‘XCOM 2’ Developer Interview: Lessons Learned, Mod Support and More


We continue where we left off from part one of our XCOM 2 developer interview with Lead Producer Garth DeAngelis and Designer Mark Nauta. This time we discuss some lessons learned from previous XCOM games that carried over to XCOM 2 — including any features that didn’t make the cut this time around. We also discuss mod support, the game’s delay, and how the story of XCOM 2 fits into overall series lore and canon. Finally, we touch on the possibility of ever seeing XCOM 2 come to platforms other than the PC.

Lessons Learned

One of the knocks against XCOM: Enemy Unknown and its expansion XCOM: Enemy Within was that the strategy layer was like a puzzle, and once you figured out the optimal strategies, you would use them every game. In order to make the strategy layer more dynamic this time around, the team at Firaxis focused on changing the scenario as you progress through each game so that you need to adjust strategies on the fly. Much like the tactical layer from previous games, the player is forced to be much more reactive. The hope is that this will result in each player coming away with their own unique playthrough experience.

Another big change for XCOM 2 is an all-new physically-based rendering pipeline, which has resulted in a major upgrade to the game’s visuals. This is clearly seen in the game’s use of dynamic lighting, which changes with the destructible environments and as the player characters move in and out of the shadows.

Speaking of character models, these also receive a significant upgrade. They still utilize a more stylized look to fit with the rest of the game’s visuals, but movement and animation is much more fluid this time around, and every small detail and customizable element is much more visible during missions.

Setting and Lore

XCOM 2 is based in a timeline where the XCOM organization lost the original war against the alien invaders. They have been forced to operate underground and regather their strength until they can rise from the ashes and win back humanity’s freedom. DeAngelis states,”The lore for XCOM 2 is that this is almost a clean slate from an early point in Enemy Unknown where you did not advance technologically at all.” He also confirms that the team at Firaxis “wanted this to become canon, with respect to the sequel.”

In reality, many players did lose to the aliens in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, especially those that played on harder difficulties or the infamous Ironman Mode. The team thought this could be an extremely compelling setting for the new game that also happened to allow the design team to start from a clean slate, and rid themselves of some of the baggage of design choices made in Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within.

Legacy Features

When deciding what features or content from previous XCOM games would have to be revised or cut to fit the design of the new game, the team points to the game’s story and setting as one of the primary guides helping them make these decisions. Nauta notes, “There was stuff like that I think… obviously thematically didn’t really fit.” To the designers, it didn’t make sense for a scrappy group of resistance fighters to have items such as super mechs or interceptors at their disposal. Luckily, the team has introduced a few new items such as heavy armors and the new mobile Avenger base to give players some new options in both the strategic and tactical layers of the game.

Mod Support

The team at Firaxis was pleasantly surprised by the amount of modding support the original games received. In fact, they were so impressed with the work done by the team behind the “Long War” mod for XCOM: Enemy Unknown, now appropriately known as Long War Studios, that they have partnered with them to have official mods ready for the game’s release.

Official mod support in general should be much more robust for XCOM 2. The game has Steam Workshop integration, which means finding and installing new mods will be a seamless process. The team is also releasing an official modding SDK, built on the Unreal Editor. This opens up a near-limitless amount of modding possibilities in the hands of the right artist or programmer. In order to get the most out of the tool, DeAngelis notes, “You certainly need to have some know-how with how to work with the editor and how to work with art assets.”

Reasons for the Delay

When XCOM 2 moved from its original release window last November to Feb. 5, players were disappointed that they weren’t going to get to play the game for another few months. However, DeAngelis couldn’t point to any particular sticking point or feature that caused the delay. Instead, the team agreed that they needed the extra time to make the game as good as possible and add the polish players have come to expect from the XCOM series.

Console Versions

Both XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within managed to successfully make the transition from PC to consoles, and eventually even mobile devices. As our own Nick Nunziata points out, it was therefore a bit of a surprise when XCOM 2 was announced as a PC exclusive at launch.

“We love consoles… but we’re focused on PC.” Garth DeAngelis, Lead Producer

When asked if XCOM 2 would eventually make its way to other platforms, DeAngelis indicated that for now the team is concentrating their efforts on PC, where they can support features like modding, which will be crucial to the game’s long-term success.  “Firaxis is a PC driven studio,” said DeAngelis, “We love consoles… but we’re focused on PC.”

From what I have seen and played of the game so far, it appears that focus has paid off. XCOM 2 launches Feb. 5 on Steam. To learn more about the game and all things XCOM, be sure to visit the XCOM wiki.

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