The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – Creative Director Interview
GF: The dead family trope is well-trodden, no?
MG: Well, we’re not doing Last of Us, with the daughter dying in your arms. The “family has died” thing is well-trodden, but for us — Carter is late-30s, early-40s. All these characters are old, for video games, because we wanted to make it believable. A lot of us are dads. There’s the joke about crunch — “Carter wasn’t there for his family, and we aren’t either, because we’re making games!” We wanted to – what is going to make a dude that is super-confident — what is going to &*%$ him up, piss him off? Is it gambling? Where does the regret come in? Part of the game deals with free will, control, and prioritization. What is a situation in which our lead character has personally reflected on these topics, before they’re reintroduced in the story. It had to be an accident, it had to be a situation in which he picked the wrong priority, for himself, and came to regret that.
GF: There are obviously supporting characters you come to know, and then there are the squad-mates — that’s sort of the classic XCOM, procedurally generated connection at work: there these guys, and you come to value them. Will you be able to talk to your squad-mates?
MG: They chat — Carter will make quips, and they’ll respond. But we’ve tried intentionally to keep them away from being characters, so we can keep them being mortal.
GF: Are you hoping that the game will be scary?
MG: I’m not as interested in it being scary. I think a lot of the scariness and fear from the classic XCOM comes from the turn-based nature and the camera cuts -– let me show you something that you have not seen. That builds a tension related to — “oh fuck, there’s something over there!” That’s related to the horror movie — I’m going to show that the killer’s downstairs, while you watch people in the party upstairs. Our horror comes in with the moral threat — the impact on characters of choices and consequences. It’s a different type. We’re not trying to make a horrific game, per se.
GF: I have to put on my devil’s advocate hat, or my everyman skeptic hat. How would you respond to someone like that who says “there’s already a new XCOM game — Firaxis took this classic game and just updated in all these great ways. Why do I need to pay $60 for another one?”
MG: Cool. Don’t! If you feel totally satisfied with your XCOM experience, you don’t want to try different expressions, you’re totally like, “this is all I ever need in my life” — right on. I get that. It’s cool. There’re guys like that – there are also guys who are like “I don’t play turn-based games because they’re boring as all hell.
Those guys are wrong, because turn-based games are amazing. I think the skeptical XCOM fan, that is thinking in some way that we’re trying to usurp or replace a thing — that is not our goal, our goal is to enhance and supplement.
That’s why I like the spin-off series – you can have Dr. Who, you can have Torchwood. Torchwood isn’t going to make Dr. Who go away. It’s giving you more Dr. Who in a different slant. And that’s kind of our goal. We want to give you that action slant, we want to give you that real-time aspect of it. We want to give you the narrative, give you the story. If those things aren’t interesting to you, and you’re an XCOM fan, then by all means, please, make yourself happy.