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Putting the XCOM in XCOM
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Putting the XCOM in XCOM

August 13, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

In April, 2K announced that it intends to reboot its classic PC franchise, XCOM, as a first person shooter -- a departure from the series' strategic roots -- and with an evocative setting steeped in 1950s Americana.

The game being led by 2K Marin's Australia studio in Canberra -- the former Irrational Australia -- which most recently collaborated with 2K Marin in Novato, California on BioShock 2 and with Irrational Games on the original BioShock.

As creative director Jonathan Pelling explains, this reboot isn't a jettisoning of the strategy elements of the classic PC game -- a game that still has a passionate fan base all these years later. nstead, he explains, it's an attempt to evoke the same feelings and express the same level of depth, while changing the game fundamentally. To find out how the team hopes to undertake this ambitious design challenge, read on.

I've heard that 2K in Australia is the driving force behind XCOM, and then you're assisted by 2K's Marin location.

Jonathan Pelling: Yeah, that's right. The creative direction is coming out of Australia, so we have the art director there, we have myself there, we have the technical director there -- basically all the directors are in Australia.

But, we work extremely closely with Novato studio, and they have their own group of leads, and so on. You know, obviously all the talent from BioShock 2 is there, so it's very integral between the two studios.

How long have you guys been working with the XCOM license?

JP: We've had this project on the back burner for about five years now. So it's been a long time in the pre-production phase. And it's been in the background of -- while we've been working on BioShock 1 and 2 -- so now finally that BioShock 2's out the door, it's full steam ahead on XCOM.

How long have you been in actual production then?

JP: We've been in actual production for around a year now.

I would think with so much pre-production time, you must have gone through a lot of iteration and revision on the underlying design and the concept for the game, maybe even the setting. How do you end up with what you have now, the '50s shooter with strategic elements?

JP: I think the one thing that has stayed fairly strong through the entire process has been the drive to make this game a genuine XCOM game. Obviously there's a lot of love for the original games, and we wouldn't be doing this if we didn't feel we could do that justice.

Over the years, there have been a number of iterations, a number of ideas, but they've mostly been around the creative side of things. So it was just a process of elimination, and various other factors, which led to us ending up to where we are now.

But we feel this is the strongest and most compelling concept that we've got -- in terms of the 1950s, a very strong visual aesthetic. But ultimately, it's always been an XCOM game, and I think that's the right way to approach this.

Is it difficult at times to go online and see all the reactions like, "This isn't XCOM!"? How much do you take it into consideration? Does it weigh on you at all?

JP: Well, I mean... you know, it's never enjoyable to go and read negative comments on the internet. I think, given that we announced with fairly sparse information about what the game is all about, the reaction is understandable, I suppose.

It doesn't weigh on me that much, because I know what this game is, and it's just a matter of communicating that to people now. And I think once the fans start to realize that this is a game that adheres to the core XCOM tenets -- it may not be aesthetically the same, and of course it's not a turn based tactical game anymore, it's a first person shooter -- but it still maintains that essential vibe, that fear and tension of going up against an unknowable enemy and being in charge, and running an organization, and making all the big choices.

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