XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy Unknown Interview - Firaxis on Being All Things to All Men (and Aliens)
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Since XCOM: Enemy Unknown was announcemed back in January, it has quickly shot up our most anticipated list. A reinvention of an old classic, the turn-based strategy title looked hugely promising when we played it last week and we can't wait to see more.

In the meantime, however, we'll just have to console ourselves with this chat with associate producer Pete Murray from Firaxis. Within, we cover everything from the history of the series, to the studio's hopes for their bright new vision of the game. So even if you've never played an X-Com game before, don't worry, we've got your back.

For those that aren't familiar with the original game, explain the history and relevance of X-Com.

Pete Murray: XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a re-imagining of 1990's strategy game, called X-COM: UFO Defense in the United States and UFO: Enemy Unknown in Britain. It's a stalwart of the entire strategy genre. It's one of the earliest and best PC strategy games out there, a game that continues to come back on people's top 100 list. A lot of people love it.

It's a title that people like because a lot of things emerged out of the gameplay. That just kind of happened because of the way the game was layed out. It had soldiers that would go on missions that you could name after friends and family. You lost a lot of them. Some of them would survive and last a lot longer, so the game itself is fun to play but a lot of it happens up in your head in terms of the story and what happens to your team. It's part of the attraction and its always bought people back to the game.

Now we're remaking it for present day. We're doing it for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. The beauty is in the intervening years we've learned a lot about the user interface and designing for consoles. That allows us to take all the systems you need to play X-Com and map it to a gamepad in a sensible way. So that's where we begin with this game.

On top of that, for our lead designer, X-Com is the reason he became a computer scientist. This is his favourite game ever. He has wanted to make this since high school. He's always wanted to make this game.

So what were the design bullet points? What are you trying to do with this new version?

PM: If you ask X-Com fans what it takes to make an X-Com game then they'll give you a list of about 500 features that they insist on being in there. But some of them are key. It has to be a turn-based combat system and it has to have some pretty serious consequences. Those two kinda go together. If you give people a lot more time to think through the consequences of their decisions, you can have a lot more serious consequences in the game.

So, for example, you know that if you screw up you're still just going to die and not come back. So, if you take the time pressure away you give people time to make a plan to carry out and they can live with the results. You have these two parts of the game that interact with each other, the strategy game where you're researching tech and building stuff back at base and a tactical game where you're going out and fighting aliens.

Lots of game have taken the name, but have failed to live up to expectations. How do you intend to succeed where those games have failed?

PM: First and foremost, you have to make a game that's fun. If you make a game that's not fun, nobody is going to enjoy playing it – new guy or fan of the original. We want the game to be strong and stand on its own and I really think it does do that. I think our game is a lot truer to the original maybe, than some of the other games. In the sense that the strategy shares certain elements gameplay-wise.

In regards to the XCOM shooter, there's something very cool there in the sense that the 2K Marin team looked at the same game that we're looking at. They recognised that X-Com produces a certain set of feelings in them, a certain set of emotions, a sense of fear and overwhelming dread. So they're exploring what how that could translate into a shooter. I think it's a very cool idea and I'm very excited to see what they can do with it.

Beyond your own experiences, are there any other console titles that you look to for inspiration?

PM: There are a few elements in our game that are similar to elements in other games, like Valkyria Chronicles for example. I think it's because we arrived at similar solutions, because we had the same set of problems in some cases. And there are some gameplay mechanics that just work really well.

I don't think that it's a case of us borrowing anything from Valkyria Chronicles, we can't say that we lifted anything from that game because we didn't. But we certainly arrived at some similar problems and arrived at the same solutions because they're the best solutions. It's convergent evolution.

What Sid Meier's involvement? This is the first game Firaxis has made that doesn't carry his name.

PM: He's seen the game, he's given his feedback and Jake Solomon who is the lead designer of XCOM has gone to Sid with problems and said "Sid, what do I do?" Sid is a great, great resource. He's a great guy who has a treasure trove of experience that he can bring to bear on the project. It's been fantastic.

So he takes an advisory role?

PM:I guess that's fair. Y'know Sid's a great guy, it would be silly not to use him in some way or another. Oh and he's in the E3 demo! Jake came to him and said, "Sid, I'm going to put you in the demo" and Sid was up for it. He'll make a cameo appearance as one of the characters in the game. Jake and Sid get on really, really well.

The last time we spoke to Firaxis about XCOM, you guys swerved a question about the relationship between this game and the FPS. You told us to ask you next time. So, how do the games overlap?

PM: So while the two games exist in separate universes, there are some mysterious crossovers between the two. Mysterious, unexplained elements that are mysterious and unexplained.

So they're going to remain unexplained?

PM: Well, you know, part of that is about some fun things to do in the game so they're not spoiled for people. And somebody could play our game and then run into something in the 2K Marin game and go "Oh my god, what does it mean?" And the answer is it is mysterious and unexplained.

How hard is it to get publisher support for a turn-based strategy title on this scale?

PM: You know, full credit to 2K. We went to them with this game and explained about the tactical combat and the base and the research and the alien technology. So they asked us what game it was like and we said, "well, it's not like anything!" And they embraced that, they really encouraged us to go out there and make this game.

2K are a very brave company from a creative standpoint. They're willing to take chances on games like this. And by the same token, greenlighting a shooter based on the emotions of a strategy game set in the 50s? That's a risky, gutsy move and I think 2K is a great company for that. We've got nothing but love for them and from them.

We've also got a lot of resources for the game. We've been working on it for about four years now, about 60 guys that rolled straight off Civ Rev and started on this. Thanks to 2K's support, plus the amount of time and love we've put into the game, we're confident that XCOM: Enemy Unknown will be a really, really great.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is out on October 9th in North America and October 12th in Europe. Read our hands-on preview here.


User Comments

Forum Posts: 632
Comment #1 by Samigi
Saturday, May 26, 2012 @ 10:39:30 AM
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Not sure if I like the look of this game.

Forum Posts: 32
Comment #2 by Fried Waffles
Saturday, May 26, 2012 @ 10:48:15 AM
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I'm definitely buying this game. It looks pretty cool.

Forum Posts: 0
Comment #3 by ThisBlueSquid
Saturday, May 26, 2012 @ 12:20:11 PM
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They had me sold at Firaxis and turn based strategy

Forum Posts: 304
Comment #4 by AgentOrange330
Saturday, May 26, 2012 @ 12:25:51 PM
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Awesome. Everytime I see or read something new about this I just get more and more excited. To know that Sid Meier is giving a little support to it just makes me that much more confident that this game will turn out well...

Forum Posts: 152
Comment #6 by MightyPeter
Saturday, May 26, 2012 @ 02:47:45 PM
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As long as it gets a full retail release, they can take their time imho...
Just hope they don't go XBLA on it, and cut out stuff for any reasons :(

Has it been confirmed as a full game? (or GoD at least)

I'll(probably) buy it anyway you serve it, so I'll just stop whining now...

Forum Posts: 1
Comment #7 by Symf0n1k Kl4w
Saturday, May 26, 2012 @ 03:17:22 PM
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Honestly, I love what Firaxis is doing with XCOM; this is my second most-wanted game of Fall '12, just below Halo 4, and if it's anything like the original, I'll probably end up putting a lot more hours into this than any game since Skyrim.

re: MightyPeter, there's already official-looking box art on Amazon, so I'd say this is a full release

Forum Posts: 1596
Comment #8 by HalfEVILmonkey
Saturday, May 26, 2012 @ 03:28:58 PM
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Looks...hmmm...terrible? Not sure what the right word is. The opposite of "exciting" or "worth buying".

Forum Posts: 20705
Comment #9 by Barad
Saturday, May 26, 2012 @ 03:44:09 PM
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It does look pretty cool, not sure ill get it on release yet though.

Forum Posts: 2117
Comment #10 by BluWolve
Saturday, May 26, 2012 @ 05:06:02 PM
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Excellent interview. Lucky bastards getting to play it. This is my most anticipated game this year, i truly am very excited to play it. Keep the news updates coming.

Forum Posts: 364
Comment #11 by banej
Sunday, May 27, 2012 @ 10:46:38 AM
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Looks great. Most likely a first day purchase for me.

Forum Posts: 2
Comment #12 by cyrus1269
Sunday, May 27, 2012 @ 04:18:14 PM
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I'm already saving my MS points for this. I can't wait.

Forum Posts: 90
Comment #13 by packers4life12
Sunday, May 27, 2012 @ 06:03:24 PM
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@ 1,5,8 I totally agree!! In my opinion there throwing a great looking FPS game on the back burner so they can just please the fan boys. I swear if 2k cancels the XCOM FPS I'll never buy another one of there games.

Forum Posts: 130
Comment #14 by Zombiechild
Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 04:29:18 AM
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@13 2k havent cancelled the FPS theyve delayed it until 2013-2014 but hopefully they will because the FPS fan boys who enjoy fapping every year over there copy pasta FPS's are wrecking all innovation in the game industry with there hate for anything thats outside the FPS box.

And whats wrong with a company making a Game for the Fans?.. people buy the same COD game every year the Same MW game.. every year..the Same football game every year.. So before you throw the "fanboys" craop around you are 1 to..

Forum Posts: 90
Comment #15 by packers4life12
Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 04:59:12 AM
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@14 Hold on before u get it twisted i am NO fan of COD or Battlefield. Im a fan of creativity like Shadows of the Damned, El Shaddai, Alice: Madness Returns, Catherine etc. I just dont like it when a company teases me with a game i like to only delay it 3 to 4 years later because the ppl that played the RTS XCOM game from the 90's had to cry it wasnt an RTS game anymore, and if u honestly think a game that looked damn near complete when it was shown at E3 2010 getting a delay of 2013 or 2014 doesnt smell like "cancelled" then u havent been around the gaming industry very long.

Forum Posts: 130
Comment #16 by Zombiechild
Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 05:42:27 AM
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@15 Games have been pushed back further and still hit shelves so being pushed back these days doesnt mean alot until somethings been confirmed either way if youve been around long enough you would know this.

the one that us 90's Fans played and "cried" that the FPS wasnt a RTS went into Dev as soon as they had finished Civ: Rev it was just unannounced "officialy" the FPS one has been in Dev for less time overall 2years to the Fraxis 4 and its release window clashed with Bigger FPS titles yes it might get cancelled but as you should know being around for soo long that games have been pushed back for bigger amounts of time still come out and still done well and no the FPS game didnt look complete at that stage they even said it wasnt also with the FPS they were putting in "time units" and tactical overhead's so you could order your squad around.. so.. the FPS wanted to be a RTS FPS hybrid.

Forum Posts: 18
Comment #17 by Spiderpope
Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 06:04:30 AM
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@13 Please explain how a game developed by an entirely different studio, with entirely separate funding, resources and staff is responsible for the delays occurring at 2k Marin with XCOM?
Now if 2k Marin/Firaxis were making both games, you'd maybe have a point. As it is your just coming across as whiney.

Forum Posts: 9
Comment #18 by ToxicStabbyMan
Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 07:53:21 AM
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@12 it's a retail game dude not XBLA

Forum Posts: 90
Comment #19 by packers4life12
Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 08:50:36 AM
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@16 & 17 look plan and simple i wanted to play the FPS XCOM since i first seen it. Im not a huge fan of RTS games and it seems the window for the FPS XCOM is closing. Im a 26 year old grown man and are not gonna keep arguing. I was simple voicing my opinion to 2K that i will never buy another one of there games if they drop the ball on that version of XCOM.

Forum Posts: 302
Comment #20 by deadpool316
Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 09:17:42 AM
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This was addicted to back in the day

Forum Posts: 682
Comment #21 by Tieg
Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 10:41:17 AM
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If I could buy stock in this game I would. Awesome...can't wait.

Forum Posts: 205
Comment #22 by Fried Cola
Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 11:31:26 AM
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@#5 why so many down votes? Doesn't anyone know why you're fighting off the alien menace? Aliens are abducting people just to probe their anuses! The aliens are so obsessed with ass, they make homosexuals look straight! DONT LET THEM VIOLATE YOUR BUTTHOLE. NO MEANS NO, ALIENS

Forum Posts: 205
Comment #23 by Fried Cola
Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 12:01:34 PM
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"I just dont like it when a company teases me with a game i like to only delay it 3 to 4 years later because the ppl that played the RTS XCOM game from the 90's had to cry it wasnt an RTS game anymore"

1) the original xcom wasn't an RTS. It was turn based, not real time.
2) you're extremely ignorant if you honestly believe the reason people have been complaining about the FPS is because its not an RTS. The original game had you using an army to fight off actual aliens trying to take over the earth, the upcoming FPS kept teasing everyone with LA Noire agents shooting shotguns at weaponized modern art.
3) if what people who actually played the demo said is true, the XCOM FPS isn't that good
4) it was a really dumb idea for 2K marin or whoever to call that FPS XCOM in the first place.

Forum Posts: 304
Comment #24 by AgentOrange330
Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 12:14:10 PM
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@ 15 - What about all the people who cried that Syndicate wasn't the same as the original? And, if you like creativity in games how many have you played lately that are like Xcom? To my knowledge there aren't any out on the consoles now.

Forum Posts: 304
Comment #25 by AgentOrange330
Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 12:20:59 PM
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@ 23 - You're spot on there. Being a huge fan of the original has made me crazy excited for this. BUT, the one thing I blame the video game media and even 2K for is the way their explaining this game to people who are unfamiliar with the original. They keep calling it a RTS when in fact its turn based. This is NOTHING like Halo Wars or Command and Conquer. Second, they keep making it out like this game is completely new on consoles. Thats wrong as the original was on the PS1 and ran extremely well on it. Third, calling the FPS Xcom was a mistake as well because its really only confused the two titles to people who have no idea which one is which. Also, I think the reason for the delay in the FPS is to drum up interest AFTER Enemy Unknown comes out because interest in the FPS was luke warm at first. For those of you who HAVE NEVER played the original do yourself a favor and keep an eye on this because I'm telling you there isn't much out there now to compare this to. Hopefully we'll get a demo before release...

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Game Info
Firaxis Games
2K Games


US October 09, 2012
Europe October 12, 2012

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