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XCOM 2 News

  • XCOM works on multiple levels. There’s the tactical squad combat where you pray your troops make it home. There’s the strategic layer where you need to make tough decisions that’ll impact the whole war effort. But what happens when you add whole new complex systems on top of XCOM’s strategic layer? It makes the world feel even more alive in XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. Joe Weinhoffer, designer on War of the Chosen, explains how it works and how it came about.


    From the beginning, what was the goal of adding new systems to the strategy layer? And how close do you think War of the Chosen got to that original vision?

    Joe W. Our primary goal for the strategy layer in War of the Chosen was to make the player feel more connected to the world and the resistance, both mechanically and narratively. We wanted to make the world feel more alive, responsive, and engaging by increasing direct player interaction with the resistance through strategy systems. We also wanted to add more characters and personalities to the game to give a relatable face and emotional attachment to the resistance. And of course, we were looking to add ways to increase player investment in their soldiers.

    Overall, I think the new strategy systems in War of the Chosen definitely achieve those goals. Covert Actions and Resistance Orders give the player new ways to constantly interact with the factions and dynamically craft their strategic game plan. The Chosen also have strategic agendas, and their monthly actions, like using Retribution on regions or sabotaging sections of the Avenger, provide new challenges to work around. And Soldier Bonds, Negative Traits, and the Photobooth allow players to push their head canon soldier narratives even further.

    The faction leaders and Chosen are obviously the biggest narrative elements which help make the Geoscape livelier, but even smaller additions like the post-mission ADVENT propaganda announcements or the Resistance Radio in the bar add a lot of personality to the game. The Radio DJ is a very off-the-wall character compared to traditional XCOM personalities, so that was a bit of risk, but we’re really happy with how he turned out.

    Did you have any concerns about adding all of these new complex systems to the strategy layer?

    Joe W. Absolutely, especially once we realized how many systems we were thinking of adding on top of everything in the base game, and all the potential complexity that could come from their interactions! We tried to keep the new systems relatively isolated from the base game mechanics, while still allowing them to have a meaningful impact.

    Covert Actions are a great example of a feature which is self-contained but provides many interesting decisions. Sending soldiers away on a mission for a few days doesn’t break any other strategy systems, but allows the player to frequently make tough choices about which soldiers to send (especially if there are risks), and which reward is most important at that moment. They also have small but important consequences in the tactical layer by encouraging players to not bring the same squad of soldiers on every mission.


    You added activities there that didn’t touch the base game, but you did change others. Can you go into that a little?

    Joe W. We changed or cut some of the base game mechanics to add some flexibility for the new features. One example of this is Resistance HQ. In the base game, you could purchase different scanning modes at Res HQ, and every month the resistance would sell a scientist, engineer, or soldier. The War of the Chosen Factions each also have their own personal HQ, and the player has plenty of opportunities to recruit additional staff through Covert Actions. Four HQs felt too crowded, and Covert Actions made shopping at the base game Res HQ redundant, so we cut the original Res HQ and moved the scanning bonuses to the Faction HQs.

    Where did you draw inspiration from for the new systems? Board games? Card games? Something else? 

    Joe W. The new Resistance Orders system is heavily influenced by the Policy system in Civilization VI (*waves down the hall*), but we also looked at a lot of trading card games when designing the user interface and determining how the player interacts with the cards. Sending units away on remote missions for a set time is a system that pops up in a lot of video games and that was an inspiration for Covert Actions. Soldier Bonds are a feature we have wanted to add to the game for a long time, but we looked at a lot of modern RPGs with relationship systems for ideas on how to make it best fit XCOM.

    How did you initially plan and test these new systems?

    Joe W. Lots and lots of iteration and playtesting! Once we have the idea and a design for a new system, we start by implementing a very small piece of it to get the framework established and the core gameplay elements working properly. For Covert Actions, that was a simple mission with one soldier being sent away, and a basic reward of supplies. For Resistance Orders, it was setting up the code to allow the player to select a single card and activate its effects.

    Once those core components are set up and feel fun, we start adding complexity to include all the planned features of the system. Risks, individual soldier rewards, and missions for multiple soldiers were all set up at this point for Covert Actions. This is normally where the bulk of design iteration will take place, as we discover certain pieces that work or don’t work well with each other, or with other systems in the game.

    The final piece is to add variety into the system, which involves creating the full scope of content for the feature. This is where we implement all the different types of Covert Actions, or the individual Resistance Orders with their unique effects. The final UI assets also generally don’t get created until this point, since the design is likely to change many times throughout development as we test and play with the feature.

    What was the most difficult part of the design process for War of the Chosen?

    Joe W. I think the most difficult of part of designing War of the Chosen was figuring out how far we could push the new systems before they became too complicated and overwhelming for the player, or created too much complexity with systems from the base game. We always have a ton of great ideas for each game, but at a certain point we need to step back and really think about what is going to create the best player experience, and then modify or cut features to reach that desired outcome.

    How about an example of when you got to that stopping point?

    Joe W. This was particularly true in War of the Chosen for the strategy systems which impact tactical combat. We already had Dark Events in the base game, but we added Resistance Orders, SITREPs, the Lost, and the Chosen on top of them for the expansion. There are so many possible combinations that can occur, and some would create very frustrating missions if left unchecked, so we added restrictions to try and limit those moments. However, unpredictability is one of the hallmarks of XCOM, so we still leave plenty of room for crazy situations to keep players on their toes.

    What do you think these new features add to the strategy layer? Can you go a little into how you feel this changes the way that you’d have played XCOM prior to War of the Chosen?

    Joe W. Overall, I think the features give the player a lot more flexibility in how to implement their personal strategy for taking down ADVENT and the Chosen. Resistance Orders and Covert Actions each let the player take an active role in choosing how to strategically counter their enemies, and allow for quickly shifting tactics to counter a new threat. It makes the strategy layer a lot more dynamic than the base game, and much more engaging.

    The new features also have some elements of XCOM randomness for variety, which further increases the value of replaying the game. If your core strategy in one playthrough focused on having a few specific Resistance Orders, you might need to completely reevaluate in a new game where those Orders aren’t available!

    What’s the one thing you hope players take out of the experience of playing XCOM 2: War of the Chosen?

    Joe W. We hope all the new systems, characters, and narrative elements really augment the XCOM 2 experience, and help the player truly feel like the commander of a global resistance force which responds to your decisions and plans, and has a real impact on the world you are trying to save.

    And, as Officer Bradford will likely remind you, it is vitally important that you have a plan, because with the Chosen bolstering ADVENT’s forces and putting their own schemes into play, taking back Earth is going to be more challenging than ever before!

    Do you have questions for the team? Be sure to follow XCOM on Twitter and Like XCOM on Facebook to keep up to date with the latest information on XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. If you’re looking to enlist with the Resistance, join the 2K Forums!

    Oct 12

  • In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, we fought hard to save a world – pretty much like the world we know today. XCOM 2, and the expansion XCOM 2: War of The Chosen, fast forward us 20 years to a time long after the first war was lost and the world has changed. How did the Firaxis team first envision this enslaved new world? We asked Chris Sulzbach, Art Director for War of the Chosen, and Aaron Yamada-Hanff, Lead Concept Artist, to give us a quick tour of a typical abandoned city you now navigate in the game.

    Let’s start with the cities that were first assaulted by the aliens in Enemy Unknown. Were there specific cities – or aspects of cities – you looked at as a guiding light for the initial designs?

    Chris S. No specific cities were referenced. We looked at a lot of what makes a city look “lived in” like paved over streets, graffiti, concrete repairs, and just took it from there. We wanted to make it look like it could remind you of any city that you’d ever visited.

    Now, building off that, how did you look to tear down and degrade those cities 20 years in? Did you look to real world examples of deteriorating cities?

    Chris S. Since the fog pods emit a gas that suffocates organic matter, using cities that were reclaimed by nature wasn’t really an option. We had a Pinterest board that I shared with our concept team and on that we would look at many different dilapidated cities, abandoned rooms and warehouses, and places forgotten in time. These gave us a good direction to go off of as if the residents of the city just vanished but really we all know they were gassed and turned into the Lost.

    How was concept art used to tell the story of what happened in the cities first attacked by the aliens, but 20 years later?

    Chris S. Because we wanted these spaces to give you a feeling of returning to the lost cities from Enemy Unknown, we actually painted over some those original interiors and gave them the abandoned city treatment as a guide for keeping the same vibe. For the Fog Pod impact sites and the non-Lost humans killed in the initial attack, we referenced the photos from the Pompeii eruption to get a sense of what a sudden overtaking of hot gas looked like. The bodies around the fog pods have unique faces differentiating them from the Lost and look more human and pained. We wanted the player to feel for them if they got a glimpse of them in a glam cam.

    What are some of the qualities that a concept artist needs when looking to create art for a game – and, specifically, XCOM games?

    Aaron YH. Given that concept artists are visual problem solvers I think it’s important to be consistently inquisitive; repeatedly asking questions to isolate problems and subsequently asking follow-up questions to determine whether the resulting solutions are adequately answering those initial questions. Have enough options been explored? Does an idea create other unforeseen problems? Is the final result helping find meaningful solutions for the game itself? It’s a continuous analytical process that requires a lot of patience and persistence through many changes and countless revisions. Because game development is a collaborative process, clarity is particularly important as an idea or asset is developed and moved through the pipeline.

    For XCOM specifically I’d add versatility to the list of necessary qualities. Because our team on XCOM is relatively small, the concept team has picked up certain skills along the way to make visualization more efficient and to be able to help out other departments when necessary. In recent years, that’s included implementing a more 3D-intensive process, as well as learning how to use the game engine itself to develop images and assets that get us as close as possible to seeing our work in the game.

    Can you give one example, specific to XCOM’s environment, where you had to do multiple revisions before you hit upon the solution? And can you give an example how that process has changed since you started with a more 3D-intensive process?

    When we designed interiors for the restaurant in the abandoned city we did a number of experiments to see what treatment worked best. With the muted palette of the abandoned city, we wanted to explore spaces that had a more vibrant color palette and wilder use of texture in addition to spaces that had a more subtle use of color.

    In these concepts we exported existing level designs from the engine and painted over the shot, modeling extra pieces when necessary. XCOM relies so much on the grid that we always have to be aware of how a given visual decision will affect readability from game camera or change design rules. Approaching things in this way helps us make sure we’re concepting in ways that serve the game first, whether dealing with environments (including props and vehicles), weapons, or characters.

    We also explored concepting exclusively in the game engine by taking assets that we already had, arranging them in ways that implied more of a narrative, and lighting them dramatically. Later in the process this approach ended up being immensely time efficient. Where painting over a screenshot or making a new illustration might have introduced new assets or unforeseen issues, utilizing the vast library of existing assets allowed us to set a visual bar for the level while staying as close as possible to the game itself.


    What is the most indispensable tool you use when creating imagery for XCOM?

    Aaron YH. While we have access to some amazing software that enables us to create polished work in a very short amount of time, I still find myself coming back to pencil and paper to start most of my ideas. The simplicity and immediacy of that medium allows for a low maintenance way of developing an idea. My desk is consistently littered with sheets of paper where I jot down thoughts in the form of sketches. It’s quick and effective, and is absolutely a core element of my working method.


    What aspects of the concept art absolutely had to make it over to the final game assets?

    Chris S. Both in our game and in real life, types of buildings, like retail stores, share similar features. Every store will have shelves, counters, and other display structures. In the game, we only have to make a couple different shelves which we can use as many times as we need. To create a city that feels real, we have to create several different kinds of stores. To do this, we reuse the same structural assets (shelves, counters, etc) and then focus on creating unique branding (posters, signage, merchandise) for each store.

    Are there any pieces / aspects hidden in the final art of the game people should be looking for? Give some details, if possible.

    Chris S. Since these cities were lost in the first invasion, we used a lot of signage we had created for Enemy Unknown. The elevated train has the same signage as the train in Enemy Unknown and we also called back to the initial announce trailer for Enemy Unknown in one of the Lost and Abandoned loading screens. Here’s a couple examples of what I’m talking about…

    What makes you say, “This is why I love my job!”?

    Chris S. Seeing the spaces go from grey box layouts to final lit with ambient effects is just so cool and never gets old. The last few months of any project, though usually stressful with deadlines, is really rewarding because all the work from all the disciplines come together and everything just clicks into place. It is such a cool feeling.

    Do you have questions for the team? Be sure to follow XCOM on Twitter and Like XCOM on Facebook to keep up to date with the latest information on XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. If you’re looking to enlist with the Resistance, join the 2K Forums!

    Oct 4

What's happening

  • Commander
    Commandoid commented on their status
    Just finished my first vanilla XCOM2:WotC playthrough. The new additional scenes in the extro sure add to the overall victory feeling! Also, the hints towards an XCOM3 water-related theme are nice (Tentaculats, I'm ready for you!)
    Oct 12
    Oct 7
    With so many Star Trek voice actors i'm telling you the universe is a hologram!! It's all a holodeck!
    Oct 12
    John De Lancie is really good, as usual. The other two also fit in nicely :)
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  • Commander
    Commandoid replied in forum topic
    Urban Strife - Post apocalyptic tactical TBS game!
    Yo guys, I'm Chris and I'm one of the developers of Urban Strife. I’m really glad to share some info about the game with you guys.Urban Strife is a po...
    Hi there! Now, that certainly looks interesting - somehow I never get enough of Z-Apocalypse them...
     Discuss Replies: 1 
  • Commander
    Sorry for the long wait to approve new users - we're wading through a lot of bots registering.
    Oct 10
  • ChrisKZ joined our site!
    Oct 5
  • Commander
    Commandoid commented on thebritwriter's photo
    Xcom Legacy pg 8 This took a bit longer then it should, here is the ADVENT language as well. Another note the man interviewing is one of the so-called ADVENT champions that Amanda burn was able to make for me and used her character sketch for this introduction. Full res can be seen here: Legacy pg 8 This took a bit longer then it should, here is the ADVENT language as well. Another note the man interviewing is one of the so-called ADVENT champions that Amanda burn was able to make for me and used her character sketch for this introduction. Full res can be seen here: https:/...See more
    Oct 2
    Oct 2
    Come to an ADVENT city center! We got ADVENT burgers! :D
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    Sep 28
  • thebritwriter replied in forum topic
    Xcom Legacy (ongoing comic)
    Hello, this was something that started a while back in June, but started working on past few months, I did have some promotional material on display f...
    I'm not sure, I think part of it comes down to time and talent, as well as incorporating all the tex...
     Discuss Replies: 58 
  • Commander
    Sep 15
  • Commander
    Sep 15
  • Commander
    It's been a while since I last checked for any music-related XCOM stuff. I'am not disappointed :)
    Sep 15