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View Full Version : XCOM's Ant Farm versus HotS' Leviathan



mr. peasant
10-14-2012, 02:52 PM
Greetings.

Has anyone else been playing/watching Firaxis Games' XCOM: Enemy Unknown? For those who haven't, XCOM is a turn-based strategy game about an alien invasion on Earth. Much like SC2, the missions are interluded a 'main base' mode that the player returns to after each mission to upgrade his/her units and tech. However, I feel that the people at Firaxis were far more successful in their effort than Blizzard in getting players engaged in it and making it an enjoyable experience gameplay-wise.

If you haven't seen it before, here is a quick featurette about what Firaxis has dubbed 'The Ant Farm':

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While I'm loathe to say one game is better than the other, here are a number of features about the Ant Farm that I liked that I think Blizzard could emulate or learn from moving forward in HotS and LotV:

The diorama/ant farm style presentation. When you first return to HQ, rather than starting in one room, the player is presented with a zoomed out view of the entire base; showing all the rooms and what's going on in them. Showing the base as a hive of activity immediately piques the player's interest and beckons them to find out what's going on. This, I feel, would help address Blizzard's issue about how players weren't engaging with the various characters aboard the Hyperion in WoL.


The base constantly evolves. Unlike the Hyperion, new rooms are constantly being added under the player's direction as the game progresses. This, coupled with the zoomed out presentation makes it immediately obvious to the player that something new has been added; and in a way that taps into our natural curiosity.


Although there are fewer named characters in XCOM than in WoL, they all regularly interact with one another throughout the story; which gives good insight into the interpersonal interactions and the contrasting personalities between them. In contrast, we get a lot less of this in SC2. While we do on occasion get one of the characters talking to Raynor about another character, we don't really get to see said two characters actually talk to one another.


Engaging with the characters actually produce additional, non-mission-specific objectives (spoiler: you actually need to complete them in order to progress in the story). This, I feel, is an important feature missing from SC2. By having it, it clues the player in that "hey, I actually need to be talking with these people".


The player spends a significant amount of time in the Ant Farm. Yes, I realise that wasn't how SC2 was designed but by making the player's actions during this phase of the game important to his/her success and progression in the game and giving them plenty of interesting things to do during it, it does wind up causing the player to engage in it more; if simply because s/he has to.


So... all this is great and all but what was the point of it all? Well, when last seen, Blizzard had commented that they weren't entirely satisfied with the end results of WoL's Hyperion phase yet its HotS' equivalent - the Leviathan - was still very much in the same vein engagement mechanics-wise.

As such, I think HotS could take a page from XCOM's design book and have a similarly designed base. It would even make sense lore-wise for the Zerg to do so. Though, perhaps instead of a vertical layout, it could have a more traditional, horizontal layout a la Dungeon Keeper. Imagine, building Nurseries to increase the max army size or speaking to Abathur to have the evolution master tell you he needs to study a certain type of critter to help develop a certain evolution for the Swarm;requiring the player has to keep his/her eyes open for them when on missions.

The_Blade
10-14-2012, 03:25 PM
Had Blizzard avoided the following 3 things, the game would have been much better storywise.


Godlike hyperion characters and inconpetent enemies
Absurd Scenarios and lack of coherence
"Suspension of disbelief" exploit


I haven't played XCOM's but I have heard a few about it. I'm not even sure it's out yet. What I've seen from this video is that they are working on a method that will allow players to feel progress. This is quite important for any game, as the ending of the game will produce an impact in the player equivalent to his experience through the development of the problem.

Turalyon
10-14-2012, 06:44 PM
I can't wait to get this game. I have very fond memories of the old UFO game and am itching to sink my teeth into this new iteration.

That said, I think it's a tad unfair to compare the two games and more, to expect HotS to borrow design aspects from a fundamentally different game.

At a basic level, the X-COM games "work" because they are inherently a sand-box. All the mechanics and design go toward that end. The "lore" of X-Com is just for flavour and there is no story beyond finding the source of the alien threat and eliminating it. There are no "characters" beyond what you name your soldiers as and then subsequently feel guilty about being sent to their death (soldiers can be permanently killed in this killed). The missions you undertake are largely random - you identify UFOs on the geoscape (rotating map of Earth), shoot them down and recover the crash site through a tactical mode. Other variations would include tactical mode on alien bases or responding to alien terror sites on major world cities.

Firaxis has updated the old game, not made it into a different one much like Starcraft. But that is not to say that X-Com/UFO is the same type of game as Starcraft such that design decisions should be used interchangeably between the two games.

mr. peasant
10-14-2012, 07:43 PM
I can't wait to get this game. I have very fond memories of the old UFO game and am itching to sink my teeth into this new iteration.

That said, I think it's a tad unfair to compare the two games and more, to expect HotS to borrow design aspects from a fundamentally different game.

At a basic level, the X-COM games "work" because they are inherently a sand-box. All the mechanics and design go toward that end. The "lore" of X-Com is just for flavour and there is no story beyond finding the source of the alien threat and eliminating it. There are no "characters" beyond what you name your soldiers as and then subsequently feel guilty about being sent to their death (soldiers can be permanently killed in this killed). The missions you undertake are largely random - you identify UFOs on the geoscape (rotating map of Earth), shoot them down and recover the crash site through a tactical mode. Other variations would include tactical mode on alien bases or responding to alien terror sites on major world cities.

Firaxis has updated the old game, not made it into a different one much like Starcraft. But that is not to say that X-Com/UFO is the same type of game as Starcraft such that design decisions should be used interchangeably between the two games.

I agree. Which is why I was very specific about which design concepts I mentioned. The zoomed out view, the growing base, the presentation of new options as new rooms instead of static objects, etc are all things that could very easily be incorporated into SC2; and I feel would work.

As it stands, I feel that the between-missions component of SC2 is under-utilised and under-realised. There should be more things to do there and it should be a required part of the campaign/experience and better integrated rather than simply an optional part that people can just skip through.


As for XCOM's characters, the reboot does have three major characters - the guy in charge of mission control, the chief scientist and the chief engineer - who follow you through the entire campaign. Also, I wouldn't call XCOM a sandbox game. Rather, it's a game consisting of two separate components: a turn-based strategy component and a separate base management simulation component. In a sense, SC2's single-player campaign can be similarly partitioned into a RTS component and a base management simulation component; of which the latter seems very restrained from its original design and underdeveloped compared to the RTS component.

Triceron
10-15-2012, 01:08 AM
I wouldn't say it's underdeveloped as much as it is meant to be a supplement to the RTS. There's no real gameplay out of the choices considering only 2-3 missions are choice-based while the rest of the units can be obtained through doing missions that were skipped.

It sounds like XCOM has a lot more base management in mind because it was designed specifically with that as a part of the gameplay. SC2 Campaign's base management is a glorified Talent system, a place to visually represent your progress. There aren't many ways to play the campaign differently. You could go a different order or choose to buy different units at different times, but the end result isn't going to be a wildly different experience each time you play.

As for the Ant Farm system, I'm not sold on the idea yet. I could see it working if there was more emphasis on the non-RTS aspects of gameplay, but at the same time it's not like there was much to offer in between missions aside from bits of story and the occasional upgrade. Perhaps with HOTS' more RPG-centric gameplay, a bit more focus would be spent on the upgrades system, but I don't think it needs to be as fancy as panning out your entire base. I don't really know if it's worth it, considering most of the base is not much more than eye candy for upgrades.