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Peal had the opportunity for an exclusive interview with Chris England from Goldhawk Interactive about the current project: Xenonauts and he brought to us some very interesting Informations

Hello Chris, nice to have you here, sure you're fully engaged with the development of Xenonauts :). So, can you just briefly introduce yourself and the project?

Hi guys, it's nice to be here. Thanks for asking to interview me. My name is Chris England and I'm the project lead on the upcoming indie strategy game Xenonauts, which is designed to be a spiritual successor to the classic X-Com games. I'm responsible for designing the game, organising the production and funding the project. We're hoping for the game to be ready for release later this year.

X-Com is a textbook classic, so how did you try to improve the game concept to make it even better than it was in X-Com?

When we designed Xenonauts, we thought about it from the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" point of view. X-Com did a lot of things right - that's why we're all still talking about it 17 years after it was released! It wasn't perfect, though. There are obvious problems with the game that need fixing (arranging soldiers in dropships, soldiers remembering their equipment loadout, better AI etc), and we've spent a lot of time listening to feedback from X-Com fans to find out their gripes with the original so we could fix them.

In terms of totally-new stuff, we've tried to expand the game and bring in mechanics from more modern games where we thought it would help. We've added an entirely new air combat model to replace the one-dimensional air combat in X-Com, and bring some extra skill and strategy (and variety) into the game. In the ground combat, we've added a cover system so it's a bit less luck-based about whether your troops will be shot dead at the end of any turn. We've also incorporated the Jagged Alliance 2 aiming system into the game (ie, right click to make a shot more accurate at the cost of more APs) as I thought that was a significant improvement.

We've also made lots of small tweaks across the board - UFOs will attack in waves, so the game won't be so stop-start as it was at the end of X-Com. You can customise what weapons your vehicles carry into battle. Aliens now come in multiple 'ranks', as well as different species. There are alternate victory conditions on most missions, so you can win a battle by capturing the enemy UFO and holding it for a number of turns, instead of having to hunt down every last alien. There's probably more that I've missed, but that's all I can think of off the top of my head.

So is everything on track, are you happy with the current development and when can we expect the first screenshots from the highly expected Ground Combat?

Things are progressing faster than ever before on the project. Obviously it'd be nice to have the resources, money and manpower of a AAA studio behind us, as that would make things much quicker and easier, but it's certainly not going badly. At the moment we're working on merging the code for the Geoscape and the Ground Combat, which means we're working through a bunch of problems, but that should be done fully in a couple of weeks (I hope)! There's still a fair amount to do, and a lot of bugfixes and polishing, but we're at the stage where you can play the game like a game now. That's a big thing for us.

As for when the Ground Combat will appear in screenshots, I hope in the next couple of months. It's not far off, but there's a few more things we need to sort out with it before we show it off!

Currently the biggest thing about Xenonauts which surprises me more and more, is the stunning artwork. How do you guys manage this - i heard you had to switch an Artist?! - and can we expect artwork based cutscenes like in the old X-Com games?

We haven't switched artists, we have about 10-12 of them working on the game at any one time. Even I'm getting pretty good with Photoshop nowadays! I agree our art is one of the best things about the game, and we've managed it by recruiting some very good artists onto the team. For the cutscenes, I've not made a final decision yet, but we're talking about how to do the introduction movie for the game at the moment.*

A lot of former turn-based games were developed as real-time / RPG or smart- pause games. But your project is there as the big exception, do you see still potential in the turn-based strategy genre ?

I definitely think that there's a demand for it. A lot of people like playing turn-based games, and anyway it just didn't seem right to do a real-time successor to X-Com. I think part of the problem is that no major recent releases I can remember have been released with turn-based squad combat, so there've been no successful games to show development teams that it's still worth them spending their time making them. I don't know, perhaps Xenonauts will be that game?

Many of us had the dream to develop a game by themselves, but often it fails with the financial part or simply to the lack of manpower. Where did the idea for the game came from and how do you manage the fundings?

I've wanted to play a good X-Com remake for a long, long time. Sadly, nobody has quite managed to make a game that matched the original. I remember being in my room, annoyed at that, and then it occurred to me that perhaps I should try and do it. I'd been doing a bit of work with a mod team at the time, and I decided I might as well give it a shot. It made sense to me that if I wanted it, so would a lot of other people - and that meant that they'd buy my game! I ended up funding it out of my own savings and job income (I still work a day job). Most of the funding still comes from me, although as more and more pre-orders come in the project becomes steadily less reliant on my own finances, which is great.

The team came together online - everyone on the project effectively works as a freelancer (usually part-time around a job, like I do), and I employ them centrally and pull everything together at my end. I've only ever met one person on the team in person, the composer, and that's because we used to work together on a mod prior to Xenonauts anyway! I don't think any other studio has ever tried to do what we're doing, but I think you'll see a lot more of it in the coming years. It's certainly the most cost-effective way to run a team.

A lot of round based strategie games getting followed up automatically by huge modding communitys, how are the chances that someone can put his hands on Xenonauts in order to tweak arround?

Everything in the game can be controlled by editing a text file, pretty much. The game has been designed so that I can tweak the balance and add new weapons/units/whatever without having to play with the source code, as I'm not a programmer (and they've got better things to do). The great thing about that is that it means everyone else can do the same thing too. It gets more difficult when you want to change the behaviour of an item - for instance, adding a blaster bomb would be hard, as there's no guided missiles already in the game to copy the characteristics from - but if you wanted to change the stats of anything in the game, or make a new grenade that set fire to everything in its blast radius, you could.

How do you make every day by getting forced to throw most of your ideas in to the trash? Is it your passion and coffee, or how do you survive the overwhelming feature requests by the community?

I don't have to throw my own ideas in the trash, I mostly get to throw other people's ideas in the trash! :) There's a lot of suggestions on the forums, and we do read them all. However, when we designed the game we read every suggestion post on the UFO: Alien Invasion forum and other forums for projects like Xenocide etc. We've also had literally thousands of posts on our own forums, so I think we've probably already heard 99.9% of all the suggestions possible already. Most we can't use, but there have been maybe ten or twenty times when a forum-user has posted something and I've said Wow! I can't believe I didn't think of that!' and then put the idea in Xenonauts.

It's happening more than usual with the air combat, as there's been some great suggestions from the community for that. It's still at quite an early stage, so we've been working with the community to make it more intuitive and more fun. As we're not completely sure what the final version should look like, they've been coming up with some great ideas on what we could do with it next.

Well thank you for your time and the great answers, so far thats it for this Interview. Any last words to the german fanbase?

I'd just like to say that I hope you enjoy Xenonauts when it arrives. The weapon artist (the guy who has done all the weapon designs and inventory tiles) is German and he's been telling me that Germany is pretty much the strategy game capital of the world, and I believe him! You can visit out website at www.xenonauts.com to catch up on our progress, and if you like what you see, you can pre-order the game there. That gives you two benefits - first, you can download the current builds of the game and help test and develop the Geoscape and Air Combat, and secondly, it makes it much easier for us to develop the game so you should get it faster!

Thanks again for asking me to speak to you, and hopefully I'll see some of you on the Xenonauts forums soon!

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