The upcoming space game X3: Reunion will mark a major turn for the series, which dates back to 1999's X: Beyond the Frontier. Not only will X3 be the first game in the series to feature a dedicated single-player story, but it will also make the jump from its PC-only roots to also appear on the Xbox. Unlike in most traditional console space games, the goal in X3 isn't to fly around and blast everything (though you can try to do so). Rather, this open-ended game lets you fly around a populated galaxy to explore on your own, trade, and build an economic empire. Of course, the galaxy is a dangerous place, so there will be plenty of opportunities to battle as well. To get details regarding the game's story, economy, and more, we turned to Egosoft's Greg Kingston.
GameSpot: Games in the X series have always been open-ended, but X3 is the first game in the series to have an in-depth single-player story. How are you going to balance the open-endedness of the X series with the linear nature of X3?
Greg Kingston: Firstly, I would like to put aside some concerns that have been raised about this. Some existing players are worried that the plot is mandatory. Open-ended freedom is paramount for us when designing a game, and just because we now have a more in-depth story than ever before does not mean that the open-ended freedom will be affected. In fact, the freedom the players enjoy can now be enhanced even more by the storyline. I'll cover more on this later on, but actions following the plot as well as outside of it can have some interesting effects on the universe.
GS: X3 is also the first game in the series that will appear on a console. What are the challenges and benefits of designing a game to be played on both the PC and the Xbox? Is there going to be much of a difference between the two versions?
GK: The challenges are the same for any designer I think: to allow for different controls and user interfaces and also to deal with the different hardware they have. We have already changed the graphical user interface for X3 to allow for console playing. PC users should be reassured that they will now have a choice of a system similar to the old one but still improved, as well as the new one. This is one benefit that multiplatform design can bring. The main benefit is, of course, the wider arena and exposure that our brands of games enjoy, bringing a whole new audience to the genre.
I don't want to go into great detail on the key differences, but none of them will reduce the X universe experiences. One detail I can give is that the console universe will be smaller than the PC version. We don't think that this will detract from the game, as the playing style of console players is generally different to PC owners, and it may well suit them better.
GS: We understand that Egosoft hired a screenwriter to write the game, so without spoiling too much, what's the plot going to be about? How does it fit into the existing X games?
GK: We are extremely pleased with the plotlines for X3, but to not spoil it, that's pretty much all I'm going to say. Seriously though, the main character is Julian Brennan, and as before, he's got his work cut out to answer a lot of the questions left hanging from X2: The Return. (And only if you want him to.) So the story pretty much carries on shortly after the end of X2: The Threat. Several characters from previous games will be absent, but there are some new faces blending in with the old. Players will not be able to play as different plot characters, but they will have the chance to play the open-ended game as different characters from different races, and also in different roles.
GS: What sorts of missions will players undertake in the game? How will they affect your relationship with the many different factions and alien races that are in X3?
GK: There are some major changes in missions, both within the plot and outside of it. Again, I don't want to spoil too much at this stage, but they are more varied in their nature, and many are dual purpose in allowing new players to learn about the different features in the game and also to allow returning players a real challenge. Some of the missions, particularly in the plot, can have quite literally devastating consequences for both the player and the universe. The different races now also interact far more than ever before, and some of the old rivalries and antagonisms between various factions are not just background fiction any longer. They actually happen. Getting caught in the middle of one of these conflicts could well reap rewards for the player, but it can also be risky.
GS: The galactic economy in X3 is supposed to be completely dynamic, but how so? Could you give us an example of what this means and how it could affect the game?
GK: The economy is far more dynamic than before. Of course, we still have the real economy running prices on the basis of supply and demand, but now there are some more-random and real elements introduced. The biggest change involves non-player characters who trade goods and build factories, adding competition for you. They may also be a benefit for you from time to time, as well.
GS: Earlier X games had steep learning curves that made it difficult for newcomers to get into the games. How are you making X3 so it's easier to learn, particularly for Xbox players? Will there be a tutorial system or an in-game guide?
GK: Any console version will come after the PC version, so it's too early to comment on specific features or tutorials within it. It is unlikely that the PC version will have tutorials. There simply won't be time as we didn't want to delay the release too long after announcing the game, plus not many players used them in the past. However, as mentioned before, there are various missions and parts of the game where a brand-new player can easily learn all about the different features and options within the game. All this, backed up with a more robust manual, should be fine. Away from the game, we have some of the best community support around on our forums, both official and unofficial, of which we are very proud of.
GS: Are there any other features in X3 that are a result of feedback from fans of the earlier games? What are the things that they liked and didn't like, and how will that be reflected in X3?
GK: Whilst we have a very clear direction for the games, the involvement of the community cannot be understated. Those who get involved are the most passionate and talented of our fans. Direct changes as a result of their input are improved combat AI and a repricing and working of the economic model. Often the changes that we want to make also align themselves with requests from fans, and another result of this will be the increased sector sizes that you will be able to enjoy in X3. Lots of feedback has also been received on the user interface, which has been improved, and also the commands with which you have at your disposal to manage your empire, which are also improved. Such is the passion that these fans bring to the games that the debates can sometimes get quite heated.
GS: Finally, are there any plans to support the game with postrelease content, such as new ships or missions released on Xbox Live and the Internet?
GK: The simple answer to this is yes. Part of Egosoft's great brand is our track record of providing real added-value postrelease support, not only with fixes but also major additions to game content as well. What we are also exploring are different means to actually deliver these to platform, be it console or PC, which would allow a really new and exciting addition to the X games for us and the players, but I can't say anything else on this now, as it is far too early.
GS: Thanks, Greg.