Firstly, my now-customary apology for being so slow updating this page - although I've excelled myself in this particular instance, as I've not updated this page since August. Sorry guys. As always, the freshest info is available on our forums, which has a specific Development Updates subforum. If you want more information on anything in this post, that should be your first port of call!
The first thing to say is Desura-specific. We've been having persistent Desura download / update issues for the past 6 months or so, which are caused by the sheer number of files used by Xenonauts. We've now implemented an archiving solution that should reduce the file count by about 75% and stop these issues from the next build onwards. We'll only find out if it works or not when we release the next public build, but there's no reason why this shouldn't fix the issues. Thanks for your patience with this matter, hopefully it'll shortly be gone for good.
Next thing is about beta for our game. The original plan was to hit beta in September, but we didn't manage that. In the interests of brevity, I won't explain why here - but if you're interested in why, there's a full post on our blog on it here. In short, we're working on it now and the next release (V18) will be "beta stage 1" where we unlock the entire tech tree. Despite our best efforts, the game will probably be horribly unbalanced and full of bugs when this happens (any time you dump a load of new content in a game, this will happen) so if you're not the adventurous type then I'd give us a few weeks after that to tighten things up again. But if you want more details, click the link above!
Onto recent updates then! You've no doubt noticed a few images dotted around this post. These are the handiwork of the new full-time tile artist, who is breathing more life into a lot of the old tilesets and is working hard on the new Xenonaut Base tileset at the moment. Basically, if the aliens attack your base, you will fight a battle in a fully-destructible exact replica of the base you built on the strategic map - it's a pretty cool feature! You can find full-size versions of the various previews below:
He's also been working on several other tilesets, but we'll show you the results of that in another update. However, since August we've added the Desert, Middle East and Arctic tilesets, finished the buildings in the Soviet Town tileset and generated a load of new props for the Farm and the Industrial tilesets. So we're generating a lot of content at the moment.
Next, the new interface. We've almost finished implementing the updated Ground Combat UI, which is the same as the old one in terms of functionality but has had a graphical facelift. We’re also working on the final designs for the strategic UI, and have completed the concepts for seven of the ten strategic screens and have two more nearly finished. You can find previews of the new look in this thread, but it’s essentially a fusion of the existing ugly-but-usable black style and the pretty-but-not-very-navigable immersive style we revealed over the past year, producing something that is much better to look at and also more functional than the current design. We've just started work on implementing it in the code, but this is a LOT of work so won’t be finished immediately. It is probably the largest remaining piece of work to be done on the strategic part of the game so it’s great to have it started, despite it having taken up a LOT of my time over the last couple of weeks.
Thirdly, level / scenario testing. We've started testing some maps on our forums on a specialist sub-forum. So far only one has been posted up, but we’ll be posting more up over the next week and still more after that. After spending quite a bit of time analysing the new X-Com, we’ve realised that we probably weren't taking level design as seriously as we should, and the arrival our our full-time tile artist finally gave us the chance to try iterating our levels a bit more. We are and will be testing our levels for a lot of things; whether they are too big / too small for the number of aliens on them, whether they are too open or too convoluted, whether destructibility can be used for tactical purposes, whether they are visually coherent etc. Basically, we’re trialling a more realistic level design philosophy with larger, more open maps that are divided into smaller sections by larger obstacles that block line of sight (walls / hedgerows / buildings). We think this will make maps that are large but quick to explore, while still giving the player plenty of “what’s just around that corner?” moments.
The other facet of this is the scenario testing, where we send a squad of Xenonauts armed with specific equipment against specific aliens in a specific map type. This will allow us to test the pacing and difficulty of various scenarios – like various UFO or alien base attacks, or terror sites and base defence missions. We've changed the way UFOs are to be displayed in our battlefield missions, which has given us a chance to test all of their interior layouts (blocked out with placeholder art) before we update the final art. The same is true with the alien bases; we want to test their layouts so we know they’re not too sprawling before we get all the final props done. We've completed all the code so we can start this type of testing very shortly, although we’re still reliant on further refinement of the AI before the missions will be genuinely challenging. We've got very high hopes for this level testing though; the feedback from our first test map has been very useful and we really hope we can use the community to develop some really exciting maps.
As for the beta – we’re still working on it! We’ll post up some more updates as we get closer to it being finished. The scenario testing is part of this, and it will also include advanced Xenonaut equipment and aliens in it – so if you’re bored of the current build then maybe check our forums out in a week or two to try out some of those missions!