XCOM Declassified: Why it went third person, why it’s single player and why it’s awesome.

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XcomAlyssa

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified may have been shown to us at a press event that included a hands on demonstration, but I still had some questions about the game that were one need to know basis. Fortunately, 2K’s VP Alyssa Finley was on hand to answer my questions. And then presumably murder me afterwards to keep those secrets safe.

This particular XCOM has been knocking around for a while now, originally debuting as a FPS title, before becoming ‘classified’ and re-emerging in its current third-person form. What was the reason for this change in style?

When we first showed the game in 2010, it was a first-person game as you say, and we were looking at how we could hit all the critical beats for an XCOM game.

For me, that is stuff like tension and terror, which the First-person shooter did a really good job of that, that fear that was ‘I have no idea what is going to be beyond every corner’.

It was tech and tools, the idea of taking the enemies’ technology and and taking it from the enemies and using it against them, which I think we also had.

And then I think it’s teamwork, which I think the version we showed in 2010 didn’t really capture that feeling of being a field commander, being in charge of your squad and anything happening to your squad being based on the decisions or mistakes that you might have made.

So we didn’t quite have that yet, and as we iterated through the game, working on it and trying to find the game that really resonated with the XCOM experience, we were trying to find how to build teamwork into that package.

In 2011, we showed another version of that game, and that had the beginnings of what we know as Battle Focus today. It let you pull out from first-person mode into third-person mode.

Basically, you could stop time the camera would pull back, and there would be William Carter, there would be his team with the same kinds of action that we showed today, ‘Make a plan, I want you to go over here, I want you to shoot this guy and target this guy’.

You could build a plan in real time and that felt good. But once again, as soon as you go back into first-person perspective, you can really lose track of those two other guys, you don’t know where they are, you don’t have that special awareness of where you are. ‘Am I safe, am I in cover?’ It’s hard to tell when you’ve in first-person.

And that is really what led us to move towards a full third-person game, because when you can see yourself, when you can see your agents out there, you really get a lot more tactical awareness , that critical kind of special awareness that allows you to build a strategy, and for you to have the ultimate responsibility of keeping your team alive.

If something is to happen to one of your agents out there, if they happen to die permanently, it better feel as if you were in charge of that decision

The original vision for this XCOM was one that was very much like a typical action game, before it went back to the drawing board. Was this decision to go back in that direction possibly because the market is over-saturated with big FPSes right now?

I don’t know if it’s because the market is actually saturated, but what I do know that this was a decision informed by XCOM. XCOM at its heart is a tactical game, a game where you’re creeping from place to place, where you’re outnumbered and outgunned by an enemy that is beyond your comprehension.

You shouldn’t feel that you can go out into the centre of the field, guns blazing. That’s not right for XCOM. So what we were trying to do was bring it closer to the heart of the franchise , make it feel like that tactical experience that people have had and known, like in XCOM Enemy Unknown or in the original XCOM.

Coming into this event, I’m approaching XCOM for the very first time. This is my very first taste of the game. And for a number of new players, this will also be their first time with an XCOM title. What is 2K Marin doing to make that an enticing experience?

If you are a person who likes a challenge, who has maybe played other tactical shooters, or other squad based shooters, what we’re trying to do is tale things that are pretty fundamental and understood by people like that and add an XCOM twist to them.

In other squad based games, you have a squad and they do things. In our game though, you are responsible for that squad. You are literally building a plan for your team in real time, executing on that plan, and if it doesn’t work, changing tactics to make it work.

The challenge that we offer, is that if you’re someone that wants to play a game where your skill and ability gets you through, not just your ability to press a trigger button, then this is the game for you.

We’re not a run and gun shooter kind of game, we’re a game for someone who wants to put some more thought into it, and some more skill.

So if I’m building up a competent team to have my back in missions is part of the game structure, when I lose a team member who I’ve spent hours building up into a lean mean fighting machine, won’t that make the rest of the game harder from that point onwards?

Yes! And that’s another thing that comes from the original XCOM game and Enemy Unknown, it’s the decisions that you make in the field that do have consequences, that do matter.

In the case that you described, there are ways to come back from that though. You can use Dispatch Missions or Minor Operations to train up backup guys so that you have a more well balanced roster that is available in the case of tragedy, so you can shore that up.

But that’s the exact kind of tension, the exact kind of terror that we’re trying to build , where you feel like every decision matters, and you better be careful with your guys out in the field, especially if you spend that kind of time with them.

The Battle Focus that we’ve seen so far, while similar to other games, still has an element of urgency to it as bringing it up doesn’t pause the game entirely. Was that a decision to give the game a constant flow, instead of pausing between action the whole time?

Well, we did that because if you can just pop into Battle Focus and ‘look around, and be like, who, there’s a sniper over there, I’m going to go get him and grab some high ground’, it’s a little too safe.

It takes you out of the moment and makes you go ‘Ah! I got plenty of time to think!’ and then go again. What we wanted is that battlefield feeling, bullets whizzing past you while you’re making decisions and someone just chucked a grenade at you.

You can’t just sit still in Battle Focus and build a plan, there’s a grenade by your feet, you need to get out, run away and then keep going. So we wanted to keep you moving, giving you enough time but keep the tide moving and keep the tension up.

Is this particular XCOM strictly single-player?

Yes it is. It is 100% single-player?

Will there be any online elements creeping into the game, say for example, a player sending over one his custom agents into the roster of The Bureau, available for friends to use at their leisure?

No, but that would be cool.

With the tactical gameplay that is being emphasised here, where Ramboing over a wall is discouraged in favour of team-based gameplay and tactics, will the AI of my team also be focused on team tactics instead of lone wolf gameplay?

Yeah! Did you see earlier when that one alien walked out into the field and got taken out so quickly by all three of you? Now, you’re in the field and you’re pretty good, but your agents are also there and they pretty capable. And if they’re under orders, they’ll do what you say, but if they aren’t under orders, they’ll pick the best target and do what they can.

And they can do a lot of damage on their own. But they’re also part of a team. And the three of you are a team, and together you’re pretty powerful against any enemies.

Speaking of a team, what kind of customisation options will I have available, to tinker and tweak with yards to my squad?

When I play, I’m a big fan of being a sniper because I don’t like to get my hands dirty, so I like to have an engineer throw down a turret and provide covering fire while I go KPOW (Alyssa pretends to be a sniper at this point and shoots my brains out).

Other people might want to play differently. They might want to be the guy out on the front line and have someone else cover their back, and the customisation options that we offer, allow you to bring your own play style to the game.

How deep is the customisation then?

You can name your agents, on how they look and what they do. There’s a skill tree of various abilities that you can choose from and make an agent that does the things that you want them to do.

What other historical events influenced this game, which seems to also be drawing from the red scare era of American history?

The NASA space race back then was huge, it included things like those backpacks that you saw on the team, the style of patch seen on the team is taken straight from 1960s NASA.

But what we’re trying to capture with the time frame in the game, is the political climate, the Bay of Pigs and all that. But also that nostalgic view into society, when people wanted a family with 2.5 kids and a dog, and then juxtaposing that with a freaking alien tower appearing in your backyard and your town being turned into sleepwalkers for no particular reason that you understand.

Narratively speaking, what’s the bigger picture here? How does this XCOM weave itself into all the games that have come before it?

It’s the origin story. If you imagine what would have happened on day one when aliens invaded Earth and people had to figure out what the hell to do to deal with them, that’s the story that we’re trying to tell in this game.

And all the way to a point where you can imagine a global organization of XCOM , to the point where you’re managing the whole army. You have satellites, you have a hangar filled with reinforcements that are shooting down the UFOs.

It’s basically the tale of a full fledged global organization, and we’re trying to tell the story of how it got there.

Last Updated: May 14, 2013

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia's M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

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