Aliens: Infestation Interview- Building Better Worlds

For hardcore Aliens fans, Sega and WayForward’s Aliens: Infestation is a revelation. For years, we’ve dreamed of experiencing a game that captures the essence of James Cameron’s 1986 classic, Aliens, delivering a tough experience that offers a small glimpse of what it must have been like trapped on Hadley’s Hope, awaiting a rescue (“Seventeen days?”) that would never arrive in time.

With this in mind, I’m proud to say that finally, we have this game. As you’ll learn from our glowing review, Infestation is a wonderful homage to the Aliens franchise, a pulse-pounding action romp through xenomorph-infested corridors.

That said, WayForward did a wonderful job handling the licence, delivering a title that puts players in the combat boots of colonial marines millions of light years from home, where all that stands between these soldiers and certain doom is a locked and loaded pulse rifle (“Feel the weight.”).

On that note, we had the privilege of speaking with Infestation Director, Adam Tierney, and Producer, Jeff Pomegranate, on this outstanding achievement.

Also, be sure to scroll to the bottom for an Aliens: Infestation exclusive.

OK, we’ll come right out and say it. Aliens: Infestation will be the last great shooter for Nintendo DS. What’s your reaction?

Adam: It’s pretty awesome. WayForward tends to leave a swan song or two on most of Nintendo’s systems. We’re very excited for this game to finally come out, and on the system it was originally designed for.

What’s it been like working with the Aliens licence? What does this mean to WayForward?

Jeff: It’s been nothing short of a dream come true. An excessive amount of research is needed for all of our games, and this one was no exception. The entire team enjoyed every moment of it. WayForward strives to bring passion to all of our efforts, but it’s not often enough that we get to work on something that has such deep, emotional ties.

Adam: It’s cool enough to be playing in the Aliens universe, but to be working on a game directly tied to James Cameron’s 1986 film was incredible. I think that pushed us to cram even more “Oorah!” into our game than we might have, had it not been tied to any particular film in the series. A lot of our game’s core mechanics, such as the unique marine personalities, perma-death and the occasionally comedic tone, all came from that original film, and from what Gearbox (Aliens: Colonial Marines) was doing in the console game.

We’ve seen the Bishop “knife” mini-game and heard a rumour of a marine named “Cameron.” Can you reveal some other nods to the franchise hardcore fans will enjoy?

Adam: A lot of it is in the minor details, which I have to commend our incredibly creative pixel artists on. As you go through areas of the Sulaco, LV-426, Phobos and so on, you’ll see little touches like Weyland-Yutani signage, sleep chambers, diagrams detailing the reproductive cycle of the xenomorph, half-dissected aliens lying on tables and in jars. The dialogue is also filled with references, and many of our marines are homages to characters from the 1986 film. So while we don’t specifically have Vasquez in the game, Samantha “Homewrecker” Johnston is our squad’s take-no-crap female warrior.

As far as the big stuff, we’ve got pretty much everything in here. APC, drop ship, motion tracker, power loader, even the unmanned Sentry guns glimpsed briefly in the film. Initially, those act as deadly blockades to the player, but later you can reprogram them to fight on your behalf. We went out of our way to try and ensure that whatever anyone’s favourite moment or gadget from the film was, they’d get to spend some time with it in this game.

Jeff: There are so many nods in this game, we needed a chiropractor when we finished.

Infestation appears to have a strong Metroid/Castlevania foundation. How did those games influence the team? Most importantly, how is Infestation different?

Adam: Good question. Well, we don’t try to hide the Metroidvania influence. This game owes a lot to Nintendo and Konami’s franchises. Of course, fans also know how influential Aliens was on the original Metroid, so I suppose turnabout is fair play. Those titles primarily influenced our game flow: exploring locations, breaking down barriers, locks and keys, etc.

Where Infestation is substantially different is in your marine. We took the basic controls of our Contra 4 game (run, shoot, jump), mixed in some Prince of Persia or Flashback-style mobility (ledge grabs, dodge rolls, climbing onto platforms) and topped it off with a hefty dose of modern shooter conventions. Our marines were influenced by titles like Modern Warfare and Gears of War in what actions they can perform. That’s been the most exciting aspect of the game for me, that you have these tiny little characters that can take cover, blind fire, aim independent from running, crouch, dodge roll, backpedal while firing, even tactical reload your shotgun shell-by-shell. We wanted players to get the same sensation controlling these marines that they do in any modern, AAA console shooter, just on a very tiny screen. I think players are going to be pleasantly surprised when they see how well developed these little grunts are.

Most movie-based video games fall short of expectations. Based on early reviews, this is one of the few great ones. What are the most important keys to doing a Hollywood franchise justice?

Jeff: I think the problem there lies in the expectations. Most movie-based video games are being developed concurrently with the movies they represent. Due to that fact, it’s extremely difficult to get the deep understanding of and connection to the film, which can be integral to doing it justice. With Aliens: Infestation, the entire team already had the movie our game was based on in their top, all-time lists. That simply can’t happen when you’ve only seen early cuts of a film.

Each marine has an individual story that gets cut short the moment he or she dies. How much value was packed into this game? Why will fans replay it?

Adam: Making each marine a wholly unique, memorable character was critical to this game. The reason James Cameron’s film works is because he wrote some of the coolest, toughest, most loveable action film characters ever. If those characters weren’t amazing, it wouldn’t mean anything when the xenomorphs tore them apart. We wanted to follow that model, so each marine has their own name, nickname, rank, portrait, outfit colour, idling animation, and script. Every line of the game was rewritten for each marine. And it’s not just flavour dialogue. You have characters with vastly different motivations, reactions to each situation and even slightly different endings.

As for replay incentive, it’s a fairly linear game, but we think fans will replay to check out the memorable moments again, and to hear the story from each different marine’s perspective. Of the 19 playable marines, four are female, and on one of my play throughs I decided I was going to achieve an all-girl squad. It took some careful playing and intentional marine killing, but once I had them all it was very satisfying. Girl power!

It might sound silly to put it like this, but we think players are going to protect certain marines, and use others as fodder, based on who they become attached to, just like picking your lineup in Pokemon. In fact, we even have a marine roster in the main menu, where you can read the bios of any marines you encounter. That carries over on subsequent play throughs, so there’s definitely a “gotta catch ’em all” sort of mentality to it. Of course, in our Pokedex, once your marine dies their status is forever changed to deceased, and you get a big red X over their face in the selection screen. We take our perma-death very seriously in this game.

Jeff: I believe and hope players will revisit the game much like I, for one, watch the movie anytime I happen to see that it’s on. It’s such a rewarding experience that I want to re-live it any chance I get.

Anything left on the cutting room floor?

Adam: Most of what we came up with made it into the game, in some form or another. Rooting through old files, I’m reminded that we had marines swimming at one point. We were going to have flooded sections of stages that you’d have to dive through. That would have been a pretty cool feature, but ultimately it didn’t fit into where we took the adventure. Next time, maybe.

What immediately springs to mind, though, is the Coolerbot! Keep in mind, this character had nothing to do with the Aliens franchise, but it was a little bit of 11th hour madness we almost got into the game. Since the player spends a good chunk of time navigating around on the Sulaco ship, where USCM soldiers live and function, we had the idea there would be a robotic, walking water cooler that would follow them around, providing refreshing H20. In the game, he would have popped up on certain floors of the Sulaco, followed the character around offering them water, and of course get hit anytime you felt like firing at him. We designed and animated the Coolerbot (laughing the entire time), but ultimately he came in a bit too late to make the cut.

If you’d have him, we’d be very pleased to give Modojo the exclusive, world debut of this futuristic, mechanical wonder. Water, anyone?

Thanks guys, and congratulations on Aliens: Infestation.

Sadly, Coolerbot didn’t make it into the final game, but his memory lives on.

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