We started the day with an argument: what was the name of Newt’s doll in Aliens? The general consensus was “Rebecca”, but I pointed out that this was actually Newt’s real name, not the doll’s. Took me a while, but I came back with the answer: Casey. My Alien-geek credentials established (not at all to do with the internet-connected iPhone I had on me) I sat down with Brian Burleson, Senior Producer at Gearbox on Aliens: Colonial Marines, to chat about the game. I didn’t do any quotes, and I think he was thankful for that.
Strategy Informer: First of all the big question: the game’s been delayed to 2013, quite a big delay for an already heavily-delayed game! Why is it taking so long to develop?
Brian Burleson: There’re two sides to this question: firstly, it wasn’t really delayed since we never announced a release date, and we only announce a date when we’re sure we can make it. We’ve been working on the game a long time and we want to make it as good as possible. We’ve looked at all that’s left to do and pegged the earliest date when we can finish it, and now we know we’ve announced it for February – that’s just normal for production. The other side of it is how long the game’s been in development… the funny thing is, one thing you should never do as a game developer is announce a game before you start working on it! Which we did, before the team was even built! We’d just started talking to people like Ridley Scott [director of Alien and Prometheus] and Syd Mead [conceptual artist on Aliens amongst other classic films] and people were so excited that they kind of let the cat out of the bag early. It hasn’t actually been in development that long, really.
Strategy Informer: So what more needs to be done in the next eight months?
Brian Burleson: We’re nearing Alpha, and we’ve already starting polishing, tuning, things like that. Optimisation, polish, and also feedback – we like doing shows because we get a lot of feedback, especially at this point in development because we can make some really meaningful changes. The franchise is so vastly popular that everyone has an opinion, and sometimes they’re damn good ones! It’s important to us that the game is as close to people’s perceptions of the franchise as possible.
Strategy Informer: There have been a lot of Prometheus rumours since it was revealed that you guys have seen the script – how much has it influenced Colonial Marines?
Brian Burleson: It’s kind of a cool story - to go back in time, Brian Martel [vice president of Gearbox] had been talking to Ridley Scott before either the game or Prometheus had been started, and he is really passionate about the Alien series. He pulled out his old dusty sketchbooks full of concept art and Brian was amazed by it, as it featured how the Aliens came about, the technology of the Space Jockeys, loads of cool stuff. We incorporated a lot of those original discussions when we started making the game.
Fast forward a couple of years and Prometheus is beginning production, and Brian jokes that it was his chat with Ridley that gave him the idea to do the film! A few more years and its obvious that the stuff they’re doing with the film is amazingly consistent with what they talked about years ago. Ridley clearly had a vision for this so many years ago, and now he’s going further exploring that universe as he envisioned it. We’re part of that as we understand what the roots are, and so when you see our new xenomorphs and know their entomology it kind of makes more sense. However there’s no direct correlation between Prometheus and Colonial Marines as that happens many many years before ours.
Strategy Informer: Will we get to go back to the Space Jockey ship then? As that was quite far from the explosion at the end of Aliens…
Brian Burleson: Yeah, it was. The ship that’s on LV-426… you might get a peek at that! [laughs] There’s some interesting bits to do there, that technology’s very interesting for people.
Strategy Informer: You mentioned the entomology of the xenomorphs and you’ve revealed the new Crusher already, can we assume that there’ll be more new varieties?
Brian Burleson: We’re not doing anything too crazy, the Crusher’s the most unique of any of them, but at the same time from a gameplay perspective he might not be the most interesting one. When you just see their behaviour in the films it’s a lot different when you actually play the game. When you look at the Lurker we showed in the demo, that’s kind of the alien from Alien, it’s a lot more of a stalker – it’ll sneak around, hide in corners and jump out at you. The Soldiers are the kind you see in Aliens, there’s a lot more of them and they’re a bit different in the Hive hierarchy, on their own they’re not as effective as they would be in packs. So there are differences even within the single xenotype of Alien. You’ll see more soon.
Strategy Informer: So they actually have different AI routines, and there will actually be Aliens that’ll stalk and hunt you?
Brian Burleson: Oh yeah, they might even make it a little darker by cutting the lights!
Strategy Informer: Are you worried that players might get bored just fighting Aliens at all? Do you fight humans or androids at any point?
Brian Burleson: I can confirm that you never shoot an android in this game. They’re expensive, you don’t want to shoot synthetics! Regarding human combat you’ll explore more about what Weyland’s interested in and there will be conflict, but the vast majority will be against xenomorphs. The best thing about this is that the Aliens aren’t a one-trick pony, because the environments make such a huge difference to how they play. When you’re running through this room you’re not going to see much, and how many places can the xenos come from? The windows, the flooring, every corner you turn has some hidey-hole one could pop out from. You get these dark places in the game where you do feel scared because there’s so many points of possibility! Every environment’s different, you always have to be on your feet, and that gives the concept a lot of legs. You can really make some interesting combat encounters.
Strategy Informer: Apart from lacking a Predator, how different is Colonial Marines from the Aliens Vs Predator games?
Brian Burleson: Well they were three games in one, and that’s kind of difficult to do. In a gameplay sense the differences are quite pronounced. As mentioned we’ve got a lot farther with our environments and how we use them with the xenos, we play up the sense that xenos can be very lethal depending on what place they’re in. In AVP they’re just generally lethal but it’s easy to figure out their tricks, they’ll always come at you in the same way.
We’ve spent a lot of effort to make sure every situation is different, and that makes them feel a lot more threatening. If you run through a space and you don’t get this feeling of threat from the environment it’s not good, you need to feel it, and when that threat shows itself you need to decide how to use your tools to overcome it. It’s kind of like a puzzle in that way, you’ve got to assess the situation and make choices – such as “there’s a vent, I probably shouldn’t stand on that!”
Strategy Informer: So you really do need to use the tools effectively? The Motion Tracker in Aliens Vs Predator for example was more for show than of actual use.
Brian Burleson: Hell yeah, if you don’t use the Tracker properly you’ll probably get killed. The tools are exceptionally important, and the Marines that are with you are just as important. If you hear something moving around you definitely need to pull out your Motion Tracker, cause it could be running through the ceiling or the ground, or even the grate behind you. It’s a great tool to have, and everyone who makes an Aliens game has to focus on getting it right.
Strategy Informer: To finish, will the single-player and co-op campaigns be separate and how will they function? Will they be Borderlands-like?
Brian Burleson: They’re the same campaign. It’s definitely not like Borderlands, although we did learn a lot from making that. There’s a lot of areas unique to that game that you can’t really translate to this universe; Ripley’s not going to kick open chests! As a tool to drive compulsive behaviours it’s amazing to be able to loot for stuff, but with this franchise and game it’s not going to work. We’re more narrative driven, and want to make the combat hard and interesting in and of itself. You’re overcoming challenges and that’s the reward.
You can also upgrade your weapons, there’s a little bit of a path you can open up for stuff you can do. You can use the same weapons in both single-player and multiplayer and there’s a lot of personal progression. That makes sense in this universe. The co-op experience kind of grows from that because there are some things you can only do in co-op. If you want to experience the entire game you need to experience it in both single-player and co-op.
Thanks to Brian for taking the time to talk with us. For more information on the demo we saw check out our accompanying preview of the game. In terms of shooters this is the game to beat in my opinion, and that’s up against some incredibly stiff competition. My money’s on the one with the Motion Tracker.