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Thursday, December 19, 2013

XCOM: Roguelike

Mochi meow by The Scott from flickr (CC-NC)
OK, so here's an idea I got. I probably won't have time to make it happen, so I'll just write this design draft. Maybe I'll do it someday if I accidentally get a lot of unexpected free time, or maybe it will inspire someone else. So here it goes...

If you take the new XCOM game, remove all strategic element, and just leave it as a sequence of battles, then what you've got is pretty much a roguelike:
  • Random maps - not in XCOM right now, but the game would be a lot better if it had it
  • Permadeath - already there
  • Turn-based - already there
  • Grid-based - already there
  • Non-modal - what I want to streamline away
  • Complexity - already there to an extent, can add more while streamlining campaign mode away
  • Resource management - already there
  • Hack'n'slash / player-vs-world - already there
  • Exploration and discovery - sort of already there, training roulette will be big here as well
And as for "low value factors":
  • Single player character - definitely not, you'll be leading a squad (but not the entire XCOM project)
  • Monsters are similar to players - sort of true already (and definitely true with EXALT)
  • Tactical challenge - definitely so
  • ASCII display - I don't think that's really viable any more, most roguelikes moved beyond that already, some kind of simple and mostly symbolic 2D is modern equivalent of that
  • Dungeons - sort of borderline true already if you use very broad definition of "dungeon"
  • Numbers - already there, the few missing numbers (mobility, XP) need to be added, as some XCOM mods do

Game concept

So here's my idea - you start with a squad of 4 soldiers and face aliens in a battle. After (or maybe during) the battle the soldiers get level ups, new items and so on - and the survivors are up for another battle.

I think a major element of the game needs to be training roulette and going more or less classless. All roles - not just sniper/assault/heavy/support (medic), but also engineer/scientist, and things you get from foundry upgrades, research, gene mods, officer training school will need to be reduced to either items or abilities for training roulette pool.

I see two possible "storylines". Either you're doing a alien base / mothership assault, and you have a classic dungeon with multiple levels - or you're just fighting one open world battle after another.

One of the best things about XCOM is how in-battle challenges integrate with long term goals. Missions are not just about killing the aliens and making sure your soldiers survive - minor objectives like capturing aliens, capturing alien weapons, racing to get the meld, chosen mission rewards, not destroying alien computers/engines etc. make everything a lot more interesting. Details of that need to be redesigned, but some kind of extra rewards should be kept.

Game engine

The most obvious engine for a game like that would probably be a web browser with HTML5 stack. That would also be phone-compatible.

This kind of game doesn't really need keyboard, and would work with touch-based interface just fine.

It's important to have both tile-based cover and edge-based cover, and that wouldn't really be possible with ASCII interface.

I'm not sure if it's better to keep the game simple and 2D, or to have fully 3D maps. 2D might be an acceptable compromise to keep the engine simple (especially since it might be a lot simpler to do AI in 2D).

I'm not sure if there are any sensible cross-platform alternatives to going HTML5.

Minor random issues

  • I feel it should be possible to get new soldiers to your squad as a reward, probably already somewhat leveled-up.
  • I don't really care all that much about details of XCOM universe, their monster types etc. They're perfectly fine, but the game will probably end up remixing many other sources as well.
  • Advanced weapons should generally come from capturing alien artifacts. Money, alien alloys, elerium, and weapon fragments all feel like unnecessary complexity.
  • N-use-per-battle items would probably work better if they simply had cooldowns.
  • Cover and overwatch mechanics are the key to everything and should be expanded upon.
  • Visibility mechanic might need a bit of redesign, especially if it's for a relatively closed spaces of alien base/mothership.
  • It would be great if it was possible to avoid all funny stuff related to triggering alien pods and just have aliens behave like your soldiers.
  • I'd hate it if the best strategy turned out to be really slow turtling with overwatch and triggering one pod at a time, like in most vanilla XCOM: Enemy Unknown maps.
  • The game should be designed to be fair but pretty much unwinnable. I'm sure someone will end up beating it anyway, but that should be a big deal.

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