We recently got the chance to go and take a look at Alien: Isolation – the new game in the popular franchise now under the wings of Total War veterans The Creative Assembly. We’ll have a preview on it up a little later today, we first got the chance to talk with senior designer Gary Napper and creative lead Al Hope about the upcoming title.
For those gamers who were disappointed with Gearbox’s interpretation of the franchise, how are The Creative Assembly doing things differently?
It’s important to note that this game has been in development for over three years and has always had its own vision of recreating the feeling of that single terrifying Alien we love from the first movie. This is not a game about machine guns and mowing down a horde of Aliens. This is about being underpowered and unprepared to deal with a single creature that is deadly and smart. You are being hunted and that is terrifying.
Alien: Isolation seems the closest the game has come to being a homage to the films. Do you feel pressured by this?
I think we put more pressure on ourselves than any outside influence. This is the Alien game we’ve always wanted to play so we are very critical of our work and how we approach constructing the game both mechanically and visually. We are the first to point out if something does not look or feel right as we are honestly huge fans of the film.
What has been the most difficult design challenge in creating Alien: Isolation so far?
Our greatest creative challenge has been the Alien, it’s totally unique. The AI programmers have done an incredible job at creating a creature that feels like it is a smart and capable, deadly hunter that can stalk around under its own behaviour and dynamically use its senses to track you down.
Have you had to drop any key features as it didn’t fit what you were hoping for?
I have worked on many games in my career and I have to say that this is the first game that has pretty much stuck to its core feature set and not had to drop any major features. We have made tweaks and evolved systems and sometimes things have not fitted as well as we would have planned but all the key components have come together really well
We’ve previously seen how vital the radar is in staying alive and how hiding can make the difference between a fatal end and living another few moments, but just how intelligent is the AI for the Xenomorph?
The AI for the Alien is the thing we have focussed on more than anything else. He is the star of the show and needs to appear as if he is, to use Ash’s words, “the perfect organism”. He is based on a sense system that gathers information in the environment and then uses that info to make decisions and close in on its prey. After that we have a set of behaviours that adapt to the kinds of things he sees in the world and also the actions of the player. He is a pretty hefty piece of work!
What will it notice and how difficult has it been to balance its AI?
It has certainly been tricky to balance but it is easy to see when we have got it right. The first few iterations were far too hard as we made him too good! He became great at finding the player and killing them quickly. As it turns out, that wasn’t much fun. But it was a starting point that we were able to build from and up to the complex creature with all its gameplay depth that we have today.
One thing I noticed when playing is that it is easy to forget what your objective is due to the constant threat. I take it this is intentional?
This is a side effect of the incredible threat of the Alien. We wanted to create something that would always be in the back of your mind. Something each player would learn to fear and project into every space. What is that noise? Is it the Alien? That is something we wanted players to feel. That is what the crew of the Nostromo felt in the original film.
Is Alien: Isolation designed to be hard as nails?
I would say it is a different type of game than some people are used to. We have seen action fans come to this game and sprint around, fire what limited ammo they have and then die as the Alien found them easily. But they quickly adapt and start to gain a healthy fear for the Alien. When this happens, the true scale of the game’s threat starts to be felt and then we see a change in moving and weapon use to something that is more survivable. A huge part of the game is learning what the Alien is capable of and how to deal with it so I would say it is certainly challenging, but no, not hard as nails or impenetrable.
Now the version of the game we saw has a crafting system. Can you briefly explain how things lying around can help?
We wanted to make a system that was believable and grounded in the situation. If we were trapped in a location with an Alien, what would we construct to help ourselves survive? We figured we could make rudimentary explosives and things that made fire or lots of noise. It is these sort of items that you can create when you find the pieces that allow it.
Also introduced in this new version are other characters that react hostilely to you. How do they change-up the dynamic?[/aside]
This is one of my favourite things about the game and also the most dynamic. When you come across a group of humans for example, there are several thoughts the player will have. First off, they could be aggressive or they could be friendly. Next is the fear that whatever their disposition, they might make noise and if they do, that will attract the Alien. I think we have made something special when the player is worrying about a group of potential enemies, not due to the threat they pose, but the fact that they could attract a greater threat!
Is it as scary to design it as it is to play it?
I think we have all been scared by the game we are making at one point or another. We have had large build reviews where the lead level designer and lead artists jumped and held each other when something sudden happened on-screen. Working with the Alien has been a really interesting experience as no matter how well you know him, occasionally he will do something unexpected and catch you out.
Do you reckon Alien: Isolation will live up to the original movie tag-line “In space, nobody can hear you scream?”
We hope so. It would be an honour to be counted as living up to the original film. What we have tried to create is a similar setting, feeling and fear to that original film so to be considered alongside it would prove we had succeeded.