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Posts Tagged ‘X-COM’

The original X-Com is on my short list of favorite games.  It was my first foray into tactical games, and since then, I’ve steeped my gaming sensibilities in other masterpieces such as Master of Orion 1 & 2, Master of Magic, Civilization, Front Mission, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea and Ogre Battle.  I never did play Laser Squad Nemesis, but the Gameboy Advance game Rebelstar: Tactical Command captured a bit of the old X-Com magic.  One of the first projects I worked on here at NinjaBee/Wahoo was our little gem Band of Bugs.

Similarly, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about tabletop tactical games like WarHammer and WarMachine, and I’m developing one of my own I’m calling Zomblobs! that may well wind up being a sister game to another one I have in mind (the sooper sekrit *redacted* project), not unlike the mesh between WarMachine and Hordes.  I have a lot of ideas for tactical games, and it’s been a blast to try to make one and see if there’s something to those ideas.

Let’s just say that I love tactical and strategic games.  They run deep in my gaming DNA.

So when I heard that the BioShock guys were making an XCOM game, at first, I thought “great, a resurrection of the fantastic tactical game by some guys who have no small amount of game prettification experience!”.  After a bit of cursory research, though, my response was pretty much the same as Shamus’ over at Twenty Sided and Jay’s over at The Rampant Coyote.  In short, it wasn’t quite the Darth Vaderish “NoOoOoOOO!”, but it was pretty close.  I had to go and play the original (I bought the whole bunch of them on sale over at Direct2Drive, also available on Steam, and conveniently on sale today), just to wash the 2K out of my brain.  Shamus later followed up with this lovely extended rant, and I found myself nodding along.  Seriously… this just bugged me so much I had to ignore it or slip into mild-mannered nerdrage.

…tangentially, I find it interesting that my flavor of nerdrage expression was to buy the original game in protest, even though I still have the CDs for the first two games in my library somewhere.  That probably borders on ineffective.  This might also be why my efforts to resurrect the Chrono series by buying ‘Trigger on all platforms and playing the OST for CT and CC every week isn’t doing so well.  Anyway…

Yesterday, it was with much happiness that I found out there is a team of intrepid indies working on a game they call Xenonauts, a little gem that looks to be nicely faithful to the original X-Com.  While I haven’t bought in yet, Minecraft is the only other game I’ve spent money on while it’s still in development, and I’m sorely tempted here.  Maybe I’ll get it after passing on a few more junk food runs (my gaming budget is what I might have spent on junk food).

Then this morning, Firaxis pulls a vaguely mean move and announces their own resurrection of the X-Com name.  I like Firaxis.  I trust them, at least for now.  I think they might actually understand X-Com and be able to bring it into the 2010s.  That sure has the potential to put the bootheel of Bigger Business on the Xenonauts team, though.

As ambivalent as I am about Firaxis maybe poaching indie efforts, both teams really are poaching the X-Com name in the first place, so I can’t get too fussy about it.  If anything, the competition between the two could be a healthy thing, making for better games.  I do hope that the Firaxis effort doesn’t destroy the livelihood of  the Xenonauts team, but mining nostalgia is a dangerous game.  (Never mind the IP legalhounds and shenanigans that come up with things like the Chrono Resurrection project.)  The squishy territory covered by tribute, homage, mimicry and plagiarism is a minefield.

May the true inheritor of the X-Com throne rise up!

…but if they both flub it, will someone else please try again?

…and I dearly hope that the 2K iteration doesn’t become the most successful one.  That would just be… sad.

UPDATED with more info at the following pair of articles,

Why Firaxis Loves X-Com

First Screens and Details

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GoG.com announced that they have just gained access to EA’s back catalog.  They now have this little gem:

Wing Commander: Privateer

Yes, yes, my day has been made.  I’ve been waiting for that title since GoG got started.  Between that and the X-Com collection I got from D2D last week, I’m neck-deep in retro gaming goodness.

Life is good.

…posting may be delayed…

…just sayin’…

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I’ve written a bit about my own game design, using it as a template for practical demonstration of some game design elements.  There are nuggets in the Balance articles thisaway:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

In addition to the things I’ve written so far, outlining some of the features of my tactical RPG (think “hex-based Fire Emblem/X-Com/Final Fantasy Tactics inspired” cobbler), I want to splice on a larger, strategic layer.  That’s another place where the X-Com inspiration comes in.  That classic game has a tactical layer (turn based initially, real-time pausable later in the series), but it also has the Geoscape, a strategic layer where base management, research and politics matter.  This facilitates a sort of strategic persistence, where decisions you make in the tactical combat echo through the campaign against the aliens and vice versa.

For example, falling behind in research is especially damaging to the war effort, but if your soldiers can’t score some salvage to study, you’re going to fall behind.  If you can’t equip them with better gear through research, battlefield acquisition and plain old mercantile action, they won’t work well in the field.  If they don’t gain experience and become better soldiers, they won’t keep up.  The  little decisions you make all over the place add up to a greater whole.  (See also: The Rampant Coyote’s Game Design: Small Choices article.)

I like that a good commander needed to keep the bigger picture in mind, and that sometimes, short-term sacrifices needed to be made to make a long-term plan viable.  I like that tactics and strategy have their own compartments in the game design (they are different, after all), but that they influence each other in profound ways.  That’s the sort of gameplay that can make planning and analysis very rewarding, even as randomization of things like alien attacks makes flexibility valuable.  I love that about X-Com, and it’s something I’ve tried to let weigh heavily in my own designs.

So, what sort of large scale conflict I’m thinking of for my game?  Well, the short form is “post-apocalyptic DNA soup, where blobs are the dominant life form”.  Players choose one of three Blob breeds and deal with their neighbors; the Aspirants, the world’s mental giants (these guys correspond to the Focus strain of previous articles), the Ferals, blobs of the wild (Agility units), and Zomblobs (Strength units), slow, relentless, mindless monsters.

In age-old blob tradition, consume your enemies, or be consumed.  Use their strengths as your own and rise to be the dominant species.  Build blob bases, claim favorable geography, research the apocalypse and dig for hidden DNA caches to give your group the edge via mutation and adaptation.

Or else.

The zomblobs are coming.

Zomblobs! ...and neighbors

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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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X-Com Complete

Prowling around on Steam because of this little gem

Defense Grid

I happened upon another interesting offering:

X-COM Complete Pack

I loved the original and Terror From the Deep, though they weren’t perfect games.  Apocalypse didn’t work nearly as well for me, mostly because of the changes in the overland management layer.  Still, those three are worth digging into for archival reasons, if nothing else.  Each sells for $4.99, so getting the pack means picking up two extra games.  Not a bad deal at all.  (Though I’m not sure if those other two are any good… so I can’t speak to that.)

With my mind of late turning more to strategic and tactical gaming, perhaps these are natural fits.  I’d still like to see more tactical and strategic layers to MMO design, but for now, I’ll stick with these and that shiny old Tactics Ogre coming in the mail.  Yummy handheld gaming for this overscheduled daddy.

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