With Aliens: Colonial Marines set to chest burst it's way onto Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U and PC early next year, we sat down with Brian Burleson Senior Producer at Gearbox to discuss expanding the Xeno Family and the story of LV 426.
GAME: Colonial Marines picks up after the second film Aliens, were there many story drafts that you went through and how open were Fox to let you have free reign with one of their biggest franchises?
Brian Burleson: The story writing process is very interesting to make a new Aliens game because the stories in Aliens games, and films, have always been such a huge part of it. And making sure that stuff is right, we really wanted to spend some time doing that. We worked on a number of different scripts as the game has evolved.
Early in production we went through various iterations on how we wanted to do Colonial Marines, we worked with Thompson and Weddle the guys who did the Battlestar Galactica stuff, and as gameplay evolved it actually started clicking with pieces really fun here and really fun there and the story changed and evolved with it, and so the story that we're shipping with is really an evolution from that.
And FOX have been awesome to work with, because they're very trusting to make sure it sticks to the canon and the tone and it's actually a legit sequel and not going off some place really bizarre... unlike some other things.
G: Did the making and release of Prometheus have any impact on where you were going because that is in the past, so prequel, to Aliens. When you spoke to Ridley Scott, did you ever say we're going this way and then he'd offer some insight?
BB: Not exactly, because when we first started talking about this, Brian Martel (Executive Vice President at Gearbox) and Ridley Scott talked about stuff, but this was before the game had even started. They were talking about some Blade Runner stuff back then, but Aliens was the thing that kind of clicked and that was really cool to get Ridleys take on it. Brian Martel is a really secretive guy and keeps promises and all that, so he didn't tell us all the stuff... Still hasn't.
But Ridley Scott has a plan right, he started with the Alien and created this really awesome universe that has all these weird and awesome designs and the technology is really different, for then it was ground breaking, back in the late 70's it was huge. And I think Ridley's always had a vision of where this is going and James Cameron added to that vision by establishing the lifecycle of the Xenos, and it's actions and all that, so you take the horror and add guns to it and it's like Holy Crap, this is crazy!
And it's really fun to take those two elements and make them work together and it's really easy because the creatures and the universe just lend itself to that. So Prometheus is definitely going in an interesting direction, and that's a different thread, it's in the past mind you as it's exploring the engineers and exploring the cool universe things that people like, he didn't answer so many questions as he asked a lot of more questions that were based off of what we've seen before. And that just made the universe more rich and curious and I really want to see where he goes with that as he evolves how that stuff works. And that kind of the theme for Prometheus, Where did this stuff come from?
G: So you've added some more Xenos to the family, did you need to run those through FOX, or were you given full reign to do what you want with them?
BB: Oh yeah we could do whatever we want! It's kind of interesting, because we wanted to create new gameplay experiences for players. And when you think about the depth of opportunities, one of the things that came up is, people, when they are playing through the games and you give them clues of things they can do to, expect and anticipate what kind of combat and what stuff can happen, they need clues, they need keys.
And if you give them just one Xeno type you only have so much to work with, now there is a lot to work with and you can take a Xeno and make them crawl everywhere, as they can duck under the floor or on the ceiling and jump out at you there is so many things you can do with them, there is more to that, and also the universe does have more than one Xeno in it.
Like the Xeno you saw in Alien has a clear Cranium and is a Lurker type of guy who can menace the player, the Soldier that you saw from Cameron now they're tactical but there's a lot more of them and they're going to be running at you trying to tear your face off...
You know what's funny, you never see a Xeno kill someone in the films, the first two, you think you do...
G: That's a very good point; you don't actually see the killing blow until Alien 3. (Although later, we did wonder about the pilot who crashed the dropship...)
BB: Because one of the key things with the Xenos is they want to take them back to the hive, cause they want to make more Xenos, so they may not actually kill them, they'll just pull them off and that's curious because that's a whole part of their life cycle that we started working off of.
And we're going in talking about the Hive life, so all the different Xenos we have in the game will flesh out the hive, they're like ants or Bees, there are different kinds of roles that everything serves... When you start to play the game, you'll see the different Xenos and what roles they play in the Hive and it'll start to make sense as to how they are evolving and what they came from and when you make that correlation it'll make a lot of sense.
And when we went to FOX, they were very much on board with that. We weren't just like "We're going to make Xenos to make new gameplay". Yeah we do, but it also had to make sense because of the Hive, so they dig tunnels, how do they dig tunnels? Well, they probably have a Xeno to do that!
G: Did you go through any of the previous Alien games to find what did and didn't work and go through fan responses to see what they wanted?
BB: We definitely did! There is a great example of that and it's in the Multiplayer. So AVP, that Rebellion did, in their Multiplayer, and even in the Single player you could play as a Xeno. They played it in a very interesting way which was First Person and when you crawled on surfaces, you're camera would roll and turn over. And when you think about it, you're a critter running around it totally makes sense, but when you start meleeing people and tearing them apart there is a kind of disconnect, because you're slashing at someone and you're not really seeing it connecting, so it doesn't feel quite as visceral.
Plus things are shooting at you from all angles and you can't really see because you don't really have a good perception of what's around you. So as a melee class if you can't see around you that's really frustrating.
So that's one of the reasons why, in Aliens: Colonial Marines it's third person as the Xenos and the camera does not re-orientate itself and when you start hitting someone it pulls back a little bit more and establishes a connection between the players, so it makes it feel more connected.
So you can do all kinds of cool fatalities in the multiplayer and be able to see that in full. Because in AVP, you just grabbed someone and inner mouthed them, but in Colonial Marines you can pick someone up and stab them in the back with your tale and there are some gruesome and brutal, brutal fatalities in this...
G: I was subjected to some of them in Extermination... Decapitation and dismemberment aplenty!
BB: There are so many, the animators went crazy, they were always like "Hey, check out this new fatality" and I'd be like "You can't do that in a video game! Tales aren't supposed to go there!" But there are so many cool things you can do with it, because there is the horror element in there and we had fun with that. But you know seeing that being that visceral was really cool!
G: There are a lot of shooters out there, all fighting to be top dog, but if you were to remove the fan base of Aliens, where do you see Colonial Marines sitting against your Call of Duties and your Battlefields?
BB: Well, the franchise just lends itself and has also contributed towards all those games, so you have these awesome enemies that can crawl on every surface, that's really cool and pretty unique. Because they literally can go everywhere and that's a challenge for developers but for gameplay it's really fun.
You have these tools that James Cameron introduced, the motion tracker, the SMART Gun and the Pulse Rifle all these really cool weapons that sound really unique, feel really unique and that really stands out.
But also the Aliens films contributed to the all the space marine shooters afterwards and our idea of who sergeants are, like Apone, he kind of set that standard right? And that was really cool to incorporate into this, and that's what makes this stand out because we have memorable characters and memorable lines, but as a core shooter GearBox is really known for that and coop and those elements so, that makes it very solid for that space.
But when you put on the franchise and the possibilities you can do with that it makes it even more meaty. But we're not just, catering to the people who have seen the film, because we really have to give it a solid base line so we have to introduce people to it.
We don't spend a lot of time lingering and answering questions that have already been answered in the films, we make sure it's relevant for the story and relevant to the gameplay to go into some of those things, so it's kind of clipped notes in certain areas, but that's fine because to new players those parts of the fiction maybe they'll play the game and want to see the film, and that's cool not just to go over everything, we've left stuff out purposefully so that they are curious about the franchise and want more.
G: Did you find you had to reign yourself in from the fan service? I found as I was playing the floor tiles missing where Hudson was taken down and the upturned bed in Medical where Newt and Ripley were with the heater.
BB: So you saw those?! Chris Neely, did all the environment stuff there and everyday he was like "Dude, dude, dude I figured out exactly where this happened in the film because we had the set photos and he'd be like "I just made this in the game, check it out" and I'd be like "Oh my god, you did didn't you!"
G: So, did you find it difficult to pull yourself in because there are so many things you could put in?
BB: We don't really hold back, but the thing is that's not where you'll spend most of your time. And that's also history and you'll move through those environments and spaces because it's part of the gameplay. But it's historical so this stuff happened and it's going to be there and we just wanted to make sure it's accurate.
But we do spend a lot of time making sure that we go through some of those spaces, because it does hark back to those elements but that's only in a small percentage of the game, because there is so much more we're adding on top to continue the story line, to continue the universe, we're not just going "Oh man, we just made ops!" we're then going "Okay Cool, now fight some stuff in there" and it gets destroyed so we're like so what changed there, what happened? And you'll see those elements come up from the films; we didn't go some place further.
G: When you think about Colonial Marines, what is your favourite element of this game, what are you most proud of?
BB: Wow. Um, one of the things I'm proud we've achieved with it is the fans, because there are a lot of people who care about this and know a lot about this and when we first started working on it, we met some guys who Cosplay, so the Cosplayer guys who show up at the shows and they tell us a lot of stuff, I mean we're pretty obsessive about knowing all the facts and little details, but they know so much more because they live and breathe this and it's kind of inspiring to see a group who really care about a franchise and the universe that you're working on hope that you'll do a good job for them.
So we spent a lot of time trying to make that the case, we wanted it to be authentic and we wanted it to be true to the universe and the story and the themes and all these bits. And that's something to be really proud of when you walk away and think "That this is really good"... so that's pretty cool.
G: Our final question is a bit of a teaser going by something that Randy Pitchford said a little while ago. Recently he said that Borderlands could come to PS Vita, providing Sony and someone else could work on it as you guys are so busy. Will we see a similar announcement for the Aliens: Colonial Marines?
BB: You know, I don't know. I guess it technically could, huh, that's an interesting question... because they are really cool things you can do with a handheld device. I mean I love playing on my iPad and Android devices, I mean I have too many. But it's cool to imagine the possibilities and the experiences you could have when you're on the go as they'll be different. So definitely Borderlands has a very interesting edge to it as you're killing things and getting loot and it's really rewarding as you can get something new.
And having it on you, you can be like "I'm waiting around on the Subway (Tube for the Brits), sweet I'm gonna play and see what loot I can get!" So that lends itself very well. And Aliens could lend itself well as there are lots of action bits and context bits that could work... It's interesting to think about putting it on the PS Vita... that is Interesting!