Rock, Paper, Shotgun's interviews with Jake Solomon, lead designer on XCOM: Enemy Unknown, have become a staple of their coverage of the game, and the latest one deals with the title's recent footage-heavy PR (which I have to say, was, at least on my part, very much appreciated), the game's difficulty modes and how they relate to its X-COM DNA, the stuff the team is still keeping under wraps and more. Here's an excerpt:
RPS: Is there much that we don’t know at this stage, if you’re at the point where you can show an hour quite comfortably? It’s not quite like a Mass Effect game where you need to keep the denouement under wraps until the 11th hour, after all, so what’s been held back?
Jake Solomon: I’ve tried to hold things back, but, y’know… But mystery was at the heart of the original, it was just sort of a built-in thing, you would have these moments with these completely unexpected twists and turns just in terms of how the game operated, and the mechanics and all these things that you would experience. As you know, it’s really hard not to give everything away nowadays: the media cycle is ‘ok, we’re announcing a new feature and we want to put it out there, and then we want to announce something else’, then somebody else wants an exclusive this or someone wants to hear about that… I think that it’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to connect to fans that way, but it is hard to hold large segments of your game back.
I mean, we haven’t shown all of the aliens, nor will we show all of the aliens, because that’s important, but there are some concepts we haven’t talked about either. I think the benefit that with a game like XCOM, even watching the livestream, there’s really no way to even tell you what it’s like to play. Even if I described all the mechanics, it’s not the mechanics themselves that make up the game, it’s the way that they interact and they way you experience them and the choices you make. So I am kind of hopeful the experience of playing XCOM cannot be summed up in any number of interviews. Even this tome, this autobiography that you and I are writing over the course of this game [laughs] I think that it would be very hard to describe to people what it’s like until they actually play.
That being said, we haven’t actually revealed any narrative either, we haven’t talked about that side of the game. XCOM is not Mass Effect in terms of the external narrative, but there is certainly a narrative to the game and cinematic moments. That’s a fairly large part of the game that we haven’t revealed, that will be completely new to players.
It’s made me very, very happy to see that our team are playing the game even past when they should, there’s no reason for them to play the game at this point. We’ve been working on it for four years, and we had a really ,really difficult last year. This last year was very challenging in terms of time and the effort that the team had to put in, so for them to then finish and they’re playing the game on the weekends…
The head of our QA department went home and he took a game with him: “well, I was halfway through my latest playthrough so I just kept playing XCOM.” And that’s one of those things where it’s a very, very good sign. Even now I have these guys coming in and talking to me about strategy and all the things that they’re doing, and as a developer that’s a very encouraging sign. ANd that’s what I’m hopeful, why the experience of XCOM can’t be summed up in words – you can even work on the game for four years and then you play it and it just feels completely different.
RPS: As you’re playing it now, at the stage where it’s basically too late to do anything else to it, is there anything you’re seeing that you wished you’d done differently?
Jake Solomon: I see stuff, I see it, but the way we see games here is that you never finish them, you abandon them. That’s just the way games work: at some point you have to say “well, I could work another four years but at this point we’re done.” So I see it when I play, but to be honest with you – and I hate even to say it, because people aren’t going to believe me – I will just start playing and stop paying attention to whatever I was supposed to be looking at. You’ll just get into that X-COM groove of “ok, now I’m playing the game, now I’m on the strategy layer, and oh Jeez there was that facility I wanted to build but I also want to launch a satellite…” All the other stuff sort of vanishes.
Actually, at PAX we have a panel that is called ’1000 Stupid Decisions We Made While Making XCOM’…