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The procedural world of XCOM: Enemy Unknown

by Andrew Yoon, Mar 06, 2012 9:00am PST

XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a breath of fresh air for long-time X-COM fans, terrified of 2K Marin's FPS reboot of the franchise. The bullet point of features for Enemy Unknown sound like a wishlist for fans of the original: strategy, character customization, and yes, perma-death.

However, one feature stood out in my hands-off demo of the Firaxis-developed turn-based strategy game. Enemy Unknown features randomly selected levels and procedurally generated layouts that make it "impossible" to see everything the game has to offer on one playthrough.

"Replayability is a huge design pillar," Firaxis producer Garth DeAngelis explained to us. "You'll probably get through two playthroughs without seeing the same map twice. We really wanted to be able to play through multiple times and feel like a different experience."

In Enemy Unknown, players will be able to "scan" for new missions, as they protect the earth from an alien invasion. The missions that appear are randomized, saved for a few "choke points" that serve to keep the narrative cohesive. Depending on your decisions, access to other missions becomes locked out, as the consequences of your actions shapes the game. "XCOM is definitely a game about decision and things that go away... that's just the nature of the game."

DeAngelis told me that they want every playthrough to feel unique to each player, hence the procedural nature of the individual levels. While levels won't look different, there are other "procedural aspects." DeAngelis explained: "The aliens will be placed differently. They will move around dynamically on the map, even when you can't see them. So it will be a different flow every time you play, even if you're playing the same map. There will be different enemy types, you might have different spawn points for your soldiers."

The hands-off presentation showed off a battle that places in a gas station. I asked if this was a level that we might see again if we played a second time around. The answer was probably not. "If you're playing your third time, you might see the gas station again... [but with] totally different aliens with totally different abilities with totally different squad mates."

XCOM: Enemy Unknown will be available later this year.





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