The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – Creative Director Interview
Last week, Game Front headed up to sunny Novato, CA, to the headquarters of 2K Marin, located — appropriately for XCOM — in an old military base. In addition to extensive hands-on time with the game — see our preview coverage here — we had the chance to interview the game’s Creative Director, Morgan Gray. Gray’s thinning hair, long sideburns and tasteful piercings make him look like the bassist in an underrated 90′s rock band, but he’s a 17-year industry veteran, and he spoke eloquently and passionately about The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. The interview follows below (transcript has been edited for clarity and ease of reading).
Game Front: The first thing I’m curious about is the long design process. The transition from the game I saw in 2011 — how that happened, why that happened.
Morgan Gray: The irony is, it’s not even that long of a process, because most games take 3-5 years to make. What we did wrong is that we showed too early. When we first showed in 2010, we had something that was first-person, it was survival horror, it was about investigation gameplay, it was kind of spooky, kind of tense. We thought it was cool — it was unique, and it was eerie, but it wasn’t hitting the goal of being a new expression of XCOM gameplay. It could have been any creepy alien game, or a creepy 50s game.
GF: Was that a step in a process that you were too early on, or did you have to change directions and go down a different branch?
MG: We were exploring different stabs we could do for going from turn-based isometric to some other expression. We showed a stab a little early. If you compare it to movies and stuff, with different script treatments, it could go this way or it could go that way. With shows, they do not air the pilot episode that you see, but they do the “work-ups.” We just unfortunately jumped the gun.
After 2010, we spent the next year refining the vision for the game we put forward in 2011, which is pretty much, by-and-large the same game which we have now, with the exception that we moved away from the first-person view perspective for Carter — at the time in 2011, it was first-person Carter, third-person tactical control of the squad –- to just going all third-person. For two reasons: one, we spent so much time in tactical combat that we figured if you’re going to be in third-person for that, the advantages it gives you, the situational awareness — you can see yourself in relationship to your team, to the enemies, to the terrain — [is important]. It also helped us to boost the narrative of character. If you’re telling a viewpoint story for a viewpoint character, him being disembodied hands wasn’t the same as being able to see his interactions with the other characters.
GF: That change in tack — was it a combination of feedback from people you showed the game to, and yourselves saying “this isn’t getting the reaction that we wanted?”
MG: The thing is, always, a dev team is a large group of people. Many of us are classic XCOM fans. XCOM came into my life in ’94 as a PC Gamer demo disc, and hasn’t left any of my systems since then. There’s a combination of the team’s own introspection — “is this hitting the mark the way we like it” — the answer was “no.” A lot of the team’s sentiments overlapped stuff that was happening in the forums. That being said, it was a mixed bag. There are still people today who say “that game you showed in 2010 – I liked that! Where did that game go?”
It wasn’t hitting where we wanted it to hit. The big thing for us as a team was “this isn’t hitting the XCOM hard enough. This could be branded anything.” Our goal — what was handed us as our charter was “find a new expression of XCOM.”