Cultural Influences on X-COM

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The 1970s British TV series [UFO], produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for ATV, is undoubtedly a major inspiration for the UFO: Enemy Unknown game. Set in the "near future" (1980!) it narrates the struggles of a secret, international, government-sponsored paramilitary organisation that is combating alien infiltration and terror.

For more information, see [UFO series homepage].


The organisation is named SHADO, an acronym for Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation, (by analogy with NATO and WW2 Allied military command acronyms). Established by a secret protocol of the UNSC, SHADO is a small organisation, answerable to government officials and a General, and subject to continual political pressure and interference, as well as disputes about funding.


SHADO maintains at least one secret underground base in England (underneath a complex of film and television studios). SHADO also maintains a secret base on the moon, "Moonbase". SHADO wishes to expand its interceptor bases but is restricted by insufficient funding.

Ranks and Command

The commanding officer of SHADO is an American ex-military officer, Ed Straker. He has the rank of Commander. While Commander Straker reports to a General, the General appears to work as the President of a mainstream civilian organisation, (the International Astrophysical Commission of the United Nations, acting as a front organisation for SHADO) and is not officially part of SHADO. The SHADO Commander has full discretion on projects and operations. The IAC board only has financial powers, and the power to appoint or dismiss the Commander - which must be by unanimous vote. The officer in charge of SHADO's Moonbase (usually a Colonel) is also referred to as a Commander. However he or she is clearly subordinate to the SHADO Commander, who is sometimes referred to as 'Supreme Commander'. There are also Colonels and Lieutenants in the SHADO hierarchy, many of whom formerly worked for national military organisations. There are also NCOs but no operatives with NCO ranks such as Sergeant are mentioned by name. The impression given is of a small, close-knit organisation (quite possibly numbering no more than 255 paramilitary operatives and possibly much less).

Surveillance and Interceptors

SHADO's defensive perimeter with the aliens is Earth orbit and the moon. Based out in space is an automated, artificial intelligence-controlled detection system called SID (Space Intruder Detector) which attempts to detect and track UFOs entering the solar system and approaching Earth. There are also ground based detection stations.

Primary interception is performed from Moonbase by manned spacecraft called Interceptors ( or "Moonbase Interceptors" ), operating in on-duty flights of 3. Interceptors are vectored against UFOs using target data from SID, either by the pilots or under telemetric control from Moonbase or SHADO HQ.

Interceptors are each armed with a single large nose-mounted nuclear rocket or missile with which to engage UFOs. This is a one-shot attack per Interceptor. There is a long recovery and rearming time for the Interceptors so if the 3 Interceptors all fail to destroy the UFO, interception has failed.

The probability of a hit and kill from 3 Interceptors is good, but frequently UFOs will still pass through the Moonbase Interceptor cordon either partially damaged or unscathed (or indeed slip through undetected). At this point SHADO's second line of defence comes in.

Air Interception

SHADO operates at least one small, high performance interceptor aircraft called Sky One. This aircraft is a small stubby delta-winged single seat fighter armed with short range rapid-firing rocket pods. It has no guided missile armament. Air interception is seen as a last-ditch effort by SHADO and is possibly less effective than space interception, though is generally at an advantage as UFOs begin to deteriorate in earth's atmosphere.

Sky One is attached to the submarine known as Sky Diver, and essentially makes up the front portion of the sub.

Submarine Operations

SHADO operates at least one advanced submarine, SkyDiver 1, similar to a slightly futuristic nuclear hunter/killer submarine. This vessel is crewed by SHADO personnel (in different uniforms, and female officers do not wear purple wigs) and is also used to investigate UFOs that have crashed or landed underwater. The submarine is comprised of two parts. The main body of the submarine, and Sky One.

SkyDiver's rated operating depth is around 1200m but it has survived exposure to depths of almost 2000m.

The Sky One interceptor aircraft is launched from the submarine whilst submerged, making Sky One arguably a kind of flying sub. However it is fair to say that SHADO's underwater operations are limited in comparison to ground operations. Oh well, maybe in the next war...

Ground Operations

If UFOs pass through SHADO's air and space interception without being destroyed or detected, which happens quite frequently, SHADO ground forces will move to secure the crash site or landing site.


SHADO troops are armed with selective-fire rifles that resemble a futuristic version of the contemporary NATO FN SLR, or perhaps a prototype of the SA80 small arm, and are also vaguely similar to the depiction of the X-COM Rifle. Troops are unarmoured, as was typical at the time - again similar to the initial X-COM forces.

SHADO use a man portable rocket launcher with an electronic-visual aiming system and reloadable rounds, very similar to the X-COM Rocket Launcher (though the rounds are smaller). The SHADO Rocket Launcher is capable (with a good hit) of disabling or destroying small UFOs, in this sense it is more powerful than its X-COM equivalent.

SHADO operatives also have advanced semi-automatic pistols at their disposal. These are more often used for covert work, rather than "battlefield" use.

A heavy, but man-portable high explosive pack (very similar to the X-COM High Explosive) is also used on occasion.

SHADO has tranquiliser rifles available but these are used on human targets and not known to be effective versus aliens.

Hand-held stun rods of some type are used by the aliens to capture human victims, but SHADO does not have a similar technology.

Transport and Vehicles

SHADO troops are transported tactically to UFO sites in tracked armoured personnel carriers called SHADO Mobiles. Strategically the Mobiles are flown into the crash / landing region on advanced-design jet cargo aircraft, called Transporters, but these aircraft are not V/TOL like the X-COM transports. SHADO also operates C/STOL supersonic transports (SSTs), and lunar modules which dock with air-breathing V/TOL aircraft for take off / landing from Earth. SHADO aircraft are flagged as "SHADAIR" - presumably a cover name.

Vehicle Weapons

Some SHADO Mobiles are armed with weapon systems such as multiple-launch rocket systems or autocannon / heavy machineguns.


UFOs are all (almost all?) of one standard type, a small metallic craft of standard "saucer" shape. They carry a small number of Aliens, probably similar to a Small or Medium Scout in UFO: Enemy Unknown.

UFOs maneuver at supralight speeds. They are tracked by SID at ranges on the order of 75 million miles from earth, typically moving at 8 times the speed of light (SOL), using highly specialised "Utronic" detection equipment developed for SHADO. In the vicinity of the Moon the UFOs decelerate to high sub-light speeds. (It's unclear how the Moonbase interceptor craft and weapons, both using some kind of reaction engine, are able to effectively engage spacecraft moving at such speeds. However the UFOs flight paths are highly predictable, so perhaps they have limited ability for lateral evasive action?).

The Earth's atmosphere forces the UFOs to slow down even further, to much slower speeds, allowing them to be intercepted by supersonic fighter aircraft. As in X-COM, UFOs are vulnerable to conventional explosive air to air missiles.


As in X-COM, aliens cannot survive long in Earth atmosphere, but unlike in X-COM they wear spacesuits when on Earth. The identity and appearance of the aliens is a mystery and uncovering it is a major objective of SHADO (see below). Some of the aliens have psionic powers and there may be multiple types of alien (races or perhaps just factions). Some of the aliens are humanoid and can impersonate, or pass for, or possess, humans. The aliens also act through human collaborators or puppets. As in X-COM, they attempt to subvert government officials and other public figures.

One known activity of the aliens is harvesting of human organs, and it is suggested that some of the humanoid aliens encountered by SHADO may actually be modified, controlled humans and not the actual aliens.

The aliens are more suited to the underwater environment of Earth, and build at least one base under Earth's seas.

Alien Weapons

Alien personal weapons seem to be normal firearms or at least projectile weapons of some type, with a slightly lower rate of fire compared to SHADO weapons. Unlike in X-COM the alien personal weapons are not noticeably superior to human weapons.

Alien UFOs are sometimes equipped with an energy weapon of some kind, possibly a laser cannon or plasma cannon.

SHADO Mission and Objectives

On a day to day basis SHADO detects, engages and destroys / secures UFOs and individual aliens encroaching on Earth. It also foils alien plots and schemes on Earth (and the Moon!), using SHADO operatives working undercover.

SHADO must also struggle to ensure it receives sufficient funding to meet its objectives, and to ensure the correct priorities are set by its funders, and that the support of funders continues.

Longer term, SHADO seeks to understand and discover alien intentions, capabilities, and origins, to correctly assess and respond to the alien threat, on behalf of the Earth. The aliens are highly mysterious and discovering information about them is key to SHADO. Capture of specimens, live aliens, or even communication with them, is a highly important objective. The intentions of the aliens remain one of the biggest mysteries. Learning the origin of the aliens, or their staging area for attacks, is also highly important.


The aliens show some use of what appear to be subtle (non-physical-affecting) psionic capabilities such as telepathy and mental influence or mind control. This is similar to XCom. Very rare humans (not SHADO operatives) are also shown to have similar abilities, though perhaps not as powerful. There is no physical technology associated with psionics - no Psi Amps etc. There are intensive psychometric test sessions that are used for screening SHADO operatives for mental weakness, and to detect alien mental influence or control after alien contact - perhaps similar to the Psi Labs concept.

One episode, The Psycho Bombs, features humans that are taken under the mind influence of the aliens to infiltrate and destroy SHADO installations. In addition to the mind control, they gain superhuman strength and are turned into bombs that detonate when they come into contact with high voltage electricity.


While investigating alien technology and motives is a key objective of SHADO, unlike in XCom there is no noticeable technological advance gained by SHADO, with or without analysing alien technology. Apart from the Utronic modules (see above) which allow SHADO to detect UFOs, there are few if any advances in SHADO equipment, and the few examples of advances come from research in the wider technology community of Earth, not from SHADO efforts. For example, SHADO makes use of newly available long range spacecraft to try to gather intelligence on the alien origins. Arguably this is more realistic than in Enemy Unknown.


As just noted, SHADO attempts to send a newly designed unmanned long range spacecraft on a mission back along the departure trajectory of a UFO (after first deliberately allowing the UFO to escape), in an attempt to obtain reconnaisance information on the UFO base or homeworld. This is roughly analogous to the Mars mission in Enemy Unknown (or perhaps the research effort that unlocks it). However, the SHADO mission fails due to a technical problem, at great cost to SHADO in money and lost credibility/prestige.


The US television series Threshold, broadcast in the 2000s, is said to have certain similarities with X-COM. It concerns a secret organisation dedicated to investigating and combating an alien threat which is concealed from the public.

Timothy Good/Robert Lazar

In 1989 Bob Lazar claimed to have worked as a scientist from 1988 to 1989 in a governmental secret project at the infamous Area 51 where he saw crashed UFOs and an exotic element-115 which possessed anti-gravity properties. For more information, check Wikipedia's article. Bob Lazar's descriptions were published in Timothy Good's Alien Liaison book. If you are interested in reading about some very intriguing UFO cases (based upon official released documents) check his books, especially Alien Liaison and Beyond Top Secret (they were also most likely influences for UFO Defense).

Invaders From Mars

Another 1950's science fiction B-movie. Quoting from the Wikipedia's article on it Inside they find a Martian, mostly a large head with strange tentacles, encased in a glassy sphere. The Martian mastermind is served by tall, green, silent humanoid "mutants". Coincidence that it sounds familiar?

Branton Files

The Branton Files are a set of conspiracy theories which involved the Greys and the Reptilian alien races and an ongoing subvert invasion of Earth by aliens. A link to the documents can be found here

Starship Troopers

Power armor in science fiction was first popularized by Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers military science fiction novel. The plot regards Earth defending itself and its colonies from a hostile insectoid alien race, which has a hive mentality and is ruled by 'Brains'.

Online UFO Culture of the early 1990s

There were plenty of files going around BBS servers at the time. You can read those files at the www.textfiles/ufo site.

TFTD & Lovecraft

The author of the literary universe of the Cthulu Mythos and other literary horror works had a deep influence on TFTD:

  • T'leth and the mood tone of TFTD are inspired of the Cthulhu Mythos. Cthulus is described an extraterrestrial monstrous entity that is asleep on the depths of oceans and waiting for the proper star alignment to be brought to life and impose its evil rule on Earth. The UFOPedia's entry for the final mission even has a reference of T'leth as a Lovecraftian nightmare.
  • For complete references to the influence of Lovecraft on TFTD check Wikipedia's Terror from the Deep races page.

The Kraken Wakes

Science fiction book written by John Wyndham concerning an alien invasion that comes from the oceans. More info here.

Lobster Man From Mars

There's a 1989 comedy/horror move featuring a well known Lobster monster of TFTD, more info available here. Might be a coincidence on the name, might not...

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The Micronoid Aggregate, which is the true antagonist of X-COM Apocalypse, was possibly based on the Pod People from the 1956 Film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They are both Extraterrestrial Parasites that depend on the assimilation of other species and the consumption of their resources for their own survival.

Judge Dredd

The XCOM Apocalypse city of Mega-Primus bears some resemblance to Judge Dredd's dystopian megalopolis city-state called "Mega-City One". The elite Street Judges that patrol the city are armed with a standard issue series of handguns known as the "Lawgiver", likely the namesake of the Megapol Lawpistol.

See Also