Gearbox Software has been working on Aliens: Colonial Marines for a good long while now, and it promises to be one of the more intense and horrific shooters of 2013. We spoke with Level Design Director Graeme Timmins about what fans can expect from Gearbox’s upcoming alien assault.
What’s the plot of Colonial Marines? How does it fit into the Alien universe?
Colonial Marines picks up after the events of Aliens and Alien 3. Playing Corporal Winter, players meet up with a new cast of marines, who embark on a rescue mission to find out what happened to the Sulaco and the squad sent to LV-426 (they pick up the distress call set out in the movie). From the Sulaco, players eventually make their way to the planet to reclaim what’s left of Hadleys Hope, and eventually investigate what Weyland-Yutani’s interests are on the planet.
Word is that you’re incorporating a lot of unused material from the film series into the game. How much of Colonial Marines does this make up?
While working on the project, FOX provided us with all kinds of great reference material from the films. In particular, they supplied us with lots of concept art that was drawn by Sid Mead for the Sulaco. A lot of it didn’t make it into the film, so players will get a chance to see even more of the Sulaco, for example.
Have 20th Century Fox and the Alien creative teams had much involvement?
FOX worked really hard with us on all aspects of the game. They provided all kinds of great guidance on the script, to make sure that we stayed true to the film franchise. After all, Aliens: Colonial Marines is considered canon by FOX so we had to make sure that everything is tightly woven into the canonical universe.
Alien films have always been as much about memorable characters as fighting space horrors. Will we see this in Colonial Marines?
Colonial Marines is a very character driven game. Mikey Neumann wrote a whole new cast of characters that players get to experience the game with. Players assume the role of Winter, a hardened badass of the Corp. Along the way players meet a great cast of characters who all have to work together to survive. We also got Lance Henriksen and Michael Biehn to reprise their roles from the film.
Was it a challenge taking on one of the most recognisable nasties in pop culture?
It wasn’t easy. Our Art Director, Brian Cozzens studied the films and worked diligently with Fox and his artists to make the most realistic recreation of the Xeno in an Aliens game so far. Once the model was made, animation took over to recreate the movement of the Xenos from the film. Animation had to create all kinds of animations to make sure the Xenos looked as though they were slithering through the environment smoothly and purposefully. Finally, the engineering team and level designers had to create all kinds of tech to get Xenos to path over all the different surfaces in the game.
Videos have shown the new Crusher alien. Where did that come from, and are there any more new creatures in store for us?
Working with FOX, John Mulkey, the director on the project, came up with some interesting new Xeno types that were not seen in the movie. The Crusher is just one example from a number of ones we have throughout the campaign. We wanted to give players something new they hadn’t seen before. These new Xeno types really keep you on your toes!
Others we have revealed so far are the Lurker, which resembles the Xeno depicted in the first movie, the Spitter and the Boiler. The Spitter has a ranged attack where it spits rounds of deadly acid at its enemy, whereas the boiler is blind and covered in acid pustules and will explode into a deadly blast of acid suicide-style.
What has changed the most since that first announcement so long ago?
A lot of things got iterated on over the course of the development, the biggest and most noticeable one is the tech. The rendering engine is completely new and custom. Light and shadow is so important to this franchise, so we went ahead and created a home grown deferred render over the amazing Unreal engine. The new rendering engine allows us to recreate the atmosphere of Aliens in a way wouldn’t have been able to before.
How does the co-op work in the game? It must be difficult to keep things scary when you’ve got a few buddies – or strangers – chatting in your ear.
Sure, when playing the game in co-op, the tone changes to be a little more action based, and the game’s difficulty obviously adapts to the number of players playing. That isn’t to say there isn’t some genuinely tense moments in the game you get to share with your friends. There is a particular section about half way through the game that will keep you and your buddies on your toes, and it features one of those new Xenos I mentioned earlier.
Some people have expressed concern about the 4-on-4 multiplayer. Will you be keeping the Xenomorphs as powerful in this mode?
Balance is always harder when you’re working with an asymmetrical design. Our in house focus test team has provided us with all kinds of great data for multiplayer balance. Balancing the marines that have all long distance weapons, to Xenos that are all primarily melee based is difficult, but not impossible! I think we’ve done a fantastic job of making the Xeno team stay intimidating and powerful, but provide the marine team plenty of firepower to even the battle field. Of course post release we will also monitor the feedback from our community and make adjustments as necessary.
How do you feel the game will be received by fans and gamers?
There is a ton of fan service in the game for all those super fans that follow the franchise as closely as we do. If you scour over the levels, you’ll find all kind of references to the film. What’s great though, you don’t have to be a big fan of the franchise to love the game. We worked hard to make this game stand on its own as great FPS, a game that gives people with an exciting ride beginning to end.
Aliens: Colonial Marines will hit stores next week for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.