Interview: 'Aliens: Colonial Marines' Design Director on the Legacy, 'Prometheus' and Making a Modern Game

Interview: 'Aliens: Colonial Marines' Design Director on the Legacy, 'Prometheus' and Making a Modern Game

Next to Duke Nukem Forever, Aliens: Colonial Marines has had probably the longest development cycle of any game that's actually come to market. It was announced for the first time in 2006, when the gaming industry was much different from how it is today. Since then there have been plenty of ups and downs, new reveals and delayed release dates. Yet coming to market it is—tomorrow, in fact.

We relished the chance to pick the brain of John Mulkey, design director on Aliens: Colonial Marines, who said he's been thrilled to be able to add to the expansive universe of the Alien fiction—the game is canon along with the rest of the series, after all.

But how exactly does it fit in? Are there any connections with the mysterious Prometheus, the prequel-that's-not-a-prequel? Is Gearbox worried about a game that's been in development for seven years feeling dated? That pretty much sums up Duke Nukem, which, strangely, was ultimately completed by Gearbox as well. We had to ask, so now we've got answers below.

Complex: So are you a fan of the Alien franchise?

Mulkey: Oh, god, yeah. Quite a fan.

How does Aliens: Colonial Marines fit in with the whole universe of lore?

Aliens: Colonial Marines is the canonical sequel to Aliens. So we're going to take up with that storyline. In the timeline, it actually takes place after the events of Alien 3. We go back and we revisit LV-426 and we find some unexpected things going on there.

So it's set after the third movie but really it's the sequel to the second movie.

Yeah. Myself, and being included just as a fan, it's like, the thing that you wanted to see continued was the James Cameron vision of Aliens. It was, you know—Alien 3 has some interesting things going on, but it's definitely a departure from what James had set up. And we were excited about that idea, you know—taking those kinds of elements, all the weaponry and the gear and the whole attitude, you know, and all that—becoming a Colonial Marine—that was what we were really excited about. So we wanted to return to that presentation and that period and continue onward from that. We felt that that would be the most exciting thing, and the thing that the fans would want most.

So what kind of things from the films did you draw from and include in Colonial Marines?

From the franchise, the recognizable characters that are making a return are Bishop, Hudson, Hicks, Drake, and Apone, are all coming back from the original. Most of those characters are going to be playable in the multiplayer presentation (the competitive multiplayer) but we—specifically, we got Lance Henriksen to come back in and voice Bishop in the campaign narrative, which is pretty amazing. Pretty exciting.

Is it weird not focusing on Ripley?

Well, I mean, the game takes place after Alien 3, so at this point Ripley's dead.

Yeah, but is it weird making something in the spirit of that particular film, Aliens, without her?

Not really. I mean, we're looking at focusing on the idea of the Xenomorphs themselves as the, you know, kind of the ultimate antagonist. And the idea of that fantasy for someone, of being able to step into the shoes of the Colonial Marines and be one of those marines and experience that, you know—be that guy, use that gear, and go to those places—we're really pushing on that.

Were you excited about being able to add to the fiction of the Alien universe?

Yeah, it's pretty cool that you get to add new characters to the canon of Aliens. That's pretty darn exciting. Yeah, we took the approach of looking at it from both the idea of what would be cool from a gameplay experience—you know, what would we want to do to add variety and to be fun as an experience—an interactive experience—but then we also looked at it from just the fictional side, you know? What would be the form of new aliens that would be added to the canon, and why? We really looked at the idea of the whole hive presentation and hive mentality, you know? The aliens that we created and the new aliens that we added to the franchise, they all have roles that they play in this sort of hive ecosystem. And then it just, you know, just so happens that those particular roles and the characteristics of those roles make them formidable enemies, you know? So we approached it both from the fiction standpoint, to make it really compelling within the story and the narrative, but then also, you know, ensuring that it's going to be a cool character that adds to the experience.

Can you talk about those?

Sure. One of the characters is the Crusher. We've got this giant, huge Xeno that's like the size of a rhinoceros, and you know, just a giant pile of muscle. He has this huge head, this huge crown on his head, that's essentially impervious to bullets, you know? His role in the hive is he's a digger. He's the one that digs a lot of the tunnels and caves for the hive. And he's just a bulldozer, you know? You get out of his way. He's a very difficult enemy because of the idea of the bulletproof nature of his face. So you have to really try to get into flanking positions, use distractions, that kind of stuff to defeat him. It's pretty cool.

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