Interview

Aliens vs. Predator: Interview with Dave Brickley

The past, the present and the future

Rebellion love Aliens vs. Predator. They would: even a decade later, the original game in the series is still what they're best known for developing. But they also love talking about gaming, and in-between multiplayer rounds of their upcoming sequel I find myself entrenched within conversations about Counter-Strike, Battlefield and Modern Warfare, everyone trading tales of our favourite online moments over the years. It's clear they're taking their new game seriously. Which is for the best: Rebellion's last title, Rogue Warrior, was atrocious.

In the midst of all that, I sat down with Aliens vs. Predator's Senior Producer Dave Brickley to find out how the game is coming along, what it's like to be working with such recognisable characters and why the movies are so terrible.

The last time I played this was a couple of months ago. It's changed a bit since then. Can you talk us through some of those changes?

On a technical level, what we showed initially was... I think we were happy enough with it to get it out there, but there were certainly comments in some of the articles about the animations and the frame rate and the rest of it. I think, all that considered, it was nice to see how well it went down. We knew in time we'd sort out the frame rate and sort out the jittery issues and all that kind of thing.

I guess what we learned that day, and at subsequent events, was how people got on with the melee system; how people found the timing of the rounds; the placement of weapons and how powerful those weapons were. It's kind of been a relentless task since then: we keep trying to build on that to make the three species interaction as interesting and as... fair, for want of a better word, as possible.

We want the game to have longevity, and that means looking at all the little game-breaking scenarios. Every game's going to get, ultimately, a way to achieve quite a dominant spirit. God help us; the more popular a game is, it seems the more broken it is!

So, yeah. Basically, we've been doing our best.

Alright. I've been playing Borderlands lately. Get this: what about a gun that shoots baby aliens into other players?

You'd have to wait, like... I don't know, how long does gestation take? You'll want to accelerate the process.

I noticed a lot of people were very good at the Predator [at the previous event]. The Predators today have often been coming, if not bottom, pretty close to it. Is that really a class that will develop with time?

It has to. I think the thing with [the last event] was that we were so short on time. Today's no different, to be fair; until people get the game in their hands they're going to have many questions about the 'how do I do this?' strategy with the Predator. He's got his agility, his invisibility, his vision modes and a multitude of weapons; if you gave them all at once, like we did in Chiswick - you saw for yourself, it was a turkey shoot! We knew at the time that was going to be the case but, the thing was, if we didn't [give full access] you wouldn't have seen half of what we had to show.

I've still not found the Predator's Disc on any level today....

I think that's a cool thing! I think it needs that. You know what multiplayer is like; it needs longevity.

I imagine it's very empowering when it works.

Yes! But one of the things that's been added - people kept complaining that they just couldn't see him coming - again, that was part of his... one of the things I loved actually, that we've lost a little bit of, is that you'd actually see the foliage move. By the time you'd realised it was the foliage that was moving you were dead. I love that as a fan of the movie; I think that's exactly how it should feel. But one of the compromises we reached was that, when the Predator is moving, as well as being visible on the motion tracker you'd get a little shimmer. It gives you a little bit more of a chance.

But if you're still, if you stay still, and pick your points - by which I mean your vantage points - then the Predator can achieve a hell of a lot.

You mentioned compromises. Are there any more you've had to make?

Well, [the characters are] coming from movies. They're coming from movies where you have the ultimate hunter in the universe and the ultimate biological weapon - that's not a game, that's game over! Immediately we're starting off with the point of view that the Predator is not a god; he's not invulnerable. He's stacked with gadgets and technology but, ultimately, skill will out. Same for the Alien; on a technical level he's unbeatable, but you have to put his adversary in a position where they can fight back and win a 1-on-1 encounter.

It gets the real fanboys going 'that wouldn't happen, that's blah blah blah.' But we had to make every decision on its merits. We want to make a game at the end of the day.

There's something I've noticed. Here's how I've been winning: I pick the Alien, run up behind someone and stealth kill them. Over and over again. As someone who is more familiar with the game, how would you beat that?

When you first pick it up, and I think this is one of the unique things about the game; I don't mind dying. I think most people don't if they've any love of the IP. Even getting blown to sh*t by a Plasma Caster kinda feels fun. And that's quite extraordinary, frankly; if I go into something like Team Fortress 2 I'm not going to enjoy dying. But because I'm used to the movies, [the deaths] reminds me of situations that make me laugh out loud. We're so blessed to have that as a starting point!

Once people get over that, and want to start playing it properly, then - to take the example you gave - yeah, it's great to do a trophy kill or a stealth kill on somebody. Good luck to you if you manage to pull it off! If you keep doing that, you're exposed; you're vulnerable for four or five seconds; you're dead, basically. Anybody who's hanging out is just waiting for you to do that. There's always a way around it. In as much as it's a one-hit kill there are ways of disabling an opponent and killing them off just as effectively.

This is what we've strived hardest to do. You'll enjoy the aesthetic pleasure of that kill, but it's not going to win long-term. Not even mid-term.

Like with Infinity Ward and Modern Warfare 2, you're not doing an open beta. That's the first Call of Duty that hasn't had an open beta, and also the first to have so much levied against it. Is there any worry that you can't catch all the potential bugs, exploits and annoyances internally?

I think it's almost the opposite. I think the more popular the game is, the more you're going to find over time. The more people play the game, the more they're going to scrutinise every single aspect of it.

It's almost a tribute to those guys [at Infinity Ward] that the game is getting so much attention. I don't know if it's necessarily the fault of them not doing an online beta; they already had learned an awful lot from previous iterations.

In a sense you've also got to remember Rebellion learned an awful lot doing the original game, too. One of the questions that keeps coming up is: what is balance? And what does balance mean? We're trying, first and foremost, to put people in the skin of three very distinct characters. Balance is not a single thing; balance in Infestation is the marines realising, sooner or later, that they're going to have to work together.

A three-race FPS still has never really been done, has it? The best example of it is still the original Aliens vs. Predator, and that's a decade old now.

It is, but I think its legacy is there in Gears of War's Horde mode. Even Halo is doing it now.

The other challenges, the more difficult challenges that haven't been attempted since then: would people accept them if they weren't the Predator and the Alien? I think, in terms of bringing something that was a movie and turning it into an interactive experience, in having this franchise we're more fortunate than most. If you were to introduce it as something new people would have a harder time.

Put it this way: people have a hard enough time getting their heads around it even when they like the idea of being a Predator and an Alien. It takes... not convincing, it takes us getting to the point where we can just put code in your hands and let you get on with it.

But we know from having playing it relentlessly for months, if not years, that the satisfaction is there from the different feelings of empowerment you get. Being a Predator against a number of marines and staying alive for a certain amount of time? It's like surfing a wave. You don't have to dominate; just achieving that is enjoyment in itself.

Talking about the original: you've recently put it up on Steam. Do you think it's a good idea to let people go back to the rose-tinted nostalgia of yesteryear?

I think it's a good idea. From the videogame forum I frequent, it's hilariously funny to see people turning it off after 10 minutes saying 'I can't cope with the motion tracker.' It reminds me of being 10! It f***ing sh*ts me up to see that they're so affected by the game so many years on; or when they see a glimpse of the new one and they're like 'my god, that's the first time I've heard that motion tracker in so many years, I'm not sure I can cope with this.' It just cracks me up.

I don't know how many people would look at it judgementally before moving onto the next one, so I wouldn't see that as a particular concern.

When you released the first Aliens vs. Predator, the movies hadn't come out. Both of those movies suck. Do you think that could hurt the new game?

What I can't do is put myself in the shoes of someone who's going up and has only seen those movies. I'm kind of glad of that. What I know for a fact is that this game has earned more front covers of magazines for Sega than anything else they've done. That says to me that the movies haven't killed peoples' desire for this franchise. What it says is don't make a game that sucks like that movie - and that has kept us awake for a long, long time!

So. Why do you think Aliens vs. Predator - Requiem is such a bad movie?

Where do you start? Nobody sets out to make a bad movie, do they? That would be really sad.

Our thanks to Dave Brickley for taking the time to talk to us. Aliens vs. Predator will be released for 360, PS3 and PC on 19th February.