Tim Jones, Rebellion

Tim Jones, Rebellion

“Game over man… game over…!”

– those “iconic words” of Private Marine Hudson, played with hilarious panache by actor Bill Paxton in the 1986 ‘Aliens’ film, are instantly recognizable to any fan of the ‘Alien’ franchise per his reaction to dealing with the onslaught of the deadly Aliens – and now, those words carry new irony, as the “games” are beginning again in a new battle with the Aliens and the Marines, as well as the deadly Alien foe of the Predators — in the eagerly awaited, new ‘Aliens vs. Predator’ video game — which is now available on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC platforms and is being distributed by Sega.

The ‘AvP’ video game recently debuted at #1 on the All Formats Chart – and is the fastest selling game of 2010 – besting the previous #1 placeholder: ‘Bioshock 2’ (also on the same gaming platforms as ‘AvP’) and this week, ‘AvP’ is ranked # 1 on the Worldwide Top 10 VGChartz per the Xbox 360 edition, with the PS3 edition following closely at #3. Also, just prior to the full game’s release, the ‘AvP’ downloadable demo was the 3rd most played game on Xbox Live — with only ‘Modern Warfare 2’ and ‘Halo 3’ before it.  As well, the game trailers for ‘AvP’ have ranked #1 amongst viewed trailers for all gaming platforms on Game Trailers dot com.

This exciting new ‘AvP’ game, which was developed by the U.K. based company Rebellion — who prior had created the seminal classic video games: ‘Alien vs. Predator’ for the Atari Jaguar in 1995 and the ‘Aliens vs. Predator’ PC game in 1999 — embarks into new territories of game play and graphics never before explored or realized in the Alien and Predator universes.

I recently sat down and chatted with Tim Jones — who’s the project lead of the new ‘AvP’ video game, and who’s worked at Rebellion for the past 13 years. Tim’s many contributions over the years at Rebellion also includes work on the original ‘AvP’ PC game.

We had this discussion in none other than an “Alien Hive” so to speak — my loft in Los Angeles, California — which is full of ‘Alien’ and sci-fi/fantasy movie paraphernalia — so, with both a life size Queen Alien (which was refurbished by creature FX artists who’ve worked on the ‘Alien’ movies) and an Alien Warrior looming behind Tim, as well as Alien Eggs flanking him on either side and a facehugger slowly crawling up behind the chair where he sat ..

Tim and I embarked on the following conversation:

AxP: All right, Tim.

Tim: All right. Hit me.

AxP: What have been some of your favorite elements from the Alien and Predator films, and how have those elements influenced this new ‘AvP’ game?

Tim: Wow… favorite elements from the movies. Well, the first of the movies that I saw was ‘Alien’ — so, I suppose one of the first things that came to mind in watching that movie that really kind of blew me away was the sort of sense of these people just being so far away from everything comfortable they knew about — like where the rest of the human race was, on some remote planet far away from everything, and that’s obviously common to ‘Aliens’ as well. There’s something about that to me which I find compelling for some instinctive, subconscious reason. I couldn’t tell you why exactly, but I guess it’s just exploring the way people behave when they’re out in the limits of what’s known, and, and then coming up against those monsters that are out there, those nightmares — the things that you’re afraid of if you go too far beyond what’s comfortable. I think that’s one of the things that’s most compelling about the ‘Aliens’ movies in particular, and something that we try and capture in the game as well. It’s a different planet, but it’s a remote, colonized planet that the humans have looked at — unknown things have gone on there before, there have been other Alien species there –which is revealed to be the Predators in the game. Even the world in the game – BG 386 — is a planet that’s been forgotten even by the Predators, even though they’ve got ancient, sacred sites there. It’s just so old that even they haven’t been there for a very long time — and to explore what happens when you kind of start unearthing all those things that you probably shouldn’t — there’s something kind of compelling about that.

AxP: You bet — those elements of isolation, the unknown, and mystery are very powerful devices in the ‘Alien’ movies — and translate very well to the videogame medium as well.

Tim: I suppose some of the key things is like when you know there’s an Alien there. You don’t know exactly where it is, but it’s coming to get you, or you assume it is, and you’re just sort of bumbling around in the dark. Certainly in the ‘Aliens’ movie, with the motion tracker, you’re just getting the bleep. You don’t know what’s there or when something might strike — and that’s akin to our Marine campaign. You’ve got the ever-present motion tracker there, which is always bleeping away at you – well, not always, you know. If there’s no movement, then it’s not going to be bleeping — but it’s not always registering Aliens, but it usually is, but when it does, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be attacked every time, but it usually does, and it’s a really useful piece of kit, which gives you the strategic edge because it’s a dark world. You can’t see everywhere, and the Aliens can be coming from everywhere, so you need those blips to give you a heads up on them, but, at the same time, it’s deeply unnerving, and so that’s one of the really competitive things. Are there any particular elements you’d wish to experience in the game?

AxP: Well, I think what stands out for me and resonates is with the first ‘Alien’ film is that sense of the claustrophobia, that impending fear, that intense build up — and everything: the settings, the spaceships, the situations, and the Alien itself — all literally were elements that were in and of themselves ‘Alien’ — which made the aspect of horror even that more so stronger in the film. Along that line, how much does horror play a factor in the game? Say, for instance, with the first 1979 ‘Alien’ film – it was very much a horror film. Then with the 1986 ‘Aliens’ film and two subsequent ‘Alien’ films, as well as the 1987 ‘Predator’ film and its sequel, and the two AvP films — those were all more so action and suspense films. How much does horror play an element in this game?

Tim: Horror is absolutely essential to this game. We’ve really pushed developing the suspense — particularly for the Marine campaign. What’s common with the first couple of ‘Alien’ movies is the reveal of the Alien itself. It doesn’t happen until quite a long way in — a good 45 minutes or more in both cases, in those two movies, at least. I forget offhand what the timings are in the other movies – but, for us, it’s a good long way through the first main mission or chapter of the game for the Marine before you actually finally encounter an Alien — and we had quite an amount of fun building up to that — setting up the scene of going down with a bunch of Marines and then through various dramatic encounters — you find yourself on your own, waking up from unconsciousness, and having to try and hook up with your buddies, but you know you’re in a pretty malevolent place that’s, you know, all gone to shit, and there’s nasty things lurking in the shadows, behind the walls and around you, and you never know quite what’s gonna pop up. I mean, it’s an ‘Aliens’ game after all, and we’ve had a lot of fun with building up the tension to that point until you finally actually get the opportunity to unleash some gunfire on that first Alien, although we have taken the liberty of making sure that you don’t have very many weapons with you the first time you encounter one so to really empathize with the tension there and make you realize how quite threatening these things are — but that said, even with some pretty powerful weaponry, you’ve still gotta be very careful, otherwise you’re gonna be… dead.

AxP: It sounds like you have an effective synergy of the first ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’ movies — blending aspects of terror and tension together from them, all the while escalating the levels of action such as in ‘Aliens’.

Tim: It certainly ramps up to higher levels of high-octane action, but I think the tension levels are always there because it isn’t like a standard, covered-base shooter where it’s you ducking under cover and shooting against other guys with guns who are ducking in their cover — which is fun and awesome if done right, and plenty of games have really proven that, but this is a different kind of beast, and you never know where those Aliens are coming from. Even if you know where it is, it might dart off into a vent or up onto the ceiling, around you. It’s hard to track with your gun. You’ve really got to keep your wits about you if you’re gonna take him down — it gives a really, a refreshing, new kind of challenge, which I hope first-person-shooter fans as well as sci-fi game fans in general will get a real kick out of.

AxP: Right. Are we going to see some new characteristics with the Aliens or the Predators?

Tim: There are a couple of new behaviors for the Aliens that haven’t really been seen before, which I’m not going to go into now. Much as I’d like to, it would be a bit of a spoiler — but we’ve had the opportunity to develop the mythos and the biology and the history behind the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, the Aliens, and the the Predator culture. We’ve been able to expand on certain areas that haven’t been seen before in the movies or even the comics, and that’s really exciting as obviously huge fans of the franchise, and this universe, and these characters — so to have the opportunity to bring new stuff to it that feels right to us, which, hopefully will become part of the established lore, if you like — it feels like quite a privilege, and we hope everyone else digs it. No doubt it’ll cause some debate in places, but that’s all part of fun — in having legions of really passionate fans out there. They’re there because it’s such a great universe, and so, yeah, it’d be interesting to see how people react to some of the more, well, I wouldn’t hesitate to say controversial, but things that haven’t been seen before.

AxP: That will be interesting to see — and as much as there are many people who are looking forward to playing the different character campaigns — there are obviously many people who are excited about exploring the multiplayer online gaming options as well.

Tim: Well, I think the multiplayer side of things is a huge part of the game. I mean, in many respects, it’s kind of what makes where the heart of the game is at. You know, the title is there: It’s ‘Aliens vs. Predator’ — it’s about the two of them going up against each other — and there’s no better way to do that than online with actual players playing both parts, and, obviously, you’ve got the, the colonial Marines in there, as well, playing the third part of the equation or the triumvirate of, the – yes, is that a word? That is, I think, but it’s, it’s something that’s really refreshing, I think, in multiplayer gaming. Everyone who’s had a chance to play it has responded really well to it and having the opportunity to just be creatures that are so different and the interplay of the different strategies for each one is endlessly entertaining. Not only the opportunity to just kind of swap from one species to another just to see what it’s like to play it differently, but the fact that even if you’re sticking with one species, you’ve gotta keep your eye out for the different strategies that those species are gonna use against you. Like, is the Predator gonna come leaping out of the darkness? You see a glimmer of this guy sprinting or running or maybe just the dust where he landed, but the rest of him is like cloaked in invisibility, and then you spot the laser sight, and maybe you’re just a little bit too late and the shoulder cannon blast comes firing out at you, or there’s times when you’re just not being quite observant enough, and you suddenly look down and find there’s like an Alien tail poking through your torso – and you’re like oh, damn, I’m gonna have to be more careful in the future and watch my back! It’s compelling and certainly provokes quite a lot of excited swearing when people are playing it together!

AxP: Fantastic – and what are some of the variations that you’ll be playing in multiplayer?

Tim: We’ve got a whole bunch of different multiplayer game modes. Obviously, we’ve got the things you’d expect like the free-for-all deathmatch where everyone goes up against each other — the team species death match pitting each species against each other, but the other modes focus on a particular kind of experience. We’ve got the Alien infestation mode — which never fails to really get people going because you start as a whole bunch of Marines, and one person’s picked at random to be an Alien. So, when an Alien kills a Marine, that Marine comes back as an Alien — so when you die, you still kind of wine, ’cause you’re still getting to carry on and play as the Alien — and the more Aliens there are, the more the Marines are in trouble. It starts off in a very kind of tense experience with the Marines trying to watch out for the Aliens and take them out — maybe they can handle it, but they’re gonna get to come back. As soon as you get like a couple of Aliens, and the Marines aren’t quite working together, like anyone wandering off on their own, they’re gonna find themselves picked off pretty quickly, and the tide very quickly turns, and you get a whole bunch of Aliens, and when it gets down to like the last man standing, we sometimes spawn the more powerful multi-tracking smart gun in that situation to give the last man standing a real chance at a last-ditch fight against the Aliens, but, ultimately, you know, he’s going down, and it’s the turning of the tides in that game, the way the mood switches from a certain level of tension, maybe even like a bit of gung-ho behavior to panic and then like doom. It’s really compelling — and does kind of capture the essence of a lot of what’s intriguing about James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ movie in particular. We’ve also got our Predator hunt mode, which, as the name would suggest, focuses much more on the Predator side of things. Similarly to Alien infestation, everybody starts as a Marine, but one person is picked at random to be a Predator. Only the Predator can score points by killing Marines — but if a Marine manages to kill the Predator, then they get to become the Predator, and so it really captures the vibe of the first ‘Predator’ movie in particular — a group of guys together being stalked by a Predator, and picked off one by one if the Predator’s any good, and it instills a certain level of team player amongst the Marines, but, at the same time — that’s combined with a rivalry where each Marine still wants to be the one that gets the Predator and to be the Predator, and then once you become the Predator, it’s a very empowering experience, and you’re just sort of cloaking, leaping off into the treetops or off onto high ledges and watching those guys below with your heat vision who are wondering where you are. Once you’ve found a weapon, you can take them all out, or some of them, and keep that going, and well, it brings a big smile to the face, certainly!

AxP: — indeed it would…! (laughs).

Tim: And then, amongst the other modes we’ve got, probably one of the most popular ones that is really compelling — which people come back to again and again, is our survivor mode, which is available both in multiplayer and as a single-player mode. In multiplayer, you can play with up to four Marines or particularly against oncoming waves of Aliens that get progressively harder and tougher, and it’s all about how long can you survive — how many Aliens can you take down before you die, and that is just something you keep on coming back to again and again. There’s something about shooting Aliens apart with a pulse rifle that just never gets old, and it’s, yeah, a pretty tense experience.

AxP: — and pretty cathartic…!

Tim: Oh, yes — yes indeed. We’ve got other modes like the domination mode, which really encourages team play for both Marines and Aliens in a way because there’s never really a rivalry between members of a team there. You’re working together to try and capture points, you go up against the Aliens, and it’s playing as part of a team of Aliens all like swarming down on the Marine, like maybe a Marine’s trying to hold off an Alien, and you just sneak up behind him and like slit his throat. It sounds pretty evil, but it is fun.

AxP: — and then branching out from here, do you think there’ll be prospects for a sequel?

Tim: Well, I’d certainly like to think so — suffice to say we’re busting out with ideas, and we’re very keen to build on what we’ve done here with this title.

As Tim and I wrapped up our conversation – we grabbed a couple of pulse rifles and started blowing away an onslaught of oncoming Aliens – via my full size, 1993 “Alien 3” Sega arcade game… which uses the mock rifles, that pulse and have some good “kick” to them, as the “weaponry” in playing the game – all the while with the before mentioned, life size Queen Alien looming over us – Ripley would be so proud…