Aug 22

If XCOM done today

Interviews are fun. Well they can be. They’re also nerve-racking as hell. Being a designer and being interviewed by a designer about a design position is going to focus a lot on design. Questions come in one of several flavors: pipepine & process, past experiences, design discussion of current or classic game, and so on.

Browsing the new Xcom: Enemy Unknown material over the weekend I was reminded of a question I answered during an interview back in ’09 where we did the ‘Tell me your three favorite games… tell me how would you improve game X’ for Xcom.

At some point previously I’d actually done an ‘Improvements to UFO:Enemy Unknown’ archive of design ideas but as these things go, it had got turfed during one move or another around the planet.

Given the upcoming re-imagining of the game, here are some thoughts on doing an update on the original *post-release, that would have improved the experience. (*i.e. not a re-imagining)

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a design experiment to analyze a title and how to supplement without disrupting the original content. With each one I point out the design reasoning – and there’s your take away.



The original Xcom had small flares you could throw down that lit a small area. A relatively simple update would be a flare gun. Illuminate the whole battlefield, decreasing in brightness over 3-5 turns. This has the advantage of using some guy at the back to fire the flare while exposed forward units with remaining time units can snap-shot any revealed units. It has the disadvantage of also revealing all your troops too.

Here you are letting the player roll the dice but with more of a chance of reacting to unfavorable outcomes.


Air Combat balancing

I know this was drastically scaled back in the final release due to time so critique is unnecessary. The alternate suggestion I propose is to have something akin to a dog fight where chaos and skill seem to play a part. UFO:Aftermath did this somewhat via video.

Providing structure in a game is critical, but players enjoy a little unpredictability and luck-required situations.


The Power suit

Don’t make it look like a bag of potatoes.


Seriously, the personal armor looks heroic and iconic. Whereas the better power suit looks like a deflated spacesuit / oversized overalls and moreover it hides the head of your soldiers, which near obliterates the characterization and thus the player’s connection to them.

The obvious update here is to a)show the soldiers’ heads and b)something a little more form-fitting that looks as if it could take a plasma bolt to the chest without vaporizing.

At a pinch, swap the personal and the power armors.


Useless rookies

This has been also quoted by the Firaxis team, so I won’t expand greatly. The issue is that for a international operation that recruits the best of the best, being able to hit a barn door at 10m should be a requirement for the receptionist alone, troops should be able to do so much better!

It could be argued that this is part of the management aspect, but I think that just this one stat should be fixed as a minimum amount. The gameplay comes from managing your time units more than losing solider after soldier due to an unrealistic aspect.


Protected landing

Some method of being able to deploy your troops from the Skyranger without them being shot to plasma slag instantly. Whilst this may be true for how real troops enter battle, as a game, you’ve removed player agency from the failure and your applying punishment unfairly.

There are a number of solutions to this that require little implementation effort.

  1. Add murder holes to the side of the Skyranger
  2. Sky ranger mounted weaponry
  3. Protected gangplank
  4. All of the above  :D


In conclusion,

This short list of 5 were just off the top of my head after years since playing, and I could probably go on but let me sum up: When I play any game, and afterwards in reflection, I always look at the design decisions made and try to see a) how they came to that conclusion, b) what could or clearly would have worked better and why and c) what is required from a pipeline to get to that better conclusion (it’s little good having a better idea after it’s been implemented).



Not Enough Time Units!




Image used is copyright the respective owners. Quite who that is I’m not sure. Microprose? Firaxis now? Either way, if you want it removed then drop me a mail.

1 ping

  1. Designer Weekly Aug24 » Live. Play. Design

    [...] What if XCom was done today [...]

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