X-Tactics Developer On How The Game Draws Inspiration From Final Fantasy Tactics

By Ishaan . August 19, 2014 . 12:31pm

X-Tactics is a new strategy RPC being developed for PC and mobile by a developer named Gamkin. Based in Tokyo, Gamkin was formed in 2013 by former Square Enix, Capcom and Sega staff. The game is scheduled for release this year for iOS, Android and Kindle devices, and will be made available for PC, Mac and Linux next year.


Siliconera got in touch with X-Tactics director/producer Robert Gould to ask a few quick questions about the game, such as how the Final Fantasy Tactics and Valkyria Chronicles influences Gamkin have mentioned factor into the game, and just how the PC version will be different from the iOS and Android releases.


On your IndieGoGo page, you named Final Fantasy Tactics and Valkyria Chronicles as games that you looked to while designing X-Tactics. Both of those are fairly different strategy RPGs. Can you elaborate on what you hope to pick from each game?


Robert Gould, X-Tactics director: When we started we knew we wanted to have cooperative tactical gameplay, something not very common for strategy RPGs, but that picked our interests. Most strategy games go with PvP, but here in Japan PvP independent of genre is not very popular. Besides we feel it is more fun, and universal, to play together with your friends than competing against strangers.


This brings us to the Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT) part of the equation. FFT is not a multiplayer player game, but is has a special feel and tempo to it, and the game actually works well if you pass around the controller allowing everyone to control one character. This is in large part thanks to its initiative system. The initiative system streamlines the gameplay, as it removes the need to ponder on whom to move next, allowing you to focus on how to make the best move with this character, while providing a tense and deep simulated flow of time. It is this balance between “think-time” and “results” that makes FFT fun. So we took a similar initiative & turn based approach that serves to speed up multiplayer sessions, allowing for synchronous gameplay between friends.


The second half of the equation here is Valkyria Chronicles. Valkyria’s gameplay is broken down into several parts, with its BLiTZ system, you have the strategic map-level part, the tactical part where you move individual characters, and finally a more interactive attack part of play. This model adapts well to mobile devices, where scrolling a large combat field and wading through menus, isn’t that much fun. You might have played the FFT release on mobile, its ok, but it feels bogged down, obviously this is not because of it mechanics, but because it doesn’t fit the medium.


So X-Tactics missions play somewhat like Valkyria Chronicles in that there is this macro strategic part where you decide who to send to which areas to investigate first, allowing you to capture strategic points to change the tides of battle, and manage risk. Then there is a second part were you resolve the actual combat in tactical skirmishes that are more like those of FFT.


You’ve also said that X-Tactics will involve fighting game mechanics, such as the ones in Street Fighter? How is that going to work?


Yes it does, although for clarification, this doesn’t mean that we resolve each attack as a fighting-game. The inspirations might be somewhat subtler, but is just as meaningful.


First and foremost, Street Fighter and Valkyria Chronicles, for that matter, are both games with well-defined and memorable characters. Each is unique and has special quirks and abilities. Likewise, in X-Tactics each character is different and has its own set of unique abilities and skills, and works better with certain strategies and with certain teams.


We didn’t want to go with typical archetype systems that many RPGs have been doing these days. So when you go on a mission it is not about taking 3 Tanks, a Healer, and a Support character. We wanted X-Tactics players to think about what each character brings to the table on an individual level, as you would if you we’re sending highly trained special agents out to fulfil dangerous missions.


Another design decision was to remove the weight from random numbers, stats and grinding, and shift the focus towards skill, both tactical, such as how you move your characters, as well as of reflexes.


Perhaps the most important and profound inspiration we took from fighting games, is that in X-Tactics there is no healer character, and there are no healing potions so to speak of. Instead characters have a health bars that works like those of fighting games, when you are hit you take permanent and temporary damage, this temporary damage can be healed, but the permanent damage can’t. Also if you are repeatedly hit temporary damage becomes permanent, so this raises stakes and constantly shifts battle’s flow between risky frontal attacks to neutralize the enemy as soon as possible, and trying to take cover and protect the wounded so they can recover. In X-Tactics, you can’t just send a few tank characters out in the front on for bash fest, and mindlessly keep them alive with healers in the back (because neither archetype exists). This makes the battle field much more dynamic, and means that tactical placement and movement is something that really counts from beginning to end.


Now this health system doesn’t work based on random numbers, critical hits and fumbles, as it wouldn’t be much fun, if your fate is not actually in your hands. So the defense system is reflex based, you block, and with good timing can even counter attacks, but if you miss you can easily go down, as characters are quite frail compared to your typical fantasy RPG. But by the same token, enemies can also counter attack your attacks, but you do have a last chance to counter-block their counter-attack, so you have to be paying attention even when it’s not your turn. This also means you can actually complete an entire mission without taking a single scratch if you’re really good, and we reward experience based on how much health you have left at the end of a mission. So no dowsing off is allowed.


Another quite straight forward fighting game mechanic is that your team has a “Synchro” gauge that accumulates based on how good your attacks are, and how much damage you have taken. This gauge when full can then be used to unleash special super attacks.


Finally, let me explain a little about the attack and skill system, this also has fighting-game inspirations, although not as obvious. Unlike most RPGs we don’t use an MP/SP-like system, or a cool-down system, instead characters have several “focuses”. These focuses are something like buttons in a fighting game. How you manage and combine these focuses during an attack determines what happens, do you go for an all out attack, or do you try to maintain your defenses up while causing lesser damage? It is this focus system allows you finesse in combat.


Also focus management is used to activate skills. Certain combinations of focuses, dependent on each character, activate their unique skills, like button combinations do in fighting-games. As a bonus if you manage to secure enough of the right focuses during your attack phase you can even pull off a series of skills in the same turn, say a shield-break followed by a whirlwind attack. So you can create emergent skill combinations depending on the current needs.


What exactly does the “Urban Exploration” part refer to, and why is it missing from the PC version of the game?


“Urban Exploration” is the term we use for the location-based part of gameplay, this is not part of the core story-lines as such, it is more of a sandbox that allows free-style play, along with side quests to unlock items and character-based subplots.


The core mechanics of urban exploration are centered on treasure hunting, like geocaching, and “stamp-rallies” a very common form of entertainment here in Japan. These exploration mechanics by their very nature do not require large concentrations of players to be entertaining.


So, even if you happen to be the only person in your town playing at some point in time, treasure hunts can be fun. Purely cooperative and competitive location-based play like capture-the-flag mechanics on the other hand work well in populated areas, but are no fun in more rural areas, so we are not focusing on then at this point.


Now this brings us to why the PC version doesn’t have it. PCs don’t really have reliable location services, and  although it’s possible to guess location based on network information, it would be very awkward to explore your town holding a PC in your hands.


But X-Tactics’ urban exploration is just a support mechanic, or as we say in Japanese its “plus alpha”. The core gameplay stands on its own, so there was no real reason X-Tactics could not be enjoyed on a PC or console, after all while developing it, most of the actual mission gameplay is just as entertaining on PCs as it is on mobile devices.


But the PC and console experience is somewhat different, Mobile play gets squeezed in between other life activities, but PC and console play is something players schedule time for, so we don’t want to do a simple port. We want to take advantage of medium’s benefits and provide more complex missions with larger teams of characters for the PC and console versions. So we are not aiming for simultaneous releases, as it would be impossible with our current team size.


Internally we think of PC experience akin to chess while the mobile experience is a form of mini speed-chess. They both share the same basic rules, but by changing the context and scope they can fit into two very different niches.


We’ll also let players sync the data between their PC and Mobile devices meaning that they are playing the same game, and not two different games, or just playing the same game all over again. And although the game can be played uniquely on either platform, we heavily recommend playing it on both.


X-Tactics’ world is where government agencies are trying to keep certain kinds of incidents under wraps in order to maintain the peace. What kinds of incidents are we talking about, and how do the secret agents you play as fit into the story?


Its hard to say what incidents as there are many, because they range from things like pyramids, the deaths or disappearances of famous people over history, to things like fluoride in public water, chemtrails, free-energy, and of course staples like aliens and Illuminati.


We have been having lots of fun researching and finding dubious connections between all sorts of conspiracy theories, myths and other paranormal phenomena while working on the story for X-Tactics.


In a way you could say X-Tactics is a parody or satire of the real world, or maybe it is just telling how things actually are, depends on how you look at it. As for the role of the secret agents, put very simply their mission is to protect the peace. At all costs. They are not set out to uncover the truth. They are well aware of the truth, and understand all too well that ignorance is bliss, and don’t want to take that away from the people, for many reasons, both altruistic and for self-gain.


Under normal circumstances you might call some of them anti-heroes, but we’re trying to make it so players can be sympathetic with their actions, even thou they might occasionally be quite morally dubious.


To give a very broad idea, you could say X-Tactics is more like “Men in black” with dark tongue-in-cheek humor. Rather than something serious where heroes are looking for the truth, like “X-files” although we do have the “X” in the title.


How is the GPS feature going to work? Can you provide examples of how the game will change depending on where you’re located?


Besides the “Urban Exploration” part, in X-Tactics we use GPS data to determine local weather conditions and to determine if its day or night, summer or winter, and the moon phases. Although the moon phase is the same all over the world, but the direction in which the moon fills up depends on your hemisphere, something we didn’t know until we began implementing it.


Now all these are triggers, and certain missions and sub-plots only unlock under certain conditions, so there are certain missions that are only open during full moons. But there are also some Easter egg like missions that only unlock on a rainy night near a gas station. We hope that these will let the more some our more dedicated players have fun, and share information, which might be correct or not, but all in all adds to the sort of mystery and urban myth setting, by creating a sort of meta-game.


Also local weather conditions affect the missions, so if you enter a mission at night-time, it is dark, if it is raining it will rain, and so on. This has obviously cosmetic effects, but it also has gameplay effects that range from what enemies you may encounter, and to providing certain combat benefits and handicaps to certain characters and enemies. After all ranged attacks don’t work well in strong winds, and slippery floors can make movement more difficult than usual.


We hope to support as many of these environmental features as we can on PC and consoles as long as they are connected to the Internet.

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