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“The Bureau: XCOM Declassified” concludes its live action series, starring Dominic Monaghan

the bureau concludes its live action series of trailers starring dominic monaghan
Dominic Monaghan stars as Agent Ennis Cole

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified may be targeting a slightly more niche audience than other 2K games, like BioShock Infinite, but you wouldn’t know it from the level of sophistication surrounding its marketing campaign.

Along with the normal slew of trailers featuring gameplay that come with any major release, 2K Marin went beyond the normal routine and commissioned a live-action trailer directed by Henry Hobson. It was so successful that 2K went back to the director for an entire series of trailers, this time starring Dominic Monaghan. The two recently sat down and discussed the filming of the videos – which were more of a Web series than traditional trailers.

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Although you may not know his name just yet, Hobson is well known in both Hollywood and throughout the gaming industry, primarily for designing main titles. His credits include the opening title design for The Hangover Part II, The Lone Ranger, and The Last of Us. He recently began pre-production for his feature film directorial debut on the upcoming film Maggie, starring Abigail Breslin and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has also directed other live action game trailers, including one for Resistance 3 that garnered a lot of attention. So when 2K needed a director for a one-off live action trailer, they went right to Hobson.

The Bureau with DMIn April, 2K unveiled the trailer “Burn Room,” a live-action clip featuring a flesh-and-blood Agent William Carter, the star of the game. In just over three months, the clip has been viewed nearly 5 million times on 2K’s YouTube channel alone, making it one of the most successful game trailers of all time. 

Following the success of the trailer, 2K commissioned a six part live-action series that showed the events leading up to “Burn Room,” which, like the game, are set in 1962. For Hobson, it was the period nature that attracted him to the project. As a fan of period shows like Mad Men and the BBC’s The Hour, it was a “no brainer” when 2K came to him with the project and offered him the job.

As for Monaghan, who is a gamer himself, he was approached by a friend at 2K who mentioned the possibility of doing something live action for The Bureau. At the time it was little more than an idea, but following the success of “Burn Room,” 2K reached out to the Lost and Lord of the Rings star and sent him the script. He liked the idea and was filming soon after. Despite the unique nature of the project, Monaghan approached it like any other acting job.

“It’s not a huge amount of difference in terms of how I approach stuff. When I was on set for this, there was no difference in terms of how I prepared, if I were doing a feature or a TV show or anything. Games are really on a level with the major TV shows,” says Monaghan.

Agent Carter The BureauTwo months after the debut of “Burn Room,” the story continued with “Orbit the Clown,” a clip that introduced us to Kevin and Anne Cole just as something ominous is beginning in their small New Mexico town of Pima. Kevin’s father (who is also Anne’s husband) is revealed in the next clip, “The Choice,” to be a Bureau agent named Ennis Cole, played by Dominic Monaghan. We hear the sad fate of his family, leading to a choice for the audience to make via Twitter: Should Cole grab a bottle of alcohol, or a gun?

The inclusion of Monaghan gave depth to what may have otherwise been a forgotten role. The character is on screen for only a few minutes, and beyond the attention that Monaghan’s name alone attracts, he does a lot with a small amount of time. In less than 10 minutes of screen time, you are introduced to Ennis Cole, learn of his loss, and follow him into a dangerous situation.

“When Dom came on board, it enabled us to tell a more emotional story and to tie people in to what happens next,” Hobson says.

More than 20,000 people voted for Cole’s fate, and the next trailer/short film, “The Decision,” revealed that with 51-percent of the vote, the audience chose “bottle.” There may have been some confusion here, as Monaghan said that he thought that many people were under the impression that by taking the gun, Cole would be committing suicide, which wasn’t the case.

Pima The BureauIn the unaired alternate clip, Cole does take the gun. Instead of doing himself harm though, he vows to dish a little out. That leads into the next trailer, “The Chase,” which leaves Agent Cole’s fate in question. There was one more clip following “The Chase,” titled “The Interrogation,” where Agent Carter returns to pummel an unseen captive. If you want to know what happened to Monaghan’s Ennis Cole, check out the final trailer, “Aftermath,” below. There are also 17 Easter eggs, which tie the series together, scattered throughout the video, ranging from a telephone number to radio station signs.

“I think the word cool gets thrown around too much these days … but this was a genuinely cool project,” says Monaghan.

The live action trailers are done, but you can check out our hands-on preview of the game, and then look for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified on August 20.

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How ‘The Bureau: XCOM Declassified’ went from vaporware to a highlight of 2013
the bureau xcom declassified sectoids

E3 2010 was a big year for XCOM fans. After years of stagnation for the beloved property, 2K announced that it would finally return, albeit not in the way most expected. The real-time strategy classic from 1994 had been revamped, and the turn-based gameplay replaced and reimagined as a first-person shooter. In 2012, the classic series would be reborn as XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but in 2010, fans saw a shooter. Some strategy was layered on top in 2011, but the game disappeared from sight after that, only to re-emerge two years later with a new look, a new perspective, and a new focus.
What happened? The story has all the intrigue, twists and lingering mysteries of a good alien conspiracy theory.
Alyssa Finley, Executive Producer for 2K Marin
Following the release of BioShock in 2007, part of Irrational broke off and formed 2K Australia, which eventually became 2K Marin. The fledgling developer released BioShock 2 in 2010, and then announced the XCOM game as what looked like a straightforward first-person shooter. The game transformed in its E3 2011 appearance, with nearly 30 minutes of actual gameplay with newly added strategic elements that fall closer to what we now see in The Bureau.
The E3 2011 re-debut showed a game set in the early '60s during America’s so-called “Golden Age,” with the Cold War as a backdrop. It centered around an alien incursion headed off by a group which would eventually form the earliest XCOM division. The gameplay placed a heavy emphasis on teamwork, but within the frame of a first-person shooter.
“We took a step back and looked hard at what the XCOM franchise demanded of us, that team plays a bigger part than that.”
2K Games virtually stopped talking about the game after E3 2011, but 2K Marin kept at it the whole time, quietly iterating and re-tooling until the game took shape again. Nearly three years after its announcement, with the next generation of consoles looming, it began to look more and more like the XCOM shooter was vaporware. Then, hints began to drop in April 2013 that the game still had some life in it after all.
After a few weeks of teasing, 2K made it official: The “XCOM Shooter” was revealed and rechristened as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, and officially confirmed for release on August 20 for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. The foundation of the game that appeared at E3 2011 survived – the setting remains 1962, you still play Agent William Carter, the group that will become XCOM is still fighting aliens – but the perspective had shifted from first- to third-person, and the philosophy behind the game changed as well.
“We took a step back and looked hard at what the XCOM franchise demanded of us, that team plays a bigger part than that,” Alyssa Finley, Executive Producer for 2K Marin told us. “So we really kept hitting the touchstones of tactics, tools, team, terror, and tension to try to make sure that whatever we were developing was really hitting those as much as possible, and making sure the agents were a key part of gameplay felt like a really important evolution for us.”

Changing the perspective from first- to third-person was a lengthy task, but it was an evolution of the game rather than a total reinvention. The earlier build was played in first-person, but when the player switched into what was initially called “tac mode” (since renamed “battle focus”) the game shifted perspective to third-person in order to give you a better sense of how to command your AI-controlled teammates. 
This idea of managing the battlefield - so core to the tenets of the original XCOM series - helped 2K Marin to redefine the game. Tactical play is at the heart of The Bureau, and it was that single, driving idea that led to the change in perspective more than anything else.
“By the time we took first person out of the mix and went full third, it was, again, more of an evolution ... 
“The game went from being a first-person game to being a third-person [one] ... because that was really the best way for us to give the kind of tactical view of the battlefield that we feel a player really needs,” Finley said.
The change wasn't the result of a single revelation. It came in small increments as 2K Marin continually adjusted the formula to find a balance that worked for its XCOM shooter. This gradual evolution contributed to the game's nearly three year absence, but the task was not as monumental as it might seem. Time-consuming and exacting, yes, but built entirely off of existing code.
“It’s funny, because first- to third-person, we did it in such a gradual way,” Nico Bihary, Senior Producer on The Bureau told Digital Trends. “Every step of the way we had been building up a set of tools and a set of code that was about the current version of the game.”
Nico Bihary, Senior Producer on The Bureau
“By the time we took first person out of the mix and went full third, it was, again, more of an evolution than a ‘OK, we’re not going to be able to play this game for six months because we've got to throw everything away and start again.’ There was always a game on screen that you could play, and what we were doing was trying to make it better and more playable, and get hands on it and say, 'OK, what’s working, what’s not? Let’s keep going with what’s working.’”
Despite the delays, the game’s timing couldn’t be better. The release of Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown in 2012 revitalized the franchise and reignited dormant interest from fans of the original while simultaneously creating a new fanbase. The game was considered both a commercial and a critical success, going on to win several Game of the Year nominations and awards. An upcoming re-release on the iPad should only help to increase the game’s popularity.
Make no mistake, though: The Bureau is not simply an extension of Enemy Unknown. It is an origin story that takes the property in an entirely new direction. The shift from real-time strategy to third-person shooter should also further the reach of the brand. And thanks to many of this year's biggest games getting pushed to the fall to accommodate for next-gen consoles, The Bureau will arrive alongside a thinner-than-usual crowd of competitions.

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We put boots on the ground with ‘The Bureau: XCOM Declassified’

The realities of warfare on the ground are never the same as they are from the command center. XCOM: Enemy Unknown tackles the latter approach, with turn-based strategic play that constrains the action in the service of a more thoughtful advance. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified instead embraces the idea of "boots on the ground." Enemy Unknown's all-seeing, all-knowing Commander figure is absent in this origin story. He's also probably hasn't been born yet. Moment-to-moment decision-making instead falls to Agent William Carter's own boots being firmly planted on terra firma.

The Bureau offers a twist on the XCOM that you know, but it's not quite as dramatic a shift as you might think at first. You've still got squad-based play, tactical strategy, character progression, and permadeath. All of the trappings that make XCOM what it is. The twist is that it all plays out in The Bureau from a third-person perspective. The action slows down enough for you to hand out orders, but it never comes to a full stop. 
The best news of all though? It works, and it works well.
If you're looking for something to compare The Bureau to, it lines up best with the most tactical play in Mass Effect 3. Orders to your NPC teammates are assigned by a radial Battle Focus menu. Time slows down as soon as the menu is called up, affording you the freedom to queue up a whole string of orders without sacrificing the action-focused flavor of this tweaked XCOM formula. It's a bit of an adjustment at first, but mostly a mechanical one.
The constant threat of death requires careful tactical planning with every advance.
"I really think that it's about trying to capture that same feeling as the Commander of the battlefield in Enemy Unknown, where you ordered everybody around," Alyssa Finley, VP of product development at 2K Marin, tells us. "There are some people out there who don't like turn-based games, or don't think they like turn-based games. A win scenario is if we get a person who is more of a shooter fan [and give them] a sense of what XCOM is. Then maybe they'll check out some of the other games in the franchise based on that experience."
Finley and the rest of the team regard The Bureau as a "gateway" for mainstream audiences into the larger XCOM universe. The direct action feels extremely smooth based on our recent play session of a portion of one story mission. Necessary third-person shooter trappings, like cover and intuitive weapon handling combine, well with the tactical scope of the game.

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‘The Bureau: XCOM Declassified’ proves that even the aliens were cooler in the 60s
The Bureau XCOM Declassified

All of the recent teases were legit: 2K Games will release The Bureau: XCOM Declassified on August 20, 2013 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC platforms. It's the game that we've all been affectionately referring to as "the XCOM shooter" since it was first announced back in 2010. It's still a shooter that builds on the concepts established in the turn-based strategy side of the franchise, though the perspective has switched from the first-person view that we last saw at E3 2011, to a new third-person perspective.  We've also confirmed with 2K that this will be a full-priced $59.99 release rather than the download-only offering that had been hinted at in recent rumors.
The Bureau sends players back in time to 1962, when the first sign of an extra-terrestrial menace made itself known. The XCOM organization won't yet exist at the start of the game, with protagonist William Carter instead being assigned to a mysterious body known as The Bureau. "William Carter has been bouncing around different government agencies before he finds himself brought in for the birth of XCOM," 2K Marin creative director Morgan Gray tells Digital Trends.

"He's as surprised as anyone else about what transpires. William becomes your viewpoint into this world, and a fully defined character in his own right, with a back story that gets expressed throughout. He helps guide you through what starts as a fairly simple 'aliens are invading our planet' [scenario] and becomes a much more complex... narrative that runs throughout the course of the game." 
Gray goes on to explain that the events of XCOM Declassified are effectively what puts planet Earth on the galactic map, which in turn informs the story events of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and other, as-yet-untold stories set further along in the fictional timeline. The game's secret invasion is overseen by a race of extraterrestrial slavers, and it is these slavers that introduce the various races of the galaxy to our solar system. There's much that remains unclear at this time, but Gray's description nods toward 2K's ongoing efforts to more fully define the XCOM universe.

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