Fallout 3 begins in Vault 101, an underground nuclear shelter that s been sealed away from the outside world for well over a century. When the player character reaches the age of sixteen, they tussle with a group of obnoxious delinquents calling themselves the Tunnel Snakes. They re greasers in the classic mould, with leather jackets, slicked quiffs, and bad attitudes.
This is Fallout s thing, of course. Its world is a kitschy retro-future, as predicted on the pages of pulpy 1950s science fiction. But replaying the game recently, it struck me just how little sense the Tunnel Snakes make, even in this fantastical, stylised universe.
Think about it. They re greasers—a subculture that emerged around a passion for motorcycles, hot rods, and kustoms—in a closed-off bunker of narrow tunnels, where where there are no roads or vehicles to speak of. Then there s those matching leather jackets they all wear with the intricate snake emblems on the back. Where did they get them? How did they make them?
According to Fallout lore, Vault dwellers wear matching blue-and-yellow jumpsuits with the number of whichever one they happen to live in printed on them. So why are the Tunnel Snakes wearing these jackets, and where do you get a biker-style leather jacket in a place that, presumably, has limited raw materials and no means to produce them? Where did they get the leather?
Jesus, who cares? you re probably thinking to yourself. They put greasers in because it s a 50s thing, and Fallout is a riff on 50s American culture, and they needed some kind of antagonist for the player during the Vault sequence. Yeah, sure, I could suspend my disbelief—and they are pretty funny, I suppose—but, to me, they re indicative of a larger problem in game design: style over function.
Stanley Kubrick was a filmmaker known for his obsessive attention to detail. In the documentary Stanley Kubrick s Boxes , journalist Jon Ronson digs through crates of archive material from the production of the late director s films, revealing the meticulous, fastidious research that went into their creation.
Mind-bending sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey demonstrates this perfectly. Everything in the film—from those great, spinning space stations to the infamous zero-gravity toilet on Heywood Floyd s shuttle—was designed with its function in mind. Kubrick and his team thought about how these things would actually work, and their designs were informed by science and astronautics, not by what looked cool.
It looks cool" is, unfortunately, the only thought that goes into a lot of video game designs—the costumes in Assassin s Creed being a prime example. The hood is an elegant, recognisable visual link between the games, but can you imagine sprinting and climbing around the Caribbean in Kenway s elaborate pirate get-up? Or hopping across the sun-battered rooftops of Constantinople in Ezio s frilly layers?
Alta r s white robes made more sense in the first game. There were fewer layers, increasing his mobility and keeping the Middle-Eastern heat at bay, and he could blend in with those groups of robe-wearing scholars. But with every game, more bits have been added to the costumes, and now they just look over-designed. They re supposedly a secretive, underground order of hired killers, yet they all wear matching hooded uniforms and elaborate belt buckles in the shape of their logo.
There s a bit in Aliens: Colonial Marines where you discover that Weyland-Yutani have—surprise, surprise—been conducting sinister, top secret experiments in the famous derelict ship. Except all the equipment and storage crates littered around the place bear their logo. Not to mention the fact that the crashed ship would have been destroyed by the explosion at the end of Aliens along with Hadley s Hope. Gearbox tried to retcon this in some follow-up DLC, but I m not buying it. They just thought, hey, wouldn't it be cool if you got to visit the derelict? And that s where their thought process ended.
To a lot of you, this will sound like nitpicking insanity. Just play the game, idiot! Who cares about all these dumb little details? you re screaming at your monitor, red in the face. Well, I do, obviously. But beyond my own tedious appreciation for practical, considered design, it ultimately makes games better.
Ridley Scott s Alien is one of the most remarkable feats of production design in film, and still stands up to this day. Have you seen the Blu-ray? It looks beautiful, and hasn t aged a bit, despite the chunky late 70s tech and flickering CRT monitors. This is thanks not only to the directing eye of Scott and the horrifying psychosexual art of H.R. Giger, but also concept artists Chris Foss and Ron Cobb s contributions.
I resent films that are so shallow they rely entirely on their visual effects, and of course science fiction films are notorious for this, said Cobb in 1979 s The Book of Alien. I've always felt that there's another way to do it: a lot of effort should be expended toward rendering the environment of the spaceship—or whatever the fantastic setting of your story should be—as convincingly as possible, but always in the background. That way the story and the characters emerge and they become more real.
This is why 2001 and Alien still look amazing, despite being, respectively, 45 and 35 years old. The interior of the Nostromo was so believable, Giger said in Famous Monsters magazine. I hate these new-looking spacecraft. You feel like they re just built for the movie you re seeing. They don t look real. Cobb, Foss, and Scott, like Kubrick before them, thought about the practicalities of the things they were creating, and they ve become timeless as a result—something I hope to see more of in games as they slowly leave their adolescence and become a more confident, refined artform.
So maybe it doesn t matter where the Tunnel Snakes got those leather biker jackets, or if they do indeed rule. But if video games are ever going to create worlds as enduring and convincing as the films mentioned here, and countless other examples I could list, they re going to have to start thinking about their designs beyond just aesthetics and the shallow concept of cool.
The Aliens: Colonial Marines legal battle between Gearbox Software and Sega of America has become a little bit uglier, as Sega has filed documents claiming that not only was Gearbox an equal partner in the game's marketing, it sometimes took matters into its own hands and made promotional promises without the publisher's approval. The allegations directly contradict statements made by Gearbox in July, when it said that it was just a contractor on the game and had absolutely nothing to do with the game's marketing.
Gearbox made the claims as part of an effort to extricate itself from the class action suit over Aliens: Colonial Marines, brought over the vast differences between what was promised in "actual gameplay" demos at E3, and what was ultimately delivered. Its position is that it had no influence over the game's marketing and thus shouldn't be targeted by the suit at all; Sega, however, presented an entirely different perspective in a response filed on September 2.
Sega claims that Gearbox was an equal participant in the marketing campaign, and that while Sega had "absolute discretion" over marketing decisions, the contract between the two companies required that it consult with Gearbox on "all marketing activities along with sales pricing and forecasts," and "all other aspects of marketing, distribution and/or other such exploitation" of the property. Furthermore, the developer agreement stated that Sega and Gearbox would "jointly develop both a marketing strategy and a list of marketing assets," and listed Gearbox as the "sole creative directors" responsible for the majority of the Aliens: Colonial Marines marketing assets.
It seems that Sega at first intended to take advantage of Pitchford's high profile as a marketing tool, as a proposition document described him as a "respected development celebrity... guaranteed to be headline material in worldwide press coverage" and noted that Gearbox "must be given a certain amount of free reign to generate PR hits." But he had a habit of going off script, according to the filing, which culminated in an October 2012 conversation between Matt Eyre of Sega and Gearbox Marketing Vice President Steve Gibson, and ultimately a recommendation against using him for future promotions.
"I spoke face to face to Gibson about their persistent panel leaking," Eyre wrote in an internal email. "Effectively it's Randy doing whatever the fuck he likes. Apparently he did it twice on also, again, against all plans and despite the fact they asked him not to. I think our best result here is that we have no more panel sessions..."
The filing also specifically addresses the infamous demo that spurred the lawsuit in the first place. "The 2011 E3 demo plaintiffs complain about was created entirely by Gearbox, who then represented to Sega that 'the E3 demo is indeed the bar that we should use to determine where the game engine will be. That is Gearbox's plan and what they believe in'," the filing states. "Gearbox cannot simply disassociate itself from these statements and actions."
Sega agreed in August to settle the Colonial Marines lawsuit for $1.25 million but Gearbox refused to take part, leaving it exposed to future litigation. The studio is thus trying to have the settlement thrown out, but the Sega filing asks the court to reject Gearbox's opposition, noting that the studio was not "excluded from the settlement negotiations" but was in fact invited to participate and refused to do so.
The Aliens: Colonial Marines legal saga may be stumbling toward at least a partial conclusion, as Sega has tentatively agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle the lawsuit against it. The publisher hasn't admitted to actually doing anything wrong, of course, but the expense of litigation and the uncertainty of the outcome has left both sides anxious to grab what they can and split without a fuss.
The terms of the agreement, dug up by Polygon, state that Sega will pay $1.25 million for a "full release of all claims related to Aliens: Colonial Marines." Of that money, $312,500 will cover the plaintiff's attorneys' fees, a maximum of $200,000 will go to KCC Class Action Services for administration fees, the actual plaintiff in the case will get $2500 and eligible members of the class that is, people who bought the game on or before February 12, 2013 and fill out a three-question claim form will divide up the rest, with payments to individuals not to exceed the purchase price of the game.
If approved, the settlement will extricate Sega from the lawsuit, but not Gearbox. The filing states that following a failed mediation session in January, the parties involved "later reached the principal terms of a compromise settlement agreement that would have resolved all claims against Sega and Gearbox in exchanged for the creation of a $2 million settlement fund with a partial reverter of $750,000." That agreement ran into trouble, however, when the court "expressed certain concerns with some of the terms," specifically regarding the "reversionary aspect" of the settlement, which would have allowed part of the money to go back to Sega or Gearbox if certain conditions were (or were not) met.
Following that, the plaintiff was able to negotiate the current settlement with Sega, which explicitly states that "no amount of the fund will revert" to it, but not with Gearbox. Thus, "litigation will continue as to that defendant with the prospect of further recovery." If any money is left over from the Sega settlement, it will be donated to the National Consumer Law Center and Consumers Union.
The lawsuit was filed in 2013 not because Aliens: Colonial Marines was so bad, but because the actual game did not live up to what was promised in pre-release promotional trailers. Unlike Sega, Gearbox appears more inclined to fight the suit rather than settle it: In July, it filed a motion seeking to be removed from the action, stating that it neither published nor sold the game and thus "never belonged in this lawsuit" in the first place.
Gearbox Software was slapped with a lawsuit last year over the hot mess that was Aliens: Colonial Marines, and specifically that the final product was a far cry from what was promised in "actual gameplay" demos displayed at E3. Gearbox quickly dismissed the action as "frivolous" but otherwise remained quiet on the matter until yesterday, when lawyers for the studio filed multiple motions seeking to have it removed from the action.
The crux of Gearbox's argument is that it made the game under contract, and that the publisher, Sega, called all the shots and was responsible for all the marketing. Thus, any legal action should be aimed at Sega and in fact, according to the claim, Sega asked Gearbox to keep quiet about the suit so it could handle the situation itself.
"Gearbox never belonged in this lawsuit. Gearbox is a videogame software developer. It was neither the publisher nor seller of the videogame at issue," the suit states, as reported by Polygon. "For more than a year, Gearbox has quietly abided the plaintiffs' claims so that Sega, the game's publisher and the party responsible for the game's marketing and sale, could assume the defense of this lawsuit. Gearbox has honored its publisher's request in spite of plaintiffs' highly-publicized-and highly-misplaced-claims against Gearbox. At this point, however, Gearbox is obligated to pursue its rightful departure from this case."
In a deposition filed separately, Gearbox Marketing Vice President Steve Gibson denied claims that Gearbox used a separate engine to create pre-release demos, saying Epic's Unreal Engine "was the only game engine Gearbox used in the design and development of the game." He also said that Gearbox lost a lot of money on the project.
"During the development process, Gearbox supplemented Sega's development budget with its own money to help Sega finish its game; Gearbox's contribution to A:CM totaled millions, none of which was ever repaid," he said in the filing. "Gearbox never received money from Sega's A:CM purchasers, nor has Gearbox received a single royalty from any such sales by Sega."
Gearbox also filed motions to have the suit's class status removed, while attorneys for the plaintiffs filed a request to remove the original plaintiff, Damion Perrine, from the suit without prejudice or costs because he is currently incarcerated on an unrelated matter and thus "unable to continue his service as class representative."
Aliens: Colonial Marines wasn't a fun game to play, it was no fun to make, and I wouldn't be surprised if the poor sales assistants stocking it all got nasty cuts from the box - like the tomb of Tutankhamun, anyone with any connection to it seems to have suffered in one way or another. And now we have another casualty: Michael 'Corporal Hicks/Kyle Reese' Biehn.
Not only was Biehn's character shoehorned into the game in the most ridiculous manner (although part of me is grateful the team invented a way to reverse Hicks' pointless death at the start of Alien 3), it seems lending his voice to the project just "wasn't fun at all".
As Biehn explained in an interview with Game Informer, Aliens: Colonial Marines "seemed kind of passionless. I think in movies, television, and the gaming world, you get some people that are really, really passionate, and some people that are just going through the paces. They think that because they have a brand name they’re going to get a hit game or hit movie out of it. That certainly was the situation on ."
By contrast, Biehn had a much better time providing the voice for hero Rex Banner Colt in Ubisoft's 80s sci-fi love letter Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
" is such an interesting and creative presence. He has such energy and such passion," Biehn continued, conforming to at least seven Hollywood cliches. "One of the things that I really, really enjoy working still in this business is finding people that have that kind of passion."
If you want to hear more of Biehn not having a good time, Gearbox and friends recently released a single-player expansion to Colonial Marines called Stasis Interrupted, which as you may have guessed is the surprising sequel to Girl, Interrupted tells the story of what happened to poor old Hicks when he was supposedly being killed in that stasis pod.
Last week, we heard that Aliens: Colonial Marines co-developers TimeGate had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection following poor reception of the game and a false advertising lawsuit. As of today, Kotaku reports that its sources are saying the studio's staff has been laid off.
The reason for the closure may have to do with an attempt by Colonial Marines publisher SouthPeak to force a liquidation of the studio in arbitration. We have no official word yet on whether this is the case, but we are continuing to follow the story as more details become available. TimeGate, founded in 1998, was probably best known prior to Colonial Marines for the sci-fi FPS Section 8.
TimeGate was known to be working on a new, free-to-play project called Minimum, which was scheduled to enter a closed alpha last month. The fate of the project is unknown, but a total liquidation of the studio would seem to leave little chance of its eventual release.
In the face of false advertising claims, both Gearbox and SEGA are keeping their cool. Following news earlier this week that a Californian law firm will file a class action lawsuit claiming the companies falsely advertised Aliens: Colonial Marines, both have written off the claims as without merit. In statements provided to Kotaku, both companies shrug the claims off, with varying degrees of flippancy.
"SEGA cannot comment on specifics of ongoing litigation, but we are confident that the lawsuit is without merit and we will defend it vigorously," a SEGA spokesperson said. Meanwhile, Gearbox worded their response more severely. "Attempting to wring a class action lawsuit out of a demonstration is beyond meritless. We continue to support the game, and will defend the rights of entertainers to share their works-in-progress without fear of frivolous litigation."
As reported, the suit is claiming damages for those who purchased the game both on its release date and as a pre-order, on the grounds that those consumers were mislead by early demo footage. SEGA even acknowledged early last month that the early trailers "did not accurately reflect the final content of the game," and that they will mark early footage as works-in-progress going forward.
All manner of outrage followed the launch of Aliens: Colonial Marines. Not only was the finished product pretty average, but it paled in comparison to early demo footage. Many felt they'd been rorted. That sentiment will be tested in a court of law soon, because Californian law firm Edelson LLC yesterday filed a suit on behalf of one Damion Perrine, claiming that demos of the game at events including PAX and E3 were not indicative of the final product.
The issue seems to center around press embargoes, interestingly enough: the suit insinuates that these restrictions prevented customers from assessing whether the game was worth their money in due time. "Unfortunately for their fans, Defendants never told anyone - consumers, industry critics, reviewers, or reporters - that their 'actual gameplay' demonstration advertising campaign bore little resemblance to the retail product that would eventually be sold to a large community of unwitting purchasers," the suit reads . The embargo for Aliens: Colonial Marines lifted on the morning of the game's launch.
The suit is claiming damages for those who purchased the game both on its release date and as a pre-order. It also draws attention to a Tweet from Gearbox president Randy Pitchford, who Tweeted after the game's launch that the complaints were "understood and fair". It'll be interesting to see how this saga ends, and what ramifications - if any - it will have on the way publishers handle pre-release demo footage.
In response to an investigation from the UK's Advertising Standards Agency, Sega Europe have acknowledged a consumer complaint that the promotional trailers for Aliens: Colonial Marines didn't match the final quality of the game. Reddit user subpardave submitted the complaint to the ASA in response to what he calls the "absurd" difference between in-game quality and the earlier, better looking, demo footage.
"We contacted Sega Europe to discuss the issue," the ASA wrote, in response to the complaint. "They explained that their online trailers used demo footage, created using the in-game engine. Sega Europe understood the objections raised about the quality of the game in relation to the trailers, but explained that they weren't aware of these issues when the trailers were produced, in some cases several months before release.
"Sega Europe acknowledged your objection that the trailers did not accurately reflect the final content of the game. They agreed to add a disclaimer, both on their website and in all relevant YouTube videos, which explains that the trailers depict footage of the demo versions of the game."
It's hard to tell in the light of dry official documentation, but my reading of that above paragraph is that Sega have acknowledged the objection exists, and not necessarily the contents of it and arguments behind it. If so, it's an ultimately meaningless sentence. I can acknowledge that there's a cup of tea on my desk - because there is - but that doesn't address the underlying problems of that cup of tea: namely that I've run out of sugar.
The added disclaimer, now present on the game's website and YouTube trailers, simply states: "The trailer footage shown uses the in-game engine, and represents a work in progress." Of course, from that statement, you'd assume the final product was an improvement. But it's not like there hasn't been warning to the contrary.