Egosoft head Bernd Lehahn says the decision to "reboot" the X franchise with X Rebirth goes all the way back to the 2005 release of X3: Reunion.
After a half-dozen titles spanning nearly 15 years, beginning with the release of X: Beyond the Frontier in 1999, the X franchise is getting a major overhaul with X Rebirth, a "reboot" that launches on November 15. The game promises the same complexity and open-ended sandbox gameplay (with an underlying plot for those who choose to pursue it) as its predecessors, but is set in a dramatically changed universe in which the entire jumpgate network has shut down. The game itself has changed dramatically as well, something Egosoft chief Bernd Lehahn said has been a long time coming.
The growth of the X franchise has been directed in large part by feedback from the very enthusiastic community that's formed around it, Lehahn explained, resulting in more ships, more freedom and more things to do, but also much more complexity, making the games "unnecessarily complicated and inherently impenetrable for new players."
"So around the time of the 2005 release of X3: Reunion, the decision was made to resolve this problem by starting development on a second line of games. X Rebirth is the culmination of that decision. It represents all the experience the team at Egosoft had regarding making space simulation games, but without the limitations of working within a legacy design," he said. "Any fan of space simulations will find the UI in X Rebirth easy to use and much more intuitive, but the 'Trade, Fight, Build, Think' gameplay elements and interaction remain as deep as X game fans have come to expect."
The most obvious change is to the interface, which has been streamlined to the point that the game can be played with a gamepad alone (although a keyboard is still recommended), but the scale and detail have changed as well. "Destroying a capital ship is no longer a function of mindlessly draining its shields. A capital ship in X Rebirth can have over a hundred discrete surface elements related to shields, weapons, engines, jumpdrive, etc, that the player can individually target," Lehahn said. "This scale and level of detail extends to stations and facilities, each of which can comprise of scores of discrete sections which the player can scan and identify. Furthermore, any number of surface elements can be added to player-built stations and facilities, for example turrets for defense."
It will be possible to dock with stations and interact with NPCs in X Rebirth, and to employ a variety of specialized drones as "force multipliers" in major conflicts. The new game will also take a different approach to "reconciling the vastness of space and getting players to where the action is" with the use of "space highways," officially known as "Jonferson Space Systems Transorbital Accelerators." Larger ships will hustle around the universe under the power of their own jumpdrives.
Lehahn ascribed much of Egosoft's success to its very dedicated and active community, and while he hopes that X Rebirth resonates with as many people as possible, the priority is to "bring the same enthusiasm we had for the space simulation genre, and create a game that we wanted to play ourselves." For the foreseeable future, it will also remain exclusive to the PC, although a console release isn't completely out of the question.
"At the moment we aren't working on a port to console, but we have received a number of inquiries into this possibility. I would start by saying that the new improved controls in X Rebirth represented the biggest needed step to go in this direction. With this improvement, the game can now work well with consoles," Lehahn said. "I would also highlight that the hardware architecture of the next gen consoles has many similarities to the PC. For example, the new consoles bring a lot of memory, which is one of the most critical hardware features we needed. However, taking the game to consoles is something that we have yet to explore in-depth. Stay tuned."
X Rebirth comes out on November 15.