Aliens Isn't About Shooting Aliens

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Aliens Isn't About Shooting Aliens

Capturing a good Aliens game seems like a task in and of itself, now we get some insight as to why that is the case.

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There's also the fact that some developers seem to think that you can only get emotion through better graphics. Which is so wrong it hurts.

Looking right at you, David Cage. Yes I can tell that old man face has feelings, but why should I care? I don't know him, his family, his story, or anything about him. He's just a head with good facial animations.

ive always wondered why no one has jumped on the most obvious part when making an aliens game and thats the colonists fight for survival at hadley's hope.

That's smart. It's one of those things which seems instantly obvious when it's pointed out but I've never thought of it before, you even solved the problem of why the Metal Gear games manage to have stories with much more powerful climaxes despite being full of hours and hours of silly exposition.

We need more ways to get all the before-shooting stuff into actual gameplay in an enjoyable way because there must be a lot of different desires to fulfil in a lot of different types of story and game.

Makers of both video games and movies need to face facts: these are vastly different forms of entertainment, enjoyed in vastly different ways. I'm starting to think that a large-scale failure to comprehend this fundamental point is the reason why it's so rare to see a decent movie based on a video game, and vice versa.

Of course, attempts at making a decent video game based on a movie isn't helped by the fact that most of those being quickly-made, cynical cash-ins forced to be ready to ship when the movie is released, regardless of quality. In the case of the Harry Potter games, this was inexcusable: they KNEW that a Deathly Hollows movie was coming out YEARS ahead of time, and they had PLENTY of time to make, test and perfect a kick-ass game before the movie premier, had they felt like making the effort.

I think you hit the nail right on the head. To The Moon had me more emotionally invested in its characters then any game of 2012 ever did. The graphics didn't do this for me (facial expressions were barely visible and there was no voice-acting), but the fact that I spent time with these characters and got to know them. Thats what made me cry at the end.

Playing a Newt-like role in a video game seems perfect, too. It's survival-horror in the most true sense if you're playing a defenseless character that has to sneak into harder-to-fit spots than even the Xenomorphs can access.

I don't see a problem with trying to make a shooty-Aliens game, though. I can understand wanting to play the role of the space marine. But every time people do, they imitate it in the way a 10 year old that doesn't understand why story-telling works would imitate a film. For example, Aliens: Colonial Marines has interpersonal drama between the Marines! Okay...so...what caused that sort of tension in the film? A group of "bad asses" facing a threat that just wiped the floor with them, doing a 180 on all that machismo. What do you get in A:CM? Debate over whether they leave no man behind or not.

My first assessment of A:CM was that it was an Aliens game made for the Call of Duty player. I still stand by that in some respects, but it could have easily been so much more.

But before that, I really, REALLY want people to stop being so tied to Weyland-Yutani, Colonial Marines (did they ever say United States Colonial Marines in the film? I never got the impression they were tied to a specific nationality and were more like the National Guard. I mean, COLONIAL Marines. Marines for/from the Colonies.)

There's also the fact that in the briefing they mention "Another bug hunt", indicating that there are other alien creatures encountered on other worlds, just none so vicious.

I dunno. It just feels like there is room to expand the franchise. If there are Colonial Marines, what about mercenaries? How about space pirates? Alien 3 making a prison planet was an interesting setting (I'm all on board with Jim Sterling's defense for Alien 3), so why not look for other locations?

The Aliens make for a perfect monster wherever they are. But this silly idea that Aliens was the best film just causes people to be tied to the most superficial aspects of it, and to me only points out how wrong people are when they claim it is the best one (but that's an argument for another day).

As for story-telling, everyone loves the tram car in Half-Life 1. Y'know why the opening of Half-Life works? Because you get a chance to see Black Mesa in a state of normalcy. You get a sense of what life is like there. You get to walk around and see the facility. Then you see it destroyed and watch as scientists who greeted you on your way in are getting killed. Doom 3 almost had this as well, only once all Hell literally broke loose you pretty much didn't see a single living human for a while.

Xenoblade: Chronicles managed to teach the player basic combat mechanics before the game's story even really started as well, but I'm still of the opinion that Japan is so far beyond the West in terms of story-telling in games that it's almost unfair to make the comparison (not saying their stories are better, just that they have a better understanding of how to make use of the medium in terms of narrative. With the exception of some games (Metal Gear), you eventually stop caring about the number or length of cut-scenes because you're actually invested in the characters. Xenoblade's opening is pretty damn fantastic, and I wish more devs would learn that you CAN take your time telling a story, and players don't need to be shoved into high octane combat within the first few minutes).

Excellent stuff as usual Shamus.

"I know that with the new console generation peeking at us over the horizon everyone is excited about the new graphics, but making the world more photorealistic is a great way to make games more expensive to produce while doing nothing to make the thing more thrilling. Developers need to be working on new ways to involve the player in the non-shooty parts of the story, not making the shooty bits fancier."

I watched that PS4 thing the other day. At one point they were showing new games, and one game had a goodie and a baddie and the baddie was watching the goodie on a big TV screen via security cameras. The baddie said "I want him alive". It seemed to me a perfect example of the sort of thing that just isn't going to get fixed by more teraflops.

I always found the first level in the AVP (not the 2010 one) to be the most scary compared to rest of the game, at least on the first play-through.

My memory is a bit hazy, but from what I can remember...

I think that's what's needed for a good Aliens game: recreate the feeling of tension. You can't beat the aliens, so run and hope the other marine can weld the door shut fast enough before they bust through and swarm you...

SouthpawFencer:
Makers of both video games and movies need to face facts: these are vastly different forms of entertainment, enjoyed in vastly different ways.

Win. I think a lot of people compare video games to movies as art-forms because they both involve an audio-video experience, however, I think that movies are closer to books than they are to video games because both movies and books engage the audience in a one-way experience (barring those terrible choose your own adventure books) and video games design an interface for players to interact with. The most poignant video games create the narrative through the gameplay, not through a cut scene at all (for example: Journey, Shadow of the Colossus).

This whole going for "cinematic" experiences is the wrong direction. The real question game developers should be asking is what is the game's core engagement and how can that core engagement be used to create a story (that the developers may not even develop). I've found far better stories out of games of Civilization than I ever saw in a Metal Gear Solid game.

I'll blaspheme here and say that Resurrection was my favorite Aliens movie.

And if you want to see an Aliens game done right check out Aliens vs Predator Gold https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aliens_versus_Predator_%28video_game%29

The game engine was built from the ground up to capture the feel of the movies. And it succeeded brilliantly. The Marine campaign was pure heart pounding terror. The Predator campaign was as methodical and gadget heavy as any Batman or James Bond experience. The Alien campaign was split between careful hiding and and an exhilarating speed-fueled bloodthirsty rampage.

There is no real story in that game, just an atmosphere so thick you find yourself holding your breath. Play the game alone, in the dark, with headphones. One of your most memorable video game moments will be the first time you "meet" a facehugger.

More and more I find myself railing against any attempts at non-interactive storytelling. I suspect that, in part, it's because this generation of games has grown so relentlessly obnoxious in seizing control from the player at every opportunity. But I also get the creeping feeling that the entire idea of it is completely missing the point of the medium. Unfortunately, we have invested so much time in mixing interactivity and non-interactivity that suggesting we give up on including the latter almost entirely only seems to garner an instant dismissal and the usual 'compromise' response.

Hell, we already have Half-Life as an example of how to maintain interactivity whilst getting its talkies and expositions in, so why the hell do we still have cutscenes of any real substance? If you can't do something without wrestling control from the player for 5 minutes, perhaps it's time to you admit you shouldn't be doing it.

Everyone accepts that film as a medium has weaknesses in relation to literature, but it also has strenghts. The very vast majority of people in film play up to those strengths and don't bother with the stuff that's suited to literature. But if you dare to suggest that about games, that non-interactivity of any noteworthy length is an inherent no-no, you're pretty much ignored.

Scariest Aliens game I ever played? Aliens TC for Doom was good, but that was unlicensed and a Total Conversion (what would now be called a mod), not a full licensed retail game.

Full retail? Aliens for the C64. Few games made me break out in a cold sweat like that one did.

Hmm...

And this is why I get bothered by people who liked Heavy Rain but wished it got to the "good part" faster without the hour or two at the beginning that acts almost like a prologue to the game. That hour or two may have felt bland but it gave us a sense of normalcy and lets us get attached as the parent in game. Once we get attached in the game from a birthday party and going to the mall and all hell breaks loose is when you panic because you now care for the kids.

I felt that that was good interactive story telling. Of course, Heavy Rain has been criticized for being an interactive movie and not a game but that is a debate for a different thread.

Batman Arkyam Aslyum did the normalcy thing as well by having Batman escort the Joker into a still functioning Arkham. You get a little bit of a sense of what the place was like before it went to chaos.

I'm wondering why they didn't make the Aliens game more Amnesia and have a player rooting around in a space craft and avoiding the aliens. A game like the original Dead Space would work too. Aliens are smart creatures and they did't seem smart at all in the game; they actually seemed extremely stupid.

Yay, another Experienced Points. I'm hoping that means Shamus is back on board as a regular contributor. His articles have been way too infrequent as of late, and that makes me sad.

OT: When it comes to why games never seem to be able to do Aliens right, Shamus is bang on the money. However, it's also worth pointing out the other reason they've struggled in the past, and presumably will do in the future: sex.

Sex is one of the biggest themes in the entire franchise. The first film is loaded with horrible sexual imagery, the second film takes all that sex and adds motherhood themes, then the third film brings it back to the rapey implications of the first film, and adds pregnancy in there as well.

To give examples from the first film:

I'm sure there's other stuff, but that's what I can remember off the top of my head. Point is, the first film alone has more sexual imagery than your average porn flick, it's just masterfully done, and hidden beneath a layer of subtext. Ridley Scott was able to make a film that not only scared the bejesus out of people, but used clever imagery to disturb, unsettle and provoke the audience. This is something that Aliens and Alien 3 have all carried on in one form or another.

Now, let's look at videogames. How well do they handle sex?

...

...BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

The industry is in one hell of a hypocritical place. Games regularly sell us on the most despicable, violent imagery possible. Everything from chainsawing aliens in half to stabbing people in the crotch. Violence is the most common currency in the gaming industry. And yet, when it comes to sex, the industry is laughably immature. Most attempts to include sex are nothing more than trashy exploitation. The few games that try to handle sex maturely still tend to suffer from being badly written or directed. The number of developers out there who have managed to handle the topic of sex in a mature, reasonable way are a fraction of the total make-up of the industry.

That, to me, is why we'll never get a true Alien game. Because the Alien series demands that writers working on it have a firm grasp on sex, its portrayal and implications, and that is simply something that the games industry has proven time and again it is unable to grasp. If we can't even get developers to do basic romance options or sex scenes right, how can we expect them to know how to masterfully use sexual imagery with the same sense of purpose as Ridley Scott and co? That's like asking a bunch of frat-boy punks to try and follow up a Miles Davis masterpiece.

As long as developers think Alien is about gore and shooting things rar yeah!, then they'll keep missing the point.

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

They ought to be able to make both a subtle scary Alien game as well as a more action heavy Aliens game. I feel what they have not worked on nearly well enough in the past is the AI of the xenos. Create some advanced AI along with a complex level design that allows them to utilize more advanced behaviors.

The playspace ought to look like maze of tubes where the usable space the player has is actually more constraining than the AI's. I would rather have only a few smart xenomorhps crawling around me at any one time then the hordes most developers seem to send the players way after awhile.

Half-Life 2 takes it's time to set the mood and make you care about the characters long before the shooting starts, Dead Space kinda tried to do this to some degree of success, but out of 3 to 4 characters, 1 or 2 are almost immediately killed off, while the other two, while generic, kinda fill in their role. Dead Space 3 kinda tried to do this again and I'd be extremely happy if they immediatly killed off Carver, but the other characters were kinda likable in their own right.

Here's the problem, where is the sense of dread and forboding that you are supposed to get from facing Xenomorphs? Why is the focus always on "colonial marines". Being a Marine in a computer game isn't scary. Being a clueless science expedition biologist or a waylaid mining-ship technical officer is scary.

It would be nice if, for once, the people who made an aliens game didn't immediately make you Corporal Dwayne Hicks or Private Hudson. Why can't we be Ripley (Possibly too iconic)? Or Lambert? Or Kane?

Or why can't we be on a secret space station or planetary mesa that happens to be researching Xenomorphs until a careless scientist causes a 'Resonance Casca'*... I mean, allows a chest-burster to escape leading to 'All-Too Easily Foreseen Consequences'*.

Why can't we live out the terror of facing a Xenomorph without stacks of military hardware?

That's not to say that the Marines shouldn't show up eventually, get decimated, show you how to use a pulse rifle and smart gun, get decimated again, (Perhaps a second team of Marines should show up to "Clean up" the problem until they 'Forget about Freeman'?*) and then after throwing the Alien Queen into the fusion reactor with a radiation-shielded power-loader you get piloted out of the rapidly collapsing superstructure of where-ever by the good-android. (Bad-android sabotaged the communications and the shuttle to stop you nuking the alien hive and you had to kill him in act 2.)

*Half life 1 is a better Aliens game than any Aliens game.

great read, my only complaint is the lack of counterpoints. for every Bulletstorm out there is also a GTA IV with deep, complex characters, with real emotion driving them. even in games that dont place emphasis on "games as art" such as Saint's Row 2, there are heavy moments that affect the player. specifically, gat's revenge in the cemetary, and carlos' death. in fact, for all its emphasis on "zaniness", SR2 is actually a very well written story with good characters.

martyrdrebel27:
great read, my only complaint is the lack of counterpoints. for every Bulletstorm out there is also a GTA IV with deep, complex characters, with real emotion driving them. even in games that dont place emphasis on "games as art" such as Saint's Row 2, there are heavy moments that affect the player. specifically, gat's revenge in the cemetary, and carlos' death. in fact, for all its emphasis on "zaniness", SR2 is actually a very well written story with good characters.

In SR2 the universe is insane which makes the tonal shift between what is said in cutscenes and what happens in game less jarring.

The problem with GTA4 is that in cutscene Niko is a guy with a dark war past that he wants to get away from, but first he wants to get a guy who betrayed him, and out of cutscene he's a complete monster.

To use one of Shamus' more favouriter phrases: This leads to Ludo-Narrative dissonance.

TAdamson:

martyrdrebel27:
great read, my only complaint is the lack of counterpoints. for every Bulletstorm out there is also a GTA IV with deep, complex characters, with real emotion driving them. even in games that dont place emphasis on "games as art" such as Saint's Row 2, there are heavy moments that affect the player. specifically, gat's revenge in the cemetary, and carlos' death. in fact, for all its emphasis on "zaniness", SR2 is actually a very well written story with good characters.

In SR2 the universe is insane which makes the tonal shift between what is said in cutscenes and what happens in game less jarring.

The problem with GTA4 is that in cutscene Niko is a guy with a dark war past that he wants to get away from, but first he wants to get a guy who betrayed him, and out of cutscene he's a complete monster.

To use one of Shamus' more favouriter phrases: This leads to Ludo-Narrative dissonance.

to be fair, Niko is only as much of a monster as the person playing him allows. You can certainly spend the entire ride to every mission driving on the sidewalks, but as for the story, the parts of the game outside of our control, Niko is a bad guy with a bad past he wants to escape. The guy he is tracking is a physical manifestation of that past, and as long as the betrayer exists so does Old-World Niko. as far as the monster thing, Niko might too easily embrace the side of him he is claiming to want to escape, but its all out of his control. replay the game, he is a pawn the entire time, almost never acting of his own volition.

sorry for the double-post but i just wanted to say that imagine a GTA IV where Niko got off the boat to a normal and productive cousin, instead of the slimeball cousin he actually got. Niko could've been an average Joe Applepie. he was a victim of circumstance.

I hope you aren't actually suggesting that Kojima's cut scenes are actually engaging.

As soon as someone tries to make their videogame like a movie they have failed. Videogames are a very different medium than film and while I understand the desire to give a game a "cinematic feel" developers should not conflate that with making a movie-like game.

One game that I think got "cinematic feel", for lack of a better word, right was Xenogears. It had an epic storyline, but focused on only a handful of characters. The characters personalities were explored through multiple scenes and interactions with each other. This never came at the expensive of actual gameplay either, except for the second disc cram session, which was only the result of budget and time drying up.

Story needs to be either woven into the gameplay itself or if it must be told in a non-interactive way then the time that you are watching, not playing, needs to be kept to reasonable and short chunks. Most of the cut scenes in Xenogears last only a a few minutes, except of course that section on the 2nd disc. That is how this type of thing should be done.

Last of all developers should realize that games really, really DON'T have to be like movies. There greatest strengths are interactivity, something movies just don't have. Developers should be playing to the strengths of their medium, not trying to ape the medium of film. That is how we end up with stupid things like lens flare in non-driving games.

martyrdrebel27:

to be fair, Niko is only as much of a monster as the person playing him allows.

That's not really true. How many innocent cops do you kill in '4-Leaf Clover'? Nearly every mission is about murdering someone, most times dozens of people. If Niko were the man he was playing in the cutscenes, so tired of killing and death, he'd stop, he's lay down his gun before killing all those cops, or even the hundreds of proported scumbags that he kills otherwise.

You're not Michael Corleone here, you're a butcher.

This I accepted in San Andreas, Vice City and Saint's Row because the inherent goofiness of both settings.

It's the same problem as Uncharted. In cutscenes you're a nice guy. In game you're a wisecracking pyschopath.

TAdamson:

martyrdrebel27:

to be fair, Niko is only as much of a monster as the person playing him allows.

That's not really true. How many innocent cops do you kill in '4-Leaf Clover'? Nearly every mission is about murdering someone, most times dozens of people. You're not Michael Corleone here, you're a butcher.

This I accepted in San Andreas, Vice City and Saint's Row because the inherent goofiness of both settings.

but again, you're ignoring the fact that he was strongarmed into that position. he had no choice but to do the heist, and the cops were trying to kill him. yes, he did monsterous things, but not because he chose to. if you were forced into that position, you'd have to kill cops too. for a real world example, look up the pizza guy bank robber with the bomb collar.

martyrdrebel27:

but again, you're ignoring the fact that he was strongarmed into that position.

No he's not. There is no reason that Niko shouldn't take the thousands of dollars that the game implies that he has at that point and leave. There is no reason that Niko shouldn't drop everything after the first time he's forced to kill a bunch of people.

He keeps killing, willingly walking into situations that may result in killing, and complaining about all the killing that he had to do in the war while driving to an apartment to pick up some cocaine in a transaction that will inevitably result in him killing.

Yes it's a game but it's still jarring playing what is obstinately a nice guy in cutscene who then has little to no compunction about murdering a bunch of guys at the behest of a steroid abusing douchebag who he's just met.

TAdamson:

martyrdrebel27:

but again, you're ignoring the fact that he was strongarmed into that position.

No he's not. There is no reason that Niko shouldn't take the thousands of dollars that the game implies that he has at that point and leave. There is no reason that Niko shouldn't drop everything after the first time he's forced to kill a bunch of people.

He keeps killing, willingly walking into situations that may result in killing, and complaining about all the killing that he had to do in the war while driving to an apartment to pick up some cocaine in a transaction that will inevitably result in him killing.

Yes it's a game but it's still jarring playing what is obstinately a nice guy in cutscene who then has little to no compunction about murdering a bunch of guys at the behest of a steroid abusing douchebag who he's just met.

i guess it's just a matter of our perceptions. i went back through and did a quick brush up on the insanely convoluted story of gta 4, and i see him as a victim of circumstance more than anything. he was backed into a corner in a foreign land surrounded by the same crazy shit he was trying to get away from, making his use of those skills he'd acquired seem less drastic. as for the thousands of dollars, that is subjective to the player, not objective to the story.

martyrdrebel27:
as for the thousands of dollars, that is subjective to the player, not objective to the story.

Which is Ludo-Narrative dissonance.

Was I the only one thinking about the Walking Dead throughout this? A game that actually gets that for the moments of violence and tension, you need to have long periods in which you explore characters, their motivations and desires, and all that good stuff. At least, that's what you need if you want your game to have a good shot at emotional impact. Otherwise you're just going to have to cross your fingers and pray players latch on emotionally in the thirty seconds of screentime the NPC that is about to die gets.

Perhaps they are going about it the wrong way. When you have a franchise like Aliens, maybe you should go the shallow generic fps path and make it a standard shooter, eliminate the story or any pretext of it altogether. This to me was why in the AvP games, the Predator levels were the best; Hunt, Kill, Decapitate, Time for a cold one.

The beautiful thing about games is, and this seems to be a pretty common thing that a lot of game devs haven't seem to caught on to yet, is that there are no time constraints like with movies. You don't need to hamfist in characters or lengthy cinematics to make people emotionally invested, you have the greatest resource available; Time. Start using it.

Yes quite.
Whenever good olde Angry Joe mentions how aliens is his favourite movie because of the "badass colonial marines" and how he can't wait to see a game about them, my face greets my palm at nigh terminal velocities.
An aliens game about marines being badasses and continuing to be badasses misses the entire point of why the movie worked the way it did.

It is saddening to see that the translation of the movie to a game seems to inevitably lead to halo in dark corridors.

I've been thinking that the best Alien game would be something like a combination of Slender and Space Hulk. The idea of an abomination of a creature stalking you as you're trapped in some kind of dank metal box floating through space... that is inherently exciting a premise, and I suppose it's what made Dead Space so tense. And really, that's all an Aliens game has to be unique anymore - after games like Halo, F.E.A.R., Gears of War, Quake 4, DOOM 3... the "Colonial Marines" bent has been done better.

This is why, I've decided, that despite the Xenomorphs vs Colonial Marines stuff in the AVP games, that they're still so popular and that they work as Aliens games. The Predator is a scary, stalking, invisible horror that is constantly on your back, and that perhaps fills in the void left by the Xenos becoming slightly more expendable. Though, hell, even Rebellion's Aliens vs Predator had pretty great Xenomorph representation - much better than in Colonial Marines, without a doubt.

This is an article I whoreheartedly agree with - as per usual, Shamus! I miss you Shamus. Please don't ever leave us again :(

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