I have been playing a lot of XCOM 2 lately. It’s is an amazing game, constantly throwing unexpected challenges at me and forcing me to make difficult decisions about the fate of my squad. I am having an absolute blast. Running around on missions with a squad made up of my science friends is exactly as goofy and endearing as I thought it would be when I first came up with the idea.
The game had a stupidly hard learning curve. The first thing I did in the game was customize a squad and recreate all the coauthors I’ve had throughout my science career. That part was easy and fun. Playing the game is brutal. I’ve restarted the campaign at least five times, mostly after coming up against a game mechanic that broke the experience. I restarted once after I bought the XCOM 2 expansion, War of the Chosen. I restarted again after I lost my entire squad on the very first mission. I restarted again when, on the second mission, I discovered that the game has exploding barrels. I kept losing my people before I ever got started. This would not have been a big deal in a normal game, but it sucks when role playing with as my friends. Blowing up Katherine Sobocinski by accidentally melee attacking an explosive barrel, or losing Emmet Duffy to a Viper embrace in my first encounter with the weird snake alien - my ignorance of the game's mechanics put me in some bad spots.
Now that I've gotten a handle on how the game works, it’s been a total blast. I ride into glorious battle with me as a sniper, Alison Deary as a ranger, Doug DeVries as a tech specialist, and Eric Hilton as a grenadier, while my other 20 squad mates train or do covert ops or just hang at the base for some R&R. I can finally enjoy the game for what it is - a tense strategy game with lots of silly, fun moments that make XCOM 2 one of the most unique gaming experiences I've ever had.
When one of my squad mates gets surrounded by the enemy, and it is all but certain that he/she is about to get wrecked, possibly even killed, and my sharpshooter Rob Latour snipes an enemy from long range, and then my ranger Emmet Duffy swoops in to blademaster another bad guy to smithereens, and then my grenadier Filipe Ribeiro takes out two more with an immaculately place hand grenade – all in the same turn - those moments are pure fist-pumping joy. When the rescue strategy works, that's a geed feeling.
The game also does things randomly that make me laugh. For instance, the game automatically assigns everyone a stat called Combat Intelligence. I have no idea what that does or what that means, but I know that I am 'standard' while Alison Deary is 'genius' and Eric Hilton is 'gifted', which fits the three of us so perfectly that I cannot help but smile. The game also assigns nicknames, some of which are spot-on. Katie Laumann is ‘Dr. Feelgood’, probably because I give her a healing skill every chance I get, but also because that captures her personality; she is way more concerned with keeping people safe and healthy than she is about dealing damage. Dr. Feelgood she is. In XCOM, Doug DeVries is known as ‘Shakes’, and the thought of calling him that in real life makes me lol.
With all my starts and stops with the game, I am still relatively early in. There is a lot more XCOM to come, and I am looking forward to it. Spending time with my friends in this game is a weird, wonderful experience, and I am loving it.
My original idea was to stream my playthrough of XCOM on Twitch, but that is not exactly working out. My stream setup is pretty rough at the moment, and I can’t seem to keep a set schedule. I think that idea is RIP. Still I'll keep playing and keeping you all up to date from time to time.
Pretty soon, I'll be starting up my Let's Play of XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, which will feature me and all of my coauthors (and my cat, an honorary coauthor on all my work) fighting against an alien invasion.
For now, I wanted to introduce you to the team! Check out the profiles for all 24 of us in the gallery below.
Follow our adventures over on Twitch!
While tinkering around with the Let's Play of XCOM 2, I realized there was an expansion to the game that makes significant improvements over the original version. So, I downloaded the expansion, War of the Chosen, and played around with it for a bit. One drawback of the new expansion was that all of my created characters, all of my coauthors who will be fighting alongside me in the game, had to be created again from scratch in the updated game. Recreating all those characters took a bit of time and caused a bit of a delay. Anyway, we are all set and ready to go.
Look for live streams soon over on Twitch!
One of the best things about my career as a marine biologist is that I have had the opportunity to work with brilliant scientists from all around the world. At this point in my career, I have conducted research with people from six continents and too many countries to count – a couple of dozen, at least.
I have published manuscripts and book chapters with 22 coauthors. I have a lifelong connection with each of them. A huge part of my professional career is forever tied to the work I did with them. Every time one of our manuscripts gets cited or when I update my Curriculum Vitae, I see their names and am reminded of the hard work we did together. It makes me smile. I like thinking about those connections and remembering the times we spent in the field, lab, office, or writing drafts of manuscripts. Those memories are some of my greatest joys of being a scientist.
Let’s play a video game.
Specifically, let’s play a game called XCOM 2.
XCOM 2 is a turn-based strategy game where you control a squad of four well-armed, very tough soldiers into combat against an alien invasion. It’s one of the best strategy games out there and earned high scores from basically all of the video game critics like IGN, Gamespot, Kotaku, PC Gamer, etc. It’s sitting at healthy 87% on Metacritic.
XCOM 2 is a great game in its own right, but it does something else that is very cool. It lets you customize your squad like crazy. The appearance of your soldiers and their armor and weapons can be customized to your liking. This means you can make your soldiers into any personas you want.
The other cool part of the game is that, while you take only four soldiers with you on each mission, you need a large pool of soldiers to actually play the game. This is because soldiers can be injured by those mean aliens and rendered unavailable for future missions until they recover. If you really mess up, your soldiers can even be killed, and you lose them for the rest of the game. A necessary tactic is to swap out squad members between missions. Throw in the fact that your squad members specialize as either grenadiers, sharpshooters, specialists, rangers, or psi operatives, and you really need a large pool of soldiers from which to draw to mix and match an effective team for each mission.
Here’s the bottom line.
I have created a pool of 24 soldiers in XCOM 2, a pool that includes me, each of my 22 coauthors, and my cat, Izzy (because it’s a video game, and I wanted to make a character based on my cat). I will be having adventures with my buddies once again.
Starting next week, I will start streaming our adventures in XCOM 2 a couple of night per week over on Twitch. As I steam, I will tell you a little bit about each teammate and the projects we worked on, and generally have fun goofing off and shooting aliens. Twitch also archives the videos, so you can catch up with them there if you miss me live. Or, even better, I will be pulling the videos off Twitch and putting them over on my YouTube page so you can watch them any time you want.
I am aiming to stream on Sunday and Wednesday nights at 8pm, local time in Saudi Arabia, which would be 1pm EST. I’ll run a couple of missions per night, aiming for 45 minutes. Some nights may run only 30 minutes, others may go 60. If you want to watch live and chime in in the chat, keep an eye on Twitch and Twitter for alerts.
See you soon!