Saturday 22nd July 2017,
XP4T Brave.Bold.Banter.

32 Years of Alien Games (Part 3)

Alien History Part 3 620 Header

Well marines, it’s been a long and crazy ride, but hang tight, we’re finally nearing the end. We left the base in Part 1 for a look at the first ever Alien game, Fox’s own Atari 2600 Alien cartridge in 1982, and ended with the last of the licensed Alien 3 games and the now-legendary first of Rebellion Developments’ AvP games for the Atari Jaguar, all in 1994. That was also the year in which a particularly interesting sub-set of id Software and Counterstrike-based fan-made Alien mods took off, with a Doom TC (total conversion) that was so good, several developers offered its author a job. In Part 2 we blazed a bloody trail through loads of arcade cabinets, cartoons, toys, console jobs and Aliens versus Predator stuff. That battle ended in 1998 with the fabulous Aliens Online, which brings us now to 1999, and the third AvP game (but the first for PC). And yes, finally, it’s the one we all know and love so well. Lock and load people, it’s time to wrap this sucker!

Known since 2010 as Aliens versus Predator Classic 2000, following its first enhancement and repackaging as Aliens versus Predator Gold in 2000 (hellooo?), Rebellion Developments’ 1999 PC/Mac/Linux/Amiga classic was their second run at the Alien, following their brilliant-but-tied-to-a-doomed-console Atari Jaguar version in 1994. Originally announced to the world around Christmas 1997 for the PlayStation, SEGA Saturn and PC, it’s not hard to imagine Rebellion (and Fox) wanting to re-tool the superb Jaguar version for machines that were less likely to fail quite as loudly as the Jaguar did (Atari ceased production in 1996, just over three years’ from its North American launch in November 1993). Primary development of the game was focused on the PlayStation, although this was eventually scrapped when the engine written for it proved unworkable in the PSX. This then caused the Saturn version to be dropped and the PC version to be delayed whilst the team re-focused their efforts on the home computer versions. The game was released on two CD-ROMs (which were still very futuristic and exciting back then), with the second disc needing to be left in the drive to play all the videos. Personally, I remember this as being the first game that I used a command line switch on, to remove the necessity of wading through all the splash screens (themselves cumbersome videos).

8a AvP PC(Rebellion)

Honestly, it was this big! But the line broke before I could reel it in, sadly.

Aliens versus Predator was rightly hailed as something of a masterpiece. The three separate campaigns (an idea carried over from the Jaguar version), the lighting, the mood – never before had anyone tried to offer us a realistic take on the Alien, and what Rebellion gave us was a deliciously fascinating three-course homage to both the terror and action of the Alien and Predator films. Technically, it pushed our GeForce 3/4-era rigs as hard as any triple-A title pushes today. The Marine’s ammo counters were a superb touch, rapidly ticking down with that awesome pulse rifle sound effect and adding huge amounts of tension to the proceedings. The under-slung grenade launcher made the perfect ‘thwump’ sound when it fired, and the game had an almost perfect implementation of the iconic motion tracker too. Of course, there were weaknesses. Some of the Predator’s missions were a bit dull, and the difficulty tended towards WTF?, even in Normal mode. But that’s probably the worst I could say about it now. Aliens versus Predator  was the first game for years to deliberately set out to recreate the atmosphere and tension of the films in a way that didn’t involve waves of iridescent, rubber-necked Aliens and constant, hold-the-fire-button-and-spray-everything gameplay. It was the first Alien game to try and put the sheer terror of Giger’s creation back in to the equation, and on that count it succeeded brilliantly.

8 AvP PC(Rebellion)

Boo! Did I scare you?

Rebellion understood that sharing a space with the Alien was about surviving in the face of impossible terror, and then applied that not only to actually being an Alien, but also to being the one other species in the galaxy capable, mentally and physically, of going toe-to-toe with it. The game shifted you from extreme vulnerability as the human, to maximum capability as the Predator, via the fulcrum of the Alien’s strange, savage perspective. And of course, scuttling along darkened ceilings before dropping down behind a cowering wreck of a human and tearing them apart was enormous fun. Even today, the Marine campaign is an exercise in paranoia and jumpiness that would go unrivalled by other Alien games until Creative Assembly’s jaw-dropping Alien: Isolation fifteen years later.

9 Alien Ressurection PSX

(Alien Resurrection, PSX, 2000, Argonaut Games)
They like it if you scratch them just behind the ear… yeah, right there…

It would be about a year and a half before our next visit from H.R. Giger’s boy in 2000’s film tie-in, Alien Resurrection, arriving three years after the actual film itself. Following one of the very best Alien games of all time was always going to be a tough act, especially one shackled to such an incredibly dire film. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s contribution to the canon was, like David Fincher’s wrongly-maligned Alien 3 (see Part 2 for more on that), somewhat hampered by the mother hens at Fox, although to nowhere near as great an extent. Joss Whedon, who wrote five treatments of the screenplay, originally as a story about a cloned Newt with a third-act battle with the Aliens on Earth, has his own ideas about what went wrong with it, but needless to say it mostly suffered from a case of Unnecessaryitis. Everyone from the series’ original producers David Giler and Walter Hill, to the eventual director, all thought that a fourth Alien film was a bad idea. Still, it is what it is, and I personally have a fond memory of sitting alone in the cinema and watching it a day or two before its run was due to end. Say what you like about the “Newborn” Alien at the end, the concept of an Alien-ized Ripley is a brilliant one, and any film with Ron Perlman in it is worth watching at least once, too.

But what of the actual game? The original design document for Alien Resurrection describes it as a third-person survival horror job, slated by Fox Interactive (rebranded as such since 1994, prior to which they’d long been Fox Video Games) for release on the SEGA Saturn, PlayStation and Nintendo 64. At some point, the entire plan was thrown out of the window, and development began again from scratch as an FPS, this time planned for the PlayStation, SEGA Dreamcast (then still very new) and PC, although the latter two ports were dropped following the PSX version’s luke-warm reception. One of the main criticisms, apart from the murky graphics, was of the awkward controls – Alien Resurrection was one of the first console shooters to use one analogue stick for movement and the other for shooting. Either the sticks on the PlayStation’s Analogue controller were unsuited to the job, or we were all just really cack-handed back then.

alien argus argonaut wtf

The cover slip for the 1982 Alien. Now that’s how you market a game. Gorgeous.
(With thank to the
gamesdbase archive for the picture)

The final item of note in Alien Resurrection’s case (and the reason you’re looking at the picture above) is the developer – Argonaut Games. Argonaut was founded by Jez San, a legendary figure of the English home coding scene. By the age of 13 he had taught himself Assembly language on his first computer, a TRS-80. Later, he helped design the Super FX chip for Nintendo’s SNES, and gave Amiga and ST owners scads of awesome games to play, most notably Starglider. Argonaut also wrote a custom graphics renderer, BRender, which was used to give the world Carmageddon, amongst other things. And in 2002, he became the first person specifically from the computer gaming industry to be awarded an OBE.

Now, if you’ve read Part 1 of this series, you may remember Argus Press Software Ltd. as a co-developer and publisher of the second-ever Alien game, the really rather good, well-received and fondly remembered 8-bit Alien. The reason I’m mentioning all of this now is that the 8-bit Alien is credited in some places to Argonaut Software (the original form of Argonaut Games). San named his company as a play on his own name and the Greek legend (J-San – Jason and the Argonauts, ba-dumm tsh!). Jason’s ship, the Argo, was named for its builder, Argus… Argus Press, the owner, is a British publishing company that was established in 1966, thus predating San’s formation of Argonaut Software in 1982, so that’s probably just a nice coincidence and one which could seem quite appealing if San’s company was to be bought by Argus Press to head its new software publishing division back in the 1980s… What I’m getting at is that it looks possible that Argonaut worked on both the 1984 Alien and the 2000 Alien Resurrection, which would be, you know, really kind of cool.

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About The Author

Old London geezer, now resident in the Polish hinterland. Linguist, committed Trekker, old-skool D&Der and gamer since the Colecovision was cooler than yo-yos...

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