The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – Creative Director Interview
GF: For me to paraphrase, it sounds like the supplement is first of all in the story. You still have tactics, but it’s not top-down…
MG: You’re a great commander — I don’t want to make it sound like I’m diminishing XCOM — but you’re a great couch quarterback. Now, get out there where you have to call the audibles. And get tactical. That’s the vibe that we’re going for.
GF: Is the couch quarterback analogy foundational to this whole idea? That XCOM could be improved by taking the license and making it into an action game?
MG: Being a fan of XCOM, it’s interesting to look at different angles. Even when it was Spectrum Holobyte and Microprose, before it was bought by Hasbro, they tried different expressions. They tried Interceptor, which is like a space combat version. They tried Enforcer. Apocalypse changed the formula pretty substantially.
I think for me it was an XCOM thing, and it was a genre thing. Like Bio 2, we’re interested in making games that do something different, or unique, in the genre. We were interested in changing the perspective on XCOM, but also “is there a way to do a more tactical third-person game?”
There’s cover like in Gears, there’s combat like in Mass Effect. There’s crazy shit, like the classic Rainbow Six vibe. Is there a way to do something that’s a little brainier? Can we do a third-person game that’s not just like “and now we’re fighting in a desert in the Middle East again.” We call that “fatigue fatigue.”
We’ve combined the “we’re curious about a thing” with “we’re excited about a thing” and that’s how we approached this.
GF: What is it about XCOM that makes people want to tweak it like that?
MG: The big one is that aliens are cool, and the concept that humans are going to pull together, we’re going to be on the ropes, we’re going to learn the enemy’s stuff, we’re going to use it against them and we’re going to win – that’s cool.
There’s the veneer of the X-Files aspect — we’re going to use brains and bullets — that’s a key distinction. The mystique of XCOM is also that XCOM isn’t your one-night-stand game; it makes you court it. You work to get good at it, you work to understand it. And because of that, you respect it.
GF: Would you say that that’s been a priority for you guys? There are all these third-person shooters out there — most of them you don’t have to court.
MG: Absolutely that was a goal! We believe that XCOM is a game that demands and requires skillful play always. You can never just sort of slough through – “oh I’m just going to run everybody out of the ship real quick.” You fail! You always have to be on your A-game, all the time. For us to be able to bring those tenets into the third-person space – that was a major goal.
People are like “you’re going to lose some people” and we’re like “it’s OK, we’ve already lost some people.” You can’t be everything to everyone. The more we upped the ante on requiring skill, and the more we upped the ante on building mechanics that both punished and rewarded, the more it came together, and we said “this is a really good experience.”