Tuesday, July 19, 2016

X-Com War Diaries, Part VII - August 2016


As with July, X-Com's increased coverage of the world meant that we would be seeing much more UFO activity. 15 contacts were tracked. Two abductors were allowed to land unmolested, and X-Com ground units stopped the abduction missions in their tracks once the ships departed. Two UFOs were destroyed by our interceptors, which were now sporting laser cannons and were commensurately more effective against the bandits in the sky. Three UFOs landed and were subsequently assaulted and boarded. The first was a simple raider, but the last two (UFO-41 and UFO-46) were abductor class vessels. Securing an abductor meant a windfall in salvage, as well as the chance to research the vulnerabilities of this particular craft so both missions were stacked with our best soldiers to ensure the capture of the vessel. The remaining contacts either escaped or were left unmolested due to lack of available interceptors.

X-Com's monthly report for August 2016. 

Our new tactic in ground missions is centred on our alloy SHIVs, which are tremendously durable once upgraded with the appropriate foundry projects. SHIVs can effectively serve as tanks that are able to reconnoiter, absorb enemy fire, or suppress dangerous targets. They could also be used as mobile cover by our soldiers. It takes a lot of firepower to destroy an alloy SHIV, and when combined with an engineer with the Repair perk and upgraded arc throwers, damaged SHIVs can be patched up to full health and rolled back into the breach time and time again. It's a life saver for the troops, and this is how we conducted the assaults on the abductors this month. The results spoke for themselves, as both missions went off without a hitch and without any casualties. The only problem was our arc thrower's seeming inability to do its primary job, namely that of subduing aliens. During the assault on UFO-46 "Keen" Archuleta tried three times to stun an alien and failed each time. We wanted outsider shards - alien bases can only assaulted with the skeleton key artifact, and these things can only be made with outsider shards. The aliens controlled four nations - China, Japan, India and Russia - and it was our goal to ultimately liberate these countries. In the Long War countries that leave the Council can rejoin if the alien base within that nation is destroyed. Barring anymore departures from the Council, we would be needing at least four shards, one for each occupied nation. 

Constructing a psionic lab.

In addition to the three assaults X-Com troops completed five abduction missions, two EXALT missions, one terror mission and one Council mission. The Council mission was a favourite - site recon on the island of St. John in Newfoundland. The first couple of times I played this mission I found it absolutely terrifying - the chryssalids were fast and deadly, the pods were large, and some of the chryssalids were upgraded versions with larger health pools, health regeneration, and Lightning Reflexes (drastically reduces the effectiveness of overwatch fire). Subsequent playthroughs were far easier due to having solved the riddle of the map - creating kill zones and luring the pods one by one into them with a fast scout was the key. I expected the mission to be another cake walk, and things started off promisingly as our intrepid scout baited the first pod to our waiting guns. Rather than waste overwatch fire on foes with the Lightning Reflexes perk the squad steadied its weapons and waited for the chryssalids to close in. We blew apart the pod, apart from one straggler, and prepared to rinse and repeat.

Events escalated when another pod came rushing in during the alien's turn. And another. Things got hairy, but it looked like we would be able to stay on top of it. Then another pod came charging in, and that's when things went to shit. The only thing that prevented total disaster were my rocketeers Towagozi, "Syncaine" Ben-David and assault trooper Jong. Jong in particular was tearing through the chryssalids with her shotgun - she had the Hit and Run perk (free shot at foes not in cover), and any chryssalid foolish enough to close in with her ate two shotgun blasts to the mandibles. Hit and Run also allowed Jong to blast a chryssalid then run away to safety. Other troopers weren't as fortunate. Syncaine paid the ultimate price - holding his ground to fire his rocket launcher meant he killed three chryssalids that would have otherwise torn through the rest of the squad, but it also left him at the mercy of the reprisal from the last surviving chryssalid. It ripped him in half, injected him with an embryo, then turned to Towagozi, who fired a rocket down its windpipe in the subsequent turn. It was overkill, but I was pissed at losing one of my best guys. The resulting explosion killed the chryssalid and the embryo, and the soldiers were spared the sight of Syncaine lurching to his feet as a zombie. I guess if one of your soldiers ever gets killed by a chryssalid just throw a grenade on the body and be done with it. That is, if you have no ethical objections about blowing up the body of your former comrade.

Geopolitical situation has remained stable this month, with no other nations leaving the Council. X-Com has complete satellite coverage over North and South America, as well as Africa. Africa now also has its own fleet of interceptors.

Syncaine was the sole casualty of August, and while his death was a blow, the paucity of casualties meant that we were winning the overall experience war. If the amount of experience gained across all your soldiers exceeds the experience lost when one of them dies then you're in good shape. The experience gained by the strike force in August made up for the carnage in the July. In fact, things were beginning to turn in X-Com's favour - the geopolitical situation had stabilized despite a scare over Canada. The aliens swarmed all over Canada, and I thought that there would be no way to avoid having the nation withdraw. In addition to a terror attack and an abduction attack, the aliens also bombed Canada and shot down the satellite over the nation which we promptly replaced. Somehow the Canucks held their nerve and didn't leave, but nobody could have blamed them if they did. Successfully completing the site recon mission also played a big role in reducing panic, and allowed us to retain Canada on the Council despite tremendous pressure from the aliens.

Our fighters were also becoming much more effective at dealing with the invaders. Foundry projects like UFO Countermeasures (decreased chance to hit interceptors), Wingtip Sparrowhawks (all planes are armed with Stingray missiles in addition to regular loadout), Penetrator Weapons (increased armour penetration) and Improved Avionics (increased chance to hit UFOs) enhanced our interceptors' survivability and firepower. We now had a squadron of fighters in Africa, and most of our planes were armed with laser cannons. X-Com could still not engage any of the large UFOs head on, but scouts, fighters, and raiders were all fair game. August also saw the deployment of Tier 3 weapons. Some of our boys and gals went into battle with gauss rifles and autorifles for the first time, and hopefully sometime in the next month our snipers and scouts will also be armed with gauss long rifles and alloy strike rifles. Once again alien alloys were the bottleneck, however, and the supplies we salvaged from the captured abductors were soon spent on crafting armour and weapons. We would need more if we wanted to outfit everyone. The biggest development for the strike force was the discovery of xenopsionics. Construction on the psionic lab was begun this month, and in September we would begin training suitable candidates in the art of psionic warfare.

Next: TBC

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

X-Com War Diaries, Part VI - July 2016

Previous: X-Com War Diaries, Part V - June 2016

My favorite soldier through the recurring campaigns has always been Shingen "Okami" Takeda. Unimaginatively named after a famous Japanese daimyo during the Sengokujidai, he has always been the name of my Kiryu-Kai Master Sergeant - the maximum level soldier you receive if you pick this Japanese starting perk - and he was my proxy in this virtual world. Come on, who doesn't want to be the bad ass leader of a troop of bad ass soldiers defending the world? No one else? Just me? Alright, fine. So I'm immature.

X-Com monthly report for July 2016.

In this version of the X-Com universe, he wasn't my first Master Sergeant - "Tenshi" Hatakeyama received that distinction due to RNG - but I thought, hey, I can choose my best Japanese rookie, and through careful leveling, recreate the badass that was Takeda. There have been six iterations of Takeda, and I was hoping the seventh would emulate and even surpass the heroics of his brethren.

More generators were constructed this month by X-Com's engineers.

Anyway, he's dead. He died along with "Eldaeriel" Alonso on an abduction mission that went bad. Once again cyberdisks proved how much of a menace they are, atomizing both soldiers with its main cannon. Normally we can lock down these menaces with snipers using Disabling Shot or by suppressing them, but I was caught badly out of position due to a faulty assumption on my part. I assumed a tiny sliver of darkness we bypassed was clear of enemies, but it wasn't, and when the cyberdisk and its cohorts came storming out of the black my squad was strung out and scattered. By the time we were able to recover both soldiers were dead.


With the death of Takeda, the mantle of leadership falls to "Tenshi" Hatakeyama.

There is an upside. If I can keep going without my proxy, then chances are good that I can see this through to the bitter end. I have been very disciplined in preserving the integrity of this playthrough - I haven't reloaded once. I had such high hopes and heroic story arcs for Jeromai and Okami, too. The war goes on, though, and more caskets are sent home to grieving virtual widows and orphans. The complete casualty list for July is as follows:

Cristina "Eldaeriel" Alonso, Spain
Emma Boyer, France
Changwei Feng, China
Chloe "Spinks" Leroy, France
Samar Sadr, Syria
Shingen "Okami" Takeda, Japan
Leah Tyler, UK


The death toll continues to mount.

This takes our casualty count to 14, and the mounting toll is a cause for concern. If I can be so callous, losing rookies is not a problem - losing soldiers ranked corporal or above is. Between Okami, Eldaeriel and Spinks we lost a lot of veteran experience which will take time to replace. In addition to the fallen soldiers we also lost both SHIVs. This wasn't as bad, as both SHIVs were obsolete - we were in the process of creating alloy SHIVs which are a significant upgrade. Nonetheless there is still cause for optimism, thanks to the battleship we were able to capture at the beginning of the month. The soldiers were outfitted with carapace armor for the first time, and six more soldiers earned their call signs. Upgrades to the Officer School meant that Hatakeyama was promoted to Captain and two new lieutenants - Jack "Coreus" Shearer and Hiroshi "Tengu" Hara - were inducted. Coreus continues to defy all odds. In another reality his interred remains have lain under ground for months now. In this one he is an X-Com officer.

Coverage now extends over both the north and south Americas, as well as over Egypt and Nigeria. Only the US has interceptors, however, which meant that all X-Com can do is observe.


Another country withdrew from the Council after being bombed, raided and harassed by the invaders. India was the fourth nation to leave the X-Com project, and the skies were becoming increasingly unfriendly. After the silence of the previous month, with several satellites now up in the air the X-Com board became lit up like a Christmas tree. 13 contacts were tracked this month, and only two were shot down or destroyed. A scout was destroyed over Mexico, and a raider was shot down in the US. Two UFOs - both raiders - landed and were assaulted and secured by X-Com. The remaining nine UFOs were able to conduct whatever nefarious activities they were doing unmolested. We had a bunch of satellites, but not enough planes to cover all the nations. An alien fighter (UFO-33) shot down the satellite over South Africa.

India withdraws from the Council.


On the ground X-Com conducted 12 missions - four abductions, one UFO recovery, two UFO assaults, three EXALT missions, one Council mission and one terror mission. Our mounting losses did not stop us from completing all the missions successfully. The tactical focus this month was the capture of live alien specimens for Dr. Vahlen. Capturing and interrogating aliens have a dual purpose in the Long War. Firstly, each alien species provides research credits which significantly reduce research times in their particular field of expertise. Secondly, captured alien weapons provide plasma cores, which are an essential part of constructing Tier 5 plasma weapons. One core equals one weapon, so there is cause to capture duplicate specimens, if only to acquire their weapons.

X-Com operatives close in on a muton, looking to take it alive. Its weapon has been disabled by a sniper's Disabling Shot. A floater has already been stunned nearby. This particular muton would not go down to the arc thrower, and had to be killed.


Capturing aliens is a dangerous and frustrating exercise because arc throwers - stun guns - have such short ranges and approximately 50% success rates in the Long War. An alien on three bars of health has a 42% chance of being stunned - an alien on two bars has 48%, and an alien on one bar has 54%. Our standard M.O. is to isolate an alien by killing its comrades, corral it with flashbangs, suppression and Disabling Shots, then approach it with engineers kitted with arc throwers. The troops use pistols to whittle down its health, preferably down to one bar, before our intrepid engineer zaps it with an arc thrower. If possible I also like to have the commanding officer nearby to use their Command ability. The Command ability gives your soldiers an extra move, so if at first the stun doesn't succeed the officer can use Command to give the engineer a second chance at stunning the alien. This still doesn't guarantee success, and I can't count the number of times a pistol shot that was supposed to nick or graze an alien down to one or two bars accidentally turned into a crit and ended up killing the mark.

An outsider isolated outside its spacecraft, surrounded by grim faced X-Com operatives and an alloy SHIV.

In the month of June Changwei Feng from China was the first X-Com trooper to successfully stun and capture an muton. "Oni" Okamoto was the first trooper to field test the arc thrower, but her attempts to stun the alien just failed utterly, and the muton had to be killed by "Tenshi" Hatakeyama before it could blast Oni to smithereens. Luckily Feng was able to succeed where Oni failed, but he did not live long to enjoy the accolades for his feat - he died this month to muton fire. Engineers, along with assault troopers and scouts, have short life spans.

X-Com's first live alien capture - a muton.

In July X-Com was able to capture a thin man, a floater, an outsider, a sectoid and another muton for the labs. In the period of June and July X-Com operatives used arc throwers 14 times and scored six successful stuns, so our overall batting average is at around 43%. These specimens were a research bonanza, and unlocked decreased research times plus new foundry projects for R&D.

X-Com War Diaries, Part V - June 2016


With no satellite coverage X-Com was blind for most of the month. My lack of foresight in keeping a satellite in reserve cost me dearly - UFO activity over Japan must have hit an all time high, as the country left the country mid-month. Despite our lack of satellite coverage X-Com was able to detect two UFOs - one over Nigeria, and another one over Japan. Stationing interceptors in a country gives you a small chance of detecting UFOs without satellite coverage, which explains how X-Com detected the Japanese bogey, but don't ask me how we were able to pick up the contact over Nigeria. At any rate there was nothing X-Com could do about the Nigerian contact, which was scanning for God knows what. The Japanese contact (UFO-20) was also scanning, but it seemed like in vain, as the aliens had already shot down the satellite over Japan. Nonetheless we were determined to shoot it down in order to be able to research it (researched UFO craft take more damage and yield more salvage). The bogey was incredibly tough - I had to scramble all four of our planes to bring it down. It also destroyed one of our jets in the process. But bring it down we did, and the alien fighter's secrets were soon laid bare by Vahlen's research. 


By the end of June 2016 Japan had also left the Council, taking the total to three.

My original plan had been to make a simultaneous launch with four satellites at the end of June to blanket the continent of Asia. With Japan and China down that plan was no longer feasible, and so we switched continents, launching three satellites over the US, Canada and Mexico respectively. Establishing coverage over North America gave X-Com a discount on the purchase and maintenance of interceptors. Our fourth satellite was launched over South Africa, with an eye towards eventually securing the African continental bonus in the future.


By the end of June 2016 all our workshops plus supporting adjacencies had been constructed, giving X-Com an unmodified 55% discount (3 workshops at 10%, plus 5 adjacency bonuses at 5% each). Diminishing returns dropped this bonus down to about 35%, however.

From experience I knew that this would be the hardest month of the early game. Pod size and enemy types were still manageable, but the crunch would come from the increasing frequency of missions plus the two back to back DLC missions that would come at the end of the month. In all my Long War playthroughs the final two missions of the Operation Slingshot DLC always occurred at the end of June and early July, separated by a few days, and this time was no exception. Everything I did in that month was geared towards gearing and preparing a squad of troops for those two missions. The first mission was Confounding Light, and it was a timed mission along the length of a train in a deserted train station. Experience once again allowed me to complete this mission without a hitch - I've played it several times already, and so I knew a squad of snipers and scouts supported by SHIVs and a single assault would suffice to clear out the thin men and mutons dropping in from the sky.


Prelude to the toughest mission in the early game, as an alien battleship looms large over Hong Kong.

The last mission of the DLC was a different thing altogether. Knowing the map and drop patterns was a definite advantage in avoiding nasty surprises, but success in this mission would be determined in the big engagements in either the first or second antechambers. Ideally my squad would have liked to creep forward and kill enemy pods methodically and in isolation, but in most of the games I've played the shit always hits the fan as we cross the massive rooms. As soon as my squad gets into a contact it's a race against time to wipe out the pods - invariably more and more pods arrive, and it's not uncommon to be squaring off against 10-12 aliens in these large rooms. What makes it worse is that the cyberdisks debut in this mission, and they're very difficult to kill with the weapons we have at this point. The mission was going swimmingly until we ran into a big pod of mutons which we couldn't kill in one turn. The very next turn a pod containing two cyberdisks arrived, and everything went south fast. The mutons were upgraded versions, and "Jeromai" Kurnakov was killed on his sniping perch by a 26% shot by an overwatching muton with the Covering Fire perk. Jeromai was perched on high, he had cover bonuses from the Damned Good Ground perk, and it was his bloody turn - regardless, when he tried to shoot a muton it shot first because of Covering Fire, and killed him with a low percentage shot.

Fuck. I really, really wanted to keep Jeromai alive because it was his X-Com series that inspired me to start mine. It would have been a nice homage to the man, but sadly it wasn't meant to be - I've already abandoned a previous campaign because I was cheating to keep him and Tenshi alive. This time I gritted my teeth, and kept trucking on.

Things would only get worse. Most of my damage was now coming from Tenshi and Akuma - my sniper and scout respectively - with two gunners in the front trying gamely to lock down the cyberdisks with suppression. Another gunner fell - this time it was Arcturus, who ate a plasma bolt to the face. Another blogger down. I was looking down the barrel of a squad wipe. Tenshi and Akuma were laying down accurate fire, but they had to chew through two cyberdisks, several mutons, as well as drones and a few floaters I hadn't been able to kill. The only thing keeping the two shooters alive were my two grenadiers - Keen and Oni - who kept popping smoke to cover them. Somehow we survived several turns of enemy return fire and managed to whittle the enemy force down to manageable proportions. When the firefight was over three X-Com lay dead, but the field was ours.

The fight wasn't over by any means. We still had to destroy the remaining conduits on the battleship, and I debated whether to press on, or to cut my losses and run. I decided to see it to the end - if we wiped I most likely would have abandoned the campaign for the seventh time. We didn't however - the tattered remains of the squad were able to inch forward, kill the remaining pods of thin men, destroy the conduits, and secure the battleship. The question of whether I have it in me to continue the campaign in the face of a full squad wipe of my favorite soldiers will have to wait another day.


At the conclusion of Operation Gangplank 39 aliens die at the cost of three X-Com soldiers.

The Memorial of the Fallen. Three more names - "Jeromai" Kurnakov, "Arcturus" Ahmadzai and Ghaffar - are added to the list.

In addition to the two DLC missions X-Com completed nine other missions - five abductions, one EXALT mission, one terror mission, one recovery (UFO-20, the fighter which had shot down one of my interceptors) and one Council mission which required us to disarm an alien bomb. Four more X-Com soldiers were promoted to Corporal and earned their call signs. The survivors of Gangplank - "Tenshi" Hatakeyama, "Akuma" Ishikawa, "Syncaine" Ben-David, "Keen" Archuleta, and "Oni" Okamoto - are also building nice back stories for themselves. Time will tell how many of them will survive the war.

Next: X-Com War Diaries, Part VI - July 2016

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

X-Com War Diaries, Part IV - May 2016


In May 2016 X-Com detected six UFOs, shot down three and completely destroyed one. Destroyed craft cannot be recovered (obviously), but they award a cash bounty from the Council instead. All four kills were scout class UFOs. The other two UFOs were an abductor and a raider. The abductor was allowed to land, and X-Com troops foiled the abduction attempt that followed. The raider, on the other hand, could not be intercepted due to lack of interceptors. They'd all taken licks taking down the scouts, and none were available to harass the raider, which, to make matters worse, was actively scanning. Shortly afterwards my fears were confirmed when it shot down the satellite over Japan.


Monthly report for X-Com at the close of May 2016. Two countries have left the project, and panic is rising in Asia.

The loss of the Japanese satellite meant that there were no satellites in orbit around the Earth, and as such no more UFO contacts could be reported. The only missions X-Com would be getting would be abductions, terror missions, and Council missions. You can't subsist on abduction missions alone, as successful completion only awards money - UFO crash recoveries and assaults bring back substantial amounts of elerium, meld, alloys and UFO components like flight computers and power sources, all of which are crucial for R&D and manufacturing. In addition satellites generate income and ameliorate panic so it was imperative that we reestablish coverage as soon as possible. Also if you leave the UFOs unharassed they will be able to complete their nefarious missions, which means they tech up, and you will find yourself fighting tougher and tougher opponents on the battlefield.


Our strategy was to create a network of workshops so as to heavily subsidize production costs from June onwards.

My original plan was to create enough uplinks and satellites so that prior to the end of the next month (June 2016) we would be able to launch several satellites simultaneously to coincide with the beginning of the new funding cycle in July. My strategy was to invest heavily in building workshops and structures which gave adjacency bonuses so that all manufacturing from May onwards would have a substantial discount. Once all the workshops were in play I would be close to a 50% discount of all manufactured goods (workshops are subject to diminishing returns). The infrastructure was laid down in the months between March and May, and from June onwards money would be spent on churning out satellites, arms, armor, and whatever else X-Com would need. For those unfamiliar with the Long War, satellite spam is not a feasible strategy at the start of the game, because satellite numbers are limited by the number of engineers in the base. In the Long War building workshops do not increase the number of engineers - rather they are acquired through missions and Council requests, and there is nothing you can do to increase the rate at which you acquire them.

Because of this bottleneck I could focus either on building laboratories, researching foundry projects, or creating workshops, and I chose the latter. My plan was to launch four satellites just before the end of June 2016, and presto, full satellite coverage over Asia with the income to boot. That was the plan anyway - the aliens screwed that up when they began bombing, harvesting and generally terrorizing the shit out of China. Without satellite coverage I couldn't see the UFOs coming and going - all I got were text lines saying "heavy UFO activity over China" and "A UFO has bombed targets in China, increasing panic", followed by a declaration at the end of the month that China had withdrawn from the X-Com project.

Doh.

That's not part of the plan, dude.

In May X-Com conducted 12 missions - five abductions, three crash recoveries, one terror mission, one Council mission, one DLC mission and one EXALT mission. The terror mission was in China - when the aliens want a country they hammer it with raiders, abductors, and terror vessels to raise its panic levels and force it out of the Council. If I had a satellite to spare I could have probably held China, because satellites overhead increases a country's panic threshold. I didn't have a satellite in reserve, and the combined UFO activity was too much for the poor Chinese, who probably wrote off X-Com in disgust and made a deal with the visitors.

The Council mission was another familiar one, requiring X-Com to extract Peter Van Doorn and his aide. The DLC mission was Friends in Low Places, which introduced "Chilong" Zhang and began the Operation Slingshot DLC arc. Both missions went off without a hitch - I've played both so many times now - and added three new soldiers - Zhang, Doorn and Friendly - to the roster. We only suffered one casualty in May, and it occurred during the terror mission in China. I idiotically pushed up Mason too far after wiping out a pod of chryssalids, and aggroed a second. We had nothing left to deal with the second pod - all I could do was pull back as far as I could, and pray. No one was listening, and poor Mason paid the price for her commander's carelessness. The rest of the squad then had to deal with the sight of Mason rising up as an embryo-implanted zombie. Syria's Jabour did the honours of putting her zombified corpse down for good. This mission also marked the debut of laser rifles, but it was tarnished by the fact that one of those rifles had to be pulled from Mason's bloodied corpse. Just goes to show that all the tech in the world can't save you if your commander is a moron.


The enigmatic "Chilong" Zhang joins the team.

EXALT also made their debut this month, siphoning off a significant chunk of X-Com's money in their very first mission. EXALT can be a pain in the ass, with their ability to steal funds, raise panic or disrupt research, but they're also a good way of training X-Com troops against mediocre opposition. Some of the missions can become quite challenging due to the number of EXALT troops present, but tactical use of the arrays can go a long way in mitigating their numbers. Hacking the arrays in missions disarms every EXALT trooper on the map for one turn, giving you time and space to wipe them out. I always use fast assault operatives with the Run and Gun perk so they can dash between arrays and hack them on back to back turns on maps where this is possible. Doing this triggers all the pods on the entire map sometimes, but even of you have 12-15 EXALT surrounding your squad it's not a problem as long as they can't fire their weapons. You just have to watch out for grenades and the, ahem, occasional rocket launcher. I learned this the hard way in previous campaigns, and now heavies are priority targets in our kill order.


10 EXALT in sight, but thanks to our operative, none of them can shoot...

That's our team's cue to enter the area with reckless abandon and slaughter the whole lot of them. Both screenshots are from an earlier campaign.

More soldiers earned their callsigns:

Ghairat "Arcturus" Ahmadzai, Gunner, Pakistan
Catalina "Keen" Archuleta, Grenadier, Mexico
Peter "The General" van Doorn, Infantry, US
Brett "Izlain" Favre, Grenadier, US
Glenn "Freaky" Friendly, Infantry, US
Oleg "Jeromai" Kurnakov, Sniper, Russia
Jack "Coreus" Shearer, Assault, Australia
Shaojie "Chilong" Zhang, Scout, China

Not a single satellite orbits the globe at the end of May 2016.

Did I mention that Mexicans can't go on peace keeping missions because of their constitution? I've got more of them on the way because RNG allocated several Mexicans to my initial pool of soldiers. Fidelity to reality be damned, however, because they're kicking ass - three of my best soldiers in-game are Mexicans, but if they transition into the fan fiction piece they're going to turn Spanish or Argentinian to conform with established patterns of UN contributions in real life. Also "Coreus" Shearer was the first X-Com soldier who died in my fan fiction story. In this universe I made him an assault soldier, because assault soldiers and scouts have the lowest life expectancy out of all the classes I play, and I fully expected him to die. So far the tough bastard has led a charmed life, and has survived being flanked, eating a grenade from a muton, and being shot at from all sides. There's always the dark temptation to suicide him, so as to make the death roll conform to the written narrative I've made. But my last few campaigns have illustrated the folly of that approach, and actually pressures me to reload results which don't conform to the story I want to tell. This time the game is driving, and if this causes my game to diverge further from the story I'm writing then so be it. For now "Coreus" Shearer is alive and well, which is two months longer than his counterpart in the original campaign from which the fan fiction piece is based on.

Next: X-Com War Diaries, Part V - June 2016

Sunday, July 3, 2016

X-Com War Diaries, Part III - April 2016

Previous: X-Com War Diaries, Part II - March 2016

In April 2016 Japan was visited by seven UFOs. This time around five of the visitors were medium sized raiders, along with one scout and an abductor. X-Com interceptors were able to shoot down the scout and one of the raiders. The abductor, on the other hand, was a large UFO that conducts abduction missions all over the world, and the best strategy for these is to let them land and deal with the abduction mission rather than trying to shoot them down. At this stage of the game our interceptors are no match for them, and the best early air game strategy is to save the planes for scouts and "scanning" UFOs. UFO-10 was one such "scanning" raider and I scrambled a plane just to try to inflict enough damage to save my satellite over Japan. Much to my surprise the plane landed hit after hit and shot the UFO down.

X-Com's monthly report for April 2016.

The second raider landed and was subsequently boarded by X-Com troops. Crash recoveries and UFO assaults are crucial not only for the supplies of alloys, meld, elerium and UFO components they provide, but also because raiding a UFO successfully unlocks research into that particular UFO type. Successful research makes that particular craft more vulnerable to terrestrial fighters, as well increasing the yield of supplies from subsequent salvage and recovery missions. The two raiders X-Com was able to secure meant that these craft were now fair game for our air force, and it would be these contacts that we would target specifically in the future, along with the fragile scouts.


Base status at the end of April 2016. The Officer Training School has been established, and our engineers are burrowing deep to exploit the steam vents. In addition we are building workshops and using the adjacency bonuses of the Foundry and the Repair Bay to boost its efficacy.

April was a busier month for X-Com's ground forces. They conducted five abduction missions, two UFO crash recoveries and one UFO assault (UFO-11). In addition we also had our first terror mission in China, and a DLC mission, Portent, in France, for a total of 10 missions in April. The terror mission re-introduced an old but familiar foe in the chryssalid, while Portent squared X-Com off against more thin men dropping out of the sky. Experience once again paid off as our teams completed all the missions successfully. It was not without cost, however, as this month X-Com suffered three casualties. During a crash recovery Lopez was killed by outsider fire while cowering behind low cover. In an abduction mission in Australia Ortiz died from overwatch fire from a thin man while attempting to cross some train tracks. Inoue died in completely avoidable circumstances from floater overwatch fire. She was a scout and had the Lightning Reflexes perk, which imposed a massive to-hit penalty on the first shot, and a lesser, but still imposing penalty on subsequent shots. While dashing forward she was shot at by two floaters in overwatch - the first missed, and the second killed her with a 16% shot.

The first casualties of the X-Com project.

Her death wasn't bad luck, however, because it could have been entirely circumvented. If I'd used my snipers to clear the skies before moving her forward she wouldn't have been shot at at all. Instead I played the odds, and lost. Inoue's death is on me. In fact, all of the operatives suffered entirely avoidable deaths - Ortiz shouldn't have been bounding across open spaces like that - that's what scouts are for - and I shouldn't be letting outsiders take potshots at Lopez. Outsiders and thin men become increasingly dangerous as the campaign progresses and they start picking up skills and perks. Thin men in the mid-game become snipers with the Squad Sight perk - that is, they can shoot at anyone their side can see. Ever been shot by a sniper you can't see in X-Com? It happens in the Long War. Outsiders aren't quite as dangerous, but they're tremendously durable because they regenerate health in the Long War, and so every UFO breach needs to be accompanied by numbers and flashbangs. By mid-game outsiders can't be suppressed anymore (because most of them start having the Lightning Reflexes perk) so the flashbang remains the only sure fire way of locking one down. Lopez facing an outsider in a one on one high noon showdown was a losing proposition, and should never happen again.


Inoue, moments before her death. In the next turn she would brave the overwatch fire of two floaters, and was killed by the second shooter by a 16% shot.

Nonetheless April was still a good month for X-Com despite the loss of three soldiers. Several soldiers achieved the rank of Corporal and earned their callsigns:

Hugo "Murf" Cervantes, Infantry, Spain
Hiroshi "Tengu" Hara, Infantry, Japan
Junichiro "Akuma" Ishikawa, Scout, Japan
Valeriya "Eva" Ivanova, Sniper, Russia
Ernesto "Graev" Maestas, Sniper, Mexico
Aiko "Oni" Okamoto, Grenadier, Japan
Bridget "Syl" Roche, Sniper, France
Paoquan "Dacheng" Tsang, Sniper, China

Late April saw the establishment of the Officer School, and three soldiers were promoted to Lieutenant based on their Will scores:

Lieutenant Hugo "Murf" Cervantes
Lieutenant Yuri "Tenshi" Hatakeyama
Lieutenant Bridget "Syl" Roche

All three officers were given the Stay Frosty perk, which reduces the rest time required by soldiers under their command. This shrinks the downtime from 4-5 days to 3-4, which allows them to be redeployed faster after each mission. These three are my new squad leaders.

Most of the UFO activity in April centered around Asia, as can be seen by the commensurate rise in panic levels within the region.

On an unrelated note I just found out that the Mexican Constitution prohibits Mexico from sending troops out on UN peacekeeping missions unless at war with the belligerent. This doesn't affect my campaign in the slightest, but it does affect my fan fiction piece, because one of my characters - Chestnut, who deployed in the Ogbomosho story - was originally Mexican. I'm going to have to remove the Mexican troops from my story. As for the Mexicans in the campaign they'll stick around, but I'll be removing Mexico from the pool of recruitable countries in the INI file.

Next: X-Com War Diaries, Part IV - May 2016

X-Com War Diaries, Part II - March 2016


So here I go again, starting campaign number seven of the Long War. Because of the fiasco of the corrupted save file I'm not going to play Ironman mode any longer, but instead just save my progress regularly on different files to avoid meeting a similar fate. It will still be an Ironman playthrough with no reloads, so if someone gets snuffed they're going to stay snuffed. As with the last campaign I'll be playing on Classic difficulty. I've chosen the Kiryu-Kai starting perk which gives me a max level soldier at the outset of the campaign. I was hoping for a male soldier so I could remake Takeda, the strike force's de facto leader on the ground, but RNG gave me a girl instead. She was immediately christened Hatakeyama, and it would be she, not Takeda, who would be leading the strike force in this version of the X-Com universe. I play with full squad sizes already enabled, so the team goes into combat with eight soldiers by default. This, combined with Hatakeyama's sniping skills, ensures that the first months of the campaign are comparatively easy for the fledgling force before it starts to ramp up in difficulty. The maxed sniper is an insurance policy against the bumbling shots taken by my rookies in the early game, and she always shoots last as the weapon of last resort.

X-Com's March 2016 report.

Unlike X-Com 2, I have no direct control over the nationality and gender of the rookies I recruit, which means that replicating the cast of my third playthrough is up to RNG. I can play with the INI file to adjust the percentage chances of someone coming from a particular nation, but it's still up to Lady Luck as to whether they arrive or not, and if they join the force as a man or a woman. I can stack the odds, however, by creative tinkering - by reducing the cost of new recruits to 0 and increasing my initial allotment of soldiers from 40 to 100 I get enough men and women from the nations I want. This could be considered cheating, but I'm not exploiting it to have an infinite well of soldiers - I'm just trying to get a certain number of people of specific nationalities and genders to recreate my original cast of characters. Once I had all the characters recreated I dismissed all but 40 soldiers, and raised the price of new recruits back to its original cost before starting the campaign proper.


The status of the X-Com base at the end of March 2016. The Foundry unlocks powerful upgrades, which is why it was high on my construction priority list.

Once my cast was re-assembled it was time to start the campaign. The month of March 2016 saw five UFOs entering Japanese air space. X-Com were able to shoot down two scouts by setting the interceptors on aggressive posture, but a third scout escaped. A large unknown UFO flew over China, and I let it pass unmolested - at this stage of the game our interceptors are only viable against scouts, and sending interceptors against these bogeys only meant sending them to their deaths. The fifth UFO was a medium sized unknown contact, which I suspected was a raider, but it was scanning for our satellite over Japan so I had to send an interceptor up to harass it. In the Long War if you do enough damage you can make a UFO abort its mission even if you don't shoot it down, and luckily in this case the interceptor was able to land a couple of hits with its Avalanche missiles. Those hits were enough to make it abort its mission, and it saved the satellite over Japan from being shot down.


Russia was the first nation to withdraw from the X-Com project in this playthrough.

On the geopolitical front X-Com lost Russia early in March. There's nothing you can do about this - in every playthrough you will always lose a nation in the first month, and it represents the aliens establishing their initial base of operations. In the Long War you don't lose until all the nations have withdrawn from the Council, and you can liberate the nations by assaulting the bases. So the question is how much pain can you take in the march up to the Temple mission, and for me what really kills me and makes me abandon campaigns is losing characters I've build up an affinity with. I've never actually lost a game per se - I just start cheating to save my soldiers, felt like shit for doing it, then abandoned the campaign.

In March X-Com conducted seven missions - four abduction missions, two UFO crash recovery missions, and one Council mission. The strike force suffered no casualties or critically wounded, but several soldiers sustained light wounds which put them out of action for 2-3 weeks. The Council mission was the one in which the squad is required to escort Dr. Hongo Marazuki out of the hot zone, and my familiarity with this map and mission made it a piece of cake. The aliens in the first month are composed of sectoids, drones, and thin men, and the pods are still of a manageable size, ranging from 2-4, which made it easy to decimate them once they were aggroed. Bad things happen in X-Com when you let the enemy shoot back, so X-Com 101 is to aggro pods singly, then wipe them out before they have the chance to return fire. In the late game this becomes increasingly difficult due to enemy durability and the size of the pods - in the mid-game pods average 6-8 aliens, while late game sees your squad aggroing pods of 8-10 aliens. The size of the pods are dependent on the aliens' strategic status. In the Long War the aliens tech up, too, and this is done by completing UFO missions and establishing bases all over Earth. X-Com has to harass the UFOs and take back countries if possible, otherwise alien tech level goes through the roof and you'll be finding yourself fighting increasing numbers aliens with ridiculous health pools and numerous combat perks.

Our starting base is in a remote location south-west of Japan.

For now, though, this is the happy time for my new recruits - there were no deaths to report in March. I need these neophytes to level up fast, and become big bad asses ASAP. I also built two SHIVS as my first purchases - SHIVs have so much more value in the Long War than in vanilla, because they are tougher than raw recruits, and they don't suffer from soldier fatigue. Troops in the Long War have to rest for approximately 4-6 days between missions. Soldiers who don't rest will suffer a light combat wound and be out for about a week or more, which means that in a pinch you can deploy a soldier in back to back mission, but then they will need extended time off afterwards. SHIVs circumvent this requirement as long as they are not damaged, and can be fielded mission after mission. A player's effective health pool is their native health plus armor, and if damage taken exceeds armor then it translates into longer turnaround times for both soldiers and SHIVs. Fatigue means that you need to cultivate two, three, even four squads and squad leaders to ensure that X-Com is always ready to go on missions. This is why my cast in the Long War fiction piece is so big. If I was writing about vanilla X-Com or X-Com 2 I would always bring the same squaddies, and substitutions would only occur in the event of injury or death. In the Long War I have to have a minimum of three squads plus reserves, and they all need to be built up carefully in order to handle the numerous threats coming our way.

Next: The Long War, Part III - April 2016

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Long War, Part XIX - Mirage


Several kilometres from Yarmouk a large convoy of UN trucks laden with food, supplies and fresh drinking water waited in a depot guarded by Syrian government forces. In and among the halted vehicles was a makeshift camp populated by idle UN staff. Tents, makeshift shelters, hammocks and fold-out chairs and tables festooned the spaces around the trucks, and in and around the nooks and crannies laptops and electronic devices of all kinds played wildly different forms of media to bored men and women lounging in the heat.

Mesmer, Syncaine and Azuriel sat in the shade of a tarp at the edge of the camp, watching a stocky Scottish woman berate a pair of Arab soldiers. McMasters was nominally charge of the relief mission, and whoever had picked her had done a good job - she was fearless in the face of guns and glowering soldiers, and the force of her personality and her belief in the righteousness of her cause was usually enough to bulldoze aside any obstacle in her path. That was before Syria, however. Today she was haranguing the government soldiers for stealing UN supplies from the stalled trucks. Two young soldiers stood shame-faced before the onslaught, before finally fleeing for the safety of their barracks.

"She's a firecracker," said Syncaine laconically. He rubbed the growing stubble of his beard, and took another sip of water.

"It won't do much good," replied Azuriel. He was laying on his back half-dozing in the sweltering heat. "The guards grab stuff during the night when everyone is asleep."

"Yeah, I know."

Mesmer looked at the bottle Syncaine was drinking from. "Did you take that from the trucks?"

Syncaine shrugged. "Everyone else was, so I thought why not?"



Mesmer sighed and shook her head. They'd been in a holding pattern for two weeks now, waiting with the stranded UN supply trucks for a call that would probably never come. The UN had come to Syria with supplies and good intentions, but their attempts to supply the refugees trapped in the Yarmouk district had been stonewalled by the government's refusal to allow them access to the so-called neutral zone. The civil war was in its fifth year, and every year more and more nations joined the carnage. Despite the presence of blinking lights in the sky - despite the incident in Nigeria - despite the meltdown in France - the war in Syria continued unabated. The conflict in the desert had a timeless quality about it. It was a sand-blasted, arid and parched purgatory, and every year the dead and the hollow eyed were replaced by a limitless supply of more men, women and children destined for similar fates. The deserts of the Middle East was where the hopes for peace and prosperity came to die - yet, even in this blasted landscape, the olive trees dug their roots stubbornly in the flimsy soil, and the doves returned year after year, seemingly oblivious to the desolation around them and the shattered, desiccated bones of their forebears.

The Scot stomped over to the lounging X-Com soldiers, and her eyes immediately locked onto Syncaine's purloined bottle of water. "You took that from the trucks," she said accusingly.

Syncaine shrugged.

"Unbelievable." She walked off angrily, the tension in her shoulders clearly evident.

"I think she likes you, Syn," Azuriel observed. 

"Lucky me," replied Syncaine. They knew the real source of McMaster's frustration came from not having any authority over the X-Com operatives. They'd been inserted into the UN aid mission by order of the Secretary-General, and all McMasters ever received was a memo signed by Ban Ki-Moon ordering her to give the squad every form of assistance at her disposal. Nominally the squad were UN observers reporting on the status of the temporary cease fire between all combatants in Damascus. The reality, however, was far different.



It was EXALT's presence in Syria that X-Com was interested in most. The newest player in the volatile and deadly game of international terrorism, EXALT had apparently begun as mercenaries for the jihadists, but had rapidly expanded, in some cases appearing to subsume substantial parts of both the ISIS and al-Qaeda networks. That did not concern X-Com directly - for them the biggest concern was the growing evidence that EXALT was being armed with alien tech. Kurd rebel forces claimed to possess cadavers bearing indisputable signs of genetic modification, and they had approached Mossad with a deal - they would turn them over if the refugees in Yarmouk were supplied. And so here they were.

Today, though, the war against the aliens was on dangerous ground. Azuriel, Syncaine and Mesmer were all Israeli, and their presence on the ground was a closely kept secret. No commander in their right mind would have ever considered deploying Jews in Syria, given the decades long enmity between the two nations, but X-Com's hands were tied - the Kurdish rebels had deep historical ties with Mossad, and they would only deal with the representatives of the Israeli secret service. So when Mossad was offered the deal, they relayed it on to X-Com command through Mesmer.

"So, you're a spy, Mesmer?" Bradford had asked after the briefing concluded.

"I'm a patriot, General," the scout-sniper replied. "Just like you."

"Any more patriots like you on the strike force? In the task force?"

"We have patriots from all over the world, General," she had replied.

It was a running joke that the X-Com strike force was made up exclusively of spies. No one had taken the unit seriously in its inception, and it was joked that the only people who applied for the strike force were intelligence officers for their respective nations looking to keep tabs on the movement of the international force. Mesmer knew she was a spy, but the fact that she had been ordered to reveal herself meant that Mossad no longer felt the need for subterfuge within X-Com. Her superiors in Mossad told her that Jeromai was an FSB officer, and she suspected that either Bhagpuss or Tremayne reported to British MI6. Even Bradford probably reported every X-Com movement to his superiors in the US Army. There was nothing secret about X-Com - every move it made was reported to a dozen intelligence agencies shortly after it acted. Yet somehow the coalition limped on, acting on an ad hoc basis and moving under its own inertia.

An olive skinned woman wearing a hijab emerged from one of the distant tents and walked towards the Israeli trio.

"What's happening, Saylah?" Azuriel called out from his bunk.

"Same story." The Saudi Arabian spoke in perfect British English. "Nothing. Assad won't budge. Neither will the Kurds."

"The aliens are laughing their asses off at us," Mesmer said suddenly. "Look at us. Humanity is a fucking joke. Maybe we should just let them take over."

Azuriel laughed mirthlessly, his eyes hooded. "Maybe they should."

"Worried about the Palestinians, Mesmer?" Saylah asked. "Uncommon sentiment from your people, isn't it?"

"Are you picking a fight, Saylah? Or just being a bitch as usual?"

"I have no problems with Palestinians," Azuriel grunted. "As long as they stay out of our country, and leave us in peace."

"And if they don't?" 

"As the good book says," Azuriel replied, eyes steadily fixed on the Saudi woman. "An eye for an eye."

"Here comes the sarge," Syncaine commented, smoothly cutting off the Arab woman's rebuke. Two more figures approached the throng of operators gathered under the tarp. One was a short, well-built Japanese soldier, while his companion was a large hulking bear of a man. The Japanese soldier, Okami, was the most respected squad leader of the task force. His marksmanship was second to none, and he was the founder and chief instructor of the impromptu sniper school founded in Tanegashima for new X-Com recruits. He led two squads in Ogbomosho during the African crisis, and fought in the week long battle to keep the chryssalids contained within the city. His companion was another respected soldier. Jeromai was a 40 year old plus veteran of the First and Second Chechen Wars. The Russian cut an intimidating figure with his massive build and piercing blue eyes. He rarely spoke, but every utterance was issued with the force of a command. The two of them were an unlikely pair, but together they were an effective command element for the X-Com platoon known as Shirogumi, or White Team.

"Get your gear together," Okami said in his clipped, strange English. "We're moving out in 10." 

"What changed?" Saylah queried.

Okami shrugged. "Assad won't move. Neither will the PYD. But the local commander has come to an agreement with the leader of the opposition forces in the Yarmouk area. He says we can deliver the supplies today."

Syncaine looked skeptical. "I don't like it."

"Neither do I," Azuriel agreed. "No official sanction from up high is an invitation for a gigantic clusterfuck."

Okami nodded. "I understand. However, the local commander is willing to provide an escort and accompany the convoy to Yarmouk. He says that he has negotiated a ceasefire."

"Do you trust him?"

"He's coming with us, so he is willing to bet his life on it. It's good enough for me. Otherwise we have to wait here longer. Maybe forever."

"Are we going in geared? Or as UN observers?" Syncaine again.

Jeromai answered the question. "I insisted that if we're going to go in on his word then we would go in armed, just as a precaution. Our UN credentials won't mean anything if someone starts shooting."

"What about al-Nusra? What happens if they show up?" Mesmer asked. The ceasefire between the government and the rebels did not apply to al-Nusra, the militant arm of al-Qaeda, nor did it apply to ISIS.

Jeromai looked at Okami, and shrugged. "Then we kill them."

Next: To Be Continued