One of X-Com's original creators returns to the genre. Let's talk about how the game is pushing the genre forward and making something streamers and their audiences will love.
Last week, we talked about John Wick Hex and the arrival of the “X-Com-like” genre, and why it’s proven to be such a successful formula in the age of streaming. In a space where single-player titles tend to have shorter shelf lives than multiplayer games on Twitch, it’s important that those creating the former understand what attracts viewers and creators to those games that do manage to find success. The proliferation of this genre over the past few years is a clear sign that these games are an educational place to look.
With that in mind, now seems like a good time to look forward at what else is forthcoming in the space, and how other X-Com-like titles are setting themselves up for success. How might they push the genre forward, and how does it position itself to best leverage streamers in building its own community and Twitch presence? Let’s dive in by taking a good look at one of the most anticipated such games due in the near future.
Phoenix Point - Snapshot Games, September 2019
Snapshot Games was founded in 2013 by David Kaye and Julian Gollop. The latter founded Mythos Games with his brother in 1988, and it was under that banner that they developed the original UFO: Enemy Unknown, also known as X-Com: UFO Defense. Since that time, the franchise has expanded, then sat untouched for over a decade before being rebooted and updated for a new generation by Firaxis Games in 2012, with an expansion and sequel of its own in the years that followed.
As discussed in a previous blog, this rejuvenated classic franchise managed to spawn an entire genre of tactical turn-based-strategy titles based on planning, instanced and randomized combat, character permadeath and all the other tropes that have made X-Com such an enormous hit. And it’s in that context that Gallop, the father of the genre, is diving back into the fray with the upcoming Phoenix Point.
In many ways a spiritual successor to his original creation, this forthcoming title is familiar in many ways. Once again, players must prepare for missions wherein they combat the spread of a global invasion, researching and developing technology and skills to equip your individual soldiers for encounters wherein they can be permanently killed. But, there’s also a lot that’s new, and it all seems to be built around the same elements that make turn-based strategy such a good fit for streaming: complex and nuanced systems that make the game versatile, playable in many ways.
Solo games can have short shelf lives on Twitch because many will progress similarly regardless of who’s playing. If a game is linear, focused on a narrative, there’s not always value in watching other creators tackle the same content. The novelty is gone after a single playthrough. Turn-based strategy, though, doesn’t work that way. Every playthrough is built around different branching decisions. Every player has different strategies, different preferences, and it can manifest as very different styles of play, different individual storylines for each creator.
The changes made from the X-Com formula seem to be focused on leaning in to that versatility, creating a more diverse array of possibilities for each encounter, and thus, a more expansive canvas for streamers to tell their own stories. One of the major changes, for example, is that combat no longer relies on a random number generator to determine whether an attack hits home. Instead, an aiming reticle with two concentric circles changes in size depending on the weapon and distance from the enemy, and each bullet has a 50% chance of hitting in a random spot within the smaller circle, and 100% within the larger circle. What’s more, any bullets that don’t hit home will still travel and impact other enemies, pieces of the environment, or even fellow squadmates. Suddenly, combat is about much more than maximizing your percentage chance to hit on a particular body part, and even more about tactical choices, planning around or destroying terrain, weighing the options on where to aim and why.
And the enemies, too, have become more dynamic. The story of Phoenix Point is built around mutation, and the creatures with which you fight are constantly changing and shifting to adapt to your strategies. Every limb of a mutated character can be swapped out and modified by the game independently, from a head that spits acid to an arm that has transformed into a shield, and these changes will occur over time in response to the way you approach combat.
In addition, there are also other human factions, which can be friends or enemies depending on the circumstances, and your interactions with them add an additional dynamism to the preparation and world-map components of the game.
So, at every available opportunity, the team at Snapshot Games is stuffing the game with more versatility, with more strategies, options, and challenges that open up even more ways to play the game, and even more ways for the game to play back. This should lead to an experience that’s different for every player, and thus every streamer and their audiences. If the upcoming John Wick Hex represents a moment of culmination for the ‘X-Com-like” genre, Phoenix Point feels like an elevation, a next step that can really catch on with creators and demonstrate that the genre still has plenty of room to grow, to meet the needs of an increasingly Twitch-focused marketplace. I can’t think of a more appropriate developer to tackle the challenge than the man who helped create the genre in the first place, and we’re excited to see the impact it makes this September.
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