Experienced Points: Aliens Isn’t About Shooting Aliens

By Shamus Posted Friday Feb 22, 2013

Filed under: Column 156 comments

My column this week is about how AAA games aren’t really capable of doing an Aliens title justice because the medium lacks either the mechanics, the maturity, or the confidence to introduce themes and character arcs that compare to the original.

In my column, I pointed out that the aliens themselves don’t show up until the halfway point of the movie. I just watched the Aliens Special Edition last night, and the same holds true for that version. The extended cut is two and a half hours, and the aliens show up right around the hour fifteen mark. This might be one of the reasons they felt the need to make so many cuts: An hour fifteen is a long time for a space monster movie to go without any space monsters. It’s a shame too, because the cut material in the first half really enhances the theme.

In the movie, Ellen Ripley returns to Earth after being in hypersleep for almost 57 years. She’d promised her daughter she would be home for the kid’s birthday, but she didn’t get home until two years after her daughter died, basically of old age. Not only did the aliens kill off her friends, but they caused her to break this promise and miss out on her chance to be a mother.

Then Ripley ends up being dragged back to LV-426 where the space marines promise her absolute safety and manage to uphold that promise for less than a single day. On the colony they find Newt, the sole survivor. Newt has lost her parents. In fact, everyone Newt has ever known is dead. Newt is alone and doesn’t trust adults because the adults all got themselves killed. Ripley is alone and still mourning the loss of her daughter. They begin to form a bond, with Ripley gradually becoming more protective of Newt and Newt gradually trusting Ripley even when every other adult has failed her. Ripley makes a promise to protect Newt saying, “Cross my heart and hope to die”, which is a solemn oath in the parlance of the little girl. These mutual character arcs and the resulting relationship drives the core of the movie, and a significant portion of the running time is dedicated to them.

When Newt is taken, Ripley’s desire to keep her promise is so strong that she’s compelled to dive, alone, into the very heart of the alien nest, with just twenty minutes left on the clock before the whole place goes nuclear. She loves Newt more than she fears this space-horror that has plagued her nightmares. She’s willing to go on this preposterous suicide mission rather than allow the aliens cause her to break another promise.

In the hive, it becomes a duel between two mothers. The Queen defending her young versus Ripley defending hers. After the queen is finally defeated, the complementary Ripley / Newt arcs close when Newt embraces Ripley shouting, “Mommy!”

Then we have the arc of Ripley coming to trust Bishop despite her understandable distrust of synthetics. There’s also her mild flirtation with Hicks. Ripley is the most badass and resourceful civilian, and Hicks is the most compassionate and humane of the marines. (Note little moments like when he helps Newt see what the adults are doing when everyone else is ignoring her, or the gentle way he chastises her when she tries to examine some of the dangerous equipment.)

And yes, the bond between Ripley and Newt brings to mind the bond between Lee and Clementine in The Walking Dead. These threads of human interaction are potent, and give the story that nail-biting / gut-punch “oomph” at the climax. (I didn’t mention The Walking Dead in my article because I wanted to steer clear of making gameplay suggestions. I wanted to keep this idea at a high-level “you need to do character development in there someplace” without getting into specifics.)

And the space marines? Those guys were mostly just cannon fodder.

Shooters aren’t ready to even contemplate themes this complex and deep. BioShock gets a big eye-roll from me for being heavy-handed and laboriously paced, but I have to admit that it’s miles ahead of the competition. Half-Life 2: Episode 2 broke new ground for the series when they gave Alyx a clear character arc that began when she was injured by the hunter and ended when she helped you defeat them. That was a great little moment in the game and I really enjoyed it. But even so, Alyx probably has fewer speaking lines than Private Hudson in Aliens.

It’s not that there aren’t moments of success, but we have so very far to go to reach the heights of cinema and most developers seem to think they’ve already arrived. Make your game cinematic or don’t, but don’t kill off some five-minute NPC and think you’ve just made the toll booth scene from The Godfather.


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156 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Aliens Isn’t About Shooting Aliens

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Aliens versus predator 2,theres a good game that works just as well as the aliens movie.

    1. somebodys_kid says:

      That was right in Monolith’s heyday! Damn do I miss those days…

      1. Factoid says:

        That was well before I started paying attention to things like what developer and publisher made which game in most instances, but now that you mention it was a Monolith game it makes perfect sense to me. Has their fingerprints all over it.

    2. Indy says:

      Not only did they do Aliens right, they gave a go at perspective storytelling. Three simultaneous campaign where the protagonists ran into each other and interacted with the same setting. And they pulled it off.

      1. Factoid says:

        And not only that, but each of the three storylines was about as long as your average AAA title is today.

      2. *nod*
        And the expansion wasn’t bad either. (despite being made outside Monolith).

        Monolith’s AvP2 still ranks as the best Alien(s) game so far in my oppinion.

        Good humor. 3 intersecting story threads. Humor (like one scene that crosses all 3 story threads).

        Damn. now I want to play it again…

    3. modus0 says:

      And here I preferred the original AvP.

      Though I do have to give credit to AvP 2 for having such a complex, interwoven story.

      It just didn’t have the same feel as AvP.

      1. Factoid says:

        The asymetrical multiplayer was amazing, although the only good map was the one they released in the free demo. Some fan-made maps came out later that were excellent though.

        1. Scampi says:

          Yeah, amazing, though buggy-it was always fun, when a bug caused a “hunter”-game to suddenly have more predators than marines…got kinda weird at that moment^^
          The game also had that atmosphere where you’d never know what would happen at any given moment, even when there was no action going on.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            “caused a “hunter”-game to suddenly have more predators than marines…got kinda weird at that moment^^”

            Well that does establish the true tone of a survival horror.

          2. Alphadrop says:

            Hah, reminds me of the sometimes horribly unbalanced team deathmatch games such as being the only marine against predators and aliens.
            Man the complete lack of balance made the multiplayer so cool.

            Though sometimes the reverse in AvP2 where the marines and corps would team up and muller everything with smartguns and miniguns.

    4. Nevermind says:

      That’s what came to my mind too! Not incidentally, the whole first level of this game completely lacks aliens, and still manages to be the scariest videogame experience I ever had.

  2. Din adn? says:

    Aw man.

    Well, that’s already covered everything I was going to try and add, and a lot more besides.

    Now that you’ve said all this stuff, Pitch Black does come to mind. Small group of people, scary monsters that are off screen for a long time, even the whole weird surrogate parent thing. Granted, it doesn’t do those things the same way, but yeah. If the movie had Vin Diesel’s character starting off differently, or even less of a focus on him, you might have got something even closer.

    1. ehlijen says:

      And as with the aliens games, the sequel to Pitch Black missed the point…
      I actually liked chronicles of Riddick, but not for the main character or any relation to Pitch Black.

      1. Din Adn says:

        Oh, I just remembered:Originally, it’s not Riddick that escapes the planet(Link)

        Someone interceded in an attempt to create a new brand.

        EDIT: And I just discovered why nobody puts links inside spoiler tags. Oops.

      2. Vlad says:

        I actually liked Karl Urban’s character in Chronicles, he was a slave to tow masters, interesting how he submitted to the “third” one at the end.

      3. drlemaster says:

        Riddick II struck me a two (potentially) good sci-fi movies mashed up into one very forgettable sci-fi movie. Another gritty sci-fi movie with Riddick and bounty hunters? Yes, please! A movie about necro-dudes with Karl Urban and Thandie Newton? Could be good. They should not be the same movie! I enjoyed parts of the movie quite a bit, then my brain would try to consider the whole, and I would get PTSD-like flashbacks to Superman III.

        1. Mimir says:

          Pitch black is like that too, in relation to the other ones.
          pitch black is a monster flick like aliens, then you have the prison and bounty hunter bit which are more breakout movie/action movie, then you have the sci-fi epic in the style of star wars.
          i liked every movie in that franchise, but i wish they had streched them out a little bit more. they would have done as 3 seperate movies, even with 3 different protagonists.

          1. ehlijen says:

            I don’t think the first movie was really all that mashed up. The one character everyone knows will be trouble is a staple of survival horror movies as is hidden agendas everywhere.

            Alien had that, too, with the droid disobeying orders and later trying to kill Ripley.

            But yes, the second one wanted to be part firefly and part Flash gordon. And the seams were visibile. I liked the flash gordon-ish part. The firefly-but-with-riddick part was pretty meh.

            1. I thought the second movie wanted to Star Wars mashed up with Dune.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shamus,I think I might have narrowed down where the problem about the comments loading times is coming from.I made a comment,but it was stuck in a loading loop here.So I opened the page in a new tab,and it still displayed 0 comments.But then I went to the main page,and it displayed 1 comment.Opening this page again,it was still saying 0 comments.So the main page is working properly,but the individual articles arent.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Yay,its no longer frozen on 0 comment!Now its frozen on 5(while the main page says 15)…

      1. Indy says:

        I think it’s a caching issue. I emptied my cookies and caches from the last hour and it fixes the issue.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Thats the first thing Ive tried(hence why my gravatar changed,it seems Ive typed in the wrong email).Second thing Ive tried was a different browser.And finally,a different computer(my fathers).Since nothing helped,I assume the problem was not on my end.So either its something on Shamus’s end,or somewhere between america and europe.It fixed itself eventually though,but for how long?

    2. Neko says:

      When I comment, it gets stuck forever waiting for the server response. I had previously killed the connection, waited a few seconds, hit ‘back’ and reposted. The site responded that there was already a duplicate comment in the wordpress database, so obviously something’s getting into a queue for further processing, but it’s stalling at that point.

      I don’t think there’s much more we can do at this end to help debug the problem.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Sorry for making multiple comments about this,but I cannot edit my last one.

    I just did some further testing with another computer and another browser,and the same problem appears:The main page works fine,but the individual ones dont.The main page says this one has 3 comments,while the article itself is still frozen on 0.The previous article about diecast says it has 39 comments on the main page,but when I go to it it displays only 34.

    Even more baffling is that the rss feed displays all of the comments,without a problem.

  5. MrGuy says:

    The problem, to some degree, is mechanics.

    A game is generally defined by introducing, learning, and mastering a mechanic or set of mechanics. You use those mechanics to solve “problems” presented to you in the form of gameplay. This is (IMO) what makes a game a game – it’s applied problem solving, whether that problem is “shoot all the monsters so you don’t die” or “use the monkey to get the barrel so you can stand on it and reach the jewelry box to give to the baker so he’ll give you the key to open the door.”

    Those mechanics can be action-based (Doom is a great example), they can be inventory puzzle based (Monkey Island), they can be platforming (Mario), or even speech-based (Walking Dead).

    You can have more than one mechanic drive your game (puzzles + platforming = Portal), but whatever you pick, you have to use. If you have platforming, you need to have regular platforming sections. If you want to have puzzles, you need to have them be a regular thing. Otherwise they’ll feel tacked on and confusing, or people will wonder “why did I spend half of the game learning X and never need it again?”

    And however you set up the game, to be a game you need to be using game mechanics to solve gameplay puzzles for the game to be fun. This doesn’t mean you can’t have exposition, or character development. But if you take the player out of playing a game for extended periods, they’ll get bored. They won’t care. They want to get back to the fun part.

    To me, this is why an Aliens-like shooter can’t work. To work as a game, you need to have the combat mechanic front-and-center, from the start of the game on through. Can you do SOME character development? Sure. But you need to shoot things early, shoot things often if it’s a shooter (recall how annoying the 20 minutes of gameplay-free intro was in FO3).

    1. Primogenitor says:

      I agree that you need to regularly exercise the mechanics, but I don’t think it follows that an aliens shooter is not possible – you just need to have something other than aliens to shoot at.

      1. Kanodin says:

        Actually from what I’ve read that’s one of the things Colonial Marines did. Apparently about a third of the game is just fighting generic Weyland Yutani mercenaries before you even get to the aliens.

        It seems to me that if you make a story where all the players want to do is get out of it to get back to mindless shooting then either the designer or the player has failed somewhere (explanatory note: when I say the player failed I don’t mean they’re playing the game wrong just that they’ve decided not to care about story without giving it a chance, this isn’t necessarily wrong but there’s nothing a designer can do about it to get story engagement(jeeze that was a long note)). In my ideal world the story and the gameplay work together to reach the same themes and the story and how it is conveyed is a core mechanic in and of itself.

        1. Thomas says:

          It’s definitely the way it is now, but I’m wondering if it’s a learned habit. We’ve naturally always expected challenge-gameplay front and centre and anything that doesn’t do that doesn’t meet expectations is perceived as boring. But is it actually boring or is that feeling a result of what we’ve grown up with?

          Specifically, is Dear Esther entertaining? And is Proteus entertaining? If they are entertaining then it should be possible to stick a Dear Esther in front of a survival horror segment. It’d be interesting to see how that plays because it’d be like nothing we’ve really experienced before. Establishing non-combat levels in Half Life and May Payne have always been a thing you get through to get to the game rather than a thing to be enjoyed uniquely in itself.

          …this is probably only possible recently too. It used to be that everyone had to spend the game learning mechanics, but that doesn’t happen with shooters anymore because everyone knows how to shoot and there’s really not much anyone can improve through the course of the game (Something that is probably partly responsible in the way FPS’ have shifted. You can’t escalate tensions through increasing threats because ppl have the same capability throughout the game, so you need to artificially make it appear like it’s doing that). Because everyone shoots now, you can stick in shooting without needing to go through the curve

          1. TouToTheHouYo says:

            I disagree that a shooter, or any other genre for that matter, can’t be more focused on story and less on action. Aliens is ostensibly an action movie, one without much action for nearly half it’s length. As Shamus himself points out, for a movie about space monsters it goes quite awhile without them. Games can do much the same but don’t for fear of boring the player, which I find a silly concern.

            We play games mostly for fun, I’d imagine, but one can have fun in many different ways, and exploring an engaging story with well developed characters can be just as fun as shooting things. Why do we play through RPGs? For the boring, monotonous combat? Or their richly crafted, if not occasionally nonsensical, stories? Or a combination of both, still you get my point.

            Developers can make a shooter that focuses more on the characters and gradually building their relationships, endearing them to the player and fostering genuine concern, providing that gut wrenching impact when something terrible happens to them, and if managed well all that shouldn’t take very long, after all we’re not expected to sit through an entire movie’s worth of character development in order to connect with them, but all that is abandoned or fumbled in the pursuit of “fun.”

            Shooters HAVE to be Call of Duty. They HAVE to be action packed. You always HAVE to be shooting something, and I say BOLLOCKS to that! If developers truly want to make cinematic games in otherwise well defined and established genres then they need the cojones to stray from normality and focus on some good ol’fashioned world building. Take a little time before crap hits the fan to introduce us to the characters and setting, then let the action drop.

            The problem here, I suppose, is finding the sweet spot between action and non-action, but if developers are too afraid to stray from, and consumers to weary to partake of, a nonstandard genre experience, then I further suppose we’ll never really know what that sweet spot is..

            1. Thomas says:

              This is sort of what I mean

              ‘. Games can do much the same but don't for fear of boring the player, which I find a silly concern.’

              I’ll answer my own question. Dear Esther is enjoyable and we can have games where almost nothing challenge based happens. But I think thats so different from normal that devs are afraid of making that game and I think it would get a lot of negative reception from people to (similar to the stuff the walking dead got) because we’re just not used to enjoying games in that way.

              I really want to see someone do to be honest. Make a game thats interesting with almost 0 gameplay, other than walking around and looking for the first half, kicking up with more action towards the end

            2. MrGuy says:

              Right, but to me that’s the difference between movies and games.

              You go to the movies to watch a story be told in words and pictures. Yes, you might be drawn to a movie because of a certain genre, but watching a story slowly build is an expected and central part of the experience.

              You play a game to, well, play a game. You’re there for gameplay. Passively watching something non-interactively that doesn’t invole solving problems with mechanics is NOT core to playing a game.

              That doesn’t mean all storytelling in movies is OK – movies that don’t tell entertaining engaging stories are boring. Or that any story is OK – if Transformers 3 is a gothic period piece, it will turn its audience off, even if its a very well done period piece. Aliens succeeds as a movie because the story “works” for the audience. By the way, Aliens is not an action movie. It’s a suspense thriller, just as the first one was. Building tension is without action is par for that course.

              1. Thomas says:

                But that’s really just a preconception. If it can still be enjoyable to do walk round looking at things and exploring an environment with non-challenged based gameplay then it doesn’t matter that it’s not ‘core’, the only thing stopping us from appreciating the product would be the habits we’ve built up

                1. And the addition of consequences of choices would improve upon the idea immensely.
                  Part of what wasn’t really enjoyed about Dear Esther was that it was something that people didn’t understand, that they couldn’t see as “fun”. But another part was the almost meaningless-ness of the actions you took. You were a wanderer, looking to understand the past. A wonderful experience – but I think the role of a semi-passive observer also put up a barrier to engaging with the fiction.

          2. decius says:

            Why can’t you make the character bad at shooting in the beginning, and improve over time? You could implement that by not giving the character the ‘I always have a perfect sight picture’ ability.

        2. Jace911 says:

          Nope. You run into your first alien hive in the first five minutes of the game, followed shortly after by your first xeno, followed by your first chestburster.

      2. Nataline says:

        Mmhm.. yes, hmm.. wait, let me get my crayons out..

        In the beginning of the game you join the marine corps, go through several types of training (the shooty type being one of the first), fight in a few simulations, fight on a few missions here and there (perhaps rescue some juicy colonists’ daughters from their virginity on the side), fight in a couple of bug hunts and so on. You get to know your AI platoon mates, their individual personalities, possibly discover some of their personal backstories which are not spoon-fed to you by the game via dramatic cutscenes. You gradually develop a deep understanding of your own awesomeness with your big boomsticks that effortlessly cleave through any sort of colonial insurrectionists or space bugs or virginities.

        At the halfway point your platoon goes to some-other-than-LV-426 colony overrun by the titular aliens due to Weyland-Yutani shenanigans and participate in a swift and brutal curb-stomp battle on the receiving end. The game cheats just a little bit in your favor so you are more likely (but not guaranteed) to be one of the survivors to flee the scene while the rest of your mates that you possibly even have some emotional connection to are torn to ribbons.

        The game mechanics change a bit, your boomstick feels a lot more like a boomnoodle but you can still kill things one at a time if you are good enough. You can’t just boldly stride onto the battlefield and mow down the opposition like you did in the Punymookian Uprising mission right after sim camp. You need to rely on cunning, reflexes, stealth and swift legs to carry you to safety while your fierce battle cry “Mommyyyy!” hopefully confuses the aliens.


        At this point I peeked at the thread on another tab to see if some other comment has appeared and makes mine sound stupid. *adjusts tin foil hat* Nice, ^^there’s Kanodin saying Colonial Marines already did something like this. I don’t know how they pilfered my awesome original ideas from the future but now we know they read Shamus’ blog. Oh well..


        So, uh.. In the end something beepy with a red digital timer blows up big time and you narrowly escape. (Maybe with a cryogenically preserved colonist’s daughter in the cargo bay) :P

        1. Osbo says:

          Alpha Protocol did this. They had a quick “training/tutorial” section where you not only learn the basic shooting and stealth mechanics, you also learn the conversation mechanics while talking to your trainers, as well as build a rapport and learn about your these trainers – very central characters to the main plot – during this time. It makes the possibility of losing them have more gravity by a) humanizing them and b) making them useful throughout the game.

    2. So . . . why not build mechanics that involve forming relationships and interactions instead of having all that sort of thing take place in out-of-game cut scenes? It can be done, heck, I’ve *seen* it done in games as old as the original Quest For Glory (which had “combat” as a laughable afterthought). It’s just that this stuff never gets the attention that shooting and puzzles get.

      1. MrGuy says:

        Completely agree. My point was Aliens couldn’t work as a SHOOTER – if that’s your central mechanic, you can’t handle enough story to make the game close to as interesting as the movie.

        I could see it work as a story based game. In such a game, you might never pick up a gun. The marines are Macguffins that make bad things go away at plot-convenient times and locations, making those locations “safe” to the extent to which you trust them. Something like a silent hill “suspense” feel might be kind of awesome.

        1. Yep. I’ve been working off and on for the past 10 years or so at developing mechanics for PnP games that don’t exactly involve combat (although some of the mechanics can be used to resolve a combat if you want) but still create a high degree of crunchy options and retain interest over the duration of a campaign. It’s been my experience that most “story-based” RPG’s are great for one-shots but there often isn’t enough of that “level up” factor for a campaign.

          Thus far I have designed a working (although somewhat bare bones) combat system that doesn’t require the use of a positioning diagram or battle mat to track who is where doing what, yet I’ve managed to recreate all the effects you get from *using* positioning. It’s great for online chat games so you don’t have to fiddle with some sort of godawful buggy beta version battle mat software.

          1. That sounds really interesting.

    3. Kdansky says:

      That’s exactly the same conclusion I made too: If you want a proper, good game, you have to drop the deep story. You just cannot have two hours of solid character development up front without game-play, and you cannot give the characters depth if you don’t slow down the shooting significantly. In the end, the only logical conclusion is that story doesn’t mesh well with good gameplay. If we look at existing titles, that gets confirmed at every corner: Games with great plot and characters (Mass Effect, Torment) have generally crappy gameplay, while games with great play-value (Tetris, Mario, Street Fighter, Starcraft) have generally crappy story, or if it isn’t bad, then it’s at least completely distinct from the game itself (Final Fantasy’s story is like reading a book while you play a tactics game, the two parts have nothing in common), and Portal 2 was heavily criticised for interrupting puzzles with plot, and plot with puzzles.

      That doesn’t mean you cannot have decent characters and an interesting plot. But you won’t reach the point of books and movies. On a tangent: Movies generally are more shallow than books, because they need to fit in two hours, while books can take as many pages as they like. Games are a similar beast: They sacrifice depth for interaction. I like all three, but I think that games that realize that the interaction comes first are the best games.

      I think most gamers, most developers, and most journalists are completely oblivious to this issue. They all still think that it is easy to write a Hitchcock game where you can choose whatever outcome you want and it also has great mechanics. That’s just not going to happen. You can’t make a cinematic plot for Nethack, and you can’t have a billion choices for Walking Dead, and you can’t have replayability of Tetris in Mass Effect.

      1. Thomas says:

        I still reject that because sure, for some types of games thats going to be true but there are all sorts of neat narrative tricks that only games can do. Only a game could properly make you empathise with the pain of having to choose who gets food.

        And some of your examples, Torment, don’t have bad gameplay as a fundamental but just because they were made by people not particular talented in that aspect based on a cruddy ruleset. Alpha Protocol is completely malleable and the gameplay is only mediocre because Obsidian don’t have much practise making stealth games. If you outsourced the stealth to Eidos Montreal then you’d have a game with good gameplay and good story. Same with Torment

        EDIT: Whoops, I nearly fell into the trap there. Torment has some of the best gameplay I’ve ever experienced in a game. The funnest hour I’ve experienced playing a game was in Torment. You were equating combat with gameplay, but if you look at the amount of time you spend, most of the gameplay in the game is going places and clicking stuff and discovering facts and examining artifacts and talking to people and it is ridiculously brilliant and good. Torments gameplay rocks

        1. Kdansky says:

          Yeah, the non-combat “gameplay” of Torment is great. But if you take out the (pointless) combat, the game drops from 40 to 4 hours length. I’m okay with that, to be honest. But then, why do nearly all game pad their content out so much?

          If you want to make a game with a great story, you need to make the game-play about the story, not about combat. And that’s really hard to do until we can generate new plots on the fly with algorithms. You just run out of content way too fast: If you have ten choices, that means the writers have to come up with 10 times the content. If each of these results in 10 more choices, we’re at a 100 times the content. And then a thousand, and so on. It’s definitely impossible to keep up with this, and therefore one has to rely on smokes and mirrors (aka Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age 2) and we know how well that is received.

          1. Thomas says:

            That presuming choice based storytelling though (also I would counter with KotoR1, KotoR2, Fallout:NV and The Walking Dead which all received lots of acclaim for their choice based play to balance out ME3 and Dragon Age 2. As well as Alpha Protocol) and you don’t even need that. The fun gameplay in Planescape was going to be places, learning things and talking to people, but those actions don’t need to create story branches. For example, the Deus Ex: Human Revolution conversation system has you aiming to win the conversation. Not diverge it.

            My favourite gameplay sequence of all time is the brothel in Planescape, but I’m pretty sure there’s no branching choice and no other way events could have turned out. It wasn’t fun because I was expressing myself creatively, it was fun because I was solving human puzzles and uncovering mysteries.

            I also challenge the idea that if you remove combat in Planescape it drops from a 40 hour game to a 4 hour game, because I skipped almost all the combat and I don’t remember it feeling particularly short. The beginning alone can be roughly an hour of play and you don’t have to lift a sword once and I think the brothel section might come in at around an hour too. You don’t really hit a hugely dense combat section until around Curst.

            I agree to some extent you have to design the gameplay around storytelling if you want to tell a story. But thats sort of obvious, if you want teambased combat you have to design the gameplay around team based combat. And the combat may suffer a bit just because it’s hard to get the best writers and the best designers on the same team, there’s only a finite amount of people. But it doesn’t have to suffer to the extent of making the experience unenjoyable. KotoR 2 is a good example of this, especially considering the 13 month development time compared to the normal 3 years. And they still had time for a dense and impactful story. The combat won’t set people on fire, but it isn’t unenjoyable.

            If you want challenge based gameplay to be all it can be, then story may have to hit the wayside, but thats only one type of experience in the end and in particular games are an excellent way of conveying setting and the feeling of a space.

          2. Thomas says:

            Okay, I’ve got a longer post which is churning through the system, but a particular reason why ME3 and Dragon Age 2 are bad examples (apart from the fact the only reason ppl care that they’re bad is ME1 and Dragon Age 1 had fantastic stories and are good games worth playing stand alone) is Bioware have never shown any aptitude at understanding game-stories. Game-stories can be done, but they have to be done differently and Bioware don’t particularly get that. The best example is the levelling up in Mass Effect. Levelling up conveys story understanding of growth, all the great RPGs understand this, but Shepard isn’t meant to be growing so much as a character. She’s already a badass.

            And I’m playing ToR and they just don’t get that you’re meant to think of everything with story in mind. They just copied WoW without the creativity that the WoW designers utilised. A class trainer doesn’t feel Star Wars. If Obsidian (or even Peter Molyneux) designed it, instead of being an NPC you buy abilities off, it’d be a mediation room or something and they’d create a different credit drain for Jedi. But TUN’s video was saying, that if you do think of these things, then you create a powerful story in a form that other mediums just can’t reach.

          3. Thomas says:

            It looks like my comments got eaten. Luckily this means I’ll try to be more concise (ish).

            1. I see your ME3 and Dragon Age 2 and cite, KotoR1, Witcher 2, Dragon Age 1, Chrono Trigger as games with choice that are lauded for them. If ME3, DA2 had pipeline problems, then it was related to them trying a narrative the wrong size, or focusing on graphics/cutscenes etc because games before them have managed to pull it off. Also The Walking Dead is hugely praised, Heavy Rain allows a lot of variance and the problems with KotoR 2, an Alpha Protocol weren’t related to choice. (In particular KotoR 2 managed to write an incredible choiced based story in just 11 months, if they’d had the standard 3 years the game would have been flawless)

            2. It doesn’t have to be choiced base. My favourite segment of Torment is the brothel segement which I believe has no branching paths. But it was fun to learn and solve human puzzles and uncover mysteries.

            3. I’m pretty sure Torment isn’t a 4 hour game without combat. I skipped almost all the combat and it didn’t feel short. You don’t reach your first real combat section until you go looking for the orb and I’m pretty sure the brothel segment alone can take an hour if you’re thorough

            1. Thomas says:

              Also I forgot to add. It may be if you want super awesome combat you can’t also have a story (and it’s true you have to design your gameplay around a story, but it’s also true if you want teambased interactivity you need to design your gameplay around it.) but the KotoR’s had perfectly passable combat and made up for it elsewhere. They different kinds of experiences, but there’s nothing bad about ‘passable’ combat.

              TUN video about an advantage of videogame stories other media can’t explore

  6. Wulfgar says:

    “Note little moments like when he helps Newt see what the adults are doing when everyone else is ignoring her, or the gentle way he chastises her when she tries to examine some of the dangerous equipment”

    i love this part. in 2013 version of this movie, some other character would inform us: “hes a gentle guy. and he like kids. he is good person”

  7. Jokerman says:

    I wish obsidian’s Aliens RPG had not been cancelled, i mean….even if they totally missed the point of the series they would of still made a cracking game. It would of been a terribly awesome awful buggy mess of brilliance.

      1. Jokerman says:

        Its almost like self harm reading this :D

      2. Astor says:

        That only made me hate everone responsible for cancelling Obsidian’s Aliens RPG a bit more!

    1. Pyradox says:

      Speaking of which, Obsidian’s Josh Sawyer has actually been posting some of his ideas on conflict in Aliens in the Project Eternity thread over on Something Awful because by coincidence, they’re talking about making an effective Aliens RPG:

      “You’re viewing the interesting conflict in Alien films as humans vs. aliens, but I believe it’s actually about humans vs. each other.”

      “I don’t mean in the sense of literally being in mortal opposition, I mean in the sense of being in conflict with each other. When the alien isn’t an imminent threat (i.e., it is not a scene featuring the alien), most of the dramatic conflict comes from how the crew of the Nostromo interacts with each other. The conflict on the ship is pretty low-key labor dispute “truckers in space” fare until the point where Dallas and Lambert bring Kane back.

      Dallas: Something has attached itself to him. We have to get him to the infirmary right away.
      Ripley: What kind of thing? I need a clear definition.
      Dallas: An organism. Open the hatch.
      Ripley: Wait a minute. If we let it in, the ship could be infected. You know the quarantine procedure. Twenty-four hours for decontamination.
      Dallas: He could die in twenty-four hours. Open the hatch.
      Ripley: Listen to me, if we break quarantine, we could all die.
      Lambert: Look, could you open the god-damned hatch? We have to get him inside.
      Ripley: No. I can’t do that and if you were in my position, you’d do the same.
      Dallas: Ripley, this is an order. Open that hatch right now, do you hear me?
      Ripley: Yes.
      Dallas: Ripley. This is an order. Do you hear me?
      Ripley: Yes. I read you. The answer is negative.

      Alien was revolutionary for the design of the alien and for its production design, but I think a lot of its lasting appeal as a film comes from the characterization of the crew. I think this is also true of Aliens, where many of the characters receive little screen time but manage to be surprisingly memorable. It’s not just about the relationship of Burke to the others, but about the relationship of the marines to Ripley, of the grunts to Gorman, etc.”

      1. False Prophet says:

        Total agreement. There’s a lot of back and forth about whether Prometheus was a great film or a failure, and a lot of it gets hung up on the critics saying the scientists in Prometheus were stupid, while the apologists retort that Dallas and Gorman were stupid too.

        As one of the critics, I feel both sides miss the point. In Alien and Aliens, we get to know the crew as people well before the monsters show up. So when some of them do stupid things (usually for understandable reasons), we can still empathize with them, and when they start dying, we care. We don’t really get to know the Prometheus characters in that way. They sure as hell don’t care for each other, so why should we care about them?

        1. ? says:

          Prometheus is reverse of situation in Alien and Aliens. The latter have competent low ranking crewmen being screwed by stupid leaders and corrupt corporate agent. In the former Vickers is sensible and treated as a villain, while scientists are running about doing stupidest things possible and we are supposed to sympathise with them. Prometheus has almost identical “we can’t let the infected crewman on board”-scene to Alien, but it’s Lambert as a heroine.
          So yeah, getting to know them would be swell, but it wouldn’t help the movie if they would continue to derp around acting against common sense.

          1. CBob says:

            It’s a character consistency issue. Dallas and Gorman do stupid things that make perfect sense for the people they’re established to be outside those decisions. Dallas puts fraternity above practicality. Gorman tries to compensate for inexperience with arrogance. The scientists in Prometheus (with the exception of the two leads*) do stupid things that contrast glaringly with what’s established about their characters outside those decisions.

            *The leads are stupid too, but they’re internally consistent in their stupidity, so the question is not so much “WTF did they do that” as “WTF are these people scientists?”, which is a little more forgivable in comparison, seeing as how the marines in Aliens were a similar sort of stupid.

            I actually really liked how Vickers turned out as a character, and took her not actually being a villain like that to be more of a refreshing subversion than a mistake. Though admittedly given the general character writing problems in the film, the distinction between legitimately good characterization and good characterization by random chance is kinda camouflaged. I suppose her utterly chump-like death kinda supports the latter, though (sigh).

  8. ehlijen says:

    Just out of curiosity, did you count the facehugger moment with the explorer team in the hour-fifteen count or not?

    1. Shamus says:

      No, I was thinking of moments when the full-grown alien shows up. Specifically, the scene where Gorman sends them into the heat exchange with no bullets and no explanation. Stupid Gorman.

      1. ehlijen says:

        Fair enough. I couldn’t even remember if that face hugger was in the theatrical version or not. (Only have the directors cut DVD, my VHS with the original is…somewhere…).

        I think it was in it, which would be odd. Just one scene definetively showing ‘yup, it’s aliens’ was a bit of a spoiler as to what happened to the colony (everyone knew, but it’s the movies job to make us wonder anyway; it had a nice spooky setup right there). Without backing it up through further establishing the colony, it meant that scene really felt like just an assurance that, yes, eventuelly there’ll be aliens, in case you were starting to doubt.

        1. decius says:

          “Everyone knew”

          Plot twist- use the title and trailer to imply that you’re making a suspenseful creepy alien movie, and then don’t have the alien. The Crew Of The Spaceship Sent To Investigate freak out and end up killing each other for a while, and in the end the Big Bad Marine sacrifices the Badass Civilian Woman and the Child to secure his own ticket home to PTSD treatment. (Perhaps they were threatening to testify about his role in the death of his CO when he freaked out?)

          Alternative: There are aliens, but they aren’t hostile or dangerous or anything.

      2. Joshua says:

        That was one of the oddest plotholes of the movie(and it has a few). It’s explained to the audience why they can’t use guns, but not to the marines themselves, who of course choose to disobey, not knowing the consequences. At no point do they say, “wait a minute, let’s withdraw and think about how we’re going to go in here considering the limited weapon usage”.

        1. ehlijen says:

          Or even just ‘let’s go back to the APC and get us some more of those flamers’.

        2. Shamus says:

          I suppose we can attribute the dumb call to the inexperience of Gorman, but that brings up the further question of why such an important mission was given to someone so green. If I was patching it myself, I suppose I’d hint that Gorman was given the job for political reasons, perhaps because the company had some control over him or his career. Still, it’s obvious these marines are busy people and do tons of missions (where? doing what?) so it’s odd to see them placed under the command of someone this inept.

          Also, Gorman getting knocked out by random falling supplies was an ugly bit of plot convenience.

          But I nitpick. It’s a fantastic movie.

          1. Rick C says:

            “why such an important mission was given to someone so green.”

            Because the Marines didn’t take the mission seriously. They didn’t know anything about the aliens, or even really believe in them. Only Paul Reiser’s character knew anything about them.

            1. Daimbert says:

              And he certainly didn’t want them taking it too seriously, since he wanted to bring back an Alien for study …

              Basically, having seen it a few times, I always thought it was clear that Gorman was green and inexperienced, which explains his screw-ups. Why he was in charge didn’t need to be explained, I felt, because it’s just the sort of thing that happens sometimes for a number of reasons and I could just glide over it without knowing how specifically it happened this time. Adding details of why he was in charge might have just dragged it down (although if it could be done through simple griping by some of the Marines, it could have worked).

              1. Cradok says:

                I always assumed that Burke – or someone else in WY – arranged for an inexperienced lead that could be influenced and ‘guided’ into doing what the company wanted. Remember that it’s him visiting Ripley with Burke when they’re trying to convince her to come along.

                1. Joshua says:

                  This would make sense if Gorman seemed to be relying upon Burke to make decision, but he doesn’t, apart from the initial meeting with Ripley at her apartment.

                  If anything, Gorman’s leadership failure is a detriment to the marines *and* Burke’s plan, since his unreliability could get all of them killed, including Burke.

                  1. Cradok says:

                    Well, Gorman wouldn’t have known it was his job to be bad enough to get the mission aborted but still good enough for Burke to get out alive and well with an infected marine, so it’s not surprising he didn’t manage to do it right.

                    Besides, even Burke didn’t exactly realise just how bad an idea the whole thing was. In his mind, the plan was probably ‘land, check out the town, get someone facehugged, convince Gorman to abort and put the infected in cryo, no big loss if Ripley and some of the marines don’t make it’.

                    1. Joshua says:

                      It’s possible, it’s hard to say. Burke doesn’t even seem to be trying to influence Gorman’s decision when he’s in charge. He doesn’t talk much at all except to Ripley, and in fact, he even supports Ripley defying Gorman to go after the Marines “You had your chance!”

                      His first hint of even being a bad guy is the resistance to simply destroying the whole facility, and it’s understandable in that context.

                      Some of this may be the movie’s fault, as the regular version doesn’t explain very well what Burke’s role in the fiasco was. Ripley’s accusation makes it clear that Burke is now an antagonist, but it’s not fully clear why unless you saw the special edition and realized that the reason there’s an alien problem in the first place is that Burke sent Newt’s parents to go investigate the alien wreckage and thereby get facehugged. The regular version never does really explain why there’s all of a sudden an alien menace despite twenty years of nothing happening.

                      Even Ripley seems to accept Burke’s initial explanation that it’s negligence rather than malevolence, although she still wants him to face consequences.

                      It could be implied that it’s Burke’s master plan to infect the marines, but it’s difficult to say because his actual villainy is displayed only shortly before the aliens attack and he is taken by one.

                    2. CBob says:

                      I feel like people are giving Burke waaaay too much credit here as a schemer. My impression from the movie (both versions) was that he didn’t really have a plan to get anyone impregnated going in, he was just being opportunistic. Even he wasn’t sure what, if anything, they were going to find on LV426 or what he’d actually be able to (or need to) do when they got there. He was just trying to make sure he was present to capitalize on whatever might come up.

                      If he could’ve gotten that one live facehugger tube packed up and taken home as-is he’d be just as happy. The reason he tried to get people impregnated was because the whole mission had already gone to hell and he knew that at that point any non-covert attempt to secure samples would be vetoed with prejudice.

            2. MrGuy says:

              Remember that Gorman’s real mission is to come back in cryo wearing a facehugger. This is not a rescue mission. It’s a collection mission for the bio weapons folks. Burke knows this. The higher ups in the military probably know this. Gorman, obviously, does not.

              Gorman’s main value is being an officer who’s not expected to be bright enough to figure this out.

          2. Tom says:

            Given the unpleasant corporate nature of future-humanity strongly hinted at in the first two Alien films, and common to pretty much all sci-fi movies in the 80s and early 90s in general, for that matter, I’d guess the marines spend the rest of their missions putting down labour disputes and civil uprisings, and keeping planetary colonies from declaring independence. The ones we see onscreen are evidently good guys, for the most part, but there’s never actually any reason given to automatically assume they’re the Good Guys, beyond the fact that they fight against the aliens when they eventually show up.

          3. Mechakisc says:


            It is (by legend anyway) pretty common for military operations to get a green commander because you can’t trust grunts to make command decisions because they don’t have the right perspective or something. The result varies, obviously.

            This is touched upon occasionally in historical fiction, enough so that I assume it is at least commonly believed that it happens all the time.

            I always found it interesting that Heinlein went to some deliberate effort in Starship Troopers to fix this while he was fixing other things.

            1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

              LTs are expected to listen to their sergeants. Officers are generalists, expected to take in a lot of information, evaluate their options, and make decisions in accordance with their orders. Sergeants are experts, expected to know exactly what to do once given a goal.

              Well, that’s the modern Military.

              Aliens is based on a Canadian’s vision of the Vietnam Era USMC as interpretted through Platoon. And that explains pretty much the entire portrayal.

          4. ehlijen says:

            I figured that green officer + experienced unit and vice versa was a reasonable approach to make sure you don’t get mission failures through critical derp mass.

            He was probably given the unit of another officer who’d just been promoted. On paper that leaves an experience unit, between the lines it gives WY a pliable commander on the scene.

            This is reinforced when the company stooge starts losing authority due to the LT being knocked out and a grunt that likes ripley taking over.

        3. MrGuy says:

          I think the plot hole is that the marines don’t figure it out. The technology of “how a terraformer works” is foreign to us, so explaining “these are nuclear reactors, and those are the cooling pipes, and breaching one would be Very Very Bad” is necessary for the audience.

          But to the marines? This is tech that’s somewhat familiar in their world. Heck, they had the non-sleep portions of the trip to read up on what they were getting into. They should know exactly why they can’t use the guns in here.

          So when the order comes in “rifles slung,” to the extent there’s any “wait-why?” at all, it should be immediately followed with “oh, right! Cooling pipes. Yeah, guess that makes sense.” Why this doesn’t happen in an eyeblink is the real hole here.

          1. Tom says:

            Well, at least they did it better than all those crummy 50’s space movies where the entire cast will painstakingly explain, occasionally to mission control or a voice recorder but more frequently just to each other, every single spacey action they take, in very small words, for the benefit of the audience. “I am now putting on my helmet so I can breathe in space.” The standard MO for actors in a lot of those is to behave as if you’ve not had any training at all, let alone years of it, you’ve never met anyone else on board before, let alone trained alongside them as a team, and, in extreme cases, you don’t really know how a rocket actually works and haven’t even thought very much about space before. (On the subject of the Alien franchise, Prometheus sometimes felt to me as if it was seriously back-sliding to those bad old days of Yokels-In-Space).

            Alien was one of the real early pioneers, along with 2001, not for figuring out that to the actual people on screen all this stuff is routine and almost mundane, which was always obvious, but for trusting the audience to be OK with that and bright enough to just figure it out. Or, as they supposedly tell you on day one of directing school, “show, don’t tell.” Alien actually did this better than Aliens when it comes to the big, movie-ending explosion; when they decide to blow up the refinery, nobody acts all clueless that without the cooling system the reactor will go bye-bye. And for the slower audience members, the subsequent copious flashy lights, blaring hooters, gushing steam vents and apocalyptic PA announcements are kind of a big clue.

  9. Infinitron says:

    Something’s messed up with your site, Shamus.

    Also, this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Noe95IxpsiQ

  10. Joshua says:

    Well, often brought up, but look at Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2. You spend a good deal of time in the first game before the incident occurs and aliens appear. In the second time, you actually spend a good bit of time exploring the setting before any action occurs, and then a good bit of time more before you’re able to do anything but run from combat.

  11. Tektotherriggen says:

    Half-Life 2 (episode 0 ?) is also a good example of the value of a long introduction. I never timed how long it is before we get the crowbar, but it’s a long time for an FPS. And when we do get it, and we see those civilians getting beaten up by the metrocop, we hate the Combine. Not because of any one particularly evil act – we don’t yet know they’ve been shelling civilians with headcrabs, or turning people into stalkers, or draining the oceans. But because we’ve spent quarter of an hour seeing all the low-level, human-scale oppression they’ve been imposing, and because they shot us when we couldn’t shoot back, we feel they deserve everything we’re going to do to them for the rest of the game.

    Also contrast Portal 2. We finally got the chance to blow up turrets with lasers, but it didn’t feel satisfying to me because it was pretty much the first time turrets appeared. Imagine if we had first had a difficult turret level where they were untouchable – all caged up like in the extra-hard level in Portal 1. We’d have to do rapid flings past them, or cower behind cubes, or find obscure switches to open alternative routes. And THEN GladOS lets us blow them up. Suddenly it’s a much more cathartic experience.

    1. Tektotherriggen says:

      Sorry Joshua, I must have been writing while you posted. Also sorry for screwing up those italics :-( .

  12. JohnW says:

    Everybody says that the story is about Ripley. I was much more interested in the Marines, which I think is a testament to just how good that movie was. But whatever.

    And Aliens 3 was total garbage for taking this wonderful story of motherhood redeemed and throwing it out the window for no good reason.

    Interesting fact: The names of the Marines are taken from the Battle of Market-Garden in World War 2. I was reading A Bridge Too Far years ago and kept coming across the names Hicks, Hudson, Frost, Dietrich, Gorman, and the clincher, Wierzbowski. I don’t think there was a Vazquez.

    1. Deoxy says:

      And Aliens 3 was total garbage for taking this wonderful story of motherhood redeemed and throwing it out the window for no good reason.

      Well, the “good reason”, as in so many sequels, is “so we can make the first movie again”.

      Making a new movie is hard, and it might not work. Making the same movie again, only different enough that you can sell it like it’s new, is cheap and more likely to have a profit. It’s can also be enjoyable – see how the Final Fantasy series does this in a much better way (every game stands alone – no continuity at all means nothing to mess up).

      And the first thing you have to do to remake the movie (at least, without making new characters, which takes actual work and thought) is completely wipe out the happy ending from the first one. Lame, frustrating, but there you go.

    2. MelTorefas says:

      Yes! Argh. I went straight from 2 to 3, and the moment I saw the opening and realized they had killed off Newt AND Private Hudson IN BETWEEN THE FILMS I turned the movie off in anger and disgust and I have never watched another Alien film since.

      1. Factoid says:

        Don’t worry, you haven’t missed anything.

        1. Mechakisc says:

          Shamus’ comments page needs a way to “thumbs up” or like a comment, because pretend I just did that.

          1. bucaneer says:

            Reach arm towards computer screen. Make thumbs up gesture. Hold until satisfied.

    3. Astor says:

      Aw, c’mon the marines work rather well, but that’s because they are all stereotypes! They became memorable because they were *well used* stereotypes. You have the hard-ass black sergeant, the joker, the macho woman, the idiot with power. And then you have the more level-headed guy that’s more developed and gives Ripley (and the movie) a full adopted family to close up the emotional core. Throw in another simple stereotype to play the villain and you just had a winner.

      AND! I’m here to defend A3, it gave the franchise the ending it deserved. ALL DIES. ALIENS WIN. That’s how it should be, there’s no happy endings in the Alien universe, you damned sissies! It also gave Ripley the ending she deserved too, mainly (and among a few other reasons) so that NOONE would rape the character later (Except A4 came along and did it against all odds! Well played, people!).

      Alien 3 was a wonder in cynicism that aimed with it’s characters (I mean the supporting cast) way higher than the previous or posterior films. Sure, the ideas and themes ended up being half-baked because the studio is run by a bunch of a-holes (they made Fincher start shooting without even having a finished script for crap’s sake!), but the result is at least passable. I don’t understand all the hate this movie gets. The “Assembly cut” is a recommendation to watch too, it solves some continuity and characterization issues. It’s flawed but a decent Alien film in my opinion, one that finished the franchise (or at least Ripley’s story) on a high note as far as I’m concerned.

      1. Kdansky says:

        I don’t think you need to spoiler-tag a film that’s 21 years old. ;)

        1. Astor says:

          heh, quite a bit of people are born every year, it’s not their fault if they haven’t been conscious in this Earth for long enough to have seen all the movies you may have seen!

      2. Jace911 says:

        We hate it because it crumples up Hicks’ and Newt’s character sheets and throws them into the waste bin for no good reason.

        1. MrGuy says:

          At least in Newt’s case, it’s for a very good reason, and its identical to (and possibly reinforced by) the reason Ripley wakes up at the beginning of Aliens to find,she not only kissed her daughter’s birthday, but that her daughter s dead.

          Ripley is a permanent outsider. Everything important to her dies. She has no family. No friends. She has more reason than anyone to lay down and die, to give up, to question if life is really worth it. She’s the unlikely savior. Life gave her nothing. And she’s still willing to give her own life to save humanity. Humanity is worth it. YOU are worth it. Not “someone”. Not “Ripley’s daughter.” Not “Ripley’s surrogate daughter.” Not a specific person. People. You. No matter how bad things seem, you are worth saving.

          1. Jace911 says:

            So the movie kills off Newt and completely throws away two and a half hours of character development for Ripley so that it can re-explore something that the previous movie already explored, except instead of at least focusing on it like the previous installment did it just sort of mashes it together with all of the other themes.


            1. ehlijen says:

              Aliens completely rewrote what the monster from Alien was. Instead of a lone perfect killer, we got hordes of downmowable mooks. Aliens completely threw away the buildup to how scary a single alien could be from the first movie. Does that mean we don’t like Aliens for its own strengthts?

              Aliens also took the ‘happy for ripley’ ending of Alien and ruined it by arbitrarily catapulting her 57 years into the future.

              Alien 3 was its own movie. As part of the series it’s off, sure, but that doesn’t make it bad in and of itself. I didn’t like it as much, but I won’t hate it for daring to dismiss the end of the previous movie exactly like Aliens did with the end of Alien.

              1. I don’t think Aliens re-wrote the monster. In the first film, the “perfect killer” was taking out a bunch of mining employees. The second dealt with an infestation where you (rightly, though it didn’t work out as planned) send heavily-armed people into the nest. So by definition, you’ll have more aliens and actual people with military hardware.

                The build-up came from us knowing what the creature was like coupled with the marines’ disbelief that what they’re facing could be all that terrible or even real. This continued with Gorman’s inept and naivete as evidenced by his insistence that the facility was secure.

                The horror of the first film is that of a disease that strikes a small group. The second is about a pandemic that wipes out a community. Even if you accept the idea that the aliens in the second movie are “mooks,” the scene where they’re being shot by the autoguns provides its own chilling concept: There are so many of them and they’re so determined to get the humans, they’ll take apparently high casualties to test the defenses they’re facing.

                As for Ripley’s “happy ending,” if she’d come back in time to have a relationship with her daughter, she wouldn’t have gone back to LV-427 and she wouldn’t have had the same connection with Newt. There likely wouldn’t have been a colony there, either. Given that she freaking survived when her whole crew was killed, I’d say she didn’t entirely lose out, would you?

                The best things about Alien 3 were the soundtrack, the cast, and the setting. The rest was iffy to crap.

                1. ehlijen says:

                  Aliens totally rewrote the monster. In a good way that worked differently, but it still wasn’t the same kind of movie. And that’s why I don’t find it fair to dislike alien 3 because it wasn’t like aliens when that movie was nothing like its predecessor either.

                  And the happy ending of alien was that ripley survived with the cat and got to go home. It gave no indication that the escape shuttle would take any longer than the trip as originally planned would have. Aliens then decided to screw that and arbitrarily decided that she’d be lost for 57 years. My point was that the following movie chose to change the meaning of the previous one’s ending. Why was Aliens allowed to do that but alien 3 wasn’t?

                  You can argue it didn’t do it as well, and that’d be fair. But too many people seem to think that merely trying in the first place disqualifies alien 3 from being able to be good.

                  1. Joshua says:

                    But Aliens didn’t really screw with the ending of the first movie. Alien didn’t revolve around Ripley trying to escape just so she could be there for her daughter’s birthday. The 57 years is just a set up for what happens later in the movie. In Alien, she was trying to escape alive, and to a lesser extent, rescue the cat as well. Neither accomplishment was rendered moot by the sequel, and you can watch the first movie after the second without going “she’s wasting her time”.

                    Alien 3 *did* render the whole last half-hour of Aliens moot. In addition to it being a waste of time to try to rescue Newt, doing so apparently ends up killing them all in due to the Facehuggers getting on board.

                    On the other hand, I’ve brought up the fact that Ripley surviving the first movie is what dooms everyone(colonists/marines/etc.) in the second. Her telling the story of the alien attack is what leads Burke to send colonists to investigate the craft. They may have investigated it later anyways, but it could have been a good deal of time because 20 years had passed without incident.

            2. Thomas says:

              I always assumed the actors weren’t able to work on a new film. Do we know that thats not what happened?

              1. CBob says:

                Well, Carrie Henn would’ve been way too old to reprise Newt at that point, so they would’ve had to recast her anyway. Dunno about Michael Biehn. I suspect the studio just took one look at the problem and said “Fuck it, a clean slate’ll let us do whatever we want anyway.”

                1. Joshua says:

                  The fun thing was that Michael Biehn made more money from Alien 3 than he did from Aliens. He charged the film “likeness rights” because he was so annoyed with what it did to his character.

  13. HiEv says:

    “when she was injured my the hunter”

    I think you meant “when she was injured by the hunter”.

  14. rayen says:

    “Shooters aren't ready to even contemplate themes this complex and deep.”

    Four words
    Spec ops; The Line

    1. Halfling says:

      Cheap and manipulative =/= deep.

      And sorry for sounding douchy about that but anything remotely resembling Heart of Darkness (Which is itself terribly done and shallow) annoys me greatly. Why it gets adapted so much is beyond me.

      1. LunaticFringe says:

        Because the notion of a constant battle of ‘good vs. evil/civilized vs. savagery’ within the human soul has always been applicable?

      2. rayen says:

        I was taking issue with the idea that shooters aren’t even ready to attempt it. I haven’t actually seen heart of darkness so i have no frame of reference. Spec ops was good in my opinion, and explored some themes that are deep complex and dark. everyone says it’s like heart of darkness but i don’t even know what that is so… yeah.

        1. LunaticFringe says:

          Novel by Conrad, focuses on European colonialism in the Congo basin. It’s about a colonial agent traveling deeper and deeper into the wilderness to find an official, Kurtz. It has a big focus on how a civilized man will easily revert to savagery given a tough situation or opportunity. Spec Ops and Apocalypse Now both borrowed heavily from its themes but not necessarily its overall plot (Heart of Darkness’ ending is frankly quite cheery compared to the end of Spec Ops).

          I assure you that ‘terribly done and shallow’ is a purely subjective opinion, I recommend it (also subjective). You could spend days analyzing it in the context of colonialism, race relations, Orientalism, Western psychology, etc.

    2. Even says:

      It’s still pretty far from doing it in a satisfactory manner. A story that tries to take itself so seriously just doesn’t mesh with the generic power fantasy bro-shooter gameplay. The amount of time spent just trying to humanize the enemy you get to kill by the hundreds, if not thousands, is just incredulous. It’s so stupid and cheap that there are no words to describe. If you’re going to work with the premise that three guys with some special training are badass enough to take over an entire “battalion”, then you really need to stop pretending that you’re trying to tell a serious thought-provoking story. The constant breaks from reality in the plot and the gameplay and the game still insisting that it’s serious goddamn business are just jarring and incomprehensible.

      1. ehlijen says:

        Wasn’t the point to show just how unrealistic the broshooter genre is despite calling itself realistic shooters?

        1. Even says:

          If it was, then they failed to get the point across, unless they expect you to hate the genre in advance and want you to suffer the ridiculousness of it all. There’s just way too much focus on the story within the game itself. I can recall only one specific moment in a longer scene in the game that I’d safely bet on the writers doing some fourth wall nudging and winking, and even then it just felt like a somewhat droll joke with little importance.

  15. Dev Null says:

    the aliens show up right around the hour fifteen mark

    Yeah, it felt like about 15 hours to me too. I hate the super-extended director’s remixes.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      There are some good ones.For example,the terminator 2.Which honestly,I have no idea why its cut.It adds another maybe 10 minutes,and some of those scenes are pretty important(where t1000 is glitching and turning into stuff it touches).I get why something like lord of the rings gets cut for time,but why cut <10 minutes of important scenes?

      1. Lanthanide says:

        The T1000 glitching is interesting, but it’s clear why the director cut it: it significantly weakens him as a character and makes him less of an unstoppable machine.

        IIRC the actual plot implication of it is when John is trying to work out which is the real Sarah, in the director’s cut he sees the machine is glitchy, but in the standard version he just intuitively knows (or correctly guesses), which is frankly a more powerful statement about humanity and the machines.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Actually,I find it to be a lot weaker that john can be so easily duped.This is the future leader of humanity,trained from young age,and he can be forced to shoot his mother by simple “she is not the real sarah”?

          Also,I find the glitches to make t1000 a much better character,not a weaker one.Its not some indestructible uber machine sue,its a robot that obeys the laws of the world,even though its tech is very advanced.

          Plus it means that in the end they managed to dispatch it by attrition,rather than by a single fluke,which makes it a stronger foe.Defeating a strong opponent with a single shot makes that shot a deus ex machina.Slowly weakening it step by step,makes the struggle against the opponent much more important.

          But thanks for explaining where they were coming from with the cuts.I may not agree with it,but at least I get why they did it.

          1. Lanthanide says:

            I completely 100% disagree with all of your conclusions.

            “This is the future leader of humanity,trained from young age,and he can be forced to shoot his mother by simple “she is not the real sarah”?”
            Except he didn’t, that’s the point. The machines tried it on him, and it didn’t work.

            “Also,I find the glitches to make t1000 a much better character,not a weaker one.Its not some indestructible uber machine sue,its a robot that obeys the laws of the world,even though its tech is very advanced.”
            Except that this is entirely fictional, so there are no ‘laws’ that he *should* be following. The glitching was a direct result of him being frozen with liquid nitrogen, nothing else up to that point had had any impact on him at all. In the theatrical cut, it shows that even freezing him has no affect, except to slow down his persuit.

            “Plus it means that in the end they managed to dispatch it by attrition,rather than by a single fluke,which makes it a stronger foe.”
            It wasn’t a “single fluke”, it was John’s humanity that won over the guile of the machines. I think the real intention of that scene is to show that John ‘knew’ who his real mother was, which is something that the machines simply couldn’t overcome no matter what tricks they tried.

            “Slowly weakening it step by step,makes the struggle against the opponent much more important.”
            Except as mentioned, the only thing that resulted in the glitching was the liquid nitrogen, which happens very near the end anyway. So it really wasn’t much of a ‘weakening step by step’. I also disagree anyway: something that is completely unstoppable up until some fatal mistake or combination of circumstances is more terrifying than something that you weaken and eventually overcome. This is really a similar theme to the Aliens – they’re very strong and the only chance you have against them is to kill them outright.

            1. Asimech says:

              In good writing there are always “laws” that the character’s should be following. They don’t have to be real-world laws of physics or anything like them, but some kind of underlying rules need to be followed or it’s very easy to end up giving a constant feel of Asspull to the reader/viewer.

              Just giving the impression there are unknown rules or laws that are being followed can be enough, but that’s still better than getting on the “no rules, anything can happen at any time” train. That train tends to bring out stuff like One More Day.

              Now I agree with Ehlijen below, the Terminator series was all about slasher-type “unstoppable monster after you” thing, but I think this is a matter of taste.

              From what I can gather, for Daemian a threat is more ‘real’ if the threat is shown to be subject to at least some of the rules of the in-story world or is shown to have some kind of weaknesses. It becomes more believable, more like a character and less like it’s just some macguffin that pushes the story forward.

              Of course that’s what the T1000 is. It’s not a character at all, just a macguffin that keeps the main character’s moving. And that is a weakness in the story if you don’t like slasher flicks.

              I could be projecting on Daemian, I don’t feel like an “unstoppable death machine” has a whole lot of potential to feel like a genuine threat since it often keeps kicking immersion out.

              Aside, I thought it was established time travel was chilling in T1? Having T1000 glitch out a bit in the beginning would’ve hinted a weakness to cold. Since the weakness has been established, having it exploited near the end would make it a Chekov’s gun. I haven’t seen the extended version, so I can’t say if the scene actually works, I’m just throwing the idea out so it’ll stop bothering me.

              1. Lanthanide says:

                Yeah, I agree on the chekov’s gun point. AFAI can recall, there was no foreshadowing of this at all.

                Also I don’t think there’s any ‘cold’ with the time travel, just lightning.

              2. What’s worse, nothing about the T-1000 is organic. Nothing inorganic can travel through time (though they apparently make an exception for the T-800 being a machine covered in meat, so why not steak-wrap a machine gun for your time-travelers?), so how does a blob of metal make it through the ol’ temporal rift?

                1. CBob says:

                  That’s not really a problem IMO. Reese said it was because of the particular EM/Bioelectric field given off by organisms. The details of the T-1000s shapeshifting ability, like being able to mimic colors and fine detail like hairs, skin grain, etc., and the redundancy needed to reform itself when broken up, all means that it could very easily have the ability to mimic that EM field as well. Just think about the level of microcircuitry and activity implied in every cubic CM of its body. It isn’t just a hunk of dead metal with a cpu in the middle like a T-800 chassis: it’s entire body is pretty much a naked snowball of microprocessors. It probably generates a biologically complex (but exotic) field just by not being a puddle.

                  A steak-wrapped gun wouldn’t work, since it’s not the meat but rather the EM field that does the trick, so dead meat wouldn’t be any better than metal. Dark Horse did some comic books though where some Terminators smuggled guns back by stitching them up inside a live human prisoner’s abdominal cavity. No reason why a T-800 couldn’t fit a pistol or something in it’s own abdomen, at least.

                2. CBob says:

                  That’s actually a fairly reasonable possibility, and one which has been considered IRL. Without some kind of warp drive or other FTL magi-tech, interstellar travel is pretty damned daunting. The fuel needs alone are a pretty dismal equation.

                  Expanding out into the solar system is quite reasonable, but going out into the galaxy, even locally, is not likely IMO without some kind of energy-affordable FTL.

                  Obviously it’s no fun when it comes to fiction, so it doesn’t show up in pop culture, but it is depressingly realistic.

            2. Daemian Lucifer says:

              “Except he didn't, that's the point. The machines tried it on him, and it didn't work.”

              No,the humans tried it on him,and it worked.It was just dumb luck that machines didnt try it instead,or else the ending wouldve been much grimmer.

              “Except that this is entirely fictional, so there are no “˜laws' that he *should* be following. The glitching was a direct result of him being frozen with liquid nitrogen, nothing else up to that point had had any impact on him at all. In the theatrical cut, it shows that even freezing him has no affect, except to slow down his persuit.”

              Like Asimech said,some laws should be followed.Not the ones of the real world,but the ones of the setting.And even though the glitches were introduced in the third act,they were established well,and had a payoff.You dont have to introduce the laws of your fictional world early in the story,you just have to do it properly.And those scenes did just that.

              “It wasn't a “single fluke”, it was John's humanity that won over the guile of the machines. I think the real intention of that scene is to show that John “˜knew' who his real mother was, which is something that the machines simply couldn't overcome no matter what tricks they tried.”

              Or,that he was just gullible enough to believe the first time someone tells him “she isnt your mother”.”He just knew” is a pretty weak excuse for “he was lucky”.

              “Except as mentioned, the only thing that resulted in the glitching was the liquid nitrogen, which happens very near the end anyway. So it really wasn't much of a “˜weakening step by step'.”

              But it was.The whole of the third act was them slowly chipping away at it until they finally got it into the furnace.Thats why all the explosions before didnt work:They were isolated events that merely slowed the machine down.

              “I also disagree anyway: something that is completely unstoppable up until some fatal mistake or combination of circumstances is more terrifying than something that you weaken and eventually overcome. This is really a similar theme to the Aliens ““ they're very strong and the only chance you have against them is to kill them outright.”

              Xenomorphs posses a lot of weaknesses themselves.Their biggest strength is their numbers.Those two operate in different ways.

              A better comparison would be the predators.And both* predators werent dealt with suddenly either,but by slowly taking away their toys(or limbs,in the case of the second one).

              *Talking just about predator 1 and 2 here.AvP movies were just bad,and predator 3…I completely forgot what happened in that one.It wasnt bad per se,it was just not memorable.I should go back and rewatch it.

          2. ehlijen says:

            The whole point of the terminator franchise was to use the fear of the unstoppable death machine. Good slasher movies always did this. The chase is scarier than the kill, so the chase has to be drawn out for the whole movie until the hero/ine is truly exhausted and desperate and the audience right along with them.

            Also, the T1000 wasn’t a character. It was the threat, the danger, nothing more. Star wars didn’t show us construction delays in the death star to make it have more character either.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Two points:

              1)Terminator 2 isnt just a slasher movie.Thats why it has that whole huge subplot about changing the future where t1000 isnt even present in.

              2)Good slasher movies definitely can have characters with weaknesses as the main threat.Predator movies for example.The predators are shown to bleed fairly early in movie 1.And the main predators from 1 and 2 are completely different,first one preferring stealth and range,while the second one like toying with his prey,and then getting close and personal for the final kill.

              1. ehlijen says:

                1) No it isn’t, and that’s a good thing. But the (evil) terminator was always a representation of ruthless, implaccable death that machines would be in a war.

                2) The predator self surgery scene served the same purpose as the arnie eye fixing scene in T1: to show that even serious injury won’t stop these things. Arnie doesn’t beat the predator by exploiting its existing wound. In fact, the predator lures him into a trap by leaving a deliberate trail of neon blood. Likewise, Sarah Connor doesn’t escape the t800 through exploiting his faulty vision or exposing him in public by pulling his sunnies off. Yet, in this deleted t2 scene, the t1000 would have had an impairing injury that foiled his plan for success.

                The predator is beaten by arnie outhinking the thing that thought itself smarter. The t800 is beaten by another machine that a human made to serve her (the compactor). The theatrical t1000 was beaten because a human did what a machine can’t: trust intuition.

                All three of these have their own theme. Refuting arrogance, inevitability, faith in humanity (Yes, the termie movies all had different messages about time travel). Had the t1000 been foiled by damage, the message would merely have been that skynet didn’t have what it takes. That would have both diminished skynet as a threat and taken away from the victory of the humans over machines.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Except arnie wouldnt be able to beat the predator if he decided to use his weapons.By making him get rid of his weapons,arnie weakened the predator,and managed to finish him off with the trap.Same goes for sarah:If the terminator wasnt slowly striped from his mobility by the fire and explosions before,she wouldnt be able to hide behind the press.She and reese removed terminators mobility and strength before she finally managed to kill it.

                  But t1000 isnt like these two.Its strongest weapon wasnt the strength or the weapons,it was the disguises.Yet without the glitching scenes,he is never separated from those.

                  1. ehlijen says:

                    That’s the thing though. Arnie fought so hard he broke some of the predator’s toys. He achieved that. And even so, the predator didn’t need his weapons to mob the floor with arnie in a fight.
                    Reese gave his life to slow the t800 down and partially damage it. But it was still a deadly killer robot. Their tools were taken away, but not the danger they posed nor was the kind of danger they posed changed much.

                    The t1000 knowingly walked through the nitro pool he himself created by running a truck into a steel mill. If he takes lasting damage from that, he later fails because he’s ignorant. If he doesn’t, he knew the freezing would be momentary setback and worth the risk.
                    One has the humans win because the bad guy was a buffoon, the other because they outfought a superior enemy.

                    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      But t1000 didnt know what was in the truck,it just picked the first working vehicle it found.And it didnt just randomly crash,it was forced into a crash by t101.And it didnt just walk into the pool of liquid nitrogen,it got soaked with the stuff when the crash happened.

                      Also,arnie didnt break any of the predators weapons.He managed only to bruise him a bit,which showed the predator he was a worthy opponent,so he discarded all of them.It was danny glover that managed to disarm(pun intended)the predator on his own.

  16. Scampi says:

    The specific kind of relation within Aliens doesn’t work well within games for a reason that’s pretty easy to define. I’m amazed, Shamus didn’t see it himself: his older entries about NPCs and immersion and emergent gameplay answer why most (especially companion) NPCs are more an annoying nuisance than helpful and therefore are often not an easy target to get the player sympathize with them, especially if they have (possibly) no gameplay function except being a fragile escort protégé or standing in the way during gunfights-maybe even bringing disadvantages in combat BECAUSE they try helping the player (still remember having Fawkes in FO3 attacking my back with his gatling laser while my dog blocked my movements in narrow tunnels…). As long as AI is not smart enough for NPCs to act sensible, I won’t consider them emotionally involving in a good way (though they can anger me indeed). Most NPCs I ever got involved with in a positive way (up til now) were cutscene only or the kind which were not hindrances(e.g. no collision-type).

  17. Dreadjaws says:

    I think they keep making a terrible mistake by trying to make First Person Shooters out of the Alien franchise. FPSs are all about being this one-man-army Mary Sue, a hollow personality for the players to project themselves into, who can, against all odds, succeed by himself where millions of others couldn’t. Everyone who isn’t the protagonist, is cannon fodder.

    The Alien franchise, on the other side of the spectrum, is about being the cannon fodder. You are the prey, not the predator. Your enemy is powerful, unknown and all-seeing. You have no opportunity and you live in fear.

    These two concepts clash quite obviously, so it baffles me that they keep trying to marry them, which holds as much logic as making a Judge Dredd Dating Sim or a Kart Racing game with The Flash.

    The Alien franchise belongs in the survival horror genre. The best Alien game I’ve ever played was probably Dino Crisis.

    1. Thomas says:

      The marines rack up a huge number of kills in Aliens though. I’m not sure if it’s completely survival horrory. It’s sort of like Predator, where most people end up dying against a powerful threat, but at the same time they’re taking names and power fantasying it up

      1. When are the marines ever feeling like they’ve got the upper hand on the aliens? The only tough talk comes from “game over” guy, and that’s after he’s pretty much snapped and is being dragged to his doom.

        1. ehlijen says:

          It’s not about having the upper hand. It’s about the aliens being a threat to too great numbers rather than being indivually scary. It’s the difference between fleeing from a slasher or a zombie horde.

          During the escape from the reactor, in the scene with the sentry guns and in the battle in which all but the token survivors die a significant number of aliens is killed, with comparable ease when held up next to Alien or Alien 3.

          That’s not a bad thing, but it is a big difference.

    2. decius says:

      Don’t attribute to the genre aspects which are simply prevalent in some games. Not all FPS’s must have the traits you ascribe to them;

    3. One huge mistake this game made was to completely forget what would make the aliens scary to an FPS player: Acid blood. Apparently, you can shoot these jokers at point-blank range and it’s no trouble at all, whereas in the Aliens movie, it’s shown how doing so is just giving yourself a slower death than the one you gave your target.

      If there’s one thing FPS players hate, it’s close-quarter targets that get some kind of “glory device” final strike. Making the Aliens walking acid-bombs, as they rightly should be, would’ve made the concept of facing more than one a nervous prospect, indeed.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        They did what?Thats idiotic.The most terrifying thing about fighting aliens back in avp games was the blood.You always wanted to shoot the buggers as far away from you as possible,and then wait a bit until the blood drips away.Even as a predator,I still preferred dispatching them with ranged weapons instead of the spear/claws.

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Avp games had you playing as predator as well,and even then the xenomorphs were not something to sneeze at.As a marine,its even worse.So yes,you can make an atmosphere in an fps,you just need to know how.

  18. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So,am I alone in thinking that alien 3 wasnt that bad?It wasnt as good as 1 or 2,but it still was a solid piece of cinema(unlike the rest).

    1. Thomas says:

      I think the first two are way better critically, but I went through them with some friends and there are a lot of enjoyable things about 3 and even 4. I don’t think they’d ever win any prizes but quite a few people enjoyed them more than 1 (or even 2) if the mood is right.

      Also I thought the religion and prison stuff was handled really nicely in 3, moreso than you normally see in films like that.

      AvP2 is just as bad as (if not worse than) people say

    2. Scampi says:

      No, you’re not alone there-I also still liked it. Alien 4 imo was beyond redemption.

    3. Lanthanide says:

      When was the last time you saw Alien 3? I used to quite like it, until I tried to watch it a few years ago and just found it terrible and clumsy.

      Alien 4 was written by Joss Whedon, and apparently he wrote the script to be funny and somewhat slapstick, which sounds like a huge mistake for the Alien franchise. He eventually went on to make Firefly in his vision (imagine Firefly with aliens…). When asked in an interview about why Alien 4 turned out so badly, he said that they did everything wrong: mis-cast, mis-directed, mis-produced, and it really is true – the casting is abysmal, as is the direction. They kill off the most interesting character out of the motley crew so early that upon re-watching the film you wonder who he is because you didn’t even remember him being there the first time you saw it.

      The only good part of alien 4 is the Ripley specimen lab. The rest is abysmal.

      1. How could you forget the magic whiskey cube?! It was pretty much the only scientific advancement since the previous movies!

        Speaking of forgetting, you’d think that the scientists that rebuilt the xenomorph from the DNA on up would’ve remembered what its blood was made out of and not made their environment vulnerable to it, let alone put them in close quarters where one could be chosen for exanguination by its cellmates.

  19. Daimbert says:

    I can’t believe that the article linked said that the Alien 3 game was a good example of a game that captured the spirit of the movies/franchise and left out the two original games — that I played on the C64 — of Alien and Aliens. Neither were FPSes (but neither was the Alien 3 game, which was more of a platformer) and Alien was basically an adventure-type game where you had a bunch of items and things around and the crew around and you had to put certain things in order — and catch Jones — before you could leave … and you couldn’t take all of the members of the crew. Aliens was a hybrid that started with taking the drop ship down on a course marked by circles — and some really cool music — through to a part where you have to navigate your marines through the facility to the APC, and then a defense mission where you have to save your marines from being killed by attacking aliens. There was probably another part, but I couldn’t get past that one [grin]. It didn’t capture the Ripley/Newt dynamic, but it certainly captured the “wearing you down” angle that the author thought was great about Alien 3 (which I played a demo of on the Amiga).

  20. Oleyo says:

    I thought this was a great article, and really hammers home a major deficiency in character development in *most* games.

    I think your breakdown shows that you COULD have a great Aliens game, even with just Space Marines. You just need to develop them like real characters.

    As you pointed out, the Marines in Aliens were side characters and cannon fodder, and yet they *still* were WAY more interesting and diverse than most protagonists in video games.

    Why isn’t it possible with games having such large budgets to spend a lot more on writing characters and telling stories.

    Look at one of my favorite little bit of dialog from Aliens:

    HUDSON: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?
    VASQUEZ: No, have you? *fist bumps*

    So simple, but a skilled writer used these two lines flesh out these characters and establish their relationship. Vasquez is shown to be a bad-ass marine who just happens to be a woman, she never makes a big deal out of it (aside from Hudson’s quip, I don’t think it is ever mentioned). She is cool and confident with a quick wit. Hudson is shown to be a bit more of a goof and less macho than the other marines. The potshot and the rejoinder are both in a friendly spirit and establishes the close-knit family of the Marines.

    This is just one tiny little throw away exchange, and it always sticks with me. Where is this characterization in our games?

  21. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    I would second those up-thread who say that part of the problem is that games are afraid that -should they let up on the shooting for just 5 minutes -the audience would get bored.

    This backfired horribly for me in Dishonored. The game kicked off so quickly that I hardly had time to figure out what was going on and why it mattered. A half hour, even an hour of doing the traditional Captain of the Guard routine -get some exposition, go talk to folks in the other city -would have gone a long way towards making that game better and more gripping. As it is, we’re into the combat so fast it feels underdeveloped and railroading.

    I heard the game called the new DX. People must have forgotten just how much of DX you can play without firing a shot, and how many portions of that game don’t even require you to draw a weapon.

    1. Thomas says:

      Even with the new DX:HR, the bits that have stuck with me (apart from Malik) are talking to people, wandering around the town and the headquarters, explore Heng Sha.

    2. Indy says:

      A more elaborate “Defend the Empress” section could have helped a great deal with establishing pathos to both the Empress and your own life in Dishonored. Don’t even have it as the actual assassins yet, just put her in a situation where you have to interact with the world to keep her safe. It is your job after all.

      1. decius says:

        Except that it’s a plot point that you were still supposed to be away, and are attacked as soon as you arrive.

        1. Jace911 says:

          Then have the section after you get back be longer; you return early and give the Empress the note, then the first wave of assassins jumps you. You take them out and start a short-ish (A few minutes) escort mission where you have to get the Empress and Emily to a safe room in the tower, fighting assassins the whole way. It would also give you more time to slowly realize that the whole thing is a setup: you’ll notice that there aren’t any guards where there should be, assassins come out of areas that should be secure, and when you get inside the safe room you find Daud waiting for you. By the time the Spymaster and the guards get in all they find is you and the dead Empress.

          Same intent and effect, but you have more time to take things in and get slightly more attached to the Empress and Emily.

  22. Steve C says:

    I’m surprised your Escapist article didn’t mention Dead Island gameplay vs the trailer that has nothing to do with Dead Island. It is possible to make something that resonates emotionally in a short amount of time. But not if they fuck it up later.

  23. Ravens Cry says:

    I think this is the appeal of adventure games at their best. Despite the dodgy mechanics and often frankly ridiculous puzzles, they had time to tell an actual story. They still weren’t Shakespeare, but they had the pacing to potentially have characters you can actually care about. Take Grim Fandango. When a certain character sacrifices himself, you hadn’t merely been introduced to him 5 minutes ago, he’d been a character from pretty close to the beginning of the game. The main character himself goes through changes as the story progresses, going from someone almost despicably selfish, to someone who genuinely cares for others and one person in particular.

  24. Harry says:

    I feel like whoever made this game was an enormous fan of Aliens, yet never actually understood what the film was about.

    1. Jace911 says:

      I feel like whoever made this game eschewed watching the movie for reading the wiki.

  25. The best Aliens game is Half-Life.

    1. Fleaman says:

      So, while I agree with Shamus et al that the character relationships are what make Aliens a great movie, I don’t think they’re what Aliens is about. When you describe Aliens, you don’t say “Aliens is about Ellen Ripley regaining her motherhood”. Aliens is about being murdered by aliens. All of the strong characterization was in service to this; the movie wanted you to care about these characters and really sympathize with them, so that you would give a shit when the movie then went and murdered them all with an alien.

      From that premise, Aliens: The Game does not necessarily have to worry about character development or tackling deep human themes of motherhood and trust or whatever. That worked for the movie’s purposes, because *you* were not in that movie. But the game doesn’t have to make Ellen Ripley such a human and relatable character so that you slip into her persona and sympathize with her deeply when she’s about to be murdered by an alien; the game can simply murder you directly.

      What I’m saying is that the core gameplay mechanic of Aliens: The Game is not interacting with crewmates and marines and little girls (that game was The Walking Dead), and it’s absolutely not shooting aliens. The core mechanic is shooting at aliens, and then horribly dying.

      And THAT is why ArekExcelsior is completely right about Half-Life. Aliens: The Game should be a six-to-nine hour experience of repeatedly falling into water where there’s an ichthyosaur.

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