X-COM Creator On XCOM

The Gollops, Yesterday.

I want to quickly post this, which Jim found. Where did he find it? I don’t know. He could have just been reading the XCOM thread at Gamasutra. Google suggests he may have found it at RPGCodex, but that doesn’t sound likely. Anyway, Julian Gollop was the legendary creator of Chaos, Laser Squad and – relevantly – the original X-COM. I’ve been wondering about what he makes of all this ever since it came out. Sadly, he’s not replying to any of our e-mails. However, he did turn up in the comment thread (twice!) to the aforementioned Gamasutra article and said the following…

Personally, I would have gone with a turn-based game system – but no one asked me. Actually, I was developing an X-Com style game called Dreamland back in 1999 – turn-based but 3D (actually very similar to Valkyria Chronicles in the way it worked). Sadly, it didn’t see the light of day.

And Dreamland was one of the sad losses of the late 00s. And then….

Publishers run a mile from anything with turn-based mechanics – it is regarded as too niche. RTS games pretty much killed off turn-based strategy games in the mid-90s – but now even RTS games are regarded as niche. So all my experience working turn-based games from 1983-1997 is now somewhat obsolete, despite the success of X-Com. However, I am now working on a turn-based tactical RPG which will be a 3DS launch title. Thanks to ‘Advance Wars’, ‘Fire Emblem’ and ‘Final Fantasy Tactics’ it seems turn-based games are not totally dead – at least for Nintendo handhelds. I would also argue that Pokemon has a lot of parallels with X-Com in its game system, despite being classified as an ‘RPG’. The core of Pokemon is a turn-based tactical battle enriched by a sophisticated higher level meta-game that allows players to experiment with many game elements and combinations of forces – and Pokemon is the second most successful game franchise in the world. If done right, would an X-Com game with a turn-based combat system be successful? Absolutely!

So now we know. Phew.


  1. Reefpirate says:

    Woot! First!

    X-COM rules!

  2. Feet says:

    High profile TBS games on PC are like buses. You wait simply ages for one and then two come along within a month of each other. Tsk. Pesky buses. Still, one of Civ V or Elemental are bound to be pretty good, hopefully both. So that’s nice for TBS game fans buses.

    • Bhazor says:

      Civilization? Never heard of it.
      Its a turn based game right? No wonder no one played it.

    • Coillscath says:

      Oh no, Elementals is coming out in the same month as Civ 5? D: I just put money down on my Civ 5 pre order yesterday too. Bummer. I can’t afford two in one month. >_<

    • MWoody says:

      Everything I can find – including Impulse’s own store – indicates that Elemental is coming out August 24th. Civ V is coming out September 21st. So there’s at least a month in there to… oh, who am I kidding, these sorts of games, they might as well be simultaneous. If I could light my metaphorical free time on fire, I’d be doing so now.

    • HYPERPOWERi says:

      Elemental is out in a week!

      Got my pre-order in. Not sure whether I’ll get Civ V. At least for a while — I’ll be milking Elemental. And Worms Reloaded and Recettear.

    • Tye The Czar says:

      Speaking of Civ, WHAT IF 2K had Firaxis develop a turn-based X-COM?

  3. Antialias says:

    3DS launch title??

    I am suddenly interested in the 3DS. Goodbye, PC gaming.

  4. Bhazor says:

    Well looks like I’m buying a 3DS after all.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      I was just thinking the same thing. One statement from one person makes me do a full 180 from “I will never ever waste money on a handheld gaming systems” to “I need one ASAP!”

  5. Rii says:

    I should like to point out that he didn’t actually saying anything about XCOM there.

  6. Jimbo says:

    It probably would be. On DS.

  7. Jim9137 says:

    I’m still waiting on my Silent Storm: Second Sturm. Or just Silent Storm: Teh Shooter with scantily clad girls and mechas.

    Back on topic:

    • Stromko says:

      There were a couple Silent Storm sequels, both of them unfinished and buggy. A real-time or FPS version would be quite pointless given that, hey, it’s set in WWII, but would hardly be a new low.

    • Jim9137 says:

      Teh shooter with scantily clad girls! and kleinechas! That’s creativity right there! Right between the girls and echas!

      And I give you S^3, but I won’t give you that other thing.

  8. DAdvocate says:

    The problem with turn based console games is the same problem that haunts JRPGs, they’re almost all identical with teenage protagonists saving the world from some bland evil entity. Mix that with prolonged grinding replacing strategy and you can lose the will to live.

    However there are a few gems, Valkyrie Profile (where you play the villain of the story), Disgaea (light on strategy but with a quirky sense of humour), Final Fantasy Tactics etc.

    • Jae Armstrong says:

      First you condemn SRPGs and their ilk for forsaking strategy in favour of mindless grinding, then praise Disgaea of all things? Now, I love its writing as much as the next slavering Nippon Ichi fan, but the strategy there boils down to “the numbers go way high”.

    • Sagan says:

      Out of the three games he listed two don’t match your description. Neither Fire Emblem nor Advance Wars have any grinding as they have a campaign in which you play a fixed sequence of battles. And the third one you yourself list as a gem.

    • Skurmedel says:

      Who plays Advance Wars for the plot anyway; it’s like playing Quake for the intellectual back story.

  9. Cinnamon says:

    This could be the game he is working on.

    link to giantbomb.com

    • Acosta says:

      Uh, now that you say it, it would be perfectly possible as he works for Ubi…

    • hydra9 says:

      Wow, great detective work, thanks! The title is crushingly disappointing, but the screenshots are cute as hell!

    • Cinnamon says:

      Someone on neogaf mentioned it, I didn’t think of it myself.

    • MWoody says:

      “*sigh* The creator of X-Com, working on a Ghost Recon game. What is the world-”

      *clicks link*

      “…ooh. Hello there.”

    • TheTingler says:

      Wow! That seems plausible, and astonishingly the game looks really, well, NOT Ghost Recon-y!

  10. Acosta says:

    I demand the RPS’s Hivemind start covering info from our new brother system: 3DS.

  11. Inigo says:

    Didn’t he make an XCOM-alike for the GBA?
    Which nobody bought?

    • Acosta says:

      I did, it was fine, but too simple and it lacked polish at some points, like it was rushed.

    • hydra9 says:

      Rebelstar: Tactical Command. I bought it the day it came out. It was a pretty nice, cut-down X-COM style game for the handheld.

    • bhlaab says:

      not to mention that the idea of playing a TBS with a d-pad makes me want to vomit

  12. BigJonno says:

    I still want a turn-based game based on the Feng Shui pen ‘n’ paper RPG. In this imaginary game, you’d plot out your actions each turn and then watch them play out in glorious Hong-Kong-John-Woo-a-vision. It would almost feel like a hybrid of a tactical game and being an action movie director.

    • gabanski83 says:

      You mean, kind of like [urlhttp://www.frozensynapse.com/]Frozen Synapse[/url], perhaps?

    • subedii says:

      Whilst I don’t think that’s the kind of thing he meant, I will heartily say Frozen Synapse is an awesome TBS game and well worth looking into.

      Both players plot their moves each turn (which constitutes about 5 seconds of “real” time). You formulate your plan, and plot out the moves that you expect your opponent to make, simulating differnt possibilities and variations until you’re satisfied you’ve got something that works. Then you hit “Prime”, and both your moves and your opponents moves play out simultaneously.

      There’s a fair amount of depth to the strategy because fundamentally you’re always trying to anticipate your opponent’s actions. You need to understand where he’s likely to come from and what his most logical course of action is. And that he’s doing the same with you. And that’s where the wheels-within-wheels strategy starts going, because you’re always wondering whether he’s figured on what you’re going to do, and taken appropriate steps to countermand your moves. Which applies just as much to him.

    • Reefpirate says:

      Sounds a lot like Laser Squad Nemesis, from this same X-COM guy.

    • BigJonno says:

      Frozen Synapse looks very interesting, but I was thinking more of using full flashy graphical technowizardry to make it look as good as any FPS. There is no particular reason, besides turn based games being somewhat niche and thus lacking large budgets, why they should have to skimp on the presentation.

    • Krikey! says:

      Have you guys seen [url=http://www.dark-wind.com]Darkwind[/url]? Different from the turn-based system in UFO, but since Frozen Synapse is mentioned here, this is worth mentioning too.

      Speaking of which, Darkwind still bades you forth Kieron!

    • Dhatz says:

      turn based games are niche because they are seen and made that way, last turnbased game I played were worms 3D. Doing popular turnbased game would always be much harder than anything realtime, but as Heavy Rain proven, there is still some ground in the industry yet to be covered by AAA games. I would suggest the technique of having heavily movielike encounter-based game close to heavy rain to really attract players and mine everything out of turbased strategy.

  13. gabanski83 says:

    URL fail. It’s been a long day…

  14. WiPa says:


  15. psyk says:

    one game and “oh my god im buying a 3ds” lol fools

    • Armyofnone says:

      Obvious Troll is Obvious.

    • MU says:

      3DS Emulator + ROM.

      If a 3DSEmu will be able to run it, it will be “pirated” to heck.

      Not that piracy really applies in a practical sense(yea yea, it’s still infringement and blah) if you’re only emulating it because there was no developer even making the darned thing for the only true platform, the PC.

      Someone proper hire this guy and make an epic TBS series.
      Or hook him up with the indie developer fund. Or SOMETHING!

      For crying out loud.

    • Dominic White says:

      Wait.. you’re seriously playing the ‘It’s not piracy if it’s on another platform’ card? What the hell!?

  16. Azlin K says:

    Shame on all these so called publishers who want to make a quick buck on genres that they deem to be popular! I can name a lot of turned based game like Vandal Hearts, Advanced Wars, Fire Emblem, Vagrant Story, Tactics Series, Super Robot Wars from Japan, Valkyria Chronicles (Hated the ranking system though, why the hell do you need to rush your enemy when you can take your time sniping is beyond me).

    OK fine those are console games. Want PC? Disciples, Civilization, Panzer Warfare Games, Mech Commander Series, Ultima Series, Might and Magic Series, X-Com Series. Oh yeah how about the old and new Fallout you publishers. Now there’s gold in them hills! So go get it!

    There’s a reason why turn-based is so cool; thinking your move and seeing them work out gracefully (Or fall flat on your face). Why do you think bullet time is so cool in FPS?

    Oh and when my kids come calling for daddy time, I can just PAUSE. What power! Omnipotence!

    • Corbeau says:

      Mechcommander was always real-time.

    • Dominic White says:

      Not only that, but half the PC games listed there haven’t had a turn-based title released in the past 5-6 years.

  17. Skinlo says:

    £DS (typo, but doesn’t need fixing) is just a gimmck. It will just be a normal DS with 3D games.

    • Janxer says:

      Because, I mean, more powerful hardware and that analogue stick doesn’t count, no sir.

    • stahlwerk says:

      I’m really hyped on the 3DS, I haven’t seen one “in person” yet, but from what I hear the display is a real treat and gracefully executed. Some sites are even shily uttering the words “game changer”. Also I’m pretty confident in predicting that a few months after its release the display tech will trickle down (or up?) into the smartphone market.

      So yay for 3D!

    • Janxer says:

      Yay for toggle-able 3D so I won’t have to have my eyes bleed when I’m not feeling like it. =P

  18. Lacero says:

    That’s a pretty good point about pokemon he’s made there.

  19. FilthyPalpatine says:

    When I think about the 200 odd DS hours I’ve sunk into the multiplayer TURN BASED rpg Dragon warrior 9, which has more in common with an old school western RPG than anything bethesda has crapped out in a decade, you’re damn right I get excited that Julian Gollop, who pretty much gave me the strategy game I’ve enjoyed the most in my life, is working on a 3ds launch title.

    Who cares if 3DS is a gimmick? Seriously. Who cares?

    These are the kind of games that I, as an old, old, old school PC gamer love. Turn based ones. And currently on all the major systems, if it’s a new RPG or Strategy game(WHY? HOW BTW? Thank goodness flight sims are already typically in first person perspective, although HAWX decided that was too rough), it’s become:

    A) A piece of recycled and likely beloved IP bastardized into an FPS
    B) An awesome RPG from europe, that is ultra hard and mega quirky, but at least true to form (thanks PB)
    D) A new super cinematic omg omg JRPG.

    At least the DS, and, so it seems, the 3DS, will give me the games I like, and am willing to part with money for. Turn based games. Games that are willing to take risks. Games where people who obviously care about they are working on are making the mid-high level decisions.

    • Nick says:

      have to say, I am loving DQ 9 too, never really liked the rest of the series. And new Etrian Odyssey and Golden Sun out soon! The DS, bringing me the CRPGs that the PC won’t =/

  20. DJ Phantoon says:

    RTS are niche?

    What the hell was Blizzard thinking with Starcraft 2!?

    • Starky says:

      As always the “does not apply to blizzard” rule applies…

      As in… “An MMO will never get more than a million subs”.
      Or “RTS games are niche”.
      Or “RTS games will never be taken seriously or be interesting to none gamers”
      Or “No one will make another big budget action RPG these days”.

      The list could go on, but you get the idea.

      Valve have a very similar rule, which is “except for Valve”, also “but not as good as Valve”
      Which can be equally applied to many things.
      “Damn this toast is good, but not as good as Valve”.

    • Thants says:

      Someone better tell Relic.

    • Nick says:

      Yeah, Dawn of War and CoH are what now?

    • Starky says:

      They are both great RTS games (not so much DoW2) – but they are still niche.
      It would not shock me if Starcraft 2 outsells them all combined (DoW, and CoH expansions, sequels and all).

      Bets are on for SC2 to do over 5 million units/users worldwide (users because in some countries they pay by the hour to play) by the end of the year, I’d be surprised if any Relic game did more than 1-2 million.

    • SwiftRanger says:

      There are multiplatform FPS developers that use a higher budget than RTS devs who’d do anything to get 1-2 million sold copies of their title. DoW and DoW II aren’t niche, not with that brand.

      Blizzard is in a league of its own but that doesn’t mean other RTSs can’t be pretty profitable. Relic wouldn’t be making all those addons packs otherwise.

    • Starky says:

      I never said otherwise – I’m not knocking relics games, they are great and I enjoyed them all – and own them all.

      They’re still niche though – and yes other people would kill for those sales, but really Relic are about as successful as RTS games get, except for blizzard.

      They’re certainly not mainstream, they don’t make it into popular culture. Not in the way something like Halo, Call of duty, the Sims, Warcraft or Starcraft did.

      Niche isn’t bad, and it exists on a scale, Relic may be at the upper end of that scale, but almost every other RTS is mid to lower.

  21. Binni says:

    That Ghost Recon game has Julian Gollop written all over it. Looks great.

  22. fabamatic says:

    I have some foggy memories about this game that was posted sometime ago here at RPS a turn based rpg, or maybe it was a TBS. I remember roman soldiers or maybe a gladiator, the combat pace was ultra-slow (i.e. turn based combat, with many menus to select wich weapon to use, each turn!), truly a “niche” game, just the way I like them. Does anyone remember the name of that game?
    (Again, sorry about my broken english)

    • Nick says:

      It was The Age of Decadence: link to irontowerstudio.com

      They have a combat demo out, its quite fun.

    • fabamatic says:

      Wow! You are right! Thanks for the speedy response. The question is why today big publishers can’t publish games like this or like x-com, or like the original fallout, or like planescape torment, etc? 15 years they published this kind of games, why not now?. God, I miss Microprose and SSI :(

    • Subject 706 says:

      Because most publishers these days have problems understanding anything else than mega-blockbuster-me-too games.

  23. mrpier says:

    Chess is turn based innit?

    • Jake says:

      Maybe old, obsolete chess, but it’s more fun to play it in real time. Also you can make some small walls out of cardboard for a decent cover system.

  24. Vinraith says:

    At this point, the size of the PC market is such that no genre is “too niche” to be viable, certainly not turn based strategy. The size of your budget needs to match the anticipated size of your audience, sure, but there’s a plethora of great turn based games out there, to say nothing of the two elephants about to walk into the room (Elemental and Civ 5, obviously). People claiming you can’t make a profitable turn based game on the PC are simply making excuses and little else.

    All that said, the DS has been a remarkable platform for “retro” genres, I bought mine primarily to play the Etrian Odyssey games (modern day Wizardry titles, basically, a subgenre which sadly HAS been completely abandoned on PC as far as I know) and have discovered a number of other non-“J” RPG’s and interesting strategy titles. The 3DS may be a gimmick, but if it’s catalog of niche strategy and role playing titles is anything like that of its predecessor (ie if Atlus embraces it) I don’t really care.

    • Subject 706 says:

      As much as I look forward to Elemental (not Civ, never liked the series for some reason), what I really want is more details on Jagged Alliance 3.

      Turn based can certainly sell well, which has been proven before, and will most likely be proven again by the two aforementioned games, but sadly most large publishers seem to have extreme problems understanding the genre.

  25. pipman300 says:

    nerds commit mass suicide in response

  26. amanda says:

    Julian was also behind one of the best RTS games evah: Magic & Mayhem (Duel: The Mage Wars)

  27. Jayt says:

    “If done right, would an X-Com game with a turn-based combat system be successful? Absolutely!”

    So god damn true

    • MartinNr5 says:

      Make it a hybrid even? Walking, sneaking, running, moving, investigating, etc is FPS but when a wild alien appears! you switch into isometric hex grid, turn based combat mode.

      That’d work for me.

      Make it an option to let those who wants to take command of their units in FPS mode and let the computer manage the rest.

    • Jad says:

      So a much better, deeper version of VATS? I’d be down with that.

  28. shadeedge says:

    It’s not a matter of “too niche” a product. There’s no game that’ll be acceptable for all gamers, after all, so in that sense (a very loose sense, admittedly) every game is “niche”. The point isn’t an objective one, but a comparative one; it’s not that turn-based strategy games won’t sell, but that other types of games will sell more. Even if every single fan of these types of games (and i’m one) bought their game, chances are that game developers would still make more money selling, say, an FPS to a tenth of the fans of those.

    Too, practically speaking there’s sunk costs in terms of other games that there just isn’t for TBS games. We know that people will buy an FPS or an RPG. We don’t necessarily know they’ll buy TBSs, which makes it something of a self-fulfilled prophecy and leads you into game developer chicken, but that’s another thing entirely. There’s a whole market of genres to look at when deciding what sells and what should be added to your game, but not so much for Fire Emblem-a-likes, more’s the pity.

    • Jayt says:

      In a very broad sense modern warfare is not niche.

    • shadeedge says:

      Practically, it is. It takes up a bigger slice of gamer interest pie than your average TBS, but it’s still only going to be bought by a less-than-50% amount of all gamers. It’s that it’s a bigger niche that’s the problem; you have many many more potential customers, even if genre is the only thing known about it, with an FPS (especially with good online play) than a TBS.

  29. Kevbo says:

    Looking forward to the 3DS, seems a bunch of good games will be out shortly after its release.

  30. SwiftRanger says:

    Tacticular Cancer ain’t RPGCodex, lads. We’re only hosted on the same site/forums and share a few crew members.

  31. IAmAnAlien says:

    To which I can only say:

    I wants fun, interesting, intriguing, pushing-forward TBS games made by experienced peepz made for my PC gaming rig! :(

    Someone tell these people that it’s perfectly fine to do that sort of thing on 4-core-gigahertz monsters and that they need not be afraid!

  32. HermitUK says:

    Turn based strategy is perfect for consoles because they lack the control fidelity, and it’s hardly a dead genre on any of the Big Three. Disgaea, Valkyria Chronicles, FFTactics in any of its forms, a stack ton of Fire Emblem, Tactics Ogre, and Front Mission most of which never makes it out of Japan.

    Indie development could be the rebirth it needs though, since they’re not bound by the need to sell an idea to publishers. Frozen Synapse is a classic example. If you tie that battle engine into some sort of decent campaign (or heck, even an X-com style metagame) it would be epic. And would probably sell on the console side as well as the PC.

  33. Al3xand3r says:

    Did he try Stardock? I’m sure they wouldn’t run away from something turn based.

    As for the thought of turn based being niche, eh, Civilization?

  34. Chaz says:

    Sounds like Mr Gollop needs to broaden his gaming CV to me.

  35. Quests says:

    The problem with TBS is that it’s niche, and the problem with them is that market experts haven’t realized that many NICHES became as big as mass, today.

  36. Doug F says:

    -5 points for not titling the article “Gollop Poll”

  37. Freud says:

    I think it is a bit silly having him comment on XCOM. The series has passed him on ages ago and he has had plenty of time to do the games he wanted (Magic & Mayhem). It’s a bit like asking Pete Best how he would have drummed on Abbey Road.

    I do think it is a shame that there isn’t any creative squad based turn based games coming anymore (not counting UFO tribute games). I loved the genre and if it was done cleverly I’d buy. I would love to see a turn based Warhammer 40k game, but that little fantasy of mine will never happen.

    • Chaz says:

      You’ll be wanting “Final Liberation: Warhammer Epic 40,000”, that was a turn based 40k game. A good few years old now though.

      link to mobygames.com

    • Dominic White says:

      Before that, there was Warhammer 40k: Chaos Gate, which was much more X-Com styled.

      And more recently, there was a 40k game released on the DS/PSP (see? There’s that ‘turn-based strategy is alive and well on handhelds’ thing again) not long ago. I forget the name – heard it was quite good though.

    • HermitUK says:

      Or Chaos Gate, which was squad size turn based battles ‘twixt Space Marines and their chaotic brethren.

  38. jalf says:

    £DS (typo, but doesn’t need fixing) is just a gimmck. It will just be a normal DS with 3D games.

    A mouse is just a gimmick too. And your point is?

  39. Jacques says:

    Turn based games must die, unless they are ridiculously good (I could deal with KOTOR because of the story, the game mechanics, well, not so much) That said, this is probably flamebait at this point, but it’s my firey two cents on turn based games. Now whether or not real time games become turn based games in practice is a different story; fire a few shots off and hide behind cover while the enemy shoots, then when they stop, pop up and shoot at them, duck when they shoot back, so on and so forth. However, if possible I attempt to forgo taking turns and flank the enemy, which I suppose is the one thing that I haven’t been able to attribute to turn based games.

    • Chris D says:

      Jacques, care to say what it is you don’t like about them? You’re perfectly entitled not to like them, of course, but it would seem that not playing them would be sufficient rather than actively calling for their death.

      If you object to two guys hitting each other until one of them falls over then I can understand that, although it’s really more of a function of having a health point system rather than being turn based. Also many turn based games actively encourage flanking by giving bonuses from attacking from the sides and rear. I’m guessing you just haven’t found the right ones.

      The thing I think turn based games do better than any other type is that they allow you to co-ordinate perfectly. You can get all of your units doing what you want, when you want them to. Success is entirely down to whether your plan is bettter, not whether you can click faster. I prefer turn based to real time strategy because you never have to worry about any units being massacred while you’re distracted elsewhere.

  40. Jacques says:

    Over zealousness in my post perhaps, to call for them to die, but I do despise them, making my relationship with Medieval II, complicated, as it is addictive, fun for some amount of time, but often not very rewarding. I generally don’t like turn based systems because of the reason you mention early on, the two characters taking turns hitting each other until one falls down. It just puts me off in the appearance of it all really, well, that and the tendency to put things to dice rolls based on skill points. I like skill points, I don’t feel they’re an accurate depiction of learning, but then again, casting a fire spell 500 times might make me better at it in real life (I’m using that term loosely here), but it’s also a pain (as people who played oblivion probably found out and then promptly just focused on leveling up to get more skill points directly, until realizing that the world levels up with you).

    Not being able to respond in real time takes me out of the drivers seat of a game, and in that, it often negates my strategies which I can’t fix on the fly, I have to watch them play out. If all of the sudden all of the empires that were friendly to me, last turn, all decide I don’t have full enough flags and that I’m a worthy target, I can’t react to it before my cities are already undersiege. It feels like I’m powerless and can’t improve because it’s out of my hands.

    I’ve played: Final Fantasy X (okay, mostly watched), KOTOR, Tales of Symphonia (a few fights), Xenosaga, Medieval 2 Total War, Rome Total War, Settlers of Catan, UFO Alien Invasion, Adventure something or other and a few others I can’t remember off hand.

    I like to innovate while playing, though I can understand why someone might not want a twitch fest, hell, I certainly can’t stand it when I die every 4 seconds because of some scout scatter shotting me in the face.

  41. Dreamhacker says:

    I better stick to PC for the rest of my life, because I love my turn-based goodness.

    (Also: TBS games are much easier to develop)