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Alien: Isolation, released this week for Xbox 360, Xbox One and PlayStation platforms, takes the long-running science fiction franchise to its horror roots visible in Ridley Scott’s original movie. Or, as creative lead and director for the game Alistair Hope puts it, “the game is about survival, not killing.”
“I was a huge fan of the first film — I’d been a big sci-fi fan as a kid, and I actually read Alan Dean Foster’s novelization before I saw the movie,” Hope told The Hollywood Reporter last week. “I always thought that the video games based in that universe tapped into the James Cameron experience, with pulse rifles and marines from Aliens. It felt like there was an amazing game to be made if we went back and recreated what it would be like to encounter that initial alien, to recreate how terrifying that alien could be for the player.”
The idea of returning to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the first movie quickly found favor inside the studio. “Before we ever put anything on-screen, a few of us were talking and we asked the question, if we released Ridley Scott’s alien in the studio right now, what would you do?” Hope said. “People immediately said, ‘Well, I’ll hide under this desk and try and not make any noise, hope it doesn’t see me, and then try to figure out how to escape.’ No-one in that conversation ever said, ‘Oh, I’ll go and find a gun and shoot it dead.”
Thanks to earlier collaborations, Creative Assembly had an existing relationship with Sega, which holds the license for videogames based on the Alien property. “We put together a technical demo, almost a mood piece [for 20th Century Fox],” Hope said. The response from the studio was exactly what they were hoping for. “Basically, they got really excited and said, ‘Can you make that, please?’” he remembered.
Alien: Isolation centers around Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Sigourney Weaver’s character from the franchise, and her search to discover the truth about what happened to her mother. The use of the character — who is mentioned in Cameron’s 1986 sequel Aliens, but doesn’t actually make an appearance in any of the movies — came about in response to a simple question.
“We thought, when the Nostromo goes missing at the end of the first film, who would actually care about that?” Hope explained. “This lightbulb went off as we remembered that there was this character who existed in the universe but had never been given the spotlight. She’d want to know why her mother disappeared, she’d be looking for answers — and she was likely to share some of the same qualities as her mother, but she’s also her own character.”
Just because the idea made sense to the game makers, there was still nervousness about whether or not Fox would agree. “At the same moment that we thought, there’s Amanda Ripley, she’s fantastic, we also thought, 20th Century Fox wouldn’t let us use such an important character,” he said. “But they were really excited by the idea.”
Such excitement on behalf of Fox helped Creative Assembly consider another idea for the game — and one that seemed even more unlikely. “We spent so much time studying that first film — it only runs about 116 minutes, but we were developing hours of gameplay from it — that we got so immersed in there and started thinking, ‘What if we could make the Nostromo? Wouldn’t it be cool to walk about in there?’” he said. “Then that becomes, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to try and escape from the alien in there?’ and you start wondering if you could get the original cast to come back.”
Amazingly, they could, leading to the Nostromo Edition of the game, which features Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright and Yaphet Kotto reprising their roles from the 1979 movie.
“I think we were in such a good place, having spent so much time to recreate the original [tone] that we could put the game in front of the original cast and talk about what we were doing — that it was about survival and not about killing — that we were creating the same atmosphere as they had created years ago,” Hope said. “They ended up being really excited about it. Having Sigourney Weaver reprise her role as Ellen Ripley for the first time in video games was absolutely incredible.”
Weaver has had a chance to see the latest version of the game, and was impressed, Hope shared. “We showed her the recreation of the Nostromo, and she told me, ‘I’ve walked down that corridor.’ She absolutely recognized where she was on the ship, it was a very satisfying moment.”
Ahead of the game’s official Oct. 8 release, Hope said that “the response that we’ve had has really blown us away… There’s a hunger for it, which has been really reassuring. People seem really open to the new experience, and we’ve had gamers of every flavor take it on. It’s been amazing to see people adapt [to the game], to see them get frustrated and adapt and change their playing style. The feedback we’ve gotten has been thrilling.”
He remembered game journalists attending a launch event and being able to see outsiders play Isolation for the first time. “Suddenly you started hearing people breathing very deeply, and the chairs creaking because people were pushing them back in fear. I remember looking at my colleagues and thinking, this is amazing. They’re really immersed in this world,” he said, joking that he enjoyed “hearing all the swearing when people got killed by the alien.”
With Creative Assembly still working on new downloadable content for the game intended for release in the upcoming months, its work on Alien: Isolation is far from over. But if there’s one thing that the studio, and Hope in particular, have tried to do with the game (and, arguably, succeeded in), it’s reminding people what made the original Alien movie so good.
“We wanted to restore the alien as [an unknown monster], which the franchise had moved away from,” he said. “It had gone from being this single, deadly creature to being more or less cannon fodder. We wanted to re-establish it as this monolithic, terrifying creature that looks down on the player. Something that you have to treat with respect — to make it scary again.”
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