Julian Gollop’s PC Gamer columns
(Image credit: Snapshot Games)
There were also groups of players with very different expectations. A lot of the presentation and systems evoked Firaxis’s XCOM, which is by no means a walk in the park, but it’s considerably more accessible and less brutal than its predecessor. Players coming from that game, then, were not prepared for the ass-kicking they were about to receive.
“It is very difficult to get it right first time,” says Gollop. And I must confess, we probably didn’t in this respect, in terms of the difficulty progression of the game. Because Phoenix Point is less structured in the progression than, say, modern XCOM, it makes it even more difficult. On the one hand, we want to get the player to explore and experiment with stuff, and for different things to happen if they do different things. But on the other hand, we don’t want to overwhelm the player and make them feel like they’ve been cheated. The game has got unfair advantages, it just doesn’t feel fair. So yeah, it is a difficult balancing act. And we made so many changes along the way to try and address that. And I think the game is in a much better place.”
It is very difficult to get it right first time.
One thing that became clear from the feedback is that, as well as the hardcore players who are hungry for a challenge, “there’s probably a bigger group of players who are looking more for an experience, looking to experience the story or looking to experience character development”. RPGs and strategy games have long had a close relationship, but it’s even more evident now, and there’s increasingly an expectation that certain RPG mainstays will also show up in squad-based tactics games.
With the future of Phoenix Point now up to the modders, Snapshot Games is moving on, but to what Gollop isn’t saying. While the X-COM itch never goes away, that’s not a guarantee that we’ll be seeing another bit of alien-hunting squad-based tactics again. “We will be doing some different things,” he says.
One thing that’s clear is that he’s still excited by tabletop games, and the digital ones they inspire. He’s written about deckbuilders before, for PC Gamer, in fact (opens in new tab), and continues to be a fan. “It is quite fashionable now,” he says. “And I think that’s great, because I really love Slay the Spire and love Dominion—I love that style of game. I also think it’s really interesting that mechanics developed in board games are crossing over into videogames and becoming popular again. Because still, the board games space is definitely the most innovative space in terms of actual pure game design. And the fact that now, to some extent, there’s a lot of videogames games now following the innovations from the board games space is quite cool.”
While he’s hesitant to act like an oracle and make big predictions about videogame trends, he expects deckbuilders to be around for a long time. “They will be a permanent part of the gamescape.” And while this doesn’t mean we should expect Snapshot to develop a deckbuilder, the symmetry of both Firaxis—with Midnight Suns (opens in new tab)—and Gollop working on deckbuilders is very appealing.