In this update, I’d like to take a break from showcasing the efforts of our art team, and pivot to the design side. In particular, over the next few updates, I’d like to talk about third-party games that had a big influence on our designs.
When designing the details of a game, we usually first sketch a basic idea in something that’s often called a vision document. This document serves as the foundation for all subsequent work – it not only sets the scope, mood and feature-set, but it also lists all the relations to any other games out there. Our approach is that intimate knowledge of all the similar games already on the market is crucial. You have to understand their strengths and weaknesses. You also need to know who is your target audience, what games do they like to play, and what they expect from a next-gen title in their favorite genre.
Designing unique games is only viable for very small titles (think super-simple puzzle games). The bigger and more complex a game gets, the more you have to rely on design patterns that repeat between titles in the genre. This approach makes the game more accessible and lowers the risk for big titles. Even if your unique game is great, it won’t matter if too few people will have the patience to learn and understand it. On the other hand, making a game that brings nothing new to the table won’t get anyone excited. So, the biggest difficulty lies in striking the right balance between the old and the new.
Influence #1 – X-COM Games
It’s no secret that Return 2 Games is a tribute series, and Book of Aliens’ greatest single influence is 1994 X-COM: UFO Defense (also known as UFO: Enemy Unknown in Europe). The game, and to some extent its sequels, made a huge impact on us when we played it as kids. It was never a question if a UFO tribute would be a part of R2G, it was a matter of when 🙂 And now we are working hard on it.
The similarities between Book of Aliens and X-COM games will be limited though. Both games will be in the same genre – a blend of global strategy and turn-based tactics – and both games depict a story of the world’s desperate attempts to respond to a global alien invasion. In particular, we want to have a similar feel of doom and gloom in the face of an unknown enemy and a global struggle that starts in the style of the cold war but quickly escalates into an all-out conflict. In this regard, Book of Aliens will have a unique narrative with many secrets and surprises to uncover along the way.
However, when it comes to game mechanics this will be where both games really diverge. If you look at the more modern games in the same X-COM series and genre, there is a trend to simplify game mechanics, make everything more streamlined and fast-paced. Some of these efforts are more successful than others, but often simplifying things has the downside of taking some depth away. This is something we are not fans of and we are actively working on other solutions.
After all, we are making a series of midcore games. We want Book of Aliens to be easier to pick up and have shorter gameplay sessions but we also want it to be deeper in terms of strategies and tactics available to the players. If this sounds like a difficult task, that’s because it is. And it’s one of the reasons why developing the game takes so long.
Take care and stay safe!