I discovered a rather exciting new UFO: Enemy Unknown remake project a few days ago called UFO: The Two Sides. What makes UFO:TTS different from previous remakes is that the team are aiming not just on reimplementing the fantastic gameplay mechanics of the original but extending the possibilities with online multiplayer.
Multiplayer remakes of UFO: Enemy Unknown are not new, I remember playing something called XCOM: Gladiators back in the early 2000s (gosh, yes we can now say the ‘two-thousands’ – I refuse to say naughties .. eek), a project that became known as UFO2000 – a fairly well-known and mature open source game. What separates The Two Sides from UFO2000 is simply grandeur, whilst UFO2000 sought to reimplement the turn based element of the game to allow for player vs player gaming, The Two Sides seeks to reimplement the whole game (both geoscape and battlescape) such that it can be played from either the side of the Humans (as in the original) or the Aliens. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
The best thing however about this remake is that there are already early downloads available to play with. At the time of writing, version 0.90 was available and, whilst having a few bugs and missing functionality, is still playable and hints at some of the ideas the TTS team have in the pipeline. It has been a while since I have been excited about UFO: Enemy Unknown (or X-COM: UFO Defense as the US chaps call it) but this project has definitely rekindled my interest. I strongly recommend you get over to the UFO: The Two Sides site and check out their progress.
Image credit to the XCOM:TTS site.
Valve have come up with a great promo for XCOM fans – ALL the games (including Interceptor and Enforcer) for £2.99 ! This is an incredible bargain as all five games separately are £2.99, not to mention that Valve have done some tinkering so you avoid all the DOSBox / 16bit emulation woes.
Unfortunately I already own all the originals (apart from Interceptor and Enforcer – but these are not true XCOM strategy games as far as I am concerned) – however if you missed one or two of them then now you have absolutely no excuse.
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
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 ? 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
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 ?
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.
I blogged before about XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a game released in 1994 which is still today heralded as the first (and so far only) example of a real time strategy (RTS) game which combines turn based strategy seamlessly to make a very accessible, enjoyable game. Easy to play but at the same time, involves a great deal of thought to get right.
I will start off with the direct clones, games that, either as a result of an open source community or a big software house have tried to recreate the magic.
A new isometric style strategy game heavily influenced by XCOM currently in development by an indie team. It features world exploration and survival elements with the player controlling alien forces hell-bent on conquering human worlds for their vast resources. The worlds are large, teeming with catacombs and life, procedurally generated with gameplay inspired by classic XCOM and dwarf fortress style games.
This is a project I am involved in and as a result I have snuck it in at the top of this list
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
A reimaging recently released by Firaxis which started off as a modern remake of the classic original UFO:Enemy Unknown but then evolved into a unique direction. Having played it there is almost nothing I can say against it. XCOM:EU is a fun, almost nostalgic jaunt through the XCOM universe I so enjoy with some modern twists. In many aspects the original has been simplified which is my only mild criticism, however what is there is so refined as to almost bring giddy glee to me whenever I play. I highly recommend.
Perhaps the original, the one that started it all. The majority of the work was done by a Russian programmer who did a magnificent job of laying down the basic framework. With the 0.2.x builds, you could randomly generate a terrain and populate it with soldiers playing a very basic hot-seat style multiplayer game. Since then, a great deal of work has gone into this project to improve and expand on this framework. It has become a fairly stable multiplayer game with its own hosted server which is normally always populated and even has its own (rough) league table based on the completed games.
The only problem I have is that, in an attempt to shed all non F/OSS content, they have dropped the requirement for the UFO: Enemy Unknown graphics. What this means is that you can play with an entirely community made set of artwork / weapons. This is great in some ways and a lot of people have contributed both terrain, weapon sets and armour artwork but this is the project’s greatest problem at present. There are so many different weapon sets you can choose from (as well as armour and graphics) that the game feels as though it has abandoned its routes in the xcom universe. Personally I feel that the game should stick to what it is good at (being a multiplayer UFO:EU clone) and have these community driven skins/models on a completely different server.
This is definitely the most mature project (it supports both UFO: Enemy Unknown AND Terror from the deep graphic sets) infact, most telling is what is currently NOT supported:
- Strategic mode (a.k.a. Geoscape).
- Single player mode.
Having recently added flying units and deloyable aliens such as the Floater, Ethereal and Snakeman making this clone the most feature complete around at present and definitely one I would strongly recommend.
UFO: AI (Alien Invasion)(Project Link)
Is another fairly recent project that has come forwards in leaps and bounds in the last few years. Based on the open source Quake 2 (known internally as the id Tech 2) engine, the team behind UFO:AI have spent considerable time making the maps modular and converting this first person engine into a RTS style one. While at the low level, the engine is still a FPS, the camera has been dramatically modified as to is the engine’s ability to handle dynamic map production through the stitching of smaller map units. I have played a few of the builds the team has released in the last few years and overall I am impressed.
Unfortunately the game suffers from a very jagged feel, unit movement and shooting phases do not feel fluidic and it is quite hard to beat the aliens who seem to have an unfair advantage coded in. Given the limitations of the engine they started with, they have made huge progress but I am unconvinced this project will mature much further.
X-Force: Fight for Destiny(Project link)
This is one of the clones of Ufo: Enemy unknown that I really enjoyed playing, although very rough around the edges you can see the amount of planning that has gone into this game and it is fun to play. The moot point is that the native language of the development team is German, this would not be an issue if it was not for the very poor job someone did translating some of it (the rest of the clone is still in German.) There are several key things which make this game quite enjoyable, firstly the game is uniquely different, but easy for a XCOM veteran to pick up and play with minial adjustment, and secondly, the way in which destructible terrain has been implemented. In a way it feels a lot more like Apocalipse but in the UFO: EU universe which makes it quite entertaining. I have not tried the more recent builds but this is one I would definitely recommend you try.
Project Xenocide(Project link)
This clone has wowed with spectacular renders and very grand plans, unfortunately this project started life as a kind of Geoscape (the real time strategy part of UFO: Enemy Unknown) tech demo and a few years on that shows. Whilst the Geoscape looks quite mature, the extent to which the tactical aspect has been developed can been seen in their 2007 tech demo video. This is not a serious clone at the moment because it is missing the most vital part of UFO:EU. It would be interesting if the team from Project Xenocide merged with the UFO 2000 team, although that is unlikely as it is clear they have their own plans for the Tactical element of the game. Sadly at the moment all they are is a fairly dull tech demo.
UFO Pocket PC(Project link)
This is more of a port than a clone although technically the latter is the case. The Russian team (seeing a trend here? ) have out of nowhere completed a very comprehensive clone for the Windows Mobile Pocket PC platform. I barely use my PDA but I tried it out and was pleasantly impressed. In my mobile was Pocket PC (its Symbian) then I would carry thisw around with me everywhere, the port is that good. The only minor niggle is the look system for the soldiers. Due to the touch screen only having a left click implementation, turning your soldiers is a bit cumbersome.
Whilst a lot of the GUI/ management screens are unique to this port, the game itself has been remade with astonishing accuracy. This is definately one to try if you have a Pocket PC.
UFO: Extraterrestrials(Project Link)
Definately one of the most polished clones, this game is a commercial offering set in a similar universe (although not the same to avoid royalty costs to the present holder of the XCOM trademark) to the originals. The Geoscape and Tactical elements are almost identical but with a variety of subtle differences. I got bored about half way through this game as it seemed to lack any real innovation. Whilst graphically it is very good, the combat seems a little meek compared to the vicious bark of the original Heavy Plasma rifle. That being said, it has a variety of game modes and the aliens are not stupid requiring a cautious commander versed in tactical thinking.
I really like the way combat is depicted on the Geoscape, whilst in the original time ‘stopped’ during an interception whilst your interceptor battled the UFO in the popup screen, the battle takes place in all its glory right on your Geoscape which I was very impressed by. There is no doubt about it, this is a game to buy as it will provide hours of enjoyment.
The Altar Games : Aftermath, Aftershock, Afterlight
Of course, no list of XCOM universe remakes would be complete without a nod to Altar Entertainment and their trilogy of games. Aftermath came first and, whilst it was a clone of UFO:EU it has a completely different storyline which is actually quite good.
The game starts in a movie theater with a strange dust floating in the projected light, the camera tilts and you everyone is dead, suffocated by strange, alien spores. The game starts by telling you ‘yesterday’ and alien craft arrived in orbit, all communication failed and it began unleashing spores into the atmosphere. There spores blanketed the world and suffocated most of the human race. Only a select few remain. (Enter player)
The Geoscape is very different to classic UFO:EU/Xcom games in that, you start off with a small sector of the globe under your control. This is your base, you must expand your territory as you go along by completing missions and ridding nearby sectors of aliens, both mutants and the intelligent ‘grey’ like species which look suspiciously like stectoids. As you gain territory, you come across other humans who can join your ranks as soldiers. You also perform UFO intercepts and raiding missions (although you do not learn how to enter the UFOs till later.) Overall the game is extremely enjoyable and the best of the three games from Altar, however it is crippled later on by the aliens developing a second stage to their technology which is so powerful, even an experienced play could have difficulty getting more than a 1:1 kill ratio (aliens for your soldiers) which any die hard fan will agree is too hard, especially given the scarcity of volunteers.
I must mention the Geoscape interception of UFOs which is done in a unique and fun way. The battle is not controlled by the player but in the form of a brief (20 second) video of the dog fight your interceptors have with the UFO(s). This is both fun and exciting as there are a number of different outcomes which all have their own video sequence.
I only briefly played the second two games from Altar as I found them very boring and without any real redeeming features after a few hours. I do recommend Aftermath but not the other two.
I want to finish by mentioning the games that are set in the XCOM universe, but are either a completely different genre.
Clancy: The XCOM Story(Project link)
This is a WIP first person shooter mod for Half Life 2 set in the XCOM universe. It appears to be a linear story driven campaign in the fairly early stages although the project has a great website and introductory video which I highly recommend. Ever since seeing the damage the UFO did in Half Life 2: Gary’s Mod I have been longing for a XCOM mod. This *could* be the answer, we shall have to see.
If nothing else, I highly encourage you to watch their preview movie on their website.
XCOM: A Last Hope(Project link)
This is a multiplayer first person shooter, also utlising the Half Life 2 engine. It looks as though the mod creators are aiming at an XCOM themed Counter Strike style game and although very much a WIP, they have released several builds. This is not one that I have tried, but it does look interesting if in need of graphical polish.
Although in truth, I should really add Terror from the Deep and Xcom Apocalipse to this list, as well as the other games officially released by the XCOM franchise, but to be honest they do not really feature on my list. The reason for this is Terror from the deep, whilst it has a lot of interesting tweaks / additions is just UFO:EU with a fresh coat of paint for me. Xcom Apocalipse is a great game, but I treat it as a new game (like the Altar series.)
So that is it, for the moment! If I have missed any games out feel free to comment and berate me
UPDATE : 05/06/08 :
Corrected a few spelling mistakes. Also, UFO Pocket PC appears to have gone offline. The domain at which it was hosted is not longer available which is a shame. It was definitely something worth trying out if you owned a pocket PC.
UPDATE : 24/06/08 :
URL problem seems to have corrected itself. Pocket PC UFO is back.
UPDATE: 31/10/12 :
After quite some time and given the amount of traffic this post recieves, I’ve added some new recent projects that any self respecting XCOM fan will enjoy trying out.
Sometimes it is easy to forget the games released a few years ago that defined a generation or genre of games. Take for example the Doom, Quake, C&C, War/Starcraft series (and many other notable games) that to this day are unrivaled. More and more games are repeating the same tired methodology of taking an idea that has worked in the past and simply slapping a next generation engine on it.
That is not to say that games like Call of Duty 4, Crysis, Doom 3, Generals, Bioshock, Battlefield etc are not great games in their own right, its just sometimes one has to look back at those old classics and realise (in my faux-American persona) ‘Gee… they don’t make them like that any more.’
One of the best examples of games that refuse to roll over and quietly sleep in the history books is UFO Enemy Unknown (or XCOM UFO Defense for my American Visitors.) This is one of the only games that I pick up and play all the way through every six to twelve months.
This game has undoubtedly aged – it was released in 1994 and set in the not too distant future (1999.) You are XCOM, a global defense force charged with protecting the earth from the unexpected and unknown visitors from the sky. There are two modes, a management mode called the Geoscape (real time) where you manage your bases and intercept UFOs and a Tactical mode (turn based) where you deploy your troops to storm crashed/landed UFOs and protect the populace from Alien terror missions.
The graphics are very basic – no hardware acceleration (although the manual cautions you that you may have difficulties playing the game with only 2Mb of RAM) and the very low resolution of 640×480 (VGA). Strangely, you get used to this. The graphics are beautifully designed with aliens that do look frightening (especially when your soldiers make contact in the night) and very visceral. Everything about this game is well thought out and give the impression of absolute freedom. There is no linear path to the game and you can play in any way you like which was unprecedented at the time (and still not matched.)
I recently spotted a first person shooter remake based on the Half life 2 engine. Lets make no mistake, if the team pulls this off it will be incredible. There are a number of remakes floating around, but I will make that the focus of a future post.
Sadly the sequels to UFO Enemy unknown were disappointing. XCOM Terror from the Deep was essentially a rehashed version set at the bottom of the sea. While there are some nice tactical additions to the game, apart from being harder and a lot less forgiving than the original, it is fairly dull and uninspiring. Xcom Apocalipse was enjoyable but the key to this game is not considering it a sequel but a stand alone game.
In summary, if you have not played any games from the XCOM series, you are lacking in your computer game exposure. I highly recommend you play the original, either via dosbox or VirtualPC. Alternatively, there are ‘Windows XP versions’ of this game floating around with a program that slows down your PC to make the game playable, these can be found on abandon-ware sites.
UPDATE: The Win9x version does not work under Vista.