Sinister Soups Serving Musings On Game Development and Play

20Apr/100

X-Communicated

What is X-Com? Until last week, X-Com was a fantastic little PC turn-based tactical game. A game which let you build up a fancy base, while researching cool technology, and recruiting soldiers. A game where, with your base fully operational, you could send out squads of guys to shoot down UFOs, investigate crash sites, and fight the alien menace.

X-COM: UFO Defense

X-Com is dear to many PC gamers and turn-based game fans, and seeing as I happen to be both of those, it’s a game dear to me, as well. The great mix of genres, the chance to do so many cool things in a single game, and the deep and satisfying turn-based combat are what define X-Com, what make it such a special game.

So hearing, last week, that the X-Com license is being used to make a First Person Shooter did not exactly elicit an enthusiastic response from most X-Com fans, myself included.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’ll be a decent game. It’s being made by the same people who made Bioshock 2, after all. But do we really need another First Person Shooter on the market? Do we really need to convert a property near and dear to many a gamer’s heart into a genre as far removed from its roots as is physically possible?

The most disheartening thing about all this is probably how eager the online games press is to play this off as a good thing. I realize it’s not in their interest to be skeptical about new game announcements, that it’s better for them to be optimistic about everything the publishers toss their way, but it’s doesn’t make it any less depressing to see them fail to question these sorts of decisions on behalf of the longtime fans, who do not have as public a voice.

The Kotaku article on the subject is a perfect example. They quote the new game’s press release, filled with appropriate buzzwords like “high-stake odds” and “strategic gambits” and then proceed to conclude that “the strategic stuff is still in” and therefore “it’s the first-person stuff that has people angry.”

It’s silliness, old-school X-Com fans aren’t going to be appeased by promises of “strategic depth” from PR material for a game that switched genre from a strategy game to a shooter, and the author shows a profound intellectual dishonesty in proclaiming that the first person perspective is the biggest problem fans will have with the game, rather than, you know, the fact that it’s now a shooter.

Unfortunately, this sort of coverage is pretty much par for the course, though there is some more balanced coverage out there. A PC-focused site like Rock, Paper, Shotgun, for instance, took this opportunity to write a couple of insightful and personal pieces about what X-Com meant to them, and what it means to the many fans of the old games.

Further silver lining comes in the form of extra exposure for indie projects that are apparently trying to fill the X-Com shaped hole in our hearts. Since little hope remains of another turn-based tactical game bearing the X-Com name, these indie efforts have the potential to define the future of the hybrid-semi-genre.

The first such promising project is Xenonauts, currently in development by a small indie studio. It looks like it will be released commercially, and their site shows some very polished concept art as well as design ideas about different aspects of the game. Since it's still in fairly early stages, I recommend keeping an eye on their site if you are interested.

The Geoscape in Xenonauts. Looking good!

The other major project I’ve seen come out of the woodwork with the FPS announcement is UFO: Alien Invasion, an open source X-Com clone or remake based on the Quake 2 engine. Though I just found out about this project, it’s been in the works for quite a while now, is still updating on a regular basis, and looks to be quite mature, not to mention free!

A UFO crashsite in the open source UFO: Alien Invasion

I haven’t tried it out myself yet, but I plan to give UFO: AI a whirl soon. It even supports multiplayer, including cooperative control of one team, or two teams facing off! Maybe I can con a friend into trying it with me, after all, a multiplayer, cooperative X-Com sounds about as close to heaven as I dare imagine.

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