EGM had a chance to sit down and speak with Gearbox Software CCO Brian Martel about the highly anticipated Aliens: Colonial Marines.
EGM: Obviously you guys are in love with the fiction. Tell us how it feels to work on the Aliens franchise.
Brian Martel: Oh, it’s an absolute dream come true. When I first saw the movie as a teenager in the theatre on opening night, I’ve gone my whole career wanting to finally work in this universe and play with these weapons and these characters and it’s just a dream come true.
EGM: Tell us a little bit about the relationship with 20th Century Fox. You guys have had a chance to work with several folks who were intimately involved with the films.
BM: Yeah, I mean first off Fox has been really good to us and to work with. They’ve let us have a lot of freedom with what we want to do and with the xenotypes and those kind of things, but also with the story and how we want to continue as feeling like a sequel. We’ve been able to work with Syd Mead as Concept Artist, who basically invented the future, so we wanted to come up with areas that basically weren’t in the film because Cameron didn’t have the budget for that or didn’t need it for the movie and we were able to get to him and be able to ask him “what did you have in mind for this type of hallway or maybe this kind of situation” and it’s just been excellent. It’s amazing to be able to talk to those guys and to be able to do something that was the original vision for a lot of that stuff.
EGM: And basically that is how this is being billed. This is a sequel to Aliens proper but instead of being done in movie form it’s coming as a game. What’s that been like for you guys?
BM: Well that part of it is really great. Now we get to sit and take an interactive medium and be able to make that part of the canon. Whereas in the past it has just been the movies. So now we’re doing that and it’s like we’re bringing our medium forward and actually making it canon.
EGM: One of the things we noticed straight away was obviously you guys are taking a lot of time to painstakingly model the environments from the film. What sort of things are Aliens fans going to see as far as things that are direct inspirations from the film?
BM: Well, what I think we want to do is be able to think about what was Cameron’s vision for cinematography. We want to have the universe live up to that sort of feeling so you have to use certain blacks and lights and colors and things that he was using in the movies and then bring that to life in a game engine. So that part is really awesome. Getting the atmosphere right was paramount for us so modifying the engine to do that has been a big deal. Then of course using the weapons, being able to actually play as one of these soldiers and instead of trying to make it a new type of colonial marine, this is THE colonial marines.
EGM: Another thing is the tech. You guys really are paying attention to lighting and from an atmospheric standpoint, you can tell you are really going for that vibe that was set in the films. What is the new tech allowing you do there?
BM: Well it allows us to have a real-time shadows and a lot of different light sources. We’re able to do lit fog and particles and what that does is it really gives you the mood and atmosphere that you expect. Then doing things like lens flares and things like that and getting those real lens flares so that it feels like it’s a Hollywood production but at the same time, you’re in it and you’re experiencing it as opposed to just sitting back and watching it.
EGM: Right and the fact that you guys are going to have 4-player drop in co-op throughout the entire campaign. Can’t tell you how excited we are about that, but obviously with your experience with Borderlands you guys were just able to bring that into the game. What do you think that’s going to add to the experience?
BM: Well, I think we always like to have the campaign be something that we can experience with our friends, but most of the time we can’t because of technical reasons or whatever so we’ve really structured this game to allow you to play it as a single-player and have a bad-ass time. But I can also call up friends and say ‘let’s get together and let’s do this, let’s set up our team the way we want, pick our weapons, figure out what we’re going to do, and play it together.
EGM: So are you guys going to have any class systems or specializations to that effect to really enhance that?
BM: Yeah, it’s not really classes so much as roles depending on what weapon you take. If you want to be a smart gun operator you can do that, but if you need to throw that thing down, pick up a shotgun like Drake did in the movie, then you can do that. But, it’s really more role-centric and not class based.
EGM: Are there going to be any sort of vehicles in the game? We saw someone hop in a loader and I’m assuming you’re going to let us do that, but is there anything else along those lines you can talk to us about at this point?
BM: I think you can expect to see a lot of the military hardware you see in the movie. You’ll definitely see some APC stuff, definitely see some dropship stuff, and yes, of course we have to do something with the power loader.
EGM: As far as the environments go, is everything going to be set down on the planet or are we going to see anything up in the stars. What can we look forward to there?
BM: Yeah it’s going to be pretty diverse. Right on from what you’ve seen in the demo, you’re just planet-side, but that will not be our only location. There are times when you’re onboard some ships as you’d expect and times when we’re in other places. Outdoors. Indoors. It will be varied.
EGM: We also saw some new enemies in there and it looks like you guys are going to be able to have a bit of creative license with the fiction in terms of creating new things to bring into the universe. What’s that been like as fans of the series to just come in and help write the fiction?
BM: Well for us to play with the idea of what xenotypes were going to be, dealing with that I think we’ve seen what every director has kind of changed and done with that in the series. Obviously we have the one that’s in Alien, and then we see what Cameron did with the warrior xeno and the queen, so he obviously wasn’t interested in filling out that whole lifestyle of the hive and what that means and how it works, he didn’t quite have the budget for that at the time. So since we’re not just making a dramatic something I watch kind of experience, we’re doing something where you’re playing it. So we have to think about the game play elements of that. So we have to think about what you see with the Crusher. Obviously this isn’t a guy you can attack from the front. You have to find a way to get around him and shoot him from the rear and that’s where co-op play would make a lot of sense or maybe there is something environmental that you can think to use to impact that xeno and deal with him that way. So those are some of the things we’re thinking of with the whole life cycle, but we also want to fill in some of those gaps of what it means to have a full hive.
EGM: We also noticed a lot of things where there are folks getting snatched up by xenos and close-combat encounters. Are those things that can be avoided? Can you actually save your teammates when those surprise flank attacks happen?
BM: Some cases those are done for dramatic license. Other times there will be times where you have to worry about saving this NPC. So there’s a little bit of both in there, but a lot of times you just kind of need that stuff to be entertaining and interesting.
EGM: The acid blood from the aliens didn’t really seem to affect the characters. Is that something that will be explained or come into play or for game play purposes did you guys decide to tone that down a bit because you smack that alien in the face with a shotgun and his blood’s all over you and that’s typically game over in the movies as they say and in the game it seems a bit less impactful.
BM: Well, a couple things I’ll say about the acid blood. Yes, it will play a part. At E3, you’re not going to worry about that as much as we’re just trying to show you all the different things. It’s not going to be something where you’re destroying the whole world and melting whole buildings as it just doesn’t make any kind of sense. It’s very hard to build something like that. But even if you look at what Cameron did, sure he had the acid at the beginning, but he pretty much forgets about it until it makes a lot of sense for the story where someone has to take their armor off or they’ll get burned, but even looking at operations when they’re having that fight, the acid doesn’t really even play a part. So it’s really one of those things where, yes we want it to be part of game play, yes we want it to damage, we want it to have an impact when the liquid hits the environment, but it’s not something that’s going to give you whole new paths unless it makes some sense to do that. But it’s not like everything is deformable because of acid. That would be ridiculous.
EGM: The franchise has had a lot of experience with multiplayer. Are you guys doing anything with a competitive multiplayer where maybe you can do marines vs aliens or is it strictly co-op for you guys?
BM: Right now we’re not talking specifically about what will be in multiplayer, we’ll talk about that later. But you can expect a really good Colonial Marines experience in a competitive multiplayer.