Humanity has been staring at the stars and dreaming for centuries, but it’s not easy to envision what alien life might actually look like. It’s also not easy to resist the urge to try. The designers at Firaxis have the advantage of building off an existing framework, but redesigning 18-year-old character concepts for a modern audience was still no simple task. We chat with Firaxis Lead Designer Jake Solomon and Lead Artist Greg Foertsch about the process of designing the aliens in XCOM: Enemy Unknown.


Foertsch: The first thing we tackled was the Sectoid. Everyone knows what it is, because it’s the first alien that you run into in the game. We knew that if we got that right then as we got further into the game and the aliens got a little crazier and more whacked out then I think people were going to buy into our universe a lot more.

Foertsch: We looked at the original character design and then put it away and started designing the character. These are the first images we got back. We were originally thinking about making him about seven feet tall. I was going for this really elongated look.

Foertsch: I was watching Aeon Flux at the time, and that influenced a lot of our decisions. Eventually, we came back to making him smaller. We really wanted to go with this emaciated look. At one point we talked about putting armor on him, because the one thing that is weird about him was the gun and the fact that he’s naked with a gun.

Solomon: I think it’s scarier that he’s naked. If you see naked dudes with guns, clearly there’s something not right there. That man is insane!

Foertsch: This is where we ended up. We ended up staying pretty true to the original look without really trying. We wanted him to be visible in the game, so that light shining out of him helps him become a little more visible from a top down view, especially within dark environments. It also ties into the fiction with all of the psionic powers that the Sectoids have.


Foertsch: These guys were a challenge, because he’s a giant soldier and he’s suppose to be menacing while in a green unitard. We wanted to make him so that as soon as you saw him you knew he was a Muton.

Foertsch: This was our first pass. He’s a soldier, but he’s a little bit orcish, and we wanted him to be brutal. I wanted him to look tribal and I wanted him to look physically imposing. I also wanted to take away the pink skin and green armor.

Solomon: This was a little too Orcy. For example, the human skulls on his belt – which I loved because it’s kind of awesome. You figure Mutons probably carry trophies around, but it was a little too orcy.

Foertsch: As we were looking at him, his human nature sort of bothered us, and as we got closer to the point where we were going to animate him, it bothered me even more. So we decided to make him a little more ape-like – a little more primal. We changed his proportions a lot. He’s a lot wider in his stance, and he’s a little bit shorter, because he’s hunched over.

Solomon: This is where we ended up. Design-wise the idea behind the Mutons was that these guys were the intergalactic Seal Team 6. We want these guys to be the foil for the player. They’re evil Seal Team 6. They are these elite military units that work together, so they’ll call to each other a lot and set up all kinds of flanking maneuvers. Their tribal nature gives them strength. They have an ability called Blood Call, which lets them fire up everybody around them and then those guys will be huffing and have all these combat bonuses because of that.

Next, we look at the Cyberdisc and a new X-COM enemy, the Thin Man.