Game Influences (5/6): X-Com «
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This is part of a series of blog posts on the design process of my web game:

So I thought I’d solved everything and was moving along on my design. Players control 1 or 2 secret agents on an isometric map. Turns simply alternate rather than being based on how much you did last turn. Almost all weapons are ranged and powerful enough to kill in one or two shots. Hm. So why would you ever risk getting into someone’s line of fire, should I add fog of war so the player only knows what their agents can see? I guess I could add stances so characters could hide behind terrain, and maybe 3D to make positioning important…

Doubts crept in. Could a game this complex be playable? Wouldn’t the user interface be overwhelming? I took my notes and went to chat with a game designer.

Me:
So, I’m making an isometric turn-based tactical combat game. And I’m not sure it’ll work because most characters in most turn-based strategy games can take many hits but that doesn’t match my urban combat setting.
Ammon:
That sounds a little familiar.
Me:
I don’t know any games like it. So I’m thinking I should really reduce the distance characters can move and do these other things so they don’t just run straight at each other, but that’s getting complex.
Ammon:
This sounds like X-Com.
Me:
Never heard of it
Ammon:
X-Com is single-player, you have a squad of 8-14 units. Units gain XP but 1-2 shots kill so any unit that survives a few missions is awesome.
Me:
Any enemies were the same size and shape as your units? Did they outnumber you?
Ammon:
Yep.
Me:
And most weapons are ranged? That works?
Ammon:
Yep.
Me:
Huh. I guess I’ll check it out sometime. So I’m trying to decide what a turn looks like. Move and attack vs. move or attack, mostly.
Ammon:
X-Com has action points you spend for moving, turning, changing stance. Different fire modes (snapshot, aimed shot, burst fire) take different amounts.
Me:
What’s the gameplay effect of turning? Are attacks against side/rear better? Is there fog of war?
Ammon:
Yep, fog of war is the primary effect. A shot from behind could be a kill and you’d never even know where it came from.
Me:
Hm. One thing I’m pondering is a ‘guard’ action. So an agent could do nothing on their turn but look out a door and nail someone who crosses by the doorway in one turn.
Ammon:
Yeah, X-Com has that.
Me:
Oh. Do any of these model audio? Like you could hear someone sneaking up on you? [Which means some kind of replay of enemy turns before you take yours.]
Ammon:
Yep, you can hear running footsteps, gunfire. Rockets are effective but attract a lot of attention.
Me:
And all that works? It’s not overwhelming?
Ammon:
The only problem was scaling the power curve. A major element was new technologies, which meant building a base, capturing alien equipment during battle, and spending money to research it. Which would attract the aliens’ attention, they’d come attack your base.
Me:
Huh. That was a big part of my game, building bunks to be able to have more characters but also making yourself a more tempting target for other players.
Ammon:
Yeah, base layout mattered a lot. When you defend against attacks, it’s on whatever floorplan you created. So if your barracks are too far from the entrance, aliens could trash your equipment and kill your scientists before you got there.
Me:
OK, stop talking about X-Com. I can already tell I need to play it because it includes every element I thought was original and spiffy and maybe even too complex.

X-Com

The X-Com series of games was released in the 1990s. You can find the first couple games (#2, Terror From The Deep, is probably the overall best) on abandonware sites and run them under dosbox or easily pick up the port to modern PCs on Steam.

There’s not a lot of description that early conversation left out. When I played X-Com a few days later, I was awed that someone 15 years ago had created almost exactly the game I was inventing.

I pondered where to go from here. I had the confirmation that I could make as complex a game as I’d considered. But if the game has Been Done, can I learn from it instead of (inadvertently) cloning it?

I’ve always liked game designs with simple mechanics and few numbers. I don’t really like to count into double digits, let alone have 382 hitpoints and decide whether to buy an item that gives me a 6% boost. X-Com requires that players be meticulous about equipping units, sending enough ammo that they won’t run out but won’t overburden and slow them down. It seemed like too much deckbuilding, moving the interesting decisions out of the main gameplay and into the preparation. Battles were fairly repetitive once you learned the basic strategy of how to move under cover, search buildings, provide support fire, and balance your team.

I was still working on my design but wasn’t very sure of it until I thought about another game named Kongai.


Comments

  1. XCom is a true classic. No game like it has yet been built and any attempt at making a sequel failed. You’ve a list of classics in the Game Influences series…

  2. XCom definitely sets you up for a challenge in gaming. I enjoy the broadness your scoping your game influences from. I certainly cannot wait till I see this baby come to light in the near future.

    I would love to enjoy a fun 20-30 minute per day game. Been reading your past posts as well and look forward to hear more. You’ve been a great help as well! Hope to hear from ya soon, Harkins.

  3. x-com has been my all time favorite game, I always dreamt of making a sequel to it, that sums up the best ideas of the former sequels (battling land, underwater, within cities, on mars etc.) in one turn based multiplayer world in the feel of the first 2 sequels. just great if yours will show some influences.

  4. I remember enjoying (just the trial?) of XCom back when I was 14ish. I enjoyed it. I have to say, I’m looking forward to your new game!

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