Aliens Infestation Developer Diary – WayForward Explains All

Started by newbeing, Sep 08, 2011, 09:36:59 PM

Aliens Infestation Developer Diary – WayForward Explains All (Read 29,447 times)


Our Q&A with WayForward will be posted shortly.

Ash 937



What's that? Fear? On a Nintendo DS? You'd better believe it and even if you don't we have the good folks from WayForward tell you all about their project plans. In our second blog about Aliens Infestation, the team talks about how they crafted the experience and came up with new ways to frighten and disturb players. Read on!
Level Design and Crafting Fear
Level Design and Crafting Fear

Adam Tierney (Director, WayForward):

So now that WayForward has signed on to develop the Aliens project with Gearbox and Sega...what next?

We'd initially pitched our publisher on a Metroidvania-style exploration game, which seemed to fit the license. For those that aren't familiar with that term, it refers to the backtracking, lock-and-key nature of games like Metroid and Castlevania. Rather than rushing forward, the player is forced to search for specific objects, which allow them to bypassed previously-locked areas, and expand their game world section-by-section. The world of Aliens is filled with memorable gadgets and technology, so it was very easy to come up with locks and keys in this sense: welded doors, xeno-gunked passages, key cards, etc.

We knew early on that it was important to play up the 'hidden passages' aspect of the films, in order to give our creatures a believable method by which they could leap out of the floors and ceilings. So each of our game environments has two areas: the main floors, and the air ducts above and below those floors. Players essentially 'warp' between the two types of areas each time they step through a hatch in the ceiling or wall. By locking the players out of standard paths, and forcing them to hop into these confined, dark enclosures (often barely tall enough to crawl through), we limited the player's options are (hopefully) created unsettling situations.

Aliens Infestation

The other things those air ducts allowed us to do was connect the Xenomorphs' world to our own. In most of our game environments, there are multiple alien Queen hives hidden in between floors, accessible only air ducts. Creating these nooks was a fantastic opportunity to play up the organic composition of those areas, in stark contrast to the more structured, angular environments of the human-built areas. In fact, we even split the art load between two different pixel artists (Mads and Telemachus), so that the two areas would feel very foreign to one another. These hives would play a critical role in the game, in regard to rescuing captured squad mates (but more on that later).

Another critical element was creating situations where the player would lack confidence, and fear what's ahead of them. This proved to be one of the biggest challenges in a tiny, pixel art game on Nintendo DS. Could a 2D pixel game be scary? Was that even possible? We decided to focus on two areas of the game to foster our fear: visibility and resources.

Aliens Infestation

Regarding visibility, we felt that if we could prevent players from seeing their adversaries, or seeing the full environment around them, it would make them apprehensive about moving forward (in spite of the pixel art style). This was accomplished first, and most directly, by occasionally turning the lights out. Many areas of the game are completely dark, and block the player from progressing until they've located a portable light source. Even then, the flashlight (once located) will only shine a thin beam forward, in the direction the character is currently facing. It does nothing to illuminate what's behind or above the player, unless they turn to face in that direction (which then obscures what's in front of them). By limiting visibility dramatically in these sections of the game, we were able to cultivate that uncertainty in players.

Our xeno spawn systems helped elevate that unease even further. Basically, the two primary ways that xenos can appear in this game are: slinking out of the shadows, or popping out from the floors/ceilings. The first approach is a subtle, uneasy entrance. A xeno is wedged into the architecture (as it was in the final scene of Ridley Scott's alien). The player knows it's there...or do they? The hidden xeno will remain lodged in the wall, completely still, illustrated in a way that matches the sci-fi art style of the environment. It's not until the player passes the creature, that it slinks out of its hiding space, engaging them in combat. It was important to never cheat the player in this regard: you can always see highlights of the alien resting in its nook; they aren't totally invisible. But because of the complexity of the environment's art style, players can never be completely sure if something is there, without getting close and checking it out first-hand.

Aliens Infestation

The other prominent xeno entrance is leaping out at players. Instead of having our xenos just standing around, waiting for the player to approach and attack them, they're more often hidden in the floor and ceilings (just as in the films). If the player rushes through an area too quickly, the xeno will leap out, knocking them down and brutally attacking the player as a punishment for their impetuousness. Instead, the safe player must either proceed slowly and cautiously, so that they have (just) enough time to dodge when a xeno bursts out, or they must learn to perfectly time a dodge roll, in order to zip past the creature just as it bursts forth. Playing sloppy and failing to adequately take either approach will result in pretty quick death.

When the player gets the Motion Tracker, this heightens the fear even more, with the player now able to tell roughly where those aliens are hiding, and inching toward them very, very slowly with the anticipation that they're going to jump out any second. Sometimes, giving the player more information can actually make them feel less confident.

Aliens Infestation

The other area of the game we felt we could build fear, as mentioned, was in resources. Nothing's frightening when you can unload unlimited Smart Gun ammo against your enemies. So with the exception of the single-shot pistol, every weapon in the game has a limited amount of ammo (even the pulse rifle). By forcing players to spend their clips cautiously, we're able to milk the action. Rather than unloading wildly on a creature (and risk wasting a few shots), the player learns to fire in short bursts. Doing this, of course, takes longer to kill each enemy, and allows each enemy to get closer to the player than if they'd just held the firing button down continuously. In this sense, our enemies will force players to backpedal while firing (another important mechanic, detailed in the next section). So now rather than tearing through enemies, the player is blasting out conservative rounds, praying that they're got enough ammo and (hallway space) to destroy the creature before it slices them to pieces.

Once we had the mechanics for these elements figured out amongst the team, we were able to proceed with confidence that our game (while pixel and handheld) would be intense. And ultimately, the formula for nailing each of these elements was right there in the original films.
Metroidvania or Lock and Key – Gameplay explained
Metroidvania or Lock and Key – Gameplay explained

Cole Phillips (lead designer):

As fans of the Metroid series know, the Alien films had an influence on many aspects of the game. From the pacing to the art style to even similarities in plot devices, Metroid has always given off that 'Alien vibe'. When we were tasked to design a new 2D side scrolling Aliens game, I couldn't believe it! I've wanted to make a game of this type for some time, and thought this would be a great opportunity for that.

Aliens Infestation

We decided to combine the action shooter genre with 'MetroidVania' style lock-n-key progression. The Aliens universe proved to be an ideal candidate for the treatment, rich in weapons, gear, and enemy lore. Metroid always felt a little more real to me than most platforming games. We decided to add a sense of realism to our game by adding features more commonly found in tactical titles: Slower movement, limited ammo, magazine changes, taking cover, blind fire. I always appreciated the tempo of the Metroid games and thought the same approach could work well here.

Exploring was also a big part of the MetroidVania experience and we tried to provide that same feeling by really making a maze out of the guts of the Sulaco. It's hard to look at the in-game map and not be reminded of the maps in Super Metroid.


And the new screenshots:

Corporal Hicks

Another enjoyable read. Some interesting thoughts on being scary in a DS game. The resources thing was a good idea. Adds some uncertainty to it.

Ash 937

This game made me interested to see if Nintendo ever released a device that allowed DS games to be played on an actual TV.  They haven't.   >:( 


One more entry. But not the last one!

QuoteOur detailed looks behind-the-scenes of Aliens Infestation continue below as WayForward director Adam Tierney discusses the weapons, gadgets and mobility of the Colonial Marines:

The next step toward creating an immersive experience was in crafting a well-developed character that was  capable of physically behaving like a USCM soldier. If we were asking players to get scared, play strategically, and go out of their way to protect their tiny Marine's life, then that Marine couldn't move around like 8-bit Mario (no offense - Mario games are incredible). The characters needed more depth, in their abilities and mobility, to get players deeply invested in them, and also to make them feel more 'real' as they were butchered by frenzied aliens.

So just what can these tiny soldiers do? Here's a list of the basics:

    Crouch walk
    Backpedal walk
    Backpedal run
    Backpedal crouch walk
    Fire during ANY of the above actions
    Fire in seven angles
    Lock body position to fire freely without having to move
    Catch platforms from a leap (Prince of Persia style)
    Climb up into hatches and onto boxes
    Take cover behind objects
    Climb onto objects from a cover position
    Blind fire over an object from a cover position
    Dodge forward with a roll

And this is before we get to the gadgets and firearms. Which is to say, these guys can do quite a bit more than just run left and right. Early on, the idea was to take the standard mobility from a pixel action game like Contra 4, and blend in gameplay elements from modern FPS titles, such as Modern Warfare and Gears of War. Our thinking was that players would enjoying this title the same time they're playing those game, so the more similarities they could find in character control, the more epic these tiny soldiers would feel.

Of course, this wasn't all for show. The added mobility complemented the level layouts we were creating (which took pages from Super Metroid, Prince of Persia, and Flashback), and the aggressive nature of the enemies, which forced players to battle while retreating and navigating, rather than reliably rushing at their adversaries head-on.

We knew that these extra touches would help make each soldier feel important. It's hard to feel any sense of loss when Mario falls into a pit. But when Ico, stumbling as he trips his way up a stone ladder, collapses from being attacked, it's devastating. Through complex mobility, we sought to create more believable individuals, so that when they died (real death), the impact was that much greater.

When it came to weapons, we didn't have to think too hard: just give the players everything they'd seen and loved in the films. There are so many iconic weapons in James Cameron's film, we knew that (in spite of the challenge) it was important to include all of them. Players begin the game with a single-shot pistol and the unmistakable M41 Pulse Rifle, free to switch between them at will. The pistol is the player's constant backup weapon: it's weak, it requires manual firing, but it never runs out of ammo. By the end of development, it actually turned out to be one of my favorite weapons, because of how quickly you can get shots off. The Pulse Rifle operates (and sounds) exactly as you'd expect it to. Its shots can be held to fire continuously, but it (like most weapons) has finite ammo, so conservation is required for survival. Fun fact: there's a 1-pixel red ammo count readout in every frame of animation of this weapon.

Beyond those two weapons, we have the massive M56 Smart Gun, which tears through enemies with incredible strength (but eats up ammo like nobody's business). There's a shotgun (handy for 'close encounters'), which features tactical reloading: the Marine reloads shell-by-shell, which allows the player to interrupt the reload process at any moment to fire prematurely, at the expense of having a full clip. Again, this is where modern FPS games informed our combat systems. And lastly, there's the flamethrower, which bakes and burns apart enemies, and doubles as one of the game's "keys" by melting the Giger-esque goop off certain doors to allow passage.

Secondary weapons include traditional, hand-thrown grenades, which can be used to cause mass damage and blow the hatches off air ducts. Launched grenades have the same effect, but fire straight ahead, so that the player doesn't need to anticipate their grenade's arc, bounce, and detonation time. The last 'weapon' of sorts is the unmistakable Power Loader. Found in the Sulaco's hangars, this mechanical exoskeleton can be hopped into by players to attack enemies without taking damage yourself. Once the Loader has been worn down enough, the player is thrown from it as it explodes. It's a fun diversion that essentially works the same as the titular Metal Slug tank in that game series.

On the gadgets side, one of the first things the player earns is the welder. This can be used to unweld doors that block the player's path (another lock and key). Interestingly, though, it can also be used to weld or re-weld any standard door in the game. This plays a tactical role, as most bipedal enemies are able to open up doors in their pursuit of the player. By welding a door behind the marine, players are able to temporarily cut off their pursuers. Of course, this can bite them in the butt, if they suddenly find themselves pursued by enemies from the other side, and need to get back through there.

The aforementioned flashlight allows players to pass through dark environments, and heightens the game's fear factor tremendously. Xenos are already hard enough to anticipate and dodge in the game, without having your line of sight limited to only what's immediately in front of you.

The barely-seen UA-571C Sentry Guns make an appearance in the game (both in assistance, and resistance, to the player). There seems to be a real cult following around this particular piece of technology, since it was seen so briefly in the film, so we were glad to be able to pull it into the game in a more substantial way.

But of course by far, the most iconic piece of technology in the game is the Motion Tracker. In fact, my bringing it up in this article probably has you hearing those unforgettable blip and bing SFX in your head. The Motion Tracker is a perfect example of how not everything from the source material can be recreated exactly, and still function ideally. In the game, players download maps of each area they're exploring, and slowly fill these maps in room-by-room. Upon finding the Motion Tracker, the player can (optionally) use the device to inform them of any movement in the immediate vicinity.

Right off the bat, we got a fantastic little Motion Tracker interface from our HUD artist (Noe Tsuji). Coupled with the classic SFX, and the device felt entirely authentic. Unfortunately, it wasn't very useful. Our initial inclination was to copy its functionality exactly from the film, so it beeped and caused blips to appear whenever the player approached an enemy (hidden or visible). The problem is that this wasn't a very precise indication, especially in a DS action game, where there's ALWAYS something just ahead waiting to kill you. The gadget simply didn't work that well, but we knew that fans needed to have this gadget in this game.

So what we came up with instead, was to combine the map with the Motion Tracker. As the tracker made its pulses and played its blips and beeps, tiny icons would appear near the player's current location on the map, indicating where there was movement (typically, a hiding xenomorph). The player has their own blip on the map, and this created a very unique, tense dynamic, where the player momentarily shifts their focus from their character down to the map, slowly inching their dot toward the enemy dot, careful not to rush in, and ready to fire the instant a xeno leapt out.

The implementation of the Motion Tracker is one of the things I'm most proud of in this game, because it doesn't recreate the exact functionality from the film, but it absolutely captures the spirit of the device. Like the film's Marines, players will be shifting their attention back and forth between the top screen gameplay and the Motion Tracker readout, with the knowledge that focusing on either one at the wrong moment can result in injury and death. That sense of apprehension and tense gameplay is what we're hoping will help this title stand out as a truly unique handheld experience.



And the last dev diaries are here:

They include the rest of Chris Bachalo's head shots that were first revealed at our website.

Edit: The last 2 bios are not featured in the article but you can find it here:


So between the 6 bios AvPGalaxy posted and all the bios in these 2 developer diaries and the new one ikarop just linked us to, that's all the bios, right?

Also, I especially love the last developer diary.  Very informative.  How many of us are just going to keep restarting the game to keep our marines alive? ;) :D  I might.  Judging by how amped up this game has been, this small 2D shooter for the DS just might prove to be more successful than the big 3D HD shooter by Gearbox that's supposed to be due to come out in 2012.


Quote from: predxeno on Oct 13, 2011, 08:08:51 PM
So between the 6 bios AvPGalaxy posted and all the bios in these 2 developer diaries and the new one ikarop just linked us to, that's all the bios, right?

Yeah that's correct, 20 in total. We posted 9 tho!


What happend to bio number 09....? ;)


You can find the full video walkthrough online actually:

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