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Clancy: The XCOM Story Interview

April 1, 2008 Leave a comment

Well the response to my post about XCOM: UFO Defense (or UFO: Enemy unknown) had a lot of positive feedback which was gratifying to see! It never ceases to surprise me just how many die hard fans of the game still exist and is the greatest tribute any of us could bestow at the grave of Microprose. But threatening notes to Infogrames and hopeful glances at Microprosesystems aside, I wanted to follow up on one of the work in progress games I mentioned, specifically, Clancy: The Xcom Story. I got in contact with the developer behind this promising project and he very kindly agreed to answer some of my questions.

First of all, let me say I love the idea behind your mod, have you
seen the UFO bit of Gary’s mod Worst Case Scenarios video and did
it influence you in how you want your mod to look / play? Will there be
making extensive use of physics for anything?

When I decided I wanted to make a HL2 mod based on X-Com, I knew that
I would have to limit the scope of the project. It would be
unreasonable for me to plan to recreate x-com in it’s entirety. I
decided that this game should specifically recreate the mood and
environment that I experience in the original game. One of the most
exciting elements from the original game was the destructibility of
the environments. If an alien ran behind a fence you could just shoot
the fence down! HL2 and Gary’s mod have an amazing physics engine, and
I would love to recreate the destructibility of X-com’s environments,
but I want to avoid using the physics engine as too much of a gameplay
element. Don’t get me wrong, I love the physics engine, and I’ve spent
many hours in gary’s mod building exploding rocket cars, but I want
this to feel like X-Com, not like Half-Life 2 with bits of X-Com in
it! The game will have physics, but I’ll have to tinker with
environmental destructibility to make sure it doesn’t take precedence
over the story.

I take it you played UFO: Enemy Unknown, what did you like best about
this game and did you play any of the sequels (e.g. Terror from the etc.) If so, did you like them?

The original X-Com is one of my favorite games of all time. I’ve
played the game many times over. I really love the combination of
combat and economy. That sort of gameplay combination affords an
enormous amount of control over the game you’re playing.

When I used to play the game, I would make a story up in my head to go
along with the characters. I would imagine what it’s like for them to
be shot while coming down the skyranger ramp, or to be lost on the
other side of a barn while your friends have entered an alien ship. I
always thought it would be an interesting way to write a story, to
sort of transcribe what happened in the game as you played it. Sort of
a writer who had to kill off characters when they died in the game,
irrelevant of what the writer wanted. I don’t really enjoy writing as
much as some people do, so I never did that, but I think the idea of
telling stories within the X-Com setting was always something I wanted
to do.

I never liked Terror from the Deep, I barely played it. Numerous times
I tried to, but after a few minutes of it I gave up. The colors,
sounds, item names, it’s all wrong. there’s nothing new. I never
really figured out Apocalypse either. I played some of the newer
variations on the genre, such as Ufo: aftermath, and aftershock. I
thought those were pretty good, though the base building and item
management is weird, and you don’t have as much control as you did in
the original x-com. The failing of so many of the clones is that they
left out the geoscape portion. Making it just a series of combat
missions with no story. Games need to have more then fun moment, the
moments need to count for something. In the original X-Com, a
successful mission was more than just words on a screen, it was more
funding, more soldiers and weapons, more research, etc…

A single player mod is a lot of work, you have models to design and
animate, textures to create as well as maps. I can see from your video
(which I love BTW) that you already have some of that completed, could
you tell me more about what you have done and what you are aiming to
implement? For example, will you implement HWPs ?

Right now I’ve only scratched the surface of what I want to do. Most
of the work that’s completed is the script. When the script is done it
will serve as an outline for the rest of the project. From that I can
form a list of assets that the finished project will need, such as
maps, characters, guns, etc. Then I will have to scale the project as
I’m working on it. If it takes too long I can scrap less essential
levels. Basically, I hope for the best, and plan for the worst. One
thing that’s definitely going to be in the game is the X-Com base,
which by the the way is not in the video. The base will have all sorts
of things as “decoration” Everything from fighter jets to alien
containment to HWPs!, how much of that is also a functional gameplay
element remains to be seen. Depending on how much coding is done, I
would love to have functional HWPs and some fairly advanced weaponry.
I can only do so much myself, and I’m looking for anyone with
programming skill who wants to be a part of this project!

A lot of people are doing some very unique things at the moment with
the HL2 engine. A great example of that would be the HL2: Real Time
Strategy project. Are you planning a linear single player mod (which
plays like RebelStar: Tactical Command or are you
planning on implementing non linear gameplay?

Non-linear gameplay is a strange thing in the game design world.
Everyone wants it but no one is willing to make it. The real problem
with non-linear games is the time it takes to design them. Giving a
player even only two separate paths can mean turning a 10 hour game
into a 5 hour game. While I happen to think nonlinear games are my
favorite method of storytelling, I don’t really have the time or
resources to make one right now. But hey, fallout 3 is coming out
soon! Making a linear story will give me the ability to concentrate
getting good gameplay and an exciting story into the time players will
spend playing the mod.

Will we get to go inside an Alien Battleship :D ? What other types of
UFO might we be able to explore?

Yes! I’m planning on including an alien ship in one of the levels. And
it should be an exciting level for me to model and texture. I’m
looking forward to working on that one. The battleship is the most
likely one to include, as it’s one of the largest and most likely to
have a formidable army in it! I don’t think there’s a need for more
then one alien ship right now. The levels should have as much variety
as possible.

Ethereals, are you looking to implement them and if so, will Psionics
feature in your mod?

I’m planning on including all the aliens, how many I can actually
include will depend on time and other factors. Again, any talented
character modellers who want to be a part of this should contact me!
That being said, the ethereals are near the top of my list. They have
a tendency to float around and shoot at the player from the sky, which
would be an amazing element to include. The psionics would be a little
trickier. I hated the psionics in X-Com, it was a terrible thing to do
to the player to have all your soldiers start shooting each other. I
can’t foresee a major inclusion of this in the mod. It would be silly
to take control away from the player as any sort of gameplay
mechanism. Though I’d imagine it could be an interesting story
element. It’s certainly a part of the etherial’s character.

Who is the protagonist (i.e. the playable character) – is he/she a
civilian running for cover who gets caught up in this (for example in a
terror mission) or are you a fully fledged XCOM member?

Clancy was a police officer. After being one of the first people to
encounter an alien he was recruited to join X-Com as a soldier. Much
like Half-Life 2′s title character, Clancy will be somewhat
tight-lipped. In the mod we’ll get to learn a bit of the psychology
behind his character. Including an explanation of why he’s so quiet.

Will you be working with AI scripted teammates or will you be a lone
soldier against the aliens?

I don’t like being alone in games, it’s… Lonely. I love the way
games like Call of Duty make you feel like part of an army, you get
friends to charge over the hill with you! On the other hand, there are
definite gameplay advantages to sending the player alone. Games go too
fast if all you do is follow the army around. I don’t want the player
to assume that if you don’t shoot an alien, someone next to you will.
Loneliness and fear also play an important part in creating tension
and suspense. I’m going to have to balance it out. It would make no
sense for X-Com to send a single soldier into battle. But Clancy will
find himself on his own when it counts.

Will the game finish at Cydonia :D ?

The mod is not going to follow the entire story of X-Com, but rather,
Clancy’s own story. The mod only covers a small portion in the middle
of X-Com’s history. The events at Cydonia take place after the mod. I
wanted to focus less on telling the story of X-com, and more on what
it’s like for the people involved. Perhaps if I ever make a sequel I
could include Cydonia!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It’s easy to start a project, but it’s difficult to finish one. I love
working on this mod, and I will not allow the project to be
neglected. I’m still looking for coders and character modellers who
want to be a part of the mod. So good luck out there! Thank you for
your time, and keep watching the Clancy site for more updates!

Definately one to keep an eye on, if you can help out please do! Check out the site along with the great preview video.

Über DS

March 11, 2008 Leave a comment

This is a $600 dollar DS mod (price includes DS) which turns it into a behemoth of a portable touch screen gaming system! Whilst the modder’s motives are unclear, the pictures speak for themselves, a two 15″ touch screen mod running through a custom built FPGA hardware driver to translate and upscale each screen.

This mod is completely useless but it is the sheer scale that impresses me coupled with the work on the FPGA. :) Lots more pictures at the mod’s official site.

Categories: Console, Mod Tags: , , ,

Asus EEE Touchscreen Update

January 20, 2008 1 comment

Following the lead from the great Asus EEE PC touchscreen mod I wrote about back in December, rumours have been surfacing that ASUS is interested in taking this design improvement, possibly adding a bigger screen (fingers crossed after the “yes they are, .. no we are not” that occured in December) and updating their product line.

According to manufacturers, the extra bill of materials (BOM) would only be around $15 given the scale ASUS is requesting. Good news, as I want an EEE PC but have held off over concerns about the screen size, I certainly will be keeping a keen eye on this :)

EEE PC Touchscreen Mod

December 23, 2007 3 comments

A couple of days ago, jkk posted a fascinating (if light on the details) post about his project to add a touchscreen to the EEE PC.

He tantalisingly promised to post a tutorial within a short duration. Thankfully he was as good as his word and his youtube walk-through can be found below.

Its a shame he is not a bit more concise, but the video really does show the simplicity of the mod. There are a few things that remain unclear, firstly whether or not the left speaker is replaced / disabled by this mod and whether this makes the whole thing a tighter fit when closed.

Paranoia – Half Life 1 Mod

December 20, 2007 9 comments

On the 3rd of December, a talented team of Russian modders released their single player Mod “Paranoia” on the unsuspecting Internet. Despite the fact that it has been in work for 3ish years and based on the Half Life 1 engine I was sufficiently intrigued to download the installer and give it a go.

From a technical standpoint it is, as expected, rather disappointing and it does take a while to readjust to the graphics of the original half life engine. Determined, however, to give the game a fair try I concentrated more on the other aspects of the mod.

You are a Russian Spetnaz soldier, and ‘wake up’ in your room (how cliché.) The level designers have done a good job in capturing post-soviet architecture and it provides an interesting insight into this world in much the same way as STALKER. This is where the similarities end, with uninspired texturing and poor initial map layouts and terrible lighting. The first level is always designed to familiarise the player with the environment he/she has just entered. Good games (and mods) give you a brief overview of how to control your character and a brief overview as to the environments you might face. Paranoia does do this, but in a horribly protracted way, leaving the player seemingly wandering in circles listening to subtitled Russian which gets boring fairly quickly.

The scripting is used fairly well but is let down by its complete lack of polish. Interactions with NPCs feel forced and judder-y which immediately starts to separate players from the game environment.

Combat is pretty painful. Its hard to go into a game without some expectations based on games that have “got it right first time.” The last FPS game I played prior to Paranoia was Call of Duty 4 and the difference could not be more stark, not just in terms of visual aspects (which of course cant be compared) but also in terms of fluidity and mechanics. With hit boxes which are laughably poor at times to terrible enemy model animation and AI this game started to annoy me at the first contact with the enemy (20-35 minutes in.) This is not simply due to the age of the engine, I still play Counter Strike (1.6) occasionally which is based on the same engine and there is no comparison, Counterstrike is silky smooth and actually has not aged badly graphically.

This is not to say, as the mod team has clearly put a lot of effort in, there are a number of interesting additions to the engine, like notes which can be read, a (very basic) mission manager and a point and click interface similar to the Doom 3/Quake 4 engine, however it is not enough.

I must admit I did not play too far past the first real ‘mission’ because all the annoyances were starting to mount up. The only thing that could save this mod would be a solid, immersing story line. Given the poor scripting, amateurish voiceclips and overall poor presentation I doubt it does and wont be playing it to find out.

Overall : 2/10

A lot of effort has clearly been put into some aspects of this mod and I am hesitant to put it down because of this, unfortunately a lot more is still needed and given the age of the engine, the team has likely run out of time.

UPDATE: I decided the give it another try and played through. It was not worth it, whilst the game did get better later on, the story line must have been conceived by a madman. (spoiler) After the initial encounter with the ‘terrorists’ you chase them into an underground base where you learn your Government had been conducting secret experiements in order to genetically engineer the perfect Spetznaz soldier. But it all turns nasty when you have to wade through a lab with zombies to another lab with genetic uber monsters, back to the first lab to find whats controlling the monsters…. you get the picture. Its disjointed and the story ‘borrows’ from games like They Hunger and the trigent parts of Far Cry, hanging together by a thread. All in all a revised rating would be 3/10 but only because the latter parts are slightly more polished than the start.

Categories: Gaming, Mod Tags: , , , , ,
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