A look back at X-COM: Terror From The Deep

I’m the last person to the party, attempting to review the UFO Defense’s sequel when it’s about to turn 30 years old. Given that the game still visits me every few years, I feel obligated to write something about it. Instead of reviewing, let me frame this post as a love letter of some sort.

Here's the catch: It’s difficult for me to share the experience of playing TFTD. I’m not sure if I’d say it “aged well” as a game: It’s very much playable for me nowadays (to say the least), but that’s only thanks to the time we spent together. All the unnecessary complexity, labyrinthine menus and seemingly-unfair gameplay make the game unapproachable today (and have been rightfully corrected in the 2012 reboot) So the least I can do is put in writing why the game feels so important to me.

Battlescape screenshot. Isometric view of sea bed. On the left, a gold silhuette of an alien craft. In the center, a lone lobsterman is facing a damaged X-COM underwater vehicle next to a landed Triton transport craft. X-COM agents are hiding in smoke particles next to the Triton. On the bottom there's the game's user interface that depicts the currently selected unit, labeled "Coelacanth/G.cannon". The yellow UI has two rows of gray buttons for various in-game actions.

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Chaos Communication Camp 2019

Chaos Communication Camp is a conference / festival event that happens in Germany every four years. The theme covers a wide range of topics around technology, society, and how they interact. But most importantly, it's a gathering of various hackerspaces from all around the Europe and more. I had a chance to attend this year's edition and the event surprised me in a lot of ways. It's difficult to summarise the experience (unless you make a whole documentary, but I collected some observations and memories here.

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How not to fix burnout

January is a good time for retrospectives. As I'm writing this, my team is planning a "best failure of 2018" contest, so I thought it's a good opportunity to write down my personal entry.

Here's the story of that time when I left a team to fight burnout, and lost something more important in the process.

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Multiplayer in retro games

Old NES games typically supported two-player mode, but the designers' approach towards multiplayer was often surprising, especially with cooperative titles. Some of modern game design principles simply didn't exist at the time, which led to curious situation that we learned to take for granted.

Let's look at some examples:

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Document-Driven Meetings

In my previous post, I argued that meetings tend to be much better if they have a driver and a well-defined objective.

I'd like to invite you to a little thought experiment. Assume there's only one possible meeting objective: to collaboratively write a document. Can you fit each of your meetings into this shape?

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Fun Facts about Tetris

The original release of Tetris was pretty comprehensive already, even though the graphics used text mode.

At least three versions of Tetris have been released on NES:

  • BPS
  • Nintendo
  • Tengen (Atari)

The BPS version was the first to be released, but it was tough to play due to very awkward controls. Nintendo's version plays much better. Tengen's own version (dubbed TETЯIS) has a long story to it since it was subject of a copyright dispute. It ended up being quickly pulled off the shelves after Atari's loss in court. This is a pity, because it had a two-player mode and a lot of polish. Here in Poland it was often available on bootleg "9999 in 1" cartridges. (Note that in the 90s in Poland there was no official distribution of Nintendo products, but every flea market sold Famicom clones and bootleg carts.)

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Efficient meetings

If you asked me a few years ago about my biggest issue at work, chances are I'd mention "too many meetings". A lot of things improved since then, but the theme seems to be popular, especially since useless meetings are known to occupy a large part of the 4th circle of developer hell.

Let's look at some reasons.

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2018 Coderetreat & Game of Life

Nov 17 was the Global Day of Coderetreat. I participated for this kind of event for the first time.

Coderetreat is a day-long, intensive practice event, focusing on the fundamentals of software development and design, away from the pressures of 'getting things done'.

The essence of the format is solving the same problem multiple times in consecutive sessions, each time with a different person.

I can confirm a saying that it's "the opposite of a hackathon". In both you have a chance to reset your mind by adapting a completely different mode of work for the duration of the event. But they’re also on the opposite ends of a spectrum: While hackathons are all about focusing on delivering value quickly (forgoing methodology), during a Coderetreat the focus is on methodology and there’s no value delivered by definition - the problem is chosen to be mundane, and the outcome ends up ritually deleted after each session. The only trace is what you learned.

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How X-COM: Terror from the Deep builds tension

I've been checking out the 2012 installment of XCOM recently. I used to play a lot of the classic X-Com titles from the 90s (UFO: Enemy Unknown and - even more - X-Com: Terror from the Deep), and I admit, I have high hopes for the remake. I could potentially like it even more than the original, but after a few hours in I have exactly one major problem...

Where on Earth did all the trademark horror go?

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The games I play, part 3: Shmup

The shmup, or the shoot'em up, is the oldest well-defined game genre. Dating all the way back to Space Invaders, Tempest or River Raid, the principle is simple: you're controlling a spaceship (or a plane, or a magical girl) and shooting at things that come your direction while dodging whatever they fire in your general direction. Do games get simpler than that?

I have a special place in my heart for shmups because of all the time I've spent with them as a kid, starting with the legendary Raptor. The shmup, together with the platformer, helped define my concept of entertainment. It also taught me the imporant truth that games can be hard... and that it's okay if they are. (Starting over is fun.)

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