For the games industry, sequels and franchise spinoffs are the standard modus operandi—even more so than Hollywood. British company Rebellion Games, for example, has thrived by making videos games based on established game franchises (Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Lone Wolf for PlayStation 1) or film franchises (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for PlayStation Portable). But it was AVP that put them on the map—and, in a twist of the usual order, the game inspired the cinematic sequel.
"Director Paul Anderson has cited us specifically as one of the reasons he made the AVP movie," says Aliens Vs. Predator designer Tim Jones. "It was a thrill."
In 1994, when AVP was just a series of comics, Rebellion released a shooter in the vein of Doom for the Atari Jaguar; it was one of the few highlights on the short-lived console. Five years later, they released AVP for the PC and created a title that was noted both for the diversity of playing the three races (Human Marines, Aliens, Predators) and for the multiplayer experience. The AVP movies arrived to mixed reviews but they were enormously financially successful. That gave Rebellion the freedom — and the challenge — to create countless demos, prototypes, and pitches on Aliens-related products, Jones says. "We plugged away at it for all these years, never giving up on the license. Now we're back ten years later bringing what everyone loved from the original games back to a new generation of fans and to those that were there originally. Technology in gaming has moved a long way in the intervening decade, so we're able to bring the cinematic experience we were originally going for to a whole new level," Jones says.
Sega had the rights to Aliens, and so Jones and Rebellion brought the title to them and struck a deal to publish the new AVP. Jones says, "It was a natural fit for us to work together. And from the looks of how the game has turned out, its been a great fit and partnership." As they made the new game, did they play the old versions? "You always go back, 'Where does this come from? What is it about the original that we love?' We want to make sure we capture those elements: the fear, the dynamic lighting and shadows, the speed and the agility of the Aliens, the visions modes of the Predators, all of those kinds of things. The PC game got a lot of props at the time for being very true to the feel of movies. You look back at in now, and it seems a bit naive perhaps, but at the time it was admired," Jones says.
With this latest iteration, 20th Century Fox gave Rebellion access to the films' assets. "There is an obsessive level of detail in there. The serial numbers on the guns are subtle variants on the actual serial numbers on the props in the movies. We've used the exact original audio samples from the movies that Fox provided us; you got the weapons, Aliens screams, Predator noises, all the rest. We got all that level of detail. There are subtle nods to things that occurred in the previous movies, either referenced in dialogue, or it might be a poster in the world. We've all been very much immersed in the universe long enough that you can help but have it pour out onto the screen," Jones says.
Working on such an established franchise is a juggling act, keeping followers of the series happy—"We obviously pay attention of forums out there, what people are discussing. There a lot of people out there with a lot of strongly-felt opinions. It is always comforting to see that, broadly speaking, the things they want to see in the game or the same things we want to bring to the game," Jones says—and honoring the owners of the brand. "We understand how important it is to IP holders that their property is taken good care of. It's important to us that we do the same for them. We're no strangers to it, and we appreciate the extent to which people care about that stuff."
There were discussions with the film studio in the process of making the game, too. "We went through some iterations with Fox over details like exactly how big the Marines' boots should be. Are these too big? Are these too small? In the original movie, you don't really see it on screen, but actually they had very small boots and it didn't look all that awesome. We reached a mutually-pleasing decision. We are very happy with the designs. It's only been the odd detail here and there that has been picked at," Jones said. "Broadly speaking, in terms of plot and narrative and story and some of the new stuff we've been exploring with the Predator culture and Alien lifecycle, and the Yutani corporation and the Synthetics, stuff like that, we've not had any barriers."
Jones and crew have set the game's fiction firmly in the series' canon, "We gave it a much stronger narrative, which, frankly, in the original game, was thrown in as an afterthought. We put a lot of effort into making it a viable, legitimate chapter in the Aliens Vs. Predator universe. We're set around 30 years after the events in Aliens 3. That gave us the excuse to update the technology of the Marines, whether we need to for game purposes or to update the designs of what were originally in the Aliens movies—there was a certain 80s vibe in places—but there's certain design aesthetics to the way the uniform were then and to the way they would be designed now for a movie. We were able to update those a little bit, while maintaining the feel of the marines. Make it more consistent with people's expectations from modern soldier's uniforms in Iraq, but also the way game characters look in games like Halo or Gears of War."
The resulting game feels both modern and a part of this long-lived reality. In the game, there is a single-player storyline for each of the three factions—Aliens, Predators, and Human Marines—as well as multiplayer modes suitable to the fictional world. In Predator Hunt a single predator stalks a group of marines, or Infestation where an Alien attacks Marines to implant eggs inside them—and after the Aliens burst out of their bodies, Players go from controlling Marines to Aliens. This variety of gameplay is paramount, according to Jones, "It's nice for a change to get the opportunity to, not just experience playing against that nightmare as you do as the Marine—which has always been a fantasy of mine since seeing the original Alien—but to play as the nightmare as well. It's quite cathartic."