XCOM is Alive and Looks Better than I'd Hoped

Saturday, June 12, 2010
Before you go shooting your mouth off about what a traitor I am, just follow the link and watch the trailer.

Well? Do you feel a little better? I certainly do. I still have a few tiny little reservations but given what I've seen and read from the developers of the new XCOM; sign me up.

I've read what the Great Crecente has to say about the trailer and for once I have to disagree. I am a little disappointed to see XCOM going the FPS route, though I think believing XCOM would be brought back largely unchanged is simply naive.

The Video Game industry today is far different from the one of 1994. This XCOM is honestly the best we could hope for, I just wish more people saw it that way.

I was skeptical, but after reviewing the available media I can say with certainty that 2K has kept the core of the experience intact. So what if the game has changed perspective? You still have research, you still choose your team, and you still get a base. The strategic basis of the game is still there. That's what is important here, not some preposterous ideal borne out of nostalgia.

It's time to stop living in some fantasy land and get real with our expectations. The new XCOM looks and sounds great, nice job so far 2K. Thank you for treating this title with respect.

Homefront: Playing On Our Fears (For better or for worse)

Friday, June 11, 2010
Yesterday, Joystiq posted a preview of a new game entitled Homefront. A quick synopsis:

The year is 2027. What we now know as the United States has suffered economic collapse, while at the same time, North and South Korea have united to become the Greater Korean Republic. The GKR has already seized Japan and much of South-Eastern Asia, and now they've set their sights across the Pacific.

The game focuses on a small troop of civilian resistance fighters. From the presentation Joystiq saw, it appeared that the game is not a struggle for victory; only survival in a war that has come home. The game is grounded by real-world brands and stores, and is apparently a more restrained, human look at the cost of war.

The trailer opens with footage of actual press conference featuring current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussing the recent sinking of the South Korean ship Chenoen. If you've been following the news lately, the situation has only escalated, and it's making the international community very nervous.

So, how do we, as gamers, respond to this? Is it gaming's place to create alternate futures--well, hopefully alternate--of current events? Watching the trailer for the game filled me with a keen sense of dread; as if I were looking into the future. Homefront is obviously playing on the current fears of the international community. North Korea is a dangerous, volatile nation led by a megalomaniac and an army of secret police--not a subject to be taken lightly. Homefront developer Kaos Studios stands to make a substantial profit on that fear. Is that moral? I don't know. What I do know is this: I wholly support the endeavor.

For a long time, artists have confronted and brought to the masses the different sides of current events. George Orwell's uneasiness about the future gave us the literary classic 1984. Scorsese took Joseph Conrad's journey into the Heart of Darkness, put it into the Vietnam War, and synthesized the film classic Apocalypse Now. (In fact, the screenwriter responsible for Apocalypse Now has also penned the script for the game.)

Some would argue that social commentary is the purpose of art and the impetus for most entertainment. And while I'll wait to play the game before calling it art, Homefront looks to do both. Am I only interested in the game because it plays on the current geopolitical climate? Probably. Is that a good enough reason? You're goddamn right it is. In fact, it might just be the best reason of all.

It's Like I can Touch you!

Sunday, June 6, 2010
Last month saw the announcement that Killzone 3 would be joining the slowly growing ranks of 3D capable games on the market. Sony has also stated that they are adding 3d capability to many of the PS3's titles. The latest return to 50's film gimmicks made it's way to console games (appropriately) when Avatar: The Video Game was released in 2009. Now more and more titles are announcing 3D capability in time with the hungry consumer hoof-beats.

We got a look at the Avatar game in 3d at last year's PAX. What we saw was not the breathtaking experience described by so many who saw the film in 3D. The use of 3D in game felt lackluster, more distracting than immersive. Above all else it gave me a headache the size of Pandora. Similar reports have come in from Kotaku regarding Killzone 3's 3d effects.

Is there really a need for 3d capable games out there? Surely there are those with the money and the home theater setup to handle such a task but 3d TV's aren't exactly in every home (certainly not mine).

The draw of 3d games is understandable. People who want the latest and greatest from their tech or those who really feel it enhances the experience are bound to get a great deal of fun out of it. We simply feel that there hasn't been any real significant use of it in any games we've seen so far, and until it can show us that it really can change the way we play the game, we're calling it a gimmick.

We would prefer that developers spend more time working on story details, voice acting (please, for the love of god), immersive new mechanics, or getting the most out of motion controls (for once) before we spend another minute on 3d.

Video games suffer from an overabundance of new technology. The medium doesn't have time to adapt to any one new technology before it's replaced or one-upped by the next big thing. Developers end up victims of "jack of all trades, master of none." The only companies that seem able to really focus on and perfect these things are indie developers, and that's often because they can operate with much less scrutiny- the only perk of anonymity- than the larger industry.

We can't speak for everyone, but we want better games, not prettier games. Talk to your developers, they aren't unreachable. Go to their contact pages, write e-mails, call them or even just post in their forums. Let them know that it's about depth of content, not depth perception.

XCOM Update

Friday, June 4, 2010
A while back, Games Radar had a 4 page preview up for XCOM. It seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the greater press (as well as the lesser). It was taken down not long after it was put up, for reasons unknown. From various forums and quoted blurbs, here's what we've been able to piece together. Enjoy.

XCOM is a first-person shooter, set in the 1950s. Deep breath. This is not a time to panic. This alien invasion is an occasion to celebrate. Consider what those original strategy games were about. An implacable alien menace threatened the world. You were in charge of an agency that investigated these otherworldly horrors, engaged them in direct combat when it could find them, and poured vast funds and research into developing and improving countermeasures.

That’s exactly what XCOM does. You step into the shiny shoes of FBI agent William Carter, who heads a secret taskforce that is Earth’s last and only line of defense against the scum of the universe. From its underground base, this newly-formed XCOM monitors reports of alien sightings and dispatches agents to snoop around, gather evidence and, if necessary, clean up.

This isn’t a linear shooter, either. Your base’s phonetappers and police-radio scanners present you with choices as to where to go next and what to do, picked from a large map of the US. Rumours of animal attacks and strange weather patterns in a certain state? Sounds like Blobs are on the rampage. Saddle up, Agent Carter. Grab the wheel of your hulking fedmobile, take two of your best men with you, and go see what’s going on.

[sic] the nature and intent of the aliens is the game’s biggest secret. “We want to create a genuine mystery, one that players are compelled to find out more about, to unravel themselves.” Again, XCOM nods to X-COM, where your researchers gradually unlocked the aliens’ origins, how to stop them and where they came from. Unlike X-COM, however, these aliens aren’t a mix of random species.

“One of the things that we wanted to move away from was the kitsch or the expected from these creatures,” says Pelling. “Creating a set of enemies loaded with preconceptions really undermines the game. Part of the impact of seeing our aliens is that they’re not bipedal things walking around, it’s something completely different. We want you to look at them, study and explore them.”

Also, there’s Elerium here somewhere. This incredibly rare alien element is crucial for the construction of new weapons, armour and gadgets, but seizing it involves enormous risk. Out in the back of one pretty suburban house you spy a block of it – a strange arrangement of cubes, hovering in mid air. Dark lines and shapes whip around it in a self-contained storm, meaning you can’t just grab the thing. More Blobs. You’ll need to take them down if you want this precious spacerock. Check health, check ammo, check grenades. Every shot counts.

Stanley Kubrick’s psychedelic nightmares are made flesh as an enormous monolith shudders out of the horizon, the accompanying mist and lightning blocking out the daylight. Before your eyes, this cubist deathmachine – is it a creature, a spacecraft, a building, all of the above? – transforms. First, into a ring of smaller, diamond-shaped artifacts, and then into two concentric rings, like a gaping metal maw. The rings suck. All the furniture of the house you’re in is dragged towards it, smashing through what few windows remain. Run. Your guns have no effect here. Run... ...Maybe those eggheads back in the lab will be able to build you something, so next time you can bring this faceless horror down to Earth. But not this time. Run.

This stay-or-go structure is a re-creation of the original X-COM’s missions. Yes, killing everything would mean success, but that wasn’t always possible. If half your team was dead and most of your ammo was spent, it was fruitless to hang around. Gather any alien tech and corpses you can, then get out of there. The difference here – and we think it’s an improvement – is that you’ll never end up in a situation where you know there’s one Snakeman hanging around somewhere, and you’re in for hours of peering behind every door, into every alley, over every rooftop to find him. The constant, gradual escalation means every mission will end on a high.

2K refuse to be drawn on any multiplayer details, but at least they’re not denying it won’t happen.

“We’re really good at making shooters” says Pelling. “We’ve got a lot of experience doing that, and I think that provides a unique opportunity to present XCOM in a much more immersive and intimate format. Putting it into the first-person shooter is going to blow it up a little bit.”

The revised setting is going to be a sticking point for many XCOM fans, but makes a surprising amount of sense – the ’50s were a time of political paranoia, which the B movies of the age reflected. It also means the world is attractively stylised rather than grimly, tediously realistic, and the homemade, early-007 gadgets look like a hoot.

“The choice of the ’50s was not about putting it into a specific time period –
we don’t have a set date for when the events of the game occurred,” says Pelling. “It’s more that we wanted to create a beautiful, idealised world for players to explore, and create this contrast between the horror of these beings and what is at stake. This is what life could or should be, whereas the infiltration of the aliens really destroys that.”

So, is this XCOM really our beloved X-COM? “We’re forging a new mythology, but what we’re retaining is the core elements that made X-COM X-COM,” says Pelling. “The strategy, the base, the research, agents, being in charge, and dealing with this problem as you see fit. You are the one that’s driving the investigation – those elements remain but we want to create a new world with a new set of enemies that’s genuinely compelling for players to learn more about."

So, that's what we've got. It would appear that a great deal of the experience remains intact. The research, the non-linear feel, strategy. Good on you, Take 2, this is encouraging news.

We'll be on the lookout for the remaining bits of the original preview as well as any new info on the title.

Special thanks to Evil Avatar user Emabulator for starting the thread we got a good deal of the text from, as well as Brian Damage from the 2kGames forums.

We want more Avatar Days!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Avatar Days is a short film that introduces us to a few average WOW players from the UK. It's a beautifully shot little film but it's far too short to really get a whole lot of substance. We were left feeling like there should be a whole lot more to this. Follow the players throughout their normal day, show us more.

There's a lot of depth in this 4 minute film. It'd be a shame to let it all go unexplored. In the words of Space Ghost, take us to 21.