Alien: Isolation is ‘The “Alien” Game We’ve Always Wanted to Play’
‘CRT, Not LCD’
The alien itself is the biggest part of what Alien: Isolation is, but in chasing an authentic Alien experience, The Creative Assembly spent a lot of time and energy focused on smaller, subtler things. The team used the original film concept art work by artist Ron Cobb as its frame of reference for visual style as it expanded those designs to Sevastopol, Lead UI Artist Jon McKellan said, and used assets like signage from the Nostromo and assets from Fox to inform design whenever possible.
In order to maintain authenticity, McKellan said the game’s artists used different areas of the Nostromo as archetypes — hospital areas on Sevastopol look like the Nostromo’s infirmary, for example; technical areas look like the Nostromo’s engineering section; and so on.
“Fox was really great, they’ve been amazing with us, and they provided us with 3 terabytes of stuff that people hadn’t seen before, that’s never been made public,” McKellan said. “…Things like blueprints of the original set of the Nostromo, so we could work out exactly what size and shape things were, cross-sections of props and chairs that told us what materials they were made out of, so we would know if they were made of plastic or polystyrene. It just gave us so much to go on.”
“We had this rule: If a prop couldn’t have been made in ’79 with the things that they had around, then we wouldn’t make it either.”
Filling a space station with the stuff that one might expect to be there meant creating new props and materials beyond what appeared in the film, though, and McKellan said the artists tried to keep as much authenticity as possible by referencing old analog devices. Those things included “old war radios and portable televisions,” he said, and as Court noted, “Everything looks like a tool.”
As Hope put it in something of a metaphor for Alien: Isolation’s take on future technology, the emphasis is on CRT — old-style cathode ray tube television technology — and not LCD, or more modern-looking screens and tech.
“We had this rule: If a prop couldn’t have been made in ’79 with the things that they had around, then we wouldn’t make it either,” McKellan said. “So we don’t reference any objects or materials that were created after the release of the film, so all of our reference material is the same as the reference material they had. We use the same inspiration, which has been great and it’s kind of pitched us in new directions.”
A similar approach was used with in-game videos and user interface, McKellan said. Things like the map UI and footage Amanda sees on Sevastopol have a VHS look to them, rather than digital, and that was an effect The Creative Assembly had to create.
“We took many different approaches to try and get there (the VHS aesthetic), and it turned out that the best way to get there was to do it for real,” McKellan said. “So we would record gameplay footage onto VHS cassettes, and then put magnets on the screen, shake the cables and jump on them.”
In so doing, McKellan said, he broke two televisions and a video player, but the effect was worth it. Once the Alien: Isolation footage had the right look, the team filmed it and dropped it back into the game, producing a suitably scratchy, aged result. It’s subtle, and it’s possible some players won’t even notice many of those touches as they’re checking their map or watching videos to get information — but the team believes those touches add to the overall Alien-like feel of the game.