Aliens: Colonial Marines Interview: Design Director John Mulkey

by on January 28, 2013

There must be enormous pressure on Gearbox at the moment. Having released the incredibly successful Borderlands 2, they now have to deliver a video game that will be under such huge scrutiny, because the Aliens series is something that should make for a brilliant game.

Everything is there: The canon, the sci-fi elements, the horror, the drama. So it’s with great pleasure we sat down with John Mulkey, the Design Director at Gearbox Software, to talk about Colonial Marines.

As we hope you’ll see, it does actually sound like the game is in the right hands, as the love for the series is clear. Anyway, on with the questions:

What pressures come with working on such a beloved franchise?

The biggest pressure is in meeting the expectation of the fans of the franchise. They are looking at what we are doing and saying “OK, looking pretty good so far, but you better not mess it up.” We take that very seriously. We are working directly with FOX to ensure that we are leveraging the franchise in the best possible ways. We have had incredible access to the FOX archives which has allowed us to work from props, reference and resources from the original film productions. We have worked with some of the same talent responsible for the original vision for the Alien universe…all to make sure we deliver an absolutely authentic Aliens sequel that allows fans to revisit that universe and continue the adventure they always wished they could.

Were there any restrictions on what you can and can’t do with the story?

We worked very tightly with FOX when fleshing out where we wanted to go with the story and you will see when you play the game…don’t want to give away any spoilers here, they were up for doing some pretty radical things with the narrative.

What led you to make a straight sequel to Aliens instead of an original story in the universe, and just how important is narrative to you with this game?

I don’t think I am alone as a fan of the franchise when I say that it is the James Cameron vision of the Alien universe that I wanted more of. Now that we have the opportunity to tell that story in an interactive medium, it’s all the better. Not only do we get to see where that narrative goes, but we get to be a part of it. We get to step into the shoes of those Colonial Marines, wield those weapons, explore those iconic environments and face off against the most deadly force in the universe. Oorah!

Were there problems getting around the fact that Hadley’s Hope was vaporised at the end of Aliens?

No, not at all. Hadley’s suffered serious damage in the explosion of the atmospheric processor, but is still there. The reactor in atmospheric processors is located underground in the lowest sublevels of the processor so when the explosion went off, a great deal of the destructive force was focused upward rather than laterally. Hadley’s is a mess…but it is still there.

Are there plans to keep working within the Aliens universe in the future?

Not currently but we love the franchise so you’ll never know.

How much fan-service has been put into the game? Will hardcore fans of the franchise be drooling at every corner?

There are tons of nods to the films. You will get the opportunity to visit locations straight from the films and see what those places look like now. Here’s an example. Remember the med-lab where Burke loosed the two facehuggers to impregnate Ripley and Newt and how Hudson pinned one of the facehuggers against the wall with an equipment cart and then shot the hell out of it with his Pulse Rifle? It is still there, acid burned wall and all. All through the game there are these kinds of ghosts of the past that fans of the films will love; it is a little extra layer of nerd joy frosting that fans will get to taste.

In a similar vein, will there be any cameo appearances, like a Predator?

The Predators in the Alien universe is a “what if” scenario that does not play out in the core canon, so nothing like that will be showing up. BUT, we do have Lance Henriksen returning as Bishop…well, a Bishop in the game. In the competitive game we have Hicks, Hudson, Drake and Apone appearing as playable characters. All of those characters except Hudson are being voiced by the original actors from the film.

Which of the Alien films is your favourite?

That is a tough question. It is a tie for me between Alien and Aliens. The great part about these two films is that they are such different takes on the same core elements. One is a haunted house in space, while the other is an action film. Makes it really hard to choose between them, because they are apples and oranges…in the same orchard. Weird.

With the Wii U version, the potential to create atmosphere through a radar “bleeping” away as Aliens approach is mouthwatering, do any of the other versions of the game have additional features?

We have kept the game consistent across platforms other than the Wii U. There were opportunities provided by the unique hardware of the Wii U that we thought were a great fit for the game, so we worked those in. The PC version will have a lot of extra customization options for visual quality and performance but for the most part, we are presenting a consistent experience across all other platforms.

Marines Vs. Aliens is a multiplayer mode that must be tricky to balance, do you feel you’ve achieved balance as well as a fully fleshed out multiplayer component?

Yes, it has worked out amazingly well. Pitting the Marines against the Xenomorphs is perfect for the fiction of the franchise and great fantasy fulfillment for players. Who doesn’t want to be a Xenomorph stalking their Marine friend, pounce them to the ground and little mouth them through the skull? We use objective based play modes and rounds played from both perspectives to balance out the asymmetric play styles.

Is Randy Pitchford always as excited as he seems?

Short answer, yes. Longer answer, just like the rest of us at Gearbox, Randy is super passionate about making interactive entertainment for the world to enjoy. Getting to work in the Aliens franchise is an absolute nerd fantasy for so many of us here, and we have a hard time containing that enthusiasm.

Where do you keep your ketchup, in the fridge or cupboard? (This is a question we ask every interviewee, and most people agree, it’s the most important question).

Refrigerator. All other answers are…incorrect

Aliens: Colonial Marines will be released on February 12 for Xbox 360, Wii U, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC. Thanks to John for his time.