Alien: Isolation release: Creative Lead Al Hope on the evolution of horror games, and working with Sigourney Weaver

With the feel of the 1979 horror film, fans can be assured scares are in store

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The Independent Tech

With games like Alien: Isolation, The Evil Within and the recently revealed Silent Hills on the way, do you think we’re seeing a resurgence of the survival horror genre?

Al Hope: I think it does feel like there is a bit of a renaissance, [but] I think in many ways it’s never really gone away. That’s what’s great about this genre it has evolved into different places, anyone who started four years ago survival horror was going in one direction and that was action, but we weren’t really interested in that.

Around that time you could find some compelling horror experiences in some pretty unusual places like Skyrim, Fallout and Limbo. They aren’t survival horror games, but they had moments where you had that feeling. Maybe horror was evolving, maybe [now] there is a rediscovery of horror. It’s great that we are moving away from it being this quite narrowly defined genre of walking around with a piece of wood with a nail in it.

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Well you successfully scared the hell out of my partner when she had a go on it this morning (at EGX), she physically recoiled when she got caught by the alien.

AH: That’s excellent [laughs]

I did tell her not to run!

AH: It’s very instinctive.

Speaking of the alien, what made you decide on having just one xenomorph when the Alien series eventually expanded to having more than one?

AH: Really I’d always been a fan of the first film and I was convinced there had to be an amazing gaming experience based on those values. What would it actually be like to survive against that alien? If you were there what would that be like and that was just a seed of an idea, I was just thinking if someone made that I would want to play it.

I guess I was in a really fortunate position that I knew Sega had the license to make Alien videogames at the time so it was a case of going to them and saying I think this could be amazing. For them to agree and go to Fox and say we want to take videogames in a completely different direction and for [Fox] to get really excited about it as well… I think games in the past had focused on that Alien's experience, the pulse rifle, the marines and that’s cool we’re all fans of that, but I wanted to do something else.

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Did you consider the other Alien and Aliens games when developing Isolation? There has been a bit of stealth in those games before, but yours seems very focused on that.

AH: Yeah.

[Thinks for a moment]

No, not really. I think the moment I started thinking about making this game seriously I stopped looking at anything else, just because I was really clear on what I wanted to do.

It sounds like you were focused more on recreating the feeling of the first film.

AH: Yeah, but this isn’t about I love a film so I want to make a game of it, it’s about I love the film and I think the elements of it would make a great game. Just because it’s a great film doesn’t mean it would make a good game.

No definitely not, there have been many examples of that.

AH: [Laughs] Well exactly. But, I know those elements could make a great gaming experience so that’s where I started.

I read that you were given access to a gold mine of archived Alien stuff from 20th Century Fox, did that aid the development of the game or change the direction in any way?

AH: Really early on when you get the green light to make this, once you eventually come back down to earth you’re thinking, well I have the movie and that’s the cornerstone we’re going to base our game on, but what else is there? And so it was a case of going to Fox and saying what have you got and can we have it please?

They were amazing in giving us enormous access to their production archive and I was fortunate enough to actually go and visit it. Three floors down below the Fox studio in a windowless geek chic heaven they’ve got props and cardboard boxes almost like Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In the end they provided us with a three terabyte drive of imagery and it was amazing how much they had documented the film back in 1979 from set blueprints to continuity polaroids to shots of the set that you’re really familiar with but from different angles and actually really detailed close-ups that transitioned back into what we were making. At the time it was really useful as the first phase of development was a deconstruction of taking all the elements we were familiar with and breaking them down into almost an atomic level. We knew we needed hours and hours of content so we knew we were going to have to make new stuff to feel the true experience of that original film so that extra insight [from Fox] was massively helpful.

In the alpha build I’ve played aside from the Alien I also came across a few different enemies with the androids and the human survivors, are they any other surprises left for players?

AH: Well the focus really was just on this one encounter as no one has really done that before, I think that other games in the franchise have dealt with those other elements and it felt like our game should be focused on that cat and mouse, hide and seek pressure.

It’s interesting how the gameplay evolves when the other groups get involved.

AH: Oh yeah, our alien is using its senses and listening for you which means every encounter is different which is amazing. I can’t wait for the game to come out and see people streaming it and doing Let’s Plays as everyone is going to have a different experience. And those humans and androids use the same core AI and using their senses to drive their behaviour which means you have this organic, emergent gameplay that can take you from feeling quite confident and under control about your next steps and then suddenly things change and escalate in seconds and you have to decide whether you want to get involved or back out of [the situation]. Everyone will have a different story to tell.

 

With the ‘Crew Expendable’ and ‘Last Survivor’ add-ons coming either as pre-order content or DLC after release having Sigourney Weaver [as Ellen Ripley] involved for the voice recording, did she influence the character of [Ripley’s daughter] Amanda in any way?

AH: Amanda came about because we wanted to tell a story that was closely connected to the first film and to have [a character] emotionally connected to those events. Who would care about the Nostromo going missing? She would care, she would also share the same DNA and probably have a lot of the same qualities as her mother, but her story hadn’t been told so the fact that we were given permission to use her as a main character was amazing.

That’s quite a lot of pressure being given the daughter of a character iconic not just in Alien lore, but also within the sci-fi genre.

AH: I think we were just really sure in what we were trying to achieve and things just kept falling into place for us. But working with Sigourney Weaver was unreal, I felt like I had to get someone to pinch me before recording, wondering is this really happening? Am I going to wake up? You have these crazy ideas when you start a project like this and when you get the chance to approach the original cast and say hey look at what we’re doing! I think they could really see the attention we’d put in to recreating the atmosphere and tone that they’d created themselves.

Alien: Isolation is released on 7th October

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