DAT to approximate the great circle route (for a given to:from pair).
    • Calculate intercept paths, taking into account target speed and heading (taken from CRAFT.DAT). Insert an intercept waypoint in LOC.DAT and/or CRAFT.DAT.
    • Plot great circle intercept paths and inject multiple waypoints to approximate the great circle.


Older Stuff

  • Alien Inventory Use
  • Incendiary Research
  • Firing Accuracy Research - with Bomb Bloke's data, maybe using special terrain as a 3D scatter mask
  • Seb76 UFOExtender
    • Use "View All Locations" to empirically check the effect of (fixed) multiple radars - does having greater %detection at the same range really increase UFO detections, or will the same UFO get deteced eventually anyway?
  • Gameplay
    • Play an "Aliens Own Earth" game
    • Play a "Funding Only" game
    • Do a Cydonia mission - I've never stuck it out that far. Then do the mission again, but with conventional weapons and no Psi.
  • Firepower Tables
    • Add all missing TFTD target and weapons data, in line with EU targets and weapons - mostly vehicles
  • Economics
    • It would be interesting (and easy) to calculate the cost incurred when damage is sustained by aircraft. It would then be possible to put an economic value on the stand-off capability of weapons. - done as part of FBL discussion
    • Efficient Market - Rational Costs
      • Understand impact of Research costs (capital and expense) on Manufacturing Profitability, and thus on "rational costs"
        • Necessary first step: Create a tree structure with the fully inclusive research costs to reach each node in the tree. If everything were profitable, it might make sense to attribute only the current nodes costs to any given item. Maybe it makes sense to amortise all research costs incurred since the last profitable item on the current branch? Or to share out the total costs along all paths, weighted by the profitability of each of the profitable nodes? - tree structure done and published on this site but with some errors where I thought there were prerequisites, but there are none. It would be great if there was an actual research tree on the site for both games.
      • Adjusted buy & sell prices that better reflect the actual economic costs of manufactured items (assuming there would be demand for them outside X-COM). Then put this in a modified PURCHASE.DAT. The purpose of this would be to better harmonise manufacturing profitability of various item types.
      • Also make it possible to buy (rather than build) the manufacture-only item types. Calculate appropriate prices based on fully inclusive costs, normal buy-sell spread, and some estimation of capital costs including Research costs. (See discussion in Economics - External Market, above.)
      • Re-calculate manufacturing profitability, and manufacturing costs, based on Opportunity cost of diverting manufacturing away from profitable Laser Cannon.

Apocalypse Blog

Apocalypse: The Verdict

I got bored of this game very quickly. The real time combat is interesting to mess around with but ultimately a bit frustrating. I don't particularly like RTS's anyway, and this is not a great one. But it's the strategic game play that really falls flat. There is no story arc as in X-COM 1, I just didn't care about this artifical city and the weird alien invasion. Maybe it would've been better if the game was just about warring megacorporations without the alien "sub-plot". Then they could've built in some more plot.

If you took out the aliens and added in some more structured scenarios, it would work as a good remake of Laser Squad - the weapon mix, tactical focus and time frame seem to be similar.

Snags and Hassles

Like everyone I found it impossible to figure out how to load soldiers into a vehicle for a mission. Eventually I had to download and RTFM. I still don't know how to persuade the soldiers to take a vehicle home from a mission, so they walk home. Maybe I need to click on the building, or vehicle assignment screen, right away before they walk out of it, and reassign them to the vehicle before they start walking? Anyway, for now the walk will do them good. Good exercise and they can walk off all that aggression.

It seems like you automatically strip equipment off dead enemies, but you don't automatically strip the equipment off your own casualties, even if you win the battlefield. I am sure this is true because I am not only loosing armour, I am loosing Mind Benders. That's a hassle, if I have to manually take equipment off my dead guys, and make sure I do it before the mission ends. Maybe the equipment is just being blown up by HE? I noticed that the enemy seemed to be surprisingly vigorous in attacking the dead bodies of some of my guys, so maybe that's it.

It was totally non-obvious to me that you should raid neutral organisations for profit and plunder. I could've played for years without doing that, had I not read about it in strategy guides etc. It seems very cynical, not the vibe I would expect.

I don't like the Dual Wield stuff. Lots of games have dual wield, and I think it's always nonsense. Twin cannons, twin rifles? Give me a break. It is catering to the Arnie / Ninja crowd. If you use a 2 hand weapon in each hand you should get a big penalty on the primary and an even bigger penalty on the secondary. It would only ever be viable if you had no need for speed or accuracy and just wanted pure volume of fire. I can just about buy it with handguns, but not with anything else. Even handguns are supposed to be used with two hands, except for snap fire. If you think dual wield is accurate, ask yourself why no military, police or special forces unit anywhere, ever, uses this technique. It's only from dumb movies. I am annoyed that the mechanics of Apoc make dual wield advantageous. Apart from being stupid, it's an unfair advantage over the enemy since they don't use it (or do they?). I suppose I could just be self disciplined and just not use any weapons in dual wield. Stick to my principles!

I guess dual wield makes it harder to use grenades. Although apparently there is no TU penalty in Real Time mode for shouldering your rifle to grab a grenade? I find it too fiddly though. I need to learn, as grenades are powerful and they give an edge to the enemy if I can't use them.

Weapon Mixes

At the start it looks like the priorities are:

  • Improve Agents' experience
  • Conserve money
  • Conserve ammunition

It looks to me like the Sniper rifle and M4000 have about the same firepower (accuracy x fire rate x damage), but the M4000 has much higher ammo consumption (both per unit of time and per hit). So the top choice would be the Sniper rifle. As there are not that many around at start, I would give the Sniper rifles to the people with the lowest Accuracy score (contrary to the USG advice), and then M4000s to the rest. As I capture more Rifles I would put the M4000s into stores (for the next batch of recruits).

Of course the Plasma gun has greater firepower but it's so rare and the ammo so limited and expensive at the beginning that I would only issue it to the Agents with the highest accuracy, and then only during a UFO recovery or alien capture, not during a regular raid. Train up combat skills using cheaper and more plentiful weapons, and save the Plasma gun ammo for the critical missions.

The Autocannon I would only issue to a minimum number of agents with the highest accuracy and strength, and use it as a support weapon. Probably to your starting Androids. One or two Agents with autocannon is fine. Also I would not bother with the AP rounds. Because of the low accuracy and low rate of fire, the AP firepower is lower than the other starting weapons. I would stick to using the area munitions (HE/IN), employing the autocannon as a support weapon. The one exception for AP would be against armoured targets - a very specialised mission in the early game.

Actually, according to my theoretical calculations, in Dual Wield the highest firepower (apart from the rare and expensive Plasma gun) is actually a pair of Lawpistols. This is because the lack of one-handed penalty pushes their firepower ahead of the M4000 and Laser rifle. Of course the ammo capacity is the worst, and the range is not good, and at close range maybe accuracy is less important.

Anyway, if we have the Marsec M4000, where's the Marsec Auto-Gun? That was always superior to the M4000, in Laser Squad anyway.

As I don't really understand the mechanics, the above may be totally wrong. Maybe some kind of TU factor gives a disadvantage to the Laser Rifle. For example, in Real Time, maybe a fast moving target won't be acquired in time by a slow weapon like a sniper rifle, even in snap fire mode. I think the Sniper rifle is the best for experience gain but I could be wrong about that too. The USG says experience gain is per shot. This is almost certainly wrong - surely it's per hit - but if it's right, the M4000 would be the experience-meister, since it spews out (inaccurate) rounds.

In terms of purchases, I found I pretty much buy all the personal arms on the market (apart from some of the armour and AP grenades). I'll probably find a use for all of it. Definitely buy all the Mind Benders and Laser Rifles as these are relatively rare - especially the Mind Benders.


Psionics and Psi Raids

There is not a lot of info out there on the net that I can find about the Psi mechanics and Psi training mechanics. The USG has an illegible formula that I can't decipher, and it's not clear if it applies to field/combat experience or just to Psi-Lab training.

I'm trying to figure out the Psionics by experiment, and in pursuit of this I've invented a variant of the Stun Raid, the Psi Raid.

As with a Stun Raid you can go on a Psi Raid and keep all weapons locked, and just use Psi, and you don't get shot at. Even if you come off the borders of the map and walk in and around the building. You get 0 mission points but you don't trigger any Organisational hostility from the organisation you are raiding. I was doing successful Stuns (well I got the hammer on the head icon, but no one actually fell over). I was doing successful Scans. None of it provoked any gang guards to attack with weapons. I did get one Psi attack on me. I don't have anyone who can attempt Mind Control, but I should also do some Panics to see if that provokes hostility. Maybe if I actually knocked someone out with Psi, that would provoke hostility. I have 4 Agents capable of Stun and one capable of Scan only, but even piling up on one target I could not actually make them pass out from a Stun attack. Still they are all only Rookies.

My intention was to train up the Psi skills from combat experience, but I did not see any noticeable improvements after combat. Certainly any improvements were less than 1.0 stats. Maybe you need to make Kills to gain experience. Maybe it can only be trained in the Base, not in combat. (In X-Com 1 and 2, raising Psi stats in combat creates a runaway feedback loop that is unbalancing, and also makes Psi Labs pointless apart from for screening, so maybe they fixed that in X-Com 3)

What would a successful stun look like? Does it decrease Health with a white bar like X-Com 1 and 2 (apparently not), or decrease Psi Strength until you go unconscious? Maybe use will use Scan in conjunction with Stun Gas to see how Stun Gas works.

It seems like not only can you not do a psi attack if you are not in Line of Sight (fair enough), but also not unless you are on the same map level as the target. So even if you are one square in front of a target and up one level, you can't use Psi on them. Maybe something else was happening. Two of my Agents seemed to start getting 0% all the time, even if they were on the same level, in LoS, without having moved, full TUs and full Psi Strength. Is there a maximum number of attacks you can make in one mission, or a maximum amount of Psi strength you can expend? Do the Mind Benders actually need to recharge back at base at some point?

- OK I think this was just due to targeting stronger opponents (higher Psi defence) and the probability, particularly of Stun, dropped to 0%. You definitely can do a Psi attack from a different level. And I don't think you ever run out of Psi attacks during a mission, having done a lot more attacks now. Also, Panic attacks also don't trigger hostility. But then, I still haven't managed to do a Stun or Panic attack that actually seemed to affect the target at all. The attacks are "successful" but don't seem to do anything to the target, or reduce any of its stats (as viewed via Probe). Hmm.

Also (not a Psi note but a general one), switching weapons to and from any area takes no TUs. The only thing that takes TUs is picking up. Dropping is free. So the backpack is no different from a holster. Swapping your autocannon into your backpack and pulling a grenade takes 0 TUs. Presumably the effect is similar in Real Time mode. Not sure I really like that, it seems sloppy on the part of the programmers.

TFTD Blog

After a few goes of mucking about with TFTD over the last year, I started a proper campaign. It has been very interesting so far.

I have much more favourable impression of TFTD now than I did before. Yes, it is more buggy than UFO. But luckily we have the guidance from the TRTBAG and from this Ufopaedia wiki to guide us. I have to say, I didn't feel comfortable starting on TFTD until I was familiar with the "gotchas" which (fortunately) are documented here. And it's also true that Ufopaedia is patchier on TFTD than it is on UFO. Some of the gaps are hard to find - I've been trying to fill some of them in as I go along.

TFTD is definitely a more challenging game. But it also unexpectedly better balanced than UFO in some ways. It's not just a case of buffing the bad guys (though that happens of course). I have been finding that in TFTD every decision is much more finely balanced. The trade-offs between different technologies, different weapons, and different tactics and strategies are giving me much more of a headache. In UFO, there is often a well known "optimum strategy". Things aren't so cut and dried in TFTD. I found the technology decisions really hard. There's not a lot of stuff that you don't need (unlike in UFO where you can skip a lot of it, or where research is so easy you just get everything). I've been struggling for months over whether to prioritise craft weapons (Sonic Oscillator), tactical weapons (eg Thermal Shok Launcher), or Transmission Resolver. Mind Control, Subs, and Armour I am not even thinking about. But even these three categories are very tough decide.

Luckily the game forced my hand, due to another increased challenge - shooting down USOs. In UFO this is not a big deal. In the first few months you can shoot any small-medium craft down easily with dual Avalanches, maybe 2 aircraft, and you have this capability from the first week. Anything you can't shoot down, you can often just tail, and it will conveniently land. Not so in TFTD. In many cases you can't even reach the USO to intercept it, let alone win the battle. They either out run you or go too deep - much harder than in UFO. There is no pain-free stand off combat, either. And the USO return fire is harsh. By month 2 it was quickly becoming apparent that my subs were outclassed and I was going to fail most engagements - and lose my ships in the bargain. I realised this was the strategic imperative. Winning the battlefield with inferior weapons would be a challenge, but without success in sub battle, there just weren't going to be enough battlefields. I needed something to even the odds on the Geoscape, or I was doomed. Going for improved Sub technology just takes too long, I would be dead by the time I got it, so instead I am going for improved sub weapons - in other words, the Sonic Oscillator.

Of course, they make Craft Gauss Cannon look like a waste of effort for purely weapon purposes. I thought long and hard whether I would go down the "Gauss Cannon Factory" route, but decided not to. The Particle Disturbance Sensor is 50% as cash-generating as the Gauss Cannon, and you can be up and running in days. I didn't research it until I had that realisation in the teeth of the "what do I research" dilemma. In hindsight I would've researched PDS first, since it was nearly 2 months before my Technicians had anything much do.

So anyway, I went with Sonic Oscillator, and of course this has the benefit of picking up the battlefield sonic weapons along the way, conferring (battlefield) tactical advantage. Now it's early March, and I've just got capability to use Sonic Cannon, and this had made me realise something else. When you use Sonic Weapons (or Plasma in UFO), it really costs you money! Some people think these weapons are free when you pick them up off the battlefield but, not at all. You pay full cash value for these weapons in foregone revenue. That means other things are starved of investment. For the price of a single Sonic Cannon and clip, you can build seriously useful buildings on your base! To put it another way, if you had to pay $200,000 cash for a Sonic Cannon, I wonder who would bother? Gas Cannon are about 30 times cheaper, and not much less effective (not at the stage I am at now anyway).

Yes I definitely fell in love with Gas Cannon. My standard loadout now in early March is Sonic Pistol (just acquiring Sonic Cannon), GC loaded with HE in the backpack for those strong enough to carry it (about half or two thirds of the troops), and/or a Gauss Pistol for close-up 'n personal work on soft targets. And, of course, one to three Sonic Pulsers. It's a great combination. Just Gas Cannon and Sonic Pulsers worked superbly in January. As most people do, I ditched the Dart Guns and Dye Grenades immediately, and ditched the JetHarpoons as soon as extra Gas Cannon arrived. I researched Sonic Pulsers literally as soon as I got one, and they were in field use by the 2nd week. I tried mixing in the Hydro-Jet Cannon but it just wasn't working for me. And then (despite my posts on the Ufopaedia), I fell foul of the HJC pitfall - I turned up at a land mission and I'd forgotten to swap out the HJCs for spare GCs. Doh!

(In my first Port Assault, I made the same mistake by bringing my Coelecanth/AquaJet along. Still, it was a useful unarmed reconnaissance vehicle!)

The HJC snafu convinced me to no longer put HJCs on the boat, apart from a single phosphor-sprayer for night missions. Sometimes I gave the guy carrying that an AP clip, but I'm not sure if there was much point. I had nagging doubts that HJC-AP might be useful in close quarters, frontal assault missions, so I kept them in Stores, at least until the Gauss Pistol came along and fully displaced that close range assault role.


Of course, the initial joy of watching a crack (ok, rookie) Gas Cannon squad dispatch Aquatoids with GC-AP quickly wore off. Superhuman Gill-men have a habit of shrugging off a GC-AP round. Nonetheless, I just thanked my lucky stars I wasn't using anything weaker.

I researched Gauss just to fill in time and because it's so quick. The Gauss Pistol is a big improvement and an equaliser that it's hard to forgo. So very briefly in late Jan / early Feb I had a Gauss Pistol / Gas Cannon mix. However, as soon as I captured the first Sonic Pistol I had stopped all research to focus on that, so there was only about a week between Gauss Pistol adoption, and it's semi-obsolence, as Sonic Pistols were issued to all combatants (I'd built up a stock - one advantage the alien tech has over the human, you can really hit the ground running once it's researched).

(At this stage I was running one ten-man combat team and I had just added a second). Then the primary mix became as above: Sonic Pistol as main combat weapon, GC-HE as the heavy/support weapon, Gauss Pistol for close quarters work, and plenty of Sonic Pulsers for anything tactically tricky or scary.

I gave up on the Gauss sequence after the Pistol, after making the decision I would not go down the Gauss Cannon Factory route. There seemed to be plenty of more important things to research, urgent things that couldn't possibly be avoided. I didn't feel like I had any luxury of choice. In fact, it felt like I couldn't possibly get it right, that whatever trade offs I made my skipping technology A in favour of technology B would come back to bite me. I really do like that in TFTD, I think the research decisions are much more challenging.


The tactics are different in TFTD and also pleasingly challenging. I have to be much more careful than in UFO, and I like that. Bunching up is definitely out of the question - the aliens are noticeably more aggressive with grenades. There is much more thought behind the maps. Many of them are really painful. Sometimes it seems a bit contrived, but it's only fair since the aliens have such a dumb AI - they need an equaliser in their favour.

One thing it made me wish for, aside from a smarter AI, was that aliens would pick up weapons. Because the game advertises when they panic, and visually shows when they are disarmed, you then pretty much know they are no threat (within reason: they may have psionics, or grenades). So you can just wander up to these shell shocked aliens and stun them with impunity.

Good grief, capturing Calcinites is hard! I was prepared to trade a rookie for each captive, but it was much worse than that. I had to reload after I sent 4 guys into a room to get one Calcinite, and they all died. (Turns out there were TWO Calcinites in the room!). But I actually like the way it works. It's different enough from "eeny meeny meiny mo, catch a Navigator by his toe" in UFO. It feels quite a lot like what Scott Jones does in his XcomUtil option "research help from captured aliens". Ok it's really only a few of the aliens, but capturing them is so crucial, and also so hard to do, that it really adds to the excitement. Maybe if I'd caught a Deep One on my first Terror mission I would be more blase about it. Unfortunately I kept shooting the Deep Ones, thinking there would be another one along later, when things would be just a little calmer and I could take the time to stun one. Sadly the game ended and I got no Deep One prisoner. So I had to go after a Calcinite instead. What fun they are! I think they are the only monster in the game that can shred the front armour of (XcomUtil improved) tanks.


Mind Control, of course, absolutely kills you. This was my biggest dilemma. In the end I figured it's better to get the missions, and get crucified each time by alien MC, than to not have any missions. No missions means no tech, no experience, no points, no money. It's a declining spiral. It's possible to manage without MC or even MC Labs. You just have to note anyone who is influenced, disarm them or stun them immediately, and drop them from the roster when you get back. Everyone carries a Stun Rod, everyone watches everyone else. In this way, I will just have to tough it out for now, and get MC Labs later. Of course, I don't doubt that if I don't at least have MC Labs by April, I will be finished. I played a short campaign before and that's what happened. Plan sailing until April when the Tasoths showed up - curtains in May. So I need to avoid that. But to get MC technology, and research it, and pay for it, I need to be able to fight missions. So it's a very high priority but it has to come second. If I have to, I will fight this war with nothing but Gas Cannons, so long as I get my Sonic Oscillators and then my MC Labs. Transmission Resolvers, Armour, that's all by-the-by. One day I'll need Subs, I know, but I can't see that far ahead from where I'm sitting now!


January

Setup: I'm using the Steam release of TFTD, with XComUtil installed but with most of the defaults turned off (apart from Improved Tanks). Mainly so I can use the command line xcomutil dis to see if the mission is something I've played before. If I've played the scenario, alien type, and map type before, I just tend to do xcomutil "win". This gives me maximum loot and no casualties, but it also gives me zero experience, so I think it's a fair trade off when I can't be bothered to do the exact same mission again. If they are small ones I usually do them through even if they are the same. But anytime there is a new race, new scenario, or new map, I do it all through manually. Very satisfying! For laughs I'm running the Steam release under DosBox on Ubuntu Linux. This is quite easy, you just copy the steam files (under "steamapps", "common") to a Linux directory and execute the existing dosbox.conf script. Even easier if you are using Wubi which sits on the same filesystem as your Windows installation. You can also do groovy things like add XcomUtil and possibly other third party things, as long as they are pure DOS. I think I put more instructions in the "Steam Releases" section of this Ufopaedia. For me the main benefit is not having to do that Steam login and update check each time.

I started on Superhuman with a base in the Straits of Hercules, called "Atlas". Everything went swimmingly. Plenty of missions, though noticeably more difficult to intercept and shoot down than in UFO. The Gas Cannon-AP reigns supreme. How I love the satisfying "chumf" of the cannon as it takes big hunks out of the bad guys. And crazily accurate as a sniper weapon.

Got Sonic Pulsers researched as absolute top priority and they are almost too powerful, you don't need them really except to rearrange the landscape. Or get yourself out of a tight situation - about ten times at last count. :) It was nice not to really have to learn how to chuck Magna-Packs around.

Developed a second strike base, Shiva, in the Indian Ocean, as that was the red hot activity area this month. I never know if it's worth building a base in the hot spot, it seems you are always chasing your tail as the activity moves on by the time the base is built. Still, I suppose, you've got to build 'em somewhere. As long as the locations make reasonable sense, why not?

At the end of January, an Island attack on the Seychelles. This was a lot of good clean killing fun. As noted above, my guys were enthusiastically dropping the Deep Ones and nobody stopped to think we should perhaps stun one. Why did we built that Alien Containment thing anyway? (Actually I hadn't read the TRTBAG properly at this point so I didn't realise how crucial it is to capture a live Deep One. The Research section for TFTD could probably use some tidying up, as it assumes you have a research tree to hand such as from the USG, but actually, we don't have that on here).

February

First time through, February was a disaster. A lost month that cost humanity its future. But literally, nothing happened the whole month. I just thought it was one of those "drought" months that teach you not to over-commit on your base buildup and costs. I watched the graphs (or so I thought) and there was nothing for me to intercept, even though I had Barracudas out as much as possible as sonar pickets. Then at the end of the month, funding cuts all round, huge loss of score, alien Colony in Antarctica, and an immediate port attack in the US - way out of reach of my only Triton as it limped back from an abortive Colony raid. How are you supposed to raid a Colony in February for heavens' sake? Well I thought it was pretty clear that the Committee were going to hand me my behind if I didn't go and take of the problem.

I only fought the upper Colony level, thinking I could maybe bag some useful corpses and items and then abort, learn some lessons, and come back stronger. I got absolutely crucified. We made them pay though. Gas Cannon HE really stuffs a Hallucinoid. And Sonic Pistols are fine for taking down Tasoths. But the MC, and the Tentaculats - it was too much. I think the guy who wrote the Colony Assault article is probably right, don't attempt it without DPLs, armour, and good MC. All I had vaguely in that league was one Thermal Shok Launcher and 3 rounds, plus Sonic Pistols and Gas Cannon. Here, the Sonic Pulsers really came in to their own, but I was using so many, and taking so many casualties, that I ran out. But it was the MC that was the killer. In the end only the tank survived, along with one Aquanaut who wigged out early enough in the battle to be stunned and safely stashed in the Triton. I actually waited out 30 nail-biting turns with my tank gun pointing out the door of the Triton until she woke up to fly that boat home. But I realised I'd had enough.

Anyway I replayed from the start of Feb, developed 2 Tritons and 2 combat teams, 2nd and 3rd bases, and played much closer attention to the graphs. This time, when Brazil and Antarctica and the US picked up on the graphs, I sent long range Triton pickets and sat them there. I still didn't intercept anything, not a single mission or even a detection in the affected areas. But I guess somehow my presence scared them off, because this time around I got a massive score in February instead of a massive slapping. Quite odd, as literally all I did was park Tritons over the affected area, I never fired a shot.

I managed to down a Battle Ship somwhere around the GIUK gap, (and I realise a TFTD Battle Ship is one down from a UFO Battleship) by using everything I had, which was just 2 Barracudas and DUPs. I got lucky (I know I got lucky because I replayed it 3 times, so I got 3rd time lucky.) Even so, one Barracuda was over 90% damaged and out for most of the rest of the month. But it was worth it, as there was a famine of missions and I needed the loot. Luckily it was just Aquatoids with Hallucinoids, and the MC wasn't too harsh - just enough to teach me who was weak, and rotate them out. And the Hallucinoids make a superb "popping" sound when you hit them with the last GC-HE. :)

Started a 3rd base in Antarctica since the bad guys were hitting that really hard - according to the graphs, but I never saw a single craft. I only got my sonar up about the 25th of the month though. Normally in a new base I build a standard sonar as well as large one, so I get the traffic picture 15 days earlier. This time I economised. I guess we will never know what those green skinned blighters were up to down there. :)

And this time at the end of the month was a surprise and luckily not a disaster. I was doing one of those tricky "order it 72 hrs before the end of the month" moves. And it turns out February 2040 is, indeed, a leap year - ending on the 29th and not the 28th. And I thought for a moment it might be a bug. Just a little Easter Egg for us from the good Brothers. :)


March

First week.

First Port Terror Mission. I love the map. It feels like fighting urban warfare. It's clever without being contrived. I didn't get the chance to explore the water feature. If there were any aliens in there, they came out, since I won without exploring it. Extremely tricksy to get a tank in there. There is only one ramp for the tank, and it has debris you need to clear, but if you use a Sonic Pulser that destroys the ramp. I could've tried a GC-HE instead maybe. Maybe next time. Apart from anything else I wanted to get my tank in the water because I stupidly brought a Coelecanth/AquaJet to a land mission. It was brand new, it's first outing as well. (Remember that quote in the Untouchables: "Just like a Mick to bring a knife to gun fight" - I felt like that.) I tried quite a few times to get the tank to reaction fire its rockets, leaving it with nearly full TUs and my guys all cleared back behind the firing arc, but no dice. Maybe that only applies to human-carried underwater weapons?

Got Sonic Cannon. Working through the other Sonic techs to get Sonic Oscillator which is the real prize. Using Sonic Cannon tactically is a curse in disguise, it robs too much cash. I may have to consider if it's really needed.

I am, as usual, dirt poor, building and selling Particle Sensors to keep the lights on. Selling 8 or so Sonic Cannon instead of giving them as toys to the boys in the boat might've made a difference - like about a $1million or so!

And, I've just realised... I fought the Port mission from my new rookie base in Antarctica. I have to hand it to those guys, they did an amazing job, all absolute first timers and only 2 out of 10 dead, for 18 aliens zeroed. But... I didn't have Alien Containment in the new base! Aargh! What a rookie mistake. And if I'd realised that, no one would've died, we would'nt've been running around trying to stun Calcinites like John Cleese from the Ministry of Silly Walks. We'd've just nuked the blighters. Oh well, live and learn!

To Be Continued (Famous last words!)


April

Well I lost that campaign in a computer crash. I started another one, this time on Beginner, because for once I wanted to actually complete the campaign! Normally I play on Superhuman but I guess that's just bravado if I've never finished a campaign.

As this is a new campaign, let me quickly recap January through March (from memory). Basically nothing too memorable, a bunch of Gill Man and Aquatoid missions, including 2 Port Attacks in Dakar in Feb and March. I managed to get a live and dead Deep One and put them on ice for future research.

I tried to strictly follow my own strategy advice, which is to focus all Research effort on getting Transmission Resolver followed by Sonic Oscillator to even up the sub battle, to the exclusion of any Battlescape advances apart from the side effects of pursuing Sonics. With opportunistic departures allowed for Sonic Pulser, M.C. Labs, Shok Launcher and DPL. Well actually I didn't follow my own advice exactly, because when I acquired a TSL and a DPL I didn't immediately divert research to make them usable in combat. I was over-strict with the Sonic Oscillator focus.

I have a lot of bases. I've spent my money on strategic expansion, maximum coverage. So far I have a primary base in the Med, a garrisoned intercept base in the South China Sea, and an intercept base that just came on line in the Caribbean (still no attack sub purchased for there yet, I'll do that right away). Plus I have 4 Sonar bases in the middle of the main oceans. A lot of bases for April, I think. But still only 3 subs. I have 75 scientists active, 30 technicians, 1 M.C. Lab active for its first month, and Transmission Resolvers in 2 bases (not my primary base though). I have all the captured items required for research, apart from the various Lobsterman commanders and the 2nd live terrorist. I made the mistake of letting M.C. Lab topic complete without having an M.C. Reader in stores. I waited until I had one in stores, then I hacked PURCHASE.DAT. With MS-Edit. Hairy!

Tactically, I don't have any SWSs. My guys all have Gauss Pistols, Gas Cannon with HE only, lots of Sonic Pulsers, an HjC-P for illumination, 1 Particle Sensor and 1 Medkit per team. I have a growing stockpile of Sonic Pistol, Thermal Shok Launcher, DPL, but I haven't yet researched the tech to use any of them in combat. And I have researched the tech to use Sonic Cannon in combat, but I don't stockpile them. Again, I stick to my strategy - they are too valuable to waste on the grunts, they are better if sold to help XCom develop strategically. Hmm.

Which brings us to April 2040!

And mission 1 of April is a Shipping Lane Mission. The doors of the Triton open and I see... Lobstermen! I have literally never seen these before, they come very late on Superhuman and I usually get killed by Tasoths long before that.

I sneak a look with XcomUtil and there are 9 Lobstermen, 6 Bio-Drones on this Love Boat. Well what are my best tactics? Immediate abort without opening the doors is my first thought. Except I already opened the doors, and I doubt I will survive the first round as the two nice Lobstermen can chuck Sonic Pulsers right into the Triton and kill everyone instantly. Did I mention I don't have any armour at all? Or the Lobsterman with the TSL can fire right into the Triton and knock everyone out - exposing various interesting TFTD bugs.

With a bit of load-save scullduggery I can persuade the Lobsterman with the TSL to miss, so that I survive the first round. But is there any viable tactic I can use other than abort? As far as I can tell, my Gauss Pistols and GC-HE are useless here. For some reason on this very mission only, I cut down to 8 Tazers, though I normally carry 14. Tazers could be effective if I can get close, but not only are Lobstermen lethal close-in, they have Sonic Pulsers to kill me with as I try to close the range. So the only viable tactic I can see is my own Sonic Pulsers, luckily in fairly copious supply. I have about 20 on the boat. I figure it takes 2 lucky, or 3 conservative, Sonic Pulser direct hits to kill a Lobsterman. Allowing some use of Gauss to finish off weakened Lobstermen, I might be able to kill most of the Lobstermen using all my Sonic Pulsers. I've fought Bio-Drones before using Tazers, in the twisty corridors of the Love Boat, so that might be possible.

Ah, who am I kidding? It's going to be carnage. I need to abort with my tail between my legs. I need to arm up with almost nothing but Sonic Pulsers from now on, identify the best grenadiers, and wait while the scientists unlock Thermal Shok Launcher. Now that is a weapon you can fight Lobstermen with. Until then, if I see any pink shell, I'm jumping back on my boat.

Would it have helped if I was bristling with usable Sonic Cannon? I could easily have been, if I'd done things only slightly differently. Maybe it would've given me enough of a fighting chance to... get out there and get massacred!

---

See, the thing is, I don't really want my guys using Sonic weapons. It's not just the guns that are expensive, it's the operating costs - the ammo. But I might have to give in, or I will have a mutiny on my hands.

---

Anyway, I went back, I made an effort with the Shipping Lane mission. Didn't do too badly. It turns out that massed GC-HE fire was useful against Bio-Drones and even for taking out Lobstermen that had been weakened by 1 or 2 Sonic Pulsers. In the end my unarmoured Aquanauts - armed only with Sonic Pulsers, some Thermal Tazers, and GC-HE - took down 3 Bio-Drones and 3 Lobsterman before we ran out of Pulsers and had to retreat to the boat. We lost 4 of our own, mostly rookies. All the civilians died, but we brought a Bio-Drone and a Lobsterman corpse back for analysis, plus enough loot to break even. Not bad, considering the weakness of our weapons. With hindsight, and a maximum load of Sonic Pulsers, and still with some GC-HE and Tazers, we could've done better. For half of the mission most were carrying Gauss Pistols which should've just been left in the boat, with everyone carrying either GC-HE or Tazer & Pulsers. The Particle Disturbance Sensors proved quite valuable in the closed corridors. One big disadvantage of Pulsers is you can only throw them about 7-8 squares in the corridors. Marksmen with GC-HE helped there, but that was were we started losing people and had to pull back.

---

For future reference, GC-AP is probably slightly better against Bio-Drones than GC-HE. The median damage on a direct hit (assuming front armour for the GC-AP) is about the same, but the GC-AP has a higher maximum, so giving a higher average. GC-HE will score some extra damage via HE splash, but of course is more difficult to handle in terms of loot damage and friendly fire (especially for lightly/unarmoured Aquanauts).

Weeks 1-3

After the April 1 Shipping Lane terror mission I completed the start-of-month activities. Increased to 90 Scientists and added a second Triton / strike team, in the South China Sea. The results can be very bad if you can't respond to a Terror Mission in time because your only Triton is refitting after a mission. Quickly finished the last Sonic clip, making all Battlescape Sonic weapons available and enabling Sonic Oscillator. Then Thermal Shok Launcher, then on to Sonic Oscillator. Money became scarce. Missions were few and far between. In fact the only traffic was a Large, fast moving USO that I couldn't catch (and couldn't reach in time when it landed in the South Atlantic), and a slow moving Survey Ship I destroyed over the North Sea. Perhaps if I had taken the advice to have a lightly armed Barracuda on standby - but the problem is, that would require a whole extra Barracuda, in each intercept base - too expensive by far. So this 'mission drought' left me not only short of money but short of Zrbite, particularly annoying as Sonic Oscillator technology is about to come online, but you can't build them withouth Zrbite (15 each). Selling my earlier supplies of Zrbite to expand bases now looks very optimistic, if not foolish. You should always plan for mission droughts, they happen regularly.

22nd April, still no missions, and Sonic Oscillator research is complete. I'm living hand to mouth selling Particle Disturbance Sensors, no money and no Zrbite.

I might go back and replay the Large USO detection, to see if I can manage to get a strike team to its "predicted" touchdown site, if I launch the Triton toward the touchdown site immediately on detecting the USO - using a little "precognition". After all I do have my top guys working in the M.C. Labs. So it's only cheating a little bit.

Week 4

April played out with no missions and almost no activity anywhere on the graphs, just a minor blip in South Atlantic. I guess the aliens had other things on their minds. I completed MC Reader research, mainly to do some tests on what you can target with an MC Reader (Civilians, but not Aquanauts, even mind controlled ones).

May

The base costs of my large number of bases balanced out my income, so no cash injection at the start of the month. And I stupidly forgot to dismantle sonars at the bases that have a Transmission Resolver. Doh!

May kicked off with a Shipping Lane mission, this time a cargo ship. Tasoths and Bio Drones were fairly easy to handle now that my guys are packing Sonics, and I have the first month's results from MC Labs. I took lethal weapons away from my weakest Aquanauts.

The cargo ship mission gave me money, and a Live Tasoth to study, courtesy of one of the many Thermal Shok Launchers my strike team is now packing. The Lab made quick work of him, unlocking MC Disruptor. However, I'm still out of Zrbite, so I can't build any Sonic Oscillators.

Week 1

Luckily an Escort wandered by. I had to use a few save-and-restores to calculate the correct intercept angle for a tail chase with only a tiny speed advantage, but eventually I got the intercept - nearly at the limit of Barracuda range though. The USO was only populated by a half dozen Aquatoids, so I got some more cash and crucially my Zrbite!

By 5th May I had one craft armed with a single Sonic Oscillator (only one SonO is needed unless fighting a Dreadnought), and by the 6th I had both Barracuda armed with the Sonic Oscillator and a spare one in stores for use on my next Barracuda.

I'm still short of cash, but I'm happy. Once I get MC Disruptors, probably by the end of this week, research focus will switch back to the armour/sub path. I probably shouldn't have diverted to the MC Disruptor, as that's not my Official Plan, but I couldn't resist. Now I'm a bit worried the USOs are going to out-run and out-dive me, even though I now out-gun most of them. I'll need to resist researching any more tactical weapons - DPLs and melee weapons will have to wait.

I have 50 Technicians now, so if they have nothing to do, producing Particle Disturbance Sensors creates a cash flow of about $63K/day. Of course the 50 Techs cost me about $41K+/day, so in actual profit it's only about $20K/day, $600K/month. Still, it's useful even just as a subsidy on the cost of having Technicians around to occasionally build things (like the Sonic Oscillators and hopefully soon the MC Disruptors).

Week 2

To round out week 1, just the destruction of a VSmall USO. It's just not worth maintaining a whole sub on standby with Ajax or Ajax + Gas Cannon to be able to assault a damaged VSmall USO and get an MC reader. I guess if you get two VSmall missions a month it's worth it, barely. But only if they happen in range of where your weakly-armed Sub happens to be based. And if you have more weak Subs on standby, you need correspondingly more VSmall missions to make it cost effective. If only the rearming cycle for light weapons was quicker.

MC Disruptor research completed on the 8th. Now I need to build some. I only have 3 strong MC guys identified which is just as well since I only have enough Zrbite to build 3 MC Disruptors. As I'm short of cash, I have to sell my IBA and Mag Navigations to fund the construction. Well it will be a long time before I'm building subs...

Yes, Research now switches to the armour-sub sequence, starting right at the beginning with a Deep One Corpse that's been on ice for who knows how long. I was tempted to dally into the DPL-PWT sequence to get something more profitable for my Techs to build, as well as that unbeatable DPL firepower on the battlefield. But I'm trying to stick to my principles. All the money and DPLs in the world is useless if the USOs always out-run or out-dive my subs.

By the end of week 2 I'm working on Aqua Armour. The week is quiet, but on the last day I get a good detection - Aquatoid Fleet Supply Cruiser on a Colony Support mission in South Atlantic / Antarctica. A colony in the South Atlantic! I immediately transfer the whole contents of my Caribbean intercept base - Barracuda, 10 guys, craft and personal weapons - to my (empty) South Atlantic base. This is so I will be able to milk the supply runs more easily. I need to sell my (currently unusable) stock of DPLs and ammo to fund the replacement interceptor - not quite sure where to put that. Also I start work on a new hangar from my South Atlantic base so I can base an assault team there as well.

I get lucky and the supply cruiser touches down. I park the chasing Barracuda across its previous path, in case it starts to move, and bring in the nearest Triton. Luckily this is my experienced strike team that now includes 3 MC Disruptors. Quite soon the Barracuda detects the alien Colony as well as the supply ship.

Unfortunately before my Triton arrives (from the Med), the Supply Cruiser takes off again. Despite being in ideal position, my Barracuda cannot intercept it. This despite the Cruiser being only at Shallow depth. I try a head on engagement, I try heading off along the Cruiser's course and letting it overrun me, and I try sitting right on top of it. Multiple times - no good. The 3400 vs 2400 speed advantage is just to great. Even when I see the pixels of both icons pass right through each other, I never get a sub to USO engagement. I guess the intercept is just not possible without superior (current) speed?

Oh well. Next time I will have a sub in position ahead of time. Meanwhile, I can still raid the Alien Colony. Exciting stuff!

---

Hmm, sadly not. Skipping ahead I can see that the Supply Cruisers come in at Very Deep. My Barracudas and Tritons cannot follow to that depth. So I will not be able to milk the supply ships until I have improved submarines. Until then my only option is to milk the base itself.