Dave Flamburis (Demiurge Studios) Interview

Posted by ikarop on November 12, 2013 (Updated: 03-Oct-2015)

Let’s face it. Aliens: Colonial Marines was a huge disappointment for us. However, it did feature some amazing moments. Bug Hunt is easily the best feature of Aliens: Colonial Marines.  Melissa K (Moosh89), one of the people responsible for the campaign for more Aliens: Colonial Marines content, spoke to Dave Flamburis, formerly of Demiurge Studios, the team responsible for the much loved Bug Hunt.

AvPGalaxy – How long, from start to finish, did it take for your team to complete a map like Tribute?  This map is absolutely mind-blowing! 

Dave Flamburis: I think we got to first-playable in about a month. That means you can start and finish the mode but the final lighting, propping, optimization, fine-tuning, etc. aren’t evident yet. After that, it’s common to do a series of iteration rounds.

I work on multiple maps at the same time, so at some point I was probably letting design get in there and iterate while I was doing a polish pass on the Sephora map or the Derelict map (Mercenary). I’ll circle back when design can swap maps and I’ll spend a lot of time nudging and polishing or adding collision. From soup-to-nuts? I’d say about 3 months. We did a lot of our own bug testing and, of course, fixing. Bug-fixing and optimization for console, especially PS3, really eats up a lot of time.

In that 3 months, though, we definitely were getting hand’s-on with all 3 Bug Hunt maps. We multi-tasked very well. There was a great flow.

AvPGalaxy – That’s relatively quick for such detail! 

Dave Flamburis: Yes, you can accomplish a tremendous amount of work when you are given the freedom we were given.  It’s really a labor of love, you know? No one’s kicking me out of the office at 5 and everyone knew this was a dream project for me. I really couldn’t call it work.

AvPGalaxy – What type of source material did you and your team reference in order to recreate the iconic locations from the films? Did you all review the blu-rays for reference ad nauseam or were you given access to production materials from the studio? 

Dave Flamburis: I had access to some pretty cool archival material.  A lot of it wasn’t pertinent, but it was nice to be able to surround yourself with so much inspiration. A lot of the set builders were clearly proud of their work, and it shows.

A lot of times, I’d find myself inadvertently leaning around trying to peek over someone’s shoulder in the photos, and I’m trying to look past them at some little detail. I used to do a lot of racing games visa-vie Papyrus Racing Games. My franchise was NASCAR and I visited a lot of the tracks and did my own reference gathering in the field, so I’m always looking for both the big picture and the small nuances.

AvPGalaxy – What other iconic locations from the alien franchise were you interested in working on and turning into Bug Hunt maps? And were you and your colleagues allowed to attempt any Prometheus locations, such as the pyramid, Juggernaut craft, or general landscape of LV-223? 

Dave Flamburis: Oh my God… you nailed it. I’ve been a fan of HR Giger since I was 15. I have the original NECRONOMICON, I’ve been to the Morpheus Gallery on Rodeo Drive and looked at his work in person. I almost spend 1500 bucks on a page from his sketchbook, but my wife was gonna kill me.

I had no knowledge of any PROMETHEUS talk during my time on the game. In fact, I really tried to stay away from PROMETHEUS as much as possible because I didn’t want it to taint the ALIENS vibe I was feeling. It’s impossible to “unsee” something. But I’m such a fan of Giger’s work and seeing his paintings of the ‘Life Cycle’ were terrifying and inspiring at the same time.

AvPGalaxy – He’s quite the artist! I’d love to own an original piece! 

Dave Flamburis: I love how Ridley Scott and Giger work together. One understands the other very well, and I think Scott really protected Giger’s veracity and artistic individuality and that Giger, I am certain, trusted Scott with PROMETHEUS.

These are real cerebral and emotional artists. They’re two-halves of the same coin, too, in my opinion.

interview-01 Dave Flamburis (Demiurge Studios) Interview


AvPGalaxy – How difficult would it have been to convert the existing Escape maps, such as “Emergency Evac” and “Flushed Out,” to full-blown Bug Hunt maps? Fans have long been requesting this type of Bug Hunt-Escape combination. 

Dave Flamburis: I can’t speak for anyone on this, but a map’s just a bunch of data. Anything can be stripped clean and re-fitted. Unreal Tech is flexible.

Here’s something interesting. The checkpoints in ESCAPE represented another moment of serendipity for our work on A:CM, we couldn’t fit an MP map into our budget if we went over a certain size but we really wanted to push the idea of pursuit and have these really long linear maps.

I pushed for the idea of level streaming and checkpoints, thinking it’s a win scenario for everyone. Initially I think folks thought I was nuts but I think sometimes you have to toss assumed standards aside and do what you can to support the vision. Engineering concurred, so we went with level streaming in an MP mode.

In the end, the checkpoints became goals and it “just worked”. Also, originally, there was this great bolt lightning effect happening in the exterior of Emergency Evac. The “no-man’s land” was really eerie with the jarring directional effects and sounds of thunder. Real unsettling vibe. Not heroic by any means, which is what I was going for. I don’t know what happened to them. If someone does make a Bug Hunt mode out of Emergency Evac, please put the lightning back.

AvPGalaxy – What are your thoughts on implementing boss fights into Bug Hunt? For example, having either multiple crushers, boilers or an alien Queen (where space allows) during wave 30? 

Dave Flamburis: Speaking for myself? Oh, heck yes, yes, and yes.

AvPGalaxy – How difficult would it have been to include facehuggers, chestbursters, and power loaders from the single player campaign into Bug Hunt? A lot of people are hoping these elements can either be patched in or introduced in new maps somehow! 

Dave Flamburis: I don’t think I would have had the strength to support anything but what we gave. We were a real tiny, but scrappy team. In the end, we were exhausted… and then I went right to the Movie Pack DLC.

In terms of gameplay, I instantly defer to Demiurge. These guys nailed everything and I don’t think I will ever work with such impassioned and fine-tuned designers and engineers, ever. We were like a bunch of ninjas and acrobats at the same time.

I often use a quote when talking about future game development: “5 top performers can out-develop a team of twenty, hands-down, any day.” This is a direct result of my experience working at Demiurge. We were able to hone our skills and no one held us back. That’s not only pretty cool, but pretty rare. It gave me the confidence I needed when I set out on my own. So yeah, I’d lob this one over to Josh for his input. The guy’s got some serious and well-rounded design chops.

interview-02 Dave Flamburis (Demiurge Studios) Interview

From a technical standpoint? I’m sure there would have been ways to accommodate all, but there’s only so much we could do. I love the facehuggers. They’re great popcorn enemies, but they’re also a HUGE part of the canon. More so than the Queen, IMO. But, having a QUEEN fight in something like the Atmosphere Processor? Oh, man… another dream come true in the making right there.

That’s kinda my personal style. I love the “recreation” portion. It really lets the fans create their own experience. That’s what it’s all about for me. Same with NASCAR, same with ALIENS. It’s a “build it and they will come” mind-set. To that I add: “And do it with veracity and passion!”

AvPGalaxy – Many fans particularly enjoy the “Processor” map and wish it was big enough to be a full-blown, movie-accurate Bug Hunt map, with a Queen boss fight during wave 30. Is this something that was ever considered and, if fans make enough noise, is this still something that can be made a reality? 

Dave Flamburis: I WOULD LOVE a full-blown, Tribute-style Processor BH map… lem’me at it!

In terms of building content and creating engrossing experiences, it’s very simple and straightforward. The hard part is all the stakeholders in this unbelievably amazing franchise, and the business end.  My attitude’s always been to use the Golden Rule. Everyone’s cool in this industry. Being pro and acting pro usually returns pro results. On the other side is the fan-base. It’s super-passionate and ready for more. Getting the two sides together is key.

Again, it’s like NASCAR. We had so many serious users and we were dealing with hundreds of serious clients (Track organizations, sponsors, track owners, drivers, teams, team owners, manufacturers, sanctioning bodies, and on and on). But there was this great trust between us (clients, users, licensing, TV, marketing, PR, development, developer relations) that everything worked. And, we were doing this while EA Sports was chipping away at us.

To this day we all pretty much still keep in touch. To this day there’s still business being done. So I feel; heck, why not something like that for this franchise? When you’ve worked within a multi-tiered playing field like NASCAR and licensed motorsports simulations everything else seems more doable than not.

Another way of thinking about it is, there’s more than enough room for everyone. There’s were very few crossover players between Papyrus and EA Sports, but both did really well and in the end it’s the veracity-based route that ultimately resonates in folks’ memories. That last part is particularly important for me.

interview-03 Dave Flamburis (Demiurge Studios) Interview

AvPGalaxy – What would YOU like to see in Bug Hunt? 

Dave Flamburis: A full-bore, no-holds-barred, triple-sized , Bug Hunt Processor map ripped right from the film, just as the fans would want. And a then a million other things…

AvPGalaxy – What parting message would you like to share with the fans that are supporting the petition for more Bug Hunt content? 

Dave Flamburis: Without passionate fans and player-advocates like you, Melissa, there is no market. This is why we do what we do and, more important, who we do it for. It’s a win win. When you think about it, passionate players and passionate developers are one and the same. We’re all parts of the same game. Same goes for working with Gearbox. They really trusted us and never stopped our momentum. That’s even more rare. I learned so much from them over the years. They’re super altruistic. More so than folks give them credit for, you know? Probably the best partnership experience I’ve had since NASCAR, and that’s saying something.

AvPGalaxy -Thank you so much for your time Dave, and for answering some of our fan questions, it has been a pleasure chatting with you! 

If you wish to learn more about the making of Aliens: Colonial marines’ Bug Hunt, please check out the following article at Dave Flamburis’ blog here.

Also, click here if you’re interested in learning more about the petition for further content for A:CM.

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