Corporal Hicks – You guys have often spoken about how technological improvements have been vital in creating Aliens vs Predator. What improvements in particular, like tessellation and dynamic shadowing?
Alex Moore – The tech side of it, the first AvP was very atmospheric in the lighting in that it was fully dynamic therefore we couldn’t do a AvP game with static lighting. So making sure we could push that forwards, getting shadows in there, getting all the materials on the characters, on the environments, to create the Hive. It does look pretty damn close to the film.
The vision modes and the DSPs (http://www.cheap56k.com/glossary/DSP.html) that are going on with the sound effects…You get a better idea of special awareness. It just helps bring you in. If you’ve got a decent sound kit at home…It’s that kinda advancements that help.
The characters have got an IK [inverse kinematics] solution. So what that means is that these guys’ll animate to a certain threshold and then the code will then put the feet down onto the actual ground and orientate it. So that allows us to have simple geometry underneath. For the Alien to get around you got to have very specific rules and a lot more complicated detail geometry like steps and the characters will step on them properly instead of just floating.
For mega-techno wordy stuff, the Alien tail uses a semi-rigid ragdoll IK solution. In layman’s terms there are animations on the Alien tail that set the rough position, but once the Alien is moving it’s then under code control, which means that if the Alien quickly changes direction (which it does a lot) the tail naturally glides towards the new position. It looks amazing
It’s all about connectivity, connecting with the world and really making it feel like it exists.
Corporal Hicks – From what I understand, none of the platforms are ports? All were developed from the ground up independently? How does that work?
Alex Moore – Asura, our in house engine, is cross platform. It’s developed on PC, therefore it works on a PC. Then we aim at the consoles as much as possible. We knew from the offset this was a 360 and PS3 title because that’s where the money is, that’s where the big sales are. Call of Duty was selling 6 million in the first month. You can’t laugh at those numbers. Even Assassin’s Creed is getting to 2 million. Those sort of numbers is where the funding for projects this size come from. So we aim at that, making sure it well on the consoles, getting the control schemes working and I think we’ve done a really good job of that.
And then the PC. We all come from PC backgrounds. The PC is still dear to our heart and with DX11, we really wanna push it forward because there is a lot of interest there and that’s where a lot of fanboy generation started but primarily it’s more focused on the consoles.
Corporal Hicks – The weaponry in the game that didn’t come from the movies, where did you go for inspiration for the designs? Did you use the Colonial Marines Technical Manual at all?
Tim Jones – Indeed. The guy who actually wrote the Marines Technical Manual originally worked at Rebellion. He’d left before I started. We certainly take inspiration from there and that’s filtered into the general wider expanded universe. A little bit has come from the needs of the game and the mechanics that we thought we needed to expand the toolsets of each species. We were keen to retain the iconic weaponry that people love from the movies and the games. The smartgun, flame-thrower, shotgun, the pistol. They’re all well represented in the game.
Paul Mackman – It’s fair to say the motherload of our main staple of weapons for the marines are routed in Aliens.
Tim Jones – We’ve added the scoped rifle to that which is a fairly traditional kind of mechanic for a first person game. We endevoured to make sure that it was asthetically constistant with the rest of the universe. It gave us a different mechanic, a different kind of weapon to the others…
Corporal Hicks – Even the little bits as well, like the name of the pistol…The one in the film was the VP70 and the one is this is the VP78…
Paul Mackman – We took base names and advanced them which names sense as we’re about 30 years on.
Tim Jones – It’s nice to have those little touches in there. It might just be a name or serial numbers on a gun but it’s nice to be able to nod to those kinds of things for those kinds of people that really notice that stuff and obsess about it as much as we do. It should bring a little smile to their faces, knowing that we care about it.
Corporal Hicks – Now we’re seen that you’ve including extras for players to go around the campaigns and find… the audio files for example. Could you give us some detail about those?
Alex Moore – Audio diaries are hallmarks of the AvP license. They were on the Jaguar version. It’s one of those nice ways of getting the background to how things were before the player got there, adding character thoughts, giving more dimension to what’s in the game. They work really well. The Alien has got more standing collectables to find in each mission and to destroy…Weyland has been experimenting on Royal Jelly doing whatever Weyland does…Maybe he’s using it as a off-world drug, maybe it’s a halucagenic…maybe it makes you see giant holo-strippers [laughs]. And the Predator has things to collect as well. You get gamer points for finding everything. It’s a very common thing done in games to get the completists to find everything.
Corporal Hicks – What would you say has been the most challenging aspect of developing this game?
Martin Kennnedy – All of it. This is my first industry job. I’ve been here about 2 and a half years now. I came straight from university, everything was just in at the deep end, hit the floor running…so for me it’s been a consistent challenge. That’s good. It allows you to get better, you learn and makes you better prepared to go onto future projects.
I honestly can’t say what the single biggest challenge was for animation. I think trying to make sure we encapsulated the real characteristics of each of them. If you watch…take the Predator campaign. I can’t take credit for this as it wasn’t really my realm but if you watch the cut scenes, the way the Predator handles things. It’s very similar to watching a bloke with a big latex glove on. Going back to the film and watching how the fingers don’t bend properly ’cause it is a bloke in a big latex glove. It’s trying to get that feeling. The biggest challenge is just trying to make sure you nail the reference material. But that’s true of any game if you wanna do it properly. Nail your reference material, make sure you respectful.
Phil Gresley – Probably the challenges of getting the navigation sorted and making that work in environments. The rules don’t lend themselves to a detailed, realistic environment but we managed to find ways round those problems. And creating environments which are visually interesting but we can still move round them as all three species. So getting that nailed on the head and getting that working right took many months.
Alex Moore – The fact that next gen development…things take a lot longer than they ever did. A decent character model on a PS1, you could knock it out in a day and a half, two days. PS2…a couple of weeks. This gen…three months. Suddenly you need so many more people to get the same amount of content. And then managing that. That’ been a massive challenge.
Martin Kennedy – I think it’s worth noting as well that were we switched publisher and obviously certain people will have different ideas of what should and shouldn’t be happening. The amount of effect that’s gone in, all across the team. Although it’s been noted we’ve been in development for X amount of time the game as it stands now hasn’t been made in as long as you think it has. So the amount of effort that people have put in and to get all this content…Like Alex says it takes so much longer to do stuff on this generation. For a team this size to bang out this much content was a remarkable effort from everyone. It really has been balls-to-the-walls hard work.
Alex Moore – That side of it mixed with keeping actually keeping perspective on what you’re actually doing and what it looks like to a fresh pair of eyes. It’s phenomenally difficult when you’re just bogged down in the detail. The sheer scale of it…I think we all underestimated just how bloody big this game is. It’s turned out really well, we’re all really proud of it. Fingers crossed it will be liked and loved and played.
Corporal Hicks – There’s a lot of focus on this from the mainstream media…
Martin Kennedy – That brings a lot of pressure. When there’s a lot of hype and really good build up…I mean, especially in a country like this where we have this tabloid culture of building them up just to knock them down. It’s really hard. If anything it’s an impetus to make sure you knuckle down and do as well as you can with it because you just want to silence people and not give them a bad thing to say.
Tim Jones – To be frank it is the fact that we are delivering the three rapidly different perspectives in the game. Just the sheer quantity of game mechanics, different approaches to things and delivery…It’s a lot more ambition than a lot of games are doing. We’re delivering three campaigns and sets of mechanics for those species. Particularly for the Predator and Alien which haven’t been very well represented in most first person shooters out there. Adding new stuff to that. Treading on the territory but at the same time increasing the amount of workload we have by three-fold.
Paul Mackman – Which is probably the biggest strength of the game. It’s what makes the game unique is what makes it such a big, big package of content. While that has caused us a degree of challenge it is also rewarding and will be a big part in the success of the game.
Tim Jones – And naturally that ties into the multiplayer side of things where it’s a big thing to have three radically different species and balancing that and making sure the mechanics of the melee combat work in single player and multiplayer…making sure the timings and reaction times of the characters are going to be very different than going up against an AI who’s designed to give you the most satisfaction and fun feedback in the middle of you attacking them is a different matter going up against a human being who has different ideas of how they feel they ought to play the game and to ensure it’s consistent between the two. And that they’re both equally fun from both points of view.
It’s been a challenge but the multiplayer team in particular have been sweating blood and tears over that for a long time. They’re very passionate about making sure it’s everything it can be. I’m very pleased about the way it’s turned out and how people are responding to it. I’ve seen people playing the multiplayer and I just can’t get them off it.
Paul Mackman – I think it’s fair to say though that all of our passion for the game is a big part of what drives you to make it as good as you can, drives you put a helluva lot of blood sweat and tears into it. I mean Lance Henriksen, in the interview, he says “these guys wouldn’t do it if they weren’t passionate”. It is a huge amount of work and because it is this license, one we all care about…It is a big milestone in history for Rebellion and we’re very keen for it to be successful. We have gone the extra mile.
Corporal Hicks – Speaking of Lance, how did you end up with him in the game? How did that come in fruition?
Tim Jones – It was very much right from our initial discussions about the game and how it would be set. It was always there…we really wanted to involve Lance Henriksen as Weyland. He was the obvious touchstone having been in Aliens and AvP.
Paul Mackman – And Alien3. In terms of appearance he is the most consistent character…
Corporal Hicks – After Sigourney and Ripley…
Paul Mackman – Of course.
Tim Jones – You know we were really keen to involve the character but we had backup plans in case we weren’t able to secure his attention for the game. Fortunately everything worked out exactly as we hoped and he’s delivered us a great performance and has been really enthusiastic.
Paul Mackman – I think when it comes to video games where you deal with voice acting primarily and Lance Henriksen is quite a voice…
Corporal Hicks – He’s done a lot of video game work…
Paul Mackman – He’s done a fair bit and he has a very distinctive voice, a very powerful voice. In terms of voice casting it was a no-brainer really. He was very cool, very into it. He liked what we’d done with the character and how we’d drawn references from his character in AvP, in Alien 3 and in Aliens. He was really digging parts of the script and I was surprised at just how into it he was and how keen he was.
Tim Jones – It was a real thrill…especially someone like that, someone that iconic and a hero to us as fans and to for him to have the reveal of respect he’s expressed for computer games is unusual in a lot of cases, particularly with someone from the older generations. The fact that he seems to really see the value in what we’re trying to do as an entertainment medium. Obviously we’ve grown up with the movies, we love the movies but certainly as far as I’m concerned it’s great to explore the universe in whatever medium. It was a real thrill to hear Lance himself understand why it’s so cool, why movies aren’t better than games and it’s the way forward; Interactive media is here to stay. It’s really exciting to be able to explore those things.
Paul Mackman – I think it’s good for people who have come to the game from a movie background. Whether they’re slightly younger and probably come to it from the AvP films or the older generation and they’re into Aliens…They’re gonna come to this and they’re gonna have a touch stone. They’re gonna have a character they recognize.
Corporal Hicks – Now…these backup plans?
Tim Jones – Without going into too much detail or revealing to much I think the Weyland-Yutani Corporation has two sides to it. There’s the Weyland side and then there’s the Yutani side…That’s something we could have explored. As it happens we were lucky enough to go the full on Weyland route and that leaves the Yutani side of things open for exploration in the future.
Corporal Hicks – And finally. Can you tell us, in your opinion, what makes this game the one that all the AvP fans out there should pick up?
Martin Kennedy – That’s a tough one man and again because we’re so involved in it it’s hard to be objective. Genuinely I hadn’t played the Survivor mode at all until the other day and I played it for the first time and I’ve seen every model that has gone into the game, every animation, every location …and playing that game mode…I physically jumped. It made me proper brick it. It’s got good atmosphere. I think it’s been worth the wait. You guys have been clamoring for a sequel for what? 10 years? This is pretty close to being the game everyone wanted. It’s as close as we can get it. We really did pull the stops out on this one.
Alex Moore – It’s the experience. The single player campaign is something we’re really proud of but it’s the multiplayer…You know, buy it to go rip your friend’s head off and laugh at them as you do it.
Martin Kennedy – Exactly! Let me change my answer: Trophy kills! That why you should buy it! If you wanna see what a headless bloke looks like gasping his last breaths this is the game for you.
Alex Moore – It’s the sheer satisfaction of getting one up on some guy who has a big fucking gun and getting behind him and ripping their head off.
Phil Gresley – I’m gonna have to say the multiplayer. It does add a very good experience. This is the first game I’ve worked on where I still enjoy playing it. I’ve played the game modes, I’ve played the Survivor modes literally hundreds of times and I still enjoy going back and playing all of it again. I’m not that good at it but I still enjoy playing it. Normally after you’ve spent so long working on a project you just lose interest and it’s difficult to be kind about it. This is the one game I’ve worked on where it hasn’t. Even after seeing it so many times…there’s a lot of replay value in it. People will enjoy it.
Paul Mackman – I think you have to return to the three species. You really do get three very different experiences. It’s one of the few games where you do get to see through the eyes of the monster and you find yourself as the Alien…you find yourself sympathizing with his objectives and to see the Queen as your master. As the Predator, you get into it. You’re the hunter now. And as the marine you just doing your very best to survive. I think it’s those three different perspectives that draw on different aspects of the characters…
Tim Jones – The other thing is it’s not just a retread of things people love about the franchise. We make sure we deliver that stuff but we’re delivering new stuff here. If your an AvP fan you care about either of those creatures or the marines…You want to experience that universe. We’re revealing new stuff…
Paul Mackman – You’ll learn more about the Company, about the Predator history… You’re gonna learn about the Aliens.
Tim Jones – I like to think this is the ultimate AvP experience if you like.
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Sega and Rebellion for helping sort this out, especially Alex and Martin. I had a fantastic time down there. I hope the community enjoys this interview and you can all look forward to my detailed gameplay review in the next few weeks.