Aliens: Colonial Marines interview: Gearbox Software lead level designer, Graeme Timmins

PC World talks to Gearbox Software lead level designer, Graeme Timmins, about fighting Xenomorphs

The original Aliens films are considered to be some of the best science fiction movies in existence, and with directors such as Ridley Scott (Blade Runner), James Cameron (Titanic), and David Fincher (Se7en) having worked on them, it is not hard to see why. Decades later, the franchise retains it foothold in popular culture with the Alien Vs. Predator films, and to some extent, Prometheus. The original trilogy has also been represented in numerous games over the years, with Texas based Gearbox Software currently trying its hand with Aliens: Colonial Marines for publisher Sega.

Leading up to the local release of the Aliens: Colonial Marines, PC World caught up with Gearbox Software lead level designer, Graeme Timmins to talk about the development of the title.

What you doing before you came to Gearbox?

Gearbox Software lead level designer, Graeme Timmins (GT): I was working back in my college town after graduating from Central Michigan University. I received an opportunity to work at Gearbox and moved down to Texas.

Gearbox has been busy these last few years working on new IP such as Brothers in Arms and Borderlands. What prompted it to get back into licensed video game development with Aliens: Colonial Marines?

GT: Gearbox has always enjoyed working on IPs that our not our own. We love having the opportunity to work with important franchises. The Aliens world has always been a personal favourite of ours. Modern day FPSs can still trace their roots back to that iconic film. When Sega contacted us with the chance to work with the Aliens IP, we jumped at the chance. It’s a personal favourite for everyone here at Gearbox.

Aliens: Colonial Marines takes place after the events of the third film, Alien 3. What was it about Alien 3 that made Gearbox set the game within that time frame?

GT: It was so important from the get go that this game fit into the existing story of the Alien universe. Whether you personally enjoyed the film or not, Alien 3 is part of the lore and it needs to be respected in that way. From a story perspective Aliens: Colonial Marines is a canonical continuation of Aliens, though.

Where does the game’s story fit into the overall Aliens timeline?

GT: Players assume the role of Corporal Winter, a Colonial Marine on board the USCM Sephora. The Sephora is sent to investigate the distress call from the Sulaco that was sent out in Aliens. The ship has mysteriously returned to LV-426 and isn’t responding to communication requests. It takes the Sephora 17 weeks to get there by which time Alien 3 has already happened chronologically, but our characters obviously aren’t aware of that. Through the story, players get to meet up with a great new cast of characters and get to experience that great atmosphere and world of the films.

Gearbox had the unique opportunity to meet with Ridley Scott and see the script for Prometheus. Did Alien 3 director David Fincher maybe reach out to the Gearbox team about the development of the game or vice versa?

GT: No, this story was written by Gearbox’s own Mikey Neumann with coordination with Fox [Entertainment Group].

There have been numerous games based on the Aliens franchise released over the years, in particular in the Alien Vs. Predator universe. How will Aliens: Colonial Marines be different?

GT: This game is really all about the Marines from beginning to end. Instead of trying to tell a story from multiple perspectives, Aliens: Colonial Marines is focused solely on the experience of a new team of Marines trying to figure out what they’ve gotten into. It’s much more like the film in that respect.

What was the main source of inspiration for the Gearbox team?

GT: Fox gave us unprecedented access to all kinds of great reference content. They supplied us with tons of concept art that was used for the sets from the films, as well as photography from the sets themselves.

What aspect of the game do you feel shaped up to be the most interesting?

GT: When we had started the project we focused on a great co-op campaign. Over the course of the project we had the itch to go all the way and add multiplayer to the game. The asymmetrical design of multiplayer posed lots of tough questions for our team. The dynamics are just so different between the Xeno and Marine teams, asymmetrical design is just not something you see often anymore. In the end, we’re very satisfied how the multiplayer experience turned out. It really captures the team aspect that the movie portrayed so well.

Did anything memorable come out during the testing of the game by the Q&A team?

GT: Our QA team was all about the details on this project. We got a bug one day that really threw me for a loop. A tester had come across a calendar mesh in Hadley’s Hope. Based on the story and the timing in which all the events happen between the movies and game, he figured out that it was off by a couple of years. My first response was, “You’ve got to be kidding me! Who would take the time to do that?!” He was right though, so we sent the bug to art to make sure it was corrected.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is coming to the new Wii U platform, but is there any interest in bringing the game to the PlayStation Vita?

GT: Gearbox loves working with all kinds of platforms. We want to engage our audience as much as possible. Right now there aren’t any plans, but that’s not to say we wouldn’t be open to that opportunity if it were to arise.

With development on Aliens: Colonial Marines wrapping up, do you have any details on what Gearbox will move onto next? Maybe the Brothers in Arms spin-off, Furious 4?

GT: Right now we are focused on continuing our support for Aliens: Colonial Marines and Borderlands 2.

Want to read other video game interviews with key figures from Sony, Microsoft and more? Then check out PC World's complete interview archive.

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Patrick Budmar

Patrick Budmar

PC World
Topics: Aliens: Colonial Marines, sega, Gearbox Software
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