GDC 2013: Original X-Com was nearly cancelled on two occasions

In 2000, six years after its release, X-Com: UFO Defense had sold 470,000 games and made the Gollop brothers just over £1 million in royalties. But, according to Julian Gollop at his GDC post-mortem of the game - it nearly didn't happen. Twice in the project's development it faced cancellation and, for a brief while, it was officially dead. Sure, had it not been revived we'd have been spared from Enforcer . But at what cost?

The first time was just after the initial pitch with Micrprose. They suggested some alterations, and asked Gollop to produce a design document.

"I went away and I designed the game. I came up with a design document which was just 12 pages long. I'd never written a game design document before in my life, by the way. And the problem with it was that it didn't really work for Microprose - they didn't understand how the game worked.

"I actually had to go there and personally explain things and have a lot of questions thrown at me. Steve [Hand] said the document was very poor and if it hadn't been for the fact that we'd done Laser Squad, he would have cancelled the project there and then."

Cancellation threat #2 happened when Microprose was acquired in 1993 by Spectrum Holobyte. In fact, it was more than just a threat.

"[Spectrum Holobyte] came to review the projects in development in the UK and they took one look at X-Com and said 'Nah, we don't like this - cancel this project'. The project was actually officially cancelled.

"However, Pete Moreland, Adrian Parr, and Paul Hibbard [Microprose bosses] got together. They had a meeting and decided no, we're going to continue with this project. They didn't tell Spectrum Holobyte this, by the way.

"So really, thanks to the support from Microprose UK, the project was saved."

Later, when Spectrum Holobyte wanted a game release for the end of the financial year, March 1994, Microprose had just the thing. "Pete Moreland said, 'Well, you know that project you told us to cancel... Well we've still got it."

Gollop admits that the game wasn't in a playable state at the time. "The last three months were particularly painful, because both myself and Nick were working seven days a week, 12 hours a day to get the game finished."

Gollop also praised Firaxis' work rebooting the series, after it lost its way with games like Enforcer in 2001: "I would have to say that the Firaxis XCOM saved the day. It's like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the X-Com disaster, to be honest, because I think the whole team at Firaxis did a tremendous job of creating something that was familiar but at the same time different and fresh. And it's amazing that after 20 years, a brand that had gone so badly in the wrong direction has finally been put right."

Below is a screenshot of the only remaining X-Com: UFO Defense concept art. It was taken from this Gamespot video of the full post mortem.

Probably a good thing that they went with the Chryssalids over the giant bunny rabbit.

Thanks, Eurogamer .

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.