Candy Crush Saga meets X-Com meets Game of Thrones? It’s an impressive mix of genres and ideas, and it forms the basis for a new title called Pocket Titans. A turn based RPG puzzle adventure game, Pocket Titans certainly sounds pretty exciting. Its origins are quite something too, having been conceived by veteran developers, John Payne & Ian Pestridge. Between them, they’ve worked on a number of console releases, including Herdy Gerdy, In Cold Blood, SEGA Rally, Reservoir Dogs, and Dead to Rights: Retribution.
For the past 18 months, the pair have been working on Pocket Titans in their spare time, all in the name of flexing their creative muscles. With the game set for release soon, we took the time to find out more.
148apps: Where did the inspiration for Pocket Titans come from? John Payne (JP): There were a few different strands of inspiration which led to Pocket Titans. I’ve always been a fan of RPG fighting mechanics like the semi-turn-based Final Fantasy battles, or the group dynamics of big World of Warcraft boss fights. My original idea was to do a game which was a series of these massive fight moments without the RPG story and running around in between. Then I got in to Zoo Keeper on my iPhone (entirely my wife’s fault), and I mean really in to it, in a way I’d not really experienced with match 3 games before. The game play felt really tactile, and moving through levels with just a little bit of story felt right. I’d always been a fan of the old X-COM games (not knowing at the time that there was a brilliant new one coming out that year!) and games like Advance Wars, and those three strands came together to form the idea for Pocket Titans. It’s the class based RPG battles of World of Warcraft, the tactile movement and easy pick-up play of a match 3 and the tactical positioning of X-COM.
As John says the game condenses many of the elements associated with RPGs and has been developed to be very accessible. I took recognisable fantasy motifs and caricatured them, resulting in a look that ‘feels’ familiar and yet ‘looks’ unique and full of spirit.
148apps: How difficult has it been to find the spare time to create Pocket Titans? IP: The short answer is not very difficult at all. We believe that if you had fun making a game it shows through. The players can sense that freedom and enjoyment. So we promised ourselves that we would focus on having fun and avoiding stress.
JP: The great thing about a home project is you can park it for as long as you need to when life gets in the way. During development there were weeks when I didn’t really do anything on the game, and weeks where I’d do an hour or two most nights, it fitted in around everything else. I set myself a rule very early on that I’d never let it distract me from my day job and in the end the whole process was fun and relaxing. The game’s been 99% finished for quite a while so its certainly the most relaxed end to a project I’ve ever had!
IP: We both have similar family situations and day jobs. I’ve generally been using the couple of hours I’d usually spend watching TV or a movie after the kids have gone to bed to jump on the PC and create some artwork. Ultimately, we enjoy making games, so this has been a great experience.
148apps: What challenges have you faced during the production? JP: Early on in development it became clear I wasn’t going to be able to do it by myself, especially when I realised quite how bad my programmer-art was. At that point I almost gave up on the project and probably would have if I hadn’t shown it to Ian.
IP: I loved the game from the moment I saw John’s early prototype. The greatest challenge was translating the aesthetics of the world we both imagined onto the moving tile mechanic, it’s that challenge that first attracted me to John’s concept and has kept it so interesting.
148apps: How different is it working on a personal project rather than as part of a big studio? JP: I’ve been lucky enough to work with lots of talented and creative people in my day job and I love every minute of it. That said, creating Pocket Titans has given us a chance to do something that’s just ours, without any other stakeholders or any outside direction. It was great fun to make but also a little bit terrifying now people are playing it other than our friends!
148apps: Will there be any micro-transactions within the game? JP: The best way to play the game is to work through story mode looting weapons and armour from the Orcs and Skeletons you defeat. But we’ve also got multi-player battles in there and if people want to tool up to level things out with their friends we’re not going to stop them. You can use gold you collect during quests to grab any items you’re missing and if you really want to make things easy you can buy a bit of gold, but we hope people play through the whole story as there’s some amazing battles at the end that you don’t want to miss!
Thanks to John and Ian for taking the time to answer our questions.
Pocket Titans is set for release later this month. We’ll be sure to track its development. In the mean time, why not check out the beta trailer below? It’s looking pretty sweet.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown has been out on iOS for less than a week, but that didn’t stop it from making a bit of a splash on the App Store. So far it’s taken the number 3 spot for paid iPad apps and number 4 for top-grossing iPad apps, as well as being named Editor’s Choice by Apple on the App Store for the week. It’s a designation that we here at 148Apps wholeheartedly agree with.
During these past few days, the Council has been keeping tabs on all of XCOM’s operations. And in that time they’ve recorded the loss of 143,900 soldiers. Almost 150 thousand lives lost so far, and that’s not counting civilian casualties. However, they’ve also discovered that there have been 1,775,322 x-rays taken down in the process. That roughly averages out to one operative lost for every twelve aliens. While it’s unfortunate that so many have had to sacrifice themselves for the sake of humanity there’s some consolation in knowing that we’re still coming out ahead. There’s definitely a light at the end of the tunnel, but we could all stand to do a little better.
It’s true that only time will tell who will come out on top, but my money is on us. It kind of has to be. But we must all remember not to get too carried away, either. The battle for mankind’s survival is important but there can also be consequences to spending too much time worrying about Sectoids and Mutons, and not enough about work and stuff. It’s all being documented in a new video series – “XCOM: Enemy Unknown Consequences,” the first of which can be seen below.
Just remember, we can and will win this war, but only if all of our operatives play it safe.
The X-Com series, particularly the earlier games, are notoriously unforgiving. Although while XCOM: Enemy Unknown has been modernized, and is therefore more player friendly, it’s no slouch either. In fact, even on the Normal difficulty there’s a good chance you’re going to get creamed if you try to breeze through it. But all is not lost. If you find that you’re losing soldiers at an alarming rate or keep getting the project disbanded because a bunch of countries freak out and leave, we’ve got a few tips you might want to consider.
Facilities are essential. Your manufacturing and research abilities, as well as your satellites, all require the proper facilities to operate. Completing a terror mission to earn five engineers could be a waste if you don’t have enough workshop space to use them. And that could lead to falling perilously behind in the early game arms race.
Research, research, research. Don’t neglect your scientists! The technologies they can uncover after studying alien corpses and weaponry are essential to giving your soldiers a fighting chance. By the same token, don’t be afraid to take aliens alive. Assuming you can do so with relative safety. It allows you to recover their weapons intact, which can then be equipped on your soldiers or sold for a tidy profit.
Don’t ignore the Council. You might prefer to spend your money and resources on better armor and weapons, but if you don’t get a few satellites in orbit and ignore the Council’s requests you stand to lose immense amounts of funding. Plus you can flat out lose if too many countries abandon the project.
Check your stores often. Sometimes you’ll acquire items you don’t need for research or manufacturing, and these can be sold off in bulk for a decent price. The same goes for alien tech and specimens you’ve fully researched. So long as it isn’t Ellerium or alien alloys there’s a good chance you won’t need it for the long haul.
Build smart. Most facilities belong to one of a few different categories, such as energy production or satellite use. Whenever two facilities belonging to the same category are next to each other either horizontally or vertically (i.e. uplink next to an uplink, etc) they both get a bonus. This is a very good thing.
Pay attention to your upgrades. You won’t necessarily have the chance to develop all of them, but many of the projects you can produce at the Forge (once it’s available) can make a huge difference.
Consider holding off on major tasks. Despite all the open-endedness Enemy Unknown’s story does progress linearly. Every so often an urgent mission or task will appear, and once it’s completed the next phase of the story begins. While the alien forces will get more and more difficult to deal with over time, regardless of where you are in the story, there are benefits to keeping the plot in check. Namely it gives you the opportunity to research better equipment and gather more resources before the endgame.
Pay close attention to soldiers’ skills. Plan accordingly. Try to select skills that compliment each other, such as the heavy’s Holo-Targeting (accuracy bonus to all squad members when firing on an enemy) and the sniper’s Squad Sight (can target any enemy that other soldiers see, no matter the distance, so long as there’s a clear path to the target).
Consider having two or more of each elite class. It can take some effort but will be worth it. It enables you to create various soldiers with skills that are ideal for a variety of situations; such as a sniper that specializes in large, outdoor environments or an assault soldier ideal for cramped locations.
Upgrade the barracks. Don’t forget about the Officer Training School. Many of the upgrades you can acquire can be a huge help throughout the game; especially the ones that increase the squad size. Check in every so often as more options become available as your soldiers gain higher ranks.
Don’t ignore the support class. Having a medic on the team can mean the difference between a favorite soldier spending a few days in the infirmary or getting their own epitaph. Plus their smoke grenades can really help out in a pinch.
Sidearms can be your best friend. Pistols may not seem all that great at first, but they can mean the difference between life and death; especially plasma pistols. Make sure to give your most powerful handguns to your snipers as they can’t move and fire their rifle in the same turn unless they learn a specific perk. Otherwise, if you intend to move them at all, make sure they have rockin’ pistols. And make the effort to manufacture the pistol upgrades when you can, too. I’ve had my snipers take down enemies from quite a distance during their reaction shots using only a pistol on several occasions.
You wanna live? Get a S.H.I.V. The S.H.I.V. is a small robotic vehicle, not unlike a human-sized tank. They’re no replacement for a battle-hardened soldier but with enough research and development they can be quite devastating. Plus they’re the perfect expendable solution to filling an injured soldier’s spot on the squad during a mission.
Use the right armor. You might think it’s clever to put every single soldier in your squad into the most durable armor you can find, but it’s more likely to hinder them. For example, snipers shouldn’t be on the front lines, and therefore could benefit a lot more from armors that may not be super-tough but can help them reach the high ground easier.
Cars can, and will, explode. It seems obvious but I can’t stress the importance of keeping an eye out for burning vehicles enough. Cars and trucks do provide decent cover, but once they catch fire it’s only a matter of time until they blow. And you don’t want your soldiers near them when that happens. So take a moment to see if the vehicle you plan to move to, or are currently hiding behind, is a ticking time bomb before you make a move.
Don’t take unnecessary risks. It’s often better to miss out on alien tech than to lose a skilled soldier. Take it slow and don’t spread out too much. If a soldier encounters an alien squad and no one can reach them within a turn or two, they could be in serious trouble. Splitting up into groups of two or three is usually the best way to go. At least until your soldiers reach the higher ranks.
Head for the high ground. Everyone, soldiers and aliens alike, benefits from a higher elevation. The higher up you are, the better your accuracy and the worse your enemy’s is. It’s not worth taking unnecessary risks to get to the top of a building or anything like that, but if you have the chance to take a higher vantage point then do it.
Never, ever, ever, ever, blindly rush in to a room. It doesn’t matter if it’s a UFO, base, regular mission, or terror site. It’s a sure-fire way to get vaporized. Approach with caution instead. Get at least two soldiers into good positions, preferably with one next to a door or window, and go into Overwatch. Then carefully open the door or peek in on your next turn.
Approach all newly encountered alien species with extreme caution. At least until you know what they’re capable of, and especially if you’re new to X-Com. What looks like a pushover could quite possibly decimate your entire squad if given enough of an opportunity. Just assume every new life form you encounter is the most dangerous creature you’re ever going to face and you should be all right.
Take ‘em alive. It’s not always feasible, or worth the risk, but when you can you should try to capture an alien or two alive. Not only can their interrogation lead to new research opportunities, you’ll be able to recover their weapons intact which could save you a fortune in engineering costs.
Push forward at the beginning of your turn, not the end. When you move ahead into unknown territory you always run the risk of encountering a squad of aliens. Believe me, it’s much better to discover them after only moving one or two soldiers than all of them. It leaves the entire squad incredibly vulnerable, especially in the later levels.
Keep Chryssalids as far away as possible at all times. You’ll typically see these spider-like aliens during terror missions but they can (and will) appear elsewhere. KEEP YOUR DISTANCE. Trust me.
Surprise attacks are possible. While the aliens are definitely at an advantage most of the time, they aren’t omnipotent. Use this to lure them into a trap on occasion. If your soldiers can’t see them, they can’t see your soldiers, so it’s possible to set a few up in key locations and use one of your own as a decoy to draw them into range.
Don’t underestimate Sectoids. Sectoids are the most “normal” of Enemy Unknown’s, and possibly the most common. However, while they aren’t particularly durable they can use their telepathic abilities to strengthen their comrades. However, if you kill a Sectoid while its mind is merged with another alien both will die. Keep that in mind.
The Most Important Thing
Be prepared to lose. A lot. Newcomers, especially. XCom is a fair game, but it’s also fairly unforgiving. A few wrong decisions early on could create a ripple effect that totally undermines your progress later (see previous tips about selling gear and tending to the Council). Depending on the difficulty and options selected you could also lose a beloved soldier in a flash thanks to one silly mistake. Avoiding these situations is incredibly difficult, but learning from them doesn’t have to be.
If you’ve got your own tips and strategies you’d like to recommend feel free to chime in below. With the odds stacked so firmly against us, We’ll need whatever help we can get.
X-Com: UFO Defense has become virtually synonymous with “strategy” ever since it was first released in 1994. X-COM: Terror From the Deep (1995) was a neat idea for a sequel that took the fight for Earth’s survival into the oceans with entirely new aquatic aliens to battle, although it was hampered by a significant research bug that could make completing the game impossible. X-COM: Apocalypse (1997) expanded the formula even further by adding more complexity to the world as well as other human factions to worry about in addition to the always-present alien threat. After that came X-COM: Interceptor (1998) which deviated quite a bit from the series’ roots. This time the fighting was over a specific region of space, and much of the gameplay centered around space combat using Interceptors and coordinating wingmen during an attack. Finally, there was X-COM: Enforcer, which was an even bigger departure than Interceptor. Enforcer was more of a third-person arcade shooter set in the X-COM universe, with no real strategy or management elements to speak of aside from selecting which weapon to use in a level. But while the series has done fairly well for itself over the years, none have every quite managed to eclipse the original.
I could go on and on about why it’s so great and why I would go so far as to purchase the DOS version just so I could run it on my Mac in an emulator. I actually have, on occasion. However it’s not just me. A lot of people think very, very highly of this strategic battle for Earth’s survival against seemingly impossible odds. So many, in fact, that its influence can be found throughout almost 20 years worth of games across multiple platforms. Granted I’m only one guy and have human limitations, so I haven’t tracked down every single one, but I have compiled this collection of fifteen different titles that manage to evoke some of that X-Com magic.
The Beginning of the End: 1994
It all started in 1994, when X-Com: UFO Defense was first released across several home computer platforms including the Amiga and DOS, and was later ported to the original Playstation. At the time there really wasn’t anything quite like it. There was an almost masterful mix of base management (building facilities, researching new tech, hiring personnel, manufacturing better gear, etc) and tactical combat that, to this day, hasn’t been able to be reproduced in quite the same way.
Every single sortie was an intense game of cat and mouse as the precariously mortal humans (i.e. mice) tried to track down and eliminate their superior alien targets (i.e. cats). Simply stepping off of the Sky Ranger for the first time could result in a rookie – or even worse; a veteran – getting vaporized as the extraterrestrial threat had usually already spread itself throughout the environment. Crafting better weapons and armor back at the base certainly improved a soldier’s chances of living to fight another day but even on the easiest setting it was quite common for an entire squad to get wiped out in short order.
With enough tenacity and practice, however, players could eventually fight their way through the invasion forces and even take the battle to the aliens’ base of operations. It’s the kind of undertaking that could require days or even weeks worth of planning and strategies to complete, but it made X-Com all the more satisfying for it. Then, once the dust had settled and the threat had been quelled, it was time to do it all again.
The First Wave: 1997 – 1999
1997 saw the release of Incubation: Time is Running Out for the PC. There was a linear set of story missions to complete, and little emphasis on micromanagement aside from equipping squad members before each fight, but it managed to capture the turn-based intensity and gruesome alien combat quite well. 1999′s Abomination: The Nemesis Project, also on PC, followed suit with more combat and less management. About all the player could do when not in a firefight was select which areas of the world to try and defend from the alien/viral threat, then take their squad into real time combat.
Finally, Jagged Alliance 2 joined the fray that same year, and on the same platform, to round out the 90s library of strategy games. The combat sections were fairly reminiscent of the earlier strategy series but in many ways it played a little more like chess thanks to the need to take control of various areas. Unlike X-Com, the game took place solely on the island of Arulco rather than the entire world and instead of in-depth base management players would hire additional mercenaries, monitor enemy troop movements, and plan the hostile takeover of a town or mine or other useful area.
Turn (Based) of the Century: 2000 – 2005
Once the year 2000 rolled around, it was time for games like Shadow Watch to take the reins. This tactical espionage thriller put players in charge of an elite team of operatives, each with their own special abilities and personal loadouts, and tasked them with retrieving documents from corporate offices (guarded by nasty enemies, of course) and other Shadowrun-style stuff. No expanded tech trees or cannon fodder rookies, though; they had to get their team through it all using only their wits and careful use of each team members’ strengths. A year later in 2001 Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel spun-off from the main series as a means to scratch a very particular itch. This isometric strategy RPG may not have had an expansive and open-ended story like its siblings, but it did have lots and lots of turn-based combat.
The PC received even more strategy love in 2002 with Laser Squad: Nemesis, which was kind of like playing X-Com as a turn-based deathmatch with several playable races. A single player campaign was available but honestly, that’s not why most people played it. Then in 2002 we saw the release of one of the most well known “spiritual successors” to X-Com when UFO: Aftermath became available. Aside from the “we already lost and are now fighting to take back our planet” theme and real-time combat that could be paused at any time to issue orders, it made for a very close approximation. Although many would argue that the UFO series was vastly inferior regardless of having an additional eight years worth of technological advancements on its side.
2003 went on to give us S2: Silent Storm, also for the PC (lots of PC love from the strategy genre, yessir). It was a very similar experience to the previously mentioned Jagged Alliance 2, although it was more about completing a linear set of missions and the occasional random encounter than trying to dominate territory. Plus it was set during World War 2, which is probably the most “normal” environment of any game on this list. Rounding out this lot in 2005 was Rebelstar: Tactical Command for the Gameboy Advance; a game developed by many of the same people who worked on Laser Squad Nemesis, actually. Again, it was pretty much all turn-based combat segments very similar to classic X-Com missions, and again it involved a team of soldiers who gained experience and new skills as they progressed. However it was also possible for players to “save” a set number of a soldier’s action points to put them into “Overwatch” in order to cover areas and otherwise react to alien activity when it isn’t their turn. Sounds a bit familiar, hmm?
The Next Generation: 2007 – 2011
In 2007, the Xbox 360 received what was possibly its first X-Comlike when Operation Darkness was released. This bizarre strategy title involving World War 2, werewolves, and various other monsters wasn’t exactly a critical darling. Still, it did call to mind a little of that old school turn-based charm. Plus werewolves. I mean come on, werewolves, people. Fans of handheld devices and space marines had a bit more of a reason to celebrate that same year when Warhammer 40K: Squad Command came out for both the PSP and Nintendo DS. Much like earlier X-Comlikes it focused on the squad and a linear story, with turn-based combat and lots of nasty things to kill. 2007 also happens to be when UFO: Extraterrestrials (not to be confused with anything from the aforementioned UFO series) was released. This one was also very similar to the original X-Com, exept that it didn’t take place on Earth but rather a recently colonized world somewhere else in the universe. There’s still plenty of R&D and alien slaughter, though.
As we get closer to the present it’s hard not to mention games like 2008′s Valkyria Chronicles for the Playstation 3. Which is exactly why I’m mentioning it now. It was an obviously anime-inspired turn-based strategy game set on a fictitious continent during a fictitious war, but the hidden enemy movements and limited soldier actions felt quite familiar in a cozy sort of way. Last we have Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, which was released for the Nintendo 3DS in 2011 both as a launch title and as one of the only worthwhile games on the platform. Shadow Wars hybridized X-Com’s turn-based tactics and finite battlefield resources with the overhead grid approach from other games like Fire Emblem.
Full Circle: 2012 – Present
And now, eighteen years later, X-Com is back in the form of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis’ 2012 “remake” (of a sort) of the Microprose original. Taking one of the most universally celebrated PC strategy games and dressing it up for modern gamers, while simultaneously keeping as many of the nostalgic bits in place for long time fans, was an incredibly tall order that many people were skeptical of. In the end, though, the team at Firaxis did a stellar job with preserving the feeling and oppressive intensity of the original game while streamlining and updating the experience.
The modern release of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a seemingly impossible achievement that manages to introduce newcomers to one of the genre’s most beloved series as well as appease (most of) the old school fans. It’s a game that’s well worth owning and celebrating, and we’re on the verge of being able to experience the panic of hunting down a pack of Chryssalids whenever and wherever we want on our iOS devices. The future, even one under threat of a hostile alien invasion, is looking mighty bright.
Even with the iOS release of XCom: Enemy Unknown rapidly approaching, some may find the wait unbearable. Playing the original release on Mac, PC, 360, or PS3 is certainly an option but if you’re specifically looking to fill the gap on your iOS device (or simply want to play something similar on the go) then today’s your lucky day. We’ve got a list of seven different iOS titles that ought to scratch that itch until Firaxis makes it official. Keep in mind they don’t all offer the same exact X-Com experience, but they do all evoke a similar feel for various reasons.
Aliens versus Humans is definitely the list’s most faithful to the early X-Com series. Skyrangers and Interceptors are MIA but there’s still plenty of that good old back-and-forth between base management and turn-based firefights. New technologies such as advanced weapons and armors can be researched and produced and soldiers can acquire marginal improvements if they survive a number of missions, too. It’s the closest thing to playing UFO Defense on your iOS device that you’re likely going to find for a good long while.
Hunters 2 shares quite a few key similarities with early X-Com games, but it’s not a 1:1 likeness. Many key elements are here; such as hidden enemy movement, soldiers that level up and learn new skills individually, customizable loadouts, and needing to keep an eye on action points (i.e. Time Units). That said it’s also its own game with an emphasis on combat over management, daily missions to complete for extra credits in addition to the campaign, and a much smaller (but elite) team to control that prevent the stages from overstaying their welcome.
Tactical Soldier – Undead Rising is another close comparison to the older X-Com series. It’s zombies instead of aliens, and it’s all about the skirmishes with little in the form of resource management, but it’s definitely rocking that tactical vibe. Stylistically it’s very reminiscent of getting a squad of rookies killed before they even step off the Skyranger, and there’s a big focus on each soldier progressing individually with better stats and abilities.
Battle for Wesnoth might use orcs and elves instead of aliens and space marines, but it still manages to capture some of that classic X-Com magic. Mostly it’s because your soldiers can be leveled up individually and sport their own names, but it’s also just a very rewarding strategy game. One with a ridiculous amount of campaigns to play through and factions to control.
Frozen Synapse doesn’t require any base management. It doesn’t have named soldiers that can individually tweaked. There aren’t any aliens. And yet, most missions in this simultaneous turn-based strategy game feel quite a bit like X-Com. Your soldiers are just as susceptible to bullets are your enemies, and losing even one can have a huge impact on your strategy and chances for success. There’s also the added intensity of planning each move, right down to the little details like which direction a soldier will aim. That in itself isn’t so nerve-wracking but having to decide what to do without knowing what your opponent is planning (and vice-versa) can be just as harrowing as being down to your last rookie and knowing that final (you hope) Sectoid is close by.
Star Command is a bit similar to Frozen Synapse in that its strategy is more reactionary. Rather than trying to lure enemies to key positions you need to think fast and get your crew out of harms way while simultaneously trying to avoid getting your ship scrapped and trying to blast your opponent’s vessel. There’s nothing turn-based about it but the combat can be every bit as lethal and death is just as permanent. Of course it’s possible to reload an earlier game in order to save a downed crew member, but that sort of goes against the spirit of it all.
Rebuild might appear to be the least X-com-like game at first glance, but it’s actually just as valid as every other title on this list. Instead of capturing the feeling of a desperate struggle to keep your squad alive, it captures the feeling of a desperate struggle to plan ahead and manage resources well enough to prevent total annihilation. In essence it’s more like the Geoscape than the battlefield. Carefully taking control of various buildings, divvying out salvaged weapons and clothing, and assigning roles that best fit each survivor’s skillset are all essential to not ending up like every pocket of humanity always does in a George Romero movie.
For those of you who don’t know, the original X-Com: UFO Defense is one of the most beloved strategy games in existence. It was only fitting for it to receive a modern update of sorts, but XCOM: Enemy Unknown turned out to be a modern update that was treated with the utmost respect by Firaxis (Civilization IV, Civ. V). Now that same re-imagining of a genre cornerstone is coming to iOS. XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s lead designer, Jake Solomon, was kind enough to answer some of our questions regarding the upcoming mobile release.
148Apps: You and the rest of the Firaxis team obviously have a ton of reverence for X-Com and it shines through in Enemy Unknown. Has X-Com had any influence over other projects you’ve worked on? Jake Solomon (JS): Since the first time I played X-Com, it has been one of game designs that exemplifies to me a great game, and that means that it’s also been a big part of how I think about game design to some extent. Specific influences are probably harder to point out, but I still crack it out and play the original from time to time.
148Apps: What’s your fondest memory from the original X-Com? Mine is making it to the point where I’m invading alien bases without having lost a single soldier on the way. JS: Wow, that’s really hard to pick one memory. There are always a handful of moments from a game that you remember, and you take them together and you can tell these war stories about the game. For example, I remember this one game where I had this one rookie who was so useless and I was like: “Son, you’re going to Mars. I can make that happen for you.”
148Apps: How about the aliens? Any particular favorite or least favorite? I find I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Cryssalids. JS: The Chryssalid is iconic for sure. I guess the one I don’t miss is the Silicoid. I mean, it’s a rock, and it spits at you, and it leaves a giant trail showing where it went. It’s such a non-threat.
148Apps: Deciding what to cut, keep, and change when streamlining X-Com’s mechanics for Enemy Unknown must have been pretty tough. Was there anything you all were actually glad to see go? JS: I don’t think I was necessarily happy or sad about specific changes we made. We felt the mechanics changes were necessary because of the systems we wanted to include in the game, like soldier and alien abilities and the class system. We did want to make sure that all of the decisions you were making were meaningful ones that had real consequences within the game, and keeping that in mind was sort of a guidepost for the mechanics design.
148Apps: The iOS port of Enemy Unknown looks like it’s coming along quite well. Was an iOS version always planned or was it a result of the game’s PC and console reception? JS: There was a discussion about whether the iOS version was even feasible at first. Unreal 3 does scale very well, but we still had to go investigate the tech side. And what do you know? It worked really well. After that it was largely a matter of adjusting the interface and making some changes for storage size.
148Apps: Please tell me the option to customize soldiers’ names and appearances is still in there! JS: Yes, you can still fully customize your soldiers. That’s such a huge part of how people play XCOM that it wouldn’t have been the same if that wasn’t in there.
148Apps: Have there been any features for iOS devices that aren’t prevalent on consoles/PCs (camera, QR codes, augmented reality) that you’ve considered incorporating into this version of Enemy Unknown? Not necessarily as major elements but as little extras or something? JS: We wanted to make sure that the game that we released on console and PC played solidly on the iPad, so getting that experience solid was our highest priority. I’m sure there are cool things we could do with the camera and location tools, but that’s something to think about for the future.
148Apps: I could see Enemy Unknown‘s multiplayer working quite well on iOS, especially if it was asynchronous. Any chance of that happening or is the focus entirely on the campaign right now? JS:There will eventually be an update that includes multiplayer, and that’ll be a free update for people who own the game.
148Apps: Will the iOS version of Enemy Unknown include the “secret” characters and/or extra Council DLC missions? Or might the missions be available as add-on content? JS: We’ve been focusing on creating the best release on iOS as possible – we hope this release like the PC and console will drive a lot of interest and community feedback!
We here at 148Apps would like to extend our appreciation to Mr. Solomon and the entire Enemy Unknown team for answering our questions and for making a remarkably excellent strategy game. No specifics on a release date or pricing are available yet but it’s due out “this summer” and will have a “premium” price tag.
When I first reviewed Aliens Versus Humans I found it to be full of promise, but the lack of a Geoscape and base maintenance of any kind sapped some of my enjoyment. What’s already there is great stuff, but in the back of my mind – and most likely in the back of everyone else’s – it just wasn’t the complete experience. However, Leisurerules has been hard at work since the initial release and are preparing to hit the App Store with their 2.0 update early next month. Just in time for XCOM: Enemy Unknown if all goes to plan. I’ve had the fortune of being able to check it out early, and I can honestly say it’s not going to disappoint.
So why is Aliens Versus Humans 2.0 special enough to warrant such attention? Because it’s essentially a totally different game. The original AvH missions are being sectioned off as “Training Missions,” while the real meat of the game has been designated “Onslaught.” In Onslaught players can expect the kind of portable X-COM experience they’ve always wanted. The Geoscape, ‘pedia, recruitment, research, staffing, manufacturing, and base construction (with multiple bases) is all present and accounted for. It’s practically perfect X-COM in all its immaculate and frustrating glory, only now you can play it whenever and wherever you want. And I helped.
Jim Coughley (coding, artwork, sound, music, testing), contacted me after my review of AvH had gone live, we had a brief back-and-forth regarding our mutual love of the original series and thoughts about what AvH could use in terms of various improvements, then before I knew it I was asked to help out as an advisor for future versions. In other words I take a look at various builds and offer feedback. According to Jim, this was largely due to my love of the series as well as the way I “…didn’t hold back in [my] comments and criticisms and [my] feedback came with sound reasoning…” And now I take a moment to blush (seriously). The lack of a Geoscape was a major (and fairly obvious) issue but we’ve also discussed smaller things like interface tweaks and menu layouts. As someone who loves video games, and especially X-COM, this has been an awesome and surreal experience all-around.
I’m obviously proud (and possibly a little biased) about how Aliens Versus Humans is turning out, but that shouldn’t keep you X-COM fans from checking it out. It really is fantastic and once the 2.0 update goes live it should fill that strategic alien-fighting gap quite nicely. But if you’re still not sure there’s always the free version, limited to early missions only and no Onslaught mode, to try out which is slated for the same release window as 2.0 (early October).