GP: Can you talk us through the game’s setting?
Dave: The game is set about 30 years on from Alien 3. So essentially we’re dealing with the future of the universe created by Ridley Scott, James Cameron and David Fincher in the first 3 Alien films. The Weyland-Yutani corporation, spearheaded by Karl Bishop Weyland (played by Lance Henriksen), is still a powerful force in the galaxy. On a remote W-Y colony on planet BG-386 the ruins of a lost Predator civilisation are discovered. Deep within those ruins are Xenomorph eggs. After the discovery of these eggs, things go very wrong for the colonists and the intervention of the Colonial Marines is required. The Predators are also alerted to the presence of humans and Xenomorphs on one of their mythical homeworlds. And so the stage is set for an epic three-way conflict.
GP: How linear or sandbox are each of the game’s levels? Are there multiple paths or multiple ways to achieve any one objective?
Dave: All three campaigns include encounters that can play out in different ways. For the Alien and Predator, there are sandbox encounters focused around stealth and stalking. For the marine, this is more about the unpredictability of the Alien AI creating unique combat situations.
GP: What can you tell us about the game’s AI?
Dave: We’re particularly proud of our Alien AI. When you see an Alien prowling the darkness ahead of you, just before a second Alien lunges at you from the side, you know you’re being hunted by an intelligent creature. “Clever girl”, as it were.
GP: How many hours of singleplayer gameplay can we expect?
Dave: Campaign duration estimates are pretty unreliable, and based on varying assumptions. Safe to say there’s a very competitive chunk of gameplay there when you consider all three singlerplayer campaigns together.
GP: The game runs on Rebellion’s own Asura engine. Can you elaborate on some of the technical capabilities of the engine that will be on display in this title?
Dave: Dynamic lighting and shadows are absolutely key to the atmosphere of Aliens versus Predator, and the Asura engine has been designed from the ground up to cope with lots of complex real-time illumination. As a Marine you are constantly trying to survive in a dark environment – jumping at shadows and lighting your way forward with a flashlight and flares. Each of the three species sees the environment differently, and creatures like the Alien are able to see clearly in areas that would otherwise appear pitch black to both the Marine and the Predator. We would not be able to achieve these kinds of effects without an HDR lighting model, adaptive tone mapping, and of course deferred shading. Other elements like Screen Space Ambient Occlusion bring a whole new level of lighting realism and solidity to everything. It’s hard to imagine how we ever did without it!
Similarly we use our own physics-simulation solution in the engine and it’s at the root of everything. It controls how the characters collide with the environment – allowing us to do crazy things like have Aliens crawling on walls and ceilings, and leaping from surface to surface. We have the obvious stuff like objects that you can knock around and destroy, but we also use physics in more subtle ways too. Our inverse-kinematics are used to make sure that the feet of characters connect accurately with the floors, slopes or steps that they are moving on. We also use IK to procedurally generate the animation of the long Alien tails and make sure that they collide correctly with the environment and don’t poke through it as they trail fluidly behind the characters.
GP: The game has one ranged species, the humans, one melee species, the aliens, and one hybrid species, the Predator. Can you talk us through how you’ve balanced these species for multiplayer?
Dave: It’s not actually that simple. The marine has a big chunk of the melee system available, for example. I think it’s fair to say we’ve spent a lot of time tweaking variables, mechanics and animations to ensure it’s a fair fight between the three species. Hopefully you got a taste of that earlier today. Because of the depth of the gameplay and the variety of offensive and defensive moves, navigational abilities and vision enhancers available to each species, there’s always a window of opportunity for the keen-eyed player.
GP: The original Aliens versus Predator was a great success with PC gamers. What enhancements have been made for the PC version of the game? How have you taken advantage of the PC’s capabilities?
Dave: All the art assets are authored at higher resolutions than can be squeezed onto current console hardware so, while AvP looks fantastic on Xbox 360 and PS3, it looks truly state-of-the-art on PC. Similarly effects such as shadows and full-screen passes like ambient occlusion are more complex and detailed on PC. The PC version of Aliens versus Predator is fully able to take advantage of the features of all the latest video cards and is optimised to make efficient use of multicore threading if your PC supports it.
While AvP fully supports DirectX 9 and 10 hardware, we will also be one of the first games to really show off how good DirectX 11 games can look, with hardware tessellation of the Aliens using displacement mapping, and Shader Model 5.0 Compute Shaders for post-processing effects. Multi-monitor modes like AMD’s Eyefinity are also supported - playing with three monitors is very immersive and cinematic, and the extra peripheral vision just adds to the tension as you glimpse something moving in the corner of your eye…
Multiplayer is an important ingredient of Aliens versus Predator, and another big feature for the PC over the consoles is dedicated server support for multiplayer games, something which has been getting rarer in recent years.
GP: That's great to hear - how about modding?
Dave: If you mean are we including tools for users then that won’t be in the release version but over time of course we’ll monitor what the community says and see how best we can support them.
GP: In what form should players expect downloadable content for Aliens vs. Predator?
Dave: Again, we’re really looking to learn from feedback – we’ve got a million ideas about what’s possible but really want to see how the public gets to grips with what’s on offer before we firm up any plans.
GP: What can you tell us about achievements in Alien vs. Predator?
Dave: Achievements and trophies are nicely split between single and multiplayer (some can be earned in either mode), and between those are relatively easy to achieve and those that require more dedicated gameplay. Also, many of them are titled with direct quotes from the films, which we thought the fans would appreciate.
GP: The game’s uncut MA15+ rating in Australia has been seen by some as something of a watershed moment. When the game was initially banned, the studio refused to “sanitise” it, and Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley stated, “This is obviously a game based on adult-rated movies, and we want to make sure it’s very clearly an adult-rated game.” Having won the appeal to have the game’s classification reconsidered, do you now believe this game is appropriate for 15 year olds?
Dave: That’s entirely for the Australian authorities to decide. All I can say is we’re very pleased that the Aussies will be getting their hands on a title we think everybody’s going to enjoy.
GP: What aspect or aspects of Alien vs. Predator are you most proud of, and what aspect or aspects do you believe make this title distinctive in a highly competitive genre?
Dave: I think our biggest selling point is also our biggest challenge. Three species in one game, meaning three sets of mechanics and gameplay styles all balanced for both single and multiplayer. That’s pretty ambitious and I don’t know anybody else who’s tried anything like it recently. When those three species come together in multiplayer you have something very special indeed.
GP: When the Rebellion team aren’t playing their own games, what are the office favourites?
Dave: I can’t speak for the entire team, but I know that Modern Warfare 2 has caused something of a splash recently. And on a personal level, I’m still humming the tunes from the Fallout 3 soundtrack.
Our thanks to Rebellion UK and SEGA NZ for making this interview possible.