The Rebel Squad project

The Rebel Squad project


I started this project in early 2006 but abandoned it after having made some (what I now view as) proto-designs and code. Now it's the end of 2007, 2009 (2016?) and turned my attention to the project once again. Coming back to a project is always useful, because I can be objective towards my old stuff. It's a bit like standing on my own shoulders, to modify a famous quote. I'm not a giant, but if I stand on my own shoulders enough times...

I've played several of the Gollop games, such as Rebelstar Raiders (RSR), Rebelstar (RS) 1 & 2 and Laser Squad (LS) with expansion. I prefer the C64 and Speccy versions of these games because of the clear iconic quality of the graphics. I think the designs are quite interesting, perhaps because they use tiny sprites which I can bend more in my mind. I also enjoyed Act of War, an AMOS game inspired by Laser Squad, but that's another story.

X-COM is probably the most well known and best regarded of the bunch, and I like how it manages to include a lot of the things that I'd like to see in a world-building oriented game. There can be characters on adventures, small tanks, planes and spaceships, transports, politics, base management, tech development. Almost any game with a full world could sort of bloom in the X-COM format.

The idea with my project was initially to merge all of the games into a single homogenous universe (these projects are my version of Fantasy Football). However, Gollop owns the rights for the old games and 2K Games has the X-COM rights, and I own nothing but my imagination (when I'm not selling it). There have been plenty of commercial X-COM remakes, but none with X-COM's 90's comic book style. Being an artist and retro gaming fanatic, I care more about the fidelity of the visual design and sexy GUI, and I really wish I could use the original designs for some kind of commercial project but I'd most likely would have to make my own since I wouldn't want to risk such a big time & money investment getting shut down.

It's tricky to work on a big project such as this. Hobby developers have to work with volunteer contributions where everyone can have a say and there's no dictatorial direction or harsh quality assurance, and people suddenly go MIA. A large developer has to consider the wider demographic when so much dough is on the line, and this compromises X-COM at its core in my opinion. Well, I might actually have a slightly different view of the game than other people, even X-COM fans. For me, it's not so much a game as it is events taking place in a world, much like how Dwarf Fortress works. The game is narratively focused with background images in the GUI, and all the little fun things which can happen on away missions, and a lot of it happens in the mind of the player.

For my version of X-COM, I'd like to see a Toady-style development process where stuff is added because it makes the world more alive. My general instinct is to avoid "gamey" mechanics (e.g. rubberbanding/catch-up or "sniper class gets to choose two perks for this mission"). At the risk of making poor choices, I want to instead pursue features which might be detrimental to the streamline, but builds on what I think is ultimately at the core of X-COM.

2016 art:Characters, Are we there yet? Are we there yet? That's it, I'm popping out of my launch tubeaaaaaaaahhhhh... (Ship from intro/BG, sort of.) Stunning. Mountain.



Rebelstar and Laser Squad at Wikipedia

My RebelStar Raiders page which I made after not having found any detailed info about that game (characters and graphics) on the net.

William Fraser's RebelStar page has Java versions which you can play in your browser.

Laser Squad sprite dumps. Colors may be incorrect. Also Rebelstar sprite dumps. These were dumped from the game files, not ripped from screenshots. Dumping is generally more accurate, but in some cases, multi-part sprites with dynamic palettes or unconventional storage positions/formats are better to rip.

X-COM - UFOpaedia

Thoughts on X-COM's features

From a world building perspective

I've already mentioned above how the game functions well as a world description. An X-COM setting can feature a variety of interactive (non-background) designs at different scales and as a concept artist that's very appealing. Many of my projects have turned into X-COM because of this: NAMCOM, XEXYZ, Phantasy Star.

Emergent narratives

Because X-COM was turn based, you could really follow character development. The breadth of the game allowed wider narratives to emerge, from politics on a global scale, the pursuit of powerful alien artefacts, to the fate of a soldier screwing up the priming of his grenade. The game tickles the imagination and encourages you to develop your internal stories and add embroidery. When narrated the game is interesting even to other people watching which makes it highly "Let's Play"-able.

I feel this could be taken further, if the "add more stuff" development mentality is pursued. I'd like to explore more ambiguous fail states. Maybe a Rookie is exposed to some spores on a mission and gets sick, and unfortunately dies later back at base. Right now soldiers tend to either die on a mission or get physically wounded but always recover. It would be interesting to worry about whether your wounded or sick guy will make it.

Normally you just go on a mission and shoot all the stuff, or fail and lose everything. I think it should be encouraged to do hit and runs on alien bases and ufos, just stealing certain technology for reverse engineering. You can abort the mission, but you don't really fail it like you do a terror or base defense mission.

Landscape problems

The alien opposition in the original X-COM tends to be kind of samey. I think of that sort of thing as a flat landscape - it's the same every time you visit (like a barren Sim City map with nothing to build around). I believe X-COM has some sort of linear progression of aliens. Another flat landscape is research... Again a sort of linear progression and people always end up with the flying armor and PSI amps.

I've been thinking about this technology system where each alien item, body or strange artifact has a number of internal technologies (pieces) which powers the object. Retrieving stuff makes these technologies researchable, and instead of a ladder or tech tree for human items, armor, etc, there's a technology prerequisite system which unlocks research projects. I might have researched the personal armor, but in my current game, let's say I'm encountering a lot of acid Celatids (perhaps an unusual landscape). When I'm close to matching all the prerequisites of a new invention, the missing technologies could leave a clue (scientist speculation) as to where they could be found, allowing me to go hunt for them. A seasoned player would know where to find stuff of course. I could be informed that I could make an acid-proof personal armor if I retrieve... something highly acid proof, perhaps some Muton skin? So, in this particular game it makes sense to scan/hunt for Muton ships and bases (they could prefer a certain climate) and do a quick retrieval raid. In short, the alien landscape would encourage the player to take new paths through the technological landscape. It could be a mix of "cool, I stumbled on this technology, now I could play this move, I've never done that before" and "I will pursue this technology so to perfectly adapt to this landscape".

Importance of locale

X-COM provides with familiar and varied environments. A human city, farm or gas station is relatable... when blowing it up, setting little human figures ablaze. An alien environment with strange props will not produce the same stakes or connections. If not using Earth, I'll use a not-Earth.

Persistence and progression

When I play standalone missions in games like Laser Squad, and win or lose a game, I feel like it's over and didn't really matter. In X-COM, each little skirmish feels connected to the larger picture. I make a difference. There are not a lot of games which allow the player to feel like he can really fight the evil alien empire (as opposed to just completing a bunch of levels with a background story which is supposed to give the player the same feeling).

Art style

I like the cartoon style of X-COM. I prefer this over stale grimdark realistic 3D. It's perhaps more of a personal preference though. I think a cute looking game could be scary too, because scary situations are created by build-up and not just visuals. Also, nowadays realistic scary stuff has become so blasé it's no longer scary anyways. I don't like the designs from the new XCOM games because they feel a bit like random-sculpts with color tricks on top (I get this feeling from most new "armoured-guy" games).


Many X-COM windows have drawn backgrounds and the bars for the skills are nicely color coded, making the game look less dull than... say... Everything-is-cyan-glowy-lines. Throwing artwork into window backgrounds is a good idea because it expands on the setting/narrative, placing the characters in a context. The original X-COM does this at a very low cost because it's just painted pictures.I suppose the new XCOM games use fancy 3D for that, but it's a viable solution for me. Games with dead solid background GUIs are a bit like comics where the artist have never drawn any background, leaving the reader... floating. Some games try to compensate with greebly GUI borders and fancy buttons, but this is is unrelated nonsense most of the time.

Since X-COM was just 320x200 pixels they couldn't fit a lot of stuff on screen. I don't think the GUI should be cluttered, but when playing I'm having a hard time keeping track of the data, who's where and got what when everything in on separate screens.

Here's an idea for how to manage the Soldiers on a WUXGA resolution display. I'm unsure whether it's wise to mix multiple screen locations (as seen in the original) on the same screen, but they are related interface wise. This setup is practical for transferring items between the soldiers/drop ship and warehouse, or just getting an overview of who's where.

I think there should be more to a character's inventory slots... more than just putting stuff in them. I wouldn't be surprised if getting hit in the back might damage backpack stuff in X-COM, but I'd also like to see quick-draw slots, probably on the legs (lower belt). The backpack could be slower to work with. Imagine running into a saucer, but a Sectoid is standing right next to a valuable or exploding thing and you don't want to shoot at it. Some might say, well, you should have prepared with a stun rod before walking in, but I'd really like to be able to use my quick-draw slot in this case. This might make me toss the gun and bring up a knife so I have time to close in. It would be more cinematic and add some variety in both encounters and thinking through equipping.

Regarding the [] Trigger Happy checkbox near the belt, I had some loose idea about "shoot anything which moves" orders. This gives a bonus during reaction fire, but the soldiers might occasionally become a menace to civilians and their comrades. Leaving it unchecked results in poorer reaction times, but can give the soldier (player) decision making skills during reaction fire activation. This would interrupt the auto play of the alien turn (which I don't mind, I could always turn Trigger Happy off), and I would be asked if I want to take the shot, or not. In either case I waste some split second TUs.

And how about this: Perhaps a soldier is getting charged by a nasty melee unit during the alien turn and can't fire some flamer weapon because comrades are near. He could either fire it anyways, do nothing, or use the quick draw option. In the latter case, he drops his flamer and pulls up a knife, and braces himself (getting a slight defensive bonus in melee or something). If he has a gun in the quick-draw slot he might be able to get off a desperation shot before getting pummeled. I like the narrative "Oh-shiiii" aspect of that, but it might be inappropriate to interupt for player choices during the enemy turn. It'd have to be tested for feel.

Handedness could matter when dual wielding. I'm thinking wielding 2 handguns would only give a benefit of more bullets when doing auto fire, but be overall less accurate because one hand can't steady the other.


How do the characters increase their stats? Here I'd just like to see a solution which makes sense and doesn't allow peculiar gamey exploits. At base you can build training rooms and tell soldiers what to focus on, such as a Target Range, PSI Lab or Gym. Things could then "click" (or not) when a soldier is on an away mission and this boosts learning a little. Bravery feels like should be hard to level up at base.

Armed civilians

In some countries, civilians might be armed with weak modern weapons (the X-COM team start with amazing stuff). A city might have panicked gun nuts and policemen, and you might find a dead farmer with a shotgun next to him in a field on a farm and a wounded Sectoid nearby.

Alien crash sites

What most likely happens if a downed UFO is left alone for too long? Maybe the aliens just repair it themselves, or a little rescue or repair UFO is sent out from an alien base. This could possibly be sneakily followed by the player, or even be encountered during repairs to add a little diversity. Aliens should be more prepared (positioned, armed, repaired, healed) as time passes. Should you arrive minutes after the crash, the Sectoids might lie wounded around the wreck if it was a bad one.

Bunker up!

I'd love to just be able to get a glimpse of base in tactical isometric mode, a sort of peeping tom view mostly serving the increase immersion. The base's memory structure and rendering code will have to be in memory anyways because it's used during invasion. This view could give me a snap shot of people being at places, bringing the place to life. The people don't need to move or anything as time is frozen during base management. Of course, the map needs to be able to physically accommodate hundreds of people, but I don't think it's a problem.

Won't this get really busy during base invasions though? I guess there could be a bunker room for hiding people in, but if the player doesn't build one? Then the scientists, engineers and administrators would be everywhere, dying by the dozens from enemy fire, and the player wouldn't get a clear shot, which is sort of how things would be in real life. Maybe the same goes for alien bases? Perhaps human cities have bunkers too, which the aliens bust open if given opportunity?

In X-COM each room in the base has two levels. This makes sense since the iconic top level room doesn't show any connecting corridor structures, that's all on the lower, unseen level. Unsurre how to tackle levels.


There was an X-COM'ish game in which your guys only got wounded and couldn't die. I think that feels like a rather artificial method to let the player keep his characters. It puts a safety net in, and I think that's unbecoming to an X-COM game as it kills suspense. Soldiers are expendable in X-COM and rookies are still useful. Losing an elite soldier is a blow, but it's not like becoming level 1 in some RPG.

I think it would be interesting to have something like a negative life bar so characters aren't always insta-killed. It could rapidly drain, unless a field medic comes in and stops the bleeding or stabilizes the situation. Of course, that's all a medic can do. Regenerating the damage should take weeks in a hospital. Also, it would be nice if soldiers die back at the hospital sometimes so there's some excitement there.

I'd also like to see more variation when it comes to damage. There could be electricity, fire, ice, coma inducers, alien disease, and other things which require the attention of a specialist back at the base. This way 'Rambo' can go out in other ways than being shot in the face. He could end his career by getting his face eaten by alien bacteria.

Spray and pray

Laser Squad had an enjoyable rapid fire mode where you could place two points to sweep the fire between. It made you feel like you really went berserk. Perhaps the shots moved a little faster in Laser Squad so there was less time wasted following single shots around across the map. You could also set the amount of bullets to fire, and you could aim anywhere and destroy the environment around you (didn't need a target).

Global persistence

I'd like to see some kind of simulation behind the scenes which manages the alien forces and their stuff. I don't like rubber banding much, e.g. "the player is doing well, let's spawn two alien battleships somewhere on the map"


X-COM didn't have a whole lot of stuff, which is understandable since sprites have to be made for every armor and gun. I'm thinking I could make 3D models, batch render the animated frames and paint over those. Most of the time is spent manually matching and noodling on the animation frames otherwise. I also want more depth to research. I've described a system which I think would work in my Xexyz document. It removes the need for tech tree abstractions as it's more of a prerequisite system. Also talked about it elsewhere above.

More alien variation would be nice too, but how? More new aliens or more variants of the already existing aliens? I would prefer more structure to a smaller selection of aliens, rather than a barrage of new aliens without much depth. I think the aliens need depth as characters.

More terrain variation (settings) is easier to do, as map props are mostly static (a single frame plus destruction). If I use a space settings for this project then I can have alien planets. However, I think it's far more important to include familiar urban terrain as it provides a scale to measure 'awesome destruction' against. Alien rocks and odd buildings do not.


PSI stuff, while fun, makes some of the regular move-shoot strategy obsolete. I wouldn't mind it if it was just a phase in the game and it becomes inefficient after a while or is only efficient under certain circumstances. It could also be a late game super weapon and not something you spam throughout 2/3rds of the game.


Aside from being able to give a soldier a new identity, it would be practical to be able to give them nicknames and made-up roles to help identification.

Who goes there?

I'd also like to give the tactical sprites different heads so I can tell them apart. Maybe not a lot of frames are needed for the heads and weapons if they keep them trained in a looking/walking direction when idle, kneeling, or moving. Later in the game there are big armors which hide the head though, but I guess there could be shields which show the body and head. It would also be convenient if there were little markers to indicate if a character is panicked and how many turn units it has left. (Hold a key to show simple stats over head of soldiers?)

Dear diary...

Sometimes I come back to a game and have no clue what happened before. The game should leave trails, maybe marking downed ufo spots and conquered bases, lost bases, and the game could have a brief log of events. I think the soldiers should also keep logs or a diary. As the game progresses and the program calls various functions related to character activity, things of note can be generated as a string for their diary. The detail of the string depends on the certain thresholds. A seasoned character might simply mention the number of kills he got on a mission and big events, whilst a rookie saves his first one in more detail. "Jan 14, 1999. Assigned to Skyranger-1. Investigated a downed alien UFO at a farm in Texas. When Johnston got wounded I got scared and panicked. Killed my first Sectoid! Took it out with a snap shot from 30 feet! Pretty lucky! I panicked again because I was alone. I didn't get a promotion...".

What's going on?

More plausible behaviour from civilians and aliens would be nice, but.. who knows what aliens and panicked people are thinking? Speaking of civilians, I think it would be fun to throw in some militia, police, and armed civilians (who will probably go berserk and shoot at the guys coming down the street clad in strange armours).

To Do

For the old project below.



Most of the designs I've made here are being based on the sprites. I'm adding a few of my own designs though, and I'm using the C64 palette a lot. As for the cute cartoon style, I don't believe it would make the game less scary or involving. Horror is mostly music and build-up. Benny Hill music will make almost anything funny, and if you just walk into a grimdark scary movie it's not scary at all because you missed the build-up.

There might be some sketches here which are old and obsolete. Others are very internal to me and might not appear to make much sense. The various armour styles (differing between missions in LS) have several levels, so I'm having some fun with that.

It feels a bit cheap to interpret some sprites as if they're just R2D2 or the Alien (even if they were obviously inspired by those designs). Pixel graphics have the advantage of having abstract qualities so I think I play around a bit while still keeping my designs within the bounds of the sprites. Maybe renaming the Light Sabre into Photon Blade would be a good idea too... (some guy develops photon weapons in the story, so it would be apt).

2009 art

Here is a sheet with unfinished X-COM redesigns. The character proportions and head scale is something I'm trying to standardize for a bunch of my projects. I think I'm going to have to revisit all the art on this page and revise the designs. I think these new proportions with more curves is more dynamic. More hip, legs getting thinner, larger head.

Concept art: X-COM UFO and Terror from the Deep, Humans in Personal Armour and Power Suits.

Some work in progress on the various suits and armors from X-COM.

I'm playing around with the TftD 'atmospheric diving suit' designs too. The colors used on the light TftD suit are from UFO rather than TftD (blue and teal), because I want to find a way to blend the two game universes together. I might even merge the UFO and TftD universes with my LaserSquad and RebelStar universes.

Concept art: X-COM UFO, Syndicate, Artificial muscles and a 'Terminator' endoskeleton.

It would be interesting to play with the body-mod mechanics from Syndicate. In Syndicate you can modify different parts of the body individually, but I'm not sure if that kind of detail is necessary. I like the idea of 'apples and oranges' tech, which can be discovered in parallel.

In this case with the cyborg bodies, they could be based around the same tech findings, but use different approaches with different advantages. Genetic manipulation could also be used as a way to produce super humans. Since many of the aliens are quite tough, I'm guessing that they have somehow increased their toughness beyond what's natural. Kevlar skin, backup organs, efficient blood, etc.

Concept art: X-COM UFO, Zombies and Chryssalid.

Zombie and Chryssalid evolution. Here I wanted to come up with a more gradual evolution of the Chryssalid, so I added two cocoon stages. The green slime is some kid of DNA altering stuff.

The mechanic is similar to how some wasps can inject stuff into plants making them grow a little wasp house, i.e. a "gall". I heard once that the wasps actually alter the DNA of the plant, maybe with a virus. I haven't been able to confirm it.

Concept art: X-COM UFO, isometric Chryssalid.

Isometric test. It's a bit of a pain to draw just one frame like this, and doing several frames is even harder since you need to be consistent with the detailing, pose and feel. It would be convenient to use a rough sculpture/figurine or 3D model as reference. Stuff like weapons and heads could be separate pieces, and stuff in the belt would not be visible at all.

I think, since the game is grid based (digital), the smooth analog animation of 3D models feels out of place, and is a wasted effort. 3D models could still be used of course, but I think the walk animation and such should only have a few frames or at least have a snappy feel (i.e. animated well, with no lazy smoothing between key frames).

Went for a black Chryssalid here. Their autopsy image is pale teal, while their isometric graphic is black. There could be several variants I suppose.

Concept art: X-COM UFO, HWP - Heavy Weapons Platforms, Tanks

Some rough concept art for the HWPs (Heavy Weapons Platforms)- some kind of small unmanned tanks.

Concept art: X-COM UFO, CyberDisc, Sectoid, Celatid, Snakeman, Muton, Ethereal, Sectopod, Reaper, Lobster man, Floater.

Some progress on the aliens: The CyberDisc, Sectoid, Celatid, Snakeman, Muton, Ethereal, Sectopod, Reaper, Lobster man and Floater. I'm creating some offshoots of the various enemy types. A sniper (Here a "Muton Stealth Type") would be really annoying to be up against, so it'd have to be rare.

Concept art: X-COM UFO, Interceptor, Avenger

I want to explore the VTOL concept for the flying stuff. Also, It would be nice if the troop transports could provide support fire, and provide multiple exits as well as cover.

Joe Capricorn and Clone #3 from RebelStar Raiders 1.

2006 art

In 2006 I drew some weapons. These were drawn over the sprites and are a bit too random/greebly looking, but I didn't want to stray from the sprite designs too much so I need to figure out a way to turn all of the little protrusions inso sensible functional elements. Also, I made a few antique weapons, because I feel it's important to provide a buffer for lore and scale purposes (how would an M16 compare to a plasma rifle?). Hardcore players might want to try and beat the game by using older weapons, or come up with other self imposed restrictions like X-Com players often do.

2007 art

The majority of art on this page is still from 2007. I might update it some time.

Graphical presentation

Mission gameplay screenshot

Seen here is my interpretation of LS's "The Cyber Hordes" mission. I kept the ground black because it is black (and purple dottish) in the game. It's an effective way to create contrast when you have a limited palette. It just wouldn't feel right now if I threw in brown or green ground.

Maybe the characters turns 'Super Deformed' for the 'battlescape' bird view, and more realistic proportions are used for character inventory screens and such. With 3D graphics it's easy to scale stuff around. Perhaps there is a good middle ground though, with heads which identify well from afar without being completely Powerpuff Girls sized.

With so many different combinations of armour, animations, load outs, maybe 3D models would be the best. A pretty zoomed out, or zoomable playfield would be to prefer, I think. Rebelstar Raiders looks pretty nice with its tiny characters, and the Lords of Chaos mini map was cool too. A 2D playfield is a lot easier to make, and I feel that elevations brings too much confusion to the table.

Actually, this is not entirely true. There's such a thing as scalability and having it both ways. Elevation variation would be confusing with very noisy terrain, but a city (for example) is quite flat with the roads and parks, and the buildings are conveniently square and divided into floors. So, even though there are variations in elevation, there is a structure, and most of the ground is actually flat and simple to understand / read. Elevation often created neat tactical situations in X-COM, and with today's computer power we can do all sorts of transparency wizardry.


Story Timeline

I should probably be involving a bit more of X-COM here, but I wrote this chunk before knowing much about the game. Maybe some time/dimension travel plot can be used to weld all the material together. I did try to respect the story material from the RS series and LS, but I couldn't find a whole lot of it. Since humans are pretty tech'ed up after X-COM, and RSR takes place 500 years after, I used the catastrophe plot device to pull the technology down to primitive levels. This also allowed me to use tomb raiding as a mechanic and include some of the X-COM designs. Just like Star Control 2 I have two evil(?) antagonists battling each other.

The War

Since Main-Comp cares less about man and favours droids, it will not hesitate to 'nuke' Chryssalid infected colonies. Man is used primarily as labour and cheap grunts. The Rebelstar is at the outskirts of the warzone (compromising most of the galaxy).


Main-Comp controlled Empire

Although the Main-comp was believed to have been destroyed, it is now secretly in control of the galaxy spanning new united Empire. Its methods of control are many. It sits as the Emperor and naturally has a lot of political influence, but it's also a very powerful computer which is in direct control of commuication and all automated systems. With the human colonies scattered far apart in space, propaganda can be very effective.

But the Main-Comp is not a very nice character. Humans are seen as inferiour meat machines, a brief stepping stone into a new era of perfect machines. The Main-Comp do realize the danger humans pose to its existence though (having almost been destroyed once). This is why it now takes extra care to remain behind the scenes, moving slowly but surely.

Aside from regular methods of influence, the Main-Comp also makes wide use of mind control devices and military force. This is of course denied in its propaganda.

The Cyber Hordes

The Main-Comp's army is sometimes refered to as "The Cyber Hordes". It is made up of droids and Loyals. The Loyals only have cheap armour, a mind control collar (design-wise important to signify possession) with an antenna on the back, and are bald and marked (to signify loss of identity). People who have been turned into Loyals are beyond saving, their brains are almost completely destroyed by the mind control device. Loyal Mediates are men who have 'volunteered' in one way or another to join the Cyber Hordes, and their brains are left more intact. The Main-Comp uses them as a tool to understand (how to dominate) man better. The Cyber Droids were once men, Loyals who have been 'promoted' by becoming machines.

The Cyber Hordes

I changed the design of the Cyber Hordes (Imperial droids) 'Tank' a bit to make it work with the smaller droid design. It's a bad mofo with twin-linked MS AutoCannons.

The Cyber Hordes - ships

Imperial assault ships often hover above the atmosphere of dominated planets, circling like vultures.

The Cyber Hordes' Ships

The Cyber Horde ships should be pretty impressive and appear mass manufactured and standardized, being built by a cold calculating computer and all. I'm not sure if that's working, I might need to make them more boxy and sterile, repetitive. Since the Rebel ships look a bit like the Star Wars Empire's, I decided to use the racing stripes from the Star Wars Rebels on the Cyber Horde skips. The fighter is based very slightly on an X-wing but mostly on an A-10 Tank Killer.

I did the black battle ships on the right first, but I think they're too 'designed', so I'm leaning towards something like the grey ship on the left now. A big gray boxed which is being pushed by a minor engine/bridge part (which can have some elaborate design since it's minor).

The Federation

Eventually when many people had started to notice just how bad things had gotten under the rule of the new Empire, the Federation was created. It's role was to safeguard certain human rights and step in with military force if those rights were stepped on. It was a propaganda success by the Main-Comp. In reality the Federation is just as bad as the military forces of the Empire.

Omni Corp.

Even with mankind spread thin across a galaxy, the Omni Corp. is everywhere and sees everything. It is the eyes and ears of the Main-Comp.

Mettalix Corp.

Many worlds have been completely devastated by the aggressive mining operations of the Mettalix Corp.

The Engineers.

A band of mercinaries, presumably doing lot into engineering.

Various Factions

Not much here yet. The Engineers could have all these little pouches and tools on them. Possibly they are forced to live inside their suits, after having done a bit too much engineering on themselves. The Omni Corp. deals with surveillance so they could have an armoured bureaucrat feel to them. A cloak or a short cape might indicate stealth. They're green in the game, but I think gray suits their business better, so I just kept the green for the eyes. The Storm Commandos of the Federation could use a very... mass manufactured trooper look. Mettalix... I don't know... miners... big eyes to see in the dark, or mining gear-ish armour (helmets).

I'm not sure if these corporations would play a role in the game, but perhaps the blueprints to a small sample of their equipment can be found on various missions, and-or looted stuff can be reverse engineered and re-designed to fit the Rebelstar squad (as seen above).

MarSec Corp.

Marsec manufactures almost anything conceivable related to weapons and destruction.

Sterner Regnix

Old concepts of Sterner Regnix. Just a stepping stone. I'm thinking he's just an old man in a really fat exo-armour.

Droids and Androids

Droids, Robots and Androids use AI and can only be indirectly controlled via ingame characters.

Look Sir, Droids.

Droids from Rebelstar 1 plus a few of my own. Laser Squad mentions androids. I need something to fill the roll of the X-COM tank. I'm not sure what to make of the Master Droid yet.

The Rebels

The Rebel movement was started by a certain Joe Capricorn, who was actually partly responsible for constructing the Main-Comp, and he nearly fell victim to his own creation. Now the Rebel movement consists of independent Covert Cells, some of which were created spontaneously by people who saw through the propaganda of the Main-Comp.

Rebel armours

Armours from Laser Squad. The larger armours are more like exo-skeletons. I assumed the 2nd row of armours are space suits since they're used outdoors in the MoonBase Assault mission. All high level armours could be airtight though. The white suits are made of Larvec (TM)... which is some form of Kevlar of course. The were inspired by the sprite and a random pic from the PC version of Laser Squad featuring a leathery space suit.

Rebel special armours

A few armours from the Rebelstar Historical Database, as well as a few experimental ones. A game can be so much more than just a game, and I think expanding the game universe by adding curiosity items is a good thing. Antique weapons will create an illusion of history existing in the game universe. An extra buffer of relatively poorly performing weapons (which the player might never touch) are still worth to put in there because it reduces the feeling of confinement... a bit like using a skybox image in a 3D game.

Rebel X-com armours

Blue-prints for Golden Age (post X-com era) armours are found on a derelict ship. They are more advanced than anything from 'present' day.

The X-COM power armour was tricky. I decided to deviate from the C64 palette and use the original biege color. The elephant legs did not appeal to me so I shrank them, significantly. Since the clothes of the un-armoured X-COM personnel are not the same material as the armour I made them primarily grey with some biege to link it to the armour.

The Rebel ships

Rebel ships

I thought it would be funny to use the design of the Star Wars Empire for the Rebels instead. Tank (heavy) transport vaguely based off the Space 1999 Eagle transport and SupCom Air Transport.

The Chryssalids

Right now I'm thinking that the regular soldier Chryssalids are pretty much just 'brutes', but every few hundred years another very intelligent variant, 'the Cycler', appears. Born with engineering knowledge, the Cycler develops weapons and space travel in a decade, sometimes from scratch on barren planets. The Chryssalid race then goes on a rampage across the stars, with the Cyclers in command. Without these Cyclers, the Chryssalids quickly revert to being just simple (but still very dangerous) brutes. In X-COM someone had found a way to control the Chryssalid brutes in the absense of the Cyclers. The success of a Chryssalid rampage depends on the number of colonized worlds they find, since they prefer to increase their numbers by using a parasitic reproduction system. Hulks of Chryssalid invasion ships as old as 80 000 years have been found, and there's an indication that their technological evolution is very convergent towards specific designs. From some time periods there are almost no Chryssalid finds, so it's possible that they can remain dormant for long periods of time.


The Chryssalid design was tricky since the isometric sprite (dark) conflicts the autopsy image (light gray). The teeth looked like rabbit teeth on the sprite but a big smiley face on the autopsy image. I went for a middle ground and buffed it up a bit.

I'm not sure about the square ship, but I don't want to go the organic route. Suitable ship design elements: Butterfly/DragonFly (the Chryssalids have hatched and gained flight, momentarily). I got the idea of using the triangular head somehow, but couldn't make anything cool of it. Will have to try again. I definately think the ship needs be be unusual and alien in shape (but not the obvious organic solution). It also needs to play against the Cyber Horde ship designs.

Alternative ideas for Chryssalid 'Cyclers' are: A queen with spaceship-carrier-tripod features? A mother-brain? A mysterious alien species pulling the strings?

Mostly hostile alien life


The Sectoids in LS does not seem to be like the X-COM Sectoids. Maybe the LS variants were turned into the Fraylar in Rebelstar: Tactical Command (GBA game).

The Aliens are some kind of nomads, apparently possessing Medieval style weaponry and probably space travel.

Design notes

I'm just exploring the possibilities here. I've got some more thoughts on the subject of an X-COM game in my Xexyz document.

Base gameplay

The current plan is to have the Rebelstar (looks like a tiny death star) floating in deep space. The playfield is a galactic sector with planets and various stuff floating about. This way missions can be on different planets. After a completed mission the squad can return to base with loot. Each item has a list of technologies/materials which it is made of, and these can be reverse engineered. To aid replay-ability, different games could have different sets of enemies and equipment, thus limiting the technologies which the player can reverse engineer. Mission progression could be designed as follows:

Mission gameplay

Here are a few options. I'm really unsure which is the best one.

Abstract and easy to calculate, - e.g. Character moves (6) = Character agility (10) - backpack (3) - rifle (1) - servo armour (-1) - Slightly wounded (1)
If rubble then -rnd(0,2) per step (may randomly stumble)

Detailed - X-COM / Laser Squad etc. Lots of multiplication and division rather than plus or minus. Numbers are in the 100 range rather than in the tens.

I've given the real time vs turn based mechanic some thought, and decided that I was wrong in preferring a semi-realtime system. One of X-Com's biggest strengths is character development. X-COM characters are much richer than "Oh wow I've got the Vorpal Sword I'm doing 250 damage per hit now!". Character development in X-COM is less tangible, and more about small fun things which has happened to the character over the course of several missions. In a turn based game you can maximize the player's exposure to the individual characters, because there are no parallel events.

I think that, even if you design a real time system with multiple monitoring windows (to keep an eye on scattered characters), the player will have a constant nagging feeling of having to be everywhere at the same time with his eyes. It's not enjoyable to constantly be reminded that you might be missing important action.

Baldur's gate-ish - Time control, pause, order queues, gambit system, multiple view ports.

Macro control - The player has macro control but no micro controls. Battle plans can be layed out, but the squad is on their own during the missions. Dwarf Fortress-ish. The disadvantage is that AI is hard to make, so most likely the squad will behave in a predictable and stupid way. Some degree of influence during the missions could remedy this, but the finer aspects of tactics might still be lost.

Must haves

Destructible terrain (walls) and staying corpses - This is important because the player will want to... well, destroy stuff. But it's also important because the player will 'level up' his characters, and a higher level manifests in more destruction. Destruction, scorched earth and piles of corpses also leaves a visual reminder of how awesome the player is, thus prolonging the positive experience of just having kicked some serious ass. And being able to modify how line of sight floods the map adds a fun tactical aspect, of course. It's important to provide the player with familiar objects to destroy, such as small towns and innocent civilians. These provide a scale.

Squad customisation and squad persistence - This is maybe what I enjoy the most in games. Creating characters, then returning after a mission to raise stats and buy that AutoCannon. Also, if a character persists from mission to mission, I have time to 'perform in my head' and flesh out the character... make it more than what it actually is in the game (like I talked about in the foreword).

A good GUI. - Graphically the X-COM GUI is very nice with lots of color coding. I really like how X-COM used art as background in many windows, it adds to the setting and the game never becomes 'Excel'. Nowadays we have more screen estate and thus the ability to present the player with vital information more effectively. That's really the core of the poodle, giving the player good information to act on (regarding the state of the characters, base stocks, etc).

Interesting and new ways to fail - In comedy failing is an important mechanic, and jokes tend to lose their punch if repeated often. Many games just makes me frustrated when I die. I'd rather be able enjoy the game the whole time I'm playing, or atleast be able to enjoy it in retrospect ("remembering that time when..."). I also do not want to feel like I have a large to-do list which I have to execute flawlessly. I want to enter the game universe, have a good time and not think too much about all the things which need to be done.

Mission types

For Dogs of War style mission selection, here are a few ideas out of the top of my head.

Mission selection screen Some ideas for missions:


Persistence and permadeath

health meter A lot of people seemed to like that X-COM was merciless, it made the characters feel more tangible. Your men could die rather quickly and there was real danger. You didn't have to play perfect, casualties were actually the norm. In some movies and games deaths can be pretty boolean with no analog wound states. I'd like to be slightly more lenient by just adding levels of non-death below 0 HP To offset this slightly, characters can die in a hospital later on.

This would also allow for medics to play a role (not classes, just skill and gear). Characters would be put out of action but may be salvaged if the mission is successful (or during the mission if there's a medic doing well). Depending on the wound and unit type, health can be lost gradually.

The Rebelstars

These small space stations are the Rebel's Covert Cells. Most Rebelstars have data banks and machinery onboard for manufacturing most things, given that there's blueprints, material and time. It can also grow humans. Joe Capricorn had 3 clones for example (RSR story).

In silent mode, a Rebelstar has no life onboard. This to avoid detection by enemy PSI agents. Humans are grown as they are needed, a process which takes months. During the growth there's also an education program running. The process is still experimental and there's a lot of 'noise'. This means even clones are not the same. Psychological and physical features can vary a bit. This is partly deliberate. It has been shown that due to the complexity and combinatory nature of all factors involved, evolutionary progress is best left to chance.

The onboard DataBank contains genetic and technological blueprints, as well as encryption keys and historical files (the Main-Comp has a tendency to rewrite history in its propaganda). There's even blueprints for antique armours and weapons (2420-60). Including these may give the player a reference point to compare with the newer hightech stuff. some poor or isolated colonies still use these antiques.

Rebelstar components: Engines, Warp engines, Sensor and stealth control, Storage, Life support, Hangar, Housing, TechLab, GenLab, Armour, Shields, Defence weapons, Main weapon dish.

Character generation and stats

PSI attack
^ A powerful PSI attack shatters the environment and enemy troops.

Random notes

Black planet bodies (maybe scorched and cast out by a super nova explosion) are good for staying true to the black BG in the original games, and a good place to hide things, perhaps.
No ultimate state, not possible to max out tech. Each playthrough should be unique (and not so much by forced branching, instead use restricted resouces and random encounters).
Using a simple galaxy model with not that many stars, and maybe 4ly/day (4 light years per day) warp travel.

To do
^ Some more ideas waiting to find their sheets.

- by Niklas Jansson, Yule 2007 - Nov 2009