X-Com Gazing at Man Bytes Blog

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#1 baby arm

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Posted 27 April 2008 - 02:23 AM

The first installment of a series of articles on X-Com is now up at Man Bytes Blog. The articles, called Narrative of the Moment, will focus on the story aspect of X-Com, but this first one is more of an introduction with personal reflections. One bit that stood out to me is about the difficulty:


X-COM is a dense game. I have become used to firing up games without ever looking at the manual. In fact, I consider it a measure of a good game if I can find my way around the interface simply through playing the game. If, like Wind Waker or Portal, the game trains me how to play gradually, without resorting to lengthy and dull tutorial levels, it receives high marks in my books. But the tutorial for X-COM is the manual. Launching the game and expecting to successfully navigate every aspect of the gameplay without reading the manual simply isnít reasonable. Today, this might spell the gameís doom. But in 1993, it was more the norm than the exception.
Now maybe I'm an amazing genius (unlikely since I'm typing this at a desk crowded with slinkies, light-up Virgin Mary pictures, and Pee Wee Herman figures), but I don't remember ever needing to refer to the manual to learn how to play X-Com. The interface pretty much seemed to clue you in to what you needed to know, like maybe that button with the little guy crouching will make my guy crouch or maybe that "Research" button means I should go there to research new stuff.

#2 FullAuto


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Posted 27 April 2008 - 03:29 AM

Manuals are for little girls.

On a non-sexist/ageist note:  When I first started on X-Com, I skipped the manual and figured out what everything did by clicking on it and wincing when it went wrong.  A lot of the game is fairly self-explanatory ("What the Hell does 'buy' mean?") and most of the functions obvious ("Wow, all my soldiers carry ladders with them?  Get climbing, matey.").  I remember referring back to it after months of playing, when I hit a difficult patch and was looking for stuff I'd missed to give me an edge, but didn't find anything apart from a pic showing an ability that wasn't in the game (gutted!).

Perhaps it's just the writer's strategic disability, namely:


I donít like strategy games, not strategy board games, not TBS games, not RTS games. I feel I ought to like them, but I donít. Because of my antipathy, Iím not terribly practiced at playing them.

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#3 flark



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Posted 27 April 2008 - 04:07 AM

View Postbaby arm, on 27th April 2008, 3:23am, said:

Now maybe I'm an amazing genius ... , but I don't remember ever needing to refer to the manual to learn how to play X-Com. The interface pretty much seemed to clue you in to what you needed to know, like maybe that button with the little guy crouching will make my guy crouch or maybe that "Research" button means I should go there to research new stuff.
I agree. X-Com has an impressively smart and simplistic interface which is completely selfexplanatory. I referred to the manual for interest factor at a later stage, but found it didn't tell me anything which I hadn't figured out myself in the first 30 mins of playing.


#4 Pete



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Posted 27 April 2008 - 07:57 AM

I referred to the manual for the copy protection codes. Those were the days :)
May your terror missions always be infested with Chrysalids.

#5 Gimli


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Posted 27 April 2008 - 08:43 AM

Jagged Alliance had a good manual. I read some bits of X-COM's, didn't find it particularly useful for reasons stated above.
Heh, at first I didn't know that I could use the RMB. :) Hey, I never even had a game that used a mouse prior to that!

I wouldn't say that the Battlescape buttons were particularly good, but trial and error worked.

I think I'll move this to the X-COM news section though.

#6 NKF


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Posted 27 April 2008 - 11:33 AM

I agree that the first two X-Com games were pretty easy to understand with a bit of experimentation. Clicking things randomly with the LMB then the RMB to see what happened was a bit of the fun.

The games can be complex, but they are still simple enough and an understanding of the underlying mechanics is not necessary to enjoy it.

These days I've picked up a number of games where I read the manual thoroughly then play the game. After a while I look back at the manual and wonder why it was even printed. It might just be a slip of information to tell you which buttons do what, or it's an extensive manual that tells you a lot while not really telling you anything on how to play the game or how things work.

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#7 Pete



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Posted 27 April 2008 - 11:36 AM

A lot of the really excelelnt games I've played, such as X-Wing, Tie Fighter and MechCommander had the sense to just print the keyboard commantsa on the back of the manual or on a separate sheet of paper so you dont have to read the manual to know what most things do :)
May your terror missions always be infested with Chrysalids.

#8 Bomb Bloke

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Posted 27 April 2008 - 11:36 AM

Yeah, games back in the day needed manuals. There was a saying at the time that after reading through a flight sim manual, you'd probably have a fairly good idea as to how to fly an actual plane...

One of the things I like about X-Com is that while it really isn't that difficult, it still does a good job of pretending to be (it doesn't actually matter if you lose the odd squad throughout the game, but it sure feels like it does).

For me, I suppose it's the soldiers who make the "story". You get attached to them - each is more or less unique, and even improves as you work at his or her weaknesses. However the poor blighters can all be killed at the drop of a hat. That's the sort of environment that legends come from.
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#9 Knan


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Posted 27 April 2008 - 12:33 PM

Agreed. Tactical blunders getting a team wiped out will hurt short-term, but in the long run you get back up pretty quickly.  (All right, on TFTD, I tend to semi-retire anyone surviving ten missions - it's a miracle they're still alive)

King of Dragon Pass also is excellent in this sense. Setbacks losing you a loved leader really hurt, but your clan is resilient and the game goes on. Losing through a negative feedback loop doesn't happen often, and you usually have a way out, even if it's a desperate one.

#10 Zombie


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Posted 28 April 2008 - 06:27 PM

Agreed that the interface is fairly straightforward. However, some people prefer to have things spelled out for them rather than blindly click away and hope for the best. :) You really can't do too much damage on the Geoscape as the menu options are listed in words. On the Battlescape things are different as none of the buttons are labeled. The icons on the buttons themselves are quite grainy and hard to make out.

I started out playing UFO Defense on the Playstation (NTSC, US version). The manual (if you can call it that) was way too short and didn't offer much of anything. Folks with the PSX EU PAL version have a second part to the manual which is a reference section. That is gold as it goes into detail about a lot of stuff (including labeling the Geoscape buttons). Later computer versions of the game also had a fairly extensive manual which came out in PDF format. Guess I lived in the wrong place and played the wrong version to understand the game straight off. In another sense though, I'm fortunate to have started without any help as that forced me to write down (and eventually memorize) almost everything about the game. :)

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#11 Skrie


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Posted 30 September 2008 - 08:42 AM

When I first played it at the age of 14... a friend gave me ufo on a bunch of floppies...  
I never had a manual.. and I can contest to the fact that it takes a long time to learn with manual.

Now that I'm playing it again at the age of 28... and I'm reading pages like this one: UfoPaedia.org
And after so many hours of playing... I still discover mighty interesting stuff that I never knew.
(for exsample... all my playing never learned me that you can
shoot a UFO power source and pick the elirium from the ground !  )

So yea.. it's complicated but that's the main reason the game is so charming imho.

I think the reason I could learn a complicated game back then was the fact that I
maybe got 1 or 2 new games each year back then...  It's not like if someone gave me a game
that I was gona discard it for being too complicated ;)

-Skrie :laugh:

#12 Slaughter



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Posted 30 September 2008 - 05:57 PM

It's good with games that let's you discover new things 14 years later alright! UFO really stands the test of time.

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