XCOM Enemy Unknown Interview

by , on 30th May 2012

We were lucky enough to be able to prise Jake Solomon, Lead Designer Firaxis away from working on XCOM Enemy Unknown to answer some questions from the community here at StrategyCore.

Rather than re-tread old ground, heniv over at the 2K forums has kindly allowed us to reproduce his list of known features from the game, so be sure to check that out if you haven't already.

Jake started off by making us feel all warm and fuzzy, then it's straight down to business.

Jake Solomon: On a personal note, I love StrategyCore. I’ve been getting my strategy news from you guys for years.

Tactical

StrategyCore: Will we be able to save tactical replays once the mission is completed (or failed for that matter) that can later by viewed, or shared? If so, will there be a way to also upload these to YouTube?

JS: That would be very cool and something we’d love to have, but it’s not going to be in XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

SC: We've seen a destructible environment, can we actually cause a building to collapse with enough damage dealt to its structure?

JS: You’ll be able to blast your way through the walls of a building; most of the buildings are designed to have additional points of entry, but full destruction isn’t implemented. Fully destructible buildings have huge implications for gameplay and level design that have to be balanced. Also, once you discover that high explosives solve all your problems, then there’s this temptation to have high explosives be your ONLY solution. That would have removed some of the fun of the game. It’s much more fun to say “okay, that plan worked. But what if I came at that a different way next time?”

SC: We’ve seen the Skyranger very sensibly dropping soldiers into missions. Does each map feature an extraction point you must reach if you want to abandon the mission?

JS: Yes. There’s an extraction zone flagged on each level. If your soldiers make it back to the dust-off point, then they get extracted safely. If they don’t make it and you abandon the mission… I’m not sure I want to think about what happens to them. They’re gone. I’ll leave it at that.

SC: Will morale still be playing a big part in the game or is it more about being pinned down by enemy fire now and losing the opportunity to shoot back?

JS: Morale is still really important. Your veterans will be more fearless than your rookies and your rookies may be something of a liability if things start to go badly. Panic was such a key part of the original game. It caused so many memorable moments for me (and for lots of other players) that it would have felt incomplete not to have some of that in our game.

SC: Sometimes you had to make some really tough choices, like having to shoot a mind-controlled soldier to prevent them from killing the rest of your squad – will this still happen?

JS: Yes, you’ll be making tough choices all the time on the battlefield. Sometimes you’ll need to leave a guy hanging out as bait for the aliens. Sometimes you’ll have to… I don’t want to give too much away, but yeah, there are still tough choices.

SC: Whilst we’ve already heard a little in terms of in-game sounds in various videos, can we expect to hear dynamic, event-driven music, or are you trying to stick to the suspense of the original?

JS: It’s a bit of both. That spooky ambient music was such an important part of the suspense of the original that we wanted to ensure it made a comeback. We also have music that’s more orchestral and dynamic than in the original game. It’s so great at highlighting the mood at times and really adds something to the experience.

SC: Will time of day still make a difference in missions? In the original night-time missions were pretty brutal affairs with the aliens having far better night vision, however the drawback was that you could often just leave a crashed UFO until daylight before launching a mission to its location – is this still the case?

JS: We have both day- and night-lit maps, but there’s no gameplay effect for lighting. The good news is that this means that your visibility is better at night! The bad side of this is that now Chryssalids come charging out of the shadows during the day, too.

Squad

SC: Will there be support combat classes in addition to the ones we’ve seen, such as Medic or Psionic?

JS: There’s already a soldier class called “Support.” There are talents in that class that let them use a Medkit more effectively, but since any class can equip a Medkit, any class can be a medic, so to speak. But each soldier’s job is, first and foremost, to kill aliens.

SC: How complex is the skill-tree going to be for each class? Can we have two or more soldiers of the same class with completely different skills and can we unlock new classes with R&D?

JS: Mostly when a soldier levels up, you’ll be selecting one of two possible new perks or skills for them. This sort of biases the class in one of two directions. For example, with our Sniper, you can build up this guy who is best at finding the highest point on the battlefield, hunkering down, and then raining death across the map, OR you can build him up as this sneaky hit-and-run kind of soldier. This lets you build the soldier in such a way that he fits his class description and also fits into whatever your preferred tactical plan is. You can build two guys from the same class in completely different ways and bring them both on the same mission.

A soldier’s class is determined when they first level out of being a Rookie. At that point, you find out for the first time what their potential is. This also means you will often be bringing rookies along on missions in order to make sure that you’ve got some bench depth in case a key veteran eats plasma later on in the game.

SC: In tactical combat, other than visual contact and sound cues, what alternative methods/tools of detection are there? Will they become available, and improve even, through R&D?

JS: Right off hand I can think of the Battlefield Scanner, which is this grenade-like item that acts as a remote camera. You can bounce it around a corner or over a wall to see if anything is coming your way, in Overwatch mode, or otherwise inclined to do you harm.

SC: Will we be able to take more than the normal squad size on the very last mission?

JS: Nope. Those six guys will have their hands full.

Aliens

SC: Are you able to tell us about any as-yet-unseen aliens, or roughly how many alien species are there in total?

JS: I can tell you that we’ve tried to include the most iconic aliens from the original game. I can also tell you we haven’t shown you all the aliens in our game. I want players to really enjoy the first moment they run into them.

SC: Does this mean that a few will remain nameless until the game’s release? There are a certain few from the original that we’d love to discover for the first time on a night-time terror mission.

JS: Absolutely! And they will feed on your fear.

SC: Little reference is made in the original as to why some aliens are genetically or surgically altered whilst others – Sectoids and Ethereals – remain “pure” since they’re the leaders. Will you be delving deeper into the relationships between the various aliens as the game progresses to flesh them out?

JS: The relationship between the alien species, how they’ve ended up together and what mysteries they conceal within their bodies is something that always gripped me from the original game.  It’s something that we will definitely explore in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but I won’t say to what extent…

Research & Development

SC: What means are there available to the player in terms of weapons to capture live aliens?

JS: We will have means, but I’ll leave it up to you to find out what they are!

SC: Will you be able to modify weapons? For example different scopes for rifles?

JS: There are items you’ll be able to carry that can improve a soldier’s accuracy. However, bringing that item uses up that soldier’s equipment slot, so if you’re taking that, you’re making a conscious decision to give up something like a grenade. We’re really trying to make inventory tension more important by tying some abilities to your equipment, and making some of the inventory items usable only a limited number of times per mission.

SC: Will aircraft be more configurable than just their weapon slots to give them more longevity? For example better engines or advanced armour, or is the focus in that area on developing new craft?

JS: Right now the configuration point on most aircraft is the weapon slot, and you really will want to upgrade your aircraft over time, rather than finding new modules to bolt onto old ships.

Winning and Losing

SC: Are there multiple outcomes to the game aside from defeating the aliens, losing your main base or having the funding council cut all funding?

JS: I don’t want to go into too much detail about the possible outcomes of the game. XCOM is a rare game in that it’s possible to lose the game if you can’t fend off the alien invasion, and we wanted to bring that forward in this new game as well. Of course you’ll also be able to fight off the invasion, and that’s an awesome feeling when you’ve saved the world.

SC: Will there be alien assaults at your interceptor bases that you get to defend against?

JS: If you ignore an alien craft that’s passing through your satellite coverage, there’s a chance they’ll return and destroy your satellite when they’ve finished their mission.

Game Development

SC: Beyond playing the original, did you look at any other turn-based strategy games to see what had been improved upon over the years? (I’m specifically thinking Silent Storm’s excellent skill tree, combat mechanics and completely destructible buildings).

JS: We were drawing our inspiration from the original game. I’m sure people will say that different parts of XCOM: Enemy Unknown will remind them of some game or another, but that’s probably because we arrived at a design decision independently. When you’re making a turn-based strategy game, there are some ideas that work really well and if you’re-iterating regularly it makes sense you’d arrive at the same point as a different team.

SC: When the team were playing the original game during research, did you try out any of the multitude of mods or tools that are available such as XcomUtil or UFOExtender?

JS: I love XComUtil and to be honest, it’s hard for me to play the original without some of the key features it offers, the biggest of which is saving your loadouts between missions.  Rest assured that that feature was one of the first things we put into XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

SC: One of the best testaments to the popularity of the original game is the still-thriving modding community and the excellent projects based on it. Do you have any words of encouragement for modders and devs working on projects such as UFO2000 (multiplayer XCOM) and OpenXCOM (a total open source rewrite)?

JS: I consider anyone who has tried to re-create a crazy game like XCOM a brother-in-arms. When you consider how much stuff you have to pack into that game… I’m sure we could swap war stories all day long.

Other

SC: Do you know roughly what the system specs will be for the PC version?

JS: We haven’t finalized specs yet, but we’ll let people know what they are as soon as we have something more final.


We'd like to say a huge thank you to Jake and the team at Firaxis and look forward to bending their ear again with another interview in the not-too-distant future!

 

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Add Comment Comments

Hobbes\
1 Jun 2012 - 1:55pm
Hobbes

Pete, on 01 June 2012 - 12:40 PM, said:

I agree with everything you said. I think the biggest fear is that it won't be as good as we hope it will - that's the problem if you hype something up too much.

To me it's a matter of keeping your expectations cool regardless of the hype being generated by the periodic releases. When I hear Jake Solomon and the developers saying 'it's going to awesome', etc., etc., I just shrug my shoulders because that's normal when someone is creating something. The videos/gameplay so far are keeping up with their intentions but yeah still too early to tell the end result.
Pete\
1 Jun 2012 - 12:40pm
Pete
Don't forget the X-COM Half Life mod. That looked like it would have been pretty fun but Inforgrames set the lawyers on them.

It's nice to see a publisher actually realise what is and isn't a threat to their multi-million dollar game actually - very refreshing. It's also nice to see Jake's response to anyone who's attempted a remake/spin-off/project-created-by-mad-scientists.

Hobbes - I agree with everything you said. I think the biggest fear is that it won't be as good as we hope it will - that's the problem if you hype something up too much. That said, every video shows the guys at Firaxis either being very reverent or just outright excited about what they're producing rather than just flat-out saying "this will be the best game you've ever played" so I'm excited to play what they're excited about making. Even if it's totally different (and we know the combat will be) then it still looks fun.
silencer_pl\
1 Jun 2012 - 11:58am
silencer_pl

Hobbes, on 01 June 2012 - 11:36 AM, said:

If some of those players were aware of the number of failed attempts to start XCOM maybe they'd more sympathetic.

Reading this brought Alien Invasion on my mind :)
Hobbes\
1 Jun 2012 - 11:36am
Hobbes

Pete, on 31 May 2012 - 07:38 PM, said:

I think there's a lot of understandable focus on the 2K forums about the day/night thing, but in that case why is there no outcry for the fact that troops are now floating around in power armour with no helmets on, or why pistols have no clips (unlimited ammo) etc? The former is likely because they want you to know which soldier is which and grow more attached to them (just a guess) so I would assume that they've considered the impact of day/night missions and left it out either because most people waited for daylight to dodge them or else because there's so much else to think about that it's not as big an impact as other game mechanics they may have introduced.

I think that it's one of those things where we'll only know when we play the game, but in the original there were very rigid mechanics that, whilst amazing, were limited to the technology of the time so I would hazard a guess that there's more going on in tactical missions than we can glean from the videos and screenshots and that day/night would take a back seat to other things we don't even know about yet.

If that's not satisfactory though, it's also quite likely that this could be sorted with a mod as someone mentioned on the 2K thread. The game has a clock so in theory you could tweak the stats of aliens based on the time the mission starts. Not ideal that it's not then built into the vanilla game, but as PC gamers we have the luxury of being able to tweak things to our liking as the 200+ different mods/tools/patches for UFO and TFTD we have on the site show Posted Image

I haven't followed much of the discussion on 2K but I remember seeing discussions/rants on those characteristics you mentioned. I think some players are a bit sensible to game changes, which is understandable since it is something dear to us.

IMO, this is a new take on XCOM and there will be changes that I'll like and things I'll miss. That's normal, everyone who has picked the game since the original and tried to reimplement the idea has their own different take on how things should be. The feedback on 2K has a lot of suggestions to add-ons to the original game, people want their little piece of change added to the game. But whatever the end result we won't know until it's released.

What I do know is that for the first time a major company picked up the game, with the right people to reimplement it and it looks they are doing a good job so far. And if some of those players who complain on 2K forums were aware of the number of failed attempts to start XCOM maybe they'd more understanding towards some of the announced changes.

Pete, on 31 May 2012 - 07:38 PM, said:

I was immediately concerned when I saw a Chrysalid in the screenshots, but very soon after I saw the video and all was well with the world. There has been some uproar that they look so different, but to be honest the lobster claws always made them look silly to me, so having some spider-like thingy which impales you a la Starship Troopers and the seems to spew its spawn over your face whilst you're screaming (watch the vid, that's what happens) is far more terrifying - especially with the glam cam catching every gory detail of the birth of a new Chrysalid later on.

The thing that worries me most is that I won't be as scared as when I played the original when I was 12. I mean, it's obvious that I won't - I'd not been desensitised by all manner of horror films back then so I (theoretically) won't have any reason to turn the eerie music off or cut the sound so there are no horrible death screams. I think I may be old enough now that it won't affect me in that way, but my hope is that I will enjoy it more for the new things - the new gameplay mechanics, an old foe that now has new tricks, unknown enemies, a different ending (I'm sure it will be open for a sequel that doesn't happen underwater) and so on.

Anyway, I'll stop rambling now.

On my experience the first of the Chrysalid scared me without even knowing it was one. I'd rather have preferred that they would have kept it as a secret but I'm kinda worrying about the aliens we haven't seen yet... And Chryssalids still chill me on the original game everytime I came up them... no matter how much experience you have, things can and will go very wrong! If they can keep that feeling of apprehension and uncertainty and fear... well then to me they did a good job.
silencer_pl\
1 Jun 2012 - 11:25am
silencer_pl

Pete, on 31 May 2012 - 07:38 PM, said:

Anyway, I'll stop rambling now.

God damn it, you were on hot-streak...
Space Voyager\
31 May 2012 - 9:32pm
Space Voyager

Pete, on 31 May 2012 - 09:28 PM, said:

there's an early preview build in London that I can't get to for money/time reasons).

Meh, don't beat yourself too hard on that one. It would not give you enough time to really get any further than what we have already seen, so I'd just bug Firaxis for a preview build into oblivion. :)
Pete\
31 May 2012 - 9:28pm
Pete
Thanks!

Most of the credit goes to those who submitted questions and the rest to the staff for trimming down my babbling to concise questions.

We'll do another one further down the road too and hopefully be able to put together a preview too at some point hopefully (there's an early preview build in London that I can't get to for money/time reasons).
Sunflash\
31 May 2012 - 9:21pm
Sunflash
Love the interview, A++. Quite excited now. :D
Pete\
31 May 2012 - 7:38pm
Pete
I think there's a lot of understandable focus on the 2K forums about the day/night thing, but in that case why is there no outcry for the fact that troops are now floating around in power armour with no helmets on, or why pistols have no clips (unlimited ammo) etc? The former is likely because they want you to know which soldier is which and grow more attached to them (just a guess) so I would assume that they've considered the impact of day/night missions and left it out either because most people waited for daylight to dodge them or else because there's so much else to think about that it's not as big an impact as other game mechanics they may have introduced.

I think that it's one of those things where we'll only know when we play the game, but in the original there were very rigid mechanics that, whilst amazing, were limited to the technology of the time so I would hazard a guess that there's more going on in tactical missions than we can glean from the videos and screenshots and that day/night would take a back seat to other things we don't even know about yet.

If that's not satisfactory though, it's also quite likely that this could be sorted with a mod as someone mentioned on the 2K thread. The game has a clock so in theory you could tweak the stats of aliens based on the time the mission starts. Not ideal that it's not then built into the vanilla game, but as PC gamers we have the luxury of being able to tweak things to our liking as the 200+ different mods/tools/patches for UFO and TFTD we have on the site show Posted Image

I was immediately concerned when I saw a Chrysalid in the screenshots, but very soon after I saw the video and all was well with the world. There has been some uproar that they look so different, but to be honest the lobster claws always made them look silly to me, so having some spider-like thingy which impales you a la Starship Troopers and the seems to spew its spawn over your face whilst you're screaming (watch the vid, that's what happens) is far more terrifying - especially with the glam cam catching every gory detail of the birth of a new Chrysalid later on.

The thing that worries me most is that I won't be as scared as when I played the original when I was 12. I mean, it's obvious that I won't - I'd not been desensitised by all manner of horror films back then so I (theoretically) won't have any reason to turn the eerie music off or cut the sound so there are no horrible death screams. I think I may be old enough now that it won't affect me in that way, but my hope is that I will enjoy it more for the new things - the new gameplay mechanics, an old foe that now has new tricks, unknown enemies, a different ending (I'm sure it will be open for a sequel that doesn't happen underwater) and so on.

Anyway, I'll stop rambling now.
Hobbes\
31 May 2012 - 3:05pm
Hobbes

Quote

I've more or less the same concerns as Hobbes. While Jake makes a good point about totally destructible environments, he also implied buildings have only a couple of entry points. That's quite conservative, pretty much on the other end of the destructibility scale, given it potentially means you can't just blow any chunk of wall to make your way into a given building and have to stick with the game's pre-defined points. I hope they prove me wrong.

Or maybe you can but there are a LOT of limiting factors like the original game - weapon power and ammo being the most relevant here. Until you researched Heavy Plasma/Blaster Launchers you'd be limited to sticking to the available entry points in UFOs.

Quote

And I was also disappointed at the fact day and night have been reduced to just cosmetics. Seems like a wasted gameplay opportunity there. I know about NV goggles, but those could've been explicitly implemented to counter-act the darkness in night-time missions, say, at the expense of other gear that would've otherwise used that equipment slot. Besides that, there could've been some alien species that were nocturnal, or some special missions that required you to carry them out during the day or the night.

I'm discussing this on the 2K forums and I think it's a matter of giving just a different twist to night missions so that you get the different atmosphere and slightly different gameplay. And even if it's just for cosmetics just the visual atmosphere can have an impact on the game - the more I watch the Chryssalid video brbrbrbrbrbrbbr
ShadowBlade\
31 May 2012 - 2:45pm
ShadowBlade
Great interview, even if it seems we've mostly reached the limit of information disclosure allowed for this round. Posted Image

I've more or less the same concerns as Hobbes. While Jake makes a good point about totally destructible environments, he also implied buildings have only a couple of entry points. That's quite conservative, pretty much on the other end of the destructibility scale, given it potentially means you can't just blow any chunk of wall to make your way into a given building and have to stick with the game's pre-defined points. I hope they prove me wrong.

And I was also disappointed at the fact day and night have been reduced to just cosmetics. Seems like a wasted gameplay opportunity there. I know about NV goggles, but those could've been explicitly implemented to counter-act the darkness in night-time missions, say, at the expense of other gear that would've otherwise used that equipment slot. Besides that, there could've been some alien species that were nocturnal, or some special missions that required you to carry them out during the day or the night.
silencer_pl\
31 May 2012 - 2:38pm
silencer_pl
Right right, I think they will compensate enough for this though :P
Hobbes\
31 May 2012 - 1:42pm
Hobbes

silencer_pl, on 31 May 2012 - 01:00 PM, said:

You know with current technology NV googles are standard military equipment.

Night Goggles, not Googles ;)

Well it doesn't replace daylight, it merely helps the side who has them to conduct night operations.

If you're wearing NV goggles or seeing through a scope then your vision will be amplified but at the loss of detail/colours/perspective.
And hman eyesight has two components - the frontal vision with the ability to focus on an object and visualize it in 3D (due to combining the images from both eyes) and the sideways vision which allows to detect movement (the so call noticing through the corner of your eye).

NV goggles help with the first one, but at a loss, and can impair the second one because your attention is focused on looking through a tube/goggle and you can easily miss any peripheral movement going around you.
silencer_pl\
31 May 2012 - 1:00pm
silencer_pl

Hobbes, on 31 May 2012 - 12:13 PM, said:

Well, that was a very nice interview - he didn't reveal all that we wanted but that's part of the interview game :D

A few points on his answers




The point of building destruction was well covered, this is exactly what happened in UFO2000 at one point (and unbalanced the game IMO) - you just throw rockets or explosives and blast everything.



This made me unhappy that your soldiers's vision isn't limited at night. I'm going to post something about this on the 2K forums, because this IS a major feature from the original game, otherwise night missions aren't different from day missions other than the feel.

You know with current technology NV googles are standard military equipment.
Hobbes\
31 May 2012 - 12:13pm
Hobbes
Well, that was a very nice interview - he didn't reveal all that we wanted but that's part of the interview game :D

A few points on his answers


Quote

Also, once you discover that high explosives solve all your problems, then there’s this temptation to have high explosives be your ONLY solution.

The point of building destruction was well covered, this is exactly what happened in UFO2000 at one point (and unbalanced the game IMO) - you just throw rockets or explosives and blast everything.

Quote

We have both day- and night-lit maps, but there’s no gameplay effect for lighting. The good news is that this means that your visibility is better at night!

This made me unhappy that your soldiers's vision isn't limited at night. I'm going to post something about this on the 2K forums, because this IS a major feature from the original game, otherwise night missions aren't different from day missions other than the feel.
silencer_pl\
31 May 2012 - 8:09am
silencer_pl
You've got to admit that Jake is trained well in making the right answers in his interviews.

From original X-Com we are only lacking Snakemen and Etherals.... Most of us will agree the Etherals will make their appearance.

Ah and one more thing - will there be demo for normal people :P
Pete\
31 May 2012 - 7:59am
Pete
They wouldn't answer all the questions for various reasons, but they're happy for us to do another one further down the line, so we can ask again later on.

I for one am happy with his answer about unknown aliens. As FullAuto said, the title doesn't make as much sense if the player knows about every alien, do the fact that there will be more in the game that we won't know about in advance is great. Presumably they won't be the original aliens as we know and love them already ;)
silencer_pl\
31 May 2012 - 7:52am
silencer_pl
Very well done interview. It only left me with two questions. One of them I wanted to be in the interview but wasn't included about how PSI will be carried out in terms of reach. Will aliens be god machines and psi capture your soldiers from the very depths of cydonia or they will have to see you in order to maintain psi-link like in Apoc.

The second thing is aircraft armament - we all know that in original X-Com we used avalanches then plasma totally skipping cannon, stingray, laser (those who did use them are minority I guess). Will in XCOM all weapons have use like in UFO:ET.

 

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