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Editing XCOM 2 Levels - Part 1: Introduction
This guide series will focus on editing XCOM 2's randomly generated levels, going from a basic introduction on how they work and how to open their constituent parts, to more complex topics like painting rain effects.
In Part 1: Introduction, we take a look at how to set up the SDK, create a new Project, look at what makes up an XCOM 2 level and how to peer inside its components in the SDK.
Hello and welcome to my first tutorial on the XCOM 2 SDK, which will give you a very basic introduction to getting the XCOM 2 SDK tools set up and running, creating a new project to take a look at the XCOM 2 levels and explain a little about how they work.
To begin, you'll first need to download and set up the XCOM 2 SDK tools.
In your Steam Library, under the Tools category, you can find the 'XCOM 2 Development Tools'.
Download and Install this package, then launch it.
You'll be greeted by a screen like this!
In the toolbar at the top of the screen, under the Tools heading, you'll find 'Options'.
Click this and scroll down to the 'XCOM 2' category.
In this window, set up your directory paths for both the XCOM 2 Install path, and XCOM 2 User Path.
The top path should lead to your XCOM 2 game installation's 'XComGame' directory. The bottom path should lead to your XCOM 2 SDK 'XComGame' directory.
This is how my paths are set up, for demonstration.
You must set up the SDK like this before the rest of the steps in the tutorial will work!
The XCOM 2 SDK comes with a fair amount of documentation written by the developers at Firaxis, to help modders get started working on mods for the game.
You can find these docs in your XCOM 2 SDK directory - SteamApps/Common/XCOM 2 SDK/Documentation.
Alternatively, you can open this directory by clicking 'XCOM 2 Modding Docs' under the 'Help tab at on the toolbar of the SDK.
The documentation isn't perfect, but it's a great help in conjunction with this tutorial and others, and I would highly recommend you read it all!
Creating a new Project
Next up we need to create a new Project in XCOM ModBuddy, to form the base of our new mod and hold all of its contents in a way the game will be able to understand, as well as be able to test and upload to the Workshop.
Hit 'New Mod' on the Start Page and you'll have a bunch of templates to choose from.
For this tutorial, we'll pick 'ExampleMapPack', which will give us the basic structure required to get a new map mod into the game.
Name your mod something useful (not just 'My XCOM2 Mod'!) and hit 'OK' to create the project.
You'll have a bunch of folders and files on the left hand side of the program, under the Solution Explorer. This is where your mod content will live, and you need to maintain a certain folder/file structure here to ensure the game can load your new content correctly.
The 'Config' folder will contain all new/edited .ini configuration files.
The 'Content' folder will contain all new/edited Unreal Packages and Maps.
There are other folder possibilities here which will not be covered in this tutorial, but their purpose and structure is explained in the other Project Templates and the official Documentation.
With this, our Project is now ste up and we're ready to take a look at the Unreal Editor integration for XCOM 2!
Opening the UnrealEd Integration
For this next step to work, you must have set up your SDK and game paths in the 'SDK Setup' section of this tutorial!
Under the 'Tools' dropdown at the top of the ModBuddy screen, click 'XCOM 2 Editor'.
This will begin to launch the Unreal Editor integration for XCOM 2 - this is where we can add and edit the game's packages and content (such as models, animations, sounds, textures etc.) as well as its level files.
You will encounter a couple of error/notification popups during the loading process, which you can safely acknowledge and ignore. You may also receive a notification about Perforce - you can disable this as it is a tool used internally at Firaxis.
This is the UnrealEd start screen, showing the Content Browser window on the right-hand side, in front of the main Editor window.
The Content Browser is how you can explore and edit the content of XCOM 2, including static meshes, textures, particle effects and much more. The use of the Content Browser isn't part of this tutorial, but it's largely easy to learn to use.
Unreal Editor Window
The main Editor window is where you will edit the game's level components - adding components and positioning them in the level. Use of this tool will be covered in a further tutorial.
Plots, Parcels and PCPs
Levels in XCOM 2 are 'randomly generated', through a process involving components called Plots, Parcels and PCPs.
Plots are used to randomly place Parcels and PCPs in a certain configuration for each mission. You can think of these as the overall 'level' used in the mission. While PCPs and Parcels are randomly selected, each Plot always places the random Parcels/PCPs in a certain configuration which allows for a large amount of level configurations.
Plots are divided up into five main categories which represent the five 'settings' the game takes place in:
City Centre - ADVENT city areas.
Small Town - Rural areas.
Slums - City areas.
Shanty - Resistance hideouts.
Wilderness - Countryside / abandoned areas.
Parcels are themed, discrete chunks of game content. The content of a parcel is dependent on the type of plot it is loaded into. A small town parcel would likely be a single family home or a storefront. A wilderness parcel would likely be a forest or an abandoned structure.
Parcels are measured in game tiles. Standard parcels come in three sizes:
Large parcels are 32 tiles by 32 tiles
Medium parcels are 16 tiles by 32 tiles
Small parcels are 16 tiles by 16 tiles
PCPs are small chunks of environmentally appropriate elements that are arranged around and between parcels to create a coherent play space. PCPs tend to be more generic than parcels as they will be repetitive.
PCPs are usually road networks, rivers/creeks, and areas at the edge of a level that the player cannot access.
One final thing to note is that levels created using Wilderness, Shanty and SmallTown plots can be generated in one of three biomes:
Temperate - Forests, rivers, ravines.
Arid - Desert, creeks, canyons.
Tundra - Snowy plains, frozen rivers, etc.
The assets in XCOM 2 levels are able to seamlessly swap out for an equivalent depending on the biome they're in - for instance, trees can become cactii, ground will become sandy or snowy, etc.
Much more detail on these components can be found in the official documentation.
Opening and Exploring a Parcel
Now that we know about Plots, Parcels and PCPs, let's take a look at a Parcel in the editor.
From the Editor Toolbar on the top left of the screen, select 'File - Open'.
This will open a dialogue box to allow you to open a .umap file.
Navigate to the XCOM 2 SDK / XComGame / Content / XCOM_2 / Maps directory.
This directory contains folders holding the Plot, Parcel and PCP files, in the obviously named folders. Each of these contain a subset of directories for each level theme - CityCentre, Slums, etc.
For the sake of this tutorial, let's open the Parcels - Wilderness folder and select g_OldGasStation_01.umap - click Open and the Parcel will load into the editor.
Ignore and close the error popups and you'll see the newly loaded gas station parcel in the Editor window.
Navigation in the Editor window can be done as follows:
Right-Click and Drag - Turn camera
Left-Click and Drag - Pan view around
W/A/S/D - Move camera around
Q/E - Move camera up/down
Left Click - Select objects
Double Left Click - Open Object Properties
Right Click - Open Object Context-Menu
Space Bar - Change transform mode; Move/Rotate/Scale
If you have experience using an editor like this before, these controls will be largely familiar. Moving/rotating/scaling objects can be achieved by dragging the transform widgets with an object selected.
You can begin to figure out how scenes are put together using these controls and a bit of experimentation!
Thanks for reading, I hope this has been a useful tutorial!
In Part 2, I'll be explaining how to save a modified version of a PCP and get it into the game, so follow me to be notified when I put it up.
Please let me know if this has been of help or if there's anything you need clarifying!