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Author Topic: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign  (Read 17847 times)

Offline Solver

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Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« on: January 22, 2012, 05:21:34 pm »
Hello everyone!

First, a quick introduction. I'm an experienced strategy player, mostly of the Civilization series, and an online community dweller. I've also been involved for a number of years in testing and development of games. It has, by now, become a habit to look for balance and AI issues whenever I play a game, but first and foremost, I just enjoy good strategy games, so I was happy to try out UFO:AI, being a fan of the original X-COM. Following are my impressions after playing a campaign in the stable version (2.3.1). I do my best to be constructive in my criticism, and of course an advance warning that yes, this is a bit long.

Overall, on the high level, I am impressed with what the team has achieved. This is clearly a game very much in the spirit of X-COM, but with enough things to set it apart. It's clear that a lot of effort went into the development, and kudos to all the devs for that! Now, on to more specific points.

The first immediately obvious change from X-COM, and it's an excellent one, is the limited supply of personnel. Getting them from nations, contingent on how much they like you, is great. In the original, you became self sufficient anyway, and then there was no reason to care about any of the governments. I also like the ability to create off-base installations, some radar/SAM sites sure are useful. I never had the aliens try and disable one, though, not sure if that's implemented - I was expecting one of the UFOs to just bomb a SAM site eventually.

I immediately enjoyed the variety of equipment and weapons available. The early equipment is very varied, with assault rifles, shotguns, SMGs and the heavy weapons selection. Heavies do especially seem well designed in how they perform different tasks. Machine guns rarely hit by demoralize aliens, flamethrowers are short-range but very lethal and the grenade launcher is just sweet. So, specificically about the...

Battlescape

The Battlescape is certainly fun but did, sadly, appear to have a number of significant weaknesses. Reaction fire in this version is just absolutely weird. RF doesn't happen that often, and when it does, it's often strange. Sometimes, I move a soldier that is, I'm pretty sure, hidden from alien sight, and that triggers alien RF. Sometimes (especially on the crashed UFO map), the spawn positions of my troops and the aliens seem to be such that attempts to move my squad during the first turn result in overwhelming alien RF. I've even encountered a situation where apparently an alien was spawned *behind* my trooper and reaction-fired when I moved. The system feels outright erratic.

Next, grenades. It's very nice to have the physics component, so that the grenades bounce, and it's different based on terrain, etc., but I also feel this takes away a lot from soldier accuracy. The key to getting good results with a grenade seems not to be throwing it accurately but rather predicting how it will bounce. Sometimes, I do it well, throw a grenade at a square some 5-6 squares away from the alien, and it bounces straight to the alien. Woo! That's good, but then what does the accuracy rating of my soldier matter if scoring a hit with the grenade is about how well I can predict the bouncing, not about how well the soldier throws? This also serves to make airburst mode from the grenade launcher very, very good since the grenades will actually explode where you need them to.

I really, really miss smoke nades from X-COM. I don't know the reason why they're not implemented, but that's an aspect of the Battlescape that is sorely missed, that is, the ability to create some concealement. Would be very valuable on some maps.

As I said, I enjoyed the variety of weapons. Trying them out in Battlescape, I came to some preliminary conclusions about their balance. Earth-tech weapons are well balanced in how they gradually lose usefulness. Early on, Assault Rifles and SMGs are good, but an armored alien may be able to eat an entire magazine from the SMG. So there's a real need to update your weapons. This is sweet. It did, though, appear to me that laser weapons are overall superior to plasma-based weaponry. When Laser Rifles first appear, they're excellent. Accurate and kill aliens quickly. As the aliens graduate to better defenses, Lasers do become less potent, but their accuracy advantage over plasma is staggering. I can give Plasma Rifles to my highly accurate assault troopers, but anyone else will miss too much - whereas with lasers, even when the damage may at times be insufficient, almost everyone seems to hit well. Of course later you get the Heavy Laser, to again beef the damage output of laser weaponry.

It's also strange, though fun, how the rocket launcher seems to be one of the most accurate weapons out there. My rocket guys were getting hit probability fairly close to that of a dedicated Sniper user. Intuitively, I'd expect rockets to be less accurate with perhaps a larger splash radius.

Medkits, guys! These are a big balance problem and should not remain like this. You can patch anyone up very quickly with a Medkit, it's actually more efficient than in-hospital treatment at the base. Seems obvious that as many of your soldiers as possible should carry medkits, and that anyone who gets hit should pull back for healing. You can also do a lot with a tactic where there are 2 medics on hand to heal someone. Medkits should certainly not instantly return someone who just took a plasma burst to full health. This is something I think the original X-COM nailed very well. Medkits help to prevent a soldier from just bleeding out on the spot, but actual healing requires a prolonged stay at the base.

The maps are mostly good, but a few suffer from being too predictable. The worst offender is the Big City (+city) map. There appear to be no random elements or spawn points in it, so I always know that my Firebird is to the east of the big building, that aliens will appear in specific squares on the roof, etc. On the map, I typically leave 3 long-ranged soldiers (MG, Sniper and Rocket, or 2 MGs + Sniper) by the craft, while the rest rush in through the entrance and go up the different staircases. It plays out the same every time.

Speaking of maps also, the base defense missions are poor - probably the poorest part in the actual Battlescape. Predictability is also a problem, of course - once you do a base defense once, for a specific base, you know where the aliens spawn. And the base maps are big, so these missions take too much time, especially given how the AI tends to be not all that bright and get stuck on the above-ground level. The first base defense mission I played was okay, though slow. The subsequent ones were just a chore. The main reason I invest into base defenses is just to avoid these boring missions.

Many of the issues in the battlescape are clearly related to the AI. So let's talk about that.

AI

A disclaimer first - I do know how hard it is to create an AI that acts even remotely intelligently. AI in general is a big interest of mine, and I have worked with game AIs. So I'm not going to be saying "the AI should do blah blah, it should be easy to implement".

The biggest AI problem I observed is that it seems to, overall, want to move towards the closest civlian or PHALANX soldier. It doesn't seem that some aliens prefer to keep their distance. On some maps (say, bungalow in the forest) this quite often results in a sight of the aliens running towards you in a big wave. I also experienced this very visibly in the final alien base missions - took a couple of turns to set up positions, and discovered that the aliens had just converged in a bunch around my forces. The immediate impression is that this approach-nearest-enemy behaviour takes precedence over safety considerations, as I often see the aliens end their turn in the open.

The problem is made more complicated by the fact that the aliens can all see through walls (a very understandable cheat from a programming perspective), but can not understand that these walls are unpassable. I've seen situations where a soldier is in front of a landed harvester and IR goggles show 3-4 aliens standing inside, just on the other side of the UFO wall. Ouch. And then they will pour out when you reach the harvester's rear entrance, but not before. Intuitively, I'd say that this is an AI change that could have the most impact on the game - making the aliens aware of impassable walls and so not standing next to one when there's a PHALANX soldier on the other side.

There's also something wrong, possibly, with the AI grenade logic. The AI can throw grenades - I've had that happen to me in the campaign, but only once. Plasma grenades are very powerful, and the aliens certainly would be more dangerous if they employed grenades more liberally. Especially if there's a soldier with 2 medics sitting around him. Ouch!

This may be wrong, but I got the impression that the AI will typically fire weapons at the end of its turn, not at the beginning, so it ends up exposed a lot after firing, as opposed to moving into cover after firing. Overall, I certainly need to look closer into the AI.

Game Pacing

Pacing is what I found to be arguably the weakest component of the game. In a nuthsell, there are too many missions, leading to the feeling that the strategic part of the game progresses too slowly. Despite me having a good amount of scientists and labs, it took too many missions until I was able to field some custom tech. On the other hand, the original X-COM probably had it happen too quickly, you'd only do a handful of mission with the standard rifles before getting lasers.

The pacing is a bit off to begin with, but it becomes completely off in the late game. It didn't help that I got stuck in the tech tree for a moment (more on the later), but by the time I encountered the Sheevar race or started seeing Supply UFOs, the game had become frustrating. UFOs would land on various missions several times each day, with a bunch more just flying around on my radars. I was just fast-forwarding the game, ignoring missions, while waiting for what I needed to wrap the campaign up. As a note here - UFO disassembly takes way too long even for a dedicated manufacturing base. The time is too long even compared to research of late-game technologies. I got stuck in the tech tree, as mentioned, when I didn't realize I needed to disassemble some UFOs to do more research to build alien-powered craft. Still, the time to disassemble a Harvester seemed absolutely disproportional compared to the time for research of the components, or even production of the Stingray.

The late game pacing is such that it would probably take several hours to play through one in-game day without ignoring missions. This is bad. If the designers intend that players mostly use auto-mission, I humbly submit this is also bad - if a player wants to use auto-mission too much, it's a sign of bad pacing. In a game such as this, success on the Battlescape should presumably depend on tactical prowess, not on a semi-random statistical calculation. The auto-mission calculation is also wonky, it appears. Just to verify, I tried it several times with base defense missions. Late-game, when auto-missioning a defense of my best base, where my soldiers were all experienced and equipped with the best tools, auto-mission would usually be a loss. Though this team of soldiers absolutely rolls over the aliens on actual missions. However, an auto-mission defense of a manufacturing base that only has 6 soldiers with pretty basic equipment and no experience other than from a previous base defense, would net me a win. Weird.

Unclarities

Some things in the game are not very clear. Examples:

- You need 10 live aliens to research a certain tech. It's not clear enough, when you only have a couple, that capturing more aliens will open up more research.
- Finding the alien base. I would have probably never found the alien base if I didn't know that in the original X-COM it can usually be done by following a supply ship. In UFO:AI, there is no hint to that extent.
- In-game texts about items and completed projects mention a lot of elements that are not found in the game - smoke, flashbangs, fighter escorts for some UFOs. Some of that is probably due to changes between versions or features not implemented yet. But the end result is that it's hard to tell which parts of the in-game text are basically flavour text, and which relate to the actual gameplay.
- When you can construct new buildings (Advanced Radar, Antimatter Storage), a more prominent message is needed. One would also be useful if disassembling a UFO in a base with no antimatter storage - a warning that the antimatter will be wasted.
- The game does a pretty poor job at explaining what some of the soldier attributes mean, like strength and speed (even though this can be inferred from knowing X-COM).

Miscellany

Just various thoughts:

- It's a shame about the destructable environments. I understand the technical reasons why there are none and why it's unlikely to happen, but I just wanted to mention this - that's one of the things making X-COM's battles so memorable.
- The civilians are dumb. They don't even seem to run away from the aliens in a concentrated fashion. And some are perfectly calm walking down a street with aliens on the one side and PHALANX on the other.
- Would be nice for the economy if item prices on the market did not always match the production costs.
- Speaking of, is there any use (past the initial research) for the huge amounts of alien armour and breathing apparatus you recover? Seems like it's just loot for sale
- Although they're cool, I never found much use for melee weapons like knives. Sidearms definitely have their use, but the variety of pistols seems far more useful for the purpose.

I'll add more if I forgot something, as I often do. I understand, in the meanwhile, that nightly builds are also being uploaded - probably time to check a nightly to see how the development progress has been! Last thing for now, please do not get the impression that I am being overly critical. I enjoyed playing UFO:AI very much, but when posting at a forum that the developers actually read, I concentrate on feedback that might hopefully help improve the game further.

Offline H-Hour

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2012, 09:20:50 pm »
Welcome to the forums Solver. I agree with most of your observations. A lot of the bigger ones (AI, medikits, game pace) are things that are not properly implemented or planned to be approved.

We are currently trying to reduce the number of UFOs spawning before our next release, but we need to be careful because fewer UFOs will upset things like nation happiness and income acquired through selling UFOs. That, in turn, could upset the pace of research progress and base expansion. The campaign system is largely in place, but it hasn't found the right balance.

If you're interested in taking on a longer engagement with UFO:AI, we do need someone who is doing more wide angle campaign balance testing and adjustments. There's no "position" in the team -- everyone still has to argue with the devs to get their ideas accepted -- but for a while now we have not had anyone keeping an eye on the campaign balance.

Offline Solver

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2012, 10:06:13 pm »
Well that's interesting. It differs a bit from the way I'd have envisioned it to be done.

A general note on campaign balance is, I think it'd make more sense to first get the pace of UFO spawns / missions right, and then adjust payoffs / happiness / etc. as needed. First the amount of spawns has to be right, since otherwise the players get frustrated - and then it doesn't matter at all if the mathematical balance of economics is perfect. For what it's worth, as I reached the late game, I didn't care about income from selling UFOs, I had more than enough money, and I could easily complement my income by selling some weapons. Doing a late-game mission nets you a nice bunch of plasma weaponry, alien armour and assorted miscellaneous items that sell for quite a price.

Now, what I'd expect from the spawn rate is for it to be dependent on my previous success against the aliens. So if I'm doing poorly, the aliens eventually appear in overwhelming numbers, I can't keep up so I lose through attrition, as the nations no longer support me. But if I am doing well, I would expect the aliens to spawn less intensely. After all, they're presumably here with a goal. So their missions are important to them, not just to make sure the PHALANX soldiers exercise - and in that case, I would expect that killing their missions would make life subsequently harder for them.

As such, my immediate idea would be to keep a "success score" for the aliens. Goes up if they complete a mission successfully and down if PHALANX troops arrive at a mission site and clean it out, or if UFOs get shot down. This score would also be a moving thing - that is, not remembering what happened a long time, but rather applying to only a more recent amount of missions. And then the current UFO/mission spawn likelihood is affected by this score. Here's a rough example of what I'm thinking:

Mission success is kept for the last 10 missions. The 11th mission's score will then overwrite the score of the 1st (least recent) mission. A simple circular data structure familiar to programmers. Now, let's suppose a UFO that's shot down en-route to mission gets 0 success, a UFO that lands on a mission but PHALANX troops take it out gets 25, while a mission that gets completed undisturbed gets 100. This is simplistic - in reality, it'd make sense to at least add weights to those numbers based on UFO/mission type (a failed harvesting mission for the aliens is much worse than just losing a Scout!). So let's suppose of the last 10 missions, you shot down 2 UFOs, handled another 6 on the ground, while 2 were completed by the aliens. Thus, their success score is currently at 0 + 25*6 + 100*2 = 350.

Now, next time we check whether to spawn a UFO/mission, modify the probability (as a percentage) of it spawning by (success score - 500) / 10. So in this case, it'd be modified by (350 - 500) / 10, or -15%, as in, the chances of a UFO spawning are 15% lower. (I imagine this as an absolute change, say, the existing in-game formula gives 60% chance to spawn, and then this modifies it down to 45%, but of course I haven't actually checked what the probabilities in-game look like). With these numbers, you might be able to decrease the probability of a spawn by as much as 50% (if you shot down 10 most recent missions), or have it increased by 50% if you failed to do anything about the last 10 missions.

That's the general idea - the numbers are mostly for the sake of having an example. Anyway the first thing to do would anyway be to reduce the exponential rate of UFO spawns, because it should under no circumstances be as crazy as it is in the current late-game.

Offline BTAxis

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #3 on: January 22, 2012, 10:50:49 pm »
Hi Solver. Good to see people like you weighing in. I'm not very active in this project anymore, but I had a big part in drawing up the campaign system. The main underlying philosophy I had when drawing up the rules was that the campaign should unilaterally present a constantly increasing challenge for the player to rise to and overcome. I explicitly did not want the campaign to become easier or harder based on the player's performance, because I felt (and still feel) that any such mechanism would ultimately translate into a "best strategy" for the player to exploit to his advantage. Winning the game should be about beating the campaign, not manipulating it into letting you win. This is why the amount of UFOs that appear on the map, their type, their crew complement and the equipment of said crew are a function of game time - and game time alone.

As I said I'm not very actively involved anymore, and if geever, H-Hour etc. decide the game is better served by a more reactive campaign system then that's what will happen. I'm just explaining my rationale here.

Offline Solver

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #4 on: January 22, 2012, 11:10:09 pm »
Hey BTAxis - good point there, and I see how one can come to that conclusion. My response to the point that a campaign which is time-dependent only provides a better challenge is that time isn't the only factor in what determines a challenge. For instance, I also experienced a point in the game where all missions had become pretty easy. Sheevar and particle weapons had not yet appeared, while my main assault team had increased quite considerably in skills. Most tactical missions were a quick bag-and-tag operation until that certain amount of time passed and the aliens escalated again.

I'm very strongly against a strategy game coming down to an easily obvious "best strategy". In fact, I'd say a quality strategy game is one where it takes a long time to figure such a strategy out, even for the developers. But I believe that predictability is an enemy of strategic depth. If I know in advance, with decent precision, the approximate date when the aliens might wield certain weapons, that makes it easier for me to figure out the optimal strategy as the sheer amount of variables is reduced. Further, in the specific case of this game, the lack of a dynamic component in the campaign makes me feel like my efforts do not have any impact on anything. What's the point of PHALANX if the only thing I accomplish by doing missions is gaining favour from the planet's nations, but the aliens themselves do not seem to be bothered or slowed down by my operations against the aliens. It would intuitively make more sense if the aliens were building up a presence on Earth, and their success at doing so impacts how much of a threat they are.

Of course, this is a fundamental design issue. There's nothing inherently and necessarily wrong with a time-only approach, even if I prefer a more dynamic one. It's secondary to the issue that the amount of spawns should feel right in any case, which it doesn't in the current version.

Offline BTAxis

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #5 on: January 22, 2012, 11:38:12 pm »
I think you make a compelling point with your comment about predictability. That's definitely a weakness in a time-only approach. It is supposed to be compensated by a certain expected duration for the player to research all the good equipment, and I suspect that's not really working out for most players. It's hardly easy to get an arbitrarily set difficulty scale right, which is where the difficulty setting comes in (the aliens escalate faster on higher settings). Maybe it's possible to find values that keep the campaign interesting to the player despite being predictable, or maybe some more dynamism will work better. I'm not sure.

Offline Solver

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #6 on: January 23, 2012, 12:12:30 am »
By the way, research is exactly a good example of where a time-only approach leads to discovering the "one best choice" strategy. If I know when aliens are going to bring out those big guns, I can figure out exactly how many labs and scientists I need to keep up. Then there is no arms race, if I am certain I can get Plasma Rifles/Heavy Lasers (preference based) in time for the medium armour wielding aliens. A less predictable campaign has a much higher chance of giving me that ohshit moment when I find myself outgunned.

I'd also say it's important consider independently the two factors of alien escalation, that is quantity and quality. Lots of aliens with crappy equipment can be tough, fewer aliens with great equipment can be tough. Currently, the escalation happens at a similar rate for both. You get more aliens and they're better equipped. And in the late-game, they wield the best equipment and come way too often. Maybe some circumstances should only lead to an escalation of alien equipment without greater numbers.

Of course the issue is difficult, you have to not only find a curve for escalation that would be okay, you also have to maintain some pacing balance between the number of missions and the strategic-level events like production and research. Even a production time of 2 days will feel extremely slow if you're doing 7-8 missions per day.

Offline homunculus

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2012, 09:35:39 am »
As far as I remember, the decision to go time-based as opposed to player performance based came from considering the opposite to what is proposed here.

It was like this: if aliens see players wielding plasma weapons, the aliens upgrade to particle beam.
So, the player might delay researching plasma weapons so that the aliens would not upgrade to particle beam.

In this case, however, if the player does not act efficiently enough, the result could be a clear defeat.
Maybe every UFO that the player does not shoot down, would leave and return after some period of time, so the number of missions would be under quite good control.

Offline Bashar

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2012, 11:57:53 pm »

Hello.  I should admit right up front that I haven't yet played UFO:AI for myself.  That's because while I thought X-Com was one of the best games of the 90s, I didn't find it as enjoyable as I had hoped.  It was very unforgiving and put more emphasis on tactical combat over strategic planning than I would have liked.  So when I read this thread and learned that the ratio of tactical battles to strategic window planning is perhaps even higher in UFO:AI, I decided to wait and see how things turn out in the next version.

But reading what people have been saying here on the forum, I thought I would throw in a few ideas of my own from the perspective of someone who is more interested in strategic rather than tactical gaming.  I looked through the list of proposals on the books and it doesn't look like any of these were addressed there so perhaps a new perspective will be welcome.  And sorry for writing a really long post.  I write big.  That's just the way I am.  Sorry about that.  I did try to divide the post into sections.

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In terms of pacing, which seems to have become the focus of this topic, it seems to be one of the biggest issues brought up here has to do with technology progression.  The progression of alien technology in particular.  Judging from what Solver (I like that name, BTW) has said, it sounds like there's a linear progression of tech, from terrestrial firearms to lasers to plasma to particle beams.

While this vertical line of research makes sense in that it follows the X-Com model, I suggest that you could make the game more dynamic by putting greater emphasis lateral research.  Instead of being a race to get from point A to point B, the player would be encouraged to think strategically and weigh the value of techs based on their own, personal long term strategy and style of play rather than intrinsic values determined by the developers.

In short, give the player a choice between upgrading existing equipment and researching new ones.  Both options have benefits and drawbacks.  Upgrading an existing tech might be quicker and cheaper and allow the player to field more effective unit in short order; however, each research point spent on upgrading an existing technology means it's going to take just that much longer to get the fancy new toys.  It's a matter of opportunity cost.

But this leads us to the question of equipment diversity.  Is there really much of a choice between researching an advanced laser rifle when a basic plasma rifle is functionally the same?  Solver mentions that laser rifles are more accurate than plasmas but on a whole it sounds like once you research one technology level, it obsolesces the previous one.  What I'm saying is that optimally each technology "tier" (e.g. laser, plasma) would have its own unique characteristics in the same ways different weapon types within that sphere (e.g. rifles, pistols).  Instead of tiers replacing one another, they could be used to complement eachother.  This would transform the tech tree from a race to advance to the next rung on the latter to a platter where the player has to strategically determine what is the best choice to make given the circumstances of the situation at hand and knowing that whatever choice he makes, it will come at the exclusion of others.

I'm not saying that there shouldn't be any linear progression at all.  It makes sense that a plasma gun might be on a whole "better" than a laser gun, and that a particle gun might be on a whole "better" than a plasma gun.  If you want to research the big fancy guns, though, you're going to have to pay for it.  What I mean to encourage is that be some drawback to correspond with that intrinsic superiority of more advanced weapons so that each tier's utility has as much to do with the circumstance in which they're used as it does with the value of their stats.  For example, one weapon might have a substantially better magazine capacity than another, that would make it ideal for battles you expect to be time consuming, where logistics may ultimately play a larger part in determining victory than firepower.

To an extent this seems to already exist as per Solver's anecdote regarding the equipping of his grunts with intrinsically accurate laser rifles while arming his snipers with the less accurate but damage intensive plasma rifles.  What I'm suggesting is that you go all-in with this trend and establish more of a paper-rock-scissors model where the particle weapon might be superior in most cases, but not all, while the lower tiered laser weapon might not have much to show for itself but is still effective in particular circumstances even at the end of the game.

On a macro scale, this would allow the AI to diversity its tactics.  It won't be as much a matter of transitioning from one tech tier to the next so much as choosing specific weapons for specific purposes.  This would open up the opportunity to create different AI "personalities" which would eliminate, or at least reduce the level of predictability that Solver is talking about.  "Reactive" gameplay shouldn't just be a matter of the AI responding to the player, but should also be about the player responding to the AI.  If the AI behaves the same in every game, the player will soon pick up on the "one best choice" to counter them.  If the AI diversifies its activities, then the player must analyze his opponents actions, deduce his motives, and plan accordingly to counter them.

For example, if the player sees his opponent introducing plasma weapons earlier than expected, before lasers, then the player will adapt his strategy to find a means of countering those weapons.  If the equipment is sufficiently diversified as suggested above, then plasma weapons will have a weakness that the player can exploit.  In turn, the player's strategy will have its own weakness which his opponent will try to exploit, and so on and so forth to create a dynamic gaming experience.  Success becomes not so much a matter of who is the first one to get the big, shiny weapons but who is better able to adapt to their circumstances.

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UFO:AI's research tree seems to be focused researching individual applications rather than theory.  Toward the idea of enhancing lateral research, I would suggest creating more research topics that would separate theory from application.  Let me explain.  Let's take for example a plasma pistol.  The reason we don't have plasma pistols today is because we haven't figured out how to effectively weaponize plasma.  It's not because we haven't figured out the use and manufacture of pistols.  We understand pistols, what their function is, how they work.  It's the plasma part that stumps us.  Therefore it's going to take us much, much longer to figure out how to effectively weaponize plasma than it will to apply that knowledge to pistol form after we've figured out the theory.

The way the tech tree appears to be set up now, research on all the different types of alien weapons within a technology tier is treated as independent of one another.  If you've researched the plasma pistol, that doesn't make researching the plasma rifle any easier.  What I'm suggesting is having all initial research into a weapon tier first focus on theory.  This theory stage of research is very intensive on captured alien technology; however, it doesn't distinguish between types of that technology, all equipment within that tier can contribute.  Once the theory is discovered, then the player can focus on individual applications.  The applications are much less intensive in terms of both research and captured alien equipment; however, only specific pieces of equipment can contribute (e.g. pistols to pistols, rifles to rifles).

In addition and as an alternative to researching theory, the player could also have the choice of researching the means to refit captured alien weapons for use in the field.  Alien weapons weren't designed for human physiology and thus not may not be immediately useful; however, it's relatively inexpensive to refit captured weapons as you don't have to understand how the technology works, just take advantage of its functionality.  Of course, this means that you would be unable to manufacture your own such weapons and be dependent on the supply that you can scavenge, but it creates a strategic quandary that the player must figure out on their own.  Basically it comes down to one of three options:

A) Invest the alien weapon toward researching theory, which will eventually allow much greater flexibility in manufacturing and utilizing that technology.
B) Sell it on the open market for cash which can be invested on other, different technologies and equipment.
C) Refit the weapon for field use.

Whichever of those options the player chooses will be determined by their preferences as an individual and the circumstances they face in the game.  It's not a matter of choosing one "best" strategy, though some strategies may have greater overall viability than others, but of adapting to circumstances.  Obviously it would be great to get the research boost, the cash, and to be able to field the weapon all at once, but the player must instead determine which option will best serve his immediate interests.  That's strategic decision making at work.

---

A final point on technology is that the tech tree seems to focus on the study of alien technology.  At first blush this would make sense; however, it seems to neglect fields where alien technology can advance human understanding of its existing technologies.  For instance, reverse engineering a UFO doesn't just improve your knowledge of that UFO but also allows you to advance the development of human engineered detection systems.  After all, once you have a good idea of what you're looking for, it's a lot easier to find it.  For another example, research into alien alloys and propellant might open up the opportunity to produce advanced projectile ammunition that could improve the late-game utility of terrestrial firearms that might otherwise be discarded.

This is technology that is distinctly oriented toward humanity but could be advanced with the introduction of knowledge gleaned from researching alien technology.  Therefore I see an opportunity to develop a whole branch of the tech tree that is human/player oriented but rationalized in the fiction of the game as being derived from the research he is performing on the aliens.

On a whole what I would like to see is a technology tree that enables the player to pursue diverse strategies rather than focus on particular game-winning lines of research.  The key here is diversity, establishing a set of complementary rather than conflicting or exclusive technologies.  As to -how- to go about doing that, I can't rightly say.  I haven't taken a look at the code yet.  But I'm throwing the idea out here to see if it's a direction the developers and community are interested in pursuing.

---

Next topic I want to touch on is the game's market economy.  It's been mentioned that cash is very dear at the start of the game but plentiful toward late game.  At first blush the obvious solution would be to make the market value for alien technology very high at the start of the game but gradually diminish as more and more pieces are introduced to the world market.  Look at it in terms of an auction.  You put your first alien blaster for sale on the market, the only one of its kind available on Earth, and you're going to get the highest bidder.  Put another alien blaster on the market, though, and it's no longer one of a kind.  The first bidder isn't really interested since he already has one so the second blaster goes to the next highest bidder at a reduced price, so on and so forth until alien blasters are commonplace and don't fetch much more than a terrestrial weapon.

This would change the dynamic of the economy as the player progresses in the game.  At the start, he can get by supplementing his income by selling off the occasional captured item; however, over time the player will be required to provide more and more quantities in order to make the same aggregate income.  That will force the player to either focus on capturing and recovering more exotic technology, which means the player will have to take care to use less destructive means when combating the aliens, or focus on manufacture which, pursuant to the section I wrote above, would have to be the result of a dedicated strategy and research plan.  And, of course, there's always the alternative of sucking up to nations for grant money.

How the player seeks its money is up to them, again I don't think there should be any "one best choice" but a combination of strategies based on an overall plan and the circumstances of the moment.  With declining prices based on the quantity of goods that have been introduced to the market, though, you establish a system that would inject more capital in the beginning of the game without inflation rending it worthless at the end.

Additionally, you could make nations more reluctant to fund grants if Phalanx has a lot of money on its hands.  If the player is regarded as particularly wealthy, nations might not see the point in continuing funding when they can put that money toward internal budgetary concerns.

---

Finally I wanted to say a few words on auto-calculated battles.  For my part, I think these are a good thing because when I started playing X-Com I was excited to invest myself in the strategic game.  I enjoyed the tactical game, too, and really you couldn't have a game based on X-Com that didn't emphasize turn-based tactical combat; however, for me it got to be tedious having to counter every single terror mission or raid every single downed UFO.  Base missions, either attacking the aliens or defending your own, those I could always understand as being pivotal moments worthy of my attention; however, the other missions tended to become mundane and tedious after you accomplished the first couple ones.  The terror missions in particular were annoying because you couldn't skip them lest you get your funding cut, lose support, and eventually lose the game, and a successful terror mission always left me feeling more like I was treading water than having had accomplished some achievement.

Based on what I've read on here, though, I infer that auto-calculated battles are regarded as a kind of exploit.  Or that the mentality is that since a player has chosen not to invest the time in playing out a battle that they shouldn't be rewarded or penalized accordingly for the outcome as if they had.  I can kind of understand this since any X-Com inspired game -ought- to have tactical combat as its foremost priority; however, I don't believe that means players should be denied options to place greater emphasis on the strategic game.  X-Com didn't have the balance I was looking for and it sounds like UFO:AI even more strongly favours tactical combat.

So what I would suggest is integrating auto-calculated battles as part of the game.  The means by which I would suggest doing that is by introducing a system of NPC leaders or "officers".  I don't know if UFO:AI has the same system but I recall the agents in X-Com achieving a higher military grade as they earned experience and the population of your agents grew.  When agents reached commissioned officer status, there wasn't a whole lot of use for them anymore since having one die in combat would incur a greater morale penalty than the bonus they imparted while they were alive.

So I'd like to see the opportunity to take these officers and assign them to lead missions on the player's behalf.  Each officer would have a set of unseen statistics that would nudge mission outcomes in terms of success, captured equipment, captured aliens, civilian losses, and Phalanx casualties.  This way each NPC officer would have his own "leadership style" that would determine how best they could be used.  In some cases an NPC officer might prove superior to the player, in other cases weaker.  Some might be suited to some missions while fail at others.  You might have an officer who is very effective at operations but have a tendency to get the agents under his command killed where another officer might be inclined to surrender the field to the aliens but bring his agents home safely and some fancy new alien tech to boot.

Because these statistics are unseen, the player understands that he is taking a risk by using an NPC leader; however, over time, the player will be able to judge from the officer's record what his strengths and weaknesses are and come to employ him optimally... if he wants.  If the player wants to focus on tactical combat, more power to him, this suggestion regarding using officers to auto-calc battles is a means of de-emphasizing tactical combat for players who are less interested in it while simultaneously making the strategic game more engaging.

Employing officers would also come at a cost.  First, because you're drawing your officer from your ranks of agents, that's one elite agent that you're not using in a combat capacity.  Additionally there could be a cool-down period before an officer can be used to lead a subsequent battle (darned paperwork!).  This will force the player to consider whether they want to use an officer right away or hold them back in reserve with the expectation that another, more appropriate mission will crop up soon after.  That's just more strategic decision making at hand.

Moreover, you could have it so that the player is required to invest in "command post" base modules.  This would mean that officers would come at the expense of using that base slot for something else, such as a research lab or warehouse, while also potentially limiting the area you can deploy that officer to battles to within a certain radius of their base.  You might have another Caesar on your hands, but he can only be in one place at a time.  The player would have to determine where his officers would be most effectively utilized and why.  If the player wants to focus on playing out the important tactical battles, he might assign an officer to a backwater base to mop up skirmishes.  Alternatively, if the player prefers leaving the large battles to his officers, he can assign them to bases that see plenty of action.  It's an in-game means of allowing the player to tailor the game experience to suit their preference.

---

Alright, in closing, I want to say that pretty much every thing I've said has been more with regard to X-Com than with UFO:AI.  Some of the above might not really apply, in which case, I hope you'll forgive me.

I think it's great that this project is in development and that it has advanced so far.  Games like this, labours of love rather than profit-driven enterprises, are really an inspiration.  Thanks for the opportunity to get my gears spinning and write this post.

Offline Hertzila

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2012, 08:46:12 pm »
Since your post is long, I'll be putting up responses as edits to this post as I get them.

Your idea that weapons are not in actual tiers and are more or less just differing ones is basically correct but requires a lot of balancing to get to that point. For example, terrestial lasers are just about perfect as all-arounders (especially rifles), more than normal bullet weapons (assault rifles) as you might suspect. Decent damage, decent clip capacity and excellent accuracy even with bad stats makes them good for grunts and short-to-long assaulters. Plasma rifles, the basic alien weapons, OTOH, have so crappy accuracy that even in their short effective range they don't get much hits, making them rarely used. It's the same for bolter rifle (rail gun, another pure terrestial weapon). Its basic idea is that of a crossed medium range sniper and assault rifle but it lacks the crucial accuracy of snipers, so it usually lacks users.
After that things start to get a bit more complicated. Terrestial stun laser mixes things up a bit along with CHOKE grenades (stun gas). Coilguns are a snipers dream come true but are bloody expensive for upkeep and backpack space. Alien particle weapons are more or less upgraded lasers but are even more expensive to upkeep, what with it being impossible to manufacture ammo for them. During all this time, you also get upgraded plasma grenades both for throwing and launcher as well as (supposed to get, waiting for implementation IIRC) a new antimatter rocket for that launcher. Aaaand most will still stay with lasers. They're just that all-around.
Also, regarding the rock-paper-scissors, armour values should also have a part at this, with some armour doing an excellent job with one type while some other with another type, as well as alien species-specific resistances. So, the idea is there, it just requires a lot of work to get the best of it.

---

It makes sense that alien weapons and equipment are researched seperately, as that part is more or less exactly what you suggested about retrofitting and figuring out what does what in the stuff. In addition, right now it also works as an reverse-engineering project. Regarding this, it might make more sense if the similar weapon types are grouped under one reverse-engineering project that opens up once at least one weapon is 'retrofitted' that will allow manufacturing of the weapon types in question (after they're studied, of course).
Particle weapons are kind-of included in this already, as the seperate project regarding their ammo supply creates this sort of gap in their usage.

---

All of the research you propose here (detection, alloys, propellant) is included in the game. After dismantling/disassembling a UFO, the parts in question open up for research and confer the bonuses you proposed (their detection method improves radar range, propellant allows for human-build antimatter craft and the alloys just open up a lot of nifty possibilities).

---

Not much to say here, but just in case I want to point out that you can not make money in UFO:AI through manufacturing. Selling stuff will either always come with a loss or it was hauled off from the field, in which case there's no (monetary) cost to it.
« Last Edit: January 27, 2012, 11:03:04 pm by Hertzila »

Offline H-Hour

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2012, 11:35:44 pm »
On the rock-paper-scissors approach, you can see a proposal for balancing the Damagetypes. I hope to start working towards this in the next development cycle, but we will need more diverse aliens before we can fully implement this.

Offline Jon_dArc

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #11 on: January 28, 2012, 05:33:20 am »
It's the same for bolter rifle (rail gun, another pure terrestial weapon). Its basic idea is that of a crossed medium range sniper and assault rifle but it lacks the crucial accuracy of snipers, so it usually lacks users.
The ability to deliver substantial damage through walls makes it useful, but yeah, the sniper/assault role implied by the fluff doesn't pan out.

~J

Offline ShipIt

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #12 on: January 28, 2012, 09:21:27 am »
Hello.  I should admit right up front that I haven't yet played UFO:AI for myself

I stopped reading at that point. Sorry, but how can you rate a book without having read it ?
« Last Edit: January 28, 2012, 09:32:36 am by ShipIt »

Offline Bashar

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2012, 07:52:12 pm »
Thank you for replying.  Hertzila, all your responses sound great.  Glad to see that the terrestrial side of research is being represented and that each tech class of weapon has its own unique characteristics.  Can't really call them tiers anymore.

One point on which I wanted to clarify myself.  When I talked about research into refitting alien weapons to what which could be used by humans, I was suggesting it as a separate line of research from the study of the weapon's technology.  Let's say we come off the battlefield with a nice, not-quite-so-shiny alien plasma gun.  The player would have a choice between researching the theory of how plasma weapons work or instead learning how to refit this specific type of gun to human physiology.  The difference is that the former, while costlier, would open up more avenues of applied research and the opportunity to manufacture the weapon, while the latter is an inexpensive means of fielding new technology, though narrow in its scope and limited in available to the quantity of alien materials captured.

This goes in tandem with what I was saying about upgrading equipment, though this in some way shape or form may already be implemented.  Let's take for example a blaster.  There might be four different types of plasma blasters in the game as follows:

Alien Blaster: The weapon that the aliens use against the humans.  Effective in the hands of aliens but either useless or incurs substantial penalties when wielded by a human.
Refitted Alien Blaster: This is the alien blaster after researchers have learned how refit it for human physiology.  Limited in availability by the number of alien blasters captured and clunky to handle (manifested by increased time cost and reduced accuracy) but this is a relatively inexpensive means of getting high tech equipment onto the field quickly.
Human Blaster: Human manufactured weapon only available once the player has invested costly research into the theory of the weapon.  Being a young technology, it might not be as effective as the alien blaster in the hands of an alien (reduced firepower) but it's more effective than the refitted alien blaster because it was specifically designed for human physiology (normal time cost and accuracy).
Human Blaster mk.2: If the player so chooses, he can continue research into blaster technology and develop an even more advanced version that can match, or perhaps surpass, the alien technology.  The ratio of research cost to the increase in combat effectiveness might be high, making it an uneconomical choice except for those players who have a reason to to specialize in this particular technology.

So you have a single weapon but four different models depending on how the player chooses to progress on the tech tree.  This is what I meant by lateral research.  Depending on how the player values a particular weapon, they may choose research it differently.  It also presents another opportunity for the player to react to variations in the AI's activity (what we were talking about before in terms of making the game more dynamic).  If the AI is throwing a lot of one type of weapon at the player then the player might decide that it would be better in the long run to invest research only in refitting that weapon and save on research points at the expense of limiting the weapon's effectiveness.  By contrast if the player recognizes that a particular weapon is dearly acquired, or if they plan on investing heavily in that particular technology, they might forego researching how to refit the weapon altogether and invest in the costlier but more pertinent theory technology.  Or the player might want to research both, refitting to get the weapon on the field quickly and then theory to get access to all the additional applications; however, this redundant investment would come at the opportunity cost of researching other technologies.

So as opposed to each technology being "fund and forget", this would introduce an additional level of complexity where the question posed to a player isn't just a matter of whether or not to invest in a particular technology but to what degree and whether the player is focusing on short or long-term application.  Whether that's too much complexity is another question but I wanted to suggest this as a means of enhancing the strategic part of the game.  I think it would also address the "intermediate techs" that Samuel was talking about in another thread without having to introduce new equipment but rather different versions of existing equipment.  I completely agree with the philosophy that fewer, diverse types of equipment are preferable to many, similar equipment types.

---

I looked at the stats proposal, H-Hour.  I'm glad you brought that up because I had some thoughts I wanted to share on that as well. <g>  I'll add that later to break up my post into smaller(ish) chunks.  Is there a dedicated thread to which I should write about stats or would here be fine?  I did a search but didn't find a recent thread and was reluctant to bump something that was out-dated.

Also, I saw that high level of alien activity has been reduced so I plan to download the latest version and look forward to trying it later this week.  Not sure that'll reduce the quantity of things I want to say, but I'm sure it'll improve the quality. <s>  Thanks again for the opportunity.

Offline Bashar

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Re: Feedback and impressions after 1 campaign
« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2012, 08:01:24 pm »
2A) Generic Super-Stats

Speed and Accuracy, while they function differently, both result in improving an agent's overall effectiveness.  Speed increases the time units available while Accuracy increases the chance of scoring a successful hit, both of which directly and universally improve the.  As they stand, these stats don't really contribute to an agents unique identity except as an indicator of longevity or innate ability.  In other words there's no motivation for the player to groom an agent as "the speedy guy" or "the accurate guy" because these are things that the agent will develop naturally just by participating.  To put it another way, Speed and Accuracy don't contribute to specialization whereas other stats are defined in their scope my a limited but clear set of parameters.

I would suggest limiting the scope of these stats so that agents will value them differently based on their designated role.  Take Speed for instance.  Instead of granting the agent additional Time Units, perhaps instead use it to reduce the TU cost of movement, either running or crawling.  This would define Speed as a stat useful for front line agents who are responsible for scouting and weaving between cover but be less attractive to an agent in his sniper nest or a machine gunner providing suppression fire.  Thus rather than being a general skill that is desired and attained by all agents, the player can focus agents on becoming "the speedy guy" and have that contribute to the agent's specific role in the team.

I haven't looked at the code yet so I am basing my information on what I've read on on the forum but Accuracy seems to be mainly a measure of overall effectiveness.  Whatever weapon the agent is wielding, however the agent is wielding it, accuracy imparts a linear bonus.  As a stat it doesn't provide any functionality that isn't already provided by specific weapon skills.  As such it's redundant except as a measure of "cross training" between weapons.  There are more direct means of doing that, such as giving individual weapon skills a floor increase at the end of a battle, based on a percentage of the increase that was accrued by the skill that incurred the greatest improvement.

What I would suggest is changing Accuracy so that it impacts the player based on the fire mode of their attack.  Automatic fire would receive marginal or no benefit from a high Accuracy, burst fire, snap shot, and aimed shot would receive a respectively progressive benefit, and head shots (which should probably be renamed something like "critical" since there's no guarantee that alien physiology will model terrestrial life) would receive maximum benefit of a high Accuracy score.  This would allow Accuracy to supplant the proposed Sniper skill while being versatile enough to apply, to varying degree, to most weapons and still provide a unique benefit that will allow agents to specialize in certain roles.

The stat would be less a matter of overall effectiveness as versatility.  For example an agent with low Accuracy would be just as effective as a trained sniper if all they're interested in is laying down firepower; however, if a sniper wants to take a deliberate shot, even with a short-ranged weapon such a pistol, he'll see some degree improvement in his chance to hit over his trigger-happy team mate.  Should an inaccurate agent choose to pick up a rifle, the fact that he was a low Accuracy score would mean that while he's effective at burst fire, he won't see as much of an improvement if he used that rifle to take an aimed shot.  Thus this proposal of implementing Accuracy would help define an agent's combat role rather than act as a generic improvement skill.

The algorithm could look something like:
Code: [Select]
(base_accuracy + fire_mode_bonus * agent_accuracy) * agent_weapon_skill
This is not to say that there shouldn't be a stat that improves an agent's overall combat effectiveness, which is what Speed and Accuracy currently do, but I would suggest that such an effect be consolidated into a single stat, possibly called "Experience" or "Discipline" if you wanted a label with less of an RPG connotation.  Have it based the number of missions the agent has participated in and the quantity of aliens encountered and felled in those missions.  Basically, make it as simple as possible but no simpler.

This would also seem to correspond a little bit with the proposed Mind stat, since it was states that this would correspond with the agent's level of experience.  In my opinion, and I'm just throwing this out there for your consideration, but I would have two separate stats: Discipline and Psionics.  In terms of defending against psionic attacks (mind control, hallucinations, panic attacks, etc) the game could pick the higher of the two (perhaps unevenly favouring Psionics) to determine resistance while normal shocks to morale would be handled solely by Discipline.  For instance, a psionic warrior might prove to be a pansy when bleeding from a wound while a battle hardened veteran might be able to withstand the effects of a pisonic attack even though he has no such gifts himself.

2B) Encumbrance

I admit to personal bias here but for my part I generally don't like encumbrance rules.  It's not that I don't like the concept but often the implementation results in tedium.  I spend enough time managing inventory for my Skyrim avatar, the thought of doing the same for eight Phalanx agents when they go in to battle makes me wary.  The proposal page was kind of non-specific in terms of how encumbrance would be implemented so I'm assuming you were just leaving this for another date.

From my perspective, the most straightforward approach would be to add more inventory space based on the proposed Strength stat.  Of course, this is more a measure of volume than weight; however, it has the benefit of being very easy to telegraph to the player and provides a demonstrable benefit without increasing complexity.  You could then base movement modifiers on the space left remaining in the agent's backpack.  Leave so many tiles open and you get full use of your Time Units at the start of the turn, for each space filled beyond that the amount of Time Units diminishes.

What I have trouble wrapping my head around is how to improve strength over the course of the game, particularly how rationalize strength increases from combat actions.  Normally a person would improve their strength with exercise and training, lifting weights and such.  The only way I can think of reflecting that in the combat view would be to improve strength based on the agent's level of encumbrance through the course of the battle.  Each turn the agent suffers an encumbrance penalty, the more points are contributed to increasing his Strength stat at the close of battle.

2C) Experience progression

I also want to talk about how stats are improved through the experience system.  At present most stats are dependent on the frequency of hitting a target.  I'm not sure this is the way to go about it for a few reasons.  First, this method creates a positive feedback loop where in hitting a target increases an agent's skill, which in turn makes them more likely to hit their target, where upon they'll increase in skill even faster, and so on and so forth.  This means that agents would progress slowly at the start of their career but as they participate in battles and improve their stats, they progressively become more proficient and accrue stats are a faster rate.  This would seem to be contrary to what I've interpreted as the developers intentions.

The other issue with tying stat increases to hits on a target is that it unfairly awards agents experience based on their weapon choice.  Let's assume that we have a weapon that has an 80% accuracy rating and does 25 points of damage.  Compare that to a weapon that does 50 points of damage but only has an accuracy of 40%.  Statistically these weapons are equally effective, on average they will both output the same degree of firepower.  But because the experience system is tied to hits, the agent using the former weapon will improve his pertinent stats at twice the rate as the agent wielding the latter weapon.

And finally, the system unfairly awards experienced based on the Time Unit cost to fire it.  If you have two rifles of equal accuracy but the first requires fewer time units to fire a round than the second, then the agent wielding the former weapon will progress his rifle skill faster than the agent wielding the latter weapon.  This is because both agents accrue the same experience award regardless of how much time they are spending.  The agent with the faster weapon will progress faster than the agent with the slower weapon.

This leads me to what I think would be a good solution for these issues.  Take accuracy out of the picture altogether and instead base experience instead on the expenditure of Time Units.  After all, a person learns just as much from their mistakes as their successes.  It also gives the developers much finer control in shaping the experience system as well as a clearer picture of its impact.  If experience were based on time units then you could look at the end of battle statistics and divide the numbers by the duration of the battle in turns to see the average time expenditure an agent used a particular skill.  Divide that by the agent's TU pool and you get a very close approximation of what percentage an agent used his skills in relation to one another.

You mentioned balance before and I appreciate how important that is.  I think basing experience on the expenditure of Time Units would would make skills on a whole easier to balance and tweak.  It would eliminate the bias toward fast, accurate weapons and mitigate some of the guesswork in determining the "value" of individual skills.

2D) Stat Proposal

Here I've included for your perusal an alternative list of skills to that posted on the proposal page, based on what I've talked about in this post.  Note that I'd include stun-grenades with explosives since it seems a more appropriate category.  If you want a non-lethal weapon for the pistol/specialist skill then I'd suggest implementing a tazer or shock prod since they would seem to have more functional relevance to the skill in general.  Also I'd separate shot guns, giving "sawed off" variety to pistol/specialist and including long barrel or automatic shot guns with the rifles skill.  As for the flame thrower, it just seems more appropriate to include with Strength since I imagine that fuel tank to be pretty heavy and space consuming.

Discipline: Overall determination of an agent's combat experience and training.  Has a strong impact on morale but might also improve the agent's pool of Time Units, hit points, and combat effectiveness.
Speed: Determined the efficiency of movement actions.  Having a high Speed rating means an agent can cover more tiles with the same number of Time Units.
Accuracy: Determines how much of an accuracy bonus the agent receives from choosing a deliberate/slow firemode.  Minimal impact on spray-and-pray automatic fire, major impact on time consuming aimed shots.
Specialist: Weapon skill for single grip firearms and melee weapons as well as a catch-all for non-combat packages like medkits and motion sensors.
Explosives: Weapon skill for grenades, grenade launchers, and -maybe- RPGs if only to fill it out.  Includes mines and demolitions, if implemented, just for the sake of consolidation. 
Rifles: Weapon skill for double-grip firearms including both carbines and sniper rifles as well as long barrel shotguns.
Strength: Dual-purpose skill.  Determines encumbrance rules determining how many inventory slots an agent has available, and how many of those slots may be consumed before they start to earn Time Unit penalties.  Also a weapon skill to determine the effectiveness of large/heavy weapons such as the rocket launcher, flame thrower, and anything that ought to be mounted, like Rambo's M60 or Terminator's minigun.
Psionics: Mind control attacks and defense, though defense may be supplemented or over-ridden by a high Discipline stat.