“It wasn’t as good as the original.”

It’s a phrase that is constantly uttered, even by those who don’t believe it is true. It’s expected that something that could foster such love in a community will be hated when it transcends different forms of media. The most common example are books made into films. But there are also films taking the leap into the interactive, and being made into video games. Most would agree that this jump is the least tolerable, with the least amount of detail and care. It occasionally has the same characters and the original title; more often than not that is about it. It is only in being incredibly faithful, in understanding what it was that made the original so loved, that such a change of hands is possible.

Alien: Isolation captures such understanding and faithfulness better than any in its position for far too long.

But Alien: Isolation wouldn’t be so pivotal if not for where it came from; the 1979 horror classic Alien from the brilliant mind of Ridley Scott. In 1977, Star Wars released, which was later renamed Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. This was one of Ridley Scott’s greatest inspirations for taking the first step into the science fiction world, which was something he originally never considered. The other being Dr. Strangelove, for its ability to make everything incredibly realistic and to scale in their design of a B52, which at the time no one had ever seen the inside of.

When the script for Alien made its way around the possible directors that could do the job and it eventually made it to Ridley Scott, he turned it down. But after making another rotation he once again found it on his desk, and the rest is history.

To this day, Alien stands the test of time. And one of the biggest reasons for this is thanks to the efforts of a man named Ron Cobb. Cobb was the primary concept artist of the team, and who was responsible for the look of the movie and the interior design of the USCSS Nostromo, the mining vessel of the movie. Cobb has often viewed himself as a “frustrated engineer” in his need for his design to look and feel real. When someone would observe the Nostromo, they needed to perceived what they saw as actually functional, and even though it was meant to be something of the future, it was still something the audience could believe.

“This is what’s key to Alien,” said Alistair Hope, the creative director of Alien: Isolation in his panel. “I think the fact that instead of watching this talk here, we could be watching the film. And it’s 36 years old this year. And we can watch it all now and still get an emotional reaction out of it. Which I think is a huge testament to the kind of craft and the imagination and the cinematic technique of the film makers. But at the heart its because its believeable. It feels really grounded and credible. So when the alien does turn up you’re fully absorbed and you accept it.”

So when it came time for Creative Assembly to make “the game we always wanted to play,” remember what made the movie what it was, what made it stand the test of time was key. And so the first step was the design the game itself and channel what Ron Cobb had done 36 years ago.

For artists these days, it might have been a challenge. Not only has the idea of what the future will look like changed over the passage of time, but most art is done digitally via some program or another. And so the team had to break out the old pen and paper from their college days and combine the two. Most of the concept art for the game is a mix of both digital and work done by hand.

Several constraints were put in place to make sure that the art stayed true to what was created back in the 1970’s. The padded walls, the stark white corridors, mixed with sharp contrasts, all the while still keeping that notion of creating something credible and believable. Thankfully Fox Studios was kind enough to provide Creative Assembly with the original production archive of Alien.

What we get is a product that is so close to the movie, you could walk past a screen with the game and be confused which is which. The team did an amazing job, despite how painstakingly challenging it might have, and surely was, for them.

Of course, creating something so real, so high fidelity can lead to other kinds of issues. Passing over the bridge to realism means certain expectations are in order. People expect everything down to the dates of a callender are completely and 100% accurate.

This was one of the early screenshots of the game given to the public, and you may not notice the issue, but plenty of people certainly did.

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“We released a screenshot, I think of that area. And we had quite a few emails telling us we got the callender wrong. For that date, those aren’t the days of the week. So, I blame the internet.”

Getting the setting setting to reflect the source material perfectly is hard enough. The next step is to create the emotional response required. Alien is a horror franchise after all, and so a horror game is what is expected.

Horror games have struggled the last few years to capture their audience. What made horror games so terrifying in the early days of game development was the lack of ability players had. Fixed cameras and limited ammo kept the player on their toes, where the environment and limitations frightened the player more than the enemy designs or the gore. Today, with such advanced technology, players can feel the power in their hands, and when they feel powerful, they don’t feel scared. Monsters have nothing against giant guns and great dodge rolls.

So to make Alien: Isolation a horror game worth screaming about, Creative Assembly had to find a new way to utilize the technology of today while also still making the player feel powerless. And what better place to do this than within the thing that made people terrified in the first place? The Alien itself.

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“You’re up against one Alien. And unlike most survival horror games, which I guess is the category this game would sit in, we don’t use scripts in the gameplay of the alien. The Alien is running on its own AI. So moment to moment you never know what’s going to happen next.”

The Alien is completely dynamic, learning as the game goes on. If a player finds they can outwit the Alien once by hiding under a desk, the next time they might not be so lucky. So really give some thought to your escape strategy, because if that Alien does manage to catch you, you’re not getting away with just a flesh wound. It’s instant death, which isn’t done much in video games these days for a variety of reasons, but for this situation, not much else would have created the same fear.

So the Alien get’s you in a room alone, it knows you’re there, but it hasn’t spotted you just yet. You duck behind a desk, but it’s starting to work its way around to your side of the room. But the problem is you’ve seen all this before. Only just a few minutes ago you were in another room, behind another desk, and staying low and silent saved you. The Alien never heard your panicked breaths or noticed you quaking in the shadows. But that isn’t going to work for a second time. You can’t just stay there, but if you move it might see you. You have to think on your feet, and fast. Thankfully you took the time to make some Noisemakers or EMP Mines after your last terrifying encounter. The Alien turns to check another portion it might have missed, and you have your chance. Toss it quick, your window isn’t a big one. The sounds startle the beast and it rushes off in bloodlust. You only have a few minutes of uncertainty. It may come back to the room, it may not. It could have rushed down the halls and back into the ventilation, it might still just be right outside the door, suspicious of this odd little thing on the ground that was making such a racket. And how many more times is that little distraction trick going to save you? You don’t know. And that is why this game scares even the developers themselves.

“We’d have these prototype demos. And we’d have to go to teams and show them what we’re doing. Around the world. And you could feel the tension in the room as I was playing these demos. But what people didn’t realize is my own heart would be thumping away, because I didn’t know what was going to happen. So if it was going to be a good demo or a bad demo really relied on my skill, if I was paying attention.”

The desire was to create a “haunted house in space”, for the original movie and the game. For Ridley Scott, it was his desire to try and create an aesthetic mix of a steamer engine and a cathedral. These two things don’t really sound like they go together, but its clear that vision was fulfilled by way of design and beautiful lighting. And the game had to reflect the same in order to continue with that familiar aesthetic.

Sound is another big part of that, by way of both music and effects. Music is less of a challenge, at least in terms of figuring out what you want. Over the years musicians have discovered great techniques to inspire emotion through such sounds. The key is just putting what you need at exactly the right moment. Its a way to carry people through, subtly let them know what they are getting themselves into.

Sound effects are a more complicated part in this case. The movie already had its sounds. The way the engine would creek, or the computers would beep, the sounds of still air, or a pipe bursting. Originally it seemed all hope was lost, as the original sound files seemed lost to history, or at least lost in the depths of Fox. But thankfully, after exploring Fox’s own version of the Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse, as Alistair Hope eloquently put it, they found the original files buried in the abyss. And this again just adds to the authenticity and faithfulness to the original. Small little things you may only notice subconsciously, but without them you’d be left feeling a disconnect, without really knowing why.

And the last piece to fulfilling that faithfulness is making sure everyone looks like they belong in the world of Alien. When the film was being put into production, one very frustrating point for the director and the staff were the costumes. They were changed several times, going around from the typical colorful space drabs of say Star Trek, or something far more militarized. This is typical of most science fiction, and while it can invoke that idea of Space to the audience, it is very dated and not relevant to today, where the idea is to remain grounded and believable. Finally one day in a huff of frustration, simply jump suits were handed to cast and they were told this is what they would wear. These changes are what we are left with today, and it’s all the better for them

It’s very interesting to see that the game actually went through a similar process in the concept art for their new characters, particularly the main protagonist who players will take control of, Amanda Ripley, Ellen Ripley’s daughter. Below are some of the first concept for what Amanda would wear. Really has that flashy, typical spacefaring, almost cartoon look, similarly to what the movie originally had.

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And this is what we are left with today, this finished product of our gateway into the Alien world. Seems familiar doesn’t it? And the game is all the better for remembering how close we could be to Ellen Ripley because she looked like us. And now Amanda does as well.

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Even to today Sigourney Weaver and the original cast still hold their roles and their part of this franchise very near and dear to their hearts. And for the downloadable content, or DLC of Alien: Isolation, Crew Expendable, the entire cast came back to reprise their roles, so players could once again see the Nostromo as they had over 30 years ago, but this time in their own hands. And if the original cast can see what value this has, even after all the time, you know that Creative Assembly has truly done something special. Films made into video games now have quite a standard to live up to.

“Having a chance to show Sigourney Weaver the final game and the Nostromo. And her reaction was, when looking at the game, ‘Oh, I’ve walked down that corridor.’ That was pretty cool.”

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About The Author

Caitlin F
Staff Writer

Caitlin has two passions in life, writing and video games. Only seemed wise to combine the two. When she isn’t playing the latest title, she is partaking in other nerd endeavors online or at local comic shops.