[vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_column_text css_animation=””]Alien: Isolation is a celebrated first-person, stealth, horror experience developed by Creative Assembly and Published by Sega in October of 2014.

The game takes place aboard the hauntingly beautiful Sevastopol Station, picking up the franchise’s plot from 15 years after the disappearance of Nostromo. A team, sent by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, has been dispatched to retrieve the Nostromo’s flight recorder. Among their ranks is Amanda Ripley, yes, Ellen Ripley’s daughter. When Amanda, and the team, board Sevastopol Station, they find a skeleton crew that’s slowly being picked off by a highly-intelligent, terrifying hunter that’s stalking the station.

The game is a thrilling horror experience and it’s pretty difficult to boot. Creative Assembly took the Alien’s AI to a never-before-seen level that serves as the backbone of the game play aboard Sevastopol Station. “…we wanted to make this creature that felt like it could learn from you,” Gary Napper, Lead Designer for Alien: Isolation and Design Director for Creative Assembly, told Nick Calandra of OnlySP.com.

Alien: Isolation broke ground with the series when it finally delivered on the promise of a game that represented the terror of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Alien Resurrection, from Argonaut Games, 2000, was supposed to be closer to that end, but during development the team scraped the concept and decided to make a more first-person-shooter style game.

The sequel to Aliens Infestations, Aliens Colonial Marines, released a year prior to Alien: Isolation. Colonial Marines is also a FPS and on top of that it’s pretty terrible. It was alleged that the developer, Gearbox Software, was using resources meant for Colonial Marines on their other project, Borderlands. Whatever may have happened with Colonial Marines, it set Isolation up for a cold reception as some gamers and journalists mistakenly believed the two games were related.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” parallax_enabled=”” col_height=”” css=”.vc_custom_1438814689332{padding-top: 200px !important;padding-right: 200px !important;padding-bottom: 200px !important;padding-left: 200px !important;background-image: url(https://onlysp.escapistmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/alien-isolation.jpg?id=62774) !important;background-position: center !important;background-repeat: no-repeat !important;background-size: cover !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_column_text]Creative Assembly didn’t feel the heat of this unfortunate circumstance the way you might expect. Napper told us, “It was kind of surreal for us because we were in development roughly at the same time those guys were. We wanted to keep our game secret because it doesn’t make sense to advertise two alien games at the same time. So we’re working on our game and to be honest one of our biggest concerns was that Colonial Marines would come out and be the same kind of game we were doing,” but that anxiety turned out to be futile, Napper told us, “when it finally started to come out and we saw it was very, very different from our game we were almost relieved.

But the other thing we noticed was how passionate people were about the alien franchise.  It was exciting, we were seeing loads of forum posts and people blogging and on Twitter saying ‘why can’t we have our survival alien game?’ ‘If there was just one alien wouldn’t it be great.’” A lot of what made Colonial Marines a flop was its brutal AI, its story’s disregard for the established Alien universe and its choppy graphics. While this was coming to light, Gary Napper and the CA team were busy working on their Alien game which featured an incredulous AI backing a terrifying rendition of the alien stalking the player in a gorgeously devastated sci-fi environment.

Gary Napper came to the project after some guys from Creative Assembly had managed to wow Sega with a vertical slice of what they had in mind for an Alien game. “They were kind of between games, they had this idea, and they knew Sega had the Alien license, so they put together a kind of visual treatment, this little vertical slice, and it very quickly almost went viral around Sega and they were very excited about it and they got the go ahead to build the team and make the full game,” Napper told OnlySP.

The game was in development for just over four years, and of his reign as Lead Designer for this project Napper said, “It was really nice to come to a studio where the big focus was on quality and making the game feel like exactly what we needed it to be, and really feel like it was a part of the film or a part of that world, and making that alien terrifying again.”

It’s not hard to see that Creative Assembly was taking a largely unexplored angle with the Alien franchise, an angle that’s been obvious to fans of the series since these games started coming out in the 90’s. Maybe the technology hadn’t been developed to properly imitate the ninja horror-show that is Napper’s alien beast in Isolation in earlier installments, or maybe studios kept relying on the safety net of FPS games, because ‘when is it not fun to shoot aliens?’, instead of truly committing to the survival-horror experience, but whatever the reason, a number of these games have been released over the last 20 years without any of them truly representing the atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s Alien.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” parallax_enabled=”” col_height=”” css=”.vc_custom_1438814867879{margin-right: -225px !important;margin-left: -225px !important;padding-top: 200px !important;padding-bottom: 100px !important;background-image: url(https://onlysp.escapistmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/2694743-feature_alienisolation_20141014gs.jpg?id=62772) !important;background-position: center !important;background-repeat: no-repeat !important;background-size: cover !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_column_text]

After the release of Colonial Marines, Creative Assembly was at least a little cognitive of the fact that their game might just be exactly what people had been waiting for, “Everyone we spoke to, people we got in for testing, or focus groups, or journalists who got sneak previews we’re really, really positive and excited, but you’re never quite sure if you’ve got a good game on your hands until it gets out there.” When the game dropped in 2014, it was an obvious smash hit that mesmerized horror-stealth fans with a goose bump inducing thrill ride and kept players desperately clamoring to stay one step ahead of an invincible extra-terrestrial monster through the corridors of Sevastopol Station. Napper said of the game’s acclaim, “to see such a positive reception when it did come out was actually, I say heartwarming but it’s a horror game, but it was amazing to see such a great reaction and that so many people felt that need for the game we were making.”

It was really nice to come to a studio where the big focus was on quality and making the game feel like exactly what we needed it to be

The alien itself is what sets this game apart from the rest. The incredibly intuitive AI system that was designed to learn from the player’s actions propels Alien: Isolation into uncharted waters. Gary Napper told us, “There were so many intricate details with the AI in that system we were always balancing and tweaking and trying to get it right for different difficulties and different areas of the station.” Calandra asked Napper what was involved with balancing the AI, and he told us, “It was such a huge team effort because you didn’t just have the creature itself and its behavior tree and actually what it could physically do, we had to make it telegraph to the player what it was doing as well.”

“The big thing for me, designing the alien and working with the team on it, was that we wanted to make this creature that felt like it could learn from you.” Napper explained, “As soon as you get more knowledge as a player than the entity you’re playing you feel more powerful and we didn’t want that to happen; we always wanted the alien to feel like it was adapting to you and it was always there and always one step ahead of you.” This element also happened to help make Alien: Isolation very replayable.

The game’s setting, Sevastopol Station, had to be designed with the alien’s AI in mind, according to Napper, “…because the game was re-entrant, and you could get on the subway and go back through areas you had already been through and explore the station again, the alien had to be able to follow you back to areas you had already been through.” This meant tying support for the alien’s behaviors into the structure of the world in a distinct way. “It was a big focus of the AI team,” Napper added.

The Creative Assembly team also injected the alien’s AI with their own twisted brand of horror. Napper said, “One thing I picked up on fairly quickly was if the alien was going to react to noise, and you fired a gun in the air, and the alien didn’t come down and get you, you’d think you’re in a safe area. I like to kind of play with the player expectations. Someone might do that and the alien might come straight down, but other times he might not. You kind of think you’re safe but maybe you’re not, a lot of the behaviors were built around that. It was based around the player projecting what the alien was going to do and then the alien doing something different.”

When asked what the hardest part of developing the alien’s AI had been, Napper told us, “We started off very early with the goal of making this incredibly ruthless, terrifying killer. We got to that pretty quickly, and we found that it wasn’t very much fun,” Napper told us it seemed to dampen the game play, noting, “I think the hardest part was probably finding that gap between the alien killing you and you surviving against it and expanding that game play in there.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row gradient_background=”army” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” parallax_enabled=”” col_height=”” css=”.vc_custom_1438814963870{margin-right: -250px !important;margin-left: -250px !important;padding-top: 100px !important;padding-right: 100px !important;padding-bottom: 100px !important;padding-left: 100px !important;background-image: url(https://onlysp.escapistmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Alien-Isolation.0_cinema_1920.0.jpg?id=62773) !important;background-position: center !important;background-repeat: no-repeat !important;background-size: cover !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_text_separator title=”To Be Continued…” title_align=”separator_align_center” align=”align_center” color=”white” el_width=”80″ heading_color=”#ffffff”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_column_text]We asked Napper if Creative Assembly was continuing to develop the Alien’s AI to this day, to which he answered, “That’s something we can’t talk about. I think the official line is: we cannot comment on stuff that may or may not be in our portfolio.” It’s not much, but it leaves open the possibility that Creative Assembly is continuing to develop with their Alien platform.

The design lead offered us a glimpse into the difficult creative choices the team had to make to keep the game true to the film, true to fan’s perception of the franchise, and still make the kind of game that they set out to build. One of the things that makes the film Alien so great is that the alien is perceived as a shadowy, lethal, alien-jaguar kind of creature that is the master of ambush and a superior hunter. However, the alien is only in the film for a short portion. “When we watched the film for reference footage… the alien was in the film for less than 3 minutes and didn’t really move much,” Napper told us.  “The film did such a good job portraying it as this creature that everyone just assumes that’s how it is.”

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There’s also a lack of continuity in the series and the team had to compromise how they were going to navigate this complex fictional universe and employ it for their purposes. Napper pointed out, “We were very much based on the first film, and the first film didn’t have the queen in it.” He went as far as to recall deleted scenes, “If you watch the special edition, you can see the alien turning people into waxy eggs that then became the alien. But we found that when we spoke to people… everyone said, ‘oh yeah, the queen makes eggs and the alien comes out of the egg.”

It was difficult for Creative Assembly to balance the different interpretations of Alien despite their allegiance to the first film. In the end though, they decided to stick with the fans. Napper said, “We wanted to make people’s perception of what the Alien was, and people’s perception was that it came from a queen. So we put hints in the environment, that there might be a queen there so people would understand that life cycle was still going on.” But the team wasn’t willing to go so far as to include the queen in the game, explaining, “The second part of it was we wanted the Alien creature to be the scariest thing in the game. If you have an alien which is the biggest scariest thing through the whole game, and suddenly at the end you go, ‘and here’s a bigger alien, that’s even bigger and scarier’ it kind of takes something away from what that pure alien creature was and again we wanted people to be able to play this through again and still feel like that one alien was the scariest thing.”

Gary Napper and his team were trying to create a very specific atmosphere in Alien: Isolation. They were trying to build an environment of accelerating anxiety, a world blanketed in an ether of fear, and to pull this off took considerable planning. The environment they created was so immersing that the players often did whatever they needed to in order to survive encounters with the alien beast. If you’ve played the game (go play this game), then I imagine you might be familiar with the lockers. Despite Creative Assembly’s carefully charted tact, everything didn’t go quite as they had planned, as Napper told us, “You know you can get people in for a test and say ‘play it as if it’s in your front room’ and they’ll do their best, but there’s something that happens, there’s a certain point where people want to play and they move on where normally at home they’d be happy to sit there and hide in a locker for a half hour at a time, just peeking out now and again. That’s something for me, as a designer, I was really surprised when it finally came out and people were spending so much time just hiding in lockers.”

Creative Assembly underestimated just how intense Isolation could be but, despite the frustration of hiding in a locker for so long, it only added to game’s acclaim, albeit by slowing down progress to a literal stand still.   “I don’t think any of us thought people would spend 20 minutes hiding in a single locker, but I think it’s a testament to the game’s atmosphere that people were happy to do that,” Napper jovially quipped, “At least we made the inside of the locker look interesting.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”army” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][impala_info_box icon_size=”0px” icon_color=”#dd3333″ icon_style=”” icon_style_color=”#cacaca” icon_align=”center” title_color=”#000000″ description_color=”#ffffff” spining_icon=”” icon_position=”icon-top” text_align=”left” icon=”fa-buysellads” title=”SPOILER” description=”One of Isolation’s key turning points is as much the product of clever deception as it is a well-written story element. Napper told us through uncompromising chuckles, “My favorite thing about the kind of press for this game, and talking to people about it, was people’s impression of the game was ‘is there really only one alien? Is it just the one alien?’ and I was always saying ‘the game is focused on the experience of one alien. I never, ever, said there’s only one alien.” The design head let out a hearty laugh but he has no apologies, explaining, “when you’re playing that game and you lift the door and see the nest and realize there’s more than one alien, for me that was such a huge moment in the game, I wanted to protect those.””][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_column_text]Sevastopol Station is a menacing, ominous, gorgeously chaotic example of game architecture that served as an organic character, despite its lack of physical agency, with its own role to play in Isolation. The lockers are but one example of how this carefully staged vessel was contoured to conjure anxiety and terror in the player’s imagination. It has a significant lack of offensive tools, as it should, and the few weapons you can scavenge are only effective as deterrents, and of course the Alien learns from your use of the weapons and changes its response to your desperate attacks.  For the game’s challenging layout, Napper offered no apologies, “The environment was never going to help you.”

There’s a known hack for the PC version of Alien: Isolation that allows players to experience the game via Oculus Rift. The VR experience has been known for some time and despite some reports of nausea and headaches, it’s been pretty well received. We asked Napper if there were any plans to officially bring Isolation into the Oculus arena, and the short answer is no. “We worked to produce a demo for the Oculus rift, and it’s something we were kind of exploring during the development of the game, and we were able to get it into places like E3 and Gamescom. Oculus had it on their stand to show people the potential of the system.” The experience was reportedly terrifying. That experiment was as far as Creative Assembly was going to take the project. “It was really just incredible to watch how much more intense it was in some cases and how people were so into the environment while they were playing it through VR. It’s something that team was really excited about and really working with. We didn’t end up including it in the main game itself. We didn’t put it in the retail version or anything. It ended up being just a demo we were making.”

All of the technical achievements aside, Isolation is scary as hell, which is important, because if it wasn’t downright terrifying no one would care about the alien’s clever AI. The point wasn’t to have an alien that stalked you down and killed you. The point was to create an atmosphere where the player always felt like that moment was imminent. It begs the question; did the development team experience any of that heart-pumping anxiety during the course of their work? We asked Napper and he told us, “While we were playing it, we had certain abilities to cheat or turn off things to get through the game quicker so we could try things but, when we play the game normally, we play it like everybody else does so we have to move carefully and we have to move quietly and there is that fear that it’s going to get you and even the programmer who made the system would get caught by the alien and get killed by the alien and be made to jump by the alien.”

Horror fans have adopted Alien: Isolation, by Creative Assembly, into the sacred canon of must-play stealth survival games. The spine-tingling corridors of Sevastopol Station contain a robust and compelling terror experience fueled by the notorious, ghostly beast from Ridley Scott’s classic; in that regard, standing in the way of Alien: Isolation’s recognition as a horror classic of its own: time.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=”” gradient_background=”” full_height_enabled=”” midnight_logo=”” fixed_background_enabled=”” top_svg=”” bottom_svg=”” background_pattern=”” parallax_enabled=”” border_radius=”” col_height=””][vc_column width=”1/1″ gradient_background=”” border_radius=”” border_column=”” icon_size=”64px” icon_color=”#666″ icon_position=”fa-bg-center-center”][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7h0cgmvIrZw” css=”.vc_custom_1438801612589{margin-right: -200px !important;margin-left: -200px !important;}”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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5 Comments

  1. Really enjoyed talking to Gary for this interview. The main thing I noticed when talking to him was just how confident The Creative Assembly was in this game. Every question I asked that I thought I’d get an answer of, “we were hoping this was going to work”, was more like, “we knew this was going to work”. That leaves me incredibly excited for what they develop in the future regarding the Alien’s tech, because if you really paid attention to it, it puts 90% of other horror games to shame just based on the fact it didn’t need jump scares to stay scary, and the Alien itself, as promised, remained a scary and real threat through out the game.

  2. This game is a survival-horror masterpiece and the best thing to hit the horror scene since Silent Hill 4. Ridley Scott better take notes!

  3. I remember when Dead Space 2 was released, there were rumors that the scare factor had been dampened somewhat to make the game a little more enjoyable to play. I booed this decision at first but it wasn’t until I played Alien: Isolation that I finally understood this logic. It took me a while to finish this game, mainly because I was only ever to play twenty minutes at a time usually. This game nearly caused me to have a heart attack. And even worse, I haven’t been able to complete any of the challenge missions due to those being even more intense than the main campaign. I’ve gotta give it to Creative Assembly as they created a truly terrifying game. Here’s hoping we get to see the story continue. Great interview, by the way!

    1. Thanks for reading the interview! I myself still need to play through Crew Expendable…I’ll get to it eventually…hopefully before classes start back up haha.

  4. I just bought the game a week or so ago. I’m having a blast. Love the game.

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