by Kyzrati on , under
X@COM: A complete remake of the original X-COM, console-style.
What is "X-COM"?X-COM is a popular PC strategy game series from the 1990s, the first of which is widely considered one of the greatest games of all time. Check the Wikipedia article for an overview.
I still remember picking up a copy of X-COM: UFO Defense off the shelf at the local computer store, actually contemplating whether it would be worth my time. Back then I never read game reviews or talked much about PC games with others, so I had nothing to go on but the box--fortunately I decided to buy it, and eventually decided it was, in fact, worth quite a lot of my time...
What is "RL"?An abbreviation for "Rogue-like," a genre of games that takes its name from the first such game, and may have a narrow or broad definition depending on your interpretation. For an overview see this article.
What is X@COM?A cross between X-COM and RL (an XCOMRL). Though certainly not a "pure" roguelike, X-COM possesses several important RL qualities such as turn-based strategy, semi-random battlefields, high replay value, permadeath (of a sort), and more.
The initial goal of X@COM is to put together a more-or-less faithful recreation of the original, though rendered using simple ASCII graphics. This first stage will of course also implement any interface improvements necessary to streamline play (the original had its notable few faults which most remakes attempt to correct). The second stage will expand on game content where possible, not in a way that affects balance or gameplay, but more to expand X-COM's breadth (for example, a greater number of combat environments). An eventual third stage will add numerous optional settings and possibilities which give the game greater depth.
When will it be done?That depends on what you mean by "done." Vanilla X@COM should be mostly completed within a year or two of restarting development, but it's hard to set a specific time frame since the pace of development can vary depending on a lot of factors. Note that as of now development is on hiatus while I work on another project, Cogmind. I'll be returning to X@COM eventually, but I'm currently trying to build a sustainable business developing games that will be able to fund this larger project in the long-term. As for X@COM beyond 1.0, as with many large-scale indie RL projects X@COM is unlikely to ever be "done," I'll simply keep expanding and improving it.
The game has already been released as a playable alpha demo with multiple scenario and sandbox modes. (The first such release was as a part of ARRP 2011.) I will continue to update the demo as development progresses. See the version roadmap for future plans.
ASCII? Are you serious?Yes, and yes.
Letters are used to represent terrain objects, colored triangles represent units, and punctuation is reserved for items and special objects. The diversion from the RL norm is necessary as facing plays an important role in X-COM (RLs rarely use directional FOV), so units cannot be letters; and there is a greater variety of terrain objects, anyway, so they get the alphabet. Don't worry, '@' is still used to represent units on the side-view map!
X@COM also takes advantage of ASCII's small but readable size to show more data with a smaller screen area--in fact, maps are just as large as in the original X-COM, but don't even need to be scrolled!
Using ASCII leaves the focus on the gameplay--the presentation should be pleasing to the eye, but not of the overdone candy type. It's a tactical strategy game, thus the emphasis is on tactics and strategy. One AAA game I really enjoyed was Supreme Commander, and it's somewhat ironic that for all its graphical awesomeness, I spent 90% of my play time zoomed as far out as possible where all I could see were representative symbols... It is a strategy game, after all, and I was enjoying the strategy. In X@COM, imagine you're a commander at the console, while battlefield units and objects are being updated for you in real time as you oversee your soldiers.
(The game doesn't have to be pure ASCII, however; the character mapping system also accepts an unlimited number of tiny images, so aspiring modders could change the bitmap font or add a new one to turn all those 'h' characters into simple outlines of chairs, which will look... the exact same :)
But isn't X-COM an isometric 3D game?True, but X-COM did a good job of breaking down the battlefield into its constituent vertical levels, and so does X@COM.
You can cycle through the z-levels of the overhead map, showing everything on the current level, and if nothing is blocking overhead view in a given space, you'll also see whatever is visible in lower levels, shaded/colored appropriately so you know they are lower levels. Of course, there is also the roof-on view as in the original.
A vertical cross-section of the battlefield also appears while acquiring targets (or even just looking around, if the option is activated), so you can check your line of fire/sight in the vertical plane as well. This side-view map is not only useful, it's [going to be] a lot of fun, too, since you can get a different view of your handiwork as you bring down buildings on the alien menace.
The battlefield interface overall shouldn't be too difficult to get used to, as there will be sufficient indicators for everything you need to know.
Did you say bring down buildings?One of X-COM's many draws is its completely destructible environment. Explosions will be spectacular events in X@COM, and gravity will be your friend (and enemy). No more floating suburban houses! (If you really want to, though, you can deactivate falling terrain.)
How do you pronounce "X@COM" anyway?Good question. I have no idea. Originally the '@' was supposed to be flattened out to look like an easily-ignorable dash, as you see in the blog title image, but that obviously doesn't work in normal text so it ends up sticking out and making it hard to find a satisfying pronunciation. If it twists your brain in funny ways to think about it, just call it XCOMRL. I might change the name later to solve this problem, though I rather like the hybrid nature of "X@COM."
Give me tiles!Don't get pushy, now! And that's not a question, it's a statement :). Seriously, I'm not doing real tiles. It won't work with the game's aesthetic, and is even incompatible with the way the engine is optimized for particle effects. BUT, the game does support non-ASCII symbols, so tiles resembling images are completely possible. (See #5 under General for more info.) X@COM requires an 80x60 console, so to retain compatibility with smaller screens, the default symbol size is 12x12 (960x720), with a 10x10 option to enable 800x600. The current demo also comes with multiple font styles, as well as some 16x16 sets (1280x960). Even larger, more detailed symbols could be provided for players with huge screens (myself included :), but that will come later.
Will X@COM have large scrollable maps?No (typed emphatically without remorse or hesitation). There has been much discussion of this issue in the past, and I believe the few benefits of scrolling maps are far outweighed by having a battlefield you can always see in its entirety, especially in X@COM.
With maps that always fit on the screen, you don't have to consider whether something is or isn't within view, as you can always see both the bigger picture and focus on local tactics at the same time. This also saves enormous amounts of interface manipulation time, since you don't have to always be zooming around the map. (So much time is wasted moving around maps while playing strategy games, which is why I loved Supreme Commander with its interactive iconified zoomed out view, and that's how I almost always played it, somewhat defeating the purpose of AAA graphics...)
This in no way means that X@COM maps are "small." On the contrary, they're the exact same size as the largest X-COM maps. Yep, even the original Cydonia map was no bigger (60x60). This brings up an even more important point: The original game data was balanced for maps of a certain size--the number of units, their movement distances, FOV ranges--all of it is optimized to maximize fun (and balance play time) in the given amount of space. Changing map sizes disrupts this delicate balance.
This also doesn't mean you can't have missions in areas greater than 60x60. For one, map height is unlimited, so they could theoretically include ridiculously tall structures. Even better, maps can be connected to other maps, enabling your squad to advance to a new map once they gather in a certain area. This happens to be how Cydonia was handled in X-COM.
If you want a really big map, there's always the geoscape ;)
Are you going to add features X, Y, and Z?General Answer: Most likely. Answer if X=scrollable maps: No.
I get a fair number of suggestions regarding what features players hope to see in X@COM, and they're almost always things that already appear somewhere on my own massive list. It's quite comprehensive, populated by a wide range of ideas collected over years of brainstorming, but I don't want to release it because not necessarily everything will go in. This is not to discourage you from making suggestions! If anything I'll just mark you down as yet another supporter of feature X, which means it's more likely to be implemented. I'm always open to new ideas, too, since this game is just as much for you guys as it is for me.
What's with all these demo scenarios? Where's the campaign and geoscape?The full campaign and geoscape will not be added until battlescape development is complete. As is, I need a place to playtest the battlescape code and figured I may as well release some content to satiate the fans, who can also help test the game in its infancy. Everything currently in the game will be scrapped once we have a geoscape.
The final game will, however, have a type of "quick combat" mode where you can jump directly into special scenarios instead of running a full campaign, and those missions will be of much higher quality than the existing scenarios, as these were each thrown together in just a few days shortly before demo releases.
What platforms will X@COM be available for?Initially it's Windows-only, but the code itself is mostly cross-platform and a Linux version should be easy enough to manage, once I can bring myself to learn enough Linux to compile all the necessary libraries without first going insane. On the other hand, there is very little chance of native Mac support.
What languages/libraries does it use?C++, SDL, libpng, zlib, PhysFS.
Is it open source?Nope. (But if you're a dev doing something similar, I'd be happy to answer any questions about how the game works if it might help with your own project.)
Can I modify the game?Yep. It's not open source, but all game objects (and eventually most mechanics and settings) are loaded from data files that may be modified without any coding experience. Modders will be able to relatively easily turn X@COM into a completely different turn-based strategy game.
More to come, if at some point I find myself being "frequently asked" anything.
Last Updated: 20140207
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