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Long-lost X-COM reboot would have played a lot like Valkyria Chronicles

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Julian Gollop reminisces about The Dreamland Chronicles: Freedom Ridge

Last week I sat down with Julian Gollop, the founder of Mythos Games and the father of the X-COM franchise, to talk about his new project called Phoenix Point. Being a huge X-COM nerd, I couldn’t let him off the line without asking about a previous effort to create a spiritual successor to the classic turn-based strategy game: The Dreamland Chronicles: Freedom Ridge.

Freedom Ridge was announced in 2000, and one of the last remaining previews of the game is still available to read on GameSpot. The title comes from the nickname given to Area 51, the not-so-secret U.S. Air Force base in the middle of the Nevada desert. Freedom Ridge was an overlook, closed by the U.S. government in the 1990s, that UFO buffs would use to photograph the installation.

Mythos’ game was going to be a lot like the original X-COM: UFO Defense, pitting a group of U.S. Marines against the dinosaur-like Saurans in a globe-trotting fight for the survival of the human race. It was expected to take advantage of new graphics technology, include destructible environments and a replay feature. But the project was ultimately canceled. All that remains are a handful of screens scattered all over the internet.

“We had signed a four-game development contract with Virgin Interactive Entertainment,” Gollop told me, “which was fantastic, from my point of view, because they were a big company. They owned Westwood Studios which produced all the Command and Conquer stuff, of course, amongst other things.

“I wanted to sort of try and do a sort of spiritual successor to the original X-COM. ... We tried to build it both on Playstation 2 and PC. ... What killed the project was that Virgin Interactive sold Westwood Studios to EA. Virgin Interactive was then sold to Interplay, and then Interplay was sold to Titus Interactive. The only thing they were interested in was the, intellectual property that Interplay had. They were not interested in our projects. They basically stopped funding us.”

It was Titus, Gollop said, that made the decision to keep Mythos under contract, forcing Gollop and his team to liquidate the company.

Few people ever laid hands on Freedom Ridge, but Gollop said he remembers the game fondly. He was reminded of it when, in 2008, another turn-based strategy game was released for the PlayStation 3.

“The way the turn-based system in Freedom Ridge worked,” Gollop said, “was actually almost identical to Valkyria Chronicles. ... You literally controlled the movement of your characters directly in third-person, moved them around, and you had a little movement point bar which went down as you moved him, much like it does in Valkyria Chronicles. When you went to shoot something, it went into this over-the-shoulder view and you saw a little sight there and you could literally target anything you wanted from the point of view of that soldier.”

Gollop says that he enjoyed the system, even in those early stages, and was glad to see another team become successful with a similar implementation.