Gaming Aliens

Published on February 20th, 2013 | by Xalaga

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Aliens: Colonial Marines meets the fate of Duke Nuke’m Forever

One of, perhaps, my most anticipated games in the Riddley Scott’s world has been Aliens: Colonial Marines. This game has been postponed and pushed around more times that I care to count, but having a fantastic group behind it like GearBox, my original worries were put at ease.  I’ll be honest here and say that not only have I played Duke Nukem forever, but I finished it and I bought it once it was $3.99 at my local store. Why? It was fun to play. Was it the best game ever? Perhaps not, but it was at least playable. I saw Aliens at E3 2010 and it looked amazing. Granted, they only showed us a video. I saw it at Pax Prime that year, and the following year, and it seem to get better and better with an emphasis towards the multiplayer. It was safe to say that I could not wait to get my hands on it.

Clearly the NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) were released at the same time, as a load of bad reviews came crushing down like a Tsunami that has been waiting to destroy everything in its path. I, like probably many of you, found the news surprising and disturbing. At this point I thought “Wait, it can’t be worse than Duke Nukem, right?” So, I ventured over to metacritic.com to compare Aliens to Duke Nukem.

 

aliens_xboxDuke_360aliens_PS3Duke_PS3
aliens_pcDuke_PC

Wow! I never thought I would see a game like this so soon after what Duke Nukem had done.  When asked what the worst games in Video Game history are, E.T. and Duke Nukem Forever come to mind. So why? Why let this happen with a game that had a lot of promise? With a story that is said to be cannon to the movies? Questions I am dying to answer once I can afford a copy of the game and that the answers lay within it. Our Senior Editor, Smikey, was kind enough to point me to a post on reddit. Yes, Reddit. The source of all news as of late, and one that I was not expecting to answer a lot of my questions. Here is what an anonymous poster had to say about the game, code named Pecan, while trying to not break any NDA on his/her way:
Poster on Reddit.com by throwawayacm

“First off, due to me breaking NDA, I can’t provide any proof that I’m not just talking out of my ass. But I figure you’d be interested in hearing what I have to say regardless. I’ve been on the project for around a year and a half, so some of the following are things I’ve heard from more senior guys.
Pecan (the internal codename for ACM) has a pretty long history. SEGA, GBX and 20th Century FOX came to an agreement to produce an Aliens game around 6 years ago, after which SEGA almost immediately announced it, long before Pecan had even started production. The game has been in active development in the past, only to be shelved in favor of another project (Borderlands, Duke, etc), and each time it was resumed it would undergo a major content overhaul.
SEGA, naturally, wasn’t super pleased about the delays, but GBX got away with it for a long time and the contract between SEGA and GBX kept getting augmented to push the projected release further and further back. The last time it was resumed, GBX outsourced a good portion of the game to outside companies. Initially, the plan was for TimeGate to take the majority of campaign, GBX would take MP, Demiurge and Nerve would handle DLC and various other focused tasks. This decision was made mostly so that most of the developers at GBX could continue working on Borderlands 2, while a small group of LDs, coders and designers dealt with Pecan.
Somehow the schedules for Pecan and Borderlands 2 managed to line up and GBX realized that there was no fucking way they could cert and ship two titles at the same time. Additionally, campaign (which was being developed by TimeGate) was extremely far behind, even as Pecan’s Beta deadline got closer and closer. In April or May (can’t remember which), Pecan was supposed to hit beta, but GBX instead came to an agreement with SEGA that they would push the release date back one more time, buying GBX around 9 mos extension.
About 5 of those 9 months went to shipping BL2. In that time, TimeGate managed to scrap together 85% of the campaign, but once Borderlands 2 shipped and GBX turned its attention to Pecan, it became pretty apparent that what had been made was in a pretty horrid state. Campaign didn’t make much sense, the boss fights weren’t implemented, PS3 was way over memory, etcetcetc. GBX was pretty unhappy with TG’s work, and some of Campaign maps were just completely redesigned from scratch. There were some last minute feature requests, most notably female marines, and the general consensus among GBX devs was that there was no way this game was going to be good by ship. There just wasn’t enough time.
Considering that SEGA was pretty close to taking legal action against GBX, asking for an extension wasn’t an option, and so Pecan crash-landed through certification and shipping. Features that were planned were oversimplified, or shoved in (a good example of this are challenges, which are in an incredibly illogical order). Issues that didn’t cause 100% blockers were generally ignored, with the exception of absolutely horrible problems. This isn’t because GBX didn’t care, mind you. At a certain point, they couldn’t risk changing ANYTHING that might cause them to fail certification or break some other system. And so, the product you see is what you get.
Beyond gameplay, the story has been raised as an issue several times. I can’t really comment without feeling bad beyond saying that the script was approved by 20th Century FOX, and that the rush to throw a playable product together came at the cost of the story. Campaign does a pretty bad job of explaining a lot of the questions raised at the start of the game, and so hopefully there will be DLC to flesh that out a bit better.”

So let’s break this down a bit and take it as “truth”.
“Sega announced the game immediately about 6 years ago”  Sadly this is where it all started to crumble down. The reason why many companies start working on games and have code words instead of the actual name of the game, is not because they like to keep their IP in a shadow of secrecy. Where only a few have passed the gauntlet of doom in order to know the real name of the project. It’s because having code names help the studio as well as the customer. You know all studios are working on games, and a few will release that they are working on a game, codenamed “Pecan”, in order to create hype.  At the time that we get an official announcement, the game almost always is nearly finished, most of the problems have been flushed out, the look and feel is already set, in the best case scenario.  Releasing the news of a game being worked on right away puts the studio under enormous pressure and starts creating unrealistic expectations on the customer side.

“The game has been in active development in the past, only to be shelved in favor of another project (Borderlands, Duke, etc), and each time it was resumed it would undergo a major content overhaul.”  Bad, bad…baaaaad! Just this section alone tells you that not only has the game suffered in a never ending waiting line, but most likely it has changed hands. Imagine that you are reading “Lords of the Rings”, but three chapters into it you switch to “John Dies At The End”, then you decide to read “Ready, Player One”…then go back to “Lords of the Rings.” It will probably take a couple of chapters to remember who is who and what is going on. Some people would have to start rereading the book over again from the beginning. This is what happened to Aliens: Colonial Marines, several times, in its development. Which makes sense that it underwent major content overhaul every time it was picked up again. They said “screw this! lets start from chapter one again and this time it’s going to be great!” over and over again.

“GBX outsourced a good portion of the game to outside companies. Initially, the plan was for TimeGate to take the majority of campaign, GBX would take MP, Demiurge and Nerve would handle DLC and various other focused tasks. “ So now, we have way too many hands on the pot.  It is not uncommon that companies will look to other studios to help them with the workload, since it is far better than hiring, training, and most likely firing engineers at the end of the game. Reaching out is not a problem, but by the sounds of it the game was nowhere near flushed out, or solid enough to have different companies to come in and work on different sections of the game at this time. I will also like to add that Gearbox not dealing with the story portion, would have made this a rough transition either way.

“… but once Borderlands 2 shipped and GBX turned its attention to Pecan, it became pretty apparent that what had been made was in a pretty horrid state. “ Someone dropped the hat on Aliens. If anything this statement makes it really clear that Gearbox attention was fully into Borderlands 2, as it should have been. The problem is when a company tries to do more than one thing and they are not realistic with their timelines, other projects will suffer. Putting all your eggs in one basket is a bad business format, but the same came be said for spreading yourself too thin. If anything, this makes you think that Gearbox is only capable of developing Borderlands and that is it. Seeing how Duke Nukem and Aliens are suffering nearly the same fate makes you question the companies leadership. Moving a games release date, having it in “development” for six years, to then try to fix it in nine months is ludacrous. To me, that is the equivalent of having a Science project do in two weeks, but you wait until the night before to start.  Your Baking Soda Volcano won’t be as impressive as the computer built from a potato idea you had. Sometimes you need to know when to fold, and perhaps Aliens was one of those games that needed to be shelved after the release of Borderlands 2. Perhaps it would have been better to pay Sega for that extension, in the hopes that you would have come out either at cost, or take your loses in the game, but not deliver something that most people won’t buy. As a consumer it’s really hard for me to justified the purchase of a Gearbox game that is not Borderlands. Seeing how much love and attention to detail Borderlands has, this type of results makes me angry. Why wasn’t the same care and love put into Aliens? Why didn’t they hire enough engineers to keep “Pecan” a float? Who was the leader of the project that allowed TimeGate to slip so far into development that the campaign, the core of the whole game due to it being the next part of the cannon Aliens story, was not even at 90% by the time of the original release?

So many questions that we can only speculate at this point. Which is why, for the purpose of this article, I have only taken the original post from Reddit and make speculations on what it was saying. The account “throwawayacm” is clearly an account that was created for the purpose of this post. “throwaway-Aliens-Colonial-Marine” could be the desperate call for understanding from someone that has been through the project for a year and a half. Could be the desperate attempt from marketing in order to start a somewhat positive feed back for the game in an attempt to get some sales. It could be as simple as someone that is looking for more Karma on Reddit. Which is why we should take this with a grain of salt and make our own conclusions of the game once you play it.

I wrote awhile back the reasons as to why you should play Duke Nukem. This might sound odd coming from me, a person that has a website dedicated to our opinions on video games, but never read reviews and take them as 100% truth. Specially coming from bigger sites, or places who are not well known as video game review sites. Reviews, as we approach them here at Geek Link Radio, is the story of how the game was according to our standards. While we do have high standards, they are not unrealistic ones. So, find yourself a copy of Aliens Colonial Marines, rent it, buy it, borrow it from a friend, and make your own decisions on the matter. I know that we will eventually get a copy and let you know what we think. For now, lets just hope this is the end of Gearbox’s bad run with games that are not Borderlands.

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About the Author

Founder & CEO of GeekLinkRadio.com. I like to be a hero in a world of 1's and 0's. A computer programmer by day and a gaming journalist by night, I spend most of my time dedicated to everything videogame. From teaching a college level class in videogame history to being part of "Portland's Ignite" speaking about girls in gaming, there is little time where I don't do some sort of videogame related activity. Now I spend my down time dedicated to The Geek Link where I'm a writer, a Web Master, and I am one of the creators and co-hosts of The Geek Link Podcast.



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