Very soon, literally in a month, will be released one of the most anticipated projects of this year — the revival of the legendary X-COM. The game promises to be an incredibly cool: eminent Firaxis Games working on it and more than twenty awards at E3 also worth something! Of course, we could not pass by such a project, and the developers were asked a series of questions.
Hello! Please introduce yourself.
I’m Jake Solomon, lead designer of XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
How long is the development of the game? Why did you decide to revive the X-com?
We’ve been working on XCOM: Enemy Unknown for about four years now. I’ve always wanted to make an X-COM game! It’s the reason I became a computer programmer.
Will the game be hardcore? Are you going to make it as difficult as it was 19 year-old Enemy Unknown?
It will definitely be a challenge, especially at the highest difficulty levels. We’ve also added an “Ironman” option, which means you aren’t allowed to reload saves if something goes wrong. It’s definitely a challenging game!
How do you find the balance between new and old ideas? What's left in the game from the original, and what innovations are waiting for us?
When we first started developing the game, we made a list of all the features that we felt made X-COM unique. These were things like having both a strategy level overall and a turn-based tactical system where you commanded your soldiers. We knew that we wanted soldiers to die permanently, because having real consequences makes your victories that much sweeter. Then we tried out various game mechanics, some of which based on the original game, to see if they still worked, and to see if there was something different that would work better. We are all huge fans of the original, so we wanted to make sure that we were paying tribute to X-COM without being slaves to it. I think we found good ways to give players more meaningful decisions throughout the game.
X-com is developed not only for PC, but for consoles too: is it hard to fit the game for console needs, especially the gamepad-based controls and interface?
We have been developing the PC and console user interface separately throughout the project. We had always planned to provide both. We learned a lot about developing console UI in creating Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution, so we had a chance to apply those lessons here.
Are there any people in the development team, which had a hand in creating the original X-com?
We don’t have anyone who was part of the development team of the very first X-COM game, but our audio lead, Roland Rizzo, worked at Microprose back when the first X-COM game came out. We’ve got a few Microprose veterans here at Firaxis and some of our team members worked on later X-COM games as well.
How destructible is game environment? Can we break through the hole in the wall, tear down a fence or create a crater in the ground?
Walls and fences are definitely destructible. Floors, ceilings and the ground are a little bit stronger, because they’re key to the design of the levels.
What part of the game is turn-based, and which take place in real time?
Combat is turn-based, just like the original game. When you’re back at XCOM headquarters, time stands still until you’re in mission control, at which point time ticks forward in a real-time way. You can also scan for threats, which acts as a fast-forward button to the next detected threat.
What game modes will be there: scenario, sandbox, single missions?.. How much time will take the walkthrough? Will there be a multiplayer mode?
The main campaign is a single-player experience. Each play-through can take on average around 20 hours or so, although there is a lot of variance in that number. XCOM: Enemy Unknown also has a multiplayer mode. It’s a deathmatch format where players can purchase any unit in the game (human, alien or a combination of both) by spending points and then compete against another player’s squad. It’s a straight-forward, but very deep system with its own strategy and tactical elements!
Can we save game anytime: during the battle or on the global map? If so, are not you afraid that players will always load savegames after the death of favorite soldiers? Or the game supports only autosave-function? If so, can players drive themselves to a situation, when even the loading will not save from defeat, and they’ll have to start all over again?
You can save at any point — in battle or back at base. We’re not against players loading savegames if that’s what they want to do. If players want a challenge, they can try Ironman mode. And yes, it is possible to get into a situation where nothing you do can recover your game, unless you load a much earlier save or start over.
You have introduced the cinematic camera. Was it done only for the beauty, to attract a new, casual, spoiled by cool visual effects audience? Don’t you think that because of this, fans of the first parts of the series may find the game ... “frivolous” or “uncanonical”?
We’re really proud of the cinematic camera. It brings you down onto the battlefield to see things from the perspective of your troops. It provides a huge emotional impact to key moments in battle and we’re convinced that once people try it, they’re going to love it as much as we do.
Why for the game was selected slightly cartoony visual style?
We chose this style to support the gameplay. We made the soldiers heroic and their weapons big and chunky because they ‘read’ well from the default camera angle, meaning we can clearly convey a lot of information from the unit’s appearance without making players dig down into a menu to see what that unit is carrying. They also look awesome, both from our isometric camera and from the cinematic cameras, too.
Tell us about squad management. How many soldiers, vehicles and equipment can we take on the operation? How big army is able to collect X-com? What attributes will have our soldiers? Will soldiers have specialization?
You start with a squad of four soldiers and you can upgrade to six. We’ve also got small combat vehicles called the SHIV (Super Heavy Infantry Vehicle) which is a kind of wheeled gun platform. They take up a soldier slot on your missions. You can have almost 100 soldiers back at base in reserve, but you’ll only send a handful of them out at a time.
Soldiers start out as rookies, but when they’re first promoted they’ll be assigned a soldier class. ‘Heavies’ are experts with machineguns and rocket launchers, snipers do a tremendous amount of damage at long range, assault soldiers are masters of close-quarter combat and support soldiers provide benefits to the rest of the squad. You can send any combination of soldier classes out on a mission; we could talk for hours about what squad composition is best for any given mission.
What about the global management? How many bases can we build, how significantly can they be expanded and improved? How will we earn money? War with the aliens is not a cheap pleasure?
You’ll build a single main base for XCOM, and one of the first critical decisions you make in the game is deciding on which continent you’ll build the base. You station interceptors at outposts on other continents to help shoot down UFOs. The main base can be expanded by constructing additional rooms such as labs, workshops, power plants, satellite uplinks, to name a few. There’s a whole strategy game involved with building your base as well.
Each month you receive money from XCOM’s Funding Council. You may also get money as a reward for completing missions or by selling alien technology on the gray market. But there’s never enough money for everything you want to do. War is never a cheap hobby.
What are expected system requirements for PC?
We’ll announce them soon.
The game has not yet released, but maybe you have some plans for the future: addons, DLC, sequel? Or does it depend on how successful will be the new X-com?
Obviously we hope that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a big success, and as long as people are interested in it, we’re happy to make more material for them.
Thank you for your answers! We look forward to the game release.