One of the highlights of this year’s late-August Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle was SEGA’s booth, as the company had an impressive presentation setup for its upcoming first-person shooter, “Aliens: Colonial Marines.” For the showcase, it rebuilt a bunker resembling the ones found on planet LV-426, with a pair of soldiers carrying fake pulse rifles, aiming at everyone and happily posing for pictures. Comic Book Resources managed to gain access inside this bunker to see firsthand what to expect from the Gearbox Software-produced project, and also ran into the man we interviewed in July, “Minister of Art” Brian Cozzens, to get a better idea of what’s going into this latest “Aliens” update.
The presentation began with brief glimpses of a devastating accident that occurs on LV-426, leaving the colony in ruins. Crawling from this wreckage are a group of Colonial Marines, who are lucky to survive — or unlucky, as they soon find out. Shortly after recovering, they begin exploring the wreckage, only to find they’re not alone. A horde of aliens is creeping about, hiding in the rafters, breaking through to the ground level and assaulting everything in their wake. The small, confined area where the Marines run into these creatures isn’t big enough for a full-on firefight, and it’s soon taken outside, where an even bigger, badder alien awaits — a huge bull-like creature that charges at its enemies with an almost unstoppable force.
Rather than enage it, the Marines barely make it into another bunker, this one not as ravaged. But the crew is anything but safe, as more aliens seem to be coming out of the “goddamn walls” (as one of the soldiers from the “Aliens” film would put it). After quickly making a run for it and sealing the door shut with a welder, the fight moves to yet another hangar (this one a bit more spacious), where the soldier the player controls has an option to set down a roving turret (a good idea, by the way), which they can pick up and perch anywhere they choose. It can only defend for so long, though, as the place is suddenly swarming with xenomorphs.
It all culminates in a huge battle in the middle of this giant hanger, with soldiers in cargo-loader exosuits (similar to the one Sigourney Weaver was outfitted with in “Aliens”) battling the alien horde. But they’re soon overwhelmed when the alien queen arrives, making a beeline for your soldier, picking you up and finishing you off with her extendable jaws.
That concluded the main demo, but Gearbox showed us even more footage from the game, including random skirmishes in LV-426’s smaller rooms; an exploration area outside a cave, where aliens pounce on anything that moves (including walkers — one manages to even bring one down to the ground in a very brief glimpse); and also what appears to be a final showdown with the queen, who’s roaming around, trying to catch up with you while her not-so-dormant eggs threaten to hatch and impregnate your face.
The demo was quite impressive, and even though some of the footage was unfinished (it’s still in development phase), there’s no question that the team at Gearbox is trying to nail down the same influence that writer/director James Cameron put into his 25-year-old sci-fi epic of the same name.
To get a little more insight, we caught up with Gearbox’s Cozzens for more details as to what we can expect in the game.
The first thing we had to ask? Where he came up with the nickname “Minister of Art.” “It’s just a fun title,” he replied. “I’m the guy that does the art stuff around Gearbox; I work with the art director and help out where I can.” (Side note: Gearbox is also working on some other artful projects, such as the cel-shaded “Borderlands 2” for 2K Games and “Brothers in Arms: Furious Four” for Ubisoft.)
Cozzens then spoke at length about the kind of research that went into the project, making the look of “Aliens” so authentic. “Fox gave us their studio dump, which is their library of all their photos, all the pictures they’ve made, the sets, the props, the actors, the actresses, everything,” he said. “And that helped us tremendously. We’ve also gone through fan sites, forums, read all the novels, comic books…everything.” Obviously, research is important to these guys.
Another item we couldn’t help but bring up after seeing the demo was the characteristic animations going into the aliens themselves, the way they move, attack and so forth. A far cry from human rendering, but Cozzens rose to the challenge. “It was actually very difficult,” he admitted. “In the films, you never really get to see the xenomorphs from below the waist, and so they can do all these creepy poses, but when you start to see the legs and feet moving, it looks like a dude in a suit. So, in our case, we had to take some liberties to make them look very alien and exotic while still being true to the film. It was very challenging, but we’re really, really happy with the results. The fans should be really happy with them, too.”
Characters are one thing, but atmosphere is another. “Aliens: Colonial Marines” has this completely nailed down from what we saw in the demo, from the gloomy outside area filled with junk and foreboding threats, to the interior cramped hangars and hallways, where safety isn’t always an option. The team was quite aware of how important this was to the game. “It’s supposed to be very scary,” Cozzens said. “You want it to have a certain aesthetic that you want to remember. And so we were really pushing for a lot of fog…a lot of the scary movie effects you see in films, we’re trying to bring into ‘Colonial Marines.'”
While discussing the new “bull”-style alien with its charging attack, Cozzens shared the origin of its concept: “As far as a game developer working on the ‘Aliens’ franchise, we feel that we want it to be very authentic to the film. We have to tread really lightly with the designs we embellish onto the xenomorphs. So anything we might do, if we do decide for variation, we would have to be very careful with those designs, be very surreal and not be silly about them.” Sadly, we didn’t ask about any other new alien types in the game, but we should learn more over the next few months.
Finally, CBR News inquired if the project had been shown to Cameron, since it was obviously inspired by his work. Cozzens stated he hadn’t seen it, as he’s been busy on other projects. However, other “Alien”-oriented folks have — including the director of the first film, Ridley Scott, who’s currently prepping an “Alien” prequel for the big screen. “[Chief Creative Officer for Gearbox] Brian Martel had a sit-down with Ridley,” Cozzens said. “He was very positive about it, very gung-ho. We’ve also been working with [legendary futurist designer] Syd Mead, who’s the content artist for ‘Aliens’ and works with us. He’s been one way that we’ve been able to keep some of the spirit of the previous films in the game.”
Thanks to SEGA and Brian Cozzens for taking the time to show off the game and talk to us about it. We’re definitely thrilled for when it arrives on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 early next year. The game’s not over yet, man.