Alien: Isolation is ‘The “Alien” Game We’ve Always Wanted to Play’
Key to The Creative Assembly’s vision of Alien: Isolation is the creation of the alien itself. It’s the largest version of Scott’s creature ever created for a video game, and it stalks through the game’s space station setting searching for Amanda and other humans.
Its behaviors are also systematically generated, Hope explained. Rather than follow scripts, the alien hunts Amanda (and, potentially, other characters) using its senses. Your flashlight attracts it. Your footsteps attract it. And it searches for you based on what it senses in the environment, in a reactive way.
That’s thrown off a number of early players, Lindop said.
But as part of its systematic programming, the creature learns from those encounters — and won’t react to a trick the same way if you try it again.
“We had somebody come in and we sat watching him playing the game, and he was hiding under a table (with the alien searching nearby), and he stayed there for seven minutes — which in game terms is a very long time,” Lindop said. “And we’re starting to go, ‘Oh God, I wonder if he doesn’t know what he’s doing?’ So one of us said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m trying to learn his patrol pattern, but I’ve just realized there isn’t one. I’m properly screwed.’”
It also means that even the developers don’t really know how the alien will react when they drop it into a new environment, or where it will show up when players enter a new area. Lindop said the goal was to create an experience in which each interaction with the alien was different, and players’ decisions as to what risks to take and when to take them would be extremely important.
The creation of AI for the creature was more akin to structuring a boss than a standard enemy, and it also required a whole lot of animation in order to make the creature seem believable and frightening. Unlike in other games such as shooters, in which AI characters might be on the screen for a matter of seconds before they’re killed, Lindop said the alien would need to be on screen with players for minutes at a time, and that meant its actions, movements and sounds would always need to stand up to player scrutiny.
In fact, The Creative Assembly created its own engine for the game, so that it would have full control of lighting and rendering to go along with the creature. The developers created their own set of tools and were able to build out features with live editing, Court said, which gave them the ability to tweak and iterate quickly. Animating the alien is a matter of running tens of animations at the same time, controlling various aspects of its movement, in order to make it look real.
In order to keep encounters with the alien fresh, however, there needed to be more to the experience than just hiding and running. The Creative Assembly confirmed that Alien: Isolation includes a crafting system that will allow Amanda to build new items to use against the alien. Though they’re not really effective as weapons, it seems, they will allow Amanda to drive off the alien or distract it while she escapes.
But as part of its systematic programming, the creature learns from those encounters — and won’t react to a trick the same way if you try it again. Similarly, players will find themselves learning from the alien, the developers said. By paying attention to the creature’s movements, the sounds it makes, and other cues, players will be able to spot when the alien is searching for them, when it is relaxing, and when they should start to really worry.
The story of Alien: Isolation derives from areas of the Alien lore left unexplored, as Lindop noted. The scenario originated with The Creative Assembly speculating on the aftermath of the disappearance of the Nostromo, the ship seen in the film.
Those events, and the investigations The Creative Assembly assumed the ship’s owner, Weyland-Yutani, would have conducted, would likely have had a big impact on Amanda’s development as a child. So 15 years later, when the opportunity to investigate what happened to her mother arises with the discovery of the Nostromo’s black box flight recorder, Amanda takes it — and eventually finds herself fighting to survive the same way her mother did. (Why Amanda Ripley? Find out more in our deeper look at the lore and story behind the game).
Lead Writer Dion Lay said the story concept came from The Creative Assembly, and the company next reached out to science fiction author and comic book writer Dan Abnett to help flesh out the scenario. Lay said The Creative Assembly developed the missions for the game at the same time Abnett worked on the story.
“They’re working together but they’re not exactly friends, and it gives a great claustrophobic feel.”
Though Alien is famous for its horror atmosphere and its frightening adversary, the film is also known for its human, believable cast of characters, and that’s another aspect it seems like The Creative Assembly has worked to recreate in its game.
“It (Alien) has got a really cool cast that kind of complement each other, and they kind of fight,” Lay said. “You know, they’re working together but they’re not exactly friends, and it gives a great claustrophobic feel.”
Alien: Isolation’s story puts Amanda together with a number of other characters, starting with Samuels (voiced by Anthony Howell), a Weyland-Yutani executive who recruits her for the team headed to Sevastopol station, where most of the game takes place. There are several others who make up the team sent after the Nostromo’s flight recorder as well, like Ricardo, (voiced by Syrus Lowe), who guides Amanda through the hands-on demo over the radio.
Lindop wouldn’t reveal too much of what players can expect from the story, but hinted that conflicts between members of the crew and other potential characters would factor into the story as much as the creature talking them does.
“What I can say is that people in incredibly dangerous or extraordinary situations like the anarchy and chaos of the station do unpredictable things,” Lindop said. “And some people can be relied upon and some people can’t. And so part of our story is that journey of seeing other people dealing with this incredible creature aboard the station, and how badly or how bravely or how cowardly some people face that.”
All of the characters in the game were created with 3-D face scans, Lay said, and the actors were brought together for table reads in order to flesh out who their characters are. Lay said that resulted in some moments in which actors were able to add feedback and question elements and actions of their characters, which allowed The Creative Assembly to rework them to be more realistic.
The look of the characters is also important, and Lead Artist Jude Bond said The Creative Assembly has worked hard to make sure all the characters look like they could belong aboard the Nostromo. The developers used a great deal of archive footage and production stills provided by 20th Century Fox, much of which hadn’t been looked through or utilized for anything in decades.
“When we started working on the project, we couldn’t believe our luck. We thought we knew what the costumes were on the characters, but how wrong we were,” Bond said. “I couldn’t believe it. We got hold of a lot of archive footage from Fox, a lot of their production stills, et cetera, et cetera, and started to really deconstruct the costumes. I think we were amazed, really, at the detail of some of the stuff we just didn’t realize was there.”
“It’s stuff like, the actual tailoring (on in-game costumes) is appropriate, the fabrics are appropriate, the details …” he said. “I think we really achieved what we set out to achieve there.”