At the beginning of the latest video for XCOM: Enemy Within you can see some hideous tentacled thing that turns invisible and sneaks up on a lone soldier to strangle him, facehugger-style. That’s a Seeker, and its original concept looked even more dreadful.
“That’s our Flying Spider Shark,” said Garth DeAngelis, putting a sum-of-all-fears capper on an alien enemy that is also immune to a flamethrower, as the audience discovered when DeAngelis tried, unsuccessfully, to burn it off a teammate’s face.
As XCOM rolls out the new features it has for Enemy Within, there’s the lingering question of how much of this stuff comes from ideas left on the cutting-room floor from Enemy Unknown. The flamethrower, which can burn enemies behind some cover, was an early weapon tossed out, said Ananda Gupta, who took over as lead designer on Enemy Within from Jake Solomon, Unknown‘s lead.
Gupta said the flamethrower was originally discarded because there was just no good class to carry it. It wasn’t a suitable replacement for the heavy’s rocket launcher, and an exhaustible weapon for the assault class didn’t work either (to say nothing of sniper or support). But with the new MEC troopers — massive cyborgs that don’t need (and can’t use) cover — the weapon found a good fit.
Gupta was broken off from the main project team as Enemy Unknown was finishing up late last summer and tasked with setting the agenda for an expansion. Some concept sketches for the “gene-mod” soldiers — genetically engineered super troopers with things like eagle-eye vision and an electrical field that reveals the presence of enemies — are dated October of 2012, showing that Firaxis will have been at work on this for more than a year when Enemy Within releases on Nov. 11.
The Seeker’s original design was an even bigger mass of tentacles, trailing a sinister cloud of smoke. The team didn’t know what it wanted to do with it back then, and sort of abandoned it in favour of the Floater (whose original design, with more of a humanoid torso, looks even more tortured than the final edition.
Gupta, in an earlier conversation with me, said none of what was seen in the demo level shown at PAX came from the cutting room floor — meaning the flamethrower and the seekers never even made it that far. Gupta and 2K are insistent that much more is to come, and while some things are fan-suggested — like different languages reflecting your soldiers’ different nationalities — the stuff Firaxis itself is putting in isn’t reconditioned leftovers that couldn’t be fit into Enemy Unknown.
Back to those Seekers though. Once you become aware of them, they cloak almost instantly and their movements are unknown until they reveal themselves, which typically is at the worst moment. We saw an assault perched in the back of a farm vehicle, with a smoke grenade providing cover, take a face full of tentacle midway through the demo level. A teammate shot it off, but the assault still forfeited a turn as he recovered from the attack and caught his breath. Seekers inflict progressively worse damage the longer they hold on.
Typically, it was the last enemy left on the map as DeAngelis finished off the more straightforward alien units. The second one again attacked someone back at the truck. The PAX audience goaded DeAngelis into using the flamethrower, before finally it was shot off and died. Mission stats: 10 enemies killed, one soldier lost, both canisters of “Meld” — the new substance powering the MEC and gene modifications — recovered.