Interview: Garth DeAngelis On Leading The XCOM 2 Resistance To Console

Twenty years after humanity lost the war with the humans, you’d be hard pressed to know that XCOM even fought back against their invasion. They’re painted as grand benefactors to the human race, building new cities, advancing our technology, and masking their sinister motives for this behind a huge propaganda machine.

But the XCOM initiative is far from dead, and a daring raid in the first mission of XCOM 2 gives us a fighting chance to lead a resistance and stop the aliens’ plans. Now, a little over half a year after the game released on PC – check our review here – console gamers can join the fight.

We sat down with Producer Garth DeAngelis to talk about the console release and XCOM as a whole.

– ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW –

TSA: It must be a little odd to be going through the whole release process again for a game that came out half a year ago?

Garth DeAngelis: Yes, it is a little bit, but it’s also exciting. It did feel to us that a little element was missing with respect to XCOM 2 not being on consoles. It is always something we wanted to do, but we had to make the decision to make the best product possible.

But it did feel like a piece was missing, so it’s satisfying to come back out and celebrate with folks that are excited about it, and hopefully get some momentum behind the console audience.

TSA: It was very disappointing for console fans that it wasn’t coming out for them at the original launch, but I guess it was tricky not to come out and say that, yes, you were planning to still come to console?

Garth: It’s true, and it is always hard because, again, in our hearts we wanted to come to console, but we truly didn’t know. We needed to get the game core correct and make sure that was handled before we talked about future releases.

It was a challenge not to talk about it, but here we are!

TSA: And now you’ve got this whole wealth of DLC and mods for the PC game. One thing I’m wondering about is the possibility of some of modding coming to Xbox One, as we’ve seen in Fallout 4? (PlayStation 4 is, seemingly, a whole other kettle of fish!)

Garth: We definitely consider everything, but that’s something that we’re not supporting at this time. I think it’s something that we’ll see if it’s possible as it bakes a little more…

TSA: I guess there’s extra technical hurdle for it to happen, as well.

Garth: There is. You really have to put a massive infrastructure in place to support it correctly, especially on console. So unfortunately, it’s not something that we have with Xbox right now.

TSA: But obviously, it’s slightly easier for you with the DLC. It’s already within your development tools!

Garth: Yes, that’s right! This was already integrated into the game core and we have the structure in place for it and we’re very excited about the DLC.

We have character customisation within Anarchy’s Children, and then we have these really huge gameplay modification packs, which is something we weren’t able to do with Enemy Unknown. We did that both with the Alien Hunter pack and then with Shen’s Last Gift, which gives you big robots to fight with!

Alien Hunters are these almost mini-boss aliens that will track you down across the campaign. I would advise, if you get it, to not play with that turned on the first time, because it’s extremely difficult!

TSA: Well, as you were talking about earlier, everybody fails and dies in their first attempt at XCOM!

Garth: Yes! So, that’s almost if you’re looking for an added layer of difficulty, which XCOM is about. Challenge is inherent in XCOM, and when you think about things like Dark Souls, people are looking for a little bit of that punishment, but just be wary if you’re playing for the first time with Alien Hunters.

xcom21

TSA: Obviously XCOM 2, just to take it back to the core game, it does change a lot of the actual structure and tone of the game. It’s quite a dark game.

Garth: There is. The Earth has been taken and it’s not humanity’s anymore, so it’s a very morose theme. There’s this dichotomy of this not being an apocalyptic Earth – there’s still life and this guise of pleasantness because the aliens are trying to lure you to these city centres, saying they’ve cured cancer and that there’s no more crime – but obviously something else is going on behind the veil. That’s XCOM’s job, to try and expose that.

But yeah, it’s a very sinister world now.

TSA: Were there any science fiction stories or even things in the real world that you drew upon for this?

Garth: I think you’re always inspired a little bit. There have been other world in games where you’re the underdog and trying to overthrow. Even things as recent as… oh, what is that Matt Damon movie? It’s eluding me now.

TSA: Oh, where he’s going up to a city in the sky?

Garth: Yes! With Jodie Foster…

TSA: Yeah, I can’t remember. [laughs] But I know the film you mean!

Garth: But yes, that! We were inspired by that film that I’m absolutely forgetting right now. It was “Imperium” or something like that…

[It was Elysium, just so you know.]

But that was the goal in the movie, about the lower class having to sort of expose and fight their way up. And also with the weapon design and visual design, when you look at the exosuit armour and things like that, they were pretty cool for the team.

TSA: And how do you get across this feeling of fighting a resistance rearguard action, and how do you reflect that in the gameplay?

Garth: It’s a few things. So, obviously, you’re starting off from scratch with your soldiers. They’re scrappy recruits, you don’t have you abilities… They’re all very green rookies, which you need so you’ve got that progression when you build up your soldiers

TSA: And also to get that emotional attachment for when they die!

Garth: Yeah, that’s right! You gain the attachment mechanically through the abilities, but also visually as you get these veteran unlocks as you go through, so you get to give them scars and tattoos and personalities.

But the bigger change with the resistance theme is on the strategy side. In Enemy Unknown, it was very much a binary thing, where you hit scan and wait for a mission, and you’ve selected your research and something to build. We still have that foundation in XCOM 2, but there’s so much more to do on the Geoscape.

You’re choosing where to fly you resistance vessel. You now have a mobile base, because you have to liberate the world and get in contact to let them know that XCOM lives and that it’s not totally under alien rule. So actually moving around the world is a huge mechanical change which fits in with the growing resistance.

Do you want to make contact with a certain region? Do you want to go discover a secret resource at a point of interest? Do you want to go build a new piece of armour? There’s all these different things that you can do that were not part of Enemy Unknown.

TSA: Is all of this to try and make people be more proactive as they play?

Garth: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Enemy Unknown was very reactive, which is kind of neat, because you’re being invaded thematically as well. Now it’s not your world anymore, so you have to be proactive to take it back from the invaders.

xcom22

TSA: Were you a bit of a turtler in Enemy Unknown?

Garth: No, not as much as I hear from our uber-fans! I actually didn’t do that as much. I’m a bit more reckless and I would get hammered for it on live streams, and people were just like, “What are you doing! You’re going to die!”

Even in my natural play, I would still win, but I was a little bit more aggressive. So XCOM 2 mechanical shift suited me well!

TSA: Thinking about XCOM as a whole, it’s an interesting franchise. Over the decades it’s found itself in some very odd dead ends, where it’s trying to do space fighting…

Garth: Yes… Enforcer!

TSA: and I’m wondering if the series is now very focussed on the turn based strategy, or might we see some more experiments like XCOM Declassified and third person shooting?

Garth: I mean, what Firaxis does is strategy. It’s a studio that’s been bred to do that and we have very talented developer that do that, but it doesn’t mean we don’t take mechanical risks sometimes and try to innovate. I can’t speak on what that would be, but we are interested in maintaining the spirit of XCOM’s roots and doing small innovations within our expertise.

TSA: I guess some of it came from the restlessness of standing still and not moving forward, where XCOM 2 does find new ways to be different.

Garth: That’s right. It was very important to us. If you look with a cursory glance, it maybe doesn’t look like there was a massive amount of innovation, but we rewrote a lot of systems and pipelines. You can look at the procedural maps, even how the enemies react and interact, the whole strategy layer is completely different.

So we took what I feel are little steps in what Firaxis knows, which is strategy.


Thanks to Garth for chatting to us. XCOM 2 is out this week on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and we will be following up with a return to the game on these platforms, how they perform and how playing on a controller feels. In the meantime, we still have our review of the PC version of the game, which you can read here.

– PAGE CONTINUES BELOW –
Written by
I'm probably wearing toe shoes, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!