If you have been reading my posts for a while, then you probably know that I’m a huge fan of the XCOM series. I reference turn-based strategy games often, mention XCOM probably once a month, and it’s because I can’t help it: I love the genre and am borderline obsessed with the series.
So I was pleasantly surprised when indie developer Wesley Rockholz posted an article yesterday over at Gamasutra entitled 5 Things I Learned From XCOM. It’s a quick yet excellent read, and while you may have no interest in developing a strategy game, believe me: you need to read this. Rockholz discusses lessons learned from XCOM: Enemy Unknown that are universal to all indie developers. Below are a few of the lessons he learned along with my two cents (because if there’s one thing I know, it’s what makes XCOM: Enemy Unknown great!):
Overdoing your theme is impossible
Rockholz states that the theme of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one of its strongest points, and I agree.
“XCOM ripped me out of my chair, pulled me into an immersive environment and never let go of me,” he says, and again, I 100% agree. One of the awesome things about XCOM: Enemy Unknown is that is isn’t unapologetic about the world it is creating. A turn-based strategy game where you fend off an alien invasion sounds like one of the most unoriginal concepts ever created, but the beauty of XCOM: Enemy Unknown (and a few of the other games in the series) is that it does its damn best to make you feel as if you are the ultimate decider in the war against an alien race. Never once are you taken out of the experience, as XCOM: Enemy Unknown never lets you go for a minute. Even during the loading screen sequences (as Rockholz points out), you’re getting intel that is crucial to the mission rather than looking at a boring loading screen.
Rockholz goes more in-depth as to why the theme is awesome in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and to relate his point to you guys, you need to know that there is no such thing as overdoing your theme. If your game has a theme (and it should), own it. Enrapture the player with that theme and never let it go. Your indie game will be better for it.
Balance isn’t everything
We’ve discussed balance a few times in our past posts, and for good reason: having a balanced game is vital. Yet, it isn’t everything. As Rockholz points out:
“Striving for perfect balance in every game under all conditions is both futile and unoriginal. Being behind or ahead of the balance curve or your opponents is a part of games. In the case of XCOM, dealing with the inadequacies of your strategy and the wildly fluctuating effect of randomness forces players to adapt their strategy to the state of the game.”
I couldn’t agree more, and truthfully, it’s what makes games fun. A game that is so unbalanced the game is impossible for players to progress is one thing. But a game that is unbalanced in a way that forces players to think fast is an entirely different case.
It’s a positive type of unbalancing (sounds like a future topic for a post to me), and it’s what makes XCOM: Enemy Unknown such a blast. Enemies react in such random ways and have their own plans of action that – often – is entirely unfair. But that’s the fun of gaming, isn’t it? Improving your skills/strategies and overcoming the odds are the types of scenarios most of us crave the most in a video game, and it’s what makes great games truly awesome.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown achieves this every time you play, and so should your indie game.
I don’t want to spoil too much of Rockholz great article, so check it out. Whether you enjoy XCOM: Enemy Unknown or couldn’t care about the genre at large, it doesn’t matter: he gives additional, awesome insight into what makes the game truly work that you can apply to your future games as well – no matter the genre!