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Aliens: Colonial Marines Interview

Aliens: Colonial Marines Interview

During E3, we got to sit down with Brian Cozzens of Gearbox to talk about Aliens: Colonial Marines, which was being shown off for the first time in… well, ever. We originally ran the interview back in Play 208 along with a detailed breakdown of the demo we saw behind closed doors, so for those who missed out, here’s the interview in full now. Enjoy!

The question I have to start with, then. Where has Aliens Colonial Marines been?

Oh yeah, the million dollar question! Well when we presented, a lot of people mentioned the Game Informer article we did a while back. That was a prototype, you saw. Since then, we’ve been exploring our options with the game. We’ve recently just ramped our team up for production and that’s where we’re at with the game.

Wikipedia said that the game was delayed following Gearbox lay-offs in 2008.

No no no.

That’s Wikipedia for you.

[laughs] Yeah, anyone can dogpile on Wikipedia.

So it’s not that the schedule’s been delayed, it’s just been off the radar since the announcement.

Yeah. Well, we’re really excited about the opportunity so we put the press release out a little prematurely, I would say. But we were all so excited, we wanted to tell the world about it. Because the franchise is so complex and we want to do it so much justice, we wanted to spend our time prototyping, investigating and exploring all our options to make something that was really true to the experience from the films.

What input does 20th Century Fox have?

They’re really involved. They’re as passionate about it as us as well as Sega. So when we come up with concepts and we come up with level design, we’ll show those to Fox and give them demonstrations and they’ll give their feedback to us. You know, ‘hey can we get this head larger’ or ‘can we get this level to feel like something more from the film’. Sometimes they’ll throw some more information our way like photos from the set that we found. So it’s a collaborative effort.

I’ve heard that some of the game will be based on unused bits of the film.

Yeah, Syd Mead did a lot of concept art for scenes that were never shown in the film like the showers and other parts of the mess hall you didn’t see. They kicked all that stuff over to us along with set photos. So we’re working within the canon to be as accurate as possible and it’ll be really cool for fans because they’re going to see areas they never got to see before but they’re true to when it was crafted back in the Eighties.

I know it’s hard to put a number on it but how much of the game would you say is unused material?

Cameron ended up using a lot of the ideas that they put on the table but I would probably say the content we’ve gotten from Fox is probably about 20 to 30 percent of areas that the fans never got to see that they never got to shoot for the film. It’s a not a huge percentage but it’s enough that fans will be like ‘oh my god, I never got to see showers of Sulaco’ but that was something that was designed by Syd Mead that we never got to see, that we’ll have.

For the sake of credibility, it helps too.

Oh absolutely. And we’ve been working with Syd Mead and other concept artists who have worked on the Aliens franchise who are involved with our production. As well as, originally, Brian Martel had met with Ridley Scott himself and went through the storyboards and Ridley Scott imparted his knowledge to Gearbox on what he believes the Alien franchise to be. We also met with ADI who did all the special effects for all the Aliens films, we met with them in California. So in a roundabout way, we’ve had this blessing from all these people from the production.

So what input did ADI have with the game?

They basically told us how they did all the special effects and when they were creating the creatures, what they believed parts of the creatures to be. We had this really awesome dialogue for about 30 minutes about what the tubiles on the back of the xenomorphs were supposed to do. They always theorised that that would blow the cocooning materials out the tubiles. That’s where that came from. That’s where it was secreted, not from the mouth, from the tubiles on the back. And I was like, well I’ll be damned, that’s fucking awesome!

In the demo, you showed off the new Crusher alien. Was that a Fox creation or a Gearbox creation?

A Gearbox creation. Obviously for the time we’ve been prototyping and exploring ideas, it became obvious we couldn’t rely on just one xenomorph type, right? That would get old. The one you’ve seen in the demo is the xenomorph soldier, which is heavily influenced by Cameron’s alien because each film has its own type of xenomorph type. We have the scout in Alien, the dog-like xenomorph that’s in Aliens 3, and so on. But we couldn’t have just one xeno type as that would get old for gameplay, so we had to acknowledge that we were going to have to explore other xenomorph options. So that’s just a little preview of what else is to come. We’re pretty proud of the Crusher but we want to lean even further with that while remaining true to the franchise.

Is the story for Aliens: Colonial Marines written in-house or did you draft in Aliens writers?

Well, we did work with Thompson and Weddle. I don’t know if you watched Battlestar Galactica? The new one? But the main writers on Battlestar Galactica came in and wrote a bunch of the story for us. We’re pulling from that as well as crafting our own internally. We have a lot of really talented writers. I think we’ve even managed to get a few awards for our efforts. So we’re really excited about what we’re doing but basically yeah, we’re coming up with the story ourselves.

I want to clarify what Randy said in the demo – this serves as a sequel to Aliens?

This is more… this happens after Aliens 3. Really. But the thing with all the films… we’re not paying attention to Aliens 4 because it happens so far into the future. You know, hundreds of years or whatever.

And it’s not that good.

Yeah, well… [laughs] If you watch it enough, it’s not too bad. It’s got a bit of the humour in it that I think is a bit inappropriate… but Alien was more like survival horror, right? Where it was a bunch of people on a ship who had to deal with this one threat and that was scary. Then James Cameron came along and made Aliens and was like, okay, this is what it’s like to have a horde. Like, here we have the hive, etc. Aliens 3 tried to go back to the survival horror element. But for fans of us, when I saw it in the theater, I was already on the high of Aliens. I wanted to see that and go further. I don’t know if anyone remembers but they put out a teaser, a little bit after Aliens was released, playing with the idea of Aliens coming to Earth. And they never did that. Instead they made Aliens 3. So I think a number of fans were a bit disappointed. Not that Aliens 3 wasn’t awesome or anything, it was David Fincher and he’s a great guy. It’s just we were expecting to see the continuation of that storyline. So we’re really focusing on taking Aliens, the second one, and going with that feel because it was really the focus of colonial marines and obviously our game is called Colonial Marines because we love colonial marines! We wanted to experience Aliens as a game, so we’re using that as our main inspiration.

Aliens vs Predator has been released since the original announcement of Aliens: Colonial Marines. What did lessons did you pull from that game?

Well xenomorphs are a particular challenge when it comes to animation and in gameplay, just selling them. In the films, all the directors have been careful filming the xenomorphs full body because it looks more like a dude in a suit than it does something that’s creepy crawly that you can’t identify with. There were certain animations and ways they had the xenomorphs moving through AvP that we were like, this is a really awesome idea that they pulled off, we’re going to use that. Other times we were like, okay, we see that that’s not working.We thought the infestation was a really cool idea and obviously that will inspire us. Also dialogue between the marines, things that worked and things that don’t. But they definitely helped inspire us and we learned lessons that they learned.

Has the experience of working on Borderlands and Duke Nukem helped shaped Aliens: Colonial Marines?

I would say Borderlands represents the Gearbox tradition of leveling up and its success has enabled us to attract additional talent. So Borderlands has definitely had an influence. It’s helped the studio, it’s helped a lot of the creators Gearbox become more confident and it’s helped us established winning formulas, if you will. So I would definitely say Borderlands and its success has definitely had an influence. Just by having some of the developers on Borderlands incorporated in Aliens: Colonial Marines it’s going to help it be a more solid game.

And Duke Nukem?

No, I wouldn’t say that it had much of an influence. That title was more about wrapping it up with a bow on it and getting out the door. 3D Realms and Triptych already did a lot of the work. We just got it out to fans.

What would you say the main change has been since the original announcement? Not even necessarily in terms of what was revealed but just internal changes to the game.

The squad-based tactics. We were really well known for Brothers In Arms, which is a tactics-based shooter. You could command your guys and tell them to do things. Being colonial marines that seemed like a good marriage, to put those things together. You know, saying ‘go weld the door!’ or ‘stand here while I investigate!’ But it didn’t work out because as Brian Martel said, you can’t flank an alien. It just wasn’t that enjoyable. You expected a different type of atmosphere being from the films than what you were getting with your squad-mates.

Was the idea for a specific colonial marines game borne out of you guys being a Brothers In Arms studio?

No. We’re big fans of military, there’s no doubt about that. That probably has an influence at some point. But basically, it just comes from the fact that most games developers grew up watching Aliens films and when we saw colonial marines, that was the first time we actually saw the military in space. That was such a huge inspiration for us that when it came to Gearbox and Randy Pitchford and Brian Martel, when it came to them it was like, what is our dream list of games to work on next. Aliens was way up there. So the Brothers In Arms element helped us focus on the colonial marines but ultimately, it just came down to us being huge fans.

Are you talking about multiplayer today?

No. Well, drop in drop out co-op.

Is that a challenge? Putting co-op in without breaking the atmosphere? I can’t imagine a sweary kid jumping in works too well in the Aliens atmosphere.

Yeah, yeah. Again, the time that we spent prototyping, we obviously investigated that. One of the titles we likened that to was Left 4 Dead. So we played Left 4 Dead a lot. I think I probably played a good four hours a night for months on end, doing my own fair share of… ahem, ‘investigation’ [laughs]. It’s obviously a challenge to create a scary atmosphere with four-player co-op and a bunch of chatter but that’s where it helps being colonial marines because you expect the squad to be talking to each other. I think in those instances we’ll probably bump up the action more. We’ll try to scare you but it probably won’t be the same scares you get from single player but who knows?

But by virtue of it being co-op game, is it harder to create the horror?

It’s definitely a challenge. But we’ve got some really awesome scenarios and everyone will love them.

To finish then – what are your expectations in terms of how Colonial Marines is received and how well it does?

We’ve put a lot of effort into the authenticity and doing, in some cases, the mind’s eye of how the fans remember the film to be. There are some things that if they’re too true they’ll be disappointed but there are other things we have to be true to. But the one thing we definitely feel that will be well received is what the fans think of it. Everyone who loves the Aliens films will love this game because it’s an Alien film. It’s going to scare you, have all the action, you’ll be part of the marines you always wanted to be part of, you’re going to have the franchise elements people want to be in there, it’ll be the complete package. People will be like, oh my god, we’ve got a game that actually feels like the film! That’s the reception we expect.

Do you find yourself cutting back on ideas because you’re aware of the fans?

Yes. Absolutely. We always have to be really careful. Those things have to go through filters and everyone on the Aliens: Colonial Marines team are big fans, so we’re always checking each other to make sure these things feel appropriate for the universe.

Any quick examples?

I think the xenotypes are one particular area we’ve had ideas come across the table that might have been great for gameplay but might not fit in the universe, so we’ve had to combine elements into other xenotypes to make it look appropriate, to look like it would be what Ridley Scott or Cameron or Fincher in one of their films but still give us awesome gameplay. So that’s been a challenge. Xenotypes, we’ve had to be very careful of what we implement that we don’t get anything too corny or too stupid or looks like it’s inappropriate.