Aliens Isn't About Shooting Aliens

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I would have dropped the single-player campaign from Aliens : Colonial Marines in its entirety, and replaced it with the second movie of the franchise before making it abundantly clear to fans of the franchise that I was in no way preventing a single-player game set in the alien franchise from being made by anyone else. Provided that it didn't support multiplayer, of course. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. Same principle applies here. Games that are equally good playing solo as they are playing online are the exceptional exceptions, not the rule.

This is something Assassins Creed II almost did very well...or at least, it did it well at first when you had to run around doing tasks for your family, at the time it felt a little boring but it made me care about Ezio's mother and sister in a way that I haven't before.

Then the game wastes it when you get to Mario's estate because you cease to interact with your mother or sister at all so you lose your feelings for them. If the game had thrown in periodic quests for them both then it would have helped keep me caring!

Shamus Young:
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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While you've got your mantra, they have their own: "If you find yourself doing something wrong, and it's not working, do it harder." Like if I stop eating at a restaurant because their burgers are god-awful, and their response is to give me twice as much beef for the same price.

This problem of storytelling in games is, I feel, shown very well in Resistance.

Fall of Man drops you right into the action with very little explanation. You know enough to say that this is an alternate universe, some kind of baddies called "Chimera" are around, and it's up to Team America to save the universe again. This would be a terrible plot where it not for the fact that the whole game is built around you having little to no understanding of what is truly going on. Every new revelation - be it about Chimeran technology, their reproductive cycle or just how screwed Britain is - draws you deeper into the mythos. Hale plays the silent protagonist role for the most party (the other characters even joke about how little he speaks) to help the player feel like it's them fighting for survival.
Finally, the 'threat' builds quite slowly. Fall of Man plays its cards close to the chest, with Titans being thrown out rarely, the Stalkers being mostly relegated to vehicle sections after you first kill them on foot, and the really big things being a once or twice sighting right at the end. The game tells you a lot about Goliaths and Widowmakers and so on, yet keeps them out of sight so you never know what to expect until they're right on top of you. It's horror 101: the monster imagined is more terrible than the monster witnessed.

Then comes Resistance 2... and it gets everything wrong. Remember that Goliath you fought toward the end of Fall of Man? The thing so tough you had to steal a Chimeran battlemech to engage it? That's the first boss, and you'll spend the entire level killing it with nothing but a rocket launcher.
Well done, Insomniac. You've gone and blown your load within the first two minutes, and there's eight hours to go.
The game then proceeds to hammer home its idea of what modern gamers want; to be led around by the nose and have their ears raped by an unending string of "do this, do that, walk forward, turn left here, exposition! Exposition! Give me the controller and let me take over so you don't miss this really dramatic bit!"
Despite having more lines, Hale arguably has less character now. I honestly can't tell you a damn thing about him other than *spoiler alert* he goes all Chimeran and dies at the end. There's some piss-poor attempts to make us care about the characters halfway through by learning they had a family in a town that got wiped out, but that means nothing. We never met them, we'll never see them, and they are not mentioned again. This is not character development!
In conclusion, Resistance 2 seemed to believe that "plot" means lots of angry army men growling at one another as they march through a string of ever more stupid setpiece boss fights (the Leviathan seemed, in my recent replaying, a painfully dumb idea). Even as a fan of the series, I find it hard to care about this game's narrative.

But low and behold, Resistance 3 saves us. We see Capelli has a family now, and that all he wants is to live happily ever after with them. But of course he can't on account of the Chimera. The fact that Capelli refuses to go off and save the world is a nice touch as it makes him far more human than just having him set his jaw into the default Manly Scowl of Manliness and stomping off with gun in hand. Because we see his family, it means something when Capelli has nightmares about losing them. The fact that *again, spoilers* Capelli convinces himself they are in danger and puts the mission in jeopardy because of it feels like it's setting up some big 'drama' moment, but it never comes. It turns out Capelli's dream was just that, a dream. I liked that.
Then there's New York. I honestly do love that scene to bits. When Capelli staggers into a radio station and confesses to the world his belief that he is going to die, and how much he loved his family, I was really moved. His last line in particular: "Tell my wife I love her. Tell my son... I loved him." Right there, at that moment, you can see Capelli has accepted his own death.
To me, Resistance 3 seemed to get back to what makes a good story; a protagonist we can relate to, struggling for a goal we can understand. Saving the world is all well and good, but saving the people you love? That is so much better.

The TL;DR version is this: Big explosions and snatching the controller out of my hands do not make me care about a game. Show, don't tell, is the cardinal rule; less is more being the follow-up. The more we learn about the Chimera, the less frightening they are. The more we see them fail, the less frightening they are.

The Alien franchise has suffered the same way; it was frightening because it was unknown. Now, we know so much about the Xenomorphs it's getting really hard to come up with plausible reasons why they don't just nuke from orbit and save us six hours of sub-par gaming...

Let's say hypothetically that the game had:

- Decent graphics. I don't mean the best possible, because that doesn't matter, I mean good textures, lighting, physics and so on. So the game can replicate the visual style of the films well.

- A good soundtrack.

- Good mechanics. Proper motion trackers, weapons that resemble the films. Proper welding/blowtorch abilities to open cut doors (for which many should be available.

- Some real characters, with their own personalities. Ones it's possible to care about, with good voice acting.

I could quite easily spend the first hour or two of the game without any aliens, or shooting if they had the above and used them all well. If they had some decent pacing, some tension, good atmosphere and so on, it could be amazing.

Anthony Burch had a good examination of the problems with character empathy in video games a few years back, mostly the fallacy of assuming empathy works the same way in games as in films or television. (Actually, I think Shamus linked to this same video for a post or article once, but I can't remember where.)

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

I feel like this is one of those "accepted truths" that people pass around without actually examining it. What's a huge inspiration on Uncharted? Indiana Jones. Indiana Jones kills dozens of people in each film (excepting the largely disowned fourth one). Which is small potatoes compared to how many Nathan Drake blows away in a typical game, but for an 80s action-adventure movie hero without superpowers or easy access to grenades, rocket launchers, and other modern assault weapons, Indy is a mass murderer. He never broods about all the wives he's widowed or children he's left fatherless, nor does he ever show reluctance to kill again and again. But no one calls Indy a sociopath.

Indy is a lot more worried during his action sequences, granted. It feels like he's actually struggling to survive in them. I admit Drake could be a little less flippant during gameplay--but he's still a lot better than most game protagonists in this regard. At least he has a personality beyond brooding stoic or burly angry dude that so many other game protagonists of this generation are.

The bait-and-switch of A:CO is a perfect metaphor for how the games approach their source material.

Not just in terms of the horror, but in terms of what made it iconic. Aliens, both in terms of its story and horror imagery, was specifically coded feminine. The characters and the aliens were both rendered with the emotional palette of motherhood. But of course, we can't have GIRLS as the main characters in action games, now can we?

Shamus Young:
If you want the audience to care, then you need to engage them emotionally. If you're going to engage them, then you're going to need character interaction. And unless you want to make some Hideo Kojima-style cutscene showcase, you need to make those moments of interaction part of the gameplay. The best vehicle for an Aliens game - or for any game aspiring for a cinematic feel - probably isn't a straight-up shooter, but a Bioware-style thing with dialog wheels.

I'm not sure if feeding NPCs boredom pie is an ideal solution. But I get what you mean. There has to be a better way to attempt to engage the player with the NPCs of a game than to have uninteresting conversations or have passersby shout the same three or four unfunny lines of dialog until you decided that you'll go for the bad ending instead.

I recently picked up the first Fable from Steam. I paid about as much as I would for an ice cream sandwich and I would have rather had the ice cream sandwich. I really, really got sick of people shouting the same lines of dialog, especially the ones calling me a "chicken chaser." This came to a head during a story mission where I was sent to a village that was being attacked by werewolves. (they don't call them werewolves, but that's what they fucking are) I came to a nice, open battle field outside the village where the gates were locked and several villagers were pounding on the gates to be let in. So, I had to take down several waves of werewolves while defending these meat heads. So it's kind of like Missile Command. Problem is the werewolves had stupid amounts of health and take forever to kill. It could be that I'm just an utter newb with a superfluous nipple, but it took just long enough to kill each werewolf for me to think that took too damn long to be fun or challenging. It was just a chore. Worse, they are single-minded when they go for the villagers. I thought I could aggro them so they'd attack me and leave the squishy villagers alone. But, no. They'd kill one and then attack me. By the time I had two left, I was sick and tired of the whole ordeal and the constantly repeated dialog lines. I walked over to the villagers hoping the werewolf would attack one of them, but no luck. Finally, I got so fed up with it, I sheathed my sword and pasted one of them in the mouth to shut him up. This just aggroed him and I wound up cutting him down with my sword.

The point of all this is that Fable was an attempt to get the player to care about the random NPCs in the game, but this completely failed and had the opposite effect in my case. I hated them and continuing to play the game was putting me in a shitty mood. I quit and uninstalled not long after that.

Craft in involved with getting characters to appeal to the player. Random lines repeated ad nauseum apparently is a quick way to the opposite of that. I don't think conversation labyrinths are much better. I wonder if it would be possible to accomplish this without using voice acting or lines of dialog at all.

"If you're going to put a story in your game, make sure it's worth watching."
This is a good philosophy. Some of the military shooters are beginning to get this with the command chain style orders. 'Go burn that village'
-Sure thing boss.

While the whole story in games thing is a hot topic, I do hope that while weaving their delicate tales the developers allow a skip feature. All but the most moving story is going to have me skipping cut-scenes and non-interactive sections in hopes of accessing the game-play faster during a replay. While games like Heavy Rain are a breath of fresh air, I would not like a stable filled with only games of that nature. I need my mindless shoot'em ups sometimes.

There have been plenty of games which made me cry or frightened me. Some even made me angry and vengeful. But none of them have ever managed to make me not want to play the quest chain again, with one exception: Oblivion, The Dark Brotherhood quest chain.

[Spoilers]

After being initiated into the DB, you complete a number of contracts/quests for two members of your sanctuary/chapter of the DB (there are multiple sanctuaries throughout Cyrodiil, but you only get the one). You get to know the people of your sanctuary, including a merchant and some hirelings.
The final face-to-face assignment, however, requires you to murder all of the members of your sanctuary, in cold blood. Sure, I'd been murdering plenty of people up to this point, and all these people were murderers, but these were people I knew.
When I got the assignment, I considered not completing it at all. I eventually completed it anyways, simply because I obsessively complete quest chains, but I will never go back to that quest chain again. I searched for days online trying to find a way around it, with no luck.

So here's my suggestion: Have me meet some NPCs, have them be useful to me in a gameplay sense, and have them give me quests for awhile. Then force me to kill them for a reward. Don't force me to kill them to advance the plot, though. Make it a side mission. Not everyone will finish the mission, but those who do will feel absolutely horrible about it. It may not reach Spec Ops The Line levels, but it's one way to include some emotional investment.

Aliens wasn't about shooting Aliens, but a game about Aliens and Colonial Marines certainly could be. From what I've seen of the lets-plays on Youtube, Gearbox's biggest error was trying too hard to make Aliens: Colonial Marines like Aliens.

Cameron's movie was about the human struggle, motherhood, etc. al. and The Walking Dead has demonstrated one can make a game about this sort of thing. It's just not the same game as one in which you shoot a lot of aliens in the face. Creating a game that combined these themes might be a challenge some devs might undertake someday, but I wouldn't try handing such a concept to Gearbox. They're good at what they do, but they're not known for being good at that.

The movie Aliens also had a subtext, one mentioned briefly in Ben Kuchera's essay which I think could be summed up thus: If you take a squad of superbad crack soldiers, and put them into a enough of a maelstrom of hazards and without adequate support, they will get their asses handed to them by weaker, poorly-armed guerillas.

This is the topic that would make a great aliens game. The Aliens are in their element and have both terrain and intel advantages. The Colonial Marines are extremely well armed, but are poorly briefed, poorly directed and can't see very well. And at some point in the campaign, they're going to get completely screwed by the corporate sponsors who sent them.

If you added to the above premise ...and only teamwork will save them, you have Left 4 Dead. (Aliens are, for the most part, meaner, cleverer zombies.)

Most of the chaos storm has already been defined: It's dark (or it's torrentially rainy and windy). The world is lit by strobe lights and lousy with steam. The aliens can see through it all and have freedom of movement. The world is rife with things that will burn or explode if shot at too much (Including the aliens.)

Every once in a while there's an egg that blocks your path. Startle it Mess with it too much and it hatches, and then (very likely) someone gets a whole lotta alien lovin'. No fighting them off mano-a-mano, just skitter-skitter, a flying leap and schloop and a deep-throating of xeno-ovipositor. Bow-chicka-bow-bow.

And when the A. I. Director / Queen gets bored, she sends out six more AI drones to soften the squad up (or hurry them along).

Levels are varied not based on monsters (drones, a few specials and eggs), but scenery and obstacles, and MAYBE weapon selection (e.g. no pulse rifles in the reactor core). Objectives are pretty simple: get here and turn this appliance on/off. Secure this section. Activate those guns. Get to the landing tower before the reeactor goes nova. Rescue these guys before they get facehugged. Turn the power back on.

That's a game I'd play for a year.

Gearbox has proven that they are awesome at emulating Valve. Why didn't they?

238U

Irridium:
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.

Graphics do basically nothing for giving a game an emotional impact. Crysis LOOKS gorgeous, but it doesn't make me feel anything. Shadow of the Colossus on the other hand really made me feel something. It's a beautiful game in terms of its art design and aesthetics, but was made using the graphical technology of 10+ years ago. I feel the same about Okami. Okami is one of the most beautiful games I've ever played, and it would suffer terribly without its cel-shaded look. I could give so many examples of games that have moved me in the past. Cage is so far wrong it fucking hurts.

Irridium:
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.

ps I think there's a meaningful conversation to be had about the difference between graphics and aesthetics, if anyone wants to take that up.

I have to say, Aliens actually was about shooting aliens for me. Aliens, Predator 2, Batman Returns, and Nightmare on Elm Street were my favorite movies when I was a young child. I watched them all until my VHS copies degraded, probably a hundred times each, and it never once occurred to me that Aliens was supposed to be scary. A friend mentioned that to me a few years ago, as an adult, and I thought he was nuts. I always just thought of Aliens as an action movie with really cool antagonists.

It's because these weren't Alien aliens, the unknown and unseen killer, stalking hapless human beings from the shadows. They were vicious animals, animals we've seen exposed and exploded, fighting men and women with heavy weapons. Men and women who raked up a massive body count, albeit at a severe cost. Still, they weren't to be feared any more than the Germans in Saving Private Ryan or the terrorists in True Lies, they were to be splattered on the walls behind them in big green clouds of acid. Perhaps this is why I didn't 'connect' to Ripley until she realized they weren't Something Else, they were just things, nasty things, but things, and taped a few weapons together, put her resolute face on, and gave them all the Hell befitting her fellow mortal organisms. Empowerment, not fear, is what I took away from that.

I've never been scared by horror games, either. Another friend once told me that he couldn't play Bioshock with the lights out. Another piece of entertainment I wasn't aware was even supposed to be scary. And why should I? You spend the entire gaming blowing through hundreds of Splicers with your superpowers. That's not frightening, that's tripping balls on an adolescent power fantasy. Hopelessness, isolation, entrapment. Those are scary. Dudes with bunny masks who are drunk and on drugs? Nah. Just shoot them in the head.

Formica Archonis:
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.

that doom conversion still gives me goosebumps. it used sound and voices from the movie to add atmosphere.
one of the best touches was that the very first level. nothing happens. no aliens, no shooting, nothing at all. you get to the final door and "sir what ever happened here is over, the place is dead" one of the first game play/ scenes as narrative ive ever seen

Formica Archonis:
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.

Mad props for bringing up the old Doom TC. So good, and still a topic of conversation whenever a POS Aliens game such as A:CM is released.

Don't recall ever playing Aliens on a C64, though the AVP game on the Atari Jaguar is easily one of the best games on the system... not that that is saying much.

Uriel-238:
Aliens wasn't about shooting Aliens, but a game about Aliens and Colonial Marines certainly could be. From what I've seen of the lets-plays on Youtube, Gearbox's biggest error was trying too hard to make Aliens: Colonial Marines like Aliens.

-Snip-

Gearbox has proven that they are awesome at emulating Valve. Why didn't they?
238U

I really really liked this post for a couple different reasons. As far as A:CM trying to be "like" Aliens I will disagree some with the phrase...

"Could not resist the temptation to "quake" it up".

This is somewhat similar to what eventually happens in the Dead Space franchise, DS3 especially.

Fundamentally the issue comes for a distinct lack of innovation, and baring internal innovation, a distinct lack of ability to copy anything worth while from anyone else. Left 4 Dead would of been an excellent place to start, further knocking off some multi-player aspects of Demons Souls may of been interesting.

Ultimately A:CM is simply uninspired and quite frankly lazy (if not very rushed - serious lack of post production polish). I suspect Gear Box came to this realization maybe a year or two into the project and simply farmed out the product... kicking it around like a can, until someone said... "why don't we just release it around the same time as DS3, and ride the hype train?"

Leveraging what they did have for the maximum amount of return for what was in it... which wasn't much.

As far as this article... I dunno about the narrative being particularly important. Thematic certainly... but a centrally driven character narrative? Nah.

ME3, perfect example of taking an "avatar", Shepard, who has "no" character and asserting character "like" attributes. Not going to work, didn't work, and broke the game.

To have made an Aliens game work, I am right there with you Uriel, it would of have to have been done through smart game-play mechanics which implied not only a ludic loss to a team mate, but a mechanical loss as well. Certainly creating a game with a tremendous difficultly curve, limited resources but with lot's of options, keeping the Alien presence "low" would of gone a long way to have maintained the tactical and strategic threat level of the Aliens during the entire game experience.

Similarly to how 6-8 monsters in a level of one of Souls games may make for a terrifying experience.

Armor chits, plentiful ammo, overly lit scenes... destroyed the theme, essentially creating something not "Aliens". Aliens, with both Cameron's affinity for a Vietnam narrative, and his use of one of two effective female hero tropes (Mom, and Joan de Arc), are simply not represented in A:CM.

Colonial Marines are really corporate soldiers, used to suppressing colonial violence; this isn't a hardened "military". Rather it is a commercial force that has never encountered a serious threat, likely in it's entire existence. To source a narrative I wouldn't watch Aliens, I would of been watching "Full Metal Jacket", not "Star Ship Troopers".

Ah well, not telling you anything you didn't already know. Great Post BTW, very similar to my own conversations with friends on the topic.

It is sad how most games still treat story as an afterthought. Killing off teammates, innocent women and children, etc. isn't going to really affect us emotionally because we don't know them. SUre its sad when someone dies, but without any reason to be attached then when should we care? I couldn't name a single character from Aliens:CM (aside from previous established ones from the movies) to save my life. When one them got implanted with an Alien early on my only response was to shrug and say "Welp you're screwed" and not give them a second thought.

ccesarano:

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.

Their logo says U.S.C.M. so it seems reasonable that they are american, especially considering that they are american.

About the "Another bug hunt" comment I always assumed that it was some space analogue to a snipe hunt or wild goose chase. Maby caused by some system bug.

Finally, the best Alien game was without a doubt AvP 2. It had great story, great storytelling, awesome atmosphere and really adhered to the canon in a pleasant way.

wombat_of_war:
that doom conversion still gives me goosebumps. it used sound and voices from the movie to add atmosphere.
one of the best touches was that the very first level. nothing happens. no aliens, no shooting, nothing at all. you get to the final door and "sir what ever happened here is over, the place is dead" one of the first game play/ scenes as narrative ive ever seen

An absolutely genius move. Played on my expectations (Was there ever a Doom level, original or fanmade, that didn't throw you into the carnage within one room of the start?) and messed with my head quite nicely.

Mullahgrrl:

ccesarano:

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.

Their logo says U.S.C.M. so it seems reasonable that they are american, especially considering that they are american.

About the "Another bug hunt" comment I always assumed that it was some space analogue to a snipe hunt or wild goose chase. Maby caused by some system bug.

Finally, the best Alien game was without a doubt AvP 2. It had great story, great storytelling, awesome atmosphere and really adhered to the canon in a pleasant way.

National Guard is interesting, though the strong visual aesthetic of linking the drop ship to something more akin to a cobra gunship and Huey. The Vietnam era marine gear and tactics tropes the asymmetrical strategy shift during the rise of the combat helicopter. This couples with the marine insertion tactic of operating from a ship.

image

Going with this idea then the Colonial Marines serve the same purpose that military service held during a pre-Vietnam era conflict, of a good job, to learn some skills, and then "get out". Gorman, groomed for middle management, is likely college educated which is where his officer rank comes from. This is a classic setup from the Vietnam era when officers would have (sometimes violent) conflicts with the people underneath them.

It is a similar conflict between management of companies and Unions.

"To good to eat with the rest of us grunts".

The ship is relatively automated and system maintained by Bishop. The ship itself is highly reminiscent of frigate style ships of the 1900's during the expansion of empire by global powers. Burke is a corporate man interested in the bottom line, with Ripley filling the role of an advisory role, also college educated as a flight officer. Al Apone is also likely career and is typical of a trope of the "gunnery sergeant". Burke is reminiscent of the incorporation of warfare within the United States at the time. High kill counts which included collateral damage to capture metrics of effectivity. Kennedy's diary recounts: "We are more and more becoming colonialists in the minds of the people."

image

The military role in this world is similar to a sort of police force, martial law, or corporate political authority projected. Likely the troopers themselves are somewhat trained in civil engineering and field repair. We get this by the dialog "it doesn't matter when it's arcturian". Whats a Turian? Play Mass Effect...

Ultimately we have "mechanics with guns", juxtaposed to the space truckers of Alien.

As far as their military role? The film "Outland", comes to mind as well as the phrase "First to go last to know."

The bug hunt, the cover is that it is a down transmitter. Of course it is revealed through the exposition that Burke noted the coordinates associated with the Alien vessel and that Newt's family "wild cat" the salvage.

It is unclear if the company "as a whole" knows of the Alien ship, or if it is Burke acting alone on information he is privy too during the Ripley debrief. I tend to think that Burke is well aware of the phrase "big company does not care about you".

In that I figure he is there to both "secure exclusive rights to salvage", and "cover his ass/assets". Very much a damned if you do damned if you don't if an incident has occurred.

The real dynamic of the film comes from Ripley herself. She is concerned with fitting in (typical of blue collar work), demonstrates a real sense of authenticity of someone who "while educated", is concerned with the group cohesion. This is a person who "worked their way up", taking a job (in the previous film), that while advancing her career was a tremendous personal sacrifice.

In many ways we need the first film to establish the character at least superficially. The pacing would be flimsy if it was a "fish out of water" trope. The theme is classic in the context of the late 80's and 90's with the rise of women in the work force. I suppose if tropes get "technical" the beauty of the Aliens film is a hero's journey, reversing the fish out of water trope about 30-45 minutes into the film.

image

It is critical in establishing this synergy as it really helps sell the character, and gives the other characters something to work off of. We know Ripley is capable of handling herself, we just don't know if she will get her act together in time to avoid complete disaster. There is our drama and our tension. Only thing left now is management of the tension.

Ripley tells Bishop to stay away from her.

Vasquez white knights Ripley during the mission briefing.

Ripley gets her hands dirty loading equipment.

Ripley demonstrates a very human concern for Newt when Gorman refers to her as "Brain Locked". If I recall the medic is also the drop ship pilot which again pulls from that Vietnam notion of evacuation, also likely college educated.

Ripley overrides the panicked Gorman and Burke during the hive penetration.

Once Alpone is MIA, Ripley is then looked to as the new Lieutenant, giving her an authority over the mission when Gorman is knocked unconscious.

Ripley bails out the team reinforcing her value as a team player.

Bishop is redeemed when he volunteers to take the portable terminal to the up-link tower.

The whole thing is very indicative of a character dealing with personal issues and becoming like a mother to the team.

This plays off the computer in Alien and the birth themes, in which the ship's computer was also called "mother". Hicks and Ripley's relationship is also very interesting. Not really sure how I would call it.

Ultimately we have Ripley "doing things", and the other characters following her lead. Exposition is given during the scenes through very good use of scene setup and fragmented dialog as opposed to long winded nonsensical exposition.

image

If Cameron is anything he is a master of working with theme and mood. Very efficient with the camera.

The big shift between the first and second film was in exploring the terror of Alien life and implied sexual themes, with the security, stability, and ferocity of "mom" in the second film.

The failure of the A:CM game is that of taking the most surface of the elements and attaching a sort of "Cerberus" motive of big company external of the corporate "marines" role. I find it humorous in that in it's rush to retcon the story they do this, in that, THAT is exactly how the end of the 3rd film plays out... with the arrival of the "Black Water" W-Y paramilitary force on the penal colony, which leads us into the 4th film at what amounts to a "Cerberus" base and a Ripley "resurrection".

Essentially the game simply resets the 3rd film, and tells it again in an aggressively lazy way.

Aliens film is protagonist character narrative. That being said, is a game of it's caliber even possible? One with mulitplayer and all the bells and whistles? I don't think so for mostly technical reasons. Though it is near impossible to reverse the fish out of water trope in this environment with a player who may know a lot or next to nothing about Aliens, leadership, leading mechanics... or anything else for that matter.

I can't give a protagonist skills in a game that they wouldn't have in their own work a day world. Have to teach a player how to play in this world at least at a ludic level. Have to learn by "doing"... weird how that works.

The problem could of been approached with a blank slate using some optional paths to victories. Options overload, limited resources, no human targets explicitly, and some extreme difficulty. Some suggestions where a Left 4 Dead, or survival horror genre tap.

I would of steered HARD away from exposition narrative, and set sail if not just ripped off the "Souls" games. Thing is, Call of Duty Colonial Marines is very easy to do. So that is what we got.

I don't think it is so much a problem in development of games, rather it is an issue in game development management and marketing. Writers playing at product development, off the top of my head I am able to think of a half-dozen games where specifically a "writing" choice/princess crippled some aspect in part or whole of a game. The best writing being that of ancillary side characters, the worst writing is that concerned with the primary character or world exposition.

The exceptions being almost exclusively the RPG genre with mixed results. The biggest difference here is having the luxury of time to develop the world and characters that populate it, almost exclusively to some form of the hero's journey.

I can only assume that companies "bother" with the whole enterprise due to some notion of selling "experiences"... or some such rubbish. It's a waste of time and resources if there isn't enough time and resources to dedicate to the endeavor.

The way I see it, they do the same thing they did with the Star Wars prequels.
You take a universe that makes sense, but over time, these iconic images, like a certain gun sound, a forklift, a magic sword and even brown robes become so widely recognized that the sequel mistakes them for a center point of the narrative.

It basically collapses under it's own popularity.

Holy crap Mfeff, if I could "Like" your post I would. That's a Hell of a lot of thought, there.

I played a really awesome "Aliens" game once. It was called "Incubation" and had nothing to do with the Alien franchise, barring inspiration. It had pre-X-Com turn based squad combat (everyone gets one move, then one shoot), with RPG elements (need Heavy 4 to use that rocket launcher) and perma-death... yeah, your guy died in that mission you didn't get him for the next (or reloaded, *ahem*).
The scenario was that you were running security for an embassy/xeno-biology team on a planet with an industrial-era sentient species. You investigate something, which turns out to be the locals gone crazy. Putting that down, you find out that there are other outbreaks... that some kind of disease is spreading through the locals which is turning them into crazy-mutant killers. It all goes FUBAR, but the skill is in the way it goes: every mission is a positive "doing something about it" that underplayed the overarching threat until it was too late to do anything but run, wishing you had run sooner. You destroy a bunch of infected, you create a quarantine, you cut them off at the choke point... you break out after the infection appears behind the choke point, you meet up with the survivors of the other half of your unit (2 extra guys for your squad!), you create a diversion so that the scientists can escape, you fight your way through to the hangar bay to find a shuttle off this rock...

Dead Space (1) does it the same way: turn on the power and fix the tram, break the block on the tram so we can get to the bridge, the bridge tells us that other systems are screwed, fix them or we blow up... with the obligatory "fix the shuttle so we can escape: explode!" thrown into the middle just to explain why you aren't cutting and running like a sane man. Every step was about expanding the capability of the 'our team', before discovering you were screwed before you even tried to fight back.

That's Aliens. Do these things and we're okay! / the things, they do nothing! / one of us is working against us! / dang, I'm lucky to survive by the skin of my teeth!

I haven't played Aliens: Colonial Marines, but I'm guessing that's not the arc they portray.

I think this argument between whether games should be as interactive as possible or that they should be little more than movies with occasional player input completely misses the point. What makes a good game isn't interactivity VS. non-interactivity, but how good those two things are and how well they work together. I've played plenty of games which were cutscene heavy and also had some of the best stories I've ever seen in any media, as well as games which are mostly gameplay with a cutscene here or there that achieve the same effect, but I've also played plenty of games which do one or both of them very badly and thus ruin the entire experience. The best games I've played are ones which know how to balance those 2 aspects of a game while also managing to keep them good. Those games have cutscenes yes, but they haven't filled up the game to an excessive degree, and more importantly, make you think, and at the same time the gameplay is fun and immersive, THAT is what all games should try to achieve.

As for the fact that Aliens games suck, it pretty much for the same reason the movies started to suck, they missed the entire point of the francise. The point of the Aliens francise is fear, you're supposed to be scared out of your mind the entire way through, but with Aliens they started turning it into a mindless action flick, and thus they started to suck. The games however have always been just mindless action, they've never even tried to create an atmosphere of fear and paranoid in Aliens games, and that's why they're terrible. It doesn't matter if you're playing a badass space marine or some civilian, an Alien game should make you constantly look around, peeking around corners, cautiously opening doors, jumping at every sound, all the while expecting to be attacked at any given moment, and finding out that you're right a good deal of the time, but at the same time having the ability to mow down anything and everything you come across. It's not like a game can't have you killing enemies left and right and that completely removes it's ability to ever be terrifying, the Silent Hill series, Doom 3, Dead Space 1&2, Resident Evil 4 and more have all of those have proven it's more than possible.

Get TellTale to make something like The Walking Dead but with the Aliens setting and such. That would do the trick, they seem to have figured out a successful way to do interactive stories.

Walking Dead is a great example of how some game creators have actually learned this lesson. Perhaps the absolute best of them goes back to FF VII. The death of Aeris has resonated with game players for decades. Good characters, Good story, true emotional investment = good games.

Actually, that sounds really good - a horror-oriented Bioware-like game. It needn't be an RPG, but having it occur in an explorable location with relatively freeform gameplay sounds interesting. Maybe something in the vein of Deus Ex Human Revolution or VtM: Bloodlines.

EDIT: I'll have to add a dissenting voice regarding the hypothetical Telltale Aliens game that many here have already mentioned - I'm normally one to enjoy such stuff, and I had high hopes for The Walking Dead, but the fact that it's a point-n-click (or, these days, quick-time-event) adventure made me give up after Episode One. It was like watching a great TV show, except you get pepper-sprayed at regular intervals and need to pause the show to regain your sight.

And, while I'd be glad if they made an Aliens game with similar passion, I wouldn't drudge through a dead genre's carcass to find the bits that are still edible. It just isn't where I'd spend my money, and I do think it would only be a niche title.

Shamus Young:
The best vehicle for an Aliens game - or for any game aspiring for a cinematic feel - probably isn't a straight-up shooter, but a Bioware-style thing with dialog wheels.

You make some good points, but I'm going to have to disagree here. While I completely agree that such a game could be great, it's in no way necessary for a good Aliens game. AvP and especially AvP2 have already shown that an Aliens game can be one of the best shooters ever made, with no more story needed other than "You're a space marine, go shoot bugs". There's also plenty of potential for survival horror, turn-based tactics and various other genres.

I think the problem is that you're not actually addressing making a game based on the Aliens universe, you're talking about making a game of the film Aliens. For the latter, of course you need more story and characters because the film had them. But for the former, they're only necessary if that happens to be the kind of game you're making. A Mass Effect-style game based in the Aliens universe could be great, but AvP2 was also great as a straight shooter. The problem with most of the games in the Aliens franchise isn't that they tried to make the wrong kind of games, it's simply that they made bad games.

I know that with the new console generation peeking at us over the horizon everyone is excited about the new graphics

Really? If you're looking to consoles for advances in graphics, you're doing something very wrong. There are plenty of perfectly good reasons to consider a Ford Focus better than a Ferrari F40, but it would be pretty silly to get excited about the top speed of a new model of the former since it's obviously never going to compare.

It's funny you mention both Kojima by name and his work with cutscenes. Because reading your article smacked me with a realization straight out of MGS2. What if we started an aliens game as ANOTHER GAME? I don't know if you'd want to pull a fake out like MGS2 did, but you'd need time to know who you are and such before senior Xenomorph pops up, and you need to take a level in badass to survive.

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