XCOM 2: “I Swore I Would Never Make A Snake Man. I Didn’t Say Anything About A Snake Woman”

Vipers that can rip you out of cover, the promise of an easier modding system, the knowledge that XCOM failed that first time around… There was a lot I wanted to know more about having watched the XCOM 2 [official site] trailer at E3, so I took my questions to the game’s lead producer Garth DeAngelis and art director Greg Foertsch.

So tell me about how XCOM 2 starts, because the premise is that the XCOM organisation has failed, isn’t it?

Update – we initially mistook Garth DeAngelis for Jake Solomon. That’s been fixed now.

Garth DeAngelis, lead producer: It is. I’m really excited about how this premise came to be with XCOM failing because it’s a bit of a twist. The game starts twenty years after the events of Enemy Unknown except the event is that you lost about a third of the way through the game so you didn’t get past conventional weapons, you didn’t get deep into new armour types. XCOM lost really quickly and the council turned on them quickly and was overrun by the aliens.

The aliens didn’t annihilate earth, what they did was they occupied it. Since the underpinnings of XCOM was all about consequence and overcoming odds stacked against you we love the stage that sets for XCOM 2 which is that XCOM is disbanded, it’s the player’s job to bring it back together. It’s also pretty cool because a lot of our players lost XCOM. The first time they played they legit lost. A lot of our developers lost the first time too. We’re in a very interactive medium and I think it’s very neat to say we partnered with the community on structuring what the inspiration for this world was based on your actual experiences.

Are there any other ways that’s reflected in XCOM 2?

GD: One of the other design pillars is procedural levels and we wanted to do that with Enemy Unknown. We actually explored some bits of procedural levels but it was always a high design goal; it’s a tough nut to crack. We heard that a lot from the fans. they loved our maps – our handcrafted maps – and they actually said we want more of them so we’re trying to over-deliver on that.

Greg Foertsch, art director: I think with [XCOM] it’s hard to figure out what the game is because there’s not another game like XCOM. We were trying to figure that out, at the same time we were trying to figure out how the game played. But after [the first XCOM] we could sit there and go, let’s re-evaluate. I completely knew how I would do it. It led us to options that are really – they can be as static or procedural as you want. In our case we can make them entirely procedural. It means a really robust system that’s super flexible and that liberated the mod community. Those were the two biggest things. procedural levels and I want to be able to mod it. Those were the top comments we saw. By making it procedural it also allows flexibility for the mod community and we built it so if they want to make a linear playthrough of a tactical map they can. In our case the approach is extremely procedural.

Is that also useful because XCOM can be pretty unforgiving so perhaps redoing sections doesn’t feel grindy? Is it that it will generate different experiences each time you do a thing?

GD: Oh yeah, it’s definitely going to generate new experiences and we’re already feeling that now. I think it actually goes hand in hand with this new world that we’re building too which is an alien-occupied world., It’s a very soft element but mechanically, what Greg was saying, there’s different pockets of the maps that are different every time you play. There’s a gas station here on this playthrough next to a park. The next time you load up that external portion it could be a gene therapy clinic next to an Advent checkpoint. So these things plug in but it’s pretty cool in this world because the aliens have sort of reconstructed earth in their image so it gives you this eerie feel as you’re playing through the game. It’s crystal clear, you’re like, I may have seen this before but not in this exact way, things are changing a little bit and that really fits into the lore. The aliens are literally rebuilding these cities and it feels very, very strange as you’re mechanically playing through maps.

The modding aspect is a huge point of interest – what have you done to make the game accessible and what tools will people will have at their disposal?

GD: We’re built on the Unreal Engine, we have a modified version of Unreal Engine 3 and that allows for a lot of flexibility for the community. We’re creating this SDK that we’ll release at launch and modders can then take this package which will have an Unreal editor, it’ll have gameplay source, it’ll allow them to do total conversions…

GF: The asset library…

GD: The asset library, so it will allow them to take that library and modify what we have so if they just want to do partial modifications and change stats or change the material on an alien to make them look a bit different, or they can do total conversions if they have the skillset to do that. If they want to try and create new worlds like a world war 2 setting or something like that. That obviously takes a lot of work but it’s possible to do that if you have a team and if you have the skillset to do it. That’s what we’re really excited about.

XCOM is very much a systemic game and so you see popular games both on console and PC – things like Skyrim and GTA – they have this new life on PC because when the community gets a hold of… ‘How can we manipulate the systems in these games and do brand new things that increase the longevity of the title?’ That’s what we’re most excited about because we feel like this game, we want to maximise replayability and the player value and this is a way we can partner with the community and see what they come up with.

What were some of your favourite mods from XCOM: Enemy Unknown?

GD: There is one that gives me nightmares every night. I mean you can’t go wrong with The Long War, it’s pretty amazing what they did. I played it, I failed miserably. I joke around but I got a battleship as the first UFO that came after me which is like the hardest UFO you could possibly get! They just skipped right through all the scouts, the small scout, the large scout, the supply ship – let’s go straight to battleship. I’m like, okay! I see what this experience is going to be like. But it’s so deep and they added so many micromechanics that are very impressive. We see something like that without us providing a toolset and we can’t want to see what is below that tip of the iceberg once we do give the community more tools.

GF: I don’t know what items they’re going to create or what they’re going to change, what they’re going to add, how they’re going to make it different… To me that’s huge.

GD: They can take our city centre assets like you saw in the demo and they can give it a new aesthetic just by changing the materials. If they want it to be a darker aesthetic rather than the sterile white and grey they can do that by modifying the textures. Greg probably wouldn’t approve it on the art side but it’s a modding thing so that’s okay.

GF: It is. A lot of those guys are super talented. The mod community is super resourceful and silly talented.

GD: And it’s a unique relationship on the PC as well. For us to create this game that we like so much and a platform and to get that really humbling feedback from the community – not only do they like the game and want to play it but they also want to do more things with it? It’s this really cool reciprocal relationship.

Was XCOM 2 a very different experience? Creating the first game you have uncertainty, then the community embraces it. With the second game is it more like building a jumping-off point for all this engagement?

GD: So the experience of Enemy Unknown was very different than XCOM 2 because we had a precedent [the 1994 game of the same name] but it was really like building a new IP because the precedent was 15 years earlier and so many design and art sensibilities changed since then.

GF: And we weren’t sure how it would be received. I mean, we thought it was cool but… we were so close to it. You lose perspective a little bit.

GD: Now we have a little bit of that support from the community. Now it’s a different kind of pressure because we have to live up to the precedent that we set with Enemy Unknown and we want it to be better. So that’s the core game. The modding aspect is a little bit external to that – it goes above and beyond the core game. We’re excited to see what will happen and we just didn’t provide that with Enemy Unknown and we want to rectify that with X2.

The demo shows off some of the new enemies. Tell me about the viper.

GF: I swore I would never make a snake man. I didn’t say anything about a snake woman!

GD: That’s like a Lord of the Rings reference, right? Remember [Eowyn]? Remember when she takes down the Witch-king?

GF: [The viper] is awesome, we’ve put a lot of effort into trying to separate everything and push things apart. So the viper’s very new, the way she moves, her abilities, and that’s our approach to all the characters, not only the aliens and the enemies but also the soldiers and the new environments. Everything is about contrast. We’re trying to push everything as far away from each other and into their own spaces to really get a dramatic change where people encounter things. It’s different and it’s trying to get some diversity. The viper is super-fluid and she’s terrifying, she can rip you out of cover, she can bind you up and then contrast that with the berserker who’s big, beefy, bruising – she is terrifying.

GA: I love the collaboration where the visual inspiration meets design, like, what’s trying to be accomplished on the design side. Greg mentioned that she can rip you out of cover. There was that conversation. Greg knew that he wanted to do the viper. But mechnically what is the most terrifying thing that can happen to you on an XCOM battlefield? Being removed from your safety which is cover. That conversation that happens is like okay, where can this apply and to what enemy? Let’s make her snake tongue super alien and she can just reach out and yank you out around your neck from out of cover. It’s cool to see the visuals and design come together.

GF: The first time we saw that I came running down the hall like, oh my god!

GD: That was one of those spine-tingling game development moments, when we saw the tongue working in-engine and actually pulling your XCOM soldiers out of cover. It’s pretty cool in the demo. I got to watch one and the people doing the demo here said every time there’s an audible gasp.

49 Comments

  1. Rymdkejsaren says:

    Can’t wait for XCOM 2: Long War! :D

    • Xzi says:

      I think the hope is more that the developers took some of the cues from TLW and added them to the base game. And while TLW is a great addition to XCOM, it’s been done. I’m more excited to see all the other conversion mods that pop up for XCOM 2, because there will be a lot more of them this time around.

      • jonahcutter says:

        Well, I would be surprised if it’s long before someone announces they’re rebuilding Enemy Unknown/Within/Long War in XCOM2.

    • damoqles says:

      Can’t wait for Terra Invictus!
      (And XCOM2 too.)

  2. XhomeB says:

    So… when will they start talking about the strategic layer? I had my own share of gripes with the oversimplified tactical part of the remake, but the Geoscape portion was simply piss-poor (no fun, no strategy or thinking required, just go where the “plot” takes you) and I honstely expect some MAJOR improvements in this area.

    • Distec says:

      I’m not holding out much faith for it. Given what they’ve showed off so far, you’d think a revamped strategic layer would have been up there with their other updates. Unless that’s just not as sexy to show off? I would think the target audience would be into it.

      It wouldn’t be a crushing disappointment for me, mind. I thoroughly enjoyed Enemy Unknown despite it that particularly weak aspect of the experience. But while I do expect some level of improvement, I’ve written off the idea of having a geoscape akin to the originals or Xenonauts.

      But please, Firaxis. Do surprise me!

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        RaveTurned says:

        Perhaps they’re not showing much of it because it’s still being worked on? Speculating here, but the premise of the game placing XCOM as insurgents suggests the strategic layer could be significantly different to the last game. Maybe they’re still working out the kinks and don’t want to show what they have currently in case parts of it change noticeably ahead of release.

        I notice they’re not showing any environments aside from the future-cities either, but I wouldn’t assume that means missions only take place in a single setting.

    • Henas says:

      I’m really hoping there is a bit of JA2 inspiration for the strategic layer. Earning enough resistance to establish a camp in an area that can be eventually upgraded, provides XCOM with their ‘funding’ / supplies but can also be attacked by the Advent. (Like Evil Dictator Lady [she’ll slap me like Elliot for forgetting her name…D something] does to your towns / mines in JA2.)

      Perhaps you can train up resistance fighters at the camps/bases too with promising ones promoted to XCOM and the others for base defences?

      Less narrative and more ’emergence’ on the SL please. Let us decide where to put the bases and when to attack/defend, let us retake positions that may get overrun (like in the Long War). I’d imagine there will be an overall ‘resistance’ score that will rise or fall based on XCOM’s action but for the love of Gollop don’t let it be as awful as the Panic setup of EU.

    • Tuco says:

      I wasn’t exactly a fan of some of the ideas around the tactical layer in XCOM at first, but I have to admit I ended liking the tactical combat far more than anticipated in early previews, with few minor gripes.

      The strategic/management layer, on the other hand… I felt it was downright terrible. Ironically it ended up being both a dumbed-down version of the original (with a lot of forced linearity) AND at the same time far more convolute, un-intuitive take on the same idea.
      There were a lot of artificial restrictions on what you could or couldn’t do at any given moment, often with a damn poor cause-and-effect relationship.

    • jonfitt says:

      I suspect the Geoscape strategic view will be quite different. XCOM is reactive, you wait for the aliens to make a move and hope that your prep is finished before that happens.
      If XCOM2 has you playing as insurgents, then you’ll be choosing when and presumably where to attack. I suspect targets of opportunity to show up on the map that you can choose to attack.
      There will be some driving force making you move rather than turtling and running the clock to research stuff, perhaps your resources run out, or you get hunted down if you wait too long, Something like that will drive you to make aggressive moves.

  3. montorsi says:

    Thanks for this! Mod support alone would be worth the buy but I had heaps of fun with vanilla XCOM and can’t wait to see what tricks they have up their sleeve for XCOM 2.

    • HypercaneSanvu says:

      Wow, a new unit named the Viper, which uses its tongue to pull your units out of position. How creative. They should also give the Viper a Blinding Cloud ability which limits the attack range of units beneath the Blinding Cloud. #HoTS #AbathurDidItFirst

      • Holderist says:

        I get you’re saying it’s not original, but you could have pitted the Viper against an older comparison.

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    Wisq says:

    Tentatively excited about this. I wasn’t a big fan of the XCOM mechanics, but I think a lot of that was just that I’d already seen it done better with the real X-COM. Making it a new “insurgency”-type game might make it fresh and different enough, plus I hope they’ve learned from and improved some of the more-disliked XCOM aspects.

    I do, however, find it hard to believe that trailer is anything other than an early tutorial mission. I can’t imagine they’ve put that much choreography into every mission — or if they have, then I can’t imagine there will be very many missions in the first place.

    • damoqles says:

      The demo shown was a scripted thingy, they’ve said as much already. Made some enemies do two-three turns worth of action in one turn, things like that.

  5. SpaceVelociraptor says:

    Excited when he said WWII setting. My first thought for a total conversion mod would be playing as the resistance in Nazi-occupied France. Knowing that the game is going to be built in the unreal engine might even allow modders to get some work done before the game comes out, meaning we don’t have to wait forever for the really exciting total conversion.

    • laser-gods says:

      You should give Silent Storm 1 & 2 a play if you haven’t already, they’re excellent WWII squad turn-based strategies and they’re on GOG

      • Cederic says:

        I loved Silent Storm but it lost me with the exoskeletons. They just shafted any concept of game balance and took away much of the fun.

  6. damoqles says:

    “Let’s make her snake tongue super alien and she can just reach out and yank you out around your neck from out of cover. It’s cool to see the visuals and design come together. ”

    It’s a shame that the design of the cobra, sorry I mean “viper” creature itself is one of the cheapest in the series – simply not alien enough, which is a capital sin to me in any science fiction. Plus the mammalian teats are just confusing and cartoony..

    • Michael Fogg says:

      I think the idea is that the snake-woman is a genetically engineered species that’s created specifically to be scary to us humans

    • Captain Joyless says:

      The snake boobs are particularly eye-rolly. And meant to be “scary”? Right. Nothing more scary than a pair of boobs.

      • Te says:

        Really? A snake having boobs is the thing that’s bothering you? Not the shoulders? Not the arms? Not it holding a weapon? Not the eyes being arranged towards the front? Not the upright walking? Not a snake looking human?

        Almost all aliens in XCom look like they’ve got a gender, which is usually male. Having a female one is a little bit more variety.

        Recently I sometimes feel like there are some people on the internet which wiill go crazy on the simple sight of something boob-shaped and have to feel like there is something insidious going on. Please stop being so insecure.

        • damoqles says:

          Come the hell on. It has nothing at all to do with the ‘boobies and chainmail bikinis are dangerous and stoopid’ notion and everything to do with the lack of internal consistency regarding an alien(/gene spliced) REPTILE having mammalian body parts (& sexual organs?). Makes no sense whatsoever, and indeed the only explanation is that the developers wanted to point out her femaleness on the visual design and maybe inject some ‘sexiness’ into the character. Because that is oh so important.

          Isn’t the Berserker also female this time around? Why doesn’t she have them boobies? Is it because she’s a butch hulk type of monster and no amount of boobies could make her sexy? Maybe it’s because they have ’em removed when the creature undergoes the berserkisation process, right? There could be some plausible explanation in the background. But the Cob– I mean Viper is just an exotic boobster, a Lamia or some such from D&D, not something I want in my science fiction. I’m not against boobies, but I’m against boobies on a frickin’ reptile, you see? Put boobies on different aliens and on humans please, not on non-mammals. Make sense, Firaxis. Is it really that surprising that some of us roll our eyes cause the developers seem to sacrifice internal logic and coherence at the altar of bad, cheap pulp ideas?

          Anyway, it’s not a catastrophe, I just wanted to clarify my stance. The objection was not just ‘boobies’; the objection was meant to be seen in context.

          • SagaDC says:

            It’s a genetically engineered alien first, and a reptile second. It doesn’t really need to follow the “rules” established by Earth-based evolution.

            That aside, it’s just as important to remember that these things may look reptilian, but they’re also carrying a healthy dose of human or human-like DNA. In the first game they were the thin men, which were heavily genetically engineered to look more like humans. In the second game, most of the alien footsoldiers were apparently augmented with even more human DNA (as mentioned in the articles for the Sectoids and Mutons).

    • Detocroix says:

      I didn’t find any of the aliens scary at all. Maybe the ethereals a LITTLE BIT, but even them only a small amount. Oh. The cyberdisc was scary in it’s own way, when it opened up. That’s was spooky, but Floaters, Sectoids, Mechtoids, Whatevertoids, Wavyarms, Berserkers, Mutons, Flying stealth things, Chryssalids, they evoked zero emotions in me. The snakes aren’t any less scary than the unscariness of everything else.

      I would have expected the “super HD xcom” to have aliens more like the original X-COM’s box art (the creepy bubbly alien thing) instead of something Disney would do.

      • udat says:

        Chrysalids from the original UFO were fucking scary.

        • Replikant says:

          Them and those head-crabs/mindsuckers from Apocalypse. I hated it when they ran across half the map and my squad consistently missed each reaction-shot.

        • Asurmen says:

          Their abilities were scary, not their look. Based on that premise XCOM did good, but none of the originals looked scary

          • Replikant says:

            Good point, I agree.
            Funny enough, UFO:Enemy Unknown had sufficiently low resolution that your imagination could (if you were so inclined) add a lot of scary detail to the aliens. The head-craps in Apocalypse looked just silly, though.

          • LionsPhil says:

            They do at least have the perma- :D grin, which is pretty freaky when it’s still Cheshire Catting at you from the autopsy table, even if most of its true horror was revealed only in fanart.

            But, yes. X-COM isn’t scary-looking. Most of it is pretty damn goofy. It’s mechanically tense instead.

      • wraithgr says:

        Part of that is possibly desensitization because of film/other games you have played. Nothing scary about the mangled upper body of a human fused to machinery and now hell-bent on killing its own kind? Maybe the person it was is still alive in some corner of that mind, railing that it cannot stop killing or cackling at hurting the very humans who didn’t protect it from its fate…

        Sorry, got carried away there…

    • Leonida says:

      Thank Horace, someone SOMEONE is with me in this: it’s a COBRA!

      • LionsPhil says:

        And she coils up like a constrictor. I don’t know why they didn’t just go for “snakewoman” and admit she’s a melting pot of traits, really.

  7. Hobbes says:

    Let’s just hope this is less Beyond Earth and Starships, because I’ve been burned enough by the last couple of games that Firaxis has put out *grumble*

  8. peter302 says:

    hy

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    gritz says:

    Am I the only person on this planet who’s curious about (or even wants) 4 player co-op for this game?

    4 Players in Divinity Original Sin (with a mod) was awesome, and I need more co-op turn based combat in my life.

  10. Replikant says:

    Hopefully the core mechanics are either changed or moddable. Especially the stationary alien groups who activated when you got in range and then got a free move. Combined with the distribution density of these groups on the map, tactical maneuvers (especially flanking) were actually detrimental because most of the time you risked aggroing a second group. This encouraged a formulaic strategy centered around pulling.

    Secondly, I don’t particularly want to see any scripted events like when during your retreat from a council mission suddenly thin men spawned in strategic locations and crit-ed the hell out of your team. I once had a mission where a comparatively sound positioning in some containers turned into a impossible-to-win situation when a number of thin men spawned atop those containers. Beeing inside, I didn’t have a line-of-sight on any of them and a soon as someone stepped outside, he was reaction fire fried. In the end, I reloaded. Luckily this happened before my ironman run otherwise I could well have resulted in a very annoying wipe.

    • pistolhamster says:

      The tactical battle was formulaic indeed, but after having played through Xenonauts from Goldhawk Interactive, which is the closest to Old School X-Com that I can remember, those battles play out formulaic, too! It is just that the formula has changed.

      No matter what way the XCOM 2 game will present the enemies for you in the battle scenes, you will detect a formula and “resolve” it sooner or later.

      • Replikant says:

        Unfortunately, that’s probably true. Still, in XCOM I felt unbelievably hemmed in. If you triggered an alien group the only direction you could safely move in was usually back. Now, while for a rookie a screaming retreat from an alien monster is actually good roleplaying, I don’t think its healthy military standard protocol to turn your back to the enemy the moment you encounter him and run like hell.
        On the other hand, isolated groups of aliens that you can circle around and outmaneuver with impunity would probably also lead to boring gameplay. There has to be a risk/reward balance, somehow. True enough, the risk of a flanking attempt would usually be running into an ambush or another group of aliens and loosing your flanking team member. This then connects to the more profound problem with XCOM, I believe, that you are limited to a small team of soldiers, which are therefore quite valuable and loosing one is a severe setback.
        Ideally, therefore, attempting a maneuver on the battlefield should (as a rule) give you an advantage. In some cases, you would encounter another alien, which should make your tactical situation worse, but not unrecoverable. In XCOMs small maps, aggo-ing another group was rather the rule than the exception.

  11. RProxyOnly says:

    Why didn’t you specifically ask about how base building and ‘R and D’ feature in the game?

    Those are the questions we’re still sketchy about. The interview is entirely either information we already know, or opinion.

    These articles have no meat and bones to them, they are increasingly coming off as PR jobs.

    • Asurmen says:

      Probably because they’re not ready to answer those questions yet. The interview is more about design goals of the game, not mechanics and how it plays.

      • RProxyOnly says:

        What use are a page of design goals when we don’t even know how it’ll play.

        I’m more interested in the mechanics and features than I am in design. I can make my mind up about the game with a feature list, design goals don’t help me do that. The game is out in November for god’s sake.

        • Asurmen says:

          Because it lets you know what the goals of its design is. Duh. you don’t need to know how it will play 100% to get an idea of how it will play from the design goals.

          Just because the article doesn’t cover what you want doesn’t mean it’s a PR job.

  12. EhexT says:

    “I’m really excited about how this premise came to be with XCOM failing because it’s a bit of a twist.”
    The UFO:AfterX series already did it. Hell they did it in a more interesting way – the 2nd game assumes a playthrough of game 1 in which the player didn’t just “lose”, but actually allied with the aliens (an existing game-ending option in the first game).

  13. Carlos Danger says:

    What reptile nurses its young? I am just confused why a female reptile would have mammary glands to begin with. Were the Snake Folk spliced with human DNA to be made?

    • SagaDC says:

      Yes, pretty much all of the aliens were apparently augmented with human DNA between XCOM and XCOM 2. It came up in the sneak peeks for the new Sectoid and the new Muton. That aside, the Vipers are an evolution of the Thin Men from the first game, and those guys were genetically engineered to be more human-like. So you’ve got two potential reasons for the design that are well within the boundaries of established continuity.

      • damoqles says:

        I seem to remember them saying something like the viper is the true form of the thin men. To me this suggests that the viper is the original form and the thin men were the results of human DNA integration/hybridization. If in the sequel the original form also got some human DNA enhancement, why is it in the form of secondary sex characteristics, what are the benefits on the battlefield?

        • SagaDC says:

          Well, that’s operating under the assumption that all of the alterations were exact and planned by the Ethereals. The secondary sex characteristics could easily be a side effect, with the actual goal having been something that isn’t immediately visible, like heightened intelligence. Both the Mutons and the Sectoids were augmented with human DNA to boost their mental abilities (intelligence for Mutons, and psionic abilities for Sectoids).

          Really, though, this is overthinking it. As I stated, there are already two perfectly plausible (from a sci-fi standpoint) reasons for the human-like features on an otherwise alien species. From a design standpoint, it was done that way because the devs simply liked the aesthetic, and likely wanted something to counterpoint the more masculine alien designs with.