You’ve already read our thoughts on X-Com: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis’ “reimagining” of the classic strategy game X-Com: U.F.O. Defense. After checking out the demo for myself at PAX East, I spoke briefly to producer Garth DeAngelis about the developers’ approach to recreating one of PC gaming’s all-time greatest games.
1UP: How long have you been working on Enemy Unknown?
GD: The team’s been working on the game for about three years. So it’s been in development for a considerable amount of time.
1UP: I have to ask… I’m sure this wasn’t your decision, but I have to wonder why 2K announced the other X-Com first and then waited a while to announce this one when Enemy Unknown was clearly the one that X-Com fans would want. There was a pretty sour reaction to the shooter….
GD: It was all part of a super-genius plan that they had, and they just played the gaming industry. [Laughs] No, honestly, I have no idea, but they certainly believe in both projects. We’ve been in concurrent development for, again, about three years. They see the X-Com universe as something where multiple games can exist together within different genres.
1UP: When you say “universe,” does that mean EU has direct ties to the other game?
GD: You know, our lead creative people have talked with the 2K Marin team that’s developing the shooter. We’re not talking any specific ties right now. The themes of the games are quite different. You know, ours is a reimagining of the original U.F.O. Defense, very modern-day, you can recognize the locales. Theirs takes place in the ’60s and they have a different, unique approach.
1UP: So this one’s meant to be modern-day.
GD: Yeah. Near-future, we call it.
1UP: What has your approach been to reinterpreting U.F.O. Defense?
GD: That has been the big, million-dollar question. That’s been the biggest challenge overall. It encompasses a lot of little questions — we wanted to uphold the spirit of the original. Our lead designer, Jake Solomon, is one of the biggest X-Com fans you will find, and he sees that game as holy. He wanted to maintain the core design principles from the original: Destructibility, the strategy layer and tactical layer that interface with each other, the turn-based gameplay, all that stuff. Which fits really nicely with Firaxis! At the same time, how do we update this stuff? Make it true to the original but update it for the modern generation? We’ve looked at things like the visuals, obviously, the cinematic cameras, some design decisions we’ve made to account for the 20-something years that have passed since the original launched. Hopefully we’ve found a nice balance between the two.
1UP: If I’m remembering right, the 3D dimensionality — like the sniper perch — wasn’t really in the original game.
GD: No, the assets weren’t 3D, but you were able to go up on top of buildings — you’d climb up stairs. It was pretty cumbersome to navigate — you had to go to a UI element and flip floors on. It would blink on the entire second level of the entire map, or blink off. Our is isolated based on where your soldier is contextually. But yeah, they did have that gameplay there.
1UP: Ah, OK. Well, on a related note, what’s been the biggest challenge working with a game that’s so venerated? X-Com is one of those rare games that’s largely regarded as being almost perfect. Your job is to follow that up without deviating too far, but at the same time you have to offer something new….
GD: Yeah. You know, it’s related to what I said earlier. It’s a big challenge. We wanted to keep everything from the original. Like you said, it is seen as a perfect game by a lot of people. Jake calls it the perfect game. But at the same time, one of the main things we did… we didn’t want to make the game more accessible from a challenge perspective, necessarily. The challenge is still there, and it’s going to be a very difficult game, but we wanted it to be easier to drive. If you launch the original game — have you played it?
1UP: Unfortunately, no.
GD: OK, I’ll give you a quick rundown. You fire it up and you’ll see Earth hanging in the universe, looks kind of cool. Then there’ll be a dozen UI elements on the right where you can check out all your different stats. There’s no guidance at all. Figuring out how to even get into a mission is, by today’s standards, a little bit of a challenge. Some people would stand up and walk away after a few minutes. So we wanted that learning curve to be a little less steep. We still have that depth there, but we wanted to make it more accessible. So, we have to do some integrated tutorials, that sort of thing.