Q&A: Julian Gollop of ‘Phoenix Point’ gives gameplay advice

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Photo Courtesy of Steam

A screenshot of the game “Phoenix Point” is shown above. Buzz spoke with Julian Gollop, the game’s designer, about what drove his design ideas.

By Aidan Finn, Staff Writer

The XCOM formula, at least where it stands, is a rare example of a sub-genre that hasn’t run itself into the ground. I remember the mid-Xbox 360 days, a time when I was distracted by the likes of Sonic Generations. I vividly remember visiting an older cousin of mine and finding his room a holy shrine to Call of Duty with “World at War” posters, discarded bottles of Dr. Pepper and a mountain of 360 game cases little me couldn’t spell. It was an era where every game was a brown and grey military FPS, most running on Unreal Engine 3. It seemingly burnt itself out with the advent of the eighth generation, but with the reboot of the XCOM series in 2012’s “XCOM: Enemy Unknown,” the turn-based strategy formula has seen a boom with tons of original and great titles the likes of “Hard West” and “Rebel Cops.” Even big AAA titles take the sub-genre for a spin with “Gears Tactics.”

But go all the way back to the ’90s and one game stood out, that being the origin of the XCOM series with the 1994 classic PC title “X-COM: UFO Defense.” Designed by Julian Gollop, the series would be expanded and be essentially the catalyst for the signature style of strategy game. Now, he’s back with “Phoenix Point,” a new strategy game that sets out to bring a spin on the sub-genre and provide a fun, familiar experience.

Buzz had the opportunity to speak with Gollop and his team at Snapshot Games about the title, what drove him to pursue such and tips to ease the transition into the game’s high difficulty curve.

buzz: What was the driving force that made you want to make Phoenix Point?

Julian Gollop: I have wanted to revisit the basic idea of XCOM since I finished X-Com: Apocalypse in 1997. In fact, we did work on a spiritual successor called “The Dreamland Chronicles,” but we were not able to finish it. Also, the fact that the new XCOM games reinvigorated the “turn-based tactical” genre made it more possible to make Phoenix Point.

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    buzz: We have spoken with many developers about what advice they would give to college students looking to enter the gaming industry. What advice would you give?

    JG: My strongest advice is to make simple games and iterate on them since game development is a creating process and you learn most by creating. If you don’t have all the skills needed to make a playable game, team up with someone else. Having demonstrable, playable games in your portfolio is invaluable for convincing potential employers that you understand something about game development.

    The development team of Phoenix Point would elaborate on the title.

    buzz: How would you describe Phoenix Point to someone unfamiliar with it?

    Snapshot Games: Phoenix Point is a turn-based tactical strategy game that puts players in the midst of a desperate fight to take back the earth from a mutating, alien menace. As the leader of the Phoenix organization, players must research and develop new technologies, build bases and forge diplomatic ties with other surviving factions, and explore and reclaim a ravaged globe. But with an evolving threat at your heels, victory is not easily won!

    buzz: Given there are many titles emulating the XCOM formula of strategy game-play, what unique aspects of Phoenix Point do you believe make it stand out?

    SG: There are quite a few features in Phoenix Point that we believe differentiate us from other strategy titles. In particular, our Free Aim system allows tactically-minded players the ability to counter enemies by targeting body parts that disable their abilities. Coupling that with our realistic ballistics, where every bullet is physically calculated and you’ll find that Phoenix Point takes a lot of the random chance out of games of this type. And you’ll need that advantage as our creepy creatures are no pushovers!

    Also, as time continues to run out, players simply can’t do everything and save everyone, allowing multiple paths to victory with different unique endings. No one game will ever play the same.

    buzz: I was shocked by how many aspects the player had to juggle on top of the familiar turn-based combat. What tips would you like to share with players struggling with the difficulty curve?

    SG: While we offer different difficulty levels to cater to casual and more seasoned players, here are some simple tips for players in the first half of the game as well:

    Explore the area around your initial base for new rewards and missions before expanding to other bases. There are often some easy resources or positive diplomatic events that can come from this to give you a leg up. Always be doing something. The only time your aircraft and soldiers should be idle is when they’re in need of some R&R. Otherwise, be exploring points of interest, defending havens or destroying Pandoran colonies or even trading with the different factions. On the Geoscape level, always have Research running and be spinning up new bases with additional facilities to help scan or expand your domain. Conversely, don’t manufacture items you don’t intend to use. Yes, you can scrap them, but the time investment is always better spent on essential gear for your new recruits. Short of save-scumming, slow and steady is the best course of action on many tactical missions. Through careful use of overwatch, you should be able to counter most early threats … but always come prepared with extra ammunition and medkits. We also encourage new players to check out our early game strategies video we shared on our YouTube channel, or visit our Discord channel to chat with other players about their strategies!

    Phoenix Point is available on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

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