Most computer games exist only within a very limited period of time. As computer abilities grow new games with better graphics and more complicated AI take minds of the players. But some of them remain enjoyable for years and become the ‘cult’ games. One of such pearls is ‘UFO: Defense’ (also known as ‘UFO: Enemy Unknown’) and its sequel ‘UFO: Terror from the Deep’. Released in the very end of 1993 it featured pseudo-3D graphics in tactical mode and polygonal 3D globe in geoscape mode. I’m writing this in the very end of 2007 and I admit that I still play in this game occasionally and prefer it to many other modern games.

Searching for the ‘ufo game’ you’ll find a number of remakes, but none of them matches popularity of the original. The only good one is ‘Pocket UFO’ but it’s more of a clone for a pocket pc rather than a remake. So looking back over the 14 years of the game existence I’ve tried to capture what was so great about this game that made it such a success.

1. Two games that feel like one.

First is called ‘geoscape’ and it shows the Earth globe; you build bases, do research, earn money, hunt UFOs and manage equipment. Second is called ‘tactical’ and there you directly manipulate soldiers to eliminate aliens on terrain. The great thing about these sub-games is that they heavily influence each other. Weapons available in tactical mode should be bought or researched and produced in geoscape mode; if you arrive at the UFO crash site in the night it will be dark; aliens and artifacts captured in tactical mode influence research and income in geoscape mode. Most other games concentrate on tactical part and have only rudimentary support for exchanging weapons or carrying them to the next mission.

In other games I often feel myself quite disappointed when I can’t take all captured weapons with me to the base or to the next level; in one well-known game I can take as much as my soldiers can carry in their hands so in the end of each level there were piles of ammo and rifles and my soldiers took most valuable items from the piles – why not just take everything automatically as in UFO? Someone thought that it would be more realistic but in the end it hurts gameplay.

2. Diverse and well-balanced activities.

In a typical ‘strategy’ game user most of the time clicks on units to go somewhere and attack someone. Interest to the game is kept by giving user new landscape and new weapons. Such limited gameplay quickly becomes boring. The great thing about UFO is that there are many more developed activities – managing research, production, building bases, tracking expenses, hunting UFOs and so on. And what’s most important is that they all affect each other. The game allows to build organization where I handle all aspects of it’s existence; this gives me the feeling of control and this means satisfaction…

Example of balance is weapons system: there are three categories of firearms – conventional, laser and plasma. The first one is always available and you may buy everything any time but it’s not very powerful. So you use it at the beginning of the game. Laser weapons should be researched first and you may gradually shift to it. Plasma is the most powerful; it also should be researched but it should be captured from aliens first. So you use plasma weapons in the end and laser weapons turn out to be a dead end. But the top laser weapon – laser cannon – is the best item to produce! It gives the most income so it still makes sense to research it.

3. Atmosphere.

And this one is a hard thing to describe. I think that most of it comes from comics-style pictures and ufopedia (internal library of all available knowledge at the moment in a game). But other things like colour scheme and tragic music also influence the mood. Modern games that use animated 3D models look similar to each other; maybe just because they are not so dark…