(if we can’t get the X-COM name rights from Take 2 we can always call it Raspberry or Doom Wombat)
This project is a remake and expansion of the classic PC title “X-COM” and its sequels. It will attempt to introduce new, key elements of gameplay which were not present in the original, while at the same time expand and cross over into a new genre, which is always risky. In addition, many elements of the original work must be kept in place and remade only as necessary.
In order to do this, the first and foremost item is to identify the original work, its elements, determine which core elements, systems and flavor we are going to keep, which ones we are going to discard, what kind of new elements we are going to introduce and determine the best possible ways to integrate them seamlessly with the main vein of the work, making sure they are conceptually sound.
The original X-COM:
X-COM and its sequels are considered by many to be the seminal game in the Tactical Squad Action genre, a type of game which has spawned a few titles over the years in the same vein (e.g., Jagged Alliance, Commandos, Silent Storm, Laser Squad Nemesis, UFO: Aftermath, etc.)
The main gameplay in X-COM revolved around the player primarily taking control of a small squad of soldiers fighting an alien invasion of planet Earth. The game was clearly divided into two distinct gameplay sections; the Geoscape, a representation of planet Earth as a moveable globe, which allowed players to detect and intercept incoming alien spacecraft as well as access other game functions and a tactical action view in isometric perspective, where the action proper took place and the player had control of his squad during missions.
The main vein of X-COM’s gameplay was the automatic detection of alien spacecraft, their interception in a pseudo-automated way by the player and, if the interception was successful and the spacecraft downed, the deployment of the player’s selected squad to the crash site in order to finish off aliens, capture them or recover alien technology. This main avenue of gameplay was randomly varied by the game in a few ways: many times aliens would assault a city in the world and the squad had to be sent to repel the attack. Also during the late game, aliens could find out the location of player bases and launch attacks against them that had to be fought off. The bulk of player time spent was during the tactical combat with his squad, by a very large margin.
X-COM also had other thinner, but no less important layers of gameplay: Squad members could be trained and their equipment improved. Players could design the layout and defenses of their own bases. Player performance in responding to interceptions and alien assaults directly impacted the funding they received monthly (game time) from different nations. Players could hire researchers and engineers to analyze alien items and, once understood, manufacture them. Players could customize their interceptor and shuttle crafts.
X-COM: Phoenix – Challenges and advantages.
The main challenge of this design is to recreate and expand on all those layers of gameplay in order to create a new and fun experience that harkens back to the original in the right places. This is not an easy task because of a number of factors, mainly:
– X-COM was a single player game. Translations from that framework to a multiplayer one can be difficult. And a translation to a MMO framework, harder still.
– Conceptually speaking, large parts of X-COM consisted of content being sent the player’s way. An MMO framework traditionally works in opposition to this.
– X-COM only had to retain internal consistency for one player, whom dictated the progress of the whole game. A MMO framework has to retain simultaneous consistency for many, at different stages of progress.
– X-COM completely lacked in-game social aspects.
– X-COM only had persistent worlds by virtue of saved games.
– X-COM had no concept of PvE and PvP as we commonly understand them. It was a self-contained style of play.
– Players had the option to speed up time while on the Geoscape, and the squad action was turn-based.
Some other elements can be translated easily and in a relatively more straightforward fashion:
– The “one squad against many increasingly difficult encounters” flavor can be easily translated to “many squads against many types of encounters” if stratified properly according to type of squad and difficulty of challenge. There is a lot of room to create, fill in and improve ‘between the cracks’ of the original flavor.
– Research and manufacturing lends itself well to typical MMO progress tracks, whether individually or collectively.
– Squads can be easily translated to, or made into subsets of guilds or other player associations.
– Performance and funding can be relatively easy to measure and apply.
– Training and squad/character progression in terms of stats, skills and equipment can also be easy to translate.
There are also a number of technical, non-gameplay challenges to overcome, namely:
– The move from a pseudo-3D Geoscape+ isometric perspective action portions to a complete 3D environment at all times.
– “Locking” the visual style in a way that connects to the original, while at the same time offers a modern experience.
– Moving into and maintaining a persistent world with dynamic environments.
The first and largest fork on the road is easily identifiable, and the most critical: We can approach this in two ways. One, to only borrow the setting and the lore, building a completely different type of game in which we can accommodate new concepts more easily (in the way World of Warcraft, a MMO, has zero to do with Warcraft 3, an RTS). Two, to buckle down and try to retain as many of the good elements of the original work, as they are, as possible; the adaptation work will be much harder, but in general lines the final product will be a more original offering.
What to do?