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XCOM: Enemy Unknown designer Jake Solomon on the importance of PC


X-COM has quite a history on PC. In fact, apart from a pair of PlayStation ports (and for the Amiga and CD32!), the franchise's home is entirely bound to the PC. Developer Firaxis is definitely aware of the franchise's history, lead designer Jake Solomon tells me, and that history was taken into account when developing XCOM: Enemy Unknown, not to mention Firaxis' own history with the platform.

"When we first talked about reimagining X-COM, it made a lot of sense, because we were Firaxis, and we have a lot of experience with PC-based, turn-based games," he says. The studio always intended to make the game for consoles as well, but unlike an action game or a first-person shooter, Firaxis couldn't simply port the console version over to PC. "You couldn't say, 'Well, let's just do the least amount of work,' because interfacing with the characters, interfacing with the world, is so different."

Gallery: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PC Interface) | 7 Photos

He says it was difficult to approach the game in that way, but it turned out better for players, because it forced Firaxis to create a completely different interface for each version. "We had completely separate teams that were working on the PC UI versus the console UI." He added that each game has a very different feel as a result, and it even takes the developers some time to transition between playing each version.

Solomon says admits that it "sounds weird" for a designer to say it, but he's "fascinated" to see what the sales breakdown will be between the console and PC versions of Enemy Unknown. I tell him that part of that breakdown depends on which version a player needs to play Enemy Unknown's multiplayer mode with friends. Originally, Solomon wanted the game to include cross-platform multiplayer, but he says, "You have to get a lot of people talking, when that happens, you have to get a lot of people agreeing."

Apart from social concerns, there are some slight differences between each version. The PC version, for instance, supports both gamepad and traditional mouse and keyboard controls. Playing with a mouse and keyboard, however, gives it more a of a nostalgic feeling. "We actually brought back the, well, we call it the 'phone booth' internally," he says, referring to the three-dimensional, rectangular cursor from the original X-COM. This cursor returns in the PC version, as does the tactical grid overlaid on the environment.

Holding the right mouse button brings up a tactical grid in the PC version of Enemy Unknown.

There was no grid system initially, but the team decided to add it to the PC version during development. "On the console, you sort of drive the cursor, but on PC you look at the screen and you're sort of like, 'I want to move there to the corner of a truck.' You're not driving anything, you're just moving your mouse there an clicking." Given the differences in the PC interface, adding a grid just made more sense for the platform.

Solomon says that both the PC and console version have "complete parity" as far as gameplay is concerned, though the PC version has a few technical differences, notably controls, the grid system, and an unbounded save system (including Steam Cloud). At the very least, it seems as though PC players won't be left behind when one of the platform's most fondly-remembered franchises returns later this year.

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