Know Your Enemy: Firaxis On XCOM, Part 1

You were much cuter when you were younger

They did it. They really did it. As we unexpectedly discovered last month, Firaxis are remaking/reimagining the original X-COM, the 1993 title that is quite rightly often hailed as the greatest game ever made. Recently, I had a long, fascinating and genuinely reassuring chat with XCOM: Enemy Unknown‘s lead designer and evident fellow X-COM gonk Jake Solomon – in this first of three parts, he talks how, why, when, the response to the controversial XCOM shooter, Cyberdiscs, whether it’s being simplified for console, 2K’s infamous ‘strategy games aren’t contemporary’ comment and missing hyphens.

RPS: Hi there, I’m Alec Meer from Rock Paper Shotgun, how’re you doing?

Jake Solomon: Alec! I was hoping it would be you.

RPS: Really?

Jake Solomon: Yes Alec, I’m a long-term reader so I know who you are. I have the advantage here. I love your stuff and I know that I’m talking to a real fan here so this’ll be an easy conversation (laughter)

RPS: Is that for better or worse I wonder…for better and worse. It makes me nervous when people say they’ve read the site because I think oh no, I’ve said that thing, and they probably thought….oh no….

Jake Solomon: (laughs) That’s ok, we make sure we send all your articles around here so we’ve all read your stuff.

RPS: That’s… good and bad. Well I am very optimistic about the game, I actually heard a rumour about it two years ago and was getting worried it had been cancelled, so I was very excited when I heard the announcement.

Jake Solomon: Yeah, we got to do that little surprise. It’s funny because a lot of people, I don’t know really how, had heard the rumours. I guess I never even knew there were rumours out there.

RPS: There’s a rumour about everything

Jake Solomon: That’s true! There is a rumour about everything, you know, whether it’s true or not, there’s a rumour about everything.

RPS: I’ve got a mixture of my own questions and also I did a kind of Twitter poll because there’s people on there who are even more ferociously nerdy about this than me so I thought it would be best to take their prompts on it.

Jake Solomon: That is perfectly fine, I feel like I can go toe to toe in the ferociously nerdy category (laughter) I’m happy to field whatever questions you’ve got.

RPS: Cool, well let’s test you on that then. The most important question of all, I think you’ll agree, is why isn’t there a hyphen in the title anymore?

Jake Solomon: (laughs) We have an implied hyphen, you’ve seen our logo, right? You can kind of see it striking through the COM part.

RPS: Good stuff, I didn’t know if it was ‘No, we want to declare we are our own game’ even though it’s tied to the lineage.

Jake Solomon: No no, it’s funny because without the hyphen, I remember when my wife saw that she was saying it looked like ‘TROM’, she thought it was the name of an actual alien, like it was the alien overlord. I was like ‘Ok, we’ve got to fix a hyphen in there somehow.’

RPS: (laughs) How long have you been doing it for?

Jake Solomon: This project, we’ve been doing it for three and a half years at this point. I mean, some guys, some of the early art staff have been on it for four years at this point, so we’ve been in development for a really long time.

RPS: How does that compare to the Firaxis standard for stuff like this, do you normally take that long?

Jake Solomon: No, this one was a little bit longer because we knew that we were sort of starting a whole new process, right, a lot of times with Firaxis we have Sid in house, we have that sort of institutional knowledge of a lot of the games that we make – so let’s say we’re making a Civ, so many of the guys on the Civ teams have already made another Civ so it’s a lot easier to get into it. Even when we made Pirates! of course, that was something that Sid was leading up and of course Sid was in-house so that stuff’s a lot easier. So we knew that when we were making this game – first of all everybody who knows XCOM knows that the game is going to actually require you to be criminally insane to undertake the project as a developer because of all the wonderful but very difficult elements from a development standpoint. Y’know, you’ve got all the destructible terrain, and the 3D fog of war, and you’ve got the two games, it’s not just the combat game, it’s the two games and how they come on together, and so 2K was very accommodating because we said ‘Look, we’re going to need to take some time with this, this is something completely new for us, we’re not re-making one of our old earlier titles.’

To sidetrack for a second, the way we started, the art team rolled on to it first, and they were working on tone and imagery and I would give them some pointers about how the game would actually function, and we wanted to say, ok, if we take exactly what the original game is and then we want to see what we can do with that artistically. The first prototype I wrote was basically a recreation of the original game, so we started with everything: time units, which I know you’re going to ask me about [laughs], time units, ammo, everything, a recreation of the original game. So what we wanted to do was start from that point and say ‘ok, we don’t take anything out unless we can improve it.’ That was a good three and a half/almost four years ago at this point.

RPS: You know you could probably just release that prototype today and you’d make a fortune overnight.

Jake Solomon: (laughs) I don’t know, I suppose it would have interest, maybe that’s something we should put in the collector’s edition or something.

RPS: Yeah, or a least a ‘making of’ thing that showed off what it looked like and what was going on there.

Jake Solomon: Yeah, that’s something that we really really want to do. The fun thing about a development process that’s this long, the idea was when we started developing was that since we were starting from the original game we had that core there, we wanted to work fearlessly where everything had to hold its own weight, so when we made decisions we weren’t afraid, we weren’t making our decisions based on, y’know, ‘is this going to make the game harder to play or simpler to play?. And I know people aren’t going to believe me when I say that but it really is true, we’ve never lost sleep over ‘how can we simplify the game?’, it was really more a question of ‘Ok, here we have this game, what’s the more fun mechanic?’, and I’m telling you, with this game, I cannot wait some day to have a discussion, maybe we can do that with you guys after we ship.

RPS: Oh, we’d love to.

Jake Solomon: I can show you all these old screen shots, and all these old prototypes, and I’m telling you, we have taken this game left, right, up, down, whatever: we’ve done all kinds of crazy things with it. I guess that’s why we’re happy and comfortable where we are because we’ve honestly tried almost everything from a design standpoint.

RPS: Did you have a fixed point in your mind between being a recreation of the original and being something new that you could say is definitely ‘my’ game rather than someone else’s with bells on?

Jake Solomon: Right, exactly, and so that’s why it was important to start with the original as a base. Narratively we occupy the same starting point, we have a lot of the same aliens, and we use the original game as the inspiration for a lot of the things we do, and it’s never out of our minds, I don’t want to say that we design and we just say ‘oh, who cares what was in the original’. We view it more from a design perspective and say look, and the original is still absolutely my favourite game, and the favourite game of a lot of guys on this team, so we view the original not as holy and sacred and we can’t change it because that’s how Julian did it, it’s more that those things worked, they were mechanically fantastic, and they worked very very well, so as a designer, we keep that in mind when we are thinking about making changes, we say ‘look, we have thousands of hours of experience with this other design system and it works very well’, so, we took any changes we made very seriously. But because of that, because we made our changes based on play and prototypes, the only things that stuck were the things that when across the board it was like ‘this is an improvement to the game’.

RPS: Do you feel like people are, when they get this, going to feel that they’ve got it instead of X-COM, or do you think it’s going to be more of a companion almost?

Jake Solomon: Yeah, I think it’s very personal…if you got ten of us in a room, say it’s you, me and eight other guys just like us, right, and you said ‘ok, I want your number one feature that cannot be changed or it’s not XCOM’, somehow we would walk out of that room with twenty five features, because when you ask people, what is XCOM, they’ll say ‘it’s this’, or ‘it’s that’, and a lot of times you’ll find yourself agreeing and you’re like ‘Yes, that is core to the experience’, and so I have to interpret that and my team has to interpret that for ourselves and say ‘It’s these elements which we think make the core experience of XCOM’, but obviously things are going to change. I think it is more of a companion, it’s certainly not something that you’d play and say ‘this is completely different’. I guess it would be another game in the series, that narratively occupies the same space. They did all kinds of interesting things with, maybe not Terror From The Deep, except made it brutally harder and made the cruise ships four times longer than any human could realistically make, but they did awesome stuff with Apocalypse and that’s the funny thing, I don’t even think we’re as far away as Apocalypse is. I think we’re just taking the original, and it’s variations on a theme.

RPS: Was there anything that particularly came from that, or from Terror of the Deep, or did you pretty much put them aside for this one and concentrate on getting the spirit of the original right?

Jake Solomon: It was more the spirit of the original, I mean that’s where my heart is and that’s where we have our memories of the original. I think the reason for that is that the original resonates so much is because the setting is Earth and it’s a setting that you can recognise. I mean, Terror From the Deep was awesome but the setting was underwater and you had these cruise ship missions, and Apoc was the futuristic city… those were things that were very interesting concepts but they’re harder to relate to, but Enemy Unknown was very spooky and very affecting because you recognized the setting, you could translate what you saw into looking out your window. So I think that that’s why the original has such a strong draw on me and I think on other people as well. So when we made our XCOM we definitely started with that and took almost all of our inspiration from the original.

RPS: Yeah, it’s really got that moral imperative of the greater good, because you’ve got civilians around, and you become quite fascinatingly cavalier about their lives because you’ve got this greater goal in your head.

Jake Solomon: Exactly, and the phrase that we use is the feeling of XCOM is almost like a shark in your living room, it’s something completely out of context but in a place that you take for granted and feel comfortable in, but then you’ve got this horrifying thing sitting right in the middle of it and it’s completely jarring. That’s what was so fun, you’d be on these missions, you’d be looking around these suburban neighbourhoods, and then you’d see horrible things: Chrysalids, or Snakemen, or Sectoids just peeking out of the fog there. That was one of the neatest things that XCOM did, it just sort of takes that feeling of something you recognize and it twists it, and again, I think that’s why I think the original did so well.

RPS: It’s a really iconic image, the classic grey alien sitting in the middle of a cornfield, and you think ‘wait, something’s wrong here’…

Jake Solomon: Right, the orchard, or the cabbage, or the wheat field… You get that when they’re half in, half out of the fog, and their eyes are just glinting…and you know you’re moving your guy and he stops, and you see the little red box and you just see the glints in the Sectoids’ eyes out in the darkness, that’s the classic X-COM moment.

RPS: Yeah, waving the cursor around thinking it’s going to turn red in a moment, and you think ‘Yeah, there he is, I can get him’. So have you been able to play up that juxtaposition in yours even more between the recognisable Earthly scenes and the aliens, have you been able to flesh that side out at all?

Jake Solomon: Yes, and that’s artistically a lot of what we wanted to do, we wanted to create scenes that the player would recognize so they would have some sort of emotional resonance with the things that they see, and then you get the very bizarre, in the middle of a convenience store or something, you’ve got that great XCOM moment of like this giant Muton in there, or Sectoids, so that’s something visually we worked very hard to do, to create scenes that the player could recognise.

RPS:In the initial screenshots that came out, I was worried that you were making the aliens quite humanoid, but stuff I’ve found out since, it seems more like you’re going for the ‘this is an alien and so it’s going to look weird’ in the middle of that domestic context.

Jake Solomon: Right, it was funny because the first screenshot that came out it was a surprise because it was the Thin Man out in the woods, which is probably a very unique situation. So then I was happy when the other screenshots came out and you could see the Cyberdisc and the Mutons and the Sectoids, and of course for the majority of our first screenshots we chose the gas station because I was like ‘We have to have a Cyberdisc near the gas station’, we must because the fans of the original will recognize that as a tip of the hat.

RPS: Yeah, and you know the explosion that happens if you shoot it in just the right place.

Jake Solomon: That’s right. The chain of the Cyberdisc exploding next to the gas pump and all your guys are idiots for taking cover there.

RPS: (laughs) Something I wanted to ask about before I forget, there’s that infamous comment that 2K’s Christoph Hartmann made the other month about how strategy games are dead, and then this comes out… Was he just trolling, or was it just confusion?

Jake Solomon: I’m positive it was simply just an out of context thing because obviously I work with him a lot, and I would say that he has proven with what matters, which is, you know, money where your mouth is. He runs one of the largest studios in the world and I know that he has always been deeply supportive. and I said earlier, and this is my experience, we said at the very beginning when we wanted to do this game, the problem with a strategy XCOM, if you’re going to recreate the original, and the reason why it’s never happened before, and we’ve always seen those articles about why has nobody done this before, and I used to think that myself until it was like, ‘Ok, let’s get serious, what will it take to do this.’, and I think development-wise it’s insane. The amount of things that you have to do technically and design-wise, the amount of design systems is overwhelming and it’s not just one game, it’s two games, and so it’s a crazy, crazy game, and it’s wonderful, but it requires a huge investment of design time and technical time.

So when we went to 2K and said we really want to do this they didn’t say ‘well, what game is it like?’ or ‘well, that’s not like the other games that you’ve done’; they were intrigued by the idea of the fact that X-COM is unlike any other game and so they were very very supportive of us, our development time has been long, they’ve always given me anything that I’ve needed, the time I needed, the people I needed, so yeah, I think it was simply a miscommunication, out of context thing as I know him personally. People are going to think I’m blowing smoke here, but I’m not, they’re absolutely the forgotten side of the equation here, because a lot of times if you hear about a publisher it’s not a positive thing, but I’m telling you, with us, we absolutely love 2K because they’re so creatively brave. Ken makes the Bioshocks and things like that and that was a very big departure…

RPS: I’m speaking to him tomorrow actually. [Which we already posted here].

Jake Solomon: Say hi from me! I know that [Hartmann] appreciates that, and we make Civ and you know, Civ is a bit of an oddball, it’s nice that it sells of course but I think that the fact that they make these games, a lot of times I work with them from a creative standpoint, it’s never a question of like ‘Well, what’s the numbers, what’s this and that’. I’ve had a lot of other publishers over the years but with 2K, the conversation is almost always creative, like ‘How are you going to make this work, how is this unique to players, and how are we going to do this and that’. I guess what I’d say is I have absolutely loved working with them, so I felt bad when I saw that because that’s not representative of how they are with us as developers.

RPS: So how’s it been during the long time you’ve been doing this watching the response to the shooter which, to put it generously, was mixed? Has that coloured what you were doing at all, or scared you? Excited you?

Jake Solomon: The thing is, we were always making this game, to us we didn’t really give that a lot of thought, we always knew about the 2K Marin team, we’ve worked with those guys from the very beginning, we’ve worked back and forth and so Jordan [Thomas] and I talk regularly and we work together quite a bit and we’re both very excited about the other things that Marin are doing and how we’re connecting, which we’re not talking about yet. We’ve had great conversations, and it’s been fun because we’re doing this game and they’re doing a completely different take on things and the ideas that a fan of XCOM… and I say this as a fan myself, we’ve been wandering in the desert for quite a while. Since the original you’re looking at eighteen years now, since Apocalypse it’s probably fifteen years now or so, an incredible franchise but it just went dark for so long and so our take on it was won’t this be exciting? We’ll have everything: we’ll have the strategy version to hopefully make people happy, we’ll have the shooter which tells a story in a new way and tells a story about a different time.

So yeah, it was difficult, but it was more difficult just because I know those guys, I like those guys, and things look so differently from the other perspective. I understand that people are passionate about it, I completely do, the only thing that was difficult was that I know those guys and I know how strongly they feel and how good they are at their jobs and how strongly they feel about their title so any negative stuff I saw I felt bad for them – but I knew eventually what they’d show. I thought it did, it definitely started winning people over because what they’re doing I think is pretty cool.

RPS: So: as soon as it’s mentioned that it’s on console our threads fill with people going ‘oh god, oh no, the controls aren’t going to work and it’s going to be dumbed down, yada yada’. Do we need to worry on that front, is there going to be a bespoke PC version with different controls?

Jake Solomon: You know I’m going to say you shouldn’t worry.. But no, not at all. The way I’d say it is that input-wise, from a purely input standpoint, XCOM is not a complicated game at all, in fact it’s a very, very straightforward game from an input perspective, so whether you’re playing on a PC with mouse keyboard or whether you’re playing a gamepad, there really aren’t that many things for you to do anyway, I mean this is not at all like something like Civ, this is a much more straightforward interaction with player and experience. So we’re perfectly comfortable with putting the game to gamepad, putting the game to mouse and keyboard because we’ve do Civ in-house, which is an extremely complicated input system and so for us, XCOM is so straightforward in the inputs the player makes and how the player interacts with the game.

Being on consoles it works fantastically, being on mouse keyboard it works fantastically, there’s not even any particular tension there, I mean the tension there and what needs to be different of course is the way that the player interacts with the scene because with the mouse obviously it’s a input selection-driven input, so the player wants to click on things, he wants to click on enemies, as opposed to something like a gamepad where you want to cycle enemies, right? That’s mainly the big difference, the strategy layer is extremely straightforward, there is a lot of UI involved with it, but that’s very easy to either make those two things either work for both but we have plenty of cases where we just do whole different screens, but certainly tactical is the place where it’s the most different because of the nature of cycling into points of interest as opposed to just straight up clicking on points of interest.

So we’re totally committed to making a separate experience for PC, and in fact there are things we can do on PC obviously that we couldn’t do on something like a console, so whether you’re talking zoom level and the different ways you can view the battlefield tactically, that’s certainly much easier with PC, above and beyond the stuff that you always get on PC like better res and things like that. But really what we’re looking to do is having a more tactical view in terms of zoom level and things like that, and how the information is displayed – those are all things that we can do on PC that have to be changed for gamepad.

RPS: Yeah, that’s the main thing that occurs to me, looking at something like Skyrim when the interface just comes over wholesale from console and it’s all big giant text and missing information and categorisation.

Jake Solomon: Right, and it’s harder and we can’t do that, which is a good thing, I mean you cannot do that with a tactical game or a strategy game, you simply can’t because the interface is not the same thing, you’re not free, your inputs are not like, let’s say a real time or an action based game, where your input is continuous and you can steer the camera around. That’s not how it is in a tactics game, a strategy game, you actually have points of interest that you’re either clicking on or cycling through. Those two things are not the same and so you can’t just bring something over wholesale, which of course we’ve always known and which is actually kind of a good thing because it forces you to make a new interface.

There are two more parts of this mega-interview, to be posted over the next two days. Still to come: time units or lack thereof, Chrysalids, min-maxing, whether the response to the shooter affected decisions on this game, indivdualising your soldiers, losing men, exploring the base, psychic control, the fate of Silacoids, the Gollops, modding and much more. Stay tuned, X-men.


  1. Lars Westergren says:

    >often hailed as the greatest game ever made

    No! No, I won’t have that. There’s a place in Eastbourne.

  2. c-Row says:

    Maybe you should have slipped a “And who’s working on Alpha Centauri 2 right now?” in there somewhere.

    Aside from that, the more I read about the new XCOM, the more I am looking forward to it. Let’s just hope it sells enough units to show publishers that turn-based strategy isn’t dead.

    • Beef says:

      Disturbing fact of the day: Brian Reynolds is working for Zynga.

    • jezcentral says:

      Is it definitely turn-based? Or will it be like the UFO: After games? (Apoc’s hybrid system didn’t work. Only the pause-and-play system was any good).

    • c-Row says:

      As far as I know, player actions are divided into two actions (either move + fire/move x2/fire x2).

    • Maktaka says:

      EA owns the AC license, so they can’t do that. However, they COULD make a Sigma Draconis, and if you’ve played Outpost you’ll know that would be the better game. :D

    • Lemming says:

      I agree it sounds great, but on the other hand the build up to WARHAMMER ONLINE was all peaches and cream and I was sucked in by enthusiastic developers.

      So, while I take everything he’s saying with a big grain of salt, I’ll buy this I’m sure as I certainly believe him about all the prototyping, so no one can say they didn’t try.

      I hope it does well and they do a TFTD remake as well. Not bothered about Apocolypse. I still have yet to find the ‘make game good’ button on that so I can see what everyone is raving about.

  3. fuggles says:

    Great interview. Makes me think though how cool it would be to have people panicking and running about, as in enough people as would be in that town, say 4 to a house. I’d even settle for a jagged alliance style real time until combat. Just think of all the crowd dynamics you could use, it would be awesome. Hopefully this game has the fear of chrysalids too…eep.

  4. zsinj says:

    This interview has moved me from the “will they do it justice?” camp to “day one purchase!”, so reassuring to know the developers are genuinely big fans of the original.

    Great work guys!

    • Khemm says:

      – ugly art direction, ugly models, ugly colours, small indie teams would do this better, hell, Silent Storm from 2004 looks so much nicer!
      – no Time Units
      – no inventory
      – no ammo
      – one base
      – limited squads

      Great work!!! NOT.

      I don’t care what he says, actions speak louder than words. It’s lovely PR, nothing more.
      It might be an OK game, very fun even, but by trying to convince everyone they’re not dumbing things down/removing stuff that wasn’t broken, Firaxis aren’t even hiding the fact they consider people morons.

      After Civ 5, I don’t trust them AT ALL.

    • PodX140 says:

      Khemm – The hate of steam is spreading to consume all other aspects of gaming.

      I for one am very eager for this.

    • hosndosn says:

      I’m very open to a new X-Com offering the same depth of the original with completely different gameplay. They could add first-person elements, make it completely real-time, everything.

      But it seems they’re essentially making an X-Com 1 clone… with the creative input being cutting gameplay elements that are too hard to explain for this generation of gamers who can’t read manuals anymore. I’m eagerly waiting for what they’ll add to the formula but I’m getting worried that they’ll likely won’t add anything at all. Any feature that is removed without an equally interesting feature added makes the game less deep and thus less interesting to me. If you want casual accessibility and flow, you can always play Atom Zombie Smasher or something. X-Com equals micromanagement and depth, that’s the whole franchise’s appeal and that’s how I’ll measure the new game.

    • soldant says:

      Oh come on the original XCOM’s gameplay elements were not hard to understand. I played the whole thing without a manual. The brilliance of XCOM is specifically that it is easy to understand yet becomes difficult to play exceptionally well. It’s not a flight simulator.

      I’m cautiously optimistic, but for the purists, there’s always Xenonauts.

    • Clash says:

      Everything about this game looks good to me except the simplifications. They said how they “removed no small amount of micromanagement” without thinking that there were people that absolutely LOVED the micromanagement, myself among them. Limiting you to one base and limiting your squad size also doesn’t sit well with me. I can at least grudgingly accept all their other attempts at innovation, but taking those out might just take the soul out of the game. Still going to purchase it if I have enough money, but I’m very apprehensive.

    • Joshua says:


      I do not know about you, but having limited squads and just one base does not sound like ‘dumbing down’, but more like ‘limiting the player’. As in, making life harder for him because he has less resources at his disposal.

  5. Teronfel says:

    Huge interview,i can’t read it now i,have to work dammit.

  6. enobayram says:

    “The way I’d say it is that input-wise, from a purely input standpoint, XCOM is not a complicated game at all”

    Muuuuummm… I’m scared…

    • Alec Meer says:

      I’m, uh, not sure you read what came after that.

    • enobayram says:

      I did, and I agree that what comes next is a little soothing. But I already think that the UI is over-simplified in Civ5, despite them thinking it’s a more complicated game input-wise (I don’t see why though). I personally really like buttons, sliders, graphs, maps and all sorts of UI elements all around the screen, covering as much as a third of the view area. It just makes you feel like, the game could expand as you progress. There’s simply room for inserting new UI elements, for the new mechanics that will be introduced later.

      I know, it’s a bit indirect, but his remarks in that section make me feel they’re moving in the other direction. In the direction that, everything responds to the “A” button… My fears are multiplied, when I take Civ5 also into account.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      I think it’s a bit hard to say for certain until we know how they will handle TUs.

      But I’ll admit that if they remove the fiddling about and micro management stuff I’ll be a very sad person. I love that it takes an amount of TU to shift a grenade or kneel or reload.

      I think that’s my biggest fear: the removal of micromanagement. I mean, that’s also why I love Men of War. The fiddling with tiny details that can turn a potential disaster to a victory. Or the other way round of course.

      I might as well call out my other worry: the levels. Will they be as great as in the old ones? Can I blow any wall out? I really want that.

    • Zephro says:

      Errrr X-Com isn’t a complicated game in terms of UI elements and inputs, especially compared to Civ. The designer is totally on the money, well that and the UI for Civ 5 works really well it’s very elegant. Seriously of all things to criticise Civ 5 for the UI isn’t one of them.

      Tactical mode you have 5 guys, they have stats you can’t change, some inventory (easy to display/change). They can move, attack, crouch…. You need to display health, TUs and the environment which can largely be done visually. So the actual input from the user is a) discrete and b) fairly simple.

      Civ 5 the interface needs to offer fast access to a technology tree with a certain style of input, diplomacy, details within the city and stats for them (gold, culture, growth, science etc.), totals for the entire empire, summaries of various things, access to all the actions of all your units. You have a variety of unit styles which work in totally different ways (naval, aeronautic, land based, great people). So both the information to be communicated is much richer and the methods to interact with that information are more numerous.

    • briktal says:

      You do almost every single thing in X-COM by left clicking.

    • enobayram says:

      Well, in theory, you could do anything, play any game by simply left clicking. As a matter of fact, you could have one button, and with the right timing, you could use it for controlling anything. The real issue is that X-Com is a game with a lot of micro-management. The fact that the game is turn-based is no excuse for inaccessible UI. Even though the game has all the time in the world, you don’t. You’ll feel blinded and strangled, unless enough information for the micro management is available on screen all the time, and you have quick access to all the actions you might want to take.

    • briktal says:

      I didn’t mean you “can” do everything with left clicks, I meant that in X-COM, you couldn’t do them any other way. The battle screen was two rows of buttons plus the left/right hand items and some info about the selected unit. There weren’t any complicated menus or complex breakdowns of soldiers.

    • DK says:

      I’m almost certain that if you’d map X-COM to a gamepad, you’d be left with several buttons unmapped. It’s really not a complicated game in terms of number of things to do – the depth comes from how you do things and the different layers.

      Just the combat:
      Cycle through men – two buttons.
      Change firemodes and stances (Xcom had that right?) – Hold one button, radial menu
      Move – Hold one button, move stick, release triggers
      Shoot – see Move
      Inventory – one button
      Pause – one button

      And I think we’re done?

  7. wodin says:

    Sounds good. I like the fact they are making a specific PC version.

  8. Rattlepiece says:

    But but, I’m poor! Fine, you can have my money.

  9. sonofsanta says:

    The original version they started with, as a prototype? They should release that up-front, two or three months before the main release, for £10. They’d make a killing on it, proper X-COM with a modern UI.

    Of course, the danger would be that it would highlight any shortcomings in the full release, so they’d have to be damned confident in their product.

    • Icarus says:

      Yeah, I’d actually love to see this. The original UFO with updated graphics and a modern UI is something I’d want more than I want Mass Effect 3 (and I really want ME3).

    • Zephro says:

      Not really as they’d have to QA test it which would delay release and cost money. Also releasing something unpolished and buggy would piss everyone off.

      Also I’ll bet they didn’t recreate ALL of UFO enemy unknown. They probably just prototyped enough to get a feel for it, so no end missions, probably placeholders instead of actual art etc. etc.

      Personally I don’t want to see a straight UFO with modern graphics port, that’d be lazy and shit. I want to see the factionalism and supply chains from Apocalypse come into it and various other UI improvements. Also TUs are not that good.

  10. Gap Gen says:

    It’s sort of odd that aliens with huge glowing weakspots aren’t more of an evolutionary dead-end.

    • Prime says:

      Hey, they stopped them flashing. What more do you want?

    • jezcentral says:

      Yes, but Sectoids also have no reproductive organs, being a race bred to do the bidding of the Ethereals. Evolution doesn’t come into it.

    • Grey Ganado says:

      How do you know that the glowing points aren’t the hardest part of their bodies?

  11. DaftPunk says:

    This was a good read,getting excited for new XCOM woot woot :3

  12. Jimbo says:

    Aliens, boy, I don’t know.

    • Icarus says:

      And that’s when President Barlet decided to kick your ass.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Cannily titled, Mr Meer.

  14. Tom OBedlam says:

    That is superbly reassuring

  15. TormDK says:

    Looking forward to the last bit of the interview – You really can’t chop something like this into pieces!

    But big props to Jake Solomon to provide the time to have such an interview, it’s sadly not as common these days to see such huge walls of interview text. The attention to design, and detail the Firaxis team is providing can only leave one comment from me :


  16. Stellar Duck says:

    Wait. He said that the Firaxis version will have squads of four men? Is that true?

  17. Zephro says:

    Meh that doesn’t really fill me with confidence. He name checks Frozen Synapse, but nothing in Xenonauts feels like progression to me just retreading a game I already played to death.

  18. InternetBatman says:

    That was a great interview. It made me excited for the new X-com, and I never played the first.

  19. Cinnamon says:

    They confirmed that the game starts with squads of four then scales up, by how much I don’t think they have said.

  20. Donkeyfumbler says:

    It’s not as if we are exactly over-burdened by X-com-like turn-based strategy games, so I can’t see why fans of the genre won’t just get both of them, as long as they are both decent. I play plenty of FPS shooters or RPG’s, even though most of them are extremely similar when it comes down to it, so I don’t see why it should be any different here.

    The Xenonauts game is going to be closer to the original by the sounds of it it, whereas Firaxis are obviously making a fairly significant number of changes so they promise to be different enough from each other anyway.

  21. Cinnamon says:

    It’s interesting to me in a way that they spent so much time prototyping with the goal being to make the game “their own.” Most old fans want a new game is that is made to their own preferences. Probably one reason why it is a game with so many amateur and commercial fan remakes.

    • immerc says:

      What might be interesting is if, in the effort to make the game “their own”, they included toggles in the settings, where possible, to make the game more like the original. Being Firaxis, this is possible. They let you mess with the Civ rules to a pretty big degree. It would be great if you could play the Firaxis take on X-COM, or the remake version with all the old rules and settings.

  22. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    I know who you are.

    That’s ok, we make sure we send all your articles around here so we’ve all read your stuff.

    Well, at least when it comes to conversation, they know how to be as spooky as those aliens.

    • Torgen says:

      “We’ve been watching you, Mr. Meer, and your dossier has been distributed to the proper persons.”

  23. G-Bee says:

    Sounds good, and I’m definitly going to buy it.

    But… I have to say I’m more excited about Xenonauts. Mostly because of the art style, isometric view and less “streamlining”. XCOM Enemy unknown looks like a great game, but it doesn’t remind me of the original.

    • 0rpheus says:

      I’ve had a bash at the alpha version you’re given access to when preordering – quite bare bones atm but the combat and atmosphere are spot on even at this early stage. If the only good thing to come out of all this is a rocket under Goldhawk Int. so they finish Xenonauts quicker, it’ll be a win in my book.

  24. Dariune says:

    I enjoyed that read. Not a lot of informative info but certainly interesting.

    Im not sold yet. I think it could be great. But i think it is just as likely to be utter rubbish.

    Im looking forward to seeing more details on this so i can make my mind up on whether to be excited or not.

    P.s. I feel exactly the same way about Xenonauts but leaning towards excited.

  25. ffordesoon says:

    Jake Solomon is the reason why I will bet money on this game being great. Just reading this piece, you can feel the passion he has for the original game practically firing itself directly into your eyeballs. And yet he’s very careful not to look at the original as a sacred cow. That’s exactly the sort of attitude to have when you take on a project of this nature.

    That being said, he’s probably still pretty happy Xenonauts is coming out, because there are going to be a few people who will always hate this no matter what, a sort of “No Mutons Allowed”, if you like, and they thankfully have a game to satisfy them, too. Imagine if some indie team had released, like, Radiationland when Fallout 3 came out. Everyone would’ve had something to play. That’s why this situation is really the best possible outcome for everyone.

    As for me: DAY ONE.

  26. squareking says:

    I’m not so hot on the art direction, and TUs will be missed, but it’s sounding great.

  27. Tei says:

    Excellent article. It seems the devs made a ultimate plan to make a good xcom for us. Hope it works. Also thanks for the interview! Very appreciated.

  28. hosndosn says:

    Mmm, I hope you remembered to ask him about the destructible terrain in part 2. That’s one of the main things that interest me. Is it alls scripted (like house blown up/house standing) or can you tear down individual walls, to look behind, light the inside, etc?

  29. WotevahMang says:

    Are battlescapes going to be procedurally generated?

    Will everything be destructible or are they limited to in-game cues such as off-coloured wall = can be crumbled? I’m assuming that cover shown in the screenshots can be destroyed ala Company of Heroes.

    I don’t mind the class system but I’d still rather be the one figuring out that the guy with high strength should probably be a heavy weapons guy rather than the game holding my hand and making the decision for me. I’m wondering what other such hand-holding is in the game now that you’ve already done that part for me. 1 base, no inventory? hmm…

    I guess I should be blindly gushing “OMG take my monies” like the rest of you because this guy seems like a nice guy and a true blue X-COM fan…but then again, who isn’t?

  30. Navagon says:

    Collector’s Edition? I think that this is one game where I’d seriously consider that. It sounds to me like they’ve absolutely nailed it and have exactly the right attitude and approach towards making it. Looking forward to this one.

  31. Torgen says:

    No. Oh, no.
    Design-wise the idea behind the Mutons was that these guys were the intergalactic Seal Team 6. We want these guys to be the foil for the player. They’re evil Seal Team 6. They are these elite military units that work together, so they’ll call to each other a lot and set up all kinds of flanking maneuvers. Their tribal nature gives them strength. They have an ability called Blood Call, which lets them fire up everybody around them and then those guys will be huffing and have all these combat bonuses because of that.

    This quote from “that magazine” has killed the enthusiasm this RPS article kindled. Then I read about the Cyberdisk…

  32. immerc says:

    For me, it comes down to one thing:

    “Is it turn based?”

    If so, I’ll buy it. If not, I probably won’t.

    To me, that’s the defining feature of X-COM games, and turn based games are so rare these days that whenever I see one I snap it up. Since it’s Firaxis, one of the only makers of turn based games left, my guess is that it will be, but this interview didn’t confirm/deny.

  33. silgidorn says:

    I, for one, kinda like the disparition of ammo management. I mean we are supposed to be in charge of a military organization having to counter, analyze and disable an alien threat against Earth; Between monitoring UFO activity, dealing with our financial partners and handling tactical overview for away teams. Any leader would have enough on his plate. Do we really have to hold the storage and be sure we have enough clips/magazines (I don’t know wich term is better, i’m not native english, nor native-american) for the rifles, there are quartermasters for that, right? Do we have to assume janitor functions and mop the floor?
    Our soldiers are supposed to be stormtroopers of the different armies of the wo…well, at least professional soldiers. Their job is to act efficiently. The job of the quartermaster is to ensure that they have the means to do it. Our job is the tell them what to do a the right time, not to remind them not to go into combat without ammunition.
    I think that there is a difference between micromanagement as in choosing when to activate which ability for a given soldier and micromanagement as in assuming every role in a military operation up to the point where it seems that everybody in this operation is a moron but us.
    Imagine Aragorn say: “One day the courage of man will fail. But it is not this day. Today, we fight! …oh and guys, please, don’t forget your swords and quivers this time.”

    P.s: I didn’t find the storage management in X-com tedious, but seriously not having to re order clips after each battle and having to give every soldier a spare clip before action wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me.
    P.p.s: woops long post, i thought that I was a tad more synthetic than that

    • Diogo Ribeiro says:

      I agree and disagree.

      I don’t think X-Com suffered from micromanagement issues. Handing out specific equipment to soldiers seemed like more of a way to have players observe their units better, making informed decisions about what to give to whom. Ammo management is (was) just a byproduct of this. Which is not to say that its granularity can’t be fine tuned. I wouldn’t mind an option where ammo and equipment run through an optimal analysis of soldier skills and distributed accordingly, along with also letting players manually handle it if they so wish.

    • silgidorn says:

      Choosing the loadout (is this the right word?) for your squad is perfectly logic since it must be chosen accordingly to the situation, the tactical approach your aiming and the specifics of each soldier ( even if a a soldier should be chosen accordingly to the tactical approach in my opinion). This is in every way part of a strategic approach of a game.

      But ensuring that they take enough ammo is by no mean necessary. This kind of micromangement is more an issue than a fun part for me, and would belong to a UIG Entertainment©: X-com simulator.

      • opivyh8su says:

        I actually found the ammo management a byproduct of having to research the clips after or before the weapon. It made you have to manage your scientists and your strategy, it also made you have to manage your manufacturing or money, it tied into how much in some cases alien materials you had on hand to build the clips, or the money you would have to spend for a private company to manufacture them for you.

        It was / is an absolutely huge piece of gameplay, cutting this out cuts out the scientists piece of the game, cutting it out cuts out the manufacturing and makes it so less varied of a game.

        From the start you have to choose how you will manage these types of resources, whether a base will be built to house scientists, manufacturing, or a base that has a bit of it all. A base for your radar systems, a base for your main missions, having the right amount of troops in all of them for defense etc etc etc.

        All that said, the game will obviously be changed drastically, with the way he has approached it though, my hope is that they’ve found a way to weave these intricacies back into the gameplay, however my brain is telling me “This will be on xbox 360 you idiot.” and I fear that the game will be a dumbed down pile of pressing “research” and your never varying game mechanic will spit it out in x time and away you go.

        I REALLY want the first version they made to dev this off of.

  34. Deformed_Transformed says:

    Wanted to clear up a statement made by Jake Solomon last month to Game Informer about the original X-Com: UFO Defence game. In the Back To Base section of the text Solomon says “It seems likely that the endgame will involve some kind of invasion of the XCOM’s secret base just as in the original…” Actually that is not at all what happens in the original endgame. In the original X-COM operatives invade Mars and uncover the alien’s main base which contains a huge living brain that must be killed. So already I am doubting he actually made it to the original games endgame. You need to be really careful here when it comes to remaking a game that I boldly but confidently say is one of the best TBS experiences ever put to media and that absolutely stands true to this day. In the original the alien menace would often times attack XCOM bases as many as ten or more times in a single play through and would build dozens of bases of their own on Earth. Some of the statements to GI magazine have me and I am sure many other original fans concerned about the games potential lack of the eerie, heartrate elevating strategic depth in combat, and the immense micromanagement of the base building and management aspects of the titles inspired original. Not to mention X-Com: UFO Defenses longevity of each playthrough, and its remarkable replayability. I am a fan and complete supporter of the “remake” I just truely hope it is crafted with the original fans expectations as a paramount focus. Others have tried remaking this classic (UFO: Extraterrestrials and UFO: Alien Invasion) and by stearing away from the original titles depth, length, freedom of choice and powerful gameplay (right down to skin tingling bizarre audio) they utterly failed and left fans disappointed and disheartened. Good luck on this remake, I look forward to seeing Jake Solomon succeed where many others have failed. Thank you.

    P.S. To Mr. Hartmann from 2K who claims strategy games are dead… The gaming community is well aware of your opinion of strategy, because you have never succeeded in implementing it well in any of your titles. Most people do have a negative opinion about something they can’t do well.

    • Sir_Darc says:

      “In the Back To Base section of the text Solomon says “It seems likely that the endgame will involve some kind of invasion of the XCOM’s secret base just as in the original…””

      That sounds more like a typo than anything. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that he has no idea what the endgame mission is.

    • Deformed_Transformed says:

      You may very well be right. A typo there seems likely. May have been a bit rash on my part, forgive my haste.

  35. mbourgon says:

    How’d this get approved, is what I want to know. All of us saw what they were doing with the FPS…and then here’s the game done right,by a company we love? Mind you,not complaining ATbALL, but it seems odd that whoever owned the righs would allow 2 games on the same IP to be released near each other. Usually the thought is “no, too much pcmfusion, too much overlap, people will only buy one”, etc etc.

  36. silgidorn says:

    please put the second part of the interview online. I have exams to pass and I need something to procrastinate with.

    Thank you for your comprehension.

  37. Elethio says:

    There are two things that worry me about this game.

    1. The Style.

    For me the early manga art really set the seen and the feel (along with the music), where as modern video game styles seem to all be merging together and just seem soulless.
    I guess after growing up on BoP and Ulysses the original X-com style really brought it home for me.

    2. having only one base.

    Having multiple bases is an important tactical feature, aside from gaining you more radar coverage of the planet, you also had to think about which country’s where being attacked most, so you could defend them, also which ones where giving you the most funding, because you didn’t want to loose their support.
    On top of this your interceptors had limited range so this was also a factor in base placement.
    And finally when the aliens eventually did discover one of your bases, if you weren’t properly defended you could loose in no time, flushing months of work and millions of dollars down the drain.
    Having a hash loss like this in a game is a GOOD THING it makes think about different approaches, like keeping a defence force at each base to fight of alien attacks. and it makes you angry, makes you want to take the fight back to them twice as hard, makes the fight that little bit more personal.
    Those where your men they killed, (whom you struggled to keep alive through one mission after another), that was Your base, those where your plans they messed up, time to teach them to eat hot plasma :-D

    Despite these two worries I am still excited about this game, and thrilled that the developers are X-com fans too, I am very hopeful about what I have seen.

    One small request, please remember the modders.
    Your core fan base are gamers who have been playing strategy games for over 18 years, this means we have had to get by through many long “dry periods” between releases of good games, which means I expect like me, many of them have learned to find good mods for the games they like, and even learned how to mod games themselves.
    The most immediate mod that springs to mind for your game, is a face mod for your X-com squad. I know people would love to see a few famous faces taking on enemy (Get away from her, you BITCH!), maybe even the ability to adjust the soldiers comments a little.