What's Next For 'XCOM'? Jake Solomon Talks XCOM 5, DLCs And Mission Timers

XCOM 2 Enemy Type Chryssalid
XCOM 2 Enemy Type: Chryssalid. (c) Firaxis

What’s next for XCOM ? Is it XCOM 3 ? More DLC? More mods? The franchise has enjoyed a lot of success since the release of XCOM: Enemy Unknown in 2012. And during his keynote at PAX East over the weekend Lead Designer Jake Solomon gave an oral history on what it took to revamp a franchise he loved as a kid. In the speech, he spoke often of the numerous failures he encountered along the way, underscoring the idea that the beloved franchise didn’t just arrive out of nowhere. He felt then what he feels now, that good game design is the product of long hours and lots of risk.

“It seems like every game is just, like, me holding on by the fingernails until the very end,” he told iDigitalTimes.

Solomon’s approach to game design is the product of 17 years at Firaxis, the only company he’s ever worked for, spending time alongside one of the great luminaries in all of gaming: Sid Meier. Solomon worked on projects ranging from Sid Meier’s Pirates! to Civilization: Revolution and learned a crucial lesson: they’re not his games. They’re our games.

“I don't have any sort of proprietary view of XCOM . And its super dangerous to have that kind of view as a designer anyway,” he said.

READ : How The 'Rocket League' Devs Helped Launch 'XCOM'

This is especially true for XCOM, a franchise with a very dedicated community that spends hours playing and making mods that tweak everything from the cosmetics of the game to the AI to the much ballyhooed Long War mod that realigns major portions of the gameplay. Solomon views XCOM as more than a game, he sees it as a strategy platform versatile enough to deliver a range of experiences to a diverse audience. But while he admires the hardcore crowd, he knows they’re not the mainstream.

“When you talk about something like Long War or the AI overhauls, that stuff is great. It's the perfect symbiotic relationship because the fact is we can't, nor would I want to cater to, the audience that would say ‘that's what I want out of XCOM ,’” he said.

Solomon has a point, and means no disrespect to the LW fans out there. But if vanilla XCOM was Long War mod on Ironman, it would be unplayable for all but the most dedicated masochists. He’s thrilled XCOM inspires such dedication that its fans make the game their own. And he learned the hard way how being “very, maybe too much mechanics driven” can backfire when he introduced the oft-maligned mission timers into XCOM 2: Enemy Within.

“We should've included an option to turn off the timers. I didn't expect people to have such a strong reaction to the timers, and there a lot of timed missions,” he said. “The problem is that if there is no force, if there is no pressure on the player to play suboptimally, to take risks, then the player can play every mission almost exactly the same way. Just move super slowly, overwatch be super cautious. Then players don't have a varied experience when they play the game.”

As someone who is not a fan of Mission Timers, I have to concede that Solomon is right on that point. I didn’t like them because I couldn’t just do the same strategy over and over, but I did get used to them and they didn’t make the game unplayable. In fact, some of my most harrowing XCOM moments were because of those f$#%ing timers. There’s a mod to disable them now, of course, and the Long War mod for XCOM 2: Enemy Within released just a few weeks ago. So what’s next?

In his PAX East keynote, Solomon made light of the pressures facing his future and that  of his franchise with a slide in his presentation that offered a “Developer Obituary.” It posited a 10-year career that culminated in a joke XCOM 5 review about the game not being as good as we had hoped. A sincere and genuine moment to be sure, but also one that begs the larger question: what’s next for XCOM ?

Solomon told me he views XCOM as “the kind of game that lends itself to something different.” An XCOM game could take many forms, he explained, because of the rich lore surrounding the complex turn-based and strategy components. It’s a big picture and Solomon paints himself in it as a creature of habit.

“My wife and I joke about this a lot. I've only ever worked one place, Firaxis. I've worked there for 17 years. I have been working on XCOM like ten years. And I'm the kind of guy that my favorite meal has not changed in like 25 years,” he said. “If I like something I just keep doing it forever.”

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