Phoenix Point

Julian Gol­lop talks tac­tics as his new strat­egy takes shape

EDGE - - CONTENTS - Developer/pub­lisher Snapshot Games For­mat PC Ori­gin Bul­garia Re­lease 2018

By his own ad­mis­sion, Phoenix Point was some­thing of a Hail Mary for Julian

Gol­lop. Here was an idea with the po­ten­tial to make or break Snapshot Games, the com­pany he founded to cre­ate the kind of games you would want Julian Gol­lop to cre­ate. Reach­ing its $500k Fig crowd­fund­ing tar­get within a week, this turn-based strat­egy game is set around 30 years into the fu­ture, and projects a night­mar­ish sce­nario where an alien virus has fused with Earth crea­tures, pro­duc­ing a range of el­dritch abom­i­na­tions that have dis­placed hu­man­ity at the top of the food chain. Sur­vivors have amassed at the tit­u­lar set­tle­ment, and must band to­gether to fight the ex­trater­res­trial hordes.

Un­for­tu­nately for those that re­main, these are adapt­able foes. For­tu­nately, that makes them the ideal op­po­si­tion for a strat­egy game. The aliens are ca­pa­ble of a range of mu­ta­tions gov­erned by a pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated sys­tem based on a range of vari­ables. “We have a number of chas­sis types, or archetypes,” Gol­lop tells us, “and there are dif­fer­ent body parts, and each may have sev­eral lev­els of power. The way it works for the aliens is if they’re de­ploy­ing a par­tic­u­lar model that per­forms par­tic­u­larly badly in bat­tle, then it’ll go through a mu­ta­tion process to try and evolve some dif­fer­ently func­tion­ing limb or ap­pendage, or even a method of mo­bil­ity, for ex­am­ple. [Its aim] would be to make one of its ex­ist­ing body parts more pow­er­ful or more in­flu­en­tial. And then it would throw that one back into the bat­tle.”

By con­trast, if the aliens find an ef­fec­tive mu­ta­tion, they will at­tempt to de­ploy more of that par­tic­u­lar unit type – at least un­til the player has fig­ured out how to beat it. “It’s a lit­tle bit more so­phis­ti­cated than that,” Gol­lop says. “There’s a cer­tain el­e­ment of ran­dom­ness to it: the mu­ta­tion sys­tem it­self is quite ran­dom. But be­cause the aliens never ex­actly re­peat a par­tic­u­lar model, they will tend to get a bit more pow­er­ful over time.” It’s a me­chanic, he says, that is “self-balanc­ing”, since the aliens won’t fix what isn’t bro­ken, and will only mu­tate if they’re do­ing badly. This evolv­ing threat fixes a com­mon genre pit­fall: of­ten, grow­ing fa­mil­iar­ity with a game’s sys­tems leads to a dif­fi­culty curve that lev­els off as you progress. But with an evolv­ing enemy, play­ers won’t be able to rest on their lau­rels. “Or not for very long, at least,” Gol­lop smiles.

Yet, as in so many apoc­a­lyp­tic sce­nar­ios, your big­gest prob­lem might be closer to home. “The most in­ter­est­ing thing about the world of Phoenix Point is you’re not alone,” Gol­lop elab­o­rates. “There are three other main fac­tions, as well as lots of other iso­lated hu­man set­tle­ments. The ini­tial prob­lem you have as the player, con­trol­ling just one cell of an or­gan­i­sa­tion of the Phoenix Project, is that you must some­how per­suade, ca­jole, threaten or ne­go­ti­ate with these other fac­tions and havens in or­der to pur­sue your ob­jec­tives.” Your ul­ti­mate aim is to unite these dis­parate groups to find a com­mon so­lu­tion to the alien prob­lem. There will, Gol­lop prom­ises, be more than one way to win the game.

This ex­tra strate­gic layer that sits on top of the tac­ti­cal com­bat should, Gol­lop says, make Phoenix Point “more in­volved than even the first XCOM”. Talk­ing of the se­ries with which he’s most com­monly as­so­ci­ated, it’s clear he’s an ad­mirer of Fi­raxis’ re­cent re­makes. “[They] have se­ri­ously upped the stakes when it comes to the ab­so­lute qual­ity and pro­duc­tion values of strat­egy games in gen­eral. You could also ar­gue they’ve widened the mar­ket. They’ve man­aged to prove there’s a rel­a­tively large niche for this kind of game. There’s def­i­nitely room for more XCOM- style games in the mar­ket­place, for sure.”

Phoenix Point’s crowd­fund­ing fig­ures cer­tainly sup­port that ar­gu­ment. There’s still a way to go, and Gol­lop con­cedes that the to­tal amount of funds the Fig cam­paign raises will de­ter­mine how large and var­ied the fin­ished game is. But he’s bullish about its prospects. “It’s a very ex­pand­able game sys­tem. We’ll see how far we get, but at the mo­ment it’s al­ready look­ing very in­ter­est­ing. I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to pro­duce some­thing re­ally nice.”

“There’s def­i­nitely room for more XCOM-style games in the mar­ket­place”

Gol­lop’s small team has achieved a lot in just over a year. “We’ve got a func­tion­ing tac­ti­cal sys­tem, a func­tion­ing mon­ster sys­tem, and a pretty good AI so far.” A rudi­men­tary geoscape, mean­while, is al­ready up and run­ning

You can have up to 16 units in your squad – ”although you prob­a­bly wouldn’t see such a large bat­tle un­less it was a base de­fence mis­sion,” Gol­lop says

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