Why X-COM Matters (To You)

By Alec Meer on April 14th, 2010 at 7:14 pm.

Funny thing. Whenever I try to write about X-COM, as in X-COM the game, not X-COM the place in my heart, I stall. It’s too big. I need to do it at the right time (or perhaps for the right paycheque, I suspect). Where to start? Where to end? There have been superb summaries, makings-of and play diaries. It’s a well-documented game, for sure. Yet I’m not sure there’s been that simple one-two punch of why our collective knickers remain so thoroughly entwisted by it. Perhaps the words of one are not enough. Let’s try the words of many.

I’ve taken a brief crack at ‘doing’ X-COM at the end of this post, but first let’s hear the wisdom of the crowd. Via the endless ease/horror of Twitter, I asked why people love X-COM. Here are a few of the replies, from gamers, critics and developers alike….

@lemmy101 [coder for Zombie Cow] It was the first time (to my mind) that two deep and extremely well done gameplay sections were in a single strategy game. Like Total War with its campaign game and battle game. But like AGES ago. And with Laser Squad bits.

@richardcobbett [PC Plus features editor, PC Gamer contributor, god of mega-words] It’s all about the competency curve – starting out as the underdog, then slowly clawing to power and taking the fight to the enemy.

@MikeChannell [Reviews Ed, Official Xbox Magazine UK, sex pest] Naming your squad made each soldier far more important than in most games. All the more galling when they became host to an alien.

@phillcameron [Sometime RPS contributor] Because it’s a great blend between management and tactical squad-based antics. And it’s got fuckmothering aliens.

@troygoodfellow [Games journalist, good fellow] X-Com was nearly perfect game that everyone of a certain age played. For a strategy game, it was also deeply personal.

@humanstu The spinning globe. Just grounded the whole game with a tangible sense of realism. Y’know, mixed with aliens and ufos.

@psychicteeth [creator of Eufloria] primarily: researching alien loot and using it against them, finance, upgrading, procedural levels. Secondarily: recon, strategy.

@playmaglan [staff writer, Play Magazine] It’s the last game I can remember trading something for when I knew nothing about it. I just liked the box art. I WAS YOUNG.

@draconianone atmosphere, strategy, big fucking guns, global scale, diverse gameplay, character persistence, story (yes, really!).

@dartt [Maker of excellent Gmod art] The tension. Each member of your squad is precious, but they are all so frail, each corner you turn could result in a sudden death.

@keenanw A great example of how music can affect the experience. The tension felt in the Geoscape and in battle was because of the music.

@larrington [Generous giver-to-me of a copy of Legends of Valor, complete with ultro-map] Several reasons. Multiple layers of control (geoscape/battlescape/research/production) means I feel like the fate of humanity is properly in my control & anthropomorphism of troops. Aside from some minor interface quirks there’s so little I’d want to change.

@imperialcreed [Really truly called Barry White.] Still, to this day, it instills more terror and creates more tension in the combat missions than you’ll find almost anywhere else.

@twistedinc Fantastic mix of taut tactical combat, engaging management sim, good writing and an evolving set of problems.

@jazmcdougal [PC Gamer contributor, owner of awesome name] Competing with rivals, trying to be a good security business while researching and fighting aliens, was a rewarding balancing act.

@lobo_tuerto X-COM matters so much because it was an integral experience, it had 3 very different contexts (base building, earth-view, battle-field) it had economics simulation (budgets), research, and it gave you a thrill everytime you went to explore a site!

@The_B [You know, The B] It’s a series that manages to make you feel incredibly powerful yet immeasurably fragile at the same time.

@misterbrilliant [Editor of PC Zone, frighteningly young] I never played it and I tried to play it once recently but it was old and confusing and I didn’t know what was going on.

@mechtroid Because even when I, a man who hadn’t even HEARD of it until a few months ago started playing, I couldn’t put it down. The game’s simply timeless.

@monstersden [Made Dragon Age Journeys] Because you controlled every aspect of the war against the aliens. Multiple overlapping layers of strategy.

@Chris_emf [formerly of Total Film magazine, floppy hair] For me it was constant tension in combat, which Brian Mitsoda explained here better than I ever could.

@liquidindian People want this amazing update to X-Com, but X-Com was the amazing update to Laser Squad & Rebelstar. Maybe X-Com was the zenith.

@kierongillen [robocrazy] Well, it was the first game I ever reviewed professionally. Or, at least, as professionally as I do anything.

[Kieron scored X-COM 35% in said review, for what it’s worth….

Calm down! It was the the legendarily shoddy Amiga 500 port.]

Thanks for your time, everyone. So, yeah. My turn.

It’s the trend of the moment to blend genres – particularly to drizzle a little RPG dressing over any and everything. Some of it’s working, and moreover some of it’s working naturally, but a lot of it is still a little crude: LOOK WE PUT SOME RPG IN OUR RTS. X-COM, originally planned as Laser Squad 2, doesn’t do that – it doesn’t garishly signpost its claimed cleverness in the way, and that’s because it doesn’t really try to combine genres. It simply takes a selection of things it thinks – it knows – work, and puts them all into a box together. It’s a genre-fusion so natural that it is almost its own genre. “X-COM.” That doesn’t simply mean a franchise – it means a very particular type of game, one there have been all too few excellent examples of. Only a few other games have become genres too – Diablo, for instance, but that’s nowhere near as bold and smart a prospect.

X-COM is a game from another universe. It doesn’t play by any genre’s rules, but instead just gets the hell on with being itself, utterly itself and nothing else. It is the nexus of gaming – strategy, action, roleplaying, management, horror, storytelling, chess. The setting and the look were/are an ideal shell for this. Familiar sci-fi tropes, rendered with colourful glee yet creeping menace. People are dying. Your people are dying. There are monsters in the dark. They’re going to kill you, unless you can out-think and out-guess them. Out-thinking and out-guessing the monsters is the only way to save the whole damned world. That’s not the half of it.

Psychic combat. Flying suits. Destructible walls. Aliens who plant eggs inside you. Rocket-launchers that can fire around corners. Saving cities. Building spaceships. Capturing live extra-terrestrials. Robotic tanks. Invading Mars.

Its unfortunately aged interface aside, X-COM remains to this day incredibly accessible despite how much it tries to cram in. When people cry in despair that the new XCOM is a first-person shooter, some of them may be dismissing a fun game out of hand, but the reason is not empty fanfury. No-one really cares about the X-COM universe, that the colour scheme isn’t right or that the Brotherhood of Steel didn’t used to care about civilians. They care because they want the one game that genuinely did it all to come back.

X-COM was made by six people, and came on three floppy disks. So much, from so little. This DOS title from 1994 remains a signpost to the future of games.

No, that’s still not right. One day…

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150 Comments »

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  1. Richard says:

    /salutes

  2. Squashua says:

    I always wondered about the art at the start of the game. It was like someone completely ripped an issue of WILDCATS, recolored it, and threw it up on the screen.

  3. leeder_krenon says:

    perhaps heresy, but i prefer Laser Squad and Rebelstar to XCom. probably as those two were a bigger part of me discovering gaming in the first place.

    • Bret says:

      It is, in fact heresy, sorry.

      The Chryssalid will be along shortly. Any last requests?

    • leeder_krenon says:

      Just a quick game of Rebelstar on level 8 vs the AI?

  4. Astorax says:

    Honestly, I don’t care how good of an FPS game it is, to use the name XCOM when what made that game so wonderful was in large part the turn-based/strategy element to it is criminal in my mind. It’s a blatant marketing tack to try to get the old-time fans into the game.

    Make a good alien FPS, I’m all for it, but don’t call it XCOM, cause that’s not what it is.

  5. PASTRIES says:

    a balls-out, rock and roll game like x-com is WAY, WAY too risky for the ultra-conservative “AAA industry” that produces safe games with high production values like fallout 3, bioshock franchise, etc

    i remain cheerfully pessimistic for now.

    • Jesse says:

      @ PASTRIES: Yes, and the more marketing-speak they use to “promote” this title, the more dissatisfied we, the X-COM fans, will become. You can’t smooth-talk us into liking this. We know what a person capable of making an X-COM sequel would sound like – kind of like Brian Mitsoda. Not like this: “XCOM combines the strategic core of the groundbreaking franchise with a suspense-filled narrative and distills it into a tense and unique first-person shooter experience.”

      Now, it’s not the devs saying that, it’s the marketing people. But in a case like this, with an extensive fanbase in love with a legitimately great game that they love, that should be loved, just as it is, you want to let the marketing people speak to the suits and get the crazy dev guy with a demonstrable love for the old game in front of the microphone instead. And then he needs to say some very smart things. Yes, we will give the game a chance. But not as X-COM; you’d need a game development miracle to create an FPS that somehow captures the feeling of X-COM. Something I hope they concentrate on, and something I doubt a triple-AAA game will or even could attempt to concentrate on, is the tension Mitsoda talks about in the forum post linked to in the Twitter section. We need darkness, we need ignorance of what we’re up against, we need ally casualties that feel significant (randomly generated allies if possible), and we need destructible small-town America terrain. With cornfields and bright spotlights that generate too much shadow.

      What would I want in a real sequel to X-COM? Just some bug fixes and a new UI. Not a sequel, more of a patch. No base item limit, equipment linked to individual soldiers rather to the plane so I don’t have to reset the prime loadout every time, and…I don’t know, something to fix the feeling of slogging through the 50th turn-based firefight. Maybe the option to use a real time, RTS like mode just for times when no enemy is in view. Just to get from one side of the map to the other, when hunting down those last few pesky aliens.

    • Mman says:

      Implying that Bioshock was “safe” is pure revisionist history; most people thought/were worried it would be a massive flop before its release.

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      HermitUK says:

      Maybe so, but this team didn’t make Bioshock, they made Bioshock 2. Now, Bioshock 2 is a good game, but it’s the very definition of safe – Take a popular game, create a new single player with some tweaks and improvements to the formula, and slap in Multiplayer.

    • Haborym says:

      But X-COM has wheat fields

    • vagabond says:

      Silent Storm has a real time mode that flips back to turn based as soon as an enemy is spotted, or spots you, which works quite well. X-Com’s terror missions could also do with the destructible environment stuff it has which allow buildings to fully collapse if they’ve lost enough integrity.
      Hmmm, now I’m torn on what to do after work tonight. Re-install SS:S, or try and import the art assets from X-Com into Sleep is Death?

    • Anonymousity says:

      @Jessie
      Well Mitsoda is making a new interesting turn based ip, with x-com’s tension as an influence so it’s not like we’re missing out on everything completely

  6. Frosty840 says:

    X-Com is a game that can have three RPS articles written about it in 11 hours, sixteen years after release…

  7. Andy_Panthro says:

    Only Jagged Alliance 2 had squad combat that was better than UFO: Enemy Unknown.

    Also – the music! I can still hear it now…

    The bit in the press release about FPS being better for tension is crap too – the original had me on the edge of my seat, desperately trying to find those dastardly aliens before they killed all my precious recruits.

    I have longed for a new game in the same vein, and seen many mediocre attempts pass by.

    This isn’t what I wanted. This makes me sad.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Malcolm says:

    As far as I can tell it’s Aliens and FBI Agents, which sounds more like X-Files the game to me – and without the X-Com play mechanics it’s just a handy brand dredged up from the archives.

    Amusingly the facebook page is full of people pleading with them not to make it into an RTS. And the twitter page recommends waiting for next month’s Official Xbox Magazine for more details. Sad face.

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      Malcolm says:

      Crap – I meant FPS not RPS, obv.

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      Malcolm says:

      Bollocks. RTS! (*dies*)

    • Jaz says:

      Your pain: amusing!

    • Zerai says:

      Well, obviously an RPS would be an awesome game, the second typo was understandable.

      And personally, i consider the pull of X-com to be in the “everythings fine, so what am i leaving out?” feeling you get, since things obviously can’t be fine.

  9. jamscones says:

    I’d just like to point out that I played this on the Amiga 1200 when it was first released in Oct 1994. Towards the mid and through to the end game, the poor old miggy was taking up to 15 minutes to process the alien turns, especially on the larger terror sites and the final battle on Mars. It would also crash a lot. This makes me:

    a) Dedicated
    b) Better than you

    • archonsod says:

      I had it for the A1200 too. As I recall, I bought both this and Sid Meier’s Colonization on the same day (Christmas, or my Birthday. Can’t remember which). And nearly failed my GCSE’s because of it.

    • DMJ says:

      @Jamscones: Amen, A1200-brother. PBEM is the only way to capture that nowadays. Back in those days making your move and then sitting in front of a screen wishing you could just undo what you spent ages planning was a nightly experience.

    • CdrJameson says:

      Listening to the screams in the dark…

  10. Mario Figueiredo says:

    I didn’t feel like reading a wall of tweeter messages. Sorry to all involved. But, being the case the rest of the article sums these up, then it indeed brushes onto why this game is important to me.

    I’d only add to that: It just so happens I also love tactical combat. I used to spend entire weekends playing tabletop warhammer with friends. In Pen & Paper RPG, I loved combat and playing around with the miniatures. Before that, Rebelstar on the Spectrum introduced me to this type of games in video. It’s just that, after X-COM, no other game touched this genre in such a complete and formidable way.

    And it pains me because I clearly remember hoping X-COM would become a seminal game to this genre. I dreamed of WWII turn-based tactical combat games that wouldn’t suck. I dreamed of Fantasy tactical combat games that wouldn’t suck… you get the picture. All of them inspired by all elements in X-COM (TC, Turn-based, RPG, management, squads), building on it, making it better, creating new great games that would turn X-COM into the DOOM of turn-based tactic combat.

    Instead X-COM was the last of its type. Something that I will never really understand very well.

    To hear today that someone wants to bring this game back in a travesty, offends every bit of mine that loves this game. It’s like calling my mother names. It’s like insulting my daughter. And the only thing I can do is watch as they do it… and as millions of kids who, not knowing what X-COM was or meant, rush to buy the new cool FPS on the block, and in doing so planting a credibility stamp on the forehead of the perpetrators of this insult.

    If there is one crime an intellectual property rights holder can commit, that crime is not understanding the cultural significance of what they have in their hands.

    • Phil says:

      Yeah, I think the wall of tweets was a bit like the songs in Lord of the Rings – I’m sure there’re some people who read them, but the rest of us just skip down to the good bits.

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      HermitUK says:

      What’s also depressing is that there is a market for turn based strategy on consoles. For a start, turn based avoids the control issues that often plague console RTSs.

      And Japan has been putting out stacks of titles in this vein for years – Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, Disgaea, and Front Mission are all series I’m partial to. It annoys me that there aren’t western devs willing to take a stab at the same genre, especially given some of the classics they have for inspiration.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Hermit UK – the DS is really the home of that style of gaming now. Man, a TFTD remake would just fit nicely on the DS. Atlus should really try to pick that up…

    • Oak says:

      Oh my, yes.

      I wonder how the DS Jagged Alliance turned out.

    • ILR says:

      Jagged Alliance DS didn’t turn out too well, unfortunately. The original was designed for a mouse/keyboard combination, which makes the decision to faithfully replicate the game’s UI and controls for the stylus-driven DS somewhat puzzling. On the other hand, DS is an ideal platform for that kind of game these days, so even though the game is clearly sub-par, I’ve put some hours into it. Unfortunately the game is (as it always was) very sluggish in its tempo, and a 15 minute train commute isn’t usually enough to get one battle over and done with, the game loses much of its value.

      So yes, you can be too faithful to the original. If the original X-COM were recreated, I wouldn’t want to see the utility value of weapons to be so linear this time around. The goddamn Heavy Plasma was so good that no soldier ever needed anything else apart from specialist situations for the Stun or Blaster Launchers.

  11. Robin says:

    It is exactly like that: x-com is unique. It is its own genre. It have an impressive and unique set of features, which blend perfectly, and they are ALL ESSENTIAL to make it the unparalleled masterpiece x-com is. But that formula could be expanded: Apocalypse, while falling low to its predecessor, demonstrated that there was room for improvement, not just cloning like TFTD.

    That’s why a shooter is absurd. It is deliberately skipping and trashing all of that to create another mass market action game; with a “x-com” label placed on it, to profit on the nostalgia factor and the viral marketing that will auto-generate from the reactions, that fans will have upon an announcement like this. (Because yes, we criticize it, but at the same time we focus on the game the attention of the mass, which is undoubtedly the target of this new title).

    Sorry for my poor english.

  12. HairCute says:

    Next to Doom this is the only game that has been installed on every computer I’ve owned since 1995. A true classic and a savior of sanity during my middle school years. I remember the first game I finished. Earth was on the brink since almost every government had signed with the aliens. My base in North America was constantly being attacked and there were a couple dozen bases on the planet. I spent two months of real time going after every base, defending mine over and over, and trying desperately to get the last research item to head to mars. The thirty days or so it took to build my Avenger craft were some of the most nail biting moments in my entire gaming history. The base it was being built at must have fought off invasion over fifty times. I refused to give up and when that blaster bomb flew in to the darkness on Cydonia and won me the game it was all worth it.

    Damn it…now I know how I’m spending the next few days…

  13. Senethro says:

    If you want to replay the game then google Xcomutil. Its an xcom utility that bugfixes (including difficulty level) and allows a bunch of randomiser elements that can freshen up the game if its getting stale for you.

    • Jesse says:

      X-COM IS NOW PERFECT YES THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!

    • monkeybreadman says:

      I agree. XcomUtil is brilliant. For example you can set the order your troops come out of the transport.

    • Jesse says:

      Now if someone would just make a sequel to Just Cause where the grappling hook wasn’t a separate weapon but was always available for use, like a dedicated part of the gameplay…and maybe if, like, it had two ends, so you could attach two things together by a cord? I don’t know if this is making any sense but it would be SO COOL!

  14. The_B says:

    Yeah, that’s right people, you know me. Oh yeah.

    (On a more serious note, I think the range of responses are a good indication of why X-COM was so well loved as they are a good analogy for how many really well done halves made a very satisfying whole. As well as that other stuff wot I said, obv.)

  15. Bublifuk says:

    X-Com is a game that can have three RPS articles written about it in 11 hours, sixteen years after release… and everyone is still hungry for more

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    Malcolm says:

    Does anyone know what the Gollops are up to these days? Trawling through the Laser Sqaud Nemesis boards it would appear that Julian was last seen renovating a flat in Bulgaria and (relucantly) working on b-list games for Ubisoft. But that was 2 years ago.

  17. karthik says:

    @misterbrilliant [Editor of PC Zone, frighteningly young] I never played it and I tried to play it once recently but it was old and confusing and I didn’t know what was going on.

    That.

    But then, I have trouble playing the original Fallout too. And Planescape: T, so maybe it’s just me. It’s just… hard to understand what to do.

    • misterk says:

      sadly this has been my reaction. While I was just about old enough when these games came out, I missed them at the time, and found them hard to get into. That said, I only tried once with xcom- I may give it another go

    • Will Tomas says:

      I’m 24, I don’t know whether that qualifies as frighteningly young, but I had the same sort of experience, although after watching some Youtube Let’s Play videos I got much more of the gist of what I was supposed to do. But both it and the original Fallout I find frustrating, because the action point system won’t let me do what I want to do. X-COM I can put up with it a bit more, but chess was never really what I wanted from computer games, so I suspect both might not really work for me.

      The sad thing is, if I was small I’m sure I would have loved it, as I would have had the time to sink into it to learn it properly, and to appreciate it. Now my time’s too stretched as it is…

    • Latro says:

      Get off my lawn!!!

      (Man, is this making me feel old. And I’m used to kids calling me Sir)

    • Jesse says:

      Well, I started playing it when I was about 22 ~ 24, about four years ago, and it worked for me. I haven’t beaten X-COM, not by a long shot, probably because I’m not usually into turn-based games or games involving resource management of any kind. But X-COM’s good enough that I do play it and I count it one of the best games I’ve ever played. In short, age is probably a factor, but I think personality has more to do with whether you like it or not. The game has not aged that badly that the genius design doesn’t shine through.

  18. RubberJohnny says:

    I think all these updates are because they had this stuff ready in advance. I reckon they get some exclusive preview stuff because being a classic PC franchise they’ll want to get older fans onboard.

    Of course the thing is about celebrating these old games is that it makes you do the opposite. Why not an isometric tactical Steam and XBLA/PSN HD game, or even a remake? Why does the new one need to be a big blockbuster retail shooter in the first place?

  19. Iain says:

    I still remember the first time when I played UFO: Enemy Unknown by myself. My brother was back home from university for the summer holiday, and I’d spent many a night watching him play. He agreed to turn over three precious save slots over to me, so that I could run my own game, rather than just watch him play. (This was despite the tragic incident the previous holiday that had seen me inadvertently wipe out his best X-Wing pilots and Frontier: Elite II commanders, but that’s one whole other story)

    At the time (1994 or 1995?) The first series of The X-Files was the hottest thing on TV and the whole family was hooked. Yet as everyone else crowded downstairs around our pathetically small, non-flatter-squarer-tubed TV, I was huddled behind an equally pathetic 14″ CRT monitor in glorious 320×240 VGA res, battling Snakemen and Sectoids, while discovering and ruthlessly exploiting The Great End of Month Scientist Salary Swindle.

    Mulder and Scully? Pah! I was fighting my own extraterrestrial conspiracy and it was far more interesting than mere TV.

    The most compelling thing about the game for me was (and still is) the ability to rename soldiers after friends, enemies and random celebrities or TV characters (I went through at least five incarnations of Ace Rimmer in one game). It really gives the game an extra human dimension that the more recent incarnations (especially the UFO After-X series) lacked. It invests you emotionally in the combat, but also tangentially motivates you to work your way through the research and manufacturing tree. Should the girl you secretly lusted after in High School be expected to go into combat without a Heavy Plasma Rifle and Flying Suit? Heck, no. Though that fucker in Sixth Form can storm an alien base alone, butt naked and with a pistol (an *UNLOADED* pistol) for all I care… That’ll teach him for having a shooting accuracy stat of 43… *snigger*

  20. Psychopomp says:

    It’s honestly the best strategy game I’ve ever played. The outdated interface, and graphics do nothing to hinder the suspense, and dread. Gameplaywise, there’s not much out there that plays like it, and the few that do, do it nowhere near as good.

    At least they’ll never make a shooter out of my Fire Emblem

    • Jesse says:

      PRESS RELEASE: EA announced today that Fire Emblem: The Adventure Begins®, the re-imagining of one of gaming’s most storied and beloved franchises, is currently in development exclusively for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft and Windows PC. Fire Emblem® combines the strategic core of the groundbreaking franchise with an immersive pulse-pounding adrenaline-packed thrill-ride suspense-filled narrative and beats it with a hammer into the shape of a tense and unique immersive pulse-pounding adrenaline-packed thrill-ride first-person shooter experience…

    • Psychopomp says:

      y u do dis

    • Koozer says:

      If they ever do do to Fire Emblem what they did to Advance Wars with Battalion Wars…rejoice.

  21. Jason says:

    Ummmm. All you haters saying X-COM’s purity will be sullied if there’s a shooter associated with it, uhh, X-Com: Enforcer? Didn’t X-COM pass that point ten years ago?

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      It’s true. It’s not that the game hasn’t be defaced before.

    • Jesse says:

      And this new one will probably be forgotten as well.

    • Iain says:

      I think the general accepted concensus amongst X-Com fans is that the X-Com series finished with Apocalypse and that everything else since was a tragic mistake that didn’t actually happen.

      I like to call it the Police Academy Law of Diminishing Returns.

      Actually, until I’ve heard more about it, I’ve got an open mind about an XCOM FPS (See me embrace the new nomenclature!). It will *probably* be shiny, unambitious rubbish, but I’m willing to forego absolute judgment until all the facts are in (in the manner of General ‘Buck’ Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove).

    • Greg Wild says:

      I quite liked Inteceptor, honestly.

      Enforcer wasn’t an AAA multiplatform thing. It was a low budget show. It was more or less forgivable for not being worth the attention. The new X-Com’s going to be a big deal. The front page on OXM says that. What’s more, I honestly don’t understand why they think using an old, old license is going to get them anywhere with the mainstream. So they’ll have a mainstream that has no idea what it’s all about other than (presumably) “oooo, shiny”, and an older disillusioned fan base.

    • plugmonkey says:

      That’s not the point.

      The point is that when the rumours first started coming round people were hoping they were going to get a new X-COM game, as in ‘X-COM the genre’ as described by Alec in the article. People were excited about this as there hasn’t been an entry in this genre for an age.

      Therefore they are justifiably disappointed to hear that they are getting yet another FPS instead.

  22. Greg Wild says:

    X-Com matters to me for two reasons. First off, because when I really think hard about it, it’s the one game I’ve played literally every single year since I started on the X-Com 2 demo when I was…oooo… 6? Sure, there’s the rose tinted glasses effect. It of course has flaws – mostly just related to interface and a few cheesy AI baffling tactics. But that doesn’t take away from the second reason – the fact that it’s still every bit as ambitious as any modern game you could care to name.

    There’s so much going on when you fire up a game of X-Com. And it’s all personalised. From your strategically placed bases – replete with tactically vicious defensive interiors, to the infantry soldiers your nuture from the bottom of the pile to the saviour of humanity, there’s always a sense that it’s your X-Com that’s saving the earth. Not because you’re The One, but because you’ve tailored the whole war effort on your terms, in reaction the the pulsing menace of your menacing opponent. Slowly prizing equipment from increasingly tenacious enemies proved the technical learning curve, but applying the technology to your own developing set of strategies and tactics was where the real joys of discovery were to be had, and again, where the personality came through.

    On the geoscape, it was developing a strategy that maximised sensor and intercept coverage, blocking any gaps where donor countries were flagging in the face of alien threats. Zoom down to the tactical screen, and you were carefully practising the application of bounding over watch, creating kill zones and preparing room clearances. Or shit. Just blowing the crap out of a building rather than risk losing your beloved Hero Squad to Crysalids through getting too close. Through hiding the logic of the alien’s strategy from you on the strategic level, and randomising environments on the tactical level, you weren’t being pressed to learn level layouts or enemy dispositions. You were forced to learn real strategy and real tactics every step of the way. It is this dynamic experience that makes X-Com such a thoroughly brilliant – and timeless – game.

    The experience of loading up a new game of X-Com really presented multiple aspects. First off, it’s taking the lessons learned from previous campaigns against the Martian Menace and applying new strategies and tactics – or maybe just giving yourself some house rules to mix things up. Second, it’s the tension. You’re never quite sure how well you’re combating the threat. Even if you manage to keep the donors happy month in, month out, there’s always going to be one alien base somewhere subverting you, or a fold of the map you’ve not got covered. Move into the tactical level, and it was the fateful first move, your prized point man the likely target of a lucky reflex shot. It was the screams of dying civilians in the dark. It was the Crysalid lurking in the shadows setting off a chain of chaos throughout your ranks. It was struggling not to load up an earlier save when your best soldiers got caught up in a Blaster Bomb blast.

    Finally, I think XCom as a setting is deeply understated. It’s simple stuff – twists on classic alien designs, a fairly basic set of weapons and a somewhat B-movie aesthetic. But it held together. In fact, if X-Com 3 was less memorable, it was because brought in the weird new inter-dimensional hyper-bastards over the classic designs in UFO Defence, and their Cthulu derived counterparts in X-Com 2. Attempts at recreating X-Com have never really quite captured my interest in the same way facing off the little Grey men and their Ethereal overlords.

    So basically, I really do care about X-Com.

    I think an X-Com FPS could work. Back when it was still on the cards, I couldn’t wait for X-Com Alliance. But honestly, I just find myself wishing they’d opted for a RTT – Men of War with Aliens and a dynamic strategy map would probably have been the best option. Instead… I’m just hugely disappointed with the prospect of a game where you play “an FBI agent”. There’s going to have to be a helluva lot of strategic organising above the FPS antics to capture my interest. But the sceptic in me doesn’t see this happening. I’ll lay off the speculation of what is coming, and what I wish it would have for matters of brevity, and for when we’ve got more details. But thus far, I’m melancholy about today’s developments at the very best, when I should probably be elated.

    • Greg Wild says:

      “in reaction the the pulsing menace of your menacing opponent.”

      ooooh. ffs. Menace of your menacing opponent? Get a thesaurus lad.

    • Iain says:

      What the X-Com universe really needs is an MMO.

      *dodges flames*

    • Greg Wild says:

      YES!

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      Believe it or not, I was actually pondering the other night (before all this news) if and how X-COM might be turned into an MMO, and what it might look like.

      The tactical part is fairly clear. It doesn’t really matter whether you make it an FPS, TPS, RTS, or TBS; either way, each player is responsible for their own soldier, for picking their gear from a base stockpile (possibly limited by rank, or by what the base commander(s) proscribe for the mission), for covering their buddies, etc. It would be nice to see some (optional) “support” roles as well, such as a mission commander with a map view of the battlefield issuing advice to the soldiers on the ground.

      Death is trickier, especially given the possibility of friendly fire. And of course, players shouldn’t really be penalised if the commander(s) put them in an unwinnable situation. I suppose typical Bioshock “Vita-Chamber” approach would work here, respawning you at base with no in-game memory (or experience) from the mission you died on. Unfortunately, that also removes a lot of the tension; you’d need to come up with some sort of strong incentive for living. I’m not sure the typical MMO penalty is quite appropriate given that most MMOs don’t let one player grief-kill the entire team at once with a blaster bomb, but I also wouldn’t want to see something like Champions Online where death is so inconsequential that you just hit “recover” without thinking and rush back to the battle within seconds.

      Regardless of format (TBS/RTS/etc.), it would also probably feature the base as a “hub” area, where you can chill, socialize, watch the current global tactical situation, go over mission replays, participate in mock training missions, etc. Maybe register your interest in the next mission via a queue interface, similar to the Champions Online “Hero Games” PvP stuff. It would be a nice touch to actually walk/run your character to the hangar (within a reasonable time limit) to get on board for your upcoming mission, although I suppose repetitiveness might dictate that it become a teleport instead — or “Thunderbirds” style personnel “launch” tubes scattered around the base.

      There’s two main problems remaining for the tactical side, and they both come down to time compression.

      One, mission frequency. Unless you pick a rather high degree of time compression, you’re either going to have a ridiculous number of UFO landing missions per unit time, or you’re going to have a whole lot of bored players.

      Two, mission duration. Unless you pick a rather low degree of time compression, some of the longer missions might end up taking many hours or even days of in-game time. From the perspective of the players, it hardly matters; you can say that the flight to/from the crash site took the remaining time, or that they were given downtime between missions. From the global strategic perspective, though, how do you explain why a transport is sitting at a crash site for days on end before you even know what happened?

      Which brings me to the strategic part … and this is where stuff really starts to break down. Unlike the tactical side, the strategic side sort of assumes there will be a single commander giving orders. I’m not really sure how you’d divvy this up, especially since I’m not sure what the ratio of tactical players versus strategic players would be (and how often people would want to switch roles, if at all). You’d certainly need a flexible number of instances (world + hub base + missions) to handle the demand.

      Maybe strategic players would be responsible for certain coverage zones? With a read-only view of the rest of the world (same as the tactical players) and hand-offs when UFOs they’re tracking leave their zone and enter another. Of course, you’d need to spice this up a bit, because by default, simply intercepting UFOs isn’t too difficult or interesting. And if done realistically this way (e.g. proper radar modelling), it might end up being a bit too much in the “sim” genre to be of interest to the general public.

      The strategic side also assumes competence and fair play on the part of the commander(s). Nobody wants to be sent on a suicide mission with minimal gear. On the other hand, if players can see the details of upcoming missions before committing to them, they can reject these sorts of things — or accept them, if they really want a challenge. Of course, this goes somewhat contrary to typical military procedure where you just do as you’re told, but hey, this is X-COM, not the regular army.

      And then there’s issues like how to deal with manufacturing and research. And research brings forth the whole issue of the game having a beginning, middle, and end, unlike MMOs which are designed to be timeless.

      So yeah, a lot of problems.

      On the other hand, this has been done before. Take a look at Multiviper.com, a real-time 24/7 Falcon 4.0 multiplayer server. For those who don’t know, Falcon 4.0 is an F-16 “study”-style flight simulator with a dynamic campaign. There’s no research or manufacturing (although you can receive reinforcements), and the first-person “tactical” element is between planes instead of ground troops, but otherwise, it pretty much plays out like a small-scale game of X-COM at the strategic level. The game world is semi-persistent, in that I believe they do reset it now and then but otherwise they’re running a whole war (air and land) in 1x realtime. Missions are doled out on a schedule, and players enlist for particular missions as desired.

      Unfortunately, it also highlights the flaws of that approach. F4 is much more of a simulation than a game, which gives it approximately zero mass market appeal. Players can be waiting for long periods of time to fly missions — this isn’t a big deal in a hardcore simulation where missions themselves can take an hour or three, it would be pretty terminal for an MMO. Because the game isn’t entirely designed for this situation, there are a ton of “homebrew” rules in place like “let the server admins do the flight tasking”, “let the admins issue ground unit orders”, “don’t fly for the enemy unless authorised”, etc.

      So, yeah, maybe the whole MMO thing is a pretty bad idea. But I wouldn’t immediately dismiss the possibility that someone could actually make it work.

  23. Lambchops says:

    I have never played X-Com. I did see it in a the Steam sale a while back and went “oh there’s that X-Com game people always go on about.” Yet for some reason I didn’t buy it (no . . . I don’t know either).

    I guess i should really get round to it. That an Syndicate. There probably the two most banged on about games that I still haven’t played.

  24. Okami says:

    X-Com didn’t need to give you sixteen different skill trees in order to create tactical complexity.

  25. Mman says:

    I’d actually be quite excited for an X-Com “FPS” that had its Base building/research/RTS aspects pretty much the same, but with the strategy game combat replaced by a tactical FPS type game like Rainbow Six or SWAT (with the inventory, armour, weight management etc very similar to normal X-Com). Of course, the chance that this FPS X-Com will be anything like that is probably near-nonexistent.

    • nil says:

      …and the command interface from Brothers in Arms. Yes, do want.

  26. Vinraith says:

    For those thinking about buying it, the best place to get X-Com these days is DIrect2Drive. I’m not a big D2D fan in general, but D2D provides the game completely DRM free. No logins, no clients, just the installer. It’s the best version you can get, since GOG doesn’t have it.

    • Premium User Badge

      James G says:

      Note that the Steam version is DRM free in practice as well. Just Zip up the install directory, back it up as you wish and you’re sorted. I think this may be true for all Steam DOSBOX games. The directory also seems to contain all the setup files if you wish to go some non DOSBOX route.

    • Vinraith says:

      @James G

      So one could, in principle, install the thing without needing Steam at all? That’s interesting, thanks. I don’t think I have any DOSBOX games on Steam (usually go to GOG for that sort of thing) but it’s always good to have options.

    • WarSarge says:

      Vinraith – does the D2D version have the D2D DRM installer/activator, or is it truly drm free (ie, uses original installer) ?

  27. Tei says:

    I think is also a era.

    All the attemps to make “another XCom” have failed. We wish more people where tryiing to make “another Magic of Carpet” or “another Master of Magic”, because is almost a proven fact (by this date) that the XCom saga is closed.

    But…he!.. you never knows..

  28. wererogue says:

    I seriously wonder if the “It’s hard to work out what to do” aspect is part of what we love about these games. I mean, I kept a motion tracker on about half my squad for half the game before I decided that they were useless and got rid of them. Conversely, I had no idea what a “Blaster Bomb” was supposed to be, and I didn’t have very many, so I just left them in my stores, until my base was attacked and somebody needed a weapon and then OH MY GOD KABOOM…

    I really enjoyed Tales of Symphonia because I obviously hadn’t worked out how to be good at the game until really close to the end, which meant that I avoided enemies that I could have beaten if I had known that my characters were more powerful. I *knew* I didn’t know what I was doing. But I was still progressing, just badly.

    TFTD goes a step further – you need to be good already. I was unfortunate (maybe?) enough to play TFTD first, and I played about four 6-hour games where I was mashed repeatedly into the carpet before I gave up. When I found UFO later, it was a welcome respite!

    Planescape (mentioned above) is the same – there used to be no way to know what the “best” (i.e. easiest) way to play the game was. It tied in perfectly with the main character knowing nothing about the world.

    So yeah, XCOM was great because of the game mechanics, and the multi-tiered strategy, and the amount of detail in the horror, and the procedural names and procedural, multi-ethenic, multi-gender characters, and the procedural levels, and *especially* because it was easy to get all your awesome, levelled up guys and gals killed by being stupid…

    … but I also really wonder whether a good tutorial, a visible tech tree, etc. wouldn’t have given it a lower place in my memory.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I found the interface to the first game very clear, and I was quite young at the time.

      Sure, I died a lot, and didn’t complete it without hex-editing the money (all the nations are very stingy after all, given the very real threat!).

      I think my only criticism of it was the research could be completed a bit quickly, and the progression of the game was usually quite fast.

      Mind you, this new one will probably get you thrown in at the deep end, because modern games designers (or just gamers perhaps) don’t like the whole delayed gratification thing.

      I do wonder if it will be as highly praised as something like Fallout 3 or Dragon Age, both of which I enjoyed to a certain extent, but their many flaws (in my eyes) mean they don’t hold the same place in my heart that Fallout and Baldur’s Gate do (even now, as I have played the older games recently).

  29. Alex Bakke says:

    I played it with my Granddad when I was around 5, trying to understand why there was a spinning globe and I wasn’t flying a jet plane I saw on the back of the box…

  30. Mac says:

    I have never played an x-com game

  31. Feste says:

    After reading the last few posts, I loaded it up on Steam. Started a new game. And blank. My gaming instincts just drew a blank, it’s not an FPS that I could just start running around, an RTS where I could start building a base. My first action in this new game: buy more guns and grenades, research a medi-kit, build a new base and start hiring.

    X-Com matters to me because it’s the future of gaming.

    • Mr Labbes says:

      I, too, just got the game because RPS does not fail me very often.
      I too bought bigger guns, and built another base. When nearly a whole squad was killed, I got some more soldiers.
      …and now I’m broke. I have no doubt in my mind that, were Martians to invade Earth, it would go exactly like that. There might be lots of money involved, but I am winning, I think.

  32. Cynic says:

    @misterbrilliant completely fails to live up to his name there.

  33. The Great Wayne says:

    Considering UFO: EU, I often wonder if there is not more around the game than to the game itself that made it click for me back then. The simple act of going through the DOS, typing my way into the black screen and accessing *that* game was a thing in itself, like going from darkness to light.

    The struggle at the start of the game against forces that outpowered you, the unveiling of the plot, the fighting in the villages, slowly burning each alien while hoping not to lose Randall, yeah, your beloved trooper that did survive this chryssalid assault with a clever reflexive fire during alien’s turn ! Oh, and those fights in your bases… and the big ships assaults, knowing that you’re up against a small army but the reward in salvaged parts and potential scientific breakthrough will be worth it… and those fights when you’re trying to stun an ethereal instead of burning it with everything you have, while knowing that failing in doing so could be your team demise… and… well, anyone can go on and on.

    UFO is a great game, it had the kind of alchemy that I think you could not reproduce willingly. It was brilliant enough so that it will never be again, sequel or not. FPS or not.

  34. Srekel says:

    I bought the games on Steam a while back and a little later was in the mood to play some UFO again. Unfortunately, it seems like the support on newer OSes isn’t that great: I got hideous framerates. I tried mucking about in the dosbox settings but it never got good, really. Anyone else had the same issues and fixed them?

  35. Dante says:

    Accessible, really? To anyone who first tried to play it in the modern day it really isn’t.

    • Jesse says:

      Untrue. I began playing it two or three years ago. It’s a style of game that never shows up in the mainstream anymore; I think that’s your problem. Games are more streamlined now. You have to sink into this one a bit before you get the hang of it, but not for nearly as long as you might think, and the rewards are much greater than some games of its type. Once I attacked my first downed saucer I was hooked. It’s not really very complicated, honestly and there are many great FAQs if you need help with your strategy.

    • Jesse says:

      That’s not to say everyone NEEDS to play X-COM. Not everyone will enjoy it. Don’t be guilted into playing it just because so many people like it. On the other hand, it costs less than a sandwich, so if you’re at all interested you should try it, IF you have a solid hour, now and then, to spend on it.

  36. 2late says:

    This is disappointment in its purest form. The death of a dream. A crude awakening to the predictable reality.

    I might look forward to this as a potentially good game.
    I will not look forward to this as an x-com game … because it’s not one.

  37. JimmyJames says:

    I love this game. The whole experience of a game from start to finish feels epic in so many ways. Bah, it’s all been said, but I have to echo it. What I remember most fondly is having soldiers who survive and become, in my mind, grizzled alien slayers. Scarred, fearless legends who, no matter what they go through, seem to get what I need them to do done. I really can’t remember being so attached to characters in any other game–not even RPGS or games where I customize my character more.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      Yeah, the whole moral thing iirc added very much to it. There were those newbies that you’d expect to drop their guns and flee at the first encounter with a nameless thing from outer space, then there were the vets, that you’d send without a blink in the hellish belly of an alien spaceship knowing that they’d take it all and come back victorious or not at all.

      Also, there were times when you lost enough vets that you had to send several newbies along, knowing they’d not all make it back but still hoping for as many good soldiers as possible to emerge from the slaughter, it was like separating the wheat from the chaff. Great moments, really.

    • plugmonkey says:

      There would always be the rookie squad at my second base. A couple of officers from headquarters, and then a bunch of raw new recruits kitted out with obsolete 2nd hand equipment. They’d be used to clear out small UFOs the main squad didn’t have time for any more, while they gained experience and the engineers finished equipping them properly.

      But then there would be a terror site that the main squad couldn’t get to in time…

  38. Jakob Rogert says:

    To me, what was so brilliant was, as Gollop concludes where he’s cited in Ernest Adams’ “Introduction to Game Design”, that the game allowed players to come up with tactics the developers had never thought of.
    That the passing of events and interactions, which developed into tactics, plans, strategies, became very living stories – involving humps of pixels in human shape that had gained character status, even heroic status. To whom the player had a personal relation.
    The game provided a framework, a really really good framework, for the player to create his or her own stories in, stories that far outdo celebrated, storydriven, modern, games (since most of them attempt go for a linear experience, rather than utilizing what makes games as a medium sincerely unique). Stories, that were personal, tense and terrifying. No one scripted those, they made a game system for the player to develop them in. To let the player take an active part in the development of their personal story is the beauty and power of games, so underutilized to this day.

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      Emergent gameplay, then. And yes, this is the sort of thing I love about games like X-COM, Dwarf Fortress, etc. They don’t try to cover every high-level aspect of the game, like “here is the plot and here are scripts to make it happen”. Instead, they just model all the low-level interactions and let the player do the rest.

      When those low-level rules are modelled after the real world to a reasonable degree of accuracy, things become much more “real” and immersive. You can relate the story to someone who doesn’t know much about the game, and it will sound generally realistic (within the limitations of the model) — and spontaneous, unlike “then I walked down a hallway like the game told me to”.

      Furthermore, it becomes bidirectional. You can start predicting how well things will work based on real-life logic rather than game logic, and start applying real-world tactics with predictable results.

      For example, the effectiveness of flanking in X-COM is modelled by aliens (generally) only being able to reaction-fire in the direction they’re facing — so if a soldier comes face-to-face with an alien, you can have someone else approach and shoot him from the side or rear, rather than just firing and risking a return shot. The effectiveness of stacking up beside a door (SWAT style) prior to entry comes from minimising the TUs required to enter and clear the room, but also standing out of the line of fire in case of reaction shots. And the interplay between morale, bravery, and losses on both sides plays out roughly like you expect — even a total coward (by X-COM recruiting standards) can cope just fine so long as the mission is a cake walk and the team takes no losses, whereas even the bravest battle-hardened soldier will start to freak out if a dozen of his buddies are wiped out.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Something the After-X iterations missed with their segmented maps (although I did quite enjoy the games).

  39. Robin says:

    I barely played X-Com at the time, and have clocked up many more hours of other turn-based tactics games (Jagged Alliance, Silent Storm, Shining Force) by comparison. But I distinctly remember playing the demo with a group of friends with very disparate gaming tastes and backgrounds (each controlling one unit). That a ‘deep’ strategy game could be as effortless and natural as a ‘party’ game as Micro Machines or Bomberman is something I still find surprising.

    What happened to Codo, anyway? Is LSN still running?

  40. Premium User Badge

    Sagan says:

    OK I guess I will give it a go.

  41. neils clark says:

    I want to remake X-Com.

  42. Noumenon says:

    Things that sucked about X-Com: building up your guys was futile and there were way too many weapons available at the beginning, no learning curve, just “here, read all these stats.”

    • Bret says:

      Futile?

      Tell that to one Robert Blake. Went from Rookie McAverage on day one to Colonel Badass as time went on. Could hit anything with a shot from across the map, lightning reflexes, ran like a maniac.

      Training really did improve troops.

    • mrmud says:

      In particular if you had a version that contained the stat bug.
      From what I understand stats were supposed to stop increasing once they reached 80 or so. However in the warez copy I played when I was a kid the stats never stopped growing, something that was a bit of a problem when your favored soldier (and yes I still remember the name: Dieter Seidler) had such high stats that they ran out of 8 bit integer space and started back over at 0.

  43. Mattwivs says:

    Maybe, in anticipation for the release, they’ll throw down an updated version of the original, like AvP classic whatever, or Serious Sam HD new school.

    That might make this hype-machine worthwhile!

  44. irongamer says:

    As much as I have enjoyed the latest RPG’s, action RPG’s, FPS RPG’s and resource/building games, the following statement makes me stop and ponder where game development has gone wrong since 1994:

    “X-COM was made by six people, and came on three floppy disks.”

    No other game has successfully bundled so many different game styles.

    Are development teams too large?
    Does the focus on eye candy destroy the resources required to make a truly great game that you keep coming back to play, years (even decades) after its release?
    Has game development suffered from corporate and/or industry bureaucracy?

    Think about it… A game that has been listed as the best game of all time or at least in the top 10 was created by six people 16 years ago…

    Quantity has replaced quality in the industry…

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      I wouldn’t say it’s quantity over quality. The problem is not the number of games out there, it’s that their “quality” is focused on the wrong aspects. Sadly, graphics are what sell a game, and accessibility (simple mechanics and gradual difficulty curves) is what keeps modern gamers from posting bad reviews that scare off more users.

      X-COM is from a time when computers were somewhat esoteric by nature, and when graphics were so limited that good gameplay was all you had. People still read the game manuals, tutorials were limited or nonexistent, and even the lowest difficulty settings required some thinking and learning from mistakes on the part of the user.

      Also, consider what graphics do to the complexity of any given game mechanic. Even adding a unique new spell in a fantasy game involves adding animations, but some mechanics go way beyond this. Look at how long it’s taken for modern shooters (RFG, BFBC2) to reproduce the sort of destruction you could create in X-COM over a decade earlier. (And I wonder if BFBC2 cheats — is the copious amounts of dust just there to hide the abrupt transition from “wall with no damage” to “wall with chunk missing” pre-generated models?)

      “Roguelike” games have always had a very simple (and somewhat esoteric) interface by definition, and they’ve also typically had much higher complexity, procedural generation, and emergent gameplay than most “AAA” titles. Granted, Nethack isn’t a great example, since a good part of the complexity (“the devs think of everything!”) can be ascribed to the huge number of authors due to its open-source nature. But Angband, ADOM, DF, etc., are all small-team retro-interface games that still offer more possibilities and long-term gameplay than their modern counterparts.

  45. tapanister says:

    When I was a wee lad, my mom used to take my keyboard away so that I wouldn’t be spending all my time sitting infront of the computer. Then I realized I could boot my PC with a bios setting “halt at all but keyboard” or something like that. For the next few months, my mom would knock on my door, I’d power off my computer and I’d be sitting idly infront of a shut down pc with a friend next to me in awkward silence. We still talk about how awesome xcom was with this guy when we play other videogames. Like most days of the week.

  46. Johnny Ridden says:

    What vexes me most about this venture is that in the press release it’s made clear that the game has been roundly Americanized. The original was developed in England but it had a roundly international focus… in fact I seem to remember the majority of my recruits either had Germanic or Japonic names… until I renamed them as smurfs, obviously.

    For the press release to contain a line about an ‘FBI agent’, someone must have made a conscious choice to shift the focus away from an international agency and towards something more natural for Americans. Although it no longer surprises me that there are people that insist on this sort of change, it is still immensely saddening. If I might be allowed to make an autoeponymous comprison, it’s the same difference as between UC and SEED.

  47. Pantsman says:

    “When people cry in despair that the new XCOM is a first-person shooter, some of them may be dismissing a fun game out of hand, but the reason is not empty fanfury. No-one really cares about the X-COM universe, that the colour scheme isn’t right or that the Brotherhood of Steel didn’t used to care about civilians. They care because they want the one game that genuinely did it all to come back.”

    I haven’t really played X-COM. I bought it on Steam when the whole series was out for five dollars a few years ago, but haven’t yet got around to giving it the time I’m sure it deserves. But what you’ve said here perfectly states the reason for my disappointment at the treatment that many old properties have been receiving lately. Thank you.

  48. irongamer says:

    Wisq said:
    Sadly, graphics are what sell a game

    I agree with a lot what you said Wisq. I think the greed tends to drive the pumping out title after title to make more money is also a problem, thus quantity is an issue.
    Although, I think you are right that the focus on graphics is a bigger problem. I mentioned the graphics problem as a question.
    Perhaps a better summary of my post would have been:
    “Quantity and graphics have replaced gameplay, replay-ability and overall game quality in the industry… ”
    I think your quote about graphics is what sells a game is a mindset problem that studios need to overcome.
    I am curious how this new “XCOM” turns out. I’m not holding my breath, that is for sure.

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      @irongamer: I agree that quantity can be an issue in some cases, but as I recall, there were plenty of crap and “budget” games in the nineties as well. Granted, maybe not as many of them tried to package crap as awesome games via awesome marketing.

      The thing is, while quantity today has surely eroded the average quality of games, the problem as I see it is that we’re having trouble achieving the same peak quality of games as in the nineties. Even though we spend just as long or longer making the things. Even though (or perhaps because) we put massive teams on them.

      There’s a lot of people who would probably dismiss that viewpoint as nostalgia on the part of us “old fogeys”, but I think it’s a fairly objective truth.

      And why do we need such massive teams? Because the overall workload of any strongly graphical game is going to be many times that of putting the same mechanics in a minimal- or no-graphics game, which is the point I was making above.

      We were also more willing to deal with a dichotomy of interfaces back then. Mixing prerendered cutscenes with gameplay wasn’t the sort of taboo it is today, because we understood and accepted the limitations of the technology. The practice of rendering most or all cutscenes using the game’s own engine was a big boost to immersion (or something) and probably reduced costs, but further increased the focus on engine graphics and reduced the flexibility.

      And it’s getting worse. Witness the effect of “we shall voice act everything” on a title like Dragon Age, where former branching dialogue trees on past BioWare titles have been reduced to “you don’t really care what dialogue option I select, do you?”.

      By contrast, I seem to recall that Wing Commander 3 had more large-scale plot branching than Dragon Age, and it used live action greenscreen video starring Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) on something like eight CDs — because the entire core of the game was spent in the cockpit fighting through missions in space, rather than watching actors yap at you. If you can distil your core game mechanics down to that, you can afford to pad the rest with Babylon 5-esque live action plus CG and create a living world on top of your basic game.

  49. Bret says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    Silent Storm has a real time mode that flips back to turn based as soon as an enemy is spotted, or spots you, which works quite well. X-Com’s terror missions could also do with the destructible environment stuff it has which allow buildings to fully collapse if they’ve lost enough integrity.
    Hmmm, now I’m torn on what to do after work tonight. Re-install SS:S, or try and import the art assets from X-Com into Sleep is Death?

    Sleep is Death.

    Help your fellow man!

  50. Premium User Badge

    DarkNoghri says:

    So what you’re saying is that I should have a go at playing these weird old games that have been sitting on my Steam account for months now, yah?