On a small stage, tucked away in a corner of the Baltimore Convention Center, four members of the XCOM 2 development team are talking to the Firaxicon crowd about modding. Specifically, they're talking about The Long War. "I do not know how they were able to do what they did," says Jake Solomon, lead designer of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2. "I know how," says XCOM 2 lead engineer Ryan McFall, "and it's kind of scary."
XCOM: Enemy Unknown wasn't designed for modding, making The Long War all the more impressive for its size and scope. For XCOM 2, Firaxis wants to make the process much easier. It's not just that the sequel will support modding. Firaxis is going above and beyond by offering a full suite of tools designed to give modders the scope to do pretty much whatever they want.
"We're providing a tool for Steam that anyone who buys the game will be able to get," McFall tells the audience. "It works kind of like the mod tools for Civilization." XCOM 2 players will have access to a Visual Studio isolated shell app that can build mod projects. Going further, Firaxis will ship the Unreal editor that they used to build the game. Finally, the studio will provide the script source code and around 50GB of game assets.
"The key for us is that you guys, when XCOM 2 comes out, have the same game that we have when we developed it," Solomon tells the crowd. "You have the same tools that we have; you use the editor that we use; you have all the assets that the incredible content team created. We want you guys to help us make XCOM 2 better."
During a Q&A at the end of the panel, one fan asked if the tools would be flexible enough to create a co-op mod. And it turns out that yes, they would. Modders would need to supply their own matchmaking server, but otherwise, the possibility is there.
Later in the day, I talk to XCOM 2 art director Greg Foertsch. I ask him what he's most looking forward to seeing the community do to his work. "It's funny, somebody asked me 'was I going to be okay with that,'" he says. "I was like, 'I can't wait for that.' It's cool when you make something, and then people take it and they interpret and do something cooler or different with it."
"I think we've exhausted everything that I could think of doing in levels, so I'm curious to see what I didn't think of," says Foertsch. "I'm sure I've missed stuff, and I'm curious to see what they think I missed. The procedural levels are really powerful, and seeing what people do with that—what content they add to the game, even more so than modding—is what I'm super excited about"
Foertsch describes the tools as "robust," but stresses that people won't need much background knowledge to start tinkering with the game. "There's so much you can do," he says. "I don't think it's very hard for people to understand the simple changes, and then the more granular ones—they just become a lot more intuitive as you go. That'll be cool to see. It's got a lot of things you can adjust to make big changes or little changes."