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  • Writer's pictureRock

Faith In Firaxis (Part 2: So... Why cards?)

Because Firaxis both loves and does organic narrative gameplay better than anyone else. That’s gonna take some explaining, here we go!



Now, journey with me to the VERY distant past of the '90's...


Two games came out around that time that, by almost every standard, changed video games forever. One was the original Civilization, the other was X-Com. Both turn-based strategy games, both with new and unheard of depth and mechanics, both easy to learn and hard to master... And, importantly, both gave you a story, and perhaps most importantly, a NEW story every time you played them.


Civilization, due to the randomness of the map, your enemies, or even your own choice, played differently every time. There's a reason it's on its 6th incarnation since 1991, not to mention the expansions, spin-offs, and even board games. It is THE formative example of a 4X game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) and I still play Civ IV occasionally to this day. (Which is the best in the series, fight me.)


The story telling in Civilization comes not only from which one you pick, but also where you start and who your neighbors are. It can completely change your strategy overall and it makes even the original game, despite the outdated graphics, infinitely replayable.


In the same fashion, X-Com broke ground with emergent gameplay and organic storytelling, all in the framework of kicking a bunch of alien scum right back into space. Unforgiving, brutal, the original game had you bring platoons of soldiers with you, because a mission without any losses was rarer than finding a four-leaf clover under a blue moon on February 29th. So, when one of your random soldiers (or, if you named them, one of your friends) DID miraculously survive what looked like certain death: You. Goddamn. Remembered.


Those one in a hundred shots, or those near-certain heart-breaking misses, you FELT those! The game also innovated slowly, through in-game research, revealing the full extent of what you were up against. The Aliens, new technology, all culminating in finally taking the fight TO them and ending the threat.


Unlike Civ, that end game goal tended to reduce the replayability of the game, at least to the end and at least for me. In Civ, there were multiple ways to win, in X-Com, there was one storyline and once you did it, it was done. But the work you put in to get those new weapons, that new armor, to finally not step-and-die as you came out of the Skyranger? Say, the first 3/4 of the game, that I played the ever-lovin' HELL out of.


When I found out that they'd drastically changed that for the reboot in 2012, I thought I would hate it. I couldn't have been more wrong. The reboot of X-Com is one of the greatest such reboots of a beloved franchise, ever. You care MORE because you have less soldiers, you remember who made the shot, or royally screwed up, MORE than the original. The organic story-telling gives you heroes to remember, and deadly errors that make you want to cry (or throw your keyboard through a window). This goes doubly so if you play the absolutely amazing (and, to my mind now, essential) Long War mod for the 2012 edition.


So, what does all this have to do with Midnight Suns, I can hear you saying? Here we come to the Theory, so get your tin foil hats ready.


See, unlike Civ, you can't really randomize the start other than your own character (a fact I'll be discussing in another article). And it won't be random, it'll be like choosing your starting civilization in Civ. In the same vein, you can't have a Memorial Wall for dead characters. These are Super-Heroes, and Marvel ones at that. They're immortal.


Combat, though, there we CAN get that random, organic story-telling that Firaxis is known for. I went over this in the previous article: Instead of those memorable (or wish-you-could-forget) shots and situations, you’ll be remembering getting that absolutely perfect hand... and the hand that screws you so hard you need to buy a new keyboard because your old one didn’t have wings... THOSE combats, THOSE draws, will form the memories that Civ and X-Com did through this other medium, that is to say, Card-Based Combat.

Will it work? The success of games like Slay The Spire (which the development team has said they love and took a lot of inspiration from) proves that it not only can, it repeatedly does.


So, to wrap up, since they can't give you a different beginning every time and they can't murder your troops and let you replace your team, they turned to a proven mechanic and found a way to get that signature Firaxis Organic Story-Telling into Midnight Suns DESPITE those limitations.


If their long legacy of doing those things in the past is ANY indication, it's going to be f***ing fantastic.


- Rock

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