Help me enjoy X-Com

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

Ah, Chryssalids. I still remember my first terror mission with them years ago. I'd picked the game up because it looked interesting, and was sitting around in the dark, trying to figure out what I was doing. I see these weird insect-like creatures. "Oh, I better shoot those," I think. So I do. "Uh, I better shoot those again," I think. And I do. "Oh crap! It's still coming! What the . . . what did my guy turn into? What is that? Wait, it's hatching! OH sh*t!!!"

Heh. That LP someone linked to earlier had the best image ever:

IMAGE(http://lparchive.org/LetsPlay/XCOMUFODefense/Update%2029/53-xcom333.png)

Yeah, that game really needs an update. That screenshot should have a wet spot on the remaining squaddie's pants.

So in true trooper fashion, I gave this another shot last night, trying to take some of what you guys were saying into consideration. I made a point of equiping auto-cannons & rocket launchers on my high strength guys and having tons of grenades.

My mission was another abject failure.

I landed in a field with no idea where the UFO was. I set about slowly exploring, leapfrogging my guys across each other, staying crouched. Before I know it, my guys are getting killed by blasts from across the field. I can't see the alien where it's coming from, but I can see the general direction. Ok, one or two guys down, not a big deal. I move the rest of my troop up to try to get to the alien, staying crouched and reserving TU's for auto-shot. As a result, though, they're moving super slowly, and still getting hit by this out-of-rage alien who has a sniper laser, apparently.

So whatever. I eventually make it to what looks like a knee-high stone wall with 5 guys. I can see the alien now, and get ready to nuke him from orbit with 5 grenades - only to discover that for some reason, my guys can't see across the wall. Although it looked just like a short wall, it apparently blocked line of sight. No problem - I'll move my guy to the opening in the wall and lob the grenade. As soon as he moves to the opening, he gets hit by the alien, dies, and the grenade blows up, killing another dude. Also with a grenade set to go off next round. Disaster ensues.

I'm going to give it one more shot, mostly because I did mismanage some things in that encounter. But I'm finding it frustrating that I'm doing my best to follow the advice you guys are giving me and still getting absolutely destroyed in the first mission. One alien can kill my guys from across the map. If I try to shoot back, I miss. If I try to get close with a grenade, he kills the guy with the grenade which promptly blows up. It's pretty exasperating.

Alien killing your people when you can't see him...

You're not doing night missions are you? Here are the rules for night missions:

1. Don't do it.

2. Everyone should have electro flares. Throw the flare as far as you can, make your way to it slowly, then pick it up and throw it again. Everyone should be doing that, so not only are you leapfrogging your men, but you are leapfrogging the flares too so that when you go to pick up one you can still see a fairly well lit area in front of you.

3. Don't do it.

4. Seriously don't do it. Alien spacecraft landed at night? Tell your interceptor to stay there until it lifts off, then shoot it down. Alien spacecraft shot down at night? It'll keep for 24 hours or so, wait until morning.

5. Occasionally there is some important, vital reason to send your guys out on a night mission (terror mission on the other side of the globe, you have to leave pretty much right away to get their in time) but in general DON'T DO IT.

At least early on. When you are more experienced you can handle night missions with few-ish casualties, but they are much more dangerous, so when you're learning the game it's a bad idea.

Are you taking missions during the night? One thing I found that helped me out was that in the early game you can safely wait for sunrise before attacking. The aliens have a pretty good advantage at night time since they can see farther than humans can in the dark. This can be counteracted with electro-flares or incendiary ammo, but early on I would recommend hitting in broad daylight.

EDIT: What Yonder said.

Dysplastic wrote:

No problem - I'll move my guy to the opening in the wall and lob the grenade. As soon as he moves to the opening, he gets hit by the alien, dies, and the grenade blows up, killing another dude. Also with a grenade set to go off next round. Disaster ensues.

The lesson here is that you had guys bunched up too closely together; you always want to spread out your troops in case of an incoming grenade (or, later on in the game, an incoming blaster bomb shot).

It occurs to me that many of the same things that people say about Demon's Souls could be said about X-Com as well. (Though, in my opinion, they'd actually be true when you talked about X-Com...but that's beside the point.)

X-Com doesn't really trade on arbitrary difficulty -- even though it may seem that way at times, if you're behind the curve on research or armaments -- but it will punish you if you try to push forward without fully optimized tactics. If you screw up deployment from the ship...or forget to group your soldiers into fire teams for reactive fire...or bundle your soldiers within range of a single grenade blast, it will make you bite the curb and stomp your head into the pavement.

However, the depth of strategic optimization in this game (the breakspace) will give you a ton of possibilities and an immense amount of satisfaction when you do finally manage to put together a winning strategy.

One other thing to remember is that you can accept failure in X-Com. Even if you obsessively save from turn to turn, chances are that you're going to have some casualties in the battles. And, at a higher level, it is one of the few games out there that will let you lose a battle (or even a terror site, in certain situations) and still manage to win the overall game. Each defeat can rack up negative points for your overall monthly score, but you may still have a chance to scratch up a new batch of troops and rally back.

Finally, if I may ask out of sheer curiosity, what difficulty level are you playing at?

Dysplastic wrote:

No problem - I'll move my guy to the opening in the wall and lob the grenade. As soon as he moves to the opening, he gets hit by the alien, dies, and the grenade blows up, killing another dude. Also with a grenade set to go off next round. Disaster ensues.

I must admit, I laughed to tears. It's the sort of a laugh you do at someone that just wiped out on a banana peel.

--Edit--

By the way Dysplastic. How I would have handled that alien behind the wall, is carpet bombing. While standing behind the wall, lob grenades over the wall in his general direction, with about 6-8 squares between them.

Aside from the night stuff Yonder and switch brought up, where's your RL tank? Especially in the early game, any time there is something that seems the least bit dangerous, send in the tank first. Use the tank to scout. Use the tank to blow holes in walls. Use the tank to go into areas where you have the least tiny little suspicion there could possibly maybe be a bad guy and carpet bomb the area.

At this stage of the game, you are outgunned and your troops are horrible. You need to keep the good ones alive so that they can become awesome as well as get things to research so you can close the weapons gap. This means always taking the tank on missions and using the hell out of it until your troops are better able to take care of things on their own.

Yonder wrote:

You're not doing night missions are you? Here are the rules for night missions:

1. Don't do it.

2. Everyone should have electro flares.

It was in fact a night mission. But this is a perfect example of what I'm talking about - the game giving me no idea that I shouldn't be doing a night mission. I really appreciate all the help you guys are giving, but I find it hard a game that makes me come back to the forum every time I do some obscure thing wrong. Next you'll be telling me that I should avoid doing missions on weekends because the stats of my troops are lower because they've been out drinking the night before.

OzymandiasAV wrote:

The lesson here is that you had guys bunched up too closely together; you always want to spread out your troops in case of an incoming grenade (or, later on in the game, an incoming blaster bomb shot). :)

I had them bunched up like this because the Alien was effectively defending a chokepoint - to have them spread out would be to have only a few of my troops actually able to shoot at him. I thought the philosophy was to overpower your opponents - but now I have to overpower them AND stay spread out? A tough order.

Finally, if I may ask out of sheer curiosity, what difficulty level are you playing at?

Beginner. Which is a total joke, honestly. It might be beginner in some kind of sado-masochist universe, but not mine. I'm not bad at turn based strategy - but this game is really not clicking with me.

MoonDragon wrote:

By the way Dysplastic. How I would have handled that alien behind the wall, is carpet bombing. While standing behind the wall, lob grenades over the wall in his general direction, with about 6-8 squares between them.

That's the thing - It didn't let me throw over the wall - i had to go to the opening.

Nightmare wrote:

Aside from the night stuff Yonder and switch brought up, where's your RL tank?

This is one of the areas where I know I screwed up. I was sure I BOUGHT a tank - but then I saw nowhere to actually LOAD the tank onto my troop carrier. I haven't read the "base" section of the manual in depth yet - do I have to wait a bit for the tank to show up? Or am I missing something obvious?

MoonDragon wrote:

By the way Dysplastic. How I would have handled that alien behind the wall, is carpet bombing. While standing behind the wall, lob grenades over the wall in his general direction, with about 6-8 squares between them.

This. You don't need to see something to kill it. Also, at night fires provide a secondary source of light, so that's useful too.

If I'm getting shot at from a direction, I start throwing flares and grenades at it until its dead. Well, actually at the point I am in the game my guys can shoot pretty well, so I toss flares, grenades and laser fire.

The tank probably hasn't been delivered to your base yet.

It was probably sent UPS Ground and those f*ckers are slow. Chances are the guy will leave a "tried to deliver!" note on your door without even ringing the bell!

When you order things it takes awhile for them to actually be shipped to you. It varies from item to item and I think the tanks take a little while. Once it arrives you load it in the same way you load other weapons and ammo on to the sky ranger.

I think that the fact that XCOM teaches you what to do by repeatedly kicking you in the head is most of its charm. It's why so many people love it so much and why so many people hate it so much.

How do you learn not to bunch your people up? As that alien grenade slowly arcs through the air you think to yourself "oooops...". After getting show down by an enemy you can't see a few times you realize that your troops aren't as effective at night, etc etc etc the list goes on and on.

The biggest thing to get used to is that there are so many levels of failure in the game. In the beginning the only thing that's really hard to recover from is the loss of a whole team and skyranger. If you go out on a mission with 8 people and only two come back, but they come back with some lasers and elerium and a body or two than that is a success. Mission Accomplished, butt pats all around. Even when you are a pro and your guys are channeling Captain America you will still be looking at 10%-20% losses.

Dysplastic wrote:
MoonDragon wrote:

By the way Dysplastic. How I would have handled that alien behind the wall, is carpet bombing. While standing behind the wall, lob grenades over the wall in his general direction, with about 6-8 squares between them.

That's the thing - It didn't let me throw over the wall - i had to go to the opening.

Nightmare wrote:

Aside from the night stuff Yonder and switch brought up, where's your RL tank?

This is one of the areas where I know I screwed up. I was sure I BOUGHT a tank - but then I saw nowhere to actually LOAD the tank onto my troop carrier. I haven't read the "base" section of the manual in depth yet - do I have to wait a bit for the tank to show up? Or am I missing something obvious?

Start tossing flares the moment you see alien fire incoming. Maybe even grenades if you somewhat know where the alien is. I wouldn't have waited until I crawled across the field and got to the wall.

If you're right up against a wall and can't fire over it, sometimes standing up is enough to solve the problem. If not, back up a square and then try tossing the grenade over.

But really, start throwing the artillery earlier. That'll help.

Dysplastic wrote:
Yonder wrote:

You're not doing night missions are you? Here are the rules for night missions:

1. Don't do it.

2. Everyone should have electro flares.

It was in fact a night mission. But this is a perfect example of what I'm talking about - the game giving me no idea that I shouldn't be doing a night mission. I really appreciate all the help you guys are giving, but I find it hard a game that makes me come back to the forum every time I do some obscure thing wrong. Next you'll be telling me that I should avoid doing missions on weekends because the stats of my troops are lower because they've been out drinking the night before.

It's not wrong per se, but it does make it more difficult. You live and die by your net of electro-flares. For night missions I generally have every single soldier carrying at least two flares. Bonus tip: you can pick up a flare and throw it again!

This is one of the areas where I know I screwed up. I was sure I BOUGHT a tank - but then I saw nowhere to actually LOAD the tank onto my troop carrier. I haven't read the "base" section of the manual in depth yet - do I have to wait a bit for the tank to show up? Or am I missing something obvious?

Everything you buy has a delivery delay. Buying or hiring.

Once the tank arrives, go into your base. Equip Craft. Load it onto the Skyranger like it was any other equipment.

Dysplastic wrote:

It was in fact a night mission. But this is a perfect example of what I'm talking about - the game giving me no idea that I shouldn't be doing a night mission. I really appreciate all the help you guys are giving, but I find it hard a game that makes me come back to the forum every time I do some obscure thing wrong. Next you'll be telling me that I should avoid doing missions on weekends because the stats of my troops are lower because they've been out drinking the night before.

That's a good point, and completely true. The only thing I can say in the game's defense is that it's really old. People were different back then. This is definitely a game that you have to like on purpose, you won't discover it's awesomeness without effort.

By the way, Dys, you absolutely need to be playing music into your computer microphone to raise the troops morale. If you haven't been doing that you're basically surrendering to the aliens.

Dysplastic wrote:

That's the thing - It didn't let me throw over the wall - i had to go to the opening.

Hmm, are you sure it wasn't a multi-story building shown in cutaway?

Dysplastic wrote:

This is one of the areas where I know I screwed up. I was sure I BOUGHT a tank - but then I saw nowhere to actually LOAD the tank onto my troop carrier. I haven't read the "base" section of the manual in depth yet - do I have to wait a bit for the tank to show up? Or am I missing something obvious?

Yeah, you need to wait a few days after you buy it before you can deploy it. You also need to buy ammo for it (HWP Rockets, IIRC), and you need to probably build some extra storage space to hold them in. This is a game that asks you to do everything.

If I remember right, the tank is a piece of equipment that you must add to the loadout of your ship to make it available when you land. Same as extra rifles ammo etc.

What's great about XCOM is you start out as such an underdog. You face an aggressive alien race that doesn't mind bringing the battle to your very doorstep once you piss them off. Each minor victory, whether it be a scrap of xeno equipment or even a corpse has the potential to strengthen your overall capabilities. I'm still amazed that no one has successfully emulated those elements that made XCOM so great.

Don't fret your little soldiers too much in the beginning, the stronger ones will rise to the surface and the weaker ones... well, they won't. You'll develop and specialize them over time by the equipment you have them carry on missions.

Wow, it takes a lot of community effort to help you get you through your first missions. It could be worse, you might've started with Terror from the Deep which was even less forgiving.

Irongut wrote:

If I remember right, the tank is a piece of equipment that you must add to the loadout of your ship to make it available when you land. Same as extra rifles ammo etc.

Wow, it takes a lot of community effort to help you get you through your first missions.

Yeah you have to add it to the SkyRanger manually, once it gets delivered. The good thing is that it is always loaded by the door so it can be the first one out.

Dysplastic wrote:

It was in fact a night mission. But this is a perfect example of what I'm talking about - the game giving me no idea that I shouldn't be doing a night mission.

You *can* do night missions, so the game is not letting you down there. The issue is that, until you get some training (you, the gameplayer), night missions will be harder than day missions. Terror missions will be harder than night missions. Night terror missions... hoo boy!

The game depends on you knowing what you as the player can and cannot do. Think of it as a simulation of the Earth being invaded by aliens - stuff happens without your input. You choose how to react to the simulation. You don't have to react to everything, you don't have to shoot down every UFO or investigate every UFO landing site or go on every terror mission. So only go on the ones that you feel like you can have a good outcome on, at least early on. Once you get used to the mechanics, then go on harder missions and start taking the fight to the aliens more. Once you get better tech, this becomes easier until you are mowing through the aliens on a typical mission.

The other thing to remember is that, within the confines of the simulation, things make "sense". You can't see at night, so you will need flares and fires will help too. Aliens are hard to spot, so use explosives so you don't have to see them (or more importantly, they see you). Your squaddies are easy to kill, so always make sure that they have cover and a buddy to help them out and use tanks. Some squaddies suck, so send them home or use them as the fodder that they are.

There really is a reason that people love this game (I am one of them, you may not have noticed ). It is hard, but that means when you have some success, it is an accomplishment, you've really done something. Clearing out your first battleship means something. Surviving your first terror mission without any humans dying means something. If they just gave it to you, it would mean far, far less. Also, this game is sort of a "journey" game in that the journey is as important as, if not more important than, getting to the end. Enjoy the failures with the successes, don't sweat it if you don't make it through every mission with every squaddie alive, and enjoy it. It really is as good as people say it is.

Didn't mean to ramble so long, sorry

You know, I really respect you guys who go nuts for this stuff. I can totally see the appeal, and would probably be a lot more forgiving of the game if it had a modernized UI. But I have to wonder - for you guys who love this stuff - don't modern games just seem like they're holding your hand the entire way? Like, you buy troops in King's Bounty, and are upset that they show up in your army right away? Or you play a night mission in Dawn of War II, and are just frustrated that it's functionally the same as playing a day mission?

I guess my point is that gaming over the last decade has run in the complete opposite direction that X-COM is going for, so my brain has been trained that way. I wonder how much you guys must have railed against these shifts kicking and screaming.

Anyways, attempt #3 will be tonight. I'll give a mission report tomorrow.

If there was a modern game that captured X-Com's feel, I'd be with you. Why play the antique? But I've never seen anything that captures the feel of X-Com. The struggles at first, the feeling of being overwhelmed while still feeling like I've had my opportunity for success.. it's great.

Modern games do hold your hand, but its all in the name of fun. Honestly, equipping ammo in my tank before sending it out isn't fun, but I tolerate it for the greatness of everything else. The mechanics of the combat missions though, are great. There's not much I would change there. The interface, yes, but not the actual gameplay.

These types of games are still out there. I started playing GalCiv II, and so far it's pretty brutal.

At least you're starting to understand why all of us would pay good money for a quality X-Com remake. The UI really is the main obstacle these days. Despite everything though, the game never feels like a chore to play. Not many modern games I can say that about.

Dysplastic, those gameplay elements you mention are not better or worse. They are just different. In this game you have to wait for new troops. In other games you do not. In this game the waiting is one of the core aspects of the gameplay. You need to plan around the wait. That's all there is to it.

MoonDragon wrote:

Dysplastic, those gameplay elements you mention are not better or worse. They are just different. In this game you have to wait for new troops. In other games you do not. In this game the waiting is one of the core aspects of the gameplay. You need to plan around the wait. That's all there is to it.

That's a good point. Most people consider XCom to be a turn-based tactical game, but, while that is a large part of what you will be doing in the game, there's an overriding strategy game there as well that's at least as important as, if not more important than, the turn-based tactics part. If you do not manage supplies and base building and troops and research, etc., you will fail at the tactical part of the game.

A lot of the "improvements" that Dysplastic enumerated have been an effort to "get to the action" without all of the higher level strategy stuff. Not that this is bad thing necessarily, but, as MoonDragon notes, they are different mechanics.

I'll avoid my "tanky tank" speech again since it was mentioned by others, but I will throw out a general XCOM thought.

In XCOM, sometimes you just wipe. You'll take a slight hit (depending on when in the game) to score maybe lose some funding but I wouldn't let a wipe get you to down. The game is more about long term progress/success, than winning EVERY mission. With that being said, I do realize that it is hard to have FUN when you just get obliterated, especially on the first mission.

I hear a lot of people mention that UFO is harder or more unforgiving than TFTD (which has been mentioned in the zillion or so pages) and I'm not looking to argue that point because TFTD can get brutal but, TFTD did add a few small mechanics (e.g. right click = open doors & save time for kneeling button) that went a loooong way in improving the UI/playability, IMO.

Carry on, and good luck!

OzymandiasAV wrote:

However, the depth of strategic optimization in this game (the breakspace)

I love what you've become.

Dysplastic wrote:
MoonDragon wrote:

By the way Dysplastic. How I would have handled that alien behind the wall, is carpet bombing. While standing behind the wall, lob grenades over the wall in his general direction, with about 6-8 squares between them.

That's the thing - It didn't let me throw over the wall - i had to go to the opening.

Thought: Anywhere you can go, so can a thrown grenade.

I guess my point is that gaming over the last decade has run in the complete opposite direction that X-COM is going for, so my brain has been trained that way.

There's a lot of truth there. If it helps, remember that this game comes from an era of simulations and strategy, when it was exciting and interesting to try to simulate real things in the computer. People enjoyed exploring and tweaking the simulation to find out what it could do, simply because the whole concept of putting real things in a machine on your desk was completely new. With the sheer number of games available now, that's gone out of fashion... nobody has the time to invest.

X-Com is in that breed, to some degree. It's trying to be somewhat realistic in its design goals. What if you were really attacked by aliens, but you couldn't convince the world governments that the threat was serious enough for a full mobilization? What if they were all focused on fighting their own wars and paying for their social programs and so on, and just didn't have much in the way of attention or resources to spare for something they believe is either a hoax or a minor threat? You're not getting a lot of funding, you're getting no military help, and you're staffed with a bunch of idiots that don't know which end of the rifle to hold.

Within that framework, it's trying to be realistic, to put you really there on the battlefield in a way that no other game had ever managed before. There's actual physics, which was completely new, and a fully destructible environment, which was also new. Even now, those things are rare.

You're standing there with a rifle and a grenade, and there are aliens out there.
They have ridiculously unfair advantages, and you have to figure out how to neutralize them. X-Com is grossly unfair; it's like real life in that regard. But you can still win. And, boy, does it feel good when you start to prosper.

You learned one of the most important lessons last night: nighttime is dangerous. Combined with the tactics you've learned in the thread, you should now be able to start winning the early missions. You were doing the right things, but you were doing them at the wrong time. If you fight using the tactics you described in the daytime, you'll take some casualties, but you should be able to kill some bad guys and take their stuff. This leads you back to the overarching strategy game that's layered on top... how do you turn the stuff you've found into improvements for your teams? How do you take those improvements back into the field and make them work to keep your teams alive?

Fundamentally, getting your ass kicked like you did last night is how you learn in this game. Aliens are not gentle. They want to rip your lungs out. Winning is the process of losing a LOT of lungs, but gradually extending a giant middle finger to the aliens anyway.

It's okay to fail in X-Com. Anyone who has played it for any real length of time will have stories about times they were turned to thin red paste. X-Com is a game where you learn by dying. It's okay to lose people, even whole squads. It's sort of the Dwarf Fortress of its era, in some ways.... failure is fun. But you have to go in with the right mindset.

Modern games take you by the hand and lead you carefully to the 'perfect' outcome. You will rarely get perfect outcomes in X-Com.... even victories are often Pyrrhic. If you adjust your expectations in that regard, there is an absolutely amazing game still lurking there, waiting for you to explore it.

Dysplastic wrote:

I wonder how much you guys must have railed against these shifts kicking and screaming.

I hold back the vitriol by playing roguelikes and seeking out games like Demon's Souls. Losing can be fun, because eventually I will win, and the game will lose, and it will all be worth it. Contrast that to an easy game that I steamroll over, and I don't get any sense of accomplishment no matter how many trophies or gamerscore I get out of the deal.

I didn't and don't like losing. I did like exploring the rules, though, and the strategic challenge of working in a difficult and foggy paradigm.

I started up a game of TFTD, which I haven't played in a good dozen years. And I SUCK. I've played UFO Defense many times, and have all the tactics and research memorized. TFTD? Uh, Gauss weapons, sure.

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

I started up a game of TFTD, which I haven't played in a good dozen years. And I SUCK. I've played UFO Defense many times, and have all the tactics and research memorized. TFTD? Uh, Gauss weapons, sure.

It's pretty much the same. Gauss is laser weapons, but with ammo (ruining it's primary advantage). Sonic is plasma.

The really annoying part is terror missions, where some of the weapons plain don't work. Gotta watch that one.

Doors are the huge tactical change. You can open a door without walking through it.

Borderline irrelevant but: I just discovered that the Steam XCOM package runs great on Mac DOSBox too.