Platform: Amstrad CPC, Commodore 16, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, MSX
Release Date: 1987
Publisher: Electric Dreams Software
Developer: Software Studios (Amstrad, Commodore 64, Spectrum), Mr. Micro (MSX & Commodore 16)
Aliens: The Computer Game is a 1987 video game based on James Cameron’s Aliens that was developed by Software Studios (the development division of Electric Dreams) and published by Electric Dreams (which was a subsidiary of Activision). It was released for Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. It was ported to the Commodore 16 and MSX by Mr Micro.
Not to be confused with Activision’s own Aliens: The Computer Game which was released around the same time. That one was developed by Activision themselves. It was published by Activision in America, but by Electric Dreams in Europe. That one was known in the UK as Aliens US Version.
This game is played from a first-person view and takes place inside of an atmosphere processing plant on LV-426. This is a huge maze containing 255 rooms and the player must avoid xenomorphs, acid which spawns facehuggers, while you make your way to the Queen Alien. The player can control Ripley, Hicks, Vasquez, Gorman, Burke and Bishop at any time and guide them to a safe location before you can switch to the next character. or you can issue orders to them via the Mobile Tactical Operations Bay. You can view what the team are doing via cameras on the Marines’ helmets just like in the film.
Ammunition is in short supply and characters may need to return to the Armory to stock up. Getting your character to a medical bay also replenishes health. There is also a stamina level which is used every time a character moves. You must guide them to a safe spot so they can replenish their stamina level.
Electric Dreams was a subsidiary of Activision based in the UK that was formed by Rod Cousins in 1985. In 1986, an in-house development team called Software Studios was created within Electric Dreams to gain more control over Electric Dreams’ and Activision’s projects. Activision was very much focused on the U.S. market and the Commodore 64, while Electric Dreams was focused on the European market and their computers.
Two Aliens games were in development around the same time in 1986. Activision had their own team working on one and Electric Dreams were developing their own. Development began a few months before the film was finished so all they had was the script and the first Alien film as reference.
A full team was put in place for the new game. Mark Eyles was tasked with designing the game while Jon Dean was the producer overseeing the coders and artists. Eyles felt that Activision didn’t really know what sort of game Electric Dreams was doing and Activision wanted to make full use of the Aliens license while they had it. So in a sense, they were hedging their bets by making their own game in case Electric Dreams’ version didn’t turn out so well.
Aliens was considered a bridge between 2D shooters at the time and the shift towards the first-person format. Computers at the time struggled with 3D so they gave the illusion of 3D by using scrolling 2D backgrounds. Once the initial design was in place, they sent it to 20th Century Fox for approval. There were no problems with getting things approved by Fox as video games were never considered to be a big part of their business back then. They were happy to license things out and let them get on with it.
Development on Aliens progressed with minimal issues. Their biggest challenge was creating variation in the colony’s 255 rooms. Memory constraints meant that the number of location graphics was limited. There were some unique rooms like the Armory and Control Room but most of the rooms looked identical. It was easy to get lost as a result so a map was bundled with the game to help players. One feature that was dropped from Aliens was that they wanted to have views from all the characters’ cameras on screen but that was far beyond the technical capabilities of the platforms.
From the Amstrad version:
Aliens: The Computer Game received extremely positive reviews upon its release, far better than what Activision’s version got. Zzap gave it 81% saying it was extremely faithful to the film: “The best film tie-in to date, and a good game to boot.” Commodore User scored it 8/10 saying: “Effective graphics, uncomplicated gameplay, superb atmosphere… Aliens is good, solid, unpretentious entertainment.” The only criticism was the lack of music. Computer Gamer magazine gave it a positive review of 80%, praising how the gamplay captures the tension of the film: “An excellent game of a superby film, both are highly recommended.”