I checked out Aliens: Colonial Marines when I popped over to the SEGA gamescom booth to say hi to a friend and, within minutes, it became one my highlights of the show. I’m not as familiar with the Aliens films as many – I remember seeing one of them on TV as a child and not sleeping well for a few days – but judging it purely as a shooter, it is looking very impressive.
The level shown was a beautifully lit labyrinth of corridors on-board a craft sent to investigate LV-426, 11 months after Ripley escaped in Aliens. The most memorable aspect for me was the animation of the Xenomorphs and my skin is crawling as I type just thinking about them. This added to the level design, which always leaves you feeling exposed as creatures pour from every angle and air vent, produces an unnerving shooter that piles on the tension.
After the demo, I spoke with Gearbox Chief Creative Officer Brian Martel about working with such an iconic IP and why his team is best suited to bringing the essence of the Aliens films to the interactive space.
Earlier in the week, Rocksteady Studios told us that they had been given the creative freedom to build their own ‘Batman canon’ with the Arkham games. Is that what you’re trying to do with Aliens: Colonial Marines?
That’s exactly what we’re looking to do. Fox has been great to work with and SEGA has been a good partner in building the bridges between developer and IP holder. Fox is a little more flexible with the canon than other companies out there, but they do have to be careful not to annoy directors – if you put together a proposition that assumes a particular film never happened, the director isn’t going to like that very much and Fox may have plans to work with them again in the future.
We’re able to introduce our own elements that we feel are right for the interactive space, whether that’s weapons or new types of aliens, and we’re aware that in doing so we’re adding to the existing canon.
What is the essence of the Aliens films?
The aliens aren’t just looking to kill you, they’re trying to propagate the species and take you elsewhere so they can get you face-hugged. That’s the threat and it forms the scary aspect of the world, and then you also need to have the high action aspect. If you watch the film Aliens, there aren’t too many scare moments; it’s scary because you know what’s going to happen if you get caught but it’s action-packed, and to make a great game like this you have to have lots of aliens, lots of stuff to shoot at. You need the diversity between extremely quiet all the way up to high-octane.
What are the differences between creating fear cinematically, in a film, and doing so in the interactive space?
A lot of it is the same, so you’re going to have audio cues that catch the player unaware and you always want to use some misdirection, drawing the eye to one spot and then making something happen elsewhere. But at the end of the day, with a co-op shooter it’s pretty hard to truly scare the player so that’s why Colonial Marines is more action driven. It’s not like Dead Space, which has a fright around every corner, or something like Condemned, which was pure tension throughout.
We could talk about the Aliens IP all day; what gameplay innovations are you bringing to the table?
You’re going to see a lot of growth in terms of what you expect from a Gearbox game that is co-op focused. Obviously, things like the look and atmosphere belong to the Aliens universe, but underneath you’re going to get a sense of something that is totally Gearbox.
Why is Gearbox the right developer to take on the Aliens IP?
If you take a look at our track record on working with IPs, whether it’s Half Life or James Bond, we’ve been true and honest with what it needs to be. We’re one of the best at that, looking at what gamers want and expect from the license and giving it to them.
What’s more important to Aliens fans: familiarity or surprise?
It’s important to have these little signposts or fan service moments, such as finding out what happened to Burke or seeing what happened to Hudson when he got pulled down. But then you also have people coming in who might never have seen the movies so we’re bringing something for everybody.