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XCOM in Space: Deadrock Divide Pre-Alpha Preview, Developer Q&A

Turn-based strategy games have seen a huge resurgence this year with titles like Warlock 2, Age of Wonders III and the upcoming Civilization: Beyond Earth. But those are all epic 4X empire management games, what of those smaller scale tactical games that turn the battlefield into a board game map of swords clashing or lasers pew pewing? What if you took the tactical combat of XCOM and combined it with the ship-based simulated world of Sid Meier’s Pirates!, the paper doll equipment and loot systems of an RPG, and drenched it all into an 80s inspired sci-fi galaxy?

Well you could easily end up with a mess of a game, or you could discover something really special.

Deadrock Divide is currently being developed at Bootsnake Games, who are in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to finish it.

I played the same Pre-Alpha Demo that Bootsnake made available for PAX East, though I was under no time constraints and could explore every facet of gameplay.

The demo opens at the map screen, showing off the very unique 80s computereized aesthetic of the galaxy in motion as your starter ship is quickly boarded by pesky space pirates (where there’s space, there’s space pirates).

Engaging combat shifts the view onto the battlefield – in this case the inside of your ship. Gameplay is immediately intuitive and familiar to anyone that’s played XCOM: Enemy Unknown: your soldiers have a set amount they can move and still perform an action, and moving next to cover has them automatically take it.

You begin with a soldier, medic, and engineer, though there aren’t any rigidly defined classes. Instead there are skill traits that any soldier can spend his or her skill points on as they level up. The demo included four traits – Rifles/Shotguns, Heavy Weapons (Miniguns), Medic, Engineer. One of the earliest abilities for the rifle tree is the familiar Run and Gun from XCOM, allowing you to cover more ground and still attack, while a single point in Engineer gives you two deployable turrets that are fairly strong but immobile.

deadrock divide traits

The pirates were easily dispatched after applying well-worn XCOM tactics of cover, flanking and support, but it wasn’t until afterward when I looked up my ship’s rooms in a hanger that I realized I was literally fighting in and among my ship’s currently equipped rooms – crew bunks, a medical bay, an engine room, etc. Each ship has a different layout and customizing which rooms to purchase and construct is entirely up to you. Bigger crew bunks allows for more soldiers to field into battle, a medical bay provides some one-time heals during combat, while a storage room gives you more inventory space for space booty and mined ore.

The starter ship only had five rooms that were already filled and bigger ships were way too expensive, so I went to the nearest station to see if they needed help. The station manager, which looked suspiciously like Bootsnake developer Mat Staltman, tasked me with clearing out a mine from some local baddies.

The mining map was much larger and open than the ship fight, and I had to carefully and slowly advance from building to building so I could try and get the jump on any adversaries (thankfully there currently was no XCOM-like system in place where spotted enemies instantly get a free turn to flee into cover). The enemy AI is decent enough that it uses cover, destroys your cover and even appears to pick on a single soldier to try and take them out.

deadrock divide mine battle

I returned to the station manager and reported my successes. My reward was mainly a bigger stash of items to purchase, and Deadrock follows the ARPG method of color-coding loot to designate its power. Green for standard, Blue for better, and Purple was best (at least in this demo). There was also a funny nod to JRPGs, as a Purple rifle was called “Rifleaga.” Stat-boosting equipment could be worn as well as various types of ammo that could be equipped and switched out during combat, with the amount of ammo you could hold tied to your belt size.

Item descriptions (and what little dialogue there was in the demo) reflected the very self-aware and humorous nature of the world – the standard belt buckle “Holds them pants up,” for example, the Evasion Buckle “Helps not being shot” and with the Buckle O Health you “Can survive being shot more.” The humor is never over-the-top zany but a fun little addition to give the world a lot of flavor, and always brought a smile to my face.

After outfitting my soldiers with all new gear and hiring a new fourth crew member I set out on my next task – taking care of some pirates that had stranded themselves on a disabled ship. “Take care of” meant killing them all of course, just to be sure. Their ship was much, much larger than mine, with over half a dozen rooms that we battled throughout. I agonized where to throw my turrets and tried to keep my own soldiers from becoming surrounded. It was here I really noticed the destructible environments, as gun shots and grenades could instantly disintegrate a soldier’s precious cover, leaving them vulnerable to further attacks.

deadrock divide fight

After dispatching the pirates, the station manager had nothing left for me, and I was left to wander the space around the station mining asteroids, upgrading my soldiers and occasionally battling pirates. Most of the active skills weren’t fully implemented yet and none of the factions or quest lines were available. There’s no hard limit or end to the demo, and it does a great job of showing the ideas behind the loot system, real-time galaxy and turn-based combat.

Even in this early Pre-Alpha stage the core gameplay is solid; the skeletal frame of the tactical combat is great and can only get better with more enemy varieties and soldier abilities, and I can’t wait to see more content and world generation on the main map. The 80s synth music and TRON art style is instantly likable if you have any nostalgia for that era of sci-fi. I’m very excited to see where Bootsnake Games goes with Deadrock Divide, as this unique amalgamation of some of my favorite genres and themes could really be something special.

Below check out my Developer Q&A with Bootsnake Games’ Mat Staltman.


Developer Q&A

First can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about Bootsnake games and Deadrock Divide?

mat staltmanHey I’m Mat Staltman from Bootsnake Games. We are a small indie studio in Seattle, WA. Our first game was Containment: The Zombie Puzzler which was selected for PAX 10 and Google Play’s Best of 2013. We have been working on Deadrock Divide for just a bit over a year now. Deadrock Divide is a tactical RPG set in an open world asteroid field. As a mercenary entering the divide, you will assemble a crew, buy and upgrade different ships, and have the freedom to explore the asteroid field however you desire.

Deadrock’s Combat is heavily influenced by XCOM. What aspects of XCOM’s combat do you like and what parts do you wish to improve upon for Deadrock?

We are definitely influenced by XCOM and all the other tactical turn-based games. Specifically with XCOM, we really like how they streamlined the game to make it play faster. You don’t have to click a button to enter cover for example. You character just does it automatically when you are near it.

With Deadrock we want to push the role of the battlefield in combat. Everything is destructible in Deadrock Divide. Do you need line of sight behind that building? Take down the walls. You can shoot out cover and even create cover when you need it. We have hidden chests to be found, rocks to be mined, and many other interact-able objects to be found as you engage in combat.

I love the addition of an RPG-style paper doll equipment screen. Are you incorporating any ARPG-style random loot system?

We have random loot. However, we do not have an equipment system like you would see in Diablo or Borderlands with random stat distribution and attributes. Many of the random items you will find will be raw materials and salvageable weapons and armor. You can find a space station to buy the loot for a profit or you can get a crafting station on your ship and build the weapons, armor, and ammo yourself.

Will Deadrock include a main story with an ending (Like XCOM) or remain more of a freeform adventure?

As you explore Deadrock Divide, you will encounter three powerful factions fighting for control of the area. You can take odd jobs from them but as you do more you will have the option to help a faction complete their ultimate agenda. Each faction will have their own story line missions and end goal for winning the game. Of course, you could spend all your time exploring ruins, taking side missions, mining, trading, and never finish a story mission for any of the factions. The choice is yours.

deadrock divide map

Is the space map going to retain the unique wire-frame TRON-like aesthetic or is this placeholder art?

The space map you see is a representation of the on-board map in your ship. We are going to do some things with UI to push this concept further. So what you see is the beginning of what will be polished and added on even further by the time we release. We plan to carry over some elements to the tactical combat, as well, so they match a bit more. This will mostly happen with lighting but we are always polishing art.

Deadrock’s Trait system allows you to put points into any of the four tech trees without designating characters as specific classes. How do you plan to balance a soldier that can heal, lay down a turret and “run and gun?”

Right now we have 4 trait trees in the game. When you level up you can place a point in any trait along any tree you want. When we ship, we aim to have at least a dozen trait trees to choose from. We will have ways to reward players for specializing and spending points to fill out trees completely. However, we think spreading your points among a lot of trees and being a generalist should be a viable option. So you may not be able to shoot rifles as well as your soldier who spends all 10 points in the rifle tree but getting a point in engineering and medic could give your more tactical flexibility for many different situations.

I found a sniper rifle but there’s no associated skill tree. Are there still more skills coming or is this more of a bonus weapon?

Sniper rifles were supposed to be pulled from the demo 🙂 We initially had them in the game but we couldn’t find a way to make them fun and never implemented a trait tree for them. They are a weapon type we plan to go back and explore more after the Kickstarter.

The music is absolutely amazing! That’s not really a question, so I’ll ask – what was your inspiration for the current sound and art design?

Thank you. We have a wide range of music inspiration for the game from Bladerunner and Alien to GI Joe and Thundercats. The selection of music we have now is just the tip of the iceberg. We are in talks with some great people about our soundtrack and a large portion of our Kickstarter is to fund what we feel is a very important part of any game; the music. We will have the soundtrack available separately and more details will be coming soon.


Thanks to Bootsnake Games for providing the demo and Mat Staltman for the Q&A. For more on Deadrock Divide go to their website and Kickstarter page, and watch our interview with Mat at PAX East.