We're big fans of the Aliens franchise at Gaming Nexus so when we heard Sega was working on a new Aliens game we rushed out and pestered them with questions, below is the result.
Where in the Aliens canon does Aliens: Infestation fit? Is it tied at all to the Colonial Marines game that Gearbox is working on or its own entity?
Adam Tierney (director): When we initially started working on the title, we had several discussions with Gearbox regarding their game's plot, and how Infestation could fit into that. The Eve character in our game, who makes an early appearance, was taken from Colonial Marines. But speaking generally, Infestation features all new characters that hold up as a standalone experience. Essentially Infestation follows one squad of marines while Colonial Marines follows another. Gamers that play both adventures will find some satisfying connections, but you don't need to complete one game to understand the other.
What made you decide to go with a 2D game as opposed to a first-person-shooter like Colonial Marines? Were there any classic games from the Alien series or otherwise that inspired Infestation?
Sega and Gearbox came to us with the opportunity based on the success of our Nintendo DS action game Contra 4, so as far as I can recall, Infestation was always planned as a sidescrolling platformer. We also wanted to focus on deep navigation and mobility, which tends to work better in a Metroidvania-style game than in an FPS game, especially on handhelds.
As far as older Aliens games, we were primarily influenced by the films, most notably the first two. We looked at previous Aliens games early in development, and I'm sure the old arcade game had a subconscious influence (it's probably why we included an APC driving sequence). But we didn't set out to, for example, pay specific homage to Alien 3 SNES. I think similar gameplay just tends to arise from similar source material.
Games that did influence Infestation directly include Metroid and Castlevania (obviously), Flashback and Prince of Persia (in regard to character mobility), and modern FPS titles like Gears of War and Modern Warfare (in regard to some of the combat mechanics).
Are you adding any new types of Aliens to the game? How much creative freedom did you have with the game? What kind of access did you have to materials from the films?
Fox, Gearbox, and Sega were a dream to work with. We were provided with plenty of reference material to ensure we could cram everything appealing from the Aliens universe into this game. As for creative freedom, everyone was very open to new ideas, and what you see in the final game is the best of what WayForward, Gearbox, and Sega wanted to bring to the title.
Regarding xenomorph types, we categorized them based on the films. So we have the slow, creepy xeno from Alien, the faster-moving xeno from Cameron's and Fincher's films, with the visual design of the first AVP movie (dog legs). We designed several new bosses and enemies specifically for this game, including a few that prove the Queen Alien isn't the baddest thing in the universe. But I wouldn't want to spoil anything...
It’s pretty easy to get the sounds and look of the Aliens franchise into a game, how are you creating the Alien atmosphere and “feel” into the game?
When looking at the second film (on which this game is most heavily based), we realized that thematically it seemed to follow the flow of a horror/slasher film as much as it did a sci fi action film, oddly enough. James Cameron sets up a dozen or so very interesting, likeable characters, and then allows them to get killed off one by one. It means something when each marine dies, because Cameron makes you love them up until their last breath. So that was a big part of our focus in developing this game: creating believable, funny, memorable marines that players would become emotionally invested in, so that when they died (actual death, no respawns) it hits the player hard. If we'd had generic "Marine #12" instead of the timid Buddy "Brando" Whistler or the angsty Zoe "Cutter" Kennedy, I don't think players would care if they died or not. But because we've developed these characters through unique portraits, uniform colors, idle animations, and dialogue (rewritten line-by-line for each of the game's 19 playable characters), the game feels very true to the original films and gets players invested in their favorite characters' survival.
The game looks action-packed, which is great, but will it also have moments reminiscent of the horror and scares that the Alien series is known for?
Oh absolutely! One of the critical elements was having the xenomorphs come out of the environment in a way that makes players uneasy about proceeding forward. We have fast xenos of the Cameron variety that leap out of the floors, the Fincher variety that chase you along ceilings, and the Scott variety that eerily slink out from the background. We wanted to nail that feeling of uncertainty and apprehension, which is heightened by having dark areas that require a flashlight, offering both a walk and run animation per marine, enabling the Motion Tracker to detect enemies before they pop out, and so on. We couldn't let the player feel too empowered, or there would be no fear and the game wouldn't be compelling.
I've heard that Infestation will have an arsenal of iconic Colonial Marine weaponry. Will players get to wield the Pulse Rifle, Smartgun and Flamethrower? What about a Power Loader? How will the weapon upgrade system work?
Everything you mentioned and more. The game has basically everything you ever saw functioning in James Cameron's film, and a few items pulled from the first film as well. If a marine used it, you will too, right down to the unmanned Sentry Guns that appeared in the director's cut. As for upgrades, there are little collectible boxes scattered throughout the game, typically off the beaten path. Each time you collect one of these, it boosts the strength of your currently-held weapon. Each weapon in the game can be upgraded twice, and the player can switch weapons anytime in the save rooms to level them all up.
The recent trailer says that players can build their own squad of marines. Does this mean players can pick from a selection of marines and make a custom team with differing abilities, weaknesses and personalities? Does squad arrangement affect the story in any way?
The marines don't vary in terms of their actual abilities. I've seen some initial disappointment from fans regarding this online, but it's really the only way to make a game like this work. If we'd made one character run faster, another jump higher, and so on, it would have been nearly impossible to balance the adventure because any marine can die at any time, and (short of a quick xeno rescue) once they're dead, they're gone forever.
The story (specifically, the dialogue) does change substantially based on who you're controlling at any given moment. Once our game's lead designer and writer Cole Phillips finished the base script (using the hero character John "Duke" Cameron), then we all rewrote it 18 more times in each of the other marines' voices. So every time you swap characters, the dialogue changes. Some characters are very dramatic and serious, while others are downright silly - Mei-Lin "Beta" Chau, the game's tech-head, speaks almost entirely in 1337-speak. The overall plot remains consistent, but we did change a few of the scenes (and the ending) occasionally to best fit each character.
How will the controls work in the game? How are you using the touch screen?
All action occurs on the top screen and all interface is on the bottom (touch) screen. I think we've got one of the most robust touch screens on the Nintendo DS, with upward of 20 or so different interactive elements that you gain along your adventure. The touch screen is used to reload your ammo, switch weapons, use tools like the welder and flashlight, check the map, use the Motion Tracker, and other critical non-combat or mobility functionality.
The game's controls basically take the core mobility of Contra (running and gunning), add in some Flashback-style mobility (climbing up platforms, dodging and rolling), and top them off with modern FPS conventions (taking cover, blind fire, tactical reloads). We're really maxing out the buttons the Nintendo DS offers to make our marines some of the deepest action platformer avatars on the system.
Was there ever any thought of making this a 3DS game?
When the 3DS was announced, Sega and WayForward looked into the possibility. But ultimately, the game was made for Nintendo DS and it works better as a DS game. WayForward always designs our games to take full advantage of everything the system they're on has to offer, and I'd much rather see Infestation released as an amazing DS game than a so-so 3DS one. If WayForward was to make an Aliens game for the 3DS, I'd want to take advantage of the brand new features unique to that system, and design gameplay around those, just as Infestation was designed around the dual and touch screens. Plus, this way the game can be enjoyed by both Nintendo DS and 3DS owners.
Is there anything we missed that you think is important?
Nope! We hope everyone enjoys the game! We're big fans of the Aliens franchise and we made exactly the kind of handheld Aliens game we'd want to play. We hope gamers enjoy playing it as much as we did making it. Good luck, soldier!
We'd like to thank Adam for answering our questions as well as Elvin for setting up the interview.