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Archive for August 18th, 2010

As in, “come on, that’s just dumb” rather than a racy bit of textspeak.  It’s not like “XCOM, SchmeXCOM” would really have sounded much better, though.

Aaaaanyway, Gamasutra (sheesh, another innuendo-laced term) has a pair of blurbish articles up from the guys making a modern iteration of the X-COM IP.  (In finest literary form, they dropped the hyphen from the original, since that’s so BOLD and EDGY!)  Apparently, it’s supposed to be a shooter/strategy hybrid.

I had about the same reaction as Shamus.  It’s not quite a Darth Vaderish “Noooooooo!”, but pretty close.

Y’see, the original X-COM is a brilliant game from the golden age of MicroProse games.  (The era that brought us Master of Magic, MoO and MoO2.)  Even stuffy “journalist” types think it’s a great game, better than Half Life 2, the media darling.  To be completely honest, I played the sequel, X-COM, Terror from the Deep first and for longer, but it’s pretty much the same game anyway.  It’s a rock solid strategy game setting the player as an intrepid disembodied commander of a band of elite cowards enlisted to save the Earth from little grey aliens and their nasty attendants and technology.  In many ways, it still hasn’t been topped (again, like MoM and MoO) by modern games, largely because the gameplay is brilliant.  (Despite the severe lack of pixel shaders and polygons.)

So, naturally, when making a sequel using the IP, what do you do?

You focus on the “emotions” of the IP, “while changing the game fundamentally“.  (Quote ripped directly from the article, my emphasis.)

Newsflash, guys:  X-COM Interceptor didn’t do to well, and that was from MicroProse.  X-COM Alliance (Looky!  A first person shooter!) got cancelled.  Fans of the original don’t want a totally new game, they want a bigger, better version of the original.  That said, the original is still playable, so topping it is a tall order… especially if you don’t know what made it tick in the first place.  Those were the days when gameplay was what made a game great, and the visuals were icing on the cake.  Things have changed a little, both in the market penetration of careful strategy games (no, StarCraft 2 doesn’t count; “Strategy” and “Real Time Strategy” are different animals) and a bit more “style over substance” in the market.

So on the one hand, I almost feel bad for these guys.  I can almost look past the cash grab in using a beloved IP.  New ideas really do tend to be less sticky, and the X-COM name still carries weight.  I can almost look past the “look, another shooter!” mentality, since everyone else is doing it.  That’s not a good reason to do something, but that rarely stops people.  I can almost sympathize with wanting to do something other than what the original did, wanting to carve out a name for themselves.  I can almost sympathize with the devs not wanting to go too far out of their own skill set, having done BioShock and BS2, games that have met with some success and critical brownie points.  (Though, does that make them one trick ponies?  Ah, the balance between playing to strengths and getting stuck in a rut.)

And yet, if you’re adopting an IP to bootstrap your development and hype engine, hijacking it and running in a different direction isn’t really the way to either honor the IP or pull in the established fan base.  It might be more fun to develop, and it might be wise if you’re chasing market trends (itself a dubious idea, but it does look less risky than “blue ocean” strategies), but it’s not always good for the IP.

(Tangentially, this is why I loathed the Tom Cruise-infested Mission Impossible movie.  It took a beloved license then proceeded to stomp it into the ground in the first act, flirt with the fans in the middle, then spit on the corpse in the finale.  It could have worked as a nifty spy movie, but specifically as a Mission Impossible movie, it was a kick to the groin of the IP.  Working with an established franchise is a dual edged sword.)

On another hand, it really can be wise sometimes to spread an IP across multiple genres and even mediums.  (See:  WoW TCG, WoW Minis and WoW board games.)  That has a way of building a cohesive universe rather than a single-shot story, which allows for inertia to build in the IP, and opens doors for more projects and monetization.  All in all, that’s a solid long-term strategy, especially if quality can be maintained across the board.

So, while I do not have any interest in actually playing this new iteration of X-COM, I am at least academically interested in what it winds up doing.  If it’s a solid game, and it may well be, it might resurrect the X-COM brand, eventually paving the way for a real sequel to the beloved classics.  (X-COM Apocalypse was passable, but also easily passed up.)  If it winds up awful, it still won’t really tarnish the original and TFTD, and I can go back and play them.

I choose, then, to view this as a Good Thing, at least until proven otherwise.  It takes some effort to do so, since my reflexive reaction is one of incredulity and annoyance… but I think I’ll give them a chance.

…at least it’s not a 4X game, I guess.  That would have overloaded the innuendo meter.

But I still want a great turn-based strategic/tactical sequel.

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