Somehow, I Once Designed an XCOM-like Pen-And-Paper Game

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Back when I was about 10 years old, I saw some friends making a pen-and-paper game recreation of Pokémon. It was a hit in the class. I was thinking, why not make my own game based on my own ideas?

Here’s the story of how I once created a pen-and-paper game similar to an XCOM game.

These square-lined books, used mostly for math classes are the ideal book for pen-and-paper game designing. The grids made it easier to draw bars, and design square-based maps.

These square-lined books, used mostly for math classes are the ideal book for pen-and-paper game designing. The grids made it easier to draw bars, and design square-based maps.

So what I concocted was a turn-based RPG/Strategy game. I used HPs/MPs as in Health Points (not Hit Points) and Movement Points. Since there’s no magic stuff- I was going for a very gritty counter terrorism theme- the MP is used to move a character, and do actions- special kills, shooting and reloading.

There are a few character classes, there’s the run-of-the-mill Assault, the most balanced class. A sniper, low movement but with access of sniper rifles, the longest range of weapons. There’s a medic, with lots of MP, and the Heavy, high HP and bazookas, which have splash damage- an area of effect. And one class that’s always changes as I never find a good use. (One is a ‘Negotiator’, who can talk to enemy terrorists and talk out of them- sort of like the Mastermind class in Payday 2).

There’s a cover system, and some are destructible too.

There’s a chance percentage system, whether a hit is connected. It was a complex system of selecting certain numbers on the range of 1-100. Like a game of battleship. I never knew a dice system would have elegantly worked as well.

Didn't know at the time that using  dices is common in pen-and-paper games. Instead, I made a complex, skill based system to calculate a hit or a miss, based on a game of battleships.

Didn’t know at the time that using dices is common in pen-and-paper games. Instead, I made a complex, skill based system to calculate a hit or a miss, based on a game of battleships.

It was a blast to play, for my friends at least. I was like the dungeon master in a D&D game, guiding and setting the game up, give them lore and backstory on the missions, calculate the combat and control the enemies.

There were two renditions of the game, one was made in primary school. The second one was when I was in secondary school, made from scratch with one new twist, items and skill comes in cards- yes, I made poor quality cards with color paper glued on white paper where all the flavour text and image all drawn by hand. It was called WEAPON, an acronym of something, I have since forgotten. World Emergency Association P.. Offensive Negotiations? Something like that.

I think it was around 2005 or something when I was an avid reader (and collector) of PC Gamer, there was a local version of the magazine at the time. There, I discovered a game called XCOM Alien Defense (or UFO Enemy Unknown). And as I read on about this old relic of a game, I discovered: this is almost similar to WEAPON.

This may not look as much, but  the basic concept of an XCOM game is all here, and is still mostly preserved in  the rebooted XCOM Enemy Unknown

This may not look as much, but the basic concept of an XCOM game is all here, and is still mostly preserved in the rebooted XCOM Enemy Unknown

The classes are downright the same. The overwatch skill is something I had too, I really thought hard about it before giving it a go- I need a cool skill for the sniper to take advantage of, but not exclusive to them.

However, the meta game, the base building, was something I had a hard time to implement. Friends were content with the base game, but I had something in store for them with a base building system. Seeing it working was something remarkable. Also, there was no permadeath in WEAPON, since each player controls a single character, and I want players to feel the sense of progress, leveling up, getting more skills and better gear. It is a staple of XCOM though.

Heck, the name of the game involves a catchy word in all caps.

And the teenage me at the time was so pissed off. How did Julian Gollop, the designer of the game, ripped my idea !?

Well, the answer is, he got the idea first. I then realised not long afterwards of this concept: people will and can have similar ideas, regardless of they ever met or heard of it.

Which, on the side note, not just a fluke or one lucky coincidence. I totally predicted that Burnout 2 was all made on the same world, so it would be interesting to remove the barriers and make it open world (see Burnout Paradise). And Armored Core could create a control system utilising the analog sticks, which should make it more fluid. (see Armored Core Nexus). This is a time where social media isn’t a thing yet, so the concept mentioned earlier is a sound one. And of course, the devs did eventually got the idea and implemented it, that’s what actually counts.

At this point, I started to accept that ideas shouldn’t be locked to certain people. Sometimes, these other ideas can help create other new ideas, using them as a base to start on. Let ideas flourish! Of course it’s wrong to wholeheartedly copy exactly without any additional value made, either by adding or removing. But still, don’t let the chase for originality inhibits your creative expression.

For the next iteration of WEAPON made in middle school, I gave credit to Metal Gear Acid with the card system. I believe I brainstormed it first, then saw the game made it worked. Seeing it worked, I continued working to get the implementation of the system to work in the game. It did.

One silly fact: I never knew that what I made is technically equivalent to Dungeons and Dragons, as in a pen-and paper game. Until recently.

One silly fact: I never knew that what I made is technically equivalent to Dungeons and Dragons, as in a pen-and paper game. Until recently.

The game made all those times when the teacher wasn’t around more productive, and it’s the closest experience we ever got to a D&D experience. Sadly, I lost all those paper sketches and documents of the game, so I do appreciate the existance of XCOM Enemy Unknown, the Enemy Within expansion, and the upcoming sequel, as these games are what my vision of WEAPON would have been as a full-fledged videogame.

And who knows, maybe the concept may still be unique and viable to pursue. A free-to-play mobile game maybe?

Time to hit up those Unity tutorials.

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