X-COM was a landmark 1994 video game. It depicted the reaction of an international paramilitary and scientific organization against an alien invasion of Earth. It was rebooted as a new series in 2012, modernizing the gameplay while keeping the strategic and tactical management aspects.
The 2012 XCOM reboot provides little in the way of backstory and explanations. This is fine for a video game, especially since many gamers do not care about backstory. But this is a major obstacle when trying to use the setting in a role-playing game.
Thus, this article provides :
- A possible background for the XCom Project, which is a blank state in the game. This is all original material.
- Several possible rationalisations for the bits of video game logic in XCom: Enemy Unknown and its extension XCom: Enemy Within, with the Not Created Equally option active.
This was written months before the release of XCOM II (and the interquel novel), so any elements from that game aren’t included.
Researching the extraterrestrial menace and opposing it in case of an intrusion or invasion.
- Thorough scientific research and advance preparation using any alien trace or artefact.
- Design, prototyping and advance preparation of new technology using analysed alien assets.
- Global rapid counterstrikes by a small commando team.
- Satellites-based early alert and intelligence network.
Extent of operations:
Global, albeit primarily in the 16 countries that back the XCom Project.
Bases of Operations:
A small, nameless, rocky island off the coast of Japan.
The XCom Trust, fed by the 16 member nations based on a pro rata of their GNP.
The extraterrestrial menace and (suspected) human collaborators.
Number of active members:
50 or so.
Number of reserve members:
About 50 persons who have received some sort of XCom training but are not currently on retainer.
Overseen by the original Excommunicated, though much of the day-to-day work is managed by Clive Bradford, Bernard Shen and Beate Vahlen.
Known current members:
Randomly generated names :).
Known former members:
By secret invitation.
In 1954, numerous persons throughout France observed Unidentified Flying Objects. In the Cold War context, that sparked the interest of the military, and a small research group was created.
Initially, not much seemed to happen. But a Captain in the French Gendarmerie, Guillaume Kervendal, successfully agitated during the early 1970s to step up military investigations. Kervendal advocated for a rigorous, open-minded, statistics-based analysis of these events. Even if these “just” unearthed phenomenons of meteorological, psychological or physical interest.
After a new wave of observations in 1973, the interest grew further. In 1977 that led to the creation of GEPAN , an investigation task force. GEPAN was placed under the authority of the CNES (National Center for the Study of Space — the French equivalent of NASA).
(All the above is historical. Everything that now follows… much less so.)
Though benefiting from significant media interest and some political support, GEPAN was controversial. Some military officers openly derided it as a complete waste of resources.
Two of the men who were detached to GEPAN were hardcases, sent as a sign of contempt. It was what the French call “le placard”. This is translatable as “we can’t fire out you outright, so you’re moved to a pointless position where you’ll be out of sight and hopefully will quit out of boredom and humiliation”.
This became a 3-person group calling themselves les excommuniés (“the excommunicated”).
- Gendarmerie Lieutenant Benoît “Ben Hur” de la Hure. He was a Communist with highly unpopular opinions about unionisation in the military and way too much charisma for his own good.
- His girlfriend, dual-national French/German physics doctoral student Birgit “Bibi” Scholtz. De la Hure hired her as a paid intern. A complete hippie, Scholtz was also a walking ufology encyclopaedia and remarkably competent at magnetohydrodynamics.
- Lieutenant Hubert “Tahitidouche” Kancel. Kancel grew up far away from his native Guadeloupe on Futuna , another French island with a very different culture. Albeit a gifted soldier, Kancel had developed a severe alcohol problem.
Kancel only spent a few months at GEPAN as a liaison with unclear responsibilities. Nevertheless, de la Hure convinced him to go dry and turn his life around. Kancel applied with the French Foreign Legion and was recruited. Thus, he created for himself a second military career that went all the way to Colonel.
De la Hure gradually renounced his politics. He left the Gendarmerie and became a Socialist Party politician. He was an adviser and right-hand man to François Mitterand, who became President in 1981.
Scholtz married de la Hure and obtained her PhD. She was soon hired by the Max Planck Gesellschaft as a MHD physicist and plasma physicist. However, she remained preoccupied by the extraordinary artefacts that she had discovered while investigating with the GEPAN.
We have proof !
When GEPAN was created, they gained ownership of a vast pile of odd documents and artefacts. Most of it was inexploitable. The Excommunicated were tasked with researching part of those, to keep them busy and out of the way.
As luck would have it, they stumbled upon three remarkable bits :
- A small amount of melted metal that Scholtz realised was of unknown composition. She unofficially called this new metal “Elerium”, after the initials of her mother Lena Röntgen (actually related to the famous physicist ).
- The ancient, calcified remains of something that Scholtz realised was some sort of incredibly advanced motherboard.
- A mummified hand and forearm belonging to an unknown humanoid with non-standard biochemistry.
The Excommunicated also found notes about past attempts at making this known, which had all failed. The most recent was accompanied by extensive notes about the US and the Soviet Union being infiltrated by alien agents. However, these sounded very much like textbook paranoid delirium.
Being a bit paranoid themselves, the Excommunicated decided to stay silent about their findings. However, they knew for a fact that someone was out there. And even if assuming paranoia the notes implied that these someones weren’t friendly.
Something needed to be done, but the game was to be played using smarts, secrecy and patience.
The truth is out there
Over the 1980s, the Excommunicated started building their project. Benoît de la Hure was the lynchpin. He obtained a surprisingly senior position among the extensive French diplomatic network. Over the years he extended feelers toward senior foreign civil servants.
Amidst innumerable security precautions, the Council was formed. This was an international anonymous group wishing to stay informed about the alien situation. De la Hure’s efforts were focused on contacting a single senior, career civil servant among potential partner governments to conserve a high degree of independence and secrecy.
“Ben Hur” organised the efforts of the Excommunicated as a discreet financial trust called XCom. The funding served to finance research in archives the Council members made available, and in forming the nucleus of a field team.
This nucleus was hidden among the French Foreign Legion, under the command of Captain Kancel. The Fourth Company of the 13th Half-Brigade of the French Foreign Legion, which had been closed in 1979, was recreated as an autonomous special operations training asset.
The recreated Fourth Company had its own motto. Instead of More majorum (“In the way of our elders”) it used Vigilo confido (“I stand guard and I believe”).
The 4th Company gradually developed a robust way for a wide variety of soldiers to work together. They used a patois of English as a common language. The unit drew from Foreign Legion traditions without being bound by them.
This quality of training became a draw to XCom for potential new members wanting to sharpen their elite military operatives. Thus, it resulted in increased budgets.
As the two Germanies reunited, Mrs. Scholtz-de la Hure raided the East German archives about alien presences. The armed backing of XCom legionnaires was her answer to red tape. As she had come to suspect, there was a trove of documentation about aliens in Rostock . It was larger than the French one, and went back further in time.
In Rostock, “Bibi” Scholtz found more elerium, a large number of small debris using irreproducible alloys, and other intelligence. There wasn’t much, but it was possible to use these small pieces of metal as the lynchpin of larger mechanisms. The extraordinary resilience of the alien metal making it possible to exceed normal operational parameters.
To work on this, Dr. Scholtz recruited two younger colleagues of the Max Planck Gesellschaft :
- Dr. Bernard Shen, a gifted French engineer of Cambodian origin.
- Dr. Beate Vahlen, a brilliant and multi-talended scientist from Bulgaria, fluent in five languages (albeit with an odd accent in all of them).
The work of the Scholtz-Shen-Vahlen team (often called the “B3s”) resulted in impressive breakthroughs. But everything they made was dependent on a very limited supply of alien materials. Drs. Vahlen and Scholtz extensively mapped research protocols to implement when more material and information would become available.
As to Dr. Shen, he gradually prototyped such machines as :
- The Raven-class low-orbit interceptor.
- The Avalanche missile (air-to-air missiles repurposed for the Raven).
- The Dao X-9 rifle (a modified SCAR assault rifle with a reinforced chamber).
- The Vigilo full body armor with shock dampeners in the boots, built-in retractile climbing equipment, real-time video feeds… This did not involve alien technology (except for a projected Batman-like motorized grapple hook, though there wasn’t enough elerium and alloys to actually build one). Instead, it was a result of the 4th Company urban combat tactics research.
- The Skyranger Mach 2-capable VTOL troops transport.
- An array of high-performance modular machine tools, a personal project of his since age 14 and unrelated to XCom’s main objectives.
The secret Raven and Avalanche technologies in particular drew interest. Only two Raven interceptors could be built, but they were a convenient way to enforce the 1967 Outer Space Treaty to everyone’s satisfaction.
Between this and the continued success of the 4th Company, it was agreed to finance a base for XCom. A series of Raven launch pads across the world was also budgeted. Howbeit, as a compromise, they had minimal facilities, a skeleton crew and no actual Ravens beyond the pair at the projected XCom base.
For diplomatic reasons, these bases couldn’t integrate with any national military. A compromise was eventually found to have the new HQ hosted on a small island off Japan. Japan both had a very strong technological infrastructure and no army stricto sensu. Likewise, XCom was generally forbidden from collaborating with any international body.
The only prototype of the Skyranger transport finally reached an acceptable degree of reliability in 2010 with the Voodoo 3-1 redesign. Howbeit, the cargo capacity had to be cut down to a half-dozen soldiers (with their full equipment). Furthermore thousands of hours had to be invested training one pilot (Orfeo Dangelo, callsign “Big Sky”, from Italy) and his backup to handle the damn thing.
Fire in the pampa
Starting in 2011, reports of abductions of isolated people and livestock saw a marked increase. XCom scientific field investigation revealed gravimetric anomalies. Thus, theoretical means to detect such fluctuations across vast distances were devised. In 2012, a prototype for a satellite capable of putting the theory into practice had been build.
In 2014, an incident occurred in Argentina, deep in the Northern boonies. A patrol of the Gendarmerìa Nacional Argentina stumbled upon what seemed to have been a livestock abduction attempt by a UFO. Though the small group of gendarmes was killed, they forced the invaders to retreat.
More importantly one of the Argentineans, a young sergeant named Alan Ferrari had the presence of mind to record the sound of the entire engagement on his smartphone. This included his surprisingly calm comments before the end. The incident was kept a secret, and the full data was handed over to XCom.
One of the finds when scraping the entire area were deposits of nanomachine clouds. Though the clouds were dormant and certainly couldn’t be duplicated, it was possible to reactivate them to an extend. XCom also successfully explored the use electrical currents to “teach” them to repair a given object.
Over time, the small quantities of nanomachines were trained to repair XCom body armour. It was even taught how to create a protective polymer film over wounds.
But the main finds were psychological.
Though they had fought courageously at first, the data indicated that the training and discipline of the gendarmes had completely broken down — no matter how experienced and well-trained they were.
All of them, except for Sargento Ferrari. He displayed an improbably clear intuitive understanding of the situation. He also knew that he needed to document what was happening before it was too late.
The heroic Sgt. Ferrari had further described a perception-dampening effect. He stated that the area was blanketed into some sort of “invisible smoke” cutting down on visual range and muffling distant sounds. Interestingly the aliens did not seem impervious to this secondary psychic static effect, albeit they were clearly less hampered than the gendarmes.
Extensive work by Dr. Vahlen’s team (Dr. Scholtz-de la Hure was by now nearly retired) led to the conclusion that the aliens were all emitting some sort of psychic static. This induced panic and irrational reactions in humans, as well as dampening senses.
Training meant to withstand the stress of war and crises was necessary but far from sufficient. Sgt. Ferrari seemed to have some sort of genetic markers attenuating the effect.
After extensively investigating Ferrari and his family, XCom designed tests to screen for soldiers who could better withstand psychic static. De la Hure preferred to look for such operatives rather than waste highly-trained special forces men on missions where all their training would be largely useless.
This meant three evolutions for the Fourth Company :
- The pool of potential candidates wasn’t terribly big, and women seemed to test slightly better (on the order of 5%). The trainees with the Foreign Legion retained their heavily international nature, but quickly tended toward gender parity as XCom looked for PSI (Psychic Static Immune, in the same sense as in “immune system”) potentials above all else.
- The genetic test veered on the side of false positives rather than false negatives given the limited number of viable subjects. Thus, most of the people who made it through the entire Fourth Company program weren’t resilient enough after all, though they may otherwise have been top-notch soldiers. The XCom psychology team did end up designing a good scoring system for trained candidates, but assessment before training remained unreliable.
- The program was reworked to be a sort of top-shelf Basic Training with additional special operations training. The old training facilities to take things further were conserved, but the idea was to rebuild a bench. However, recruitment from Council member nations was now much more complicated.
A former US Army Ranger, LTC. Clive Bradford, was also recruited as a lieutenant to the ageing de la Hure and Kancel.
A model United Nations
The Argentinean incident and subsequent finds further convinced the Council that XCom was on to something. However, even with de la Hure’s efforts, political tension meant that XCom remained a small operation.
It was possible to continue increasing the level of the teams working for Drs. Shen and Vahlen, though. Deals were also reached with China, France and Germany (all Council members) to launch satellites in the future. But only one satellite could actually be launched thanks to Japanese funding.
It tracked gravimetric fluctuations above Japan, but was positioned to also pick up intrusions across half the Pacific, and most of India and China.
By 2018, XCom was a small but elite organisation, with a fortified island base and the backing of a Council secretly representing 16 major nations — from the USA to China, and from Nigeria to Russia. Its main capabilities were :
- Being ready to analyse and, to an extend, reproduce any further finds in alien technologies and elements. Decades of work on what little had been found resulted in lots of research scenarios, hypothetical investigation frameworks, funding and logistics advance planning, and specialised tools that would be able to greatly speed up investigations.
- Fielding science and engineering teams that were downright brilliant, headed by 3 persons (Scholtz, Vahlen and Shen) who could be called geniuses.
- Detecting intrusions where satellite coverage existed, and responding with orbital interceptors where available.
- Accessing space launch facilities and spy satellite networks among all member nations if an alien-related crisis erupted, plus additional Raven interceptor launch pads on standby.
- Projecting a small team of well-trained soldiers anywhere in the world within hours, using augmented equipment and tactics – and fielding men and women thought capable of withstanding psychic static.
- Keeping a 16-nation project more or less working, undercover and not completely neutered.
A few months later, the aliens attacked.
(These dates keep the concept of the XCom events happening about three years in the future, to help massage inconsistencies with real-world geopolitics. Adjust as necessary if reading this after 2015.)
Source of Character: XCom: Enemy Unknown/Within video game.
Writeup completed on the 15th of June, 2015.