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Chris England: «Xenonauts is much more of a faithful remake than XCOM»

28 Февраля 2013

It’s hard to find introductory words for this interview. We would like to say so much, because these people are doing remake or, better to say, reimagining of X-Com! Not so beautiful and polished as the last year's creation of Firaxis, but with a deeper strategic part, well developed air battles, saturated with the spirit of the original. Real gift for hardcore gamers. We contacted the developers, asked some burning questions and became very frank and honest answers. So, now the introduction is finished: let Chris England tell you something interesting.

Hello! Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Chris EnglandHello there. I’m Chris England, the Studio Lead at Goldhawk Interactive and the lead designer on Xenonauts.

Tell us a bit about your studio. We know that the Goldhawk Interactive is an independent London-based studio, and its team works remotely around the world. How many people has the team? How did you find each other? Do you have someone from CIS? Do you have some completed projects? Are you all fans of X-Com or there are some people in the team, who have not played it yet?

We have two full-time employees in our London offices and two more people working full-time outside the UK. On top of that, we probably have about a dozen other people working part-time on the project at any one time.

A few of us have worked on other projects, but for most people this is their first major title. I’d say most people on the team have played X-Com (certainly all of the full-time people have) but it’s certainly a huge inspiration for me. I spent months playing it when I was younger!

One of our programmers at the moment is from the Ukraine, and we’ve had a couple of freelance artists who did contracts with us who were from CIS. We have a lot of forum users from there too!

On Kickstarter Xenonauts received 300% funding. This is great result! What do you think, why the project was so successful? Does Kickstarter-campaign helped you a lot? What you had on hands, what was already done, when you come to ask for money from the gamers?

Yes, it was a great result. The money has been enormously helpful. I think at the time I thought we could have finished the game without it, but looking back I can’t imagine what we’d have done without the cash.

We’ve been able to add so much more quality to the game with the extra funds — we’ve been able to move to an office instead of working in our bedrooms, we’ve been able to expand the team…it has made production so much easier than it used to be.

I guess there’s just a lot of X-Com fans in the world, or certainly a lot of people who are interested in turn-based strategy games! We were certainly surprised at the amount of money we were able to raise.

Have you played new XCOM from Firaxis? What you liked in it, what was not cool? Would you like to borrow something from the new XCOM to Xenonauts? What do you think are Xenonauts key differences from the old X-Com and the new XCOM?

I did play it, and I actually wrote a long article about my likes and dislikes here (for those of you that can read English): http://www.goldhawkinteractive.com/forums/showthread.php/3546-Thoughts-Lessons-from-X-COM-Enemy-Unknown-%28by-Firaxis%29

Overall, I liked it a lot. I played it repeatedly and eventually beat it on Classic Iron Man, but I don’t think I’ll play it again now. It’s a very polished game (except for a few bugs) and I enjoyed it, but there’s not very much replayability once you’ve finished it.

Xenonauts is much more of a faithful remake than XCOM. We’re not as slick or as professional as their game, but the strategy is deeper in our game. Some people are going to prefer their style of game (which is much more progressive), and some will prefer ours — but I don’t really think we’re competing with each other that much! I think a lot of people will buy both.


Well, you already have some agreement with Valve and Xenonauts do not even have to go Greenlight process to be published in Steam, isn’t it? Do you plan to translate the game in other languages? Will the final price tag of the project in Steam the same as now (15 and 22 € for pre-purchasing)?

Yes, we’ve agreed with Valve that Xenonauts will be on Steam on release. The price tag will be either $19.99 or $24.99 on release, we’ve not decided yet. If you think that’s too expensive, don’t worry — I’m sure it’ll end up in the Steam sales or in a bundle of some kind after six months.

As for translations, we’d certainly like to do that and Russian would be one of the languages we’d try to translate it into — but I can’t promise it, as there might be too much hardcoded English text in the game or baked into the art. We’ll look into it when it’s done.

Tell us more detail about aerial combat. We understand that its real time combat, but how will we control it? Is it more arcade or RTS (or something like one-button-combat from the new XCOM)? Would it be possible to put dogfight on autofight?

The aerial combat is much deeper and more advanced than the combat in X-COM (old or new). You can control up to three aircraft on each side by telling them where to fly, how fast to get there, which enemies to target and when to fire their weapons.

It is good fun, but we worry that it might be too slow to be fun across the entire length of a campaign. We’re going to test it during the beta and we may well put in an auto-resolve for the people who don’t enjoy the air combat.

What is the Xenonauts engine? Is it your own development? Why you decided to use exactly this technology for your project?

The engine is a very old piece of technology called Playground SDK 5. Honestly, it’s terrible — it was chosen for us by the very first programmer who worked on the project.

He no longer works for us, but we decided not to start over when we replaced him with somebody better. In hindsight, that was the wrong decision (we should have changed to Unity) but it’s too late to change it now, unfortunately. Our bad engine is actually one of the biggest problems we’ve had during development.


As we understood, the action takes place in the late 70's- early 80's and our troops are armed with weapons of that time. Does this mean that you want to make the game more realistic and in this way more hardcore?  Do you want to show in Xenonauts a confrontation of technologies? Will players soldiers get access to power armor, plasmaguns and lasers?

Yes, the game is set in 1979 — in the middle of the Cold War, with the Xenonauts a joint NATO and Soviet organization.

The starting equipment is historically accurate, but as soon as the aliens begin to arrive then the technology changes very quickly. Yes, you still get access to lasers, plasma guns and power armour like in the original.

The confrontation of technology is something we’ve tried to show in our art. Alien technology is very smooth and sleek, while human technology is much more solid and blocky, more industrial-looking. You can see this if you compare the human and alien plasma weapons, for example.

Surprise geeks through numbers:  how many types of weapons, ammunition, equipment, upgrades and vehicles (well, it is possible to take on mission some tanks or APC, isn’t it?) will be available in Xenonauts?

Hmm. Off the top of my head, I think there’s about thirty weapons in the game, probably a dozen grenades / medikits  / misc equipment, six types of infantry armour and three types of vehicle in the game.

There’s also twelve UFO types, of which 8 can be attacked on the ground, and nine human aircraft. If you include all the variations within each alien race (so the same alien but in different armour and with different stats), there’s about 40 different types of alien.

Let’s talk about base. Will we have one or several bases? Can we place it anywhere, or there are some restrictions? How can you improve and develop the base? Can aliens attack and destroy our base?

Bases work just like in the original game. You can have up to 8 bases that are placed anywhere on land, and you can build / demolish structures in all of them.

Yes, the aliens can still attack your base and destroy it. And yes, you still get to fight in an exact replica of your base when you defend them with your soldiers!


Is Xenonauts total hardcore game or is it newbie-friendly? How can player customize difficulty settings?

There’s 4 different difficulty settings but they’re not balanced yet. I guess the game is still quite hardcore just because it’s so complex, but the interface should be much easier to use than in the original game so if you like complex games then you should be able to learn it quite easily.

If you’re just not a fan of complex strategy games, you probably won’t get far!

Xenonauts has beautiful art. Who is your artist? Is it hard to create original and diverse design for aliens and vehicles? What are your sources of inspiration?

We’ve had loads of artists, perhaps as many as twenty. Yes, it is difficult to create original and interesting designs for everything and it’s particularly hard to keep them consistent with each other when there’s lots of different artists working on the game.

I think we’ve done a good job with it, though. The art is one of my favorite things about the game. In X-Com it was always really exciting to research something new so you could see the artwork and read about what it was, so we’ve tried to keep that feel in Xenonauts!

Are maps in Xenonauts generated or created manually? How many locations and types of maps have you prepared for the players? Can we destroy every single object and every wall, or there are some indestructible objects?

It’s a combination of both — the overall layout of each map is set by hand, but then there’s a degree of randomization. If you place a barn on a Farm map, the barn would always be in the same place but it might not have the same contents every time you play that map. We should have about 50 or more maps in the final game, though, so hopefully there will be plenty of things to see!

You can destroy almost anything except for the UFO outer walls and the walls of the Xenonaut dropships. There’s a few more indestructible tile types too, but 99% of things can be blown up.


How close is your game to release? What remains to be done? Do you already have some alpha version? Will Xenonauts release in 2013?

We’re hoping to release it this year, and *hopefully* beta is only a couple of months away (the date has slipped before though).

 The major things that need to be done are to get the AI working properly (it’s currently pretty dumb), finish adding all of the UFO and alien base tiles to the game, and to add the new interface that we’re working on. Those are the biggest three things; once that is done then it’s only really bugfixing and balancing the game so the pacing is correct that we have to do!

Yes, there is an alpha available. You can pre-order the game on our site, which gives you access to the latest developer version!

What are going to do after Xenonauts? Will you upgrade, update and support Xenonauts (if so, for how long?), or you already have plans for some other project?

We’ll be monitoring the game and we’ll continue to release bugfixes and balance changes (and possibly map packs) after release if they are needed, but I don’t think we’ll be creating DLC or other new content. Unfortunately, the time it takes to do anything in the engine means that it wouldn’t be worth it.

Xenonauts should be a pretty massive game by itself, though. Hopefully it won’t need any more content once it is released!

We have learned about Xenonauts not from Kickstarter, but from Julian Gollop, who called Xenonauts «a promising and more faithful [than new XCOM] remake». Are you pleased to receive such an assessment from the creator of original X-Com? Have you contact during the Xenonauts development any of people, who had a hand in X-Com series, for some help or advice?

Yes, I read your interview with him and I noticed that. It’s nice to have the creator of X-Com say that about our project. We’ve not actually been in touch with any of the original team, no (I couldn’t find an email address for Julian anywhere). Perhaps we should make more of an effort once we finish the game; we should probably at least send them a free copy!

Thanks for your answers! We look forward to the game release.

Kirill Ulezko

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