Critical Success, Commercial FlopX-Com: The Truth Is Out There
And Now For Something Completely Different
By the time the third game was released in 1997, the gaming landscape had changed. The popularity of Command & Conquer and Warcraft had ushered in a wave of RTS games, and plans to include real-time component in X-COM: Apocalypse threatened to upset the gameplay balance. Even though the Gollop brothers were back at the helm, X-Com was now a corporate production. "With Apocalypse we did the game design and the programming while MicroProse UK did the art. Before, just two artists from MicroProse had mainly worked on the original game and had mainly done as we said. Now the whole art department was involved and had their own ideas about how things should look, which created some conflict. ... This probably affected the quality of the game to some extent. I think in retrospect we were also too ambitious with the game design."
With real-time combat and a colorful retro-1950s science fiction setting, the connection to the original game had been lost. "We also wanted to do something a bit different, as we had been doing turn-based tactical games for a long time. The decision to be both turn-based and have a pausable RTS mode was probably a mistake, as neither version was as polished or as good as it could have been."
Where TFTD was too similar, Apocalypse was too different. The game changed both the setting and the gameplay, failing to fully connect with either new fans or old ones. X-COM: Apocalypse was the game without an audience.
The Sequel That Never Was
Hasbro purchased MicroProse in 1998, and the X-Com license went along for the ride. David Ellis was in charge of Hasbro's new vision for the franchise. "We thought ... X-COM was a strong enough brand that we could expand into other game genres. We were looking at the Star Wars games as examples - you had shooters, RTS games, space combat games, everything. ... Our plan was to branch out with two games: Interceptor, and then Alliance."
X-COM: Interceptor was poorly received, mainly because it wasn't a good game. "Interceptor wasn't embraced by the fans, and didn't attract the space sim crowd; it was released at almost the same time as Descent: Freespace, which definitely hurt our sales."
"We had a long-term plan that the fans never understood because they never got to see it play out over time," says Ellis. "I still think it was a good idea, but maybe it was too soon to branch out. ... After Interceptor failed to pick up new fans, the vision for Genesis went from 'let's continue the strategy/tactical X-Com franchise' to 'we'd better get back to the style of X-com game that the fans loved.'" Unfortunately, X-COM: Genesis never arrived. When Hasbro's interactive division shut down in 1999, the project died with it.