XCOM Archive


Fighting Words – Episode 1 – The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

Hi there. Welcome to Wednesday’s post. We’re going to do something a little different today. Today, I’m going to get angry, or rather, I’m going to channel some of my previous anger into the first of a series of fast hitting podcasts called, “Fighting Words.”

You see, when something is so poor as to offend my sensibilities, the first drafts of my reviews are often a little more angry than what appears on the blog. Entertaining as it is to write angry, it’s often not conducive to the critical process. People lock on to the anger and tend to miss the larger message in the review. However, if I channel the anger toward something fast and punchy, then perhaps the medium might not overpower the message…at least not quite so much. If nothing else, it’s fun to swear into a microphone.

So, here we go.

Fighting Words – Episode 1 – The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and Historical Revision.

Click here to download the MP3.

Music Credits

“Pump Sting” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0



Video Game Review: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

If bad ideas are the product of decision making by committee, then I can only assume hell’s own focus group is to blame for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. Not only is The Bureau a poorly engineered Mass Effect clone in its gameplay, but it’s also evident that 2K Games wanted to produce something that is as far away from X-Com’s roots as they could get. To put it another way, 2K found a way to make a worse version of X-Com: Enforcer.


For the remainder of this review, I’m going to set aside the well-worn argument that the original X-Com was a turn based strategy game and this XCOM is a third person shooter. Said difference is far from being the worst part of The Bureau. I’ll even sign off on 2K tossing aside X-Com’s not-too-distant-future aesthetic in favour of Don Draper versus the space aliens. Fine, whatever. The real problem with this game is it completely ignores the common sense that makes X-Com work.

Classic X-Com, and even new XCOM: Enemy Unknown, is about researching the alien enemy and, ultimately, using the alien technology to defend the Earth. The Bureau pays some lip service to this history with its introduction to the game’s protagonist, Special Agent Chip Squarejaw William Carter – like the X-Files creator, get it? After we meet Carter, XCOM’s director, Saul Smokingman Myron Faulke, tells the XCOM staff how the bureau will take the enemy’s technology and use it against them. Traditionally, and as common sense would dictate, this requires researching alien weapons and boot-strapping human technology up to extra-terrestrial levels. For The Bureau, turning alien weapons against their masters is a literal affair. Players pick up discarded alien weapons, as if The Bureau is any other FPS, and go to town on the grey-skins.

What the hell?

One does not simply pick up an alien weapon and use it like Rambo. Such things are not done in X-Com/XCOM for very good reasons. Namely, it doesn’t fucking make sense. Terrestrial weapons, let alone an energy weapon from another planet, require some marginal level of training before they can be used effectively. Carter, a war veteran and CIA field agent, would know better than to trust his life and the lives of his people to a completely alien firearm. He’d be as likely to shoot off his own foot as he would be to headshot an alien. This shameless use of un-researched alien weapons illustrates the crucial way in which 2K tosses aside their source material while also divorcing the entire experience from common sense.

After failing so spectacularly, so early on, at such a critical point of logic and design, the game’s additional shortcomings seem all the more glaring. Particularly, Carter’s AI squad-mates are laughably useless. They require micro-management to the point of frustration. There’s no way to get into the flow of a firefight when every three seconds an AI is screaming that he needs a medic. Why does the AI teammate need a medic, you ask? Primarily because he so often chooses to eschew cover for standing in the open while engaging the enemy. Fortunately, the aliens are equally derpy. In fact, I marvel at how such poor tacticians could master interstellar travel. In combat, the aliens’ main strategy is to make The Bureau like Call of Duty multiplayer and spam the player with an unending supply of grenades. Sectoids don’t wear trousers, so where do they keep all these grenades?

Ah ha, I’ve stumbled upon the answer to the mystery of alien anal probes.

Beyond the dismal combat, there’s also a pervasive laziness to The Bureau’s design. For example, upon discovering a new species of aliens, AI cohorts never freak out and yell, “Holy shit, what is that thing?” Instead, the Jr. J. Edgars call out Mutons and Sectopods by name (also I fought a Sectopod on the second level, what’s with that?). How would they know this? How hard would it have been to program in a line or two of “What the hell is that?” dialogue for first contact with an alien? Rough edges like this, as well as poor lip sync, weak storytelling, and archetypal characterization, have a souring effect on the game’s overall experience.

All said, it’s no surprise that 2K released The Bureau: XCOM Declassified with almost no fanfare compared to its smarter, more attractive cousin XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The Bureau is the answer to a question that nobody asked. It relies too heavily on the presumption of 60s charm – a decade which holds little nostalgia value for modern gamers – to make up for the fact that its combat is wholly derivative of Mass Effect. Its cardinal sin, however, is its refusal to adhere to the roots of X-Com. This choice is game breaking for X-Com loyalists and newcomers, alike. Ultimately, these poor fundamentals speak to the generally lackadaisical design that permeates this title.  The bottom line: 2K games phoned it in, and I don’t think they’re sorry for it, either.


Podcast Episode 31: Hits and Misses of 2013 with Sam Maggs

Remember when I said that Friday’s post would be the last of 2013? I lied.

I thought to myself, why wait until 2014 to end a rather lengthy and unexpected podcast hiatus? And fortunately for me, the sublime Sam Maggs agreed to join me for an hour long chat about the best and worst of 2013.

This podcast is also the first ever sponsored episode of the Page of Reviews Podcast. Since production of the Wing Commander Riff Cast is running a little long, not too long mind you (but I was a fool to think I could get work done on a creative project in December) I decided to use today’s podcast as an opportunity to start making good on the rewards to my backers. On that note:

The Page of Reviews is proud to announce that Matt Moore, author of the new short story collection Touch the Sky, Embrace the Dark, is the official sponsor of this episode of the podcast. Touch the Sky, Embrace the Dark is available as an e-book through the following venues.

- Amazon: US Canada UK


- Barnes & Noble (Nook)

- Sony eReader

- Apple iBookstore

- Google Play Books

- Smashwords

Onward and upward. Here are the topics under discussion for today’s podcast.

- High water marks in gaming for 2013

- The importance of narrative in gaming, up to and including GTA V

- Sam and Adam agree on movies of the year, but nearly get into a fight over the Stargate franchise

Gravity, Pacific Rim, and The Hunger Games trilogy, because why not?

- Mutual disdain for Man of Steel and Star Trek into Derpness

Orphan Black, Doctor Who, Under the Dome, and Hello Ladies.

- Praise for Sam’s web show “The C_ntrollers”

Check out all of Sam’s work on her website. And once you’re done listening to the podcast, why not take in an episode of her show.


The Best of 2013

The holiday season is well and truly upon me when I have a pile of presents to wrap, and I’m wringing my hands for a good introduction to my “best of” post for the year. Hey, what do you know, I just did it.

I have to admit, 2013 was a pretty fun year. Though I ran afoul of a few truly terrible films, movies, and games, they were the exceptions rather than the rule. However, television, at least in the conventional sense of the word, was almost exclusively a waste of time. Thank the gods for Netflix, premium cable, and web series. And on that note, let’s get right into it.

TV of the Year – Spartacus: War of the Damned

The fact that Spartacus was able to survive the death of Andy Whitfield is reason enough for Starz’s sword, sandal, and sex series to rate as best of the year. Then there’s everything else that the fourth and final season of Steven DeKnight’s series did well: powerful roles for females, openly gay lead characters, and battles more impressive than anything seen on Game of Thrones.

War of the Damned also saw leading man Liam McIntyre grow into his role as Spartacus. Though capable enough in his first season, Spartacus 2.0 projected an obvious sense of reservation about treading on the legacy of a dead man. McIntyre, ten years junior to his predecessor and relatively inexperienced as an actor, was good mind you, but obviously still trying to find his way with the character. For his grand finale, McIntyre owned the role and consequently excelled as the slave turned general.

Despite standing in the shadows of giants like HBO’s Rome and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, the series took its own direction with the story of Thrace’s most infamous son. The writers seemed well aware of the fact that the history of Spartacus was written by Romans, who were never apt to make themselves look bad before posterity and the gods. Sidestepping any slavish dedication to dubious history, DeKnight’s series offered a version of the past that is arguably more balanced than what Kubrick offered on film.

Honourable Mentions: Bob’s Burgers season 3, Archer Season 4, Orange is the New Black, Breaking Bad Season 5

Movie of the Year – Gravity

Gravity might not be a perfect movie, but it is as close as I saw in 2013.

The intelligence of Gravity’s story and Alfonso Cuarón’s dedication to the physics of space yielded the first “hard” science fiction movie I’ve seen in ages. I don’t want to the be the guy who jumps right to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I can’t think of any recent movies which really compare to Gravity. Correction, I can’t think of any recent movies that compare to Gravity and aren’t abysmal wastes of time. Mission to Mars and Red Planet tried to offer some lip service to science, but then gave up on the effort by the end of the first act. Remember, boys and girls, it’s easier to tell a story about ancient aliens and killer robots than the cruel vicissitudes of momentum.

For me, the key difference between 2001 and Gravity, adjusting for about five generations of technology between the two films, is that 2001, though technically flawless, is overly drawn out and arguably quite boring. On the other hand, Gravity captured the reality of space at a pace befitting an action movie.

It’s also worth mentioning that Gravity found a place for a forty-nine year old actress as the lead character. I know, that shouldn’t be a big deal, but let’s not kid ourselves about how Hollywood treats women once they hit a certain age. Moreover, Bullock handled the role so well that I can’t imagine having to suffer through ninety minutes of Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively, or Oliva Wilde as Dr. Stone.

Honourable Mentions: Pacific Rim, Europa Report

Novel of the Year – Crux by Ramez Naam

This one was a no brainer. Literary science fiction needs more writers like Ramez Naam. As a study in technology, politics, ethics, and the human condition (as well as other themes I’m leaving out because it is incredibly difficult to package a novel this complex into a single paragraph), Crux manages to walk a very fine line between ebullient optimism about a post-human future and a brutally honest representation of the environmental problems our world will face in the coming decades. Naam’s writing finds the perfect balance between the styles of Michael Crichton and Paolo Bacigalupi.

If the above were not enough, there’s a powerful empathy to the way in which Mr. Naam writes his characters. All of the key players within Crux’s post-human war on drugs are developed to the extent that their moral compasses, regardless of which way they point, make sense to the reader. Even when the story focuses upon a near-future Department of Homeland Security, there’s an obvious rationale to morally dubious actions, which in turn serves to fuel Crux’s key conceit: do the ends justify the means?

The debate ebbs back and forth between pragmatism and idealism, leaving the reader as the ultimate arbiter of which characters are on the wrong side of history and humanity. Is it the hacker? Is it the philanthropist-who-would-be-king? Is it the G-Man bound to defend the status quo despite his addiction to the future?

If science fiction is meant to be a morality play on contemporary events, then Crux is truly a microcosm for our world.

Honourable Mentions: iD by Madeline Ashby, Zombie versus Fairy featuring Albinos by James Marshall

Big Budget Video Game of the Year – XCOM: Enemy Within

I know I’ll probably lose some credibility among classic X-Com diehards for recognizing this as my BBGOTY, but there was really no competition in my mind. Branded as an expansion, EW took the core experience from XCOM: Enemy Unknown and roughly doubled what was already there, seamlessly weaving two new plot arcs into an already robust campaign. While the resulting changes maintained XCOM’s core experience, they also forced players to develop new tactics as they worked their way through a familiar but tactically evolved alien invasion.

While there’s always been a certain amount of freedom to choose one’s path within the X-Com games, Enemy Within took this to a new level. Very early on it presents players with an option to turn some of their soldiers into cyborgs – amputating their arms and legs in the process – or genetically engineered super humans. In terms of game play, these early advantages for XCOM make up for aliens that are much harder to kill on the higher levels of difficulty. As if, XCOM wasn’t hard enough on its own, EW found a way to make a “Classic Ironman” play though even more of a challenge.

Beyond that, there’s an almost intangible moral dilemma that comes with the expansion to Enemy Unknown. Imagine looking at a soldier modeled after a friend – standard fare in these games – and then weighing the tactical merit of injecting them with alien DNA or sticking their torso in an exo-frame. XCOM is smart enough to down play the ethics of this decision, but in doing so they put it at the forefront of my thoughts. Unlike Bioshock, where the morality of a player’s choices really don’t matter, XCOM: EW makes the choice an inherently personal question.

Honourable Mentions: Though I saw fit to leave this blank, Matt, my “assistant editor” and podcast co-host, would nominate Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm and State of Decay.

Small Budget Game of the Year – Kerbal Space Program

Even though Kerbal Space Program is still in development, it is one of the best games I have ever played. Stop and think about that for a moment. The game is yet unfinished, and already it has secured a spot in my all-time top ten.

Perhaps the simplest description of KSP is Minecraft with rockets, a robust physics engine, and no mining. In its current state, KSP is a self-guided sandbox where players design rockets and set out to explore planet Kerbin’s solar system. Therein, it rewards intelligence, patience, and creativity in equal measures. The opposite side of the coin is that KSP happily punishes hubris and stupidity, though watching a rocket explode mid-flight because bad design has led to its vibrating like a coal powered marital aid isn’t much of a punishment. It’s actually kind of awesome.

Despite its work-in-progress status, KSP is legitimately beautiful to behold, infinitely open to mods from a very active and supportive community, and challenging enough that I find myself daydreaming about rocket designs during business meetings.

Honourable mentions: Spelunky, Shadowrun Returns

Christmas Card of the Year – Helen Marshall

She knows what she did. As for everybody else, buy her book as I originally had it up in the honourable mentions.

And that as they say, is that. Thanks to everybody who has stuck with my blog over the last year. I look forward to another year of ranting and reviewing for your amusement and education.

I’m taking a couple weeks off writing to finish up a few other projects and record some podcasts. As always, you can chat with me on twitter or email me if you have something you’d like me to review.


Podcast Episode 29: The Kaiju-sized Military SF Episode

Featuring the voices of Adam Shaftoe and K.W. Ramsey

It took a couple weeks of planning and schedule jockeying, but K.W. Ramsey and I were finally able to sit down to record an extended length podcast on military science fiction.

What could be finer than two white guys talking about the quintessential post-colonial white guy sub-genre? Am I right?

Seriously though, we begin the discussion by drawing upon Damien Walter’s Guardian piece on overly simplistic military science fiction. From there we jump back and forth between military SF on film and in literature. As with most ninety minute discussions, nothing gets resolved, but I think we come up with a few decent ideas on how military SF can evolve to reflect a slightly less antiquated world view.

Make sure to check out Mr. Ramsey’s blog at The Left Hand of Dorkness and follow him on twitter @kwramsey

Topics under discussion include,

- The ideology of the Federation and Starfleet’s role therein; also that time David Nickle trolled us on facebook about Cumberbatch’s character in STiD

- David Weber’s love affair with the 19th century and why military SF at large needs to get past the British Empire

- John Scalzi as the wild card of military SF – also included there is the story of the first time I met Scalzi and went from zero to fanboy in eight seconds.

- Mr. Ramsey’s very compelling theory on why I think Ender’s Game is a crap novel

- A discussion on how to responsibly consume art when the artist is a horrible person

- Robert Heinlein, kooky but honest

- How Pacific Rim does military SF in a slightly different sort of way

- Class and education as factors in crafting protagonists in military SF

Cold Intro Music: The Lady of Vastness by Dan-O at DanoSongs.com

Theme music: Bionic Commando stage 4 (Dale vs Wray mix) (NecroPolo) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0


Podcast Episode 27: The Page of Reviews/Limited Release Handsome-cast live at Ad Astra 2013

Featuring the voices of Adam Shaftoe and Nick Montgomery

There’s a certain safety net to the way I record my podcasts. Even when I have a guest with me, we both know that if somebody says something stupid (usually me) there’s a chance to say it again and leave the gaffe on the floor of the digital cutting room. Last Sunday, Nick Montgomery and I tossed caution to the wind and recorded a podcast in front of a live audience, which actually grew by about 28% from start to finish.

The results were pretty good.

Granted, the fact that I had about 33 seconds to balance the audio levels shows up in the podcast, but I’ll call that a lesson learned for the next time I do something like this.

Upon review I also noticed that I didn’t really tell the important part of the Ben Bova story. Sufficed to say, Ben Bova was not the Asimov doppelganger. Dr. Bova, however, did inform me that the Asimov look was the natural appearance for the gentleman in question.

So on that note, I present you with the first ever live before an audience Page of Reviews / Limited Release cross over podcast.

Topics under discussion include:

-   Gamers 3

-   Versus Valerie

-   Community

-   Deadwood

-   The history of swearing

-   Kickstarter

-   Veronica Mars

-   The fine art of Directing

-   Shameless plugs for current projects

Huge thanks to Nick Montgomery for coming out to record this experiment. Make sure to head over to the Limited Release Podcast to check out all of Nick and Candice’s fine work.

As well, thanks to everybody who came out on a Sunday to listen to our prattle, and to Ad Astra for letting us put on our show.


XCOM: Pure Joy for Creative Types and Weekend Warriors

What those not familiar with XCOM, Firaxis and 2K Games’ reboot of Microprose’s classic turn based strategy game X-Com, need to understand is that it’s not just a game. XCOM/X-Com is about building an internal meta narrative over top of the game’s actual story. Much of this occurs through the simple act of naming one’s soldiers after friends, family, acquaintances, and people you stalk on twitter. Allow me to demonstrate.

This was my XCOM A-Team.

Resplendent in their armour, little did they know not all of them would return.













Ken Scholtens, Amos Yu, and Matt Moore are all friends of mine. Granted none of them volunteered to have their names usurped but such is life. NB: All of them have said they’re good with being used as examples for the benefit of this post.

As a team representing the Earth’s first and last line of defence against an alien invasion, they had all survived one mission together and made at least one alien kill. Operation “Lazy Dirge” would be their second manoeuvre as a squad, each an experienced “Squaddie” with a specialized role.

But war is a nasty thing, especially when you’re trying to secure a crashed UFO.

What follows is a narrative replay of an actual mission I took this squad on within the game.

One of the little grey bastards, the scientists back at the base call them Sectoids, got off a lucky shot on Amos, who died instantly from plasma burns to the face. This sent Adam into a panic. He managed to cut down the Sectoid with a .50 caliber sniper round to the head. The extraterrestrial’s green blood splattered as Adam’s vision tunneled on the tableau of death. Screaming for his mother, he curled into the fetal position.

Without sniper cover, two Sectoids were able to bum rush Ken’s left flank. Matt was on overwatch, but his snap shot against the lead Sectoid went wide. Ken tried to pull back to better cover, but he caught a plasma bolt in the stomach as he was retreating. It was all Matt could do to toss a grenade at the oncoming aliens, avenging his fallen comrade.

The explosion killed one Sectoid and left another wounded.

Finally, Adam was able to pull himself together. He took out the injured Sectoid in a single shot. With his head back in the game, he flanked around the burning wreck of the crashed UFO. There was only one grey-back left and he meant to catch it in a crossfire. The first sniper round went wide, his vision still not yet returned to normal. By then Matt charged to catch the alien out of cover. With one burst from his assault rifle, the bug-eyed grey squawked and collapsed.

The battle was won. The wreck, secured. The techs back at base were overjoyed to find an intact alien power supply waiting for their study. Various council nations were already offering to buy the captured alien technology. Still, it came at the cost of two lives too many.

There was only one thing left to do, I had to tell Ken that he was dead.

me:  Bad news.

Ken: No…Don’t tell me you got me killed already.

me: It was at a crashed UFO site, you got bum rushed by a pair of mind linked Sectoids.

Ken: F***!

F*** you!

How many men must you kill?

me: F*** you, man. I lost good people on that mission. Good men that might be alive today if the council nations recognized the threat that the invaders pose. Instead I have to send out green boys with pop guns and write letters to their parents when they come back in body bags.

Ken: Shame on you, commander! Shame on you!

Did these valiant soldiers know what you were sending them into?

me: They all knew the risks, and they all knew they were fighting for something greater than themselves.

Ken: None of them signed up for these suicide missions that you are sending them on.

me: What other choice do I have? Let the world fall into panic because of all these abductions and UFO flybys? One life on the battlefield buys a million people still showing up for work tomorrow. Tell me that’s not worth it.

Ken: We are going to have a lot of fun with this aren’t we?

me: Yes we are.

Since then I’ve refined my technique for delivering bad news. What comes next is a letter sent to another of my friends after his character died in the line of duty.

Dear Mr. Noon

It is with a heavy heart that I speak to you today. Last night at
approximately 6:22pm local time, your avatar, Corporal Chris Noon,
died in the line of duty on a mission in Japan.

Chris was a valued member of my team. He was an inspiration to others
around him. When things got tough, and lesser soldiers would panic,
Chris would stay steady and do his job. In the short time that he was
with the organization, he defined himself by his leadership and
professionalism. In doing so earned the respect of his squad mates
and his superiors. His absence will be sorely missed.

As you have received council clearance for classified information, I
can tell you that Chris died doing what we all thought to be
impossible. Chris breached the interior of an intact UFO. He held the
line, buying time for his teammates to secure their compromised
positions. His sacrifice was the turning point in an operation that
would have seen far greater casualties were it not for his sacrifice.
I know this knowledge will give you small comfort, yet in your grief
you must never allow yourself to believe his death was meaningless.
Chris died protecting his friends and safeguarding all nations of this
planet from a threat it has never before known.

Please know my thoughts are with you during this time.


A. Shaftoe, Commander, XCOM

There are no saved games in XCOM: no mulligans, do-overs, rollbacks or pleas for “just one more try”. Consequences are real. The game moves forward. People die and stay dead. That’s just how it works. Yes, there is an option to turn off permadeath, but that’s not my bag. As Captain Jack Harkness once said, “Now we carry on.”

If you’re a gamer, then likely you played the original X-Com and these stories are all the review I need to give you.

If you’re a gamer and count yourself creative, you’re welcome. If the game doesn’t suck up enough of your time, the hours spent writing in a world that is somewhere between fan-fic and original work certainly will.

And if you just want to kill aliens, blow shit up, and not worry about all the drama, XCOM’s got you covered there as well.

XCOM is a “must have” on all counts.

Finally, if anybody wants to indulge me and volunteer their name and likeness for my squad, I can promise you screen shots and a nice “we regret to inform you” letter when you eventually go KIA.


Conference Call with X-Com: Enemy Unknown’s Jake Solomon and Garth DeAngelis

Through what I can only assume was a random cosmic alignment, I ended up on 2K Games’ press list. Therein I was invited to submit questions to a conference call with XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s Lead Developer Jake Solomon and Lead Producer Garth DeAngelis. While we still didn’t get an official translation the XCOM agency’s new motto, Vigilo Confido, the two gentlemen from Firaxis Games managed to raise my anticipation for this game up a few more notches.

I’ve included the full audio of the call in this post, but for the benefit of those who need to know right now here is an executive summary.

Game Mechanics

Anybody following the game’s development cycle knows that players will be limited to one supreme XCOM headquarters. However, Jake and Garth let slip that players will be able to build additional interceptor bases around the world toward the mid and end game.

DeAngelis called the “ant farm” XCOM base “the real aesthetic for our strategy layer.” Expect to be able to do more with that than you ever could with the old X-Com base.

Like the original Enemy Unknown some elements of the game will be randomly generated. Though the map pool for the tactical element will be fixed, locations and alien species in play on a given map will vary. Both Jake and Garth said they would be surprised if a player plays the same map twice in a single play through.

Game Play

Nothing particularly new came out on this front. Jake did specify that the key to success for XCOM field operatives is going to be complementing abilities and working as a team.

On game difficulty, both Jake and Garth stated that XCOM is going to be a tough experience. However, Solomon quoted a Mr. Miyagi style support system that will “…start you at painting fences but leave you doing Karate.”

Mr. Solomon also said that the game play was built with classic X-Com fans in mind. In fact, he specifically said that this game would not be happening without ongoing support from original X-Com fans.

We also got a sense of in-game timelines. Where UFO crashes and responding to terror sites could demand a lot of time in the original game, even if it was a comparatively easy mission for the player, this iteration intends to streamline that experience to a degree. In broader strokes a normal difficulty play through of XCOM will take 15-20 hours. On higher levels, Solomon said it would take “much longer.”


Jake and Garth played things a bit close to the chest on this point.

Resource management seems as important as tactics for this aspect of the game. Jake did say that an individual XCOM operative upgraded to full power in multiplayer would be stronger than the strongest alien. Yet, the implication was that playing a round in multiplayer in this way would lead to a Die Hard situation.

Playing XCOM on a console versus PC

DeAngelis stressed that building the strategic layer was an exciting process on consoles and the PC. Both also admitted the PC has some advantages with respect to better graphics (no surprise there).

The Bottom Line

If there is one takeaway message from this conference call it’s that Firaxis cares about making a game that is respectful to the tone and design concepts of the original game. As a gamer who lost many a night’s sleep to the original Enemy Unknown and its sequel Terror from the Deep this makes me very happy.

Have a listen to the full conversation below if you’d like to know more.


Vigilo Confido: Translating X-Com’s New Motto

Latin, despite what people might tell you, is a very cool language. Consider Napoleon Bonaparte, a Corsican who came to power in France and from there conquered Europe, had the Latin phrase Ultima Ratio Regum (The final argument of kings) inscribed on one of his cannons. Somehow saying the same thing in French – Le derniner raison du rois seems less impressive. In developing a “re-imagined” version of the PC classic X-Com: Enemy Unknown Firaxis Games and publisher 2K Games have rebranded the titular extraterrestrial research and defence organization with a cool new logo and words befitting the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

Vigilo Confido. What does it mean?

Well that depends who you ask. X-Com lead designer Jake Soloman probably has one definition in mind. The trick with Latin is that there are usually ten meanings for a single word. Naturally, you might ask how anybody in the Roman empire ever understood what they were saying within such an ill defined system, especially when Rome’s biggest cultural influence, Hellenic Greece, had a language where there were never less than ten words to express a single concept. Much of a sentence’s meaning in Latin is tied to a grammatical system which is in some ways far more specific than what we have in English or French. Also, a lot of understanding Latin has to do with context. So let’s break things down.

The first word, Vigilo is probably the easiest to parse, though not at one in the morning when I first started trying to figure this out. For some reason I assumed both of the words to be nouns acting as an indirect objects. You can see the proof on the Page of Reviews’ facebook page.

Latin is all about the verbs. “Start with the verb,” my Latin professor would always say when we were stuck on translations. Vigilo looks to be a first person singular, present tense, active voice conjugation of the root verb Vigilare (To monitor, to guard, to keep an eye on). Given the nature of X-Com’s work, monitoring and responding in force to alien incursions on the Earth, which is represented by wire frame lines of latitude and longitude in the south half of the patch, Vigilo is probably best translated as “I am watchful.” A literal or “Barking Dog” translation would probably be closer to “I am watching” but mottos are meant to be somewhat more artistic in their meaning.

Figuring out Confido proves a bit more of a challenge. The simplest translation for the infinitive Confidere is “to trust”. But X-Com’s mandate is anything but trusting; they are suspicious and questioning by design. Though, I suppose confido could be read as I am trustworthy, but that seems too much like something a person puts on a cover letter, not a motto. Other definitions include: to have confidence in, to take refuge in, to rely upon. Now we are talking. The safe translation would be “I am relied upon.” As mottos go, “I am watchful. I am relied upon,” is pretty solid. I, however, want to take it a step farther. To rely upon something is to deem it necessary. Granted it is a bit of a stretch, but why not translate Confido as “I am necessary.” It certainly fits with the theme of the game: a council of nations activating an international paramilitary organization as Humanity’s last line of defence.

And this is why Latin is such a fun language. What should ostensibly be a simple bit of translation turns into a mad dance to find a best fit solution. There’s also this as well…


However, as a bottom line I’d have to say that the best translation for the phrase Vigilo Confido is I am watchful. I am relied upon. I really like “I am necessary,” but it’s too much of a conceptual leap. If by chance somebody knows of a precedent to justify “I am necessary” as the ideal solution, I’m all ears.

X-Com: Enemy Unknown releases October 9, 2012 on PC, X-Box 360 and PS3.


The Daily Shaft: Know your X-Com

The year was 1994.  Young Shaftoe fancied himself something of a gamer’s gamer.  Young Shaftoe had assembled the triforce, vanquished Doctor Wily, defeated Shreder and Krang.  Sure he got his ass kicked at Silver Surfer on the NES but, really, anybody who claims to have beaten that game is the worst kind of liar.  And despite his youth, he had thrice earned the title of Master of Orion.  Yes, Young Shaftoe was full of gaming hubris. But like much Achilles, a very nerdy Achilles, Young Shaftoe was soon to suffer a humbling most dramatic.

It was a game with three names.  To some it was called Enemy Unknown. Others called it UFO Defence.  I would come to call it X-Com. Two years later, the game that became the gold standard in strategy gaming would humble me again with an equally unforgiving sequel, X-Com: Terror from the Deep. Then there were three more sequels that changed the formula much to the ambivalence and, in the case of 2001’s X-Com Enforcer, universal disgust of the franchise’s massive fan base.

I could devote thousands of words to exploring the strengths of the first two X-Com titles, especially in light of the baroque state of contemporary gaming.  For the sake of brevity I will summarize with this: X-Com offered all the depth of something like D&D, but it kept the dice rolling, stat management, et cetera completely behind the scenes.  All players had to do was manage the day to day operations of an internationally funded paramilitary organization as it fought a losing battle against an alien invasion. Troopers who died in battle stayed dead.  Failure to respond to alien attacks led to nations cutting their funding. In short, X-Com was the greatest table top game every played on a PC.

Back in 2010, 2K Games, who through a series of mergers now owns Microprose’s original X-Com IP, decided it was time to reboot the franchise.  Instead of keeping the game true to its roots, 2K decided to rebrand it as XCOM, set it in the 1950s, fill it with J. Edgar set pieces, and make it a first person shooter.  Where the hallmarks of X-Com were macro-management and turn based combat, new XCOM will focus on twitch reactions, personal relationships between field agents, and researching individual powers for an effective three man combat team.  It’s basically Mass Effect with X-Files style black oil aliens.  Here’s the video.

At this point you’d be right to accuse me of nerd rage. On the grounds that this is a shameless appropriation of a now classic IP to push what appears to be a rather derivative shooter, I’m angry.  The alien foe of X-Com was a polyglot of races who were enslaved under one supreme race.  This clip, and more recent footage, shows “possessed” humans and what looks like a TARDIS morphing into a Stargate of doom. I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t X-Com.

Perhaps in response to a growing choir of pissed off nerds, perhaps as part of the most back handed bait-and-switch marketing stratagem ever, Firaxis Games, a wholly owned subsidiary of 2K Games, announced via Game Informer that they are developing their own XCOM title, XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  Quoting from GI, “this title is a full-on strategy game that puts players in command of a global anti-alien defense force. XCOM’s leader needs a worldwide perspective where threats are identified, populations reassured, and national leaders mollified – but a tactical mind is just as critical considering every shot XCOM’s soldiers fire on the battlefield is under the player’s turn-based control.”

There’s also a pretty stellar video on Game Informer where the development leads at Firaxis talk about their experiences with the original X-Com.

Other than the obvious respect that Jake Soloman and co. have for X-Com, a few interesting details emerge from the video.  When talking about games with challenging difficulty, one of the devs mentions Demon Souls, not the more recent sequel Dark Souls.  Also, the art director talks about what he and his team did when they “started” on the project during its first months. I think the implication to take from this is that Firaxis has been working on Enemy Unknown for quite some time now.  It might not launch simultaneously with XCOM: Invasion 1952 (Not the official title, just what I’m calling it) but their promise of a 2012 release might actually happen.

While the below screen shot fills me with dread that the black oil aliens might continue through this game, I can only hope that Firaxis’ claims to reverent adoration of the source material will allow them to produce no shortage of Sectoids, Floaters and Etherials as they maintain their story within the same universe as 2K Games’ XCOM shooter.