X-Comeback

By Alec Meer on May 6th, 2008 at 12:39 pm.

I wish I still had my savegames from 1993.

I had it in my head that this had been properly confirmed ayyyyyyyyyges back, but apparently it’s still stranded in rumourland. Furthermore, it’s a rumour that seemingly had yet to reach everyone’s ears, as evidenced by the internets suddenly talking about Bioshock creators Irrational 2k Boston reportedly working on a new X-COM game as though it’s some sort of ‘news.’ Still, might as well give you fine folks a chance to talk it over here.

2K – the publishery bit – picked up the X-COM rights last year, so it’s pretty much a dead cert to happen at some point, so the mystery remains which dev will make it. That Ken Levine has handed over Bioshock 2 development to a different 2K team further supports educated guesstimation that he’s off working on a super-exciting project like this.

My predictions for this comments thread:

Someone will assert that they believe Bioshock to be rubbish, and so this will be rubbish too
Someone will say ‘noooo, don’t mess with the classics’, or words to that effect
Someone will accuse of it being ‘dumbed down’ for consoles
Some people will shout at each other about turn-based vs real-time combat
Not many people will say ‘hooray! A high-budget take on one of the best games ever from a seasoned, smart developer, and I shall be excited and optimistic until the unlikely event that I see anything to suggest it won’t be absolutely brilliant’.

Of course, now I’ve listed them, they probably won’t happen. Which is no bad thing, really. So, what you could do instead is discuss exactly what you’d like a new X-COM game to do/include.

Another issue worth discussing is whether, regardless of the eventual quality of the game (and presuming the rumours ring true), this is the best thing Levine and co could be doing next. From the outside looking in, it’s a similar dilemma to Bethesda remaking Fallout, purportedly because of the love, and despite the high risk of fan outrage, rather than coming up with an original property. Irrational’s last three games – Tribes Vengeance, SWAT 4 and Bioshock – are all, to dramatically varying extents, originally derived from someone else’s playground. So which do we want more – a new X-COM game, or a flushed-with-success Irrational to try their hand at something entirely fresh? Of course, there’s every chance they are doing the latter. Bloody unconfirmed rumours.

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66 Comments »

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  1. Tom Lillis says:

    Dammit, Alec. Now you’ve gone and taken all the fun out of it. Perhaps we’ll all start calling you Alex for the rest of the day out of petty, vengeful spite.

    Or, we could do the X-COM feature theorizing nonsense, I suppose. Have to think on that bit.

  2. Janek says:

    Ahem:

    “Man this is going to be rubbish, all dumbed down real-time crap for the console kiddies, just like Bioshock. Which was rubbish. You shouldn’t mess with the classics.”

    Okay okay too obvious ¬_¬

    I dearly love X-Com, but I’m not going to get my hopes up. If it’s good, hooray, if not, I’ll pretend it doesn’t exist.

    I think the original was as close to perfect as you’re likely to get, in my mind the ideal situation would just be Enemy Unknown with a new lick of paint, more varied architecture and perhaps more versatile destructible terrain.

  3. fluffy bunny says:

    Hooray! A high-budget take on one of the best games ever from a seasoned, smart developer, and I shall be excited and optimistic until the unlikely event that I see anything to suggest it won’t be absolutely brilliant.

  4. Jochen Scheisse says:

    There have been 5 or 6 attempts by game companies to recreate the feeling I had when my scout just vanished from the screen during hidden movement in a jungle night mission, then reappeared 2 turns later to kill my captain. They haven’t even come close. I have given up all hope on enjoying a game that much, and blame it on my age.

    Also, hem hem,

    KEN LEVINE, YOU ARE NOTHING COMPARED TO JULIAN GOLLOP!!!

  5. John P says:

    Well, i’d like a new X-Com Game to be turn based, BUT DAMNIT THAT’S ON THE LIST. I can’t think of anything else.

    Maybe they could just get TFTD to work on Vista, that would be a nice start! Heh.

  6. MisterBritish says:

    Yeah, bring back the spookiness and fear! One of the (many) things that the ufo remakes failed to capture was the scariness of the tactical missions, particularly at night. I think the turn-based combat added to it a little, but I’m not immediately opposed to the notion of trying to bring something new to the combat.

    This is all assuming they will keep the traditional model and not make an FPS of course.

    Also: Hooray for remakes of classics!

  7. Gulag says:

    For the sake of our souls, won’t someone update Syndicate?! (As soon as the new X-Com is finished, obv.)

  8. Ging says:

    I’d prefer if they kept the traditional model, but if it is Ken behind it, than an FPS may not be too bad in terms of atmosphere.

    It’s a shame that X-Com Alliance never saw the light of day, as that had an oddly alluring charm to it (I suspect if they’d gotten the atmosphere right, it might’ve been a beaut).

  9. grasskit says:

    It’s been a while since that classic has been officially raped, I suppose.

  10. Nick says:

    There are only two ways I want to play X-com. Turn based strategy or SWAT 4-like squad play FPS.

    I think both are reasonable.

  11. schizoslayer says:

    In all honesty I’d much prefer that wossit who made UFO: Afterlight etc got the chance to work with the actual XCOM IP because they really hit their stride in that genre and have gotten better with every release.

  12. brog says:

    I haven’t played any of the X-Com games. Where’s a good place to start?

  13. Thomas Lawrence says:

    Turn based or real time, I don’t care, so long as it recaptures that dreadful suspense, the feeling of being utterly outclassed by a vastly superior foe, the fragility of your troops…

  14. Muzman says:

    I’ve not played X-Com or Freedom Force (*gasps*) but I remember turn-based fans not being to happy with the FF real-timeish system. Even when it was explained that you could slow time down to effectively pausing it, it still just wasn’t turn based. It may have been the particular options available to you in FF but I couldn’t get what so meaningfully different about stopping time v turn based.
    Since a new X-com game is unlikely to be turn based in today’s climate (although Ken can hopefully do what he pleases for a game or two now), could a hybrid RT system keep turn-based nuts happy?

  15. Alec Meer says:

    Brog – I’d give Terror from the Deep a go from Steam, if I were you. It’s not quite as good as UFO: Enemy Unknown, strictly speaking, but it’s a cheap, easy, legal way of getting hold of a prime X-COM game. So long as you’re not running Vista, anyway.

  16. brog says:

    I am running Vista, sorry to say. Are there any that work on it?

  17. Man in Shadows in Carpark says:

    …other devs may be able to use the Xcom rights too…

  18. C0nt1nu1ty says:

    As 2K Bostons sinister paymasters now have complete ownership of Xcom how about refitting some of the old games to be XP/Vista compatible? Xcom apocalypse is my own personal favourite game ever (despite people saying it was the weakest) and I would dearly like to get it working on something that isnt a refitted 200mhz PII

    Also: yeah could be good, but am waery that it might be rubbish

  19. Feet says:

    I would like the new X-Com to include,

    Fully integrated pork products, particularly good quality sausages.
    Scully from the X-Files
    Full frontal nudity
    Slo-mo mode
    Realistic smoke
    Tenseness.
    Greys to be changed and called Blues, cause it’s a nicer colour than Grey. Grey is so dower.

    And if I stop being silly I think I can sum my thoughts up by saying,

    X-Com\UFO! Yay!
    New X-Com\UFO! Hmm!

    Good post.

  20. dartt says:

    What fluffy bunny said.

    X-COM had a bit of time in the RPS chatroom’s collective spotlight recently, I don’t think it would be wrong for me to speak for everyone when I say we all love it.

    The game is damn great as it is, 2k can just slap on a few UI improvements and some nice environmental destruction effects and it’ll do just fine.

  21. Tim says:

    The greys were called sectoids…

    I have full confidence in this. I remember xcom (the first one) as excellent, but I remember it’s short comings too. Surely what we really want out of an xcom game is a studio with the pedigree to know even better then we do what made it great, with the finance and the time to realise it. There’s no way something like this will be released too early and that’s a good thing.

    That said, what I’d like in an xcom game, is squad based combat and a terrifyingly scary atmosphere.
    One of the bests parts of xcom though was getting the money off the governments. It was good when that simple. Other then killing the aliens, it gave a definite monthly motivation. And gave me something by which I could prioritize which sites I’d send my teams to.

    I think we remember specific things like that, but what we really want is deep multi layered gameplay in an impending apocalyptic alien invasion future. Pretty, fun and scary.

  22. Ging says:

    dartt: It’s damn great for us, who as “connoisseurs” of gaming can appreciate X-Com for it’s depths. But the masses may not see it that way and it’s the masses who bring in the money, so we’d be looking at a vague shot at lowest common denominator with any updated version that isn’t fan made.

  23. Dan (WR) says:

    I’m happily optimistic about this. I think Silent Storm showed how much fun destructible scenery and ragdoll physics could be in this context, and so as long as there’s a bit of that I won’t be too upset how things turn out. Oh, and the chance to name some poor soldier after someone I don’t like and use him as a human suicide bomb.

    Which nowadays seems so much more wrong than when I first played UFO….

    Incidentally, is there any chance of RPS poking their nose into what’s happening with Jagged Alliance 3?

  24. FhnuZoag says:

    Maybe it’d be cool if Levine did something different with this game, since probably a sequel to Apocalypse isn’t a good idea. It’d be fun to reboot the series instead. I’d be happy with just a SWAT4 with aliens.

  25. Phil says:

    A Fighting Force style UFO update would be all kinds of brilliant, though possibly with the addition of Soilders: Heroes of World II style contextual complexity. And T-34s.

    Incidentally, have we now gone so meta that predictions about the comment trend are now an acceptable way to fill over a third of a posting? What are we paying you for? Oh….

  26. Cooper says:

    As is often the case with old franchises with a large fan-base. It’s often best left in the hands of the fans themselves:
    http://ufoai.sourceforge.net/

  27. Ginger Yellow says:

    Hooray! A high-budget take on one of the best games ever from a seasoned, smart developer, and I shall be excited and optimistic until the unlikely event that I see anything to suggest it won’t be absolutely brilliant.

  28. Chaz says:

    I can’t ever remember X-Com being scary, but I remember it being bloody well hard and unforgiving. Having to start all over again after more than 14 hours of play time because I didn’t invest enough in base defence research was not fun. Perhaps I should have played some 50’s Theremin music in in the background to get me in the mood.

  29. 18Rabbit says:

    I’m cautiously optimistic and I love turn based combat that Xcom used. I’ll second the vote for Syndicate and add Master’s of Magic to the list of games that someone should remake after Xcom.

  30. lumpi says:

    “Someone will accuse of it being ‘dumbed down’ for consoles”

    That would be me then.

    Imaginary Levine quote: “PCs are like – nobody plays with pirates, it’s stupid, while – the 360, awesome! You need, like, a better connection to the average player, like, no inventory. Like this.”

  31. darkripper says:

    If it’s a strategy game, well done*. If it’s another type of game, based on UFO setting, well, I don’t understand the move. The game was awesome but it’s story and setting were pretty generic.
    An interesting move however could be remaking Terror from the Deep with a first person strategy perspective. But i guess 2k can’t stand water anymore after Bioshock.

    * but really, guys, do you think any developer would try to do an high budget turn strategy game? Also Irrational/2k got no background in strategy games (the nearest thing to that they’ve done it’s Freedom Force).

  32. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Someone asked about UFO/XCOM. I am convinced that the first part is the best. And as far as I know, it is now Abandonware. So don’t hestitate to get it, for example from http://www.abandonia.com, I think they even have an XP/VISTA compatible version, with some tweaking.

    In case that is all totally illegal, which I do not believe, please delete my post.

    Also, if you have a PS1 or 2 at home, you may be interested that a very nice overhault of the original XCOM with slightly better graphics and much better sound managed to reach the console.

    If you decide to play this gem, some general tips:

    – The difficulty levels will make for a very different game experience. To see everything the game has to offer (or rather throw at you), you should choose medium difficulty.

    – Produce weapons, just to sell them, if you need money. Pros often build whole industrial bases, but it’s always a good idea to keep your engineers busy.

    – Buy flares and put them on the plane for night missions. Aliens have very good night vision. You don’t.

    -Don’t take every recruit if you can afford it. If you need one, hire 2 or 3 and fire all except the best. Especially bravery will come in handy, as far as I remember it’s the only stat that won’t get trained.

  33. The Pope says:

    Not many people will say hooray to every big budget sequel from big name devs because it’s old hat. The sun coming up in the morning is a truly wonderful event which we all depend upon for survival, but no one cares because it happens every day.

    Classic gets dumbed down for consoles is a marginally less common story, so people notice more.

  34. Tamarin says:

    There are almost no “modern” games that I will take the time to play. But I still break out Terror From the Deep once a year or so and waste a week grinding through it. There is still something chilling about the moment you realize there is a well armed Lobster Man sitting in the dark corner of an alien base with several zombie-making floating tentacled brains hovering in alcoves waiting to obliterate your squad as you watch helplessly during the aliens’ turn.

    I’m not sure why turn based games seem to get so little favor but the chess match against a good game AI is still one of the best reasons to own a PC.

  35. Jochen Scheisse says:

    And by the way, even if it is combat only and no base building: Julian Gollop produced Rebelstar Tactical Command for the GBA, and it’s a pretty nice time sink if you like Squad&Turn Based Strategy.

    And I still plan to try Laser Squad Nemesis one day, I played the demo but I never tried to play vs a human opponent even though I imagine it to be turn based win.

  36. Ian Dorsch says:

    My experience with X-Com goes like this:

    – I hear lots of glowing recommendations on forums
    – I install a free copy of the game that came with an issue of CGW
    – I have no idea what I’m doing and all of my recruits get slaughtered in my first UFO mission
    – I uninstall the game

    I guess that makes me part of the lowest common denominator, but I do look forward to seeing what Ken Levine can do with the franchise. I bet I’ll enjoy it a lot more than the original.

  37. Joinn says:

    Well,

    X-COM (or as it was known when it first came out: UFO – Enemy unknown) does work on Vista (even 64bit) as long as you’re running the DOS version in DOSBox (Windows 95 version does NOT work).

    It took a little tweaking but runs perfectly now. I should know, I’ve wasted spent countless of hours on it on my current rig. The biggest problem was finding the right cycle rate (using 20k on my Quad 6600).

    Admittedly it’s not the prettiest by todays standard, but the gameplay makes it totally worth the aggravation of low graphics and dated user interface.

  38. Jochen Scheisse says:

    I don’t know how to answer Ian’s blasphemy, so here’s a video of someone finishing the final UFO map in one turn:

    Really, there are maybe 5 games I can be a total dick about, and UFO is one of them. Also Fallout. Levine would be wise to brace himself against the storm of nerd rage that will be directed at the whole project.

  39. Jonathan says:

    Last three games? What about Freedom Force?
    Also System Shock was pretty much Levine’s to begin with and also Swat4 was by far the best in the series, though it still didn’t have any mid level saves. A fact I will mutter whilst Levine is on his death bed.

    I find it such a strange idea that fans get outraged by remakes. My favourite film is A Matter of Life and Death but if it was remade tomorrow starring Lindsay Lohan and Jim Carey and set in space(!) it wouldn’t retroactively change the original. I love X-Com, despite it’s flaws, and feel only optimism that one of my favourite “A list” developers is working on a new game in my favourite genre. Surely thats a good thing?

    If there is one feature I want to see return it’s fully destructable scenery. It’s the most overlooked aspect of the original but also the feature that caused so much tension and improvisation. Shooting holes in the roof of a UFO before lobbing grenades being a particular highlight. If theres one feature I want to see gone it’s the hidden dice rolls. Nothing lead to as much frustration as missing at point blank range or having my walking brick shoot house surviving five shots one mission and then dying in one hit two missions later. I also think a hybrid turn based/real time game, such as Bioware have been doing since Baldurs, would be best in my opinion.

  40. Alpha2 says:

    C0nt1nu1ty – get VMWare and you can run Windows 98/whatever as a program on your OS, and use that to play. It’s free and simple (especially compared to playing X-COM).

    http://www.vmware.com/download/server/

    Also try DOSBox if you want to run MS-DOS games.

  41. Grant Gould says:

    Cooper got to it first — I just got involved in the UFO:AI project and I have to say these guys have really captured the spirit of X-COM but with modern graphics and UI (and in many cases superior writing) — it’s astonishingly slick stuff.

    Of course the lack of destructible terrian is a deal-breaker for a lot of folks, but some day perhaps that will be overcome.

  42. ElGuapo says:

    I think a great appeal of the original X-COM was how disposable your troops were, they were a commodity, a set of statistics. If a few of them survived and built up great stats, awesome, but there was always some up and coming recruit to replace them. No one lived forever. That and the dark, scary lighting. Apocalypse would have been 10 times better with better lighting.

  43. Nick says:

    “Of course the lack of destructible terrian is a deal-breaker for a lot of folks, but some day perhaps that will be overcome.”

    Hope so, because that was one of the genius parts of the originals. Planting a big explosive on the wall and blowing a hole in it, then gunning down the aliens who were all camping the door.

    Ahh. must go and play TFTD again now, goodbye 30 hours of the next few weeks.

  44. Dracko says:

    Seasoned, yes.

    Don’t know about smart. I mean, you have played BioShock, haven’t you?

  45. CrashT says:

    Being a rather large fan of Irrational Games. I’ve been following this for a while. From various interviews and Previews, it seems like the Australia office was already working on a game before they were moved across to help on BioShock.

    PC Zone picked up a quote from them a while they were making Freedom Force 2, where they said they were also working on a “beloved franchise known for it’s dodgy interface” (Paraphrasing).

    It’s seems like 2K Australia once the team behind Freedom Force are the ones working on the new X-Com. 2K Boston are potentially working on their own new IP and 2K Marin (Under Jordan “The Cradle” Thomas) are responsible for BioShock 2.

    If all that’s true, colour me happy.

  46. Arcalane says:

    Cautious optimism here.

    Now if only we could convince them to add a persistant multiplayer world conquest style mode (yeah world conquest’s a bit of a theme as of late (DoW:DC/SS, C&C3:KW, etc.), but the “persistant multiplayer” is the important bit in that sentence), where players can pick between X-COM or Aliens and join other players in their attempts to take over/defend the world!

    Either way, at least it’s in the hands of competant developers. Now we just have to wait and see what they do with it, if anything.

  47. Jochen Scheisse says:

    At first thought, an XCOM MMO/Co Op Game sounded like the best idea ever, but I come up with 2 problems:

    1. Micro Macro Management won’t work, ecxept if you restrict the Geoscape and the Battlescape to the same Real Time Modus that can’t be paused. Which would be tedious in both modes, I guess.

    2. Aliens win.

  48. Benjamin Barker says:

    Is it possible that they could not do it high-budget? I’m being the stereotypical nostalgic dick here, but that’s why the turn-based, non-scripted, very-challenging-but-built-to-be-replayed gameplay would quite likely be lost– having to market to a large audience because the game is expensive to make. If we found out it was, say, a Portal-sized, or XBLA, project not depending on the AAA-game audience, then I’d get start getting excited. It could still be a good game, but probably good like Bioshock– that is, more about atmosphere than gameplay, and not good for much more than a single run-through.

  49. sinister agent says:

    A basic rejigging of the X-COM structure (if they get the tactical map and strategic map are suitably interdependent, they’ll be invincible) with some new world map complications (like the politics in Apocalypse, only with significant consequences) and modern doodads like properly variable facial and body features, decent voice acting and a bit of 3D graphical polish is all it would take to make a superb little game.

    I think the only things they can really do wrong are to rush it, or to overshoot and try to cram too much crap in. It doesn’t have to be that revolutionary to be outstanding – it’s been over a decade since there was anything really memorable in this vein. If they just relax and make it carefully (and don’t pander to the fans too much), it’ll be fine.

    Let’s hope for the best, eh?

  50. KingMob says:

    I’ll chime in with the cautious optimism.

    2K Boston is a great studio and X-Com a great game. If only they’ll keep turn-based movement, they can do anything else they like and I’ll buy the title.