X-Assault Expansion: Designer Diary #3 - Game PersonalityA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Jim Lemoine
X-Assault can be downloaded from http://www.nixonvision.com/download.asp in both PC and Mac versions. No purchase necessary (though donations wouldn't hurt).
The conundrum we face every time we re-design X-Assault: When you've got a game with virtually no sound, limited backgrounds, and no character models or animation, how do you give the game personality?
Every version of X-Assault we've ever released (including the upcoming one) has had one constant: the player has eight chances to recruit heroes for their team, and if the player is successful with at least five of them, they can form a squadron and continue to play the game. If the player recruits more than five heroes, they can select which five they wish to keep (from an interface that provides the player with information on each hero's statistics and special powers). If the player recruits fewer than five heroes, it's Game Over.
Once you're through the basics, you ll find that's where the meat of the game begins, and where the majority of our updates can be seen.
In X-Assault, players send their squad to four different locations, each of which is home to a different villain, surprise event, or some combination of the above. A hero could arrive at the Old Champions Headquarters and be forced to fight Magneto. Another hero might be sent to Mount Wundagore, where they could encounter Mystique. A third might journey to New York's Hellfire Club and face off against the Shadow King. As of now, there are thirty-two different locations in the game, and the new version will have more.
This strategic battle sequence is where the personality I talked about earlier really comes into play. If it was just numbers and attacks, X-Assault would be a mildly amusing, purely stat-based combat/trivia game. But thanks to the hundreds of special events we've programmed in (and more we're adding to the new version), X-Assault is more than just a pictures and numbers game -- it tells a story and allows the player to recreate famous X-centric rivalries and "moments."
For instance, if you try to have Wolverine fight Magneto, Mags will suck all of the adamantium out of Wolvie's skeleton, severely wounding him and temporarily knocking out his healing factor. If you set Longshot against Spiral, her devious magic will be completely unable to cope with the one man who can always defeat Mojo and his ilk. Put Cyclops against Sinister and Scott will blow him away with an extra-powerful optic blast, just like in the old Inferno crossover (and that's an event we've upgraded for the new version). If Storm battles the Toad, they'll recreate one of (what we consider) the worst scenes from the first X-Men movie, and then if U-Go Girl is on your team, she'll make some catty comments.
We think that these are examples of personality - suddenly these playable characters and villains aren't just numbers and static pictures - they talk, and interact, and seem to understand what's going on. But there's more to events than just rivalries.
One of the most popular additions we ever made to X-Assault was the old-fashioned "Fastball Special." If you assign Colossus to a battle location and Wolverine is also on your team and available (i.e. not on the other side of the planet or dead), Logan will drop by just in time for Piotr to chuck him at the bad guy for incredible damage. The new version of X-Assault will add at least ten more teamwork events (to the few that are sprinkled throughout the game right now).
Of course, some locations might not have bad guys in them at all. During the game's first chapter, it's highly likely that your team will eventually run into Morph of the Exiles at one of the game's locations. Keep playing and you'll run into lots of other familiar faces, including Blink, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and lots more. There's a ton of these special events -- mostly story-driven -- currently programmed into the new version. We just finished adding all of the special Fantastic Four events (there are twelve different ways to encounter them, by my count), the Avengers stuff is nearly done, and we're about to start on a few other surprise guest-stars who don't exactly fit into any defined "team" grouping. Howard the Duck is an example of this& Howard will, believe it or not, play a major role in one of the game's chapters (rest assured, we're trying to give Howard more of a Gerber-ized feel than a cartoony, movie Howard).
Sometimes you get information from these events, and sometimes it's just a pretty neat experience. Other times, the characters you encounter can give you a boost in battle, increase your final score, share hints on how to access new parts of the game& and some of them will even offer to join your team! In the current X-Assault, for instance, Captain America will join your squad if a hero falls at Avengers Mansion. Spider-Man could join if he's swinging through New York and encounters a hero who reminds him of Mary Jane. Recruit a classic Excalibur team line-up and Pete Wisdom will become available to join your team.
Hiding easter eggs in the game is lots of fun, so we've been sneaking in a ton of stuff in the new version too, including new hidden characters. A powerful Avenger will join your crusade if you send a mutant he's familiar with to a location they've both got history in. Juggernaut becomes available if the right sequence of events occurs during a battle with him. A well-known Marvel mutant who's never been an X-Man can sometimes be discovered and recruited when she journeys near certain battle locations. And, of course, four Exiles are available to recruit as well, but only in a certain chapter, and only after the player discovers the secret of exactly where they've been hiding out.
With just the AI, graphics, stats, and random battles, X-Assault is a simple strategy game. Our goal has always been to use the story and special events to create a real story, and leave the player with an experience comparable to reading their favorite old X-book.