Learn how the difficulty of Demons Souls inspired 2K to crank it another notch.
By Tim Colwill on April 26, 2013 at 7:52 pm
Morgan Gray, creative director at 2K Marin, is very excited. He’s been talking down the phone at me for the last three minutes, and as far as I can tell, he hasn’t stopped to breathe.
“XCOM’s not a game about putting on your diaper and giving you a bottle of milk,” he says. “It asks you to be a hero if you want to have any chance of succeeding.”
We’re talking about The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. It’s the FPS XCOM game from three years ago, the Game That Flipped A Million Desks. Now, however, it’s not an FPS any more. It’s a third-person tactical shooter (watch the trailer here) that tells the origin story of the XCOM organisation.
And, apparently, it’s tough as nails.
“The emphasis on tactics cannot be stressed enough,” says Gray. “We’re trying to get a very hardcore, really small-unit tactics game. This could easily have been a game about modern day special forces, but in our version imagine modern day special forces back in 1962, using technology provided by NASA that never could have existed — but should have, because it’s cool — fighting an alien threat.”
“Anybody who attempts to run and gun or Rambo this will die. It’s about a team working together.”
Agents in The Bureau will have to live under the spectre of permadeath, something that Gray says will hopefully show reluctant XCOM fans that they mean business. It’s part of “the DNA”, part of what makes XCOM XCOM, something that the team spent hours painstakingly assessing.
It’s also something that can have a huge effect, in a game where there’s no turn-based system to plot your moves. “Unlike, say, Firaxis’ excellent Enemy Unknown, in our game the campaign does not wait for you,” says Gray.
“There’s no ability to sort of delay the major beats. The battle is near and present and constantly moving forward. The repercussions of losing an agent are extremely huge. It’s serious stuff.”
Why so serious? Gray says that he and team at 2K felt that the market was ready for a return to tough games. “We felt confident that the modern gamer was gravitating towards things like Demons Souls, like Firaxis’ XCOM, and that we can make games with a difficulty and a skill level more in line with what us old-school gamers were used to growing up and cutting our teeth on.”
“What is generally happening in the more modern era is that things are almost obscenely accessible,” laments Gray. “So it was nice to see this movement towards more skilful play — and I just want to call it difficulty because it’s not about hard games, it’s about challenging games — and seeing that wave come back, seeing people really wanting to have some games with some crunch to them, some meat, is one of the things that let us go ‘yeah, we can bring this aspect of XCOM into The Bureau’.”
Unfortunately while Gray wasn’t able to speak to specifics, he did reassure us that the PC version of the game would be getting the proper love and attention it needed. “Obviously the PC has higher-end graphics, and can take advantage of higher fidelity textures, framerate and the like,” he said. “For someone who has a high-end PC rig, it will no doubt be the best version, graphically, of the game. Which is in line with the cost! If you spend $1500, $2500 on a gaming rig, it should outperform a 300 gaming console.”
The Bureau will be landing in Australia on August 23. “It’s priced at $59.99 US, which I understand in Australia will equal something like five hundred billion dollars,” laughs Gray. “That’s a joke!” he says quickly – although the game will be getting a price hike of $20 in Australia at $79.99.
The early shots we saw of the XCOM FPS only seemed to show one type of enemy, a polygonal black species who formed enormous shapes such as monolithic slabs – but XCOM is well known for its large variety of enemies. When I asked Gray about this, he paused and laughed.
“It’s been two years,” he said. “That big black box you’re talking about, we call it the Titan. He’s actually one of the aliens that’s always been there for us because we love him and we love what he does to the battlefield.”
“But, we’ve also introduced some of the classic XCOM menagerie of aliens into the game, albeit with a cool narrative context that explains why they’ve been brought in. And we’ve invented some new ones.”
So did the negative feedback around the initial reveal of XCOM as an FPS get the team down? Did it cause them re-evaluate their development?
“The sad thing is that when we originally showed the project in 2010, the response was that we’d made BioShock with XCOM slapped onto it, which was an incorrect assumption, but I can understand how you’d get that from static screenshots,” said Gray.
“In 2011 we started to show the aspects of squad management, squad tactics. People started to understand that ‘oh, I see, this is not just a run-and-gun FPS with XCOM slapped onto it, they’re trying to emulate some of the core aspects of the XCOM franchise’. I got the negative feedback, I understood that, but I also understood where it was incorrect, and where we were actually making a game more in line with what people were saying they wanted.”
“Where we stand now with The Bureau, I think people are going to find that the XCOM DNA is not only faithfully respected, but is core and upfront and prominent in the gameplay experience. “