Old, Faithful: OpenXcom Is Near-Complete

By Alec Meer on May 7th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

it's not easy being green, and from 1992

Wowee, this is something I need to magic up a fortnight for. Since 2009, the OpenXcom project has been unhurriedly continuing in its quest to make the original X-COM more contemporaneous, – a standalone version that doesn’t require DOSBox, that makes the interface a little more modern, that offers more rule-tweaking for those that want it, that finally kills some of the bugs which have dogged the original for the past two decades, and even one that scales up to mega-resolutions impressively convincingly. As of the new version 0.9, it’s basically got everything working, and you basically get an in theory improved, but faithful, X-COM to play right now.

The main draw is that the thing just runs, and the fixing of legacy issues such as “No more 80-item-limit, personnel limits, funding overflows, disconnected facilities, broken proximity grenades, floating soldier.” If you load up OpenXcom, you’re not going to notice much in the way of obvious change, bar some new options in Settings. Dig a little deeper and you might notice that the controls are more contemporaneous, in a way that you probably didn’t even notice was happening. (Until the issue I keep hitting where scrolling on the keyboard tries to go in a random direction, anyway.) Then you might start noticing a few of the many little things listed here.

Is it to the game’s benefit? I haven’t been able to look at it for more than a few minutes as yet, but knee-jerk impression is very much yes. It’s X-COM that basically runs and responds a little better, as far as I can tell.

While OpenXcom itself is free, you will need data files from the original game in order to play a game. If you don’t already own X-COM in some form, I’m afraid we can’t be friends. It’s very easy to obtain now, via the Steams and GoGs and things, though I don’t believe any proceeds go the game’s original creators, depressingly.

Is OpenXcom’s use of these assets legal? “It’s kind of a grey area,” writes OpenXcom’s creator. “I contacted the copyright holders just to be sure but they never replied back, so I’m just playing it safe like every other remake.” But has he asked Julian Gollop? He’s on twitter now, you know.

X-COM remains oddly lovely to look at – here’s a gallery I made aaaages ago. Also, words here and here.

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66 Comments »

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  1. Rinu says:

    GOG doesn’t offer older X-COMs :(. And there are no other services like GOG :P. Still waiting for my UFO.

    OpenXCom looks great. Thanks for spreading the word!

    • mzlapq says:

      GamersGate offers X-COMs, at GOG’s prices, and (almost) DRM free.

      • Rinu says:

        I have already played these games years ago, so I don’t really feel the urge to buy a DRM version (3rd party client, e-authorisation, etc.). But thanks for sharing the information :).

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        Dare_Wreck says:

        @mzlapq – what do you mean, “almost-DRM” free on GamersGate? They are DRM-free on GamersGate. Once you download the installers, you can run it anywhere you like.

        • mzlapq says:

          @Dare_Wreck:
          You’re supposed to login every time you install, even if you already downloaded the game.
          However, their protection barely qualifies as a DRM.

    • luukdeman111 says:

      steam offers them… but i assume you’re not happy with that.

      • Pryde says:

        And thus we shall see the crucial moment of fate-changing epiphany. All hail Gaben!

    • Delixe says:

      They are also DRM-free on Steam as the game uses DosBox.

      • Memph says:

        Indeed, the game runs independent from Steam. Just install it, copy the folder, uninstall it.

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          P7uen says:

          But you’d have to install Steam first, which would instantly kill everyone, everywhere.

          • Keyrock says:

            Everyone knows that merely clicking on the link to download Steam means the death of at least a half dozen infants. The Gaben demands a blood sacrifice in exchange for auto updating and cross-platform convenience.

      • Dozer says:

        Doesn’t matter if GoG/GG/Steam are DRM-free or not. They’re still the original game, which means
        – user interface from 1873
        – needs to be modded to fix bugs/issues

        So all you need from your X-Com retailer are the game files and art assets. The executable files is probably where any DRM would exist (if any does exist) but they won’t be needed by OpenXCom (I assume. I haven’t used OpenXCom yet.)

    • SIMONJASON1 says:

      I THINK OPEN XCOM IS THE BEST THING TO HIT THE ORIGINAL GAME SINCE SLICED BREAD. I HAVE NOTICED A FEW THINGS, HOWEVER. THE MANUFACTURING EXPLOIT DOESN’T SEEM TO WORK SO I HAVE TO BE A LOT MORE CAREFUL WITH MY ELERIUM SUPPLIES. THE ITEM STACKING TRICK ALSO SEEMS TO NO LONGER WORK, CAN ANYONE CLARIFY ME ON THESE BOLD STATEMENTS THAT I HAVE MADE. BUT BEFORE I MOAN TOO MUCH, THIS IS THE FIRST TIME THAT I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PLAY ANY DIFFICULTY LEVEL OTHER THAN BEGINNER WHICH VERY QUICKLY BECOMES BORINGLY EASY. I COULDN’T GET XCOM UTIL TO WORK ON MY SYSTEM AND EVERYTIME I TRIED HEX EDITING THE GEOSCAPE.EXE FILE TO UNDO THE DIFFICULTY BUG I MESSED THE GAME UP AND HAD TO DO A SYSTEM RETORE ON MY COMPUTER TO CLEAR IT. FINALLY BEFORE I GO IS TFTD GOING TO HAVE A OPEN VERSION AS WELL AS I RUN INTO THE DIFFICULTY LEVEL BUG ON THAT GAME AS WELL?

      • SIMONJASON1 says:

        ENJOYING OPEN XCOM VERY MUCH BUT CAN I BE CLARIFIED ON THE FOLLOWING. DOES OPEN XCOM LIMIT YOUR SOLDIERS PSI SKILL TO 100?

  2. JP says:

    The creator of OpenXcom who’s writing about the use of assets being legal is being overly cautious; an open source executable that does something with proprietary assets is completely legal – see every Doom and Quake source port. Code != Content. They’re perfectly in the clear.

    • Captain Joyless says:

      I hope you got a license for that legal advice, son.

    • AimHere says:

      That’s a bad example – the open souce iD games have a license from the copyright holder for the open sourced executable, so it’s pretty clear you have permission from him to marry the executables to the data, which is also owned by the same people. That’s not the case with XCom – you don’t have such permission.

      You might not need that permission – it all depends on what constitutes a derivative work in software, which isn’t very well tested in case law and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and so it’s a grey area with nobody really knowing what the situation is.

      It’s unlikely that it’ll be tested in this instance. The code of the original XCom game is pretty much abandoned, so it’s likely that nobody really cares what people do with it – people have been moddding it for well over a decade now. Mind you, if the owners of the XCom trademark – which is still pretty marketable -get all finicky and picky, there is a possibility that a few trained attack lawyers might fire off a nastygram at this project.

    • oldfart says:

      What AimHere said. The id games are not the rule, unfortunately. Some companies (*COUGH* Blizzard*COUGH*) are very rabid about playing “their” games with executables not provided by them.

  3. Grawl says:

    Good job SupSuper :D

  4. GeminiathXL says:

    It’s stuff like this that make me come to this site.

    Thank you, RPS! Thank you!

  5. Arkh says:

    # Equipment loadout saving.

    Praise Jesus! Praise the Lord!

    Also, thanks for the creator of the OpenXcom project, that portuguese guy I don’t remember the alias, you are awesome!

  6. Squirly says:

    I only have TFTD but on CD. It crashes whenever one of my soldiers go down a level. :(

  7. captain nemo says:

    Excellent. Note they also have a version for Ubuntu Linux.

    • Samuel Hill says:

      I cant seem to download the linux version, though the windows one works great with WINE.

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      Gap Gen says:

      Is that still XCOM, or have they replaced it with GnomeCOM/UnityCOM?

      • nil says:

        I believe WaylandCOM to be the choice of many discerning developers.

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          Gap Gen says:

          Explains the xenomorphs that seems to have been released onto my laptop. Though to be honest as a Linux user I’m sort of used to bughunts by now.

          • nil says:

            It’s a stand-up fight (sir.)
            The window manager, sadly, is not named Yuteni.

  8. Zogtee says:

    Why, hello there, XCom and goodbye to the rest of my evening.

  9. AshEnke says:

    I just tried to play it again, a few years after my last attempt, and it’s still the same : I don’t get this UI…
    I’m not asking for a full tutorial with an in-depth explanation of every button, but damn, just a tooltip with the NAME of the button when I’m hovering it would be nice, I don’t want to start playing with a wiki opened next to me for the first hour.

    • Captain Joyless says:

      First hour?

      You must be one of them “slow readers.”

      • AshEnke says:

        There are like 16 different icons on the battle screen, most of them are confusing and I can’t understand what they do just by looking at them.
        I don’t say it can’t be done, it’s just really not beginner-friendly (and this issue is really easy to fix : add freaking tooltips)

        I’m not going to give up so soon this time though. I’ll use a guide, I’ll try to get my head in the game.

        • Premium User Badge

          Hodge says:

          Right! This isn’t exhaustive but hopefully is helpful: wot the buttons do.

          Click here to see the buttons.

          1 and 2: Make the current soldier go up or down a floor. Only useful when you’re standing on an elevator (though later in the game you’ll discover another way to use these).

          3 and 4: Move the camera up or down a floor without moving the soldier.

          5 Show the minimap

          6 Make the current soldier crouch, or stand back up if they’re already crouching.

          7 View the current soldier’s inventory.

          8 Center the view on the current soldier.

          9 Change control to the next soldier in your squad.

          10 Change control to the next soldier in your squad AND finish the current soldier’s move for this turn. If you click this by accident you can still reactivate the solder by finding them on the map and clicking on them.

          11 Toggle the visibility of higher floors (you can basically ignore this one).

          12 Bring up the options menu.

          13 End your current turn and start the aliens’ turn.

          14 Exit the mission. You need to bring all of your soldiers back to the ship where you started before you click this one – any soldiers left outside will be left behind and lost. Generally you’ll only use this if you’re losing badly in a mission and want to retreat.

          15 Use this to reserve some of your time units for shooting. You’ll normally want to have this switched to one of the red ones, that way your soldiers will have enough time units left to shoot during the aliens’ turn.

          16 The stats for the current soldier. Click on it for more detailed info.

          17 and 18 – These are your hands! Anything that is equipped on the soldier’s hands on the inventory screen will appear on these buttons. If you click on an item, a context menu will appear allowing you to do stuff with it. For example, clicking on the gun in this picture will bring up a list of the different shots you can take with that gun.

          I hope that’s all correct – it’s been a few years since I played it! I’m sure if I’ve gotten anything wrong someone will correct me below. That should be enough to help you through the first couple of battles and get a feel for the game. Enjoy!

          • AshEnke says:

            Thank you kind sir !
            I was actually confused by the whole “Reaction shot thing”, I was looking for an overwatch button like the one in the remake.
            You cleared that up just fine !

    • captain nemo says:

      This YouTube video should help : “X-COM Tutorial Part 1: WTF Do All These Buttons Do? ”
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzA8dpcveUY

      Persevere – it really is worth it once you get the hang of it

    • Premium User Badge

      Continuity says:

      Do it the way I did it back in the 90’s. Trial and error plus pain and failure. It was worth it in the end.

      • rustybroomhandle says:

        Well presumably back then you could just look it up in your shiny paper manual.

        • Premium User Badge

          Continuity says:

          yeah, which told you practically nothing useful, if I remember rightly it even had information about stuff that simply wasn’t in the game. like they wrote the manual when the game was in alpha and never bothered to update it. But… I may be thinking of a different game. It was a long time ago.

  10. karry says:

    “a standalone version that doesn’t require DOSBox, that makes the interface a little more modern, that offers more rule-tweaking for those that want it, that finally kills some of the bugs which have dogged the original for the past two decades, and even one that scales up to mega-resolutions impressively convincingly. The main draw is that the thing just runs, and the fixing of legacy issues such as “No more 80-item-limit, personnel limits, funding overflows, disconnected facilities, broken proximity grenades, floating soldier.”

    Uh, UFO Extender has been able to (painlessly) do all of those for years now. But apparently it has to be promoted by Jake Solomon for people (on this blog) to take notice already. Also there is a version offering the same functionality for TFTD that has been out for almost a year.

    • Kaira- says:

      And now we have a tool that is more portable than extender, which only works with Windows-version.

    • valz says:

      Neat. Any opinions on which is better?

    • sophof says:

      I don’t find extender very user friendly personally and it is rather limited in what it can do. Since this is self written code it has much more promise.

    • Asurmen says:

      *edit* I spoke a load of nonsense

  11. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Also worth viewing: Julian Gollop’s X-COM post mortem talk from GDC. I watched it last night and I highly recommended it to anyone who’s interested in how the first game got made.

  12. realmenhuntinpacks says:

    Whither now, thy Xenonauts?

    • Didden says:

      Hope not, looking forward to Xenonauts. Regardless of the fixes to the original (Which is great) its still, rather dated.

      • Dozer says:

        “Whither now” means “Where are you now” in a deprecated version of English I think. Not that you’d need to know unless you’re in a language maintenance role.

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          Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

          I wish someone would do some language maintenance.

          English wasn’t intended for this sort of use and uptime. The original merge between Anglo-Saxon and Norman caused a whole raft of problems that centuries of hotfixes haven’t solved, and frankly it’s time somebody took the language down for maintenance and cleaned out some of the cruft. I don’t think that’s going to cut it, though.

          We have overlapping vocabulary, homophones galore, semantic ambiguity, syntactic inconsistency, dozens of irregular verbs, orphaned antonyms, don’t get me started on the overloading of “set”, and the less said about the spelling the better. Some of the worst problems have been going on for so long the workarounds have become accepted parts of the workflow and the users will complain if we take them out! The American English branch project didn’t address any of the serious problems and added its own complications, and so far they’re refusing to merge, preferring instead to fork the language so now English has split its userbase with its own fork while still being expected to remain completely compatible!

          Until we can get funding to develop English 2.0 (some time before Hell freezes over in this economy!), we’re going to have to get a complete shutdown at regular intervals to clean the nouns and check the tenses for signs of wear to prevent any further deterioration of the language. All I know is that if we keep running English the way we have been, we’re going to have a catastrophic failure on our hands, and I, for one, do not intend to have to learn French.

          • Lemming says:

            *applause*

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            Gap Gen says:

            I’m unsure whether French is a good example of a clean language, even though a language maintenance board does exist for it. There is no reason at all why a chair should be female and a book male. Likewise, I do not mourn the death of “thou”*. Plus the death of “ne” and the rise of “pas” is confusing (“plus” can mean more or less depending on how you pronounce it). Oh, and French also has the North American / European split, plus variants inside Europe (and probably elsewhere), though I don’t know the traction Quebecois has compared to the all-consuming Webster English. I suppose we’ll have to wait for our machine overlords to invent Marian.

            * Fun fact: If you want Google to use the familiar form of “you” in French/German/etc, you have to use “thou” and conjugate the verbs correctly to match (e.g. “thou art” gives “tu es” in French).

          • Premium User Badge

            SpiceTheCat says:

            To expand my language options beyond the English code base, I have started learning German. It has undergone some recent maintenance, and has much to recommend it, including highly modular verb forms and a rather nice nested clause structure. There are other useful touches, including consistent phoneme mapping, and the flexible ‘werden’ wrapper to produce a number of tenses.

            The disadvantages are that it is a famously inelegant language with fiddly noun types. It has a less wide-spread user base, and the user base that does exist will generally use English for most externally-facing applications, whether you want them to or not. There are a couple of minor forks, in particular the Austrian and Swiss branches, but the principal user base regards them as silly, usually behind their backs. I have myself accidentally imported some elements from the Bayrisch library, much to my trainer’s amusement, but there is no substantial incompatibility. I regard the extended character set as an aesthetic bonus, but others see this as cruft. YMMV.

          • Premium User Badge

            Gap Gen says:

            German was invented by C++ programmers. It’s a very powerful and efficient language, but still includes lots of unnecessary stuff* and is fairly tedious to use.

            *Gender in language is still the stupidest thing ever, and before you get all cocky, English, I include gendered pronouns for people in that assessment. And why not generate a comment flame war: the depth of sexism in our society is apparent in the fact that the refusal to define the gender of someone when speaking is a *grammatical* error.

          • Ygolnac says:

            “and I, for one, do not intend to have to learn French.”

            Me too, even if I’m Italian.

            Italian language has never been coded at all. Legend says that fragments of various fail registry entry coming from different codes assembled themselves and became Italian.

            Nobody ever touched anything from there.

            In fact the forks extend themself to the point that is impossible to enstabilish a connection with some other users usig the very same code.

            Nevertheless we use Italian all day long and very loud for our amusement, so I see your tendency to recode your languages as a very grim thing:

            You are grammar nazis

  13. Noise says:

    Not that any of your money would go to the developers if you bought the game now

  14. Freud says:

    I once asked a wise old man what the meaning of life is. His answer was “research heavy plasma rifle”.

  15. Phasma Felis says:

    I am quite positive I saw Julian Gollop say, on a forum, that if he could find his old source code he’d release it himself, and he is perfectly happy for anyone to do anything they like with the old X-COM/UFO Defense game. He, sadly, has no legal rights to it, but you needn’t worry about making dear old Julian cry into his soup.

    Anyone happen to know where I saw that post, or feel like googling for it?

  16. Slinkyboy says:

    OMG I totally forgot about this!! OMGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG

  17. sophof says:

    I’m afraid it won’t even matter if it is legal or not. If the copyright holder wants it to go away, it’ll make it happen by pure bullying power.

    • ribobura osserotto says:

      Don’t worry. That’s impossible. The OpenXcom package distributes no original game assets whatsoever. It’s just an empty shell. An engine that does nothing unless you put data on it. Even if the 2K threatened with a C&D, they would simply be laughed out.

  18. Scilantius says:

    Holy crap, I just tried this out, and the first thing that we detected was a very small UFO which was promptly destroyed by out interceptors. So far, so good. Next, however, was a Terror Mission in Novosibirsk.

    Skyranger inbound. The first shock I received was *gasps* BLACK guile hair colour! Pretty awesome. I take one step forward, and boom, three floaters open autofire with (heavy) plasma rifles, mowing down half of my squad in an instant.

    • JackShandy says:

      I got destroyed in the very first mission. No survivors.

      Did sectoids always get like four shots?

      • BooleanBob says:

        My experiences with X-COM have always been that it is completely brutal. You need to sink a lot of hours into finding a viable strategy that won’t get you wiped out – not only on the tactical level but the strategic one too. And because mistakes/failures in one have an impact on the other, this makes the game very easy to lose if you aren’t playing it perfectly.

        The fragility of your troopers makes extreme caution the only viable approach to missions, leading to protracted encounters that you can still lose. All said, trial and error and the writing off of multiple 10+ hour campaigns seem inevitable, unless you turn to gamefaqs/wikis or save scumming. It is hardcore to the tips of its power armour boots. Still, I love it, even though the relationship is more than a little M as well as S (and I’m not talking upmarket department stores, here).

        I do wonder sometimes whether the original game would get panned by time-poor journalists as hatefully difficult/broken if it was released today. I think it might survive, even thrive, but only through a dedicated community building up somewhere on the internet out of the way, and then building word of mouth reaching the mainstream press, a la Dwarf Fortress of Demon’s Souls.

        I don’t have an answer to your actual question – my guess would be that enemy time units increase per the difficulty setting – but thanks for indulging me in this rant!

  19. sidhellfire says:

    I want UFO:The Two Sides :|