Thibaut Claudel was one of the writers and narrative designers on the 2023 squad-based tactical strategy game Aliens: Dark Descent. Before working at Tindalos, Thibaut worked for the video game developer Endroad on the video game UFO Robot Grendizer: The Feast of the Wolves. Before that, he worked as a narrative designer on World of Tanks at Wargaming. Thibaut joined us on episode #169 of the AvPGalaxy Podcast to talk about his experiences writing Dark Descent. You can watch the episode below or continue on for a transcript.
Aliens: Dark Descent begins after there is a Xenomorph outbreak on Pioneer Station. In response, Deputy Administrator Maeko Hayes activates the Cerberus Protocol designed to keep anything from entering or exiting the moon Lethe. Missiles damage the USS Otago causing it to crash onto Lethe. The survivors realise the moon is infested with Xenomorphs and Hayes and the Colonial Marines must repair the ship and escape the moon.
Aaron: Before we dig into the nitty-gritty of Lethe, can you tell our audience a little bit about yourself? Who is Thibaut Claudel and what do you do?
Thibaut: First and foremost, I think I am a kid from the French countryside and that kid developed a massive interest in everything pop culture whether that be video games, comics and of course movies. I became a journalist specialising in those topics until I joined the video game industry. First as a content editor and then I started to dip my toes into the world of narrative design because I always had this passion for writing and creating stuff. That’s how basically I became a writer / narrative designer depending on the projects. That’s how I got to work on Aliens: Dark Descent.
Aaron: What about other favourites outside of Aliens?
Thibaut: I’m a massive Star Wars fan. I’m a huge Warhammer 40,000 nerd. I’m a huge comic reader as well like Batman when I was younger. He was really my hero and so I read a lot of comics back in the day and a lot of things that we have here in France as well. Yeah, it was basically always surrounded by that because my father was also a huge fan of those sorts of movies. He was not into video games because I guess they were not that much of a thing back then, but he introduced me to most of the stuff that I ended up loving.
Adam: Do you remember the first time you came across the Alien?
Thibaut: I remember it because I wasn’t that young. I actually grew up with very loving but very strict parents in terms of what we could play and see at home. I actually discovered the Alien movies when I was in my first year of studying out of the family home. I was aware I guess to an extent of the creature like the actual xenomorph because I guess you cannot really escape its shape and how much it is referenced throughout popular culture.
I know what it was, but I didn’t actually see it until I was like 19 or something like that. I just remember a friend from school basically said “Let’s watch a classic. Let’s watch Alien” and I was “Oh yeah that massive classic that I knew everything about” and basically discovered the first movie like that and then I ask “Oh you have the steelbook with the four movies. Can I just borrow it for a second?”
And he said, “Oh yeah well you can watch them all you want.” He knew them I think by heart way better than I used to and so I actually managed to steal that thing for a few days. I was actually studying in a boarding school. There was not really much to do except work on essays and watch movies at night when officially it was curfew, but we were trying to watch movies with a lot of people around.
That’s when I discovered Aliens and Alien 3 and Resurrection. Actually, I have a funny anecdote about that because I was studying in the same place Jean-Pierre Jeunet studied. I mean it was his high school at the time. How little the world can be sometimes. I think I watched two and maybe three back-to-back and I think I rewatched the second one right after that. I was super impressed especially since Aliens inspired so many things in video games.
You have a lot of that in that movie. Like the first-person shooter type of characters and the movie lines that are very badass, soldiers and even Apone appears in Halo. I didn’t know about that. I had experience. I had played Halo because it was PG16 or something and my parents were like “You’re 16. You can play this now.” They were very much following the book and I had escaped their sight to watch horror movies, but I never managed to find it because we were living in such a small city.
I had a very limited circle of friends and I never came across the actual movies until I was an adult basically but the beautiful thing about that story is that I knew when I discovered them, I knew already quite a lot about how to make movies. I guess I appreciate them first and foremost as an adult like someone who had a massive interest in how to make movies. How difficult they are.
How do you make those decisions and everything? That’s why Aliens specifically always impressed me the most because it felt like it was impossible to do something better than the first one. Every movie even Prometheus and Covenant where there is a lot of discussion about that still, but I think it had something special for me to dig in because I was already so much into movies, and it was not a fan reaction.
I say that in a positive way but like a childish reaction to for instance Star Wars behind me or the stuff that I discovered when I was a kid. It really was different, and it stayed with me and every time I watch Aliens, I’m still blown away by how intricate and detailed that movie is.
Aaron: Did you have much experience with the other Alien games prior to working on Dark Descent? Did you explore that corner of the fandom after watching the films?
Thibaut: Yeah, I guess it’s a bit ironic. I played Alien games before I saw the movie. Sorry, I apologize for that. I think my first one was Aliens versus Predator 2, the 2001 game so the PC game and I didn’t play it at home because my parents were always looking over my shoulder, but they had friends of their own and one day they said, “Oh we will spend the weekend at our friends” and I was “Okay” and they said “You’re coming.”
I was “Okay” and they actually had a son that was a few years older than me and at some point, after the dinner or something, he’s like “Do you want to stick out and play video games” and I’m like “Yeah cool sure whatever” and so he had a massive PC that was probably the family PC or whatever. He says, “Oh I have this thing” and that was Aliens versus Predator 2.
It’s funny because I have very vivid memories of playing as the Predator and trying to hunt everybody else and that was fun. I think I also played the revamp from Rebellion I think in 2010. That was later at a friend’s and I remember being super interested in Colonial Marines when it was first announced and until the reviews came out.
I thought because I was young and obviously I didn’t have that much money to invest into the game, I wasn’t sure it was absolutely worth it, so I was kind of diverted from that game because of the reviews but I still played it a few years later and of course I played Isolation like everybody else. Although I never beat it. I did a second run when I started working on Dark Descent and I say that I didn’t complete it because I didn’t want it to be influenced.
The reality is it’s it scares the shit out of me, so I wasn’t able to finish that game but it’s just you beat certain steps and you remember “Oh that was so hard in my previous experience and now it’s fine” and then you find that the game keeps on being scarier and scarier. Yeah, I never managed to finish that game to my shame because it’s an absolute powerhouse of a game. It’s just so good.
Adam: What about your experience with the wider Aliens expanded universe? I mean there are a lot of elements in the game that come from all over the EU. Have you read any of the older comics and novels or was it the more recent reconciliation of all the old lore that was in the Free League RPG? Were you looking at that at all?
Thibaut: Yeah, that’s a mix of all that. I would say that during my youth and teenage years, I have read a few comics. I don’t remember what it was, to be honest with you. The only thing I remember was I think the crossover between Predator and Batman, so it was an Alien-Aliens, but I was like “This is cool. I should find more stuff like that” but again small towns and everything.
I never really scratched that itch which is a funny thing to say nowadays because it feels like it was the early 2000s and nowadays, it’s just so easy to come across something and say, “Oh I’ll devour the entire canon of whatever universe.”
Back in the day, it didn’t feel that long ago but it was impossible to do. It’s funny how you came across… I remember for instance the Clone Wars comics from Dark Horse. That was difficult for me to find the next entry in that series. I guess I had picked up a few things at the bookshop or maybe a flea market or something, but I wasn’t aware of any actual series happening in real-time.
Every month you have to pick up your book. I wasn’t aware of that. That said, Romain, our game director, is a massive fan of the Dark Horse comic books of that era 90s especially. I think 2000 probably as well. He’s slightly older than me and so he introduced me to it when I joined and also novels like Sea of Sorrow. So, I didn’t read what he had digested for the game.
I didn’t want to know every bit about it because I was afraid that we might fall into the trap of doing the same thing, but I discussed that with him quite a lot. He basically introduced me to the different bits. What was cool about it and everything and the RPG, it’s funny because going back to my point about not being able to get your hands on everything you want on Aliens and all that.
When I think the RPG came out, it became I guess this ultimate work on the Alien canon, and I don’t think we had anything like that prior to the RPG. I remember that it wasn’t translated into French, and I could read English, but I was like “Okay let’s see what they did.”
I remember trying to find pictures from the book with the timelines and the lore about the union of progressive people, and other companies, stuff from the larger Alien canon and universe. I remember that when I saw bits here and there on the internet I thought “Shit, this is cool. Someone has to do something with that.” I never thought that I would be part of such an adventure, but I was really thinking there is so much more to do with that universe.
I think it was kind of fading because I think Prometheus came out before and then sometimes you have “We don’t do those anymore because that movie or that book didn’t do well.” At least that was my experience of it but because not everything is translated here in France, and I didn’t know everything about it, but the RPG sat on my desk throughout the entire production. It’s definitely one of the Bibles.
We had that one and the Aliens Technical Manual. A gem of a book I think because it reads from the perspective of I guess the 80s. That’s just so interesting how different it is from the RPG, and I think you mix those two and you have basically what we really wanted to do with that game.
Of course, it had a massive influence on us and the stories we wanted to tell and also on not the story level. Usually, narrative design is used as if you write the background stuff, the datapads and everything. I’d say the narrative design was also about trying to use bits from that RPG and make them relevant to our games. So definitely played a massive role in the production.
Adam: Speaking of the RPG, one thing in particular that caught our attention was that ship, the Nostromo-inspired M-Class Bison ship – the Montero. The Codex entry that mentions it was allegedly destroyed as we all thought it was in the RPG scenario. The Montero – is that meant to be the same ship from the RPG, and it was just reported that it was destroyed or is this meant to be more of a nod?
Thibaut: I think I have a confession to make regarding the Montero because actually when we started, I think the mission was called Bison Class Ship or something. Then I asked about what the ship was called, and they said, “Oh it’s the Montero” and I was like okay, so note that down, try to use the name.
We already had a script for the mission that wasn’t penned by me but then I realized we were looking at the RPG because as I said it was on my desk and it was the same ship. I thought “Guys we have a problem because there is probably some sort of mistake. Is that on purpose?” No one could actually explain to me who named that ship.
Either they were too shy to admit it. I don’t want to feel unprofessional. That sort of stuff usually happens when you have not hundreds, but I’d say thousands of people working on the game. Sometimes you try to sneak an Easter egg, trying to be clever or whatever and or just to be a fan as we all are but then I was like, now I’m worried because how can we make that work and so basically that’s when the allegedly destroyed part came in.
But the funny thing is that it tied in I think quite well with our stories saying that it was a ship that was repurposed and so I was like “Ah maybe that could work.” I tried to do a few things like that in the game. This is not the only weird connection or name that referenced other Alien material and when I actually located that and discussed it with Fox, we tried to have a little nugget, a datapad something so that the fans would try to make connections.
I have seen some crazy theories about that on the internet and I love it because I’m like this is pretty cool. I think that should be our next story and sometimes they have great ideas but for the Montero specifically, it’s just one of those funny anecdotes I guess I will tell for a lifetime. It was named like that, and I realized a month after that there was actually the same name from the RPG.