A recent conversation I had for a podcast (which won’t be going up for some time I’m afraid) reminded me of one of my favorite games of recent years and possibly of all time. XCOM Enemy Unknown was Firaxis’s take on one of the most popular titles for PC gamers and they managed to create something that evoked the spirit while going in a new direction. While it’s not perfect by any means, the design decisions and streamlined approach are worth discussing.
On our podcast last week we got on the subject of Diablo 3 and I talked about why it doesn’t hook me as much compared to Diablo 2 by using the phrase “sterilized” to describe it. Thinking about it more, we can use this to talk about what happens when designers in a way “over design” their titles.
What a strange trip we have with The Bureau. Originally this was XCOM, the third person squad based shooter which was the reboot of the classic X-Com series. After development problems and fan reaction, this gave Firaxis the chance to create a true spiritual successor in the form of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. But then the success of Enemy Unknown convinced 2K to take XCOM and try to make it sell-able under 2K Marin as The Bureau.
And that was a lot of XCOM mentioned in a single paragraph. The Bureau shows the spark that the original developers had in this concept, but this is very much a shell of its former self.
Mastery of a game comes in many forms based on the genre. But one of the more debated forms comes with the phrase min/max. For the player, it means that the game has been broken down and no mysteries remain. But for a designer trying to create a replayable or lengthy experience, it means that there is nothing more to be discovered.
Playing a video game at this level can be viewed either as the best way or the worst and is something that designers need to take into consideration.