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stemardue

A philosophy of game balancing and several ways to make it unworthy

Rating: 2 votes, 4.50 average.
First of all: why posting this in a blog instead of in the forum? Well, probably because it's just some loud thinking that i'm making, and i don't think it has to be so 'interactive' as a forum thread.

Why such a subject? Mainly because i am a bit fed up with posts criticizing the work we have done in XTC, posts which bottom line can be translated into: I like what you made but you could have done it better, because i was expecting it to be different, so, since it is not exactly how i want to play, you should change it (followed by several aspects of the mod that caused the poster's urge to speak out, i.e.: balancing, weapons, ships models, colors, dimensions, sounds, etc.)

Now writing on that matter could open endless debates, so in this particular post i will limit myself to critics to our "balance". What? you mean that is not a simple subject? Oh really? Good... that is already a nice step forward.

So let's start with some assumptions we made some time ago, or better said, the original Team started to make some years ago, right after they got their hands on X3:TC - this is just a precisation i wanted to make, since i joined the team only in may '09 or so, when they were already at an advanced stage of the modding project.
Those assumptions
were mainly: the game as it has been released is not very exciting, we would like to develop a different approach in several fields: difficulty, immersion, playability and AI functionality. Among these fields some blatant problems stood out: the Terran economy for example, or other much less defined ones such as the 'grade of struggling' a player had to overcome to reach some important milestones (like getting his first capship, or his first megacomplex, etc.).

In the plethora of things that had to be modified, a fundamental part was that of: how to make the changes fit in and not cause sudden gameplay breaking situations, or in other words: how to balance the mod.
This was and has been the first and main fundamental goal of the team: to keep the gameplay fun and exciting in time. Easy said, not so easy to achieve...

So when we started to work along that line (again, i will use 'we' for easy writing, even if i had only a marginal and very limited part in the actual work made to get to where we are now), we had also to define the ideal playing scenario: if balancing is already a weird beast on its own, how can we try to tame it a bit, so to at least have a hope to achieve something? And the first decision was: we will work on it as a self standing thing, not considering 'external mutations' aka cheats and other mods that radically change the gameplay.
And this gives people a first matter to think about: when you criticize our mod, are you playing it the way we made it to be played? Or, maybe, you have cheated in some fleets, some money and skipped all the parts of the game that - for instance - should have made it so important for you to not lose that frigate that you managed to get after a lot of effort?

Balancing is felt really in a different way when you are playing with a deep immersion in the game, emotionally living what you are doing, and is so easy to disrupt with some minor changes that make every thing in game lose their appeal.

And this concludes my first 'chapter' for now

I'll be back...
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Comments

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  1. Mokonzi's Avatar
    I like the work matey. Nice summary of the problem, and the reality of balancing.
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  2. Eliah's Avatar
    Looking forward to pt2, btw
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  3. stemardue's Avatar
    ^^

    I'll post more the next time my exhaust security valve reaches critical levels ^^

    For the time being, writing this has helped me to relieve some stress
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  4. Admiral Scoobing's Avatar
    Good work keep it up
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  5. Joelnh's Avatar
    The mod makes X3TC come alive and more playable.
    thank you and to you and all other developers of Xtended!
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  6. Roger L.S. Griffiths's Avatar
    I can understand the frustration with people critiquing XTC when you guys have put so much effort into it, but perhaps the problem is not so much down to the difference(s) in balance but rather down to a lack of control of end user expectations. I think many people were expecting a repeat of Xtended for X3:R (which was more of an add-on than a complete revamp).

    However, I like the ghist of where this is going and look forward to future parts
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  7. Trickmov's Avatar
    @Roger: Yes, it's probably down to wrong expectations - but really... can't those people read before installing/downloading it. I mean we stated during development every change we did in detail, in the download-threads there is a detailed list of all changes, there are FAQs.

    Where is the problem to accept, that XTC is not XTM and that XTC is completly different in almost every approach?

    Regarding balancing in particular there is obviously also a problem for some people to accept that the current settings were a team decision and that there is almost no chance that the team will do big changes to that (despite bugfixes), as it's obviously their idea how it should be.
    If people don't like it, nobody is hindering them to create a new setting, but expecting that from the team, when they think it's ok, is quite off.

    Perhaps it's mostly a problem that many players like to be "uber", I mean there are a lot of players who just like the best/biggest ship available, expecting, that they are literally invulnerable by that.
    Now in XTC people are never safe, but the advantage is, that there is never a boring state, because you always have to be careful when in a fight
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  8. Roger L.S. Griffiths's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Trickmov
    @Roger: Yes, it's probably down to wrong expectations - but really... can't those people read before installing/downloading it. I mean we stated during development every change we did in detail, in the download-threads there is a detailed list of all changes, there are FAQs.

    Where is the problem to accept, that XTC is not XTM and that XTC is completly different in almost every approach?
    To be honest, the enthusiasm for XTC was probably riding on the success of XTM and thus follows the expectations. The obvious way to avoid such a conflict would have been to change the name of the product to avoid such conflicts in expectations.

    Also, how many people actually read a manual properly before diving into their favourite game? Generally speaking, most players probably like to discover the features of the game and use the manual as a point of reference only (perhaps giving a cursory look over the manual before diving in). But then there is always the old adage RTFM - just try not to get too peeved when people complain because their game is so drastically different from what they were expecting when the obvious control of expectations was quite low.

    Quote Originally Posted by Trickmov
    Regarding balancing in particular there is obviously also a problem for some people to accept that the current settings were a team decision and that there is almost no chance that the team will do big changes to that (despite bugfixes), as it's obviously their idea how it should be.
    If people don't like it, nobody is hindering them to create a new setting, but expecting that from the team, when they think it's ok, is quite off.
    I think the main issue is that due to the extent of the departure from the Vanilla conventions, the amount of effort to create the new settings is rather off-putting. That is probably why there is so much "can you change this/that". A tailored version of the X3 Editor 2 (or similar tool) would perhaps mitigate those kind of issues, either that or an XTC modders guide so that it is not left for the modder to guess at and reverse engineer the XTC design decisions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Trickmov
    Perhaps it's mostly a problem that many players like to be "uber", I mean there are a lot of players who just like the best/biggest ship available, expecting, that they are literally invulnerable by that.
    Now in XTC people are never safe, but the advantage is, that there is never a boring state, because you always have to be careful when in a fight
    I think this is probably in the minority of the playing community, besides which there are settings in XTC that allow the user to tweak the level of difficulty. Even then, if people want to be Uber then there is always the possibility of modding in new ships/weapons or rebalancing what is already in XTC (ala SRM, CMOD, Xtra Ship Pack, and AWRM).
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  9. Trickmov's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Roger L.S. Griffiths
    Also, how many people actually read a manual properly before diving into their favourite game? Generally speaking, most players probably like to discover the features of the game and use the manual as a point of reference only (perhaps giving a cursory look over the manual before diving in). But then there is always the old adage RTFM - just try not to get too peeved when people complain because their game is so drastically different from what they were expecting when the obvious control of expectations was quite low.
    yes, but I wasn't speaking of the manual - if I am downloading a mod or script myself, I will always have looked before doing so, what this mod does change... and I think it's pretty obvious, that XTC is a complete overhaul, when looking into the feature list.

    I think the main issue is that due to the extent of the departure from the Vanilla conventions, the amount of effort to create the new settings is rather off-putting. That is probably why there is so much "can you change this/that". A tailored version of the X3 Editor 2 (or similar tool) would perhaps mitigate those kind of issues, either that or an XTC modders guide so that it is not left for the modder to guess at and reverse engineer the XTC design decisions.
    agreed about the X3 Editor 2 and the difficulties - but what most complaining people don't seem to understand is, that it is the same amount of work for the team, if they would do so

    and other than the suggesting/complaining players they think it's ok, thus they don't want to do that
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  10. Roger L.S. Griffiths's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Trickmov
    yes, but I wasn't speaking of the manual - if I am downloading a mod or script myself, I will always have looked before doing so, what this mod does change... and I think it's pretty obvious, that XTC is a complete overhaul, when looking into the feature list.
    It may be obvious to someone who worked on the development of it, or to people familiar with modding. But to a relative lay-person it may not be so, also again it is probably the norm for the vast majority of people to simply glance over the feature changes. Understanding the impact of those changes is whole different ball-game. Plus as I have highlighted before the XTC mod appeared to be riding on the success of XTM by probably the majority of the X gaming community. If it were tauted with a different name like the New Frontiers mod (i.e. something other than Xtended) then the expectations would have probably been mitigated. It is amazing how such a small factor such as the name of something can completely change perceptions and expectations.

    Quote Originally Posted by Trickmov
    agreed about the X3 Editor 2 and the difficulties - but what most complaining people don't seem to understand is, that it is the same amount of work for the team, if they would do so

    and other than the suggesting/complaining players they think it's ok, thus they don't want to do that
    Ok... one team does a mod, say at least two other teams want to do an extention to that mod, it would be at least TWICE as easy for the original team to do something ONCE to help the other modders, rather than each of the teams to do their own work towards that end. I am not saying the XTC team should do it but if they don't then they should be prepared to receive the ire of the wider modding community squarely on the chin.
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  11. Trickmov's Avatar
    Well, I won't say anything about the naming convention, also it's too late to change that... it was too late since the first mentioning of that name about two years ago.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roger L.S. Griffiths
    Ok... one team does a mod, say at least two other teams want to do an extention to that mod, it would be at least TWICE as easy for the original team to do something ONCE to help the other modders, rather than each of the teams to do their own work towards that end. I am not saying the XTC team should do it but if they don't then they should be prepared to receive the ire of the wider modding community squarely on the chin.
    Ok, maybe it's a bit easier for the team than for another modder, but after all, why should they?

    I mean this balancing is exactly like they wanted it to be (apart from bugs), and explaining every thing in detail would mean probably more work than doing it completly new. After all, getting a bit into X3 Editor 2 isn't that complicated for a newby and it's indeed for everyone distracting to see the amount of work necessary.

    But it's currently like this:
    person A thinks something is a problem
    person B thinks this is no problem, but intended

    for both persons the work involved is distracting, but:
    person A wants it to be changed
    person B doesn't want it to be changed

    Guess, what happens


    Btw - for me as player the XTC-balancing is ok and I don't see a reason to complain.
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  12. Roger L.S. Griffiths's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Trickmov
    Well, I won't say anything about the naming convention, also it's too late to change that... it was too late since the first mentioning of that name about two years ago.
    The original name could have been cancelled (with reasons given - e.g. no longer on the same line as XTM) and the first release could have been released under a new name. Would have been not hard to do, but it is probably too late now that the cat is out of the bag... but v2.0 could still be released under a new name perhaps (though it is a bit like closing the gate after the horse has bolted).

    Quote Originally Posted by Trickmov
    Ok, maybe it's a bit easier for the team than for another modder, but after all, why should they?
    To avoid the ire of the wider community? to keep good relations with other modders who respect how much you put into it and expect similar respect in return perhaps?

    Quote Originally Posted by Trickmov
    I mean this balancing is exactly like they wanted it to be (apart from bugs), and explaining every thing in detail would mean probably more work than doing it completly new. After all, getting a bit into X3 Editor 2 isn't that complicated for a newby and it's indeed for everyone distracting to see the amount of work necessary.

    But it's currently like this:
    person A thinks something is a problem
    person B thinks this is no problem, but intended

    for both persons the work involved is distracting, but:
    person A wants it to be changed
    person B doesn't want it to be changed

    Guess, what happens


    Btw - for me as player the XTC-balancing is ok and I don't see a reason to complain.
    My comments are not about balancing per se but for more about providing either an XTC Modders Guide or a Tool to help facilitate other modders to integrate their works. But I re-iterate that I am not saying such work should be done, but if not you should expect no sympathy from the wider community when people start complaining.

    Personally, I have not played XTC sufficiently to comment on the balancing aspects, but I have looked into modding XTC v1.0 and found it a PITA - so much so that I abandoned XTC v1.0 in favour of my previous mod combo. Just stating my opinion and my personal perceptions surrounding it, not wanting to start a discussion or argument on the topic (at least not here anyway ).
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    Updated 10-02-2011 at 03:53 PM by Roger L.S. Griffiths
  13. Trickmov's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Roger L.S. Griffiths
    To avoid the ire of the wider community?
    Only speaking for myself: Who cares... I mean when I am scripting, I am doing this for my fun and not for others. If others don't like it, don't play it.
    Aside from that I don't think, that the wider community disliked the balancing that much
    to keep good relations with other modders who respect how much you put into it and expect similar respect in return perhaps?
    That would be a reason, but see below

    My comments are not about balancing per se but for more about providing either an XTC Modders Guide or a Tool to help facilitate other modders to integrate their works. But I re-iterate that I am not saying such work should be done, but if not you should expect no sympathy from the wider community when people start complaining.

    Personally, I have not played XTC sufficiently to comment on the balancing aspects, but I have looked into modding XTC v1.0 and found it a PITA - so much so that I abandoned XTC v1.0 in favour of my previous mod combo. Just stating my opinion and my personal perceptions surrounding it, not wanting to start a discussion or argument on the topic (at least not here anyway ).
    If someone is already a modder, there is no need to provide an extra XTC-guide, as most mechanics for the balancing are still the same like in the original game and if someone is a newby, he will have to learn a lot of things first anyway, but trying then first in the Vanilla-game is the better playground anyway.

    Aside from that I think, that especially Galder is always willing to answer problematic questions regarding balancing, but creating a completely new "everything is easy - modding combo/guide for newbies is surely out of question.

    If I would personally want to have something entirely changed in the balancing, I would install X3 Editor 2, and have a look into all relevant values and make first tries with single ships. If I like the result, I would try that again with a whole shipclass and see again.
    Of course this is a lot of work, but as said above - if I think something has to be changed, this does neither mean, that person B thinks that too, nor that person B does do that work for me.
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    Updated 10-02-2011 at 04:10 PM by Trickmov
  14. Roger L.S. Griffiths's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Trickmov
    If someone is already a modder, there is no need to provide an extra XTC-guide, as most mechanics for the balancing are still the same like in the original game and if someone is a newby, he will have to learn a lot of things first anyway, but trying then first in the Vanilla-game is the better playground anyway.

    Aside from that I think, that especially Galder is always willing to answer problematic questions regarding balancing, but creating a complety new "everything is easy - modding combo/guide for newbies is surely out of question.
    Ok, the problem from my perspective is not with changing explicit values but the apparently bizaar and unwieldly mapping of weapon (laser/missile) mounting types, which is perhaps the main area where I believe coverage by a guide would not go amiss. There are possibly other areas, but that is my main gripe. It perhaps would have been better to try and maintain similar logical groupings to Vanilla in order to allow fellow modders to re-use exisitng weapons/ships/missiles with more ease and for newbies to get an easier grasp of what to do what they want to do. I find it mind-boggling that there is not some scrap of paper (virtual or otherwise) with the bulk of the information already there. If there is that information already in existence, then producing a simple guide from that should be very little work. But as I said before, it is up to the XTC team and they should expect no sympathy when people start complaining - after all it was their decision to depart wildly from the Vanilla conventions, and their decision to publish the mod.

    I know of at least two modders (including myself) who are considering porting some of their Vanilla works to XTC and personally I have found responses to requests for help reflexive and unhelpful (to the point I have put my plans for an XTC port on hold for now). But lets not get into an argument over it, that is in the past now.
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  15. Trickmov's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Roger L.S. Griffiths
    Ok, the problem from my perspective is not with changing explicit values but the apparently bizaar and unwieldly mapping of weapon (laser/missile) mounting types, which is perhaps the main area where I believe coverage by a guide would not go amiss. There are possibly other areas, but that is my main gripe.
    Best person to ask that, would be Galder... when I was teammember, they had speadsheets for an overview... but that was mainly the information that is also written down in the manual, just in a better readable form - but I don't know how up-to-date they are currently or how useful this is ... but I am sure a team-member will look sooner or later on this here
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  16. Roger L.S. Griffiths's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Trickmov
    Best person to ask that, would be Galder... when I was teammember, they had speadsheets for an overview... but that was mainly the information that is also written down in the manual, just in a better readable form - but I don't know how up-to-date they are currently or how useful this is ... but I am sure a team-member will look sooner or later on this here
    The information that is needed for modders is not covered by the manual, it is the mapping from XTC mounting types to Vanilla mounting types, and perhaps with a paragraph to explain why the mapping is as it is. I have already tried asking for such data a while back and seemed to get a blanket NOYB type response (at least that was my perception anyway if it was not the intent).
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  17. Galder's Avatar
    All the informations, about which weapon can be mounted where, are already contained in the TFiles, there's nothing hidden. We introduced a second limitation on weapons, apart from the subtypes, by assigning every weapon to the according ship cargo class.

    The thing is, that nobody realises that values given in the TFiles are nothing but the base for in game calculation. No value from any TFile is absolute, when it comes down to combat. We announced that XTC changes the complete game, just nobody believes it. The Hull Multiplier mod from Requiemfang has already proven that the changes, to ship and weapon values, are more than just tweaking. Weapons and ship values are the base of hit chances in game, and they can't be changed only on one side. Requiemfang saw that, even after upgrading the hull of ships multiple times, the combat didn't change that much.

    The ships have now their race weapons and they are enabling them to fight in a special way. Literally each ship is unique and their settings are done to introduce a specialised way to fight. To ensure that everybody has a choice, the generic weapons are existing. This concept is completely different to TC, as almost all weapons were generic in the vanilla game. There were no new behaviour, and now, if you outfit a simple fighter with its race weapons, it gives a completely different image. Using generic weapons will offer different advantages, so you may even have the same fighter, which is good at dogfighting with race weapons, and good at damage dealing in wings with generic weapons, just as an example. But XTC stays in terms of combat close to vanilla feeling. It doesn't turn the already experienced advantages of ships upside down. Based upon the experiences of Ulfius, it's a mimicry of the combat feeling introduced with TC, but the whole underlying system has changed. That's why values are looking so familiar, but still, the changes are introducing a different weight in combat abilities. If the player does everything right, and he isn't ambushed, everything will go the expected way. But if he makes mistakes, he'll live in interesting times. So a normal weapon or ship mod doesn't have that significant impact anymore, without changing the dependencies. It's about movement, not raw values. For a new weapon, an assigned ship needs to be tweaked also.

    Anyway, XTC was expected to be the cure of all TC issues, and we did our best to work around several problems. But the sheer mass of users playing this mod can't be satisfied in every detail. There are the ones who want to have this or that, there are the ones who took over pointing out that this or that must be a bug as a kind of sport. There are the greedy and completely jealous modders of other teams which began to troll the ES and TXU forums in order to show how bad XTC is, and how many errors and mistakes we introduced, like ETNO and surprisingly DDTC. Even only to keep their level of self estimated reputation on the forums. That went as far as a request to hand over the development to the community, ok... that guy had obviously some mental problems, but we experienced already too many trolls.

    Long story short, there will be always jealousy and disappointed users, but we can't cover them all. XTC is and will be developed as a separate mod based on TC, and it won't be a repetition or simulation/copy of already existing mods.
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  18. Roger L.S. Griffiths's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Galder
    All the informations, about which weapon can be mounted where, are already contained in the TFiles, there's nothing hidden. We introduced a second limitation on weapons, apart from the subtypes, by assigning every weapon to the according ship cargo class.

    The thing is, that nobody realises that values given in the TFiles are nothing but the base for in game calculation. No value from any TFile is absolute, when it comes down to combat. We announced that XTC changes the complete game, just nobody believes it. The Hull Multiplier mod from Requiemfang has already proven that the changes, to ship and weapon values, are more than just tweaking. Weapons and ship values are the base of hit chances in game, and they can't be changed only on one side. Requiemfang saw that, even after upgrading the hull of ships multiple times, the combat didn't change that much.

    ...

    Long story short, there will be always jealousy and disappointed users, but we can't cover them all. XTC is and will be developed as a separate mod based on TC, and it won't be a repetition or simulation/copy of already existing mods.
    Ok, if this is in response to my comments I think you missed my point. My issues are not with the balance of XTC (which I am neutral on) but with the difficulty of which other modders can add/modify content to suit them. It is generally accepted that no mod is ever going to satisfy everyone, and the standard response is that if you do not like something you can mod it. The problem with XTC is the bizaar and aparently ad-hoc mapping of weapons to the Vanilla mounting types. Due to the apparently erratic convention, it makes life more difficult for ship/weapon modders to port their works from Vanilla than really should be necessary. My comments were directed at this problem specificly, because of the absence of modder level documentation explaining the convention(s) chosen for XTC. This may seem trivial and un-important to you, but for instance trying to work out what TFile/TCockpit/TLaser mounting type(s) anti-fighter weapons are assigned to is a royal pain in the rear.
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  19. Galder's Avatar
    TCockpit entry will be the same for each race, only with the correct assigned race weapons. That means SS_COCKPIT_A_BLACK contains the special weapons MD and ID. Blue is the cockpit with all fighter weapons, green is the capship weapon cockpit, cyan is capship weapons and fighter weapons, red is the FAA cockpit, violet is FAA and fighter weapons, yellow is FAA and capship weapons, and white are all available weapons.

    Subtypes are organised to match the needs to separate all weapons. The weapons are separated in these classes by their ware class. You have for example one subtype for generic capship weapons, and one for generic fighter weapons. For each race, there's a similar subtype with the according race weapons. Special weapons and the FAAs have their own subtypes. I can't see where this is bizarre or ad hoc. Subtypes can't be renamed, so you need to look at the assigned weapons to judge about a given subtype and where and how it is used. If this is like the discussion in TShips, and you would have named that in a different way, just for the sake of the name, this fits the needs of scripts running. A red cockpit can be called by the scripts as a FAA script, and the right turret command can be assigned just by getting the name of the used TCockpit entry. There's no need for further checks, and we save a lot of CPU cycles. In this way, we can handle the sheer amount of scripts running and can afford to operate beyond numbers which would have slowed down the game otherwise.

    If you want to put in your experimentl alpha EMPC, you'd need to assign the weapon to SG_LASER_TERRAN_LIGHT and the cockpits TR_BLUE, TR_VIOLET, TR_CYAN and TR_WHITE. and that's it. Every terran fighter will have these weapons already available, all relevant cockpits will have the weapon, and there's no need to modify the TShips file. All included turret comands will work with it correctly. If you gave it ware class T, M5 and up will mount it, S for M4 and up, M M3 and up, and so on.

    Have a look at the TLaser and the assigned subtypes for weapon groups. As already said, names in subtypes can't be changed, at least without a workaround which would cost a lot of cycles, and the subtypes are following the needs of scripts to save checks, for example. The cockpits are following the above given color code. If you assign the right ware class for the intended ship class (M5=T, M4=S, M3=M, and so on) you don't even need to touch the TShips and have the weapons correctly assigned to the ships which are supposed to mount them. The same system applies to TMissiles and TShields.
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    Updated 12-02-2011 at 11:18 AM by Galder
  20. Roger L.S. Griffiths's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Galder
    ...
    Thanks for the detail Galder , but what might be really useful is for a mapping table from the X3 Editor 2 labels for laser/missile mount type (e.g. SG_LASER_IRE) to XTC mount type classification . I have had a look to see if the SG_LASER_.../SG_MISSILE_... mounting labels could be changed through data-files but it seems that it is not the case.

    EDIT: I will have a look a producing a modders guide to XTC using this information and other modder experiences if it is not already on the active task list for the XTC team. Perhaps it will help take some of the heat off the XTC team over the balancing decisions
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    Updated 12-02-2011 at 11:38 AM by Roger L.S. Griffiths
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