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The Making Of: Alien Vs Predator

posted Oct 20, 2009, 3:59 AM by Troy Cheek
The developer started in rather more humble circumstances, the company set up in order to create a launch title for the Atari Jaguar. Alien Vs Predator never quite made that launch slot, but the fact that 84 per cent of Jaguar owners bought the game would appear to suggest that it was worth the wait.

While Chris had been focusing on completing a DPhil in chemistry his brother, Jason, had somehow managed to find the time to build up the sort of varied CV that you’d expect from an institution that regularly turns out captains of industry and British prime ministers. After completing his degree in zoology, Jason had managed to write a few children’s books, do some fashion photography in London and work as a camera assistant on the odd music video. He’d also been involved in making several videogames, such as Blade Warrior for Mirrorsoft’s Imageworks label, isometric adventure Murder for US Gold, shooter Better Dead Than Alien and Hunt For Red October from Oxford Digital.

It was with this experience that the brothers decided to pitch themselves to Atari, putting together a demo of their 3D work with a tiny team of other freelancers. “Chris and I were working from our student basement,” points out Jason Kingsley. “The only natural light had to travel down a coal hole before it could be seen – ideal conditions to see the screen, though, and almost an AVP environment in itself! When we got the deal we had to set up the company and get going pretty fast.”

For such a relatively small and inexperienced team, the task that they’d set themselves was a considerable one: “Nobody had ever built this sort of title before. There were no control standards, no assumed knowledge, the Jaguar was an unknown quantity, the team size was only six people, our staff were inexperienced and we were inexperienced.” And yet, within a few months, it was clear that AVP was going to be something special. “I remember seeing the 3D environment on screen for the very first time and thinking: ‘This is going to be a good game.’ It became clear that we had a killer application on our hands, and in consultation with Atari we decided to extend the development cycle.”

Initially, however, Atari didn’t even want a 3D title. Capcom’s coin-op version of Alien Vs Predator (which inspired a 2D 16bit rendition) gave players a chance to play as a marine or Predator against the Aliens in a fairly straightforward scrolling beat ’em up. It was this sort of title that was initially pencilled in: “They wanted a scrolling fighter like Double Dragon,” explains Kingsley. “But after some time we managed to convince them we could do a fully texture-mapped, 16bit, photographic-quality firstperson shooter in 2.5D, sort of raytraced, but with the walls staying vertical.”

It was a brave design decision. At the time, the firstperson shooter had yet to establish itself. Id’s Wolfenstein 3D had been available to those with high-end PCs, but Doom had yet to appear and the subsequent blossoming of the genre was just a distant dream. An equally brave decision was to give players the opportunity to play the bad guy, since they could choose to take on the role of marine, Predator or Alien. Consequently, AVP contained a significant degree of variety and a surprising narrative complexity. Set on a colonial marine training base infested with Aliens, there were three goals: as a marine, to destroy the base and escape before it blows; as an Alien, to rescue the queen; and, as a Predator, to acquire honour by killing the Alien queen.

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