Host, Xbox's Major Nelson
Art Director for XCOM2
Larry: Joining me today is Greg Foertsch. He is the art director for XCOM He's a, we're, we're connecting, uh, via, via Skype over to Firaxis. Greg, great to meet you and, uh, welcome to the show.
Greg: Thanks, great to meet you too.
Larry: Well, we got a great week for you guys. You have XCOM 2 out. It's, uh, out on all, a bunch of different platforms, um, but I wanted to get you on and talk about it. This is, this is quite the beloved franchise, my friend.
Greg: (laughs) Yeah, we, uh, we love it a little bit here too. We're, we're super happy that it's finally out on the consoles. That was a, you know, something we really wanted to have happen.
Larry: Tell us, uh, tell us about what we can expect, uh, from XCOM 2 and what has changed since the last installment and what some of you guys have learned at the, at Firaxis?
Greg: Wow. So, uh, from Enemy Unknown, everything's changed. Like the, the whole game is, is, is, is different as far as it's, it's canon goes. Uh, you know, it starts out twenty years in the future. You've, you actually lost the war, uh, early and you're now a resistance group, uh, fighting, fighting back against an alien occupied, uh, earth. So, it kind of turns everything on it's head. Um, you know, all of the game play mechanics are still, are still pretty, pretty consistent. Um, but, but there's a lot of new wrinkles in, in the game so it's a, it's a very different, uh, experience, uh, then, then, uh, then just a normal sequel. Um, but it really builds on XCOM but it, but it's got a lot of twists to it.
Larry: Now, I want to point out a lot of folks may be going, "Wait a minute, XCOM 2. That's, that's been out already." Well, yeah, it has. It's been out on, on PC and you had it available for, for Windows OSX and Linux but now you're coming to console. What are some of the changes that you, that you made? I mean, certainly you adapting it for the controller but are there any other changes?
Greg: Um, yeah, really, I mean it's, it's pretty much the same experience as the, as the PC other than the controllers for it. Um-
Greg: You know, it's, uh, you know, all the maps are generated in the same way. Uh, there's a lot of, a lot of really, really similar stuff. It's, again, the UX is, is a little different.
Larry: Yeah. Okay.
Greg: Um, but, but in general, it's, it's, you know, it's XCOM. It's, uh-
Greg: It's the game. It's just now on a console. So, uh, it's, you know, we really want to keep it, uh, retain all, everything that XCOM was, uh, XCOM 2 was on the PC and just bring it to console, so ...
Larry: Now, I also want to point out the director of the game is Jake Solomon. I've had Jake on this show in the past, so it's great to, great to branch and have you on as well. Uh, Greg, what, what, what, what would you, you know, as the, as the director of art for XCOM 2, what, what are you, what are you looking to do here, and how do you kind of maintain the connection to previous XCOM games.
Greg: Well, I think, you know, the, the one thing that's interesting about XCOM games, you know, whether it's Enemy Unknown XCOM 2, you know, reaching back to the original game from 1994, um, you know, at our core, we, we really retain a connection through, through sci-fi lore.
Greg: And so, you know, with, with, with, you know, Enemy Unknown and 2, um, both games really, really kind of tie into that, so what we really cross over and share with, with the original game from '90, '94 is that, is that connection. There's things that resonate with players. You know, you know what a sectoid is. It's a little gray alien, and everybody kind of has seen that, and, and so our challenge to make it not look like what you've been but still retain that familiarity. And same thing with like even the environments. You know, everybody knows what the gas, the gas station down the street looks like, right?
Greg: But, um, but, you know, we give it a little twist of fantastic, uh, and, and add something different to it. So, um, for us, you know, we're really trying to, you know, with XCOM at its core, artistically, um, uh, from, from the creative end of it is, is trying to touch on things that resonate with people, um, connect with them, and then, and then twist it, uh, as we get deeper. And so, you know, the aliens all sort of start to get a little stranger, uh, as you go, and you get a little more abstract with them. But, but you've got to, you've got to kind of enter into what people already understand, uh, so, uh, and I think that that works, you know, I think that actually kind of applies, not just from a, from an artistic perspective, but even from a design perspective, uh, of the game. So that's, that's kind of how we always approach it, um, you know. [crosstalk 00:04:09]
Larry: I want to ... Yeah, no, I want to talk a little bit about some of the, the, the new key features of XCOM 2 because I, I, I know you guys have done a lot of work on it. I thought you could perhaps hit on a few of those.
Greg: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Um, so, so some other features, you know, the, the maps are procedurally generated now, so, uh, every time you play, the, the map is going to be different. Uh, you can't kind of setup and know, "Okay, I've already done that before, and I've already done this before." Everything kind of feeds in differently. And of top of that, uh, the missions come in procedurally onto them as well, so, uh, there, there is, uh, a lot of wrinkles when it comes to playing the tactical game, uh, uh, reinforcements come in, um, so you can ... But that, that changes up stuff. Uh, there are some timer mechanics as well, like you've got to get in, get out quick. Um, but yeah, all the missions, the mission, the mission objectives are very different. They're procedurally generated. Uh, when you get to the strategy layer, um, even that has a lot of procedural, uh, stuff in it too. So as you're playing on, on the strategy layer and you're moving your, your ... You have a flying base now, by the way, which I haven't mentioned.
Larry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Greg: Um, but, uh, so you're actually moving your base around. You're no longer underground. Um, but as you're moving around the map, there are points of interest that you can go check out, and, uh, things that happen procedurally there. There's also Dark Events that happen, which are things that favor the aliens. They're little mod up game play modifiers that change. So each time you play the game, um, it ... You're not really sure what's going to happen. It's a little more unpredictable, um, and that's something, again, we wanted to kind of have permeate the entire game, not just the tactical maps, but, but even at the strategy layer.
And I think, to me, the, the strategy layer is one of the, the, the more compelling, uh, changes because it really keeps the game fresh, and, and, and it's one of those games that, um, you know, a lot, a lot of games that you play, you play through it, you're done, right? Um, the, the thing that really makes XCOM XCOM is that you, you know, everybody you, I've talked to has played it, and they talk about their third, fourth, fifth, you know, tenth play through. Um, and, and that's just really, in this day and age, that's, that's really kind of different for, um, for games, especially games on consoles.
Larry: Yeah, absolutely. I mean most people play it. You play it and forget it. But now you guys are creating this experience to kind of go back and do things a little bit differently. I, I, I've seen the ... I, I haven't had a chance to play it yet because I've been real busy this week, but I want to talk about this, this feature called XCOM On the Run. Explain that to us.
Greg: Okay, so, uh, XCOM On the Run is really that, you know, as I mentioned a little earlier, you, you now have a base that moves around. You've got this ship that flies around the world as opposed to being in one location. In Enemy Unknown, you were one location, underground in a bunker. Uh, with XCOM 2, you're now moving around the globe, inspiring the resistance. Uh, you have a ship called the Avenger, which is actually a, a callback to the original game from '94. They had a, they had a, a ship in it called the Avenger, and so, but what the Avenger is is an alien supply ship that's been repurposed. Uh, it's one of the things that, that Dr. Tygan worked on, um, early, while the, while X ... After XCOM had lost to give them an advantage, and so, uh, you have this repurposed alien supply ship that's flying acloss, across the globe, uh, growing, growing support, and, uh, you know, spreading the resistance.
Larry: Uh, it's, it's, you know, when you talk XCOM as I, I talked about earlier, it's got, it's got years of, of legacy. Um, tell me about some of the members of the team that have been around for a long time and, and what they're working on the different legacy, different titles. Like, for instance, tell us a little bit about your background.
Greg: Uh, are you calling us old Larry?
Larry: No, I'm not. (laughs) The old guy calling you guys old. I'm calling you experienced. (laughs)
Greg: (laughs) Uh, I know. Uh, we're, we're, uh, we, we are a, a, a mature team in that sense. We're, we're, you know, we, I've been, uh, God, I've been with Sid for I think 22 years now and at Firaxis for almost 20. Um, and, uh, uh, so and, and then, uh, so I, I date back to MicroProse.
Greg: Uh, I came in [crosstalk 00:08:11] after XCOM had, had shipped. [crosstalk 00:08:14]
Larry: You realize there's a bunch of people that are listening to this show right, and they're furiously going to Wikipedia looking up MicroProse. (laughs)
Greg: Yeah, Micro ... Wow, that's [crosstalk 00:08:21]. I should have called it FPS Studios, which is what, you know, like it was really known as-
Greg: ... To some people. But, but no. Uh, so I, I go back all the way there. I, I started, uh, at Firaxis, uh, when we were like 12 people, so, um, I came over like right when we started.
Greg: Uh, you know, I've worked on pretty much everything we had done up to Civ V. Uh, that, at that point, I was into XCOM and, and, and XCOM's kind of been my baby for, for, ever since. Um, but yeah, so I've done, I've done a ton of, ton of stuff. Um, you know, worked on all, all sorts of strategy games and, and simulations from tanks and that sort of thing, uh, to golf games to, to Civ-
Greg: To, uh [crosstalk 00:09:04].
Larry: You've got, you've got quite a, quite a storied background.
Greg: Yeah. It's, uh, we ship a lot of product. (laughs) So ...
Larry: You know, too, you mentioned working on Civ, which, which also, you know is, is, is in the news lately. What, what did you learn from the Civ team that you brought to XCOM?
Greg: You know, I mean it, it, it's funny. I think that Civ is another game that people play over and over and over and countless hours in, and, and that's one of the things that, that, as a studio, we all try to, uh, strive for. You know, we want to make an experience that people keep coming back to over and over. Um, and, and that's one of those things that, you know Civ, Civ just does so well. Um, you know, that one more turn, uh, mentality, you know, we, we, we kind of, we, we've kind of adopted the one more mission, uh, kind of motto. You know, we want, you know, everybody to play one more mission before they go to bed.
Greg: Um ...
Larry: Well, I think from, from everybody that I know that plays this, that's exactly the attitude. They're like, "Just one more," and it's 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning.
Greg: Yeah, and that, and that's kind of, you know, and all of us on the management, uh, on, on the team, the XCOM team have, have all worked together for so long. Uh, we've all, you know, I'm not the only one that's worked on those titles, you know, so, uh, you know, we, we share those experiences and, um, you know, we, we're, we're friends inside and outside of the office. You, we've worked together for, you know ... God, I've worked with Jake for, I don't know, maybe 15 years now, something like that, and, uh, uh, you know, my, my art team, you know, my, most of my leads have been here for 10 and 12 and 14 years. And, uh, so it's, you know, we have this ... You know, we understand each other, we understand the game, uh, I think we communicate really well, and, and, and I think that all that kind of shows up in the, in the final product. You know, I think that that, that that stuff is, it just it adds to the, to the recipe, you know, when you, when you make these things and-
Greg: Uh, so yeah. It's, it's a, it's a fun group and, you know, again, we've ... We're older (laughs).
Greg: In that sense.
Greg: Uh, but yeah. Experienced, we're experienced in that sense. But, uh, but yeah. I mean, it's, it's great. I mean, you know, we're, we're really kind of a family here, and, uh, you know, it's a lot of companies say that, and they, it, it, but, but, you know, we, we really are, you know, so.
Larry: Well, that's, that's great. Well listen Greg, I'm going to let you go. I appreciate you coming on to talk about, uh, XCOM Enemy ... XCOM 2, uh, we were talking about XCOM Enemy [crosstalk 00:11:27]. XCOM, but we were talking about Enemy Unknown a moment ago. But XCOM 2, it's, it's been out on PC for a little bit, but it's now available on console. And I want to thank you, uh, for taking the time to chat with us today, and, uh, congratulations on the launch.
Greg: Thanks. No problem Larry. Thanks for having us.