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#SDCC14: Alien: Isolation – Hands-On Impressions; Interview with Developer Al Hope

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#SDCC14: Alien: Isolation - Hands-On Impressions; Interview With Developer Al HopeThere are a million things to do at Comic-Con, but if you’re a fan of Alien and a gamer, all roads led to Sega’s impressive Alien: Isolation booth. It’s home to one giant sized Xenomorph egg & opens up to let attendees slide in and spend time with the game in the coolest setting possible.

After checking out the game a bit, we were able to chat with the game’s developer, Al Hope. Read on for our first impressions and Al’s comments.

Alien: Isolation was running on the PlayStation 4, and the controls were pretty simple. You have to hold down the R1 shoulder button to bring up the Motion Tracker we all know and love. L2 was aim, R2 was fire, pressing the right stick in would crouch, and X would let you interact with the environment (i.e., picking up weapons and collectibles and hiding). Like in Outlast, something tells me hiding is an activity we all will be doing a lot of.

This is not a blazing action game so if you think that you’re gonna be going on massive bug-hunts (which were pitifully presented in Aliens: Colonial Marines), then look elsewhere. This is a true survival horror game.

The level we got to play was a simple challenge map. We had to get from point A to point B without dying. Easier said than done. Trying to survive the various hallways is a lot harder than you may think. The stealth approach seemed to be the best tactic. There were closets to hide in and things to duck behind.

Even though you may not see the Alien at first, you can feel that he’s omnipresent at all times. This is you against it. As the motion tracker pulsates, signifying that the creature is nearby, the DualShock 4 controller rumbles accordingly. Pretty much in accordance with your heart rate because this was some high anxiety on display. When the Alien gets close by and you’re hiding, it’s really hard to resist the urge to run. Doing so, however, will alert it to your presence, and if you’re not packing some serious firepower, you may just want to stay the hell where you are until it is “safe.”

There was never a feeling of safety though, as much like the original movie, this felt like a haunted house in outer space type of experience. Along the way in our playthrough we managed to find a flame-thrower. Even though that’s a serious weapon, the Alien was lightning quick, and before we knew it, it was upon us… drooling… black lips peeling back over its metallic teeth until the familiar inner jaws shot out like a rocket. Fade to black.

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

If this is representative of the final product, we’re all in for a serious treat. The graphics and sound were mind-blowing and the controls very intuitive. Immediately upon exiting the egg, I had to speak with game developer Al Hope to ask him some of the hard questions and dig deeper into what to expect.

#SDCC14: Alien: Isolation - Hands-On Impressions; Interview With Developer Al HopeAgain, every Alien fan who’s played Aliens: Colonial Marines is naturally taking a wait and see approach to Isolation. We asked Hope if there was anything he could tell us to temper some of those fears.

“The honest answer is, we started making this game about four years ago, so, way before ‘Colonial Marines’ came out,” Hope tells us. “Me, in particular, wanted to make a different kind of ‘Aliens’ game. I think games based on the franchise previously had been about the James Cameron experience: Vietnam in space, lots of pulse rifles, lots of aliens.”

“That can be a great experience but I really loved the first film and I thought there had to be an awesome video game there. So, from day one, that’s what we were going to do. So it was me going to SEGA and then going to FOX and saying, ‘Hey look, this could be incredible.’ So, for a long time we’ve been working on this project going in a completely different direction. We really wanted to make a game completely focused on survival and not about killing so it’s a completely different experience. We really, really just wanted to make one Alien super meaningful to the player: terrifying, intelligent, something that actually made you feel like you were being hunted. I think that’s what ‘Alien: Isolation’ is. For the first time a game offers the player a chance to experience Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ and that’s a completely new and unique experience.”

Being that there is just one Alien menace and players are used to getting a constant amount of stimuli in their games, we wondered what Hope’s team did to limit the experience to just one ‘Big Bad’ while keeping it interesting for the player.

“At E3 we announced that we were going to introduce some other characters to the sort of wider world, so the game takes place on a very remote deep space station. There’s a very small amount of inhabitants in that situation. Now, they’re in the same situation as the player; they’re desperate to survive. That makes them extremely unpredictable. Sometimes you’ll come across people and they can be kind of a help and can help you on your way, sometimes they can be less so. That provides a big problem to the player because everyone starts getting jumpy and starts firing a weapon. You can see what can potentially occur.”

“Because they are also unpredictable, they’re using the same core A.I. They’re listening and that informs their core behavior. You can have these incredible escalation of events where you think you have a plan of action which might seem very simple but, in a moment, things can change up and suddenly you’ve got a completely different scenario to deal with.”

“For me, it’s a game about player choice: moment to moment, what are you going to do? There’s some things to collect in the world that allows you to, if you get the right components, build tools and devices which will help you change the odds. If you’re in the space of an alien and you throw a flare and you get it right, it will attract his attention and he’ll move out of the way and you can bypass him without a confrontation. We also have the synthetics that are all kind of basic androids, and they’re way behind in the tech race and they’re very unpredictable. Sometimes they’re helpful and sometimes they’re very aggressive. There are a number of mysteries and stories within the game, and that gets revealed over time.”

In terms of creating the Nostromo and the original cast for the game’s DLC…

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

“For us to be doing this in the first place is amazing. Actually, for this demo, to kind of pitch it, we recreated the medical lab from Alien. We built one and then we smashed up the second one. But, of course, you do that and all the light bulbs start going off and you think maybe we should build the ‘Nostromo.'”

“Our game takes place 15 years after the ‘Nostromo’ goes missing. So, if we’re doing that, we thought maybe we can get the original cast to come and be part of this. One of the goldmines we got was from Twentieth Century Fox; they gave us a huge amount of archive material. For this, one of the most important things we had were the continuity photos of the cast in their full make-up from the front and the side, and we used that original 1979 material to recreate those faces. That really helped us take it further.”

Hope continues, “This whole project has been based on ‘We have to make this happen.’ The attention to detail, the atmosphere, the immersion… for me, I was convinced that if we could get it in front of the right people, [we'd succeed]… and fortunately they said yes. For Sigourney Weaver, for the first time in video games, to come back and reprise her role… I still remember the cheer when I told the team that she’d agreed to do it. It was a pretty magical moment.”

Alien: Isolation is a single-player experience and Hope confirmed that there are no plans to add on multi-player down the road. Given this fact we inquired as to the length of the game’s campaign.

“That’s a really good question and a difficult one to answer, not because I’m trying to avoid it, but because of the nature of the game. People get really immersed and highly involved in the world. It’s a highly detailed world. And also the fact that it’s a very dangerous world means that you can try, but it’s high risk. You go can through the game and replay it differently each time.”

“That’s what’s fascinating about [Comic-Con] for me… you have people standing here and these people play for about forty minutes to an hour but that’s because every time someone goes inside an egg, we have a different entertaining experience. When you’re playing the main game, say you do die and you’re in a certain space trying to get from point A to point B, when you go again it’s going to be different. The Alien is really dynamically reacting off the world around you and reacting to your actions.”

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation is a first person survival horror game where players must traverse a space station in solitude. Well, not total solitude, there is one guest. A gigantic Xenomorph that wants to know what your insides look like. You will need to use all of your wits, not just to succeed, but to survive.

Alien: Isolation will be released on October 7th, a short one week before the new title from Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami releases, The Evil Within. Both titles will be available for PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.

For more info visit the official Alien: Isolation website, “like” Alien: Isolation on Facebook, and follow Alien: Isolation on Twitter.

Alien: Isolation

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

3 Comments

  1. I was lucky enough to play a half hour demo over at Nerd HQ and the game scared me witless. It’s the perfect Alien game… Fully captured the feeling of the Ridley Scott original. I’ll be buying a PS4 just for this.

    • So I’m at a serious crossroads with this one. You’ve sold me on it, but would it be worth it for someone on a serious budget to make this pre-order or are we willing to bet the original cast levels will later be available as dlc? I want to get all my content with a game, but I cant see myself dropping sixty bucks on a game with little to no replay value. I guess then this is just me rambling. I’ll see when the release date closes in.

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