I recently had the opportunity to play Alien Isolation at this year’s EGX Rezzed in Birmingham and as luck would have it, I managed to run into Gary Napper, lead designer of Alien Isolation over at The Creative Assembly, who was more than happy to answer a few questions about his game.
So I just played the Alien Isolation demo and it was absolutely terrifying. I suppose the important question here is what would you say are the key elements in making a horror game not only scary, but immersive?
“I think one of the most surprising things that not many people realise is the absence of the fear, or the absence of the creature is actually, really a lot more terrifying than when you can actually see it. So we are very, very specific about when we allow the creature, when we allow him to back off and when we allow him to find you and sneak around you.
So we learnt that very early when we were playing the game that when he suddenly disappears up into the rafters and disappears of the motion tracker, you know there is a kind of cold fear of like ‘where is he, I don’t know where he is’ and that, kind of balancing that combined with moments of building tension.
You know, you see a shadow and you’re not sure if it’s the alien or it could be something else and all that comes together in a kind of blend of really nice visuals and audio and lighting, that whole experience where you end up fearing everything around you.”
Yeah I can see that, I was scared of just about everything. Alien Isolation is a continuation of Ridley Scott’s original Alien rather than the James Cameron sequel which most games in the universe have stemmed from. Have you taken any influences from the later films or have you tried remain very true to the original film?
“Well yeah I mean there are some things you have to take on board because everyone has a perception of what the alien is. If we were to make the guy in the rubber suit from the original film, it wouldn’t be as scary because we can’t control when you see him or how quick he is and it just didn’t feel quite right.
So there were some tweaks to how the alien moves, like with the lower parts of his legs which are a lot more animal like. Also people are used to the alien being this kind of quadruped thing that bounces around so we had to bring it back from that but also keep the idea that these things are terrifying, and he is a really difficult thing to have to build.
Things like the motion tracker have been taken on because the motion tracker in the first film is just a grid with two dots on it that go closer to each other. Whereas the motion tracker from aliens obviously is a lot more like a modern radar, so what we’ve taken is something that, is not a step back but somewhere between the two where you have a handheld device that you have to physically aim that gives you a kind of facing but actually, it’s still just this really basic device that tells you how far away it is.”
Now I managed to die three times just during the short demo. Are there going to be any varying difficulties or is it just a set experience?
“We are going to have different difficulty levels, but what we wanted to show you here was the basic core experience of the alien with his basic behaviour set and you with no weapons or ability to defend yourself so you just have to evade him. We do have a lot more in the game, a lot more mechanics for you to figure out and the alien to adapt to, which is where a lot of our longevity comes from, but it’s quite funny because don’t want to go into specifics because when you see the alien react to some of these things, it’s a big part of discovering that in the game.”
Are you taking advantage of any of the unique features of the next-generation consoles?
“Yes we are… We’re trying to do everything for all the platforms we’re doing to obviously make the best game we can make for each of them, but I think my favourite one is probably on the PS4 with the lightbar on the back of the pad which flashes with each ping of the motion tracker and also the speaker makes the sound of the motion tracker so when you’ve got it in your hands, kind of the whole room lights up and you get that sense of being there.”
Will any other characters, apart from the alien, be making a return?
“*Laughs* Well I think that would be a big spoiler to say hey, here is a character…but there is a pretty detailed story and you do arrive on Sevastopol Station with a crew from Weyland-Yutani who are looking for the black box from the Nostromo, so there are certain links back to certain things in the franchise and the story develops from there. Amanda Ripley is our main character, who is obviously the daughter of Ellen Ripley from the Aliens films so…”
Thank you very much for your time.
“Thank you and thanks for playing it.”
So there we have it folks. A big thanks again to Gary Napper for giving us his valuable time, though I’m claiming it against the cost of new underwear that I incurred whilst playing his game. If you want to know more about the design process behind Alien Isolation check out the video below of their Developer Session at EGX Rezzed where they discussed their vision of the game and the Alien universe.
Be sure to check out our preview of Alien Isolation, which is live now, to see what I thought of the game.