"This isn't just like a port to a new platform," XCOM: Enemy Unknown designer Jake Solomon tells me over the phone. "From a development angle, this is one of the – and I honestly can't think of another experience except for The Walking Dead – where it's a game, a AAA game that we just put out on consoles, and we're putting the whole thing out to tablet. This is something that I can't take any design credit for, but turn-based strategy games work really well on mobile devices. It's sort of a happy accident, in that sense."
The project can be traced back to the time when Firaxis was finishing up its work on XCOM: Enemy Unknown for PC and consoles. 2K China presented a version of the game running on iOS, and from there Firaxis would work with them on the portable incarnation due this summer. It features the full functionality seen on other platforms, thanks to the Unreal foundation that has played nice with iOS since late 2010.
"Without Unreal, it certainly wouldn't have been possible," Solomon says.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown on iOS was developed to offer the full single-player experience of its console and PC brethren – no in-app purchases or similar mobile trappings. "We designed XCOM to be a complete experience out of the gate, and for that we're charging a premium up-front price," Solomon says. "There won't be any in-app purchases because we're going to give people this big, huge experience for an up-front price. It's a model I think core gamers are familiar with – I mean, the other model certainly works, but not for us."
In Solomon's eyes, a lot of the potential success for XCOM: Enemy Unknown has to do with its genre. "It's difficult to translate some games over to mobile devices," Solomon says. "It makes me laugh that we're one of the oldest genres, but we are by far best-suited for the platforms emerging. Gaming, like many things, is cyclical and good mechanics are good mechanics."
XCOM: Enemy Unknown will be Firaxis' third iOS game this year, following Haunted Hollow and Sid Meier's Ace Patrol. When asked if mobile would be a primary platform for the studio going forward, Solomon said it's something the studio couldn't ignore. "For us, we consider mobile to be another avenue for gaming and it's hard to imagine we would go forward without considering that avenue pretty strongly."