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RPG Codex Interview: Julian Gollop on Phoenix Point, One Year Later

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RPG Codex Interview: Julian Gollop on Phoenix Point, One Year Later

Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sat 7 July 2018, 15:23:43

Tags: Julian Gollop; Phoenix Point; Snapshot Games

[Interview by PanteraNera]

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In my opinion, it's a courageous thing to try to create a spiritual successor to a critically acclaimed game, especially when that game is 24 years old and is still being played today. What do you think fans of X-COM: UFO Defense have to look forward to in Phoenix Point?

The main thing we are trying to achieve is a deep and immersive game world where all the different parts are connected in a rational and meaningful way. In this respect we are taking elements of the geoscape from X-COM UFO Defense, some ideas from X-COM Apocalypse and some ideas also from a cancelled project called 'Dreamland Chronicles: Freedom Ridge (which we were developing during 2000-2001 before my company, Mythos Games, was liquidated). Part of that immersion comes from a detailed game world which I am creating with our writing team, and the other part comes from the simulation aspects and complex interaction between the tactical and strategic layers.

What do you think about the way video games have evolved? You've been in the gaming industry for centuries. You created complex simulation games like the original X-COM, and you've seen the remake by Firaxis, which many people say is less complex, less simulated and overall feels more like a board game. How do you feel about that trend towards "streamlining"?

Given that I used to play highly complex board games, such as Squad Leader, almost everything seems streamlined to me. However, given the huge amount of high quality games out there competing for peoples time, it is understandable that games which require a lot of time investment to learn will suffer in the market place. Streamlining for XCOM Enemy Unknown clearly worked, because it reached a wide audience and drew many people into turn based strategy games for the first time. The presentation was also top notch. However, I believe we can strike a balance with Phoenix Point that will offer deep game play but with an easily manageable interface and great presentation. It's not easy, but we are working on it. I am aware that there are a huge number of old X-COM players out there and I definitely want them to be happy with our approach to Phoenix Point.

How will missions be generated on the Geoscape? We've been told that the strategic map will be composed of "points of interest", and that the beginning of the game will have an exploration element, like in a 4X. So the question is, if I've explored all the points of interest around my base, do they cease to exist? Will they be "empty space" from that point on or will new ones be generated?

The current implementation is fairly simple - Points of Interest within range of discovered havens will appear for you to investigate. They could turn out to be other havens, scavenging sites, alien structures or inactive Phoenix Bases. However, there will be additional types of locations that are revealed in different ways - usually connected to the events system. Spying missions can also reveal location much further away. New points of interest will arise based on alien construction, faction construction and special events. Mission types are unusual in that the player effectively decides what he wants out of them rather than having some kind of performance rating. Haven defence is a common mission type where havens will request assistance in defeating an intruder (alien or human). They will usually offer some kind of reward, but after arriving you may find something useful that you can just steal, such as an aircraft, and then abandon the haven to its fate. Naturally you won't get the reward and their will be diplomatic consequences - but you do manage to steal the aircraft. The player can actively deploy squads to various zones inside havens for doing whatever he likes, or he can respond to requests from havens or faction leaders.

There won't be any UFOs flying around in Phoenix Point. The closest thing to that would be the Behemoths that you have to intercept, otherwise it's bye bye haven. But will there be any other "troop movements" in the game, by the Pandoravirus creatures or by the other factions and minor havens? If so, can the player interact with these movements in some way?

The three human factions will construct vehicles and use them to transport goods and personnel between their havens. They will also launch attacks on other havens, or one of your bases. At the moment we are not planning any direct interaction with these vehicle movements, but they will be detectable by radar.

We've been told that manual stance selection (crouching, going prone) will most likely not be in the game - which is kind of sad, since with its realistic ballistics simulation the stances would have had a real effect. I assume that manual facing will probably not be in either. From a game design point of view, what's the reasoning behind this streamlining? We've been told that it's mostly about pacing. Could you elaborate on that?

The pacing of a turn based game is very important, in particular to make sure that the player doesn't have repetitive, mostly trivial decisions to make which just consume time and clicks. The Firaxis XCOMs succeeded very well with this. There is also the problem of providing clear signs and feedback to the player about what is going on in the game without cluttering the interface with lots of informational displays. Having said that, we are looking at facing commands specifically for vehicles. In this case the armour ratings of different aspects of vehicles is very important, and they are large targets.

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Not much is known about base building so far, other than that the bases are pre-existing locations that have to be found/reclaimed by the player. We've been told that base layouts will be displayed from an overhead perspective, just like the classics. What can the player do in these bases? Can you raze existing facilities (I'm assuming the bases arrive prebuilt)? Build new facilities? How large will the bases be, like a 6x6 grid?

One of the player's main objectives is to located and reactivate the worlds remaining Phoenix bases. They will be in various states of disrepair, but otherwise facilities can be built or razed in a similar manner to the original X-COM, although the space for building may be more or less limited, depending on the location.

We know that you can team up with the three major factions and that each one leads to a different solution for how to beat the Pandoravirus. But how will the player build these alliances? Is it just a matter of doing missions for the other factions, or do we also get to talk to them, with dialogue trees and stuff? Can we barter and trade with the other factions? And will these diplomacy mechanics be based on scripted events, or will the player be able to choose when to engage with them?

The primary way to build an alliance is to fulfil the requests of the different factions. These requests may take the form of haven defences, but could also be special requests relating to the nature of the faction and whims of its leader. For example, Synedrion may ask you to rescue refugees, New Jericho may request help with an internal revolt and Disciples of Anu may desire food supplies to feed their hungry masses. Once you have made contact with faction leaders you can approach directly and there will be a system to interact with them.

We've been told that the inventory screen in Backer Build One is just a placeholder. The question I've found no answer to is whether the inventory slots in the final game will be different. Any chance they'll be more similar to what was in X-COM?

Not exactly. The current inventory system will remain the basic system. In addition, there are certain types of equipment that are attached to armour, helmets, or even other equipment items. The Heavy's missile launcher and jet jump items are examples of these devices (though currently handled by the existing inventory system, which will change).

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We've been told that at the end of Phoenix Point, the player's force will not consist of dozens of captains - that you've come up with a different way to handle soldier ranks. Could you tell us more about that?

Characters will have a basic character level which represents how skilled and experienced they are. This is used to unlock abilities in the skill tree of the character's class (or classes). There will not be military style ranks.

What character stats are going to be in the game and what will they affect? Will they increase by use like in X-COM, or only if the character levels up?

Current stats are endurance and willpower. More will be added, although it is not yet decided which ones. They won't level up organically by use, but through leveling up. However, the available training facilities at a base will be a significant factor in both stat progression and skill acquisition.

You've said in the past that classes in Phoenix Point will be more flexible than in Firaxis' XCOM. Can you tell us more about these hybrid classes and how they're going to work? Also, what classes are in the game? We've heard about the Assault, Heavy, Sniper, Technician (New Jericho), and Infiltrator (Synedrion) classes. Are there any more that we're not aware of?

Disciples of Anu have three additional classes - beserker, mutog handler (or beast master) and priest. Phoenix Point have the 'operative' class which is multi-skilled. Basically classes represent skill sets or specialisations (or in some cases mutations). A character can train in a secondary class, gaining access to new skill trees. All these classes may be available to the player, either through directly recruiting a soldier from other factions or by gaining the technology and training facilities for a class, making it available to all the player's roster.

How will capturing Pandoravirus creatures work? Will it be possible to occasionally capture a live alien using regular weapons like in X-COM, or will it require equipment that's purposely designed for capturing live foes? Also, will it be possible to capture human foes?

You will need to use non-lethal weapons to capture aliens. It will be possible to capture other humans and interrogate them for information.

Another key aspect of the classic games is research. What do you plan to do with this in Phoenix Point? We know that players will be able to research the Pandoravirus, including its creatures, structures and agenda. But will there be anything else available for research? New technology? New equipment? Will we also get to "research" the other human factions?

There are actually five different research trees - one for Phoenix archives, one each for the three human factions and one for the alien biology. Based on these the player will be able to develop new symbiotic techs. He can also help other factions in their research efforts and gain benefits from it either by alliance, trade or theft. The Phoenix archives research depends on locating other Phoenix bases and uncovers the history of the Phoenix project and the pandoravirus.

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I believe the last time you mentioned crafting was on the Phoenix Point Discord channel quite a while ago. If I recall correctly, you said it'd probably be more about maintaining existing equipment than manufacturing anything new. So how is crafting going to work? Will there will be workshops in the game? What will we be able to make?

There will be workshops to manufacture equipment, armour, weapons and vehicles. It's a slow and expensive process, and stealing or scavenging are often easier routes to getting stuff. There are three key resources in the game - materiel, tech, and food. Tech represents hi-tech substances and equipment needed to produce the more advanced items. There are also a number of other items required for production, for example AI units are used in vehicles, and advanced labs and workshops.

In retrospect, what do you think went wrong with X-COM: Apocalypse? Were there any ideas for that game that you weren't able to implement? Maybe something that might show up in Phoenix Point?

The ambition of the game was quite high and there were many problems with the artwork, which was being done by MicroProse. It was a struggle to create and building the isometric 3D environments for the game. We didn't actually cut much from the game, apart from the idea of multiple alien dimensions.

The Multiworm from Apocalypse that burst into four Hyperworms on death was pretty awesome. Any chance we might see something similar in Phoenix Point - a "carrier" enemy?

Yes, one of the alien queen's mutations has a death spawning abdomen. There is also a shell like attachment on this alien called the Juggernaut which will spawn fire worms continuously after death.

You recently announced that Phoenix Point was being delayed to next year because it's become a "bigger game". How has the game become bigger? Is that a hint that the floating fortress planned as a post-release DLC will ship with the game? Maybe the underwater missions stretch goal too?

It is bigger primarily because of the amount of artwork and animation invested in environments and characters, rather than game features. The floating fortress is still a wish list item for the moment.

What happened to your brother Nick? Was it a tough decision to move to Bulgaria and leave your family behind, or had you two already split up before that? It's pretty clear that you were the one who was passionate about strategy games, but Nick appears to have left the gaming industry altogether after Rebelstar: Tactical Command. What happened there?

Nick left to build his own business in internet marketing after I left for Bulgaria. He is still doing his own thing.

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