Firaxis have quite the challenge on their hands with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Trying to maintain longtime fans while still bringing today’s generation to the XCOM series is no easy feat (be sure to have a read of our hands-on). We thought we’d shoot a couple questions to Jake Solomon, Lead Designer on Enemy Unknown, to see just how much pressure there has been to live up to the franchise’s past, the challenges of maintaining a balance between new and old mechanics and much more!
Now the original XCOM is often regarded as one of the best games ever created, some saying that it is the best PC game ever made. Has there been a lot of pressure to live up the ‘XCOM’ legacy?
Absolutely, and it’s as much internal pressure as it is pressure from the outside. I’m a huge fan of the original game, and so are many of the guys here, and so we understand the trust that is involved with working on such a cherished title. One of the first things we did as a team after getting approval to work on XCOM: Enemy Unknown was to play the heck out of the original, so that everyone got a chance to see that game and all the amazing things that it does.
What have been some of the challenges in giving Enemy Unknown a modern ‘re-imagining’ while still staying true to what fans love about the original?
The biggest challenges have come from trying to determine what, exactly, we wanted to have in the game. There is an insane amount of stuff in that original game, which is part of the reason why people love it so much. You’d see something happen and be like: “I had no idea that I could do that. I want to do it again!” If you get ten fans of XCOM and ask them what features have to be in an XCOM game, they give you a list of a hundred different things. We wanted to bring some new features into the mix, like soldier skills and classes, but still keep all the great stuff from the original. That meant that a lot of features of the original game had to change in order to keep the decisions meaningful, but it was amazing how much of that original gameplay is still there.
Enemy Unknown is a mixture of turn based combat and real time gameplay. For readers unfamiliar with previous XCOM titles, are you able to give a break down on how a usual mission works?
There are two basic sides to the game. When you’re back at base in the strategy portion of the game, the alien invasion happens in this real-time setting. You can fast-forward time if you’re as ready as you can be and are just waiting to react to the next threat. When you are alerted to a threat, you send a team of soldiers out to deal with it. This takes you to the tactical layer, which is a turn-based game. You go through the mission until you complete your objectives, abort the mission, or have all your soldiers die. Then you return to your base, maybe start a new research project, queue up some new weapon production in Engineering, configure your soldiers a bit, and then go back to Mission Control to wait for the next threat to appear.
I suggest not having all your soldiers die on a mission, by the way.
We see a lot console ports of strategy titles often take a hit in regards to complexity. Are the console versions of Enemy Unknown going to be significantly different to its PC counterpart? Can we expect a lot of ‘simplifying’?
Nothing is simplified. What we’ve tried to do is have all of your decisions have meaningful outcomes, and we’re making sure players know what those outcomes are going to be. For example, a soldier’s inventory is now tied to the abilities they can perform in combat. Choosing to bring an Arc Thrower to attempt to capture an alien means giving up a grenade in that same inventory slot. That creates a real inventory tension that wasn’t necessarily there in the original one. Choosing where to station the base gives you one set of advantages from the start. Choosing which mission to take means passing on other countries, with serious consequences for that. XCOM isn’t XCOM without serious consequences.
There’s also another XCOM title in the works, A FPS by 2k Marin. Does Enemy Unknown have any relation to the FPS other than having XCOM in the title?
There are some mysterious linking elements between the two games, but that’s all I’ll say right now!
Now, last but least, a bit of a tough one – In one sentence, why should readers pick up XCOM: Enemy Unknown later this year?
There’s this beautiful moment in every game of XCOM where you realize that, after months of barely holding your own against a superior foe, you’re now on the offensive, thanks to your tactical genius and superior strategic sense. It’s the reason that I can still find joy in the original after almost two decades of playing it, and it’s a moment we have in our game. In fact, there’s no better moment in all of gaming than the day you look at a pack of aliens who used to waste your troops and you say: “I’m not afraid of you anymore.”
Be sure to keep you a look out for XCOM: Enemy Unknown this October on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.