An XCOM fan on Reddit has created a rather robust version of XCOM that is played using the spreadsheet software Microsoft Excel. Dubbed EXLCOM, this reimagining of the science fiction turn-based strategy game is far from complete, but that doesn't mean you can't sink a few hours enjoying the fact that the program you use to budget your weekly spending allowance can be used to build a fully functional video game. I spoke to its creator about the hows and whys.
"I wanted to create something in [Visual Basic for Applications] to practice coding in that language and I like XCOM—so why not make an XCOM game?" Reddit user Crruzi said in his Imgur album showcasing the game. "EXLCOM works just like any other XCOM game—you know, shoot aliens, save the world, that kinda stuff." But what Crruzi didn't expect was the level of excitement expressed at his intrepid programming. "I definitely didn't expect that amount of people being amazed by it," he said when he sat down to talk with me yesterday evening.
Crruzi, whose real name is Constantin, explained how the project originally started out of his desire to keep his recently acquired programming skills fresh. Though he is still a student studying economics, he also works part time in the financial sector. That's what inspired him to start working with Excel in the first place.
When I first reached out to him, Constantin was at pains to express how early in development EXLCOM was. It was evident he didn't want anyone thinking that this was a perfect substitute for XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Still, when I sat down to play it, I was surprised by how functional it is. Before I knew it, my productive morning was laid to waste before the allure of guiding green cells around the map while shooting red ones.
"I did look at other games, but there were very few—like a 'snake' game—and nothing like what I'm developing now," Constantin told me. After a few hours with the game, I'm inclined to believe him too. While EXLCOM lacks the overarching strategic elements, like base building and varied missions, the combat portion of the game is pretty robust. Features like destructible environments, different weapon types, equipment, and even different movement and firing options are included. There's even an easy to use map editor that allows you to create your own levels. In its current state, EXLCOM isn't likely to keep you pasted to your monitor until the sun rises, but the sheer novelty alone is enough to warrant downloading it.
Constantin isn't finished with it either. Even without the generous encouragement he has received from the community, Constantin seems eager to keep fleshing out new features. He explained that he already has his sights set on the strategic layer of the game, wanting to create randomized missions, the ability to save your game, and even has a few "really cool ideas that diverge a bit from classic XCOM gameplay."
Spurred on by the positive response, Constantin isn't really sure if EXLCOM will lead him to pursuing game development more seriously. He told me it was something he thought about from time to time, but is content with his current career plans. Either way, his passion for EXLCOM certainly shines through. When I asked if he intended to use the game in his portfolio, he laughed. "No, no," he said before explaining he had other projects he'd prefer to show off. After I was done with my questions, Constantin flipped the interview on me, asking for as much detailed feedback as I was willing to give. He even spent another half hour with me troubleshooting an issue I was having with the game where bullet animations weren't displaying.
If you have Excel (or are willing to sign up for the trial) you should download EXLCOM and try it out. The simplistic visuals (I guess you could call them… cell-shaded?) evoke the feeling of playing Rogue or Dwarf Fortress, and just like those games, there's a firm strategic foundation to mess around in. And hey, it might just be the perfect way to get that gaming fix when you're supposed to be working on your TPS reports. Office workers rejoice.