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Four Ways to Make Alien A Bigger Name In Games

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I love Half-Life, Doom, Metroid, and Halo. Give me System Shock and other Shocks, the grainy blinking lights of Mass Effect, the soundscape of Dead Space, or the corporate malfeasance of Resident Evil. Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece Alien (along with its 1980s action-packed equal, James Cameron’s Aliens) has in fact led to the best and most memorable science fiction and horror games ever made, just in spirit more than in name.

One cannot toss a rock on the Internet without hitting something written about the original film, and, by the same token, countless pieces exist about the impact that the franchise has had on games as a whole. However, like the movies themselves, Alien games have had a rocky history—let us not forget the standard cash-ins from the ‘90s and the terrible Colonial Marines game from last generation, but even the comparatively great Alien Isolation was twice as long as necessary and saw middling commercial success.

With so much in video games having blossomed out of the first two Alien films, one can argue that the franchise belongs in games more so even than Star Wars. However, Warhammer 40k—a British miniatures game!—has more presence as a name in games. What follows is a collection of better ideas than simply letting the Alien property linger without new releases, as has been the case since 2014.

JUST MAKE A DARN ISOLATION SEQUEL

SEGA no longer owns the rights to exclusively develop Alien games, but that does not mean Creative Assembly cannot be tapped to continue the story of Alien Isolation. The first game was an incredible recreation of the ’79 film’s aesthetic, and for, much of its play time, was also a well constructed survival horror in the vein of Dead Space with a smattering of the Shock games.

However, Isolation was far too long. Reducing the scope of a potential sequel and making a 10 hour experience rather than a nearly 20 hour experience would do wonders for its playability. Additionally, the wasteful attitude to R&D in big-budget games could be sidestepped by reusing many of the first game’s assets, as the digital animated series did.

Apart from the length, Isolation was excellently wrought and properly poised to perform well back in 2014, yet SEGA fumbled the release by slotting it into the busy end of year period, as well as attempting to market a horror game as some kind of blockbuster hit. Naturally, its failure to pay for itself in sales was cited for years after as another nail in the coffin of horror games.

More recently, though, Capcom’s Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil 2 established that merely being a horror game is no reason to expect poor sales (especially when not released in October!). Alien‘s rights holders are leaving valuable mind share on the table by not returning to Isolation post-SOMA and post-RE2 remake. Just remember to sell it in January or February and target horror fans with a tighter, more focused experience (perhaps even with the A-side/B-side kind of replayability that the Leon and Claire campaigns of RE2 offer).

TAKE HOLD OF ALIEN‘S LEGACY IN FIRST PERSON GAMES

Far too often, the Alien franchise has focused on the marines and the series’s legacy in FPS games—look at Doom‘s long history of simply making literal Aliens‘s descent into hell. Across the Aliens and Aliens vs Predator licenses, are half a dozen Colonial Marines-focused games, which is perhaps to be expected but not necessarily the best avenue for a new first-person Alien game.

Instead, a non-Alien Isolation game of this kind should explore the other great legacies of the franchise: the complex, claustrophobic worlds of Metroid and immersive sims. This generation’s Prey by Arkane Studios borrowed heavily from Alien whichever part was not directly from Alien arrived by way of System Shock and other sci-fi games, particularly the interconnected levels of Metroid.

With Metroid itself being heavily inspired by the first Alien film, this nexus of single-player game genres—light RPG progression, terrifying creatures, exploration, gaining new powers to unlock doors—should be a top priority for the Alien property. Perhaps Fox Games should even tap Arkane to design an ancient temple complex on a far-off planet or just another space station to try and escape from.

RETURN TO OBSIDIAN’S EXCELLENT ALIEN RPG CONCEPT

Fair enough, of course: the Alien RPG (known as Aliens: Crucible) from last decade is dead and buried, not to mention that Obsidian Entertainment has now been folded into Microsoft first-party. Nevertheless, these are not reasons to abandon the concept entirely.

Horror is ground well-trodden in tabletop RPGs, and what little has eked out over the years about the Aliens: Crucible project reveal a Knights of the Old Republic-styled epic, leaning heavily into the broader lore of the Alien universe while remaining pants-soilingly terrifying.

The fact that in the many years since, this sort of project has never seen a return is baffling—it truly only makes sense when one considers that big games executives are vaguely anti-RPG, in a typically North American nerds-versus-jocks kind of way. The Alien universe represents unbelievably fertile ground for large-scale terror, and the idea of multiple characters trying to escape a large facility on a far-off world has never been more popular (take a look at all the science-fiction survival games on Steam).

This time, an Alien RPG does not even need to represent an enormous AAA production. Games such as Wasteland 2 have proved the viability at retail of smaller scale RPGs that take ambitious worlds and player agency as core tenets, rather than say the later, mushier, open-world action-ish BioWare productions.

Fox Games could turn to a left-field developer, much as SEGA did with Creative Assembly, and ask them to branch out while retaining their strengths—a developer such as Firaxis, the team behind the XCOM reboot, could really flex its development muscles by taking the light RPG elements of its strategy games and developing a brand new Alien RPG.

FINALLY: JUST ANYTHING, RIGHT? WHAT ABOUT THIS?

That none of these specific examples have been explored in the Alien license is far less surprising than the fact that no single-player Alien games of any kind have released since 2014. (Yes, there have been mobile releases and so on, but those are a different market entirely.)

In the interest of just getting new Alien games to the public, Fox could look at going hog wild and making weird new moves into totally unexplored genres for the franchise—at least until Disney stomps down. My pitch for that is Frontier Developments, the team behind Planet Coaster, Jurassic World: Evolution, and the upcoming Planet Zoo. This developer should take the idea of the amusement park gone-wrong from Evolution and apply it to Weyland-Yutani (Building Better Worlds).

Players move from colony to colony in the outer reaches of man’s galactic influence, building settlements and exploring strange landscapes and mysterious ancient ruins for technological advancements or scientific discoveries. Inevitably, however, they will explore too far and unleash something terrible.

Like Evolution, there will be a body count, but Weyland-Yutani? The company only cares about profits, so unleashing xenomorphs, Predators, or perhaps other, even weirder threats out in the black of space is actually a player objective, and not just a mechanic that destroys all of your hard work building a space colony.


Do any of these ideas appeal to you? Do you have Alien games that you would like to see as well, and if so, why not comment below? Thanks for reading and happy Alien day!

Mitchell is a writer from Currawang, Australia, where his metaphorical sword-pen cleaves fiction from reality daily. When he's not writing, he plays video games and watches movies. While thinking about writing.

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Opinion

Pokémon Games Have Always Been Better Than Their Graphics

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Pokemon Sword and Shield starters

As fans learned more about the upcoming Pokémon Sword and Shield at E3 this year, a portion of them turned against the titles. Back in February, a Pokémon region based on the United Kingdom enticed players, and they constructed thousands of memes around the premise. Now, though, a subset of the Pokémon community is complaining about two elements of the titles: the lack of every single Pokémon ever created, which developer Game Freak addressed but does not plan to change, and the graphics and animations. The latter gripe is especially odd since the Pokémon franchise has never had especially good graphics or animations. 

The Pokémon games have always had an especially strong art direction, but the graphics that realize this vision are notoriously lackluster. While the outrage is somewhat understandable, it also seems misplaced; graphics were never a core part of the Pokémon experience. This anger also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what made Pokémon such a successful franchise and why it is still such a significant part of the video game landscape today.

An Art Style Full of Substance

Pokémon Red and Blue premiered in 1996 for the Game Boy. The series began towards the end of the handheld’s lifespan, with the Game Boy Color releasing in October 1998. With essentially 151 playable characters, a world rich with personality and lore, and a game design that strongly encouraged players to interact with each other outside of the games, the first generation of Pokémon became an international phenomenon. However, the graphics and animations in these original games were noticeably limited compared to other Game Boy games. 

In these games, character sprites are static, only the simplest of animations are used to convey attacks, and the overworld is borderline minimalistic. Compared to titles that premiered earlier on the Game Boy, such as 1992’s Kirby Dream Land or 1993’s The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Pokémon Red and Blue are a huge step down graphically. 1999’s Pokémon Gold and Silver for the Game Boy Color would do little to improve these graphics, merely using the console’s enhanced hardware to add color to the games while adding brief introduction animations for monsters in Pokémon Crystal.

Pokémon games have never had hardware-pushing graphics. Instead, they made up for this shortcoming by having a never-before-seen scope of characters and truly outstanding art direction. Sword and Shield seem as though they are continuing this tradition of exceptional art direction, and will realize an extraordinary version of the United Kingdom where Pokémon battles are treated like sporting events. Furthermore, the player can easily interpret what kind of personality Pokémon and trainers have from their designs; especially in the early games. Giovanni’s hunched posture and receding hairline demonstrate that he is a villain, and Erika’s resting pose and closed eyes convey her serene nature. Likewise, Poliwrath’s superhero pose reinforced its newfound fighting-type and Gengar’s grin and raised hands defined it as a ghostly prankster. This focus on art direction is a big part of why the Pokémon games are so full of life and character, and Game Freak was right to focus more on this element of the games than pursuing high graphical fidelity.

How Character Overcame Graphics

That some fans are upset about the graphics and animations in Pokémon Sword and Shield is understandable, so long as they are not harassing Game Freak and its employees. After all, the fans just want a franchise they love dearly to be the best possible version of itself. However, this anger seems to misunderstand what made Pokémon popular in the first place. 

Pokémon rose to prominence because it is an appealing concept that was executed well. When one plays the first and second generation of games, they understand that the team behind them had a very specific vision for this world and its characters. The Pokémon games are kind of strange in that their worlds contain a lot of culture and lore that do not have any bearing on the actual gameplay or story. For instance, the gym leader Sabrina has psychic powers even though her supernatural abilities never really come into play, and the Sinnoh region of  Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum has a distinct religion that does not impact the game whatsoever. This meticulously crafted world is very much like a supernatural version of our own, and that made Pokémon such a success. The very specific tone of the games comes off as both familiar and incredible, making players wish that their own reality was just a bit more like that of Pokémon

Of course, the emphasis on social features also played a far larger role in Pokémon’s success than the graphics of any given game. The focus on trading, competitive battles, and even sharing details on a hidden area or how to evolve a specific Pokémon rapidly created a community surrounding the franchise. Then, with the launch of the anime and trading card game, the community rapidly expanded and people could enjoy the franchise in whatever way they enjoyed the most. Graphics were never a part of what made Pokémon a hit and for Game Freak to focus on the elements at the core of the franchise, rather than 3D graphics and animations that are going to look dated in half a decade anyway, is a smart move.

Using A Small Team To Achieve A Brilliant Vision

A common response to the suggestion that Pokémon games do not need stellar graphics or animation to be great games is that Game Freak has abundant resources considering Pokémon’s unmatched success. A part of the group that takes issue with the visuals and animation of Sword and Shield thinks that Game Freak is making enough from its games that it can afford to make them look much better than it has so far. While this idea has some merit, executing it could betray the core ideals of the franchise and ignores the fact that no new Pokémon game will make everyone happy. 

Each new Pokémon game is so well received because it is a solid execution of a specific vision that a small group of people share. Game Freak has around 150 employees, making the team behind each game rather small for such an established franchise. Pouring more money into a game does not automatically make it look better, and Game Freak would have to bring on more staff members to improve the game’s graphics or, for the people upset about the lack of a complete National Pokedex, code every single monster into the game. Expanding Game Freak’s team like this could cloud the vision of the games, though, and easily work against the company. Creating top-tier graphics and animations for a game that includes hundreds of characters will always be a herculean task to which no easy solution exists.

This issue of middling graphics and animations is not actually all that significant in the first place. Most Pokémon fans are excited for Sword and Shield and only a small section of them draw significant issue with their visuals. The Pokémon fanbase is so big that pleasing everyone is impossible. Game Freak is right to focus on honing the core themes and mechanics that made Pokémon a success, rather than pour a terrific amount of time and effort into visuals of the games. The last time a Pokémon game really marketed itself on exceptional graphics and animations was 2006’s Pokémon Battle Revolution—which sold less than two million copies, a rather meager number for a spin-off Pokémon title. 

Pokémon

Personality Over Polish

For people to be upset, within reason, that something they love is not living up to their expectations is fine. However, the expectation that Sword and Shield should have hardware-pushing graphics is an unreasonable one that fails to consider that the Pokémon games have always had subpar graphics. Pokémon is a hit franchise consisting of several great games in spite of the graphics in those titles. In fact, the more limited graphics and animations suggest that Sword and Shield are on track to be similar to the previous Pokémon games. Some may perceive the graphics as weak, but the world, characters, and the events of the games will more than make up for this overstated shortcoming.

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