Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

OK, everyone’s probably bored of this by now, but if you’re still wondering just how the makers of Borderlands 2 could get Aliens: Colonial Marines so very wrong, more has emerged. (more…)

Kotaku

From Dream To Disaster: The Story Of Aliens: Colonial Marines



On December 11, 2006, Sega announced that they had snagged the rights to the much-beloved sci-fi franchise Aliens. Eager to get people excited, Sega quickly announced that they had two big games in the works: a role-playing game and a first-person shooter.



In the coming years, one would be cancelled. And the other probably should have been.



Aliens: Colonial Marines, the shooter released earlier this month for PC and consoles, has been almost unanimously declared a bad game. Two weeks ago, we attempted to figure out just how it fell apart, but we didn't have the full story. Today, we can paint a clearer picture.



In an attempt to sort through the rumors and figure out just what happened to Colonial Marines, I've spent the past few weeks talking to people with connections to the game. Some preferred to talk off the record; others agreed to let me report what they said so long as I didn't use their names. And the story behind A:CM—a story of dysfunctional development, miscommunication, and conflicting visions—has grown increasingly clear.



(Unfortunately, despite weeks of fan and press requests for an explanation about what went wrong with this game, representatives from Sega and Gearbox both declined to comment for this story.)



Just days after announcing their Aliens acquisition, Sega announced that they were making a first-person shooter with Gearbox, the studio then best known for developing Brothers in Arms and some of the expansions to Half-Life. When Sega made that announcement, pre-production had just started, according to multiple sources. There was nothing to show, because nothing existed yet.



Meanwhile, Sega contracted independent studio Obsidian Entertainment to handle the Aliens RPG.



"There was really good synergy between both teams about what needed to happen. It was a very love-love situation."

Over the next few years, both Aliens games were delayed multiple times. By 2009, Sega was going through some financial difficulties and both games were costing them a great deal of money. According to one source, Sega's producers said they had to choose between the first-person shooter and the role-playing game. They chose the shooter—and unceremoniously cancelled the RPG.



Also in 2009, Gearbox released Borderlands, the Diablo-esque shooter that went on to become a surprise critical and commercial hit. Because of this sudden success, Gearbox decided to immediately start working on Borderlands 2—internally codenamed Willow 2—so they decided to outsource the bulk of development on Colonial Marines—codenamed Pecan—to a company called TimeGate, best known for the first-person shooter Section 8. At the time, TimeGate was finishing up development on the sequel, Section 8: Prejudice.



Around November or December of 2010, TimeGate had a company meeting to talk about their next project. Things went well.



"There was really good synergy between both teams about what needed to happen," one source told me. "It was a very love-love situation."



"Everyone at [TimeGate] was pretty stoked," said another source.



So Gearbox sent over the game materials, and TimeGate's team started to work on project Pecan—although at least a few staffers were shocked by how little progress Gearbox had made on the game.



"There was obviously not four years of work done on the game," one source said.



According to three people familiar with the project, Gearbox didn't put a lot of work into Colonial Marines between 2007 and 2010. Instead, those people told me, Gearbox chose to focus on Duke Nukem Forever, Borderlands, and Borderlands 2. Colonial Marines was not a priority.



One source told me that when TimeGate got the project, Colonial Marines was "basically a hodgepodge" of assets, including the shader—or lighting processor—from Borderlands. "A lot of assets just didn't seem like they fit there," the source said.



I've heard conflicting things about how much of Gearbox's work was retained by TimeGate. According to one source, TimeGate threw everything out. According to another source, TimeGate's staff worked with what they had, even if that did require a ton of iteration.



But by all accounts, starting at the end of 2010, TimeGate was the developer of Aliens: Colonial Marines. Gearbox had oversight, and much of TimeGate's work had to go through approval by producers at both Gearbox and Sega, but the bulk of the project was TimeGate's responsibility.



From Dream To Disaster: The Story Of Aliens: Colonial Marines



In 2011, TimeGate started facing big problems. The first major problem was the game's story: even four years after Colonial Marines was announced, nobody had locked down a final script. Narrative designers at both Gearbox and TimeGate were writing and rewriting constantly, and TimeGate had to discard entire scenes and levels because of story changes during development, according to three sources.



"For a couple months, we were just kind of guessing," said one of those sources. "It's really weird to work on a game when you don't have a basic idea of how things will work."



And then there was interference—with three companies involved in decision-making on Pecan, bureaucracy was inevitable. According to one source, Sega's producers wanted Colonial Marines to feel like Call of Duty—in other words, more shooting marines, less shooting aliens. Upper staff at both Gearbox and TimeGate disagreed with this mentality, the source said, and there was a tug-of-war between developer and publisher on how the game should be designed.



"There was also the 'too many chefs' syndrome when it came to gameplay, where too many people gave feedback on both ends and it ultimately led to further delays," said a source. "In one case, working on a particular task took me a month to finalize, as there was inconsistent and delayed feedback."



Another issue: incompatible management styles. Gearbox and TimeGate are two very different developers that approached the game in two very different ways.



"You could not pick two companies whose general workflow is more diametrically opposed," said one source. "Gearbox is used to 'work, work, work, iterate, iterate.' TimeGate is the exact opposite—they're always about shipping the product."



Over the course of development, the team scrapped a lot of levels and missions, one source told me. One cut mission, for example, involved a scientist who would follow the player around and turn out to be a secret agent for Weyland Yutani, the evil corporation that plays an integral role in Aliens fiction. "He was scrapped because escort missions are stupid," the source said.



"We just spent a lot of time trying to make the game shippable," said the same source.







width="500" height="333" allowscriptaccess="always"
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And then there's the demo. As many angry reporters have pointed out, Gearbox and Sega spent a great deal of time showing off a demo that looks nothing like the final product. People have demanded an explanation, and many have accused Gearbox head Randy Pitchford of misleading his fans.



The truth might not be as malicious as some have speculated. According to a few sources I spoke with, the demo for Colonial Marines was built by TimeGate—with animation assistance by Gearbox—and ran in real time. As is standard for E3 demos, it ran on a high-end computer with specs that would be unfeasible for a normal console game.



"We were told many times through demo production, 'Don't worry about performance, just make it awesome,'" said one source. "There was a reason [the demos] were never playable."



(Press attending E3 2012 could join hands-on multiplayer sessions, but the single-player demo was not playable there.)



The demo looked better than the game does because the demo didn't have to be optimized for old hardware. Though these games are created using powerful PCs, any console game has a "performance budget"—the ceiling above which an Xbox 360 or a PS3 cannot go. The Colonial Marines demo was way over performance budget, and the development team had to cut back significantly for the final product.



"We were constantly cutting back more and more in terms of texture, shader and particle fidelity, in order to fit into the jacked memory restraints," said another source.



"The game feels like it was made in nine months, and that's because it was."

In the middle of 2012, once Gearbox had finished most of Borderlands 2, they took the project back from TimeGate. And Gearbox changed everything—partially because what TimeGate had produced was not very good, two sources told me, and partially because it couldn't run on the PlayStation 3.



"[Gearbox made] big changes to lighting, texture and shader complexity," said one source who had not played the final game, but was familiar with some of the later builds. "Design elements were altered or redone entirely. It looks like a lot of [TimeGate's] assets remained intact, with the exception of lower-res textures and faster-performing shaders."



A number of TimeGate staff were removed from the project and, in some cases, let go from their jobs. And while Gearbox's staff knew that they didn't have enough time to fix this disaster of a project, according to one source, they felt like they couldn't ask for another extension from Sega. Not after seven years.



"The game feels like it was made in nine months, and that's because it was," said a source.



As for the rumors? The scuttlebutt at both Gearbox and Timegate revolves around potential lawsuits—some people at Gearbox are worried that Sega might sue them as a result of this project, and some people at Timegate have heard similar rumblings. One anonymous blogger claiming to be a Sega employee accused Gearbox of lying and breaking agreements with Sega, but we have been unable to verify that, and some of the other blog posts—like the story of a drunken barbecue conversation about killing off Sonic—call the blogger's validity into question.



Those are all just rumors. The exact terms of Gearbox's contract with Sega remain unclear, and neither side has spoken up. Over the past few weeks, I've had several conversations with representatives from both Gearbox and Sega, but neither would comment on the record.



While some details remain sketchy, we're starting to see a more complete picture of how Aliens: Colonial Marines turned out so awful. Bureaucratic meddling and a troubled development cycle have turned this game from Alien fan's dream to unmitigated disaster.


Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

Aliens: Colonial Marines got 99 problems, and looking like it’s from 2005 is one of them. Which is mystifying, given that recent in-game footage clearly showed that a more attractive version of the game did/does exist somewhere. God only knows why they’d put so much effort into a game whose lone memorable achievement is taking as long to develop as Half-Life 2 did, but modders have been busily trying to make Gearbox/Timegate’s mess look a little more as though it was released this decade. (more…)

Kotaku
PC Modders Still Hard At Work Fixing Aliens: Colonial Marines

PC Modders Still Hard At Work Fixing Aliens: Colonial Marines

You may have heard that Aliens: Colonial Marines has some problems. Among those problems is the fact that the PC version of the game looks like pretty raggedy. The ship interiors and darkly-lit alien worlds taking very little advantage of recent advances in PC graphics technology.



While the game itself—the levels, the writing, the audio—may be beyond saving, that's not going to stop intrepid PC modders from doing their damnedest to improve it. Soon after the game came out, several mods surfaced that would enable DirectX 10 support and enhance Colonial Marines' lighting effects, which were a notable weakness of the vanilla game. (Top image is another slider of the SweetFX mod via DSOgaming.)



Other users have taken to tweaking the game's .ini file to make it more detailed and add support for modern video cards, as well as increasing the number of dead space-marines the game can show, among other things.



Steam user adonys has posted this comprehensive list of .ini tweaks, along with some downloadable .rar packages containing all of the modifications. It's a work in progress, and I haven't had a chance to test the tweaks out myself, but they sound worth a shot.



Among adonys' findings when studying the game's settings is the fact that the game doesn't even appear capable of recognizing modern PC graphics cards. You'll have to go in and manually add support for advanced functionality.




- none of the new generation video cards are listed into the compatibilities files, and therefore my 680 GT OC was loaded with the default batch settings no 4, instead of 5 (which is the maxed out one).




Huh.



It'll be interesting to see just how far modders can push this game beyond its initial flawed state.



(Via Eurogamer)


Kotaku

Aliens: Colonial Marines Should Have Followed the Example of Sports' Gaming's EliteInside a publisher or a studio, there are few surprises when a video game bombs in its reviews. Before it goes from gold master to warehouse to retailer, the focus groups are empaneled, the "mock reviewers" are contracted, and their verdicts are in. Everyone knows roughly where the game will land in the all-controlling 100-point scale of Metacritic. It takes hubris and delusion on the scale of Too Human or Kane & Lynch to be blindsided by a bad review score these days.





EA Sports knew where NBA Live 13 would have ended up last year just as surely as Gearbox Software knew what was coming this week for Aliens: Colonial Marines, whose disastrous review scores have spawned finger pointing, bait-and-switch allegations, nasty rumors and, worst of all these, the animated .gif meme.



Yet as much as EA has been beaten over the head for the failures in its NBA simulation, it can look to the ongoing Colonial Marines fiasco and feel some measure of vindication. Because this is what happens when you can't meet the high expectations of the license you're handling, and you don't have the presence of mind to call a timeout, even if you're seconds from the final buzzer.



Troubled games in other genres are, for the most part, delayed. In sports, because of the annual publishing demand, if you miss a year, that sucker has been canceled, which is vastly worse. The huge sums guaranteed by contract to the leagues licensing these games, and the ignominy of failing to publish anything, even the "roster update" slur hurled in comments and forum threads, make a delay of any type exceedingly rare in sports. Until 2010, sports video gaming had gone 14 years since the last licensed simulation had been canceled (Madden NFL '96, for the first PlayStation.)



Indeed, up to a week from its release in 2010, all signs still pointed to EA Sports launching NBA Elite 11 despite obvious internal signs of a troubled and substandard game. EA's CEO, John Riccitiello, told Kotaku in early 2011 that after the demo came out, the company did an internal review, and pegged NBA Elite as about a 60 on Metacritic, at best, as the discs were being stamped and the cases shipped. A series of embarrassing glitch videos on YouTube, coming from the game's demo, seemed to seal its fate. NBA Elite 11 was canceled one week before its launch. Despite the recall order, enough copies made it into the wild to become high-priced collector's items on eBay. If any retail game has been pulled so close to its street date, much less by a publicly traded company whose publishing calendar is information affecting its stock price, I'm not aware of it.



At least when EA Sports realized it had a bomb on its hands, it had the guts to fall on it.

"We could have shipped a product we weren't proud of dead against their game [NBA 2K11] that they are proud of and that we would have been proud of to ship ourselves," Riccitiello said at the time. "We would have probably lost 5-1 in the marketplace against that and firmly cemented a reputation for being one to ship secondary sports titles." Thus, Riccitiello said, he alone decided to effectively cancel the game, though it was described at the time as a delay.



Despite no direct competitor, no league opening day reminding folks the game wasn't out, and licensing costs likely a fraction of the more than $60 million EA Sports probably lost on NBA Elite, no one at Sega or Gearbox could make the same call with Colonial Marines. Yes, this series had a development history of repeated delays going back six years. Sega was unlikely to tolerate another request for more time from Gearbox. And this game, frankly, may have published because the existential threat of lasting brand damage wasn't as great as what EA Sports faced with its NBA title. Gamers expect sequels in the shooter and adventure genres if the title is successful. In sports, they expect them every year, and the fallout from a bad release can send a series into a tailspin with years left on the deal.



Most of the fallout, rightfully, lands on Gearbox's doorstep in Plano, Texas. If the studio wanted some advice on the lack of wisdom in going ahead with a broken, licensed product, it could have gotten plenty from its friends at 2K, which publishes Gearbox's hit Borderlands. Major League Baseball 2K9 dealt a crippling blow to the series when it released in a marginally playable state. 2K Sports had pulled development from Kush Games at the last minute, handing the project to in-house developer Visual Concepts on a nine-month schedule.



It seems to be the inverse of what is said to have happened with Gearbox and subcontractor TimeGate, the first studio credited in Aliens: Colonial Marines and the outfit responsible—or blamed—for much of the game's singleplayer mode. But we see the same results: Appalling visuals, animation glitches, and gameplay that offers almost no challenge. You can find comments in 2009 from readers looking forward to the next edition of Major League Baseball 2K. Despite a remarkable recovery in 2010, this sentiment has been rare ever since.



When EA Sports cancelled NBA Live a second time, most took its rationale as PR. The label's vice president, Andrew Wilson, said at the time it was "clear that we won't be ready" by the assumed launch date, and that EA Sports would cancel the game "and stay focused on making next year's game great." OK, sure. It was an embarrassing day for the publisher, and deservedly so. It had a workable, even acclaimed codebase in NBA Live 10 and, somehow in the three years since that release, has been unable to follow it with any functioning product.



But you know what? At least when EA Sports realized it had a bomb on its hands, it had the guts to fall on it. To keep a waste of everyone's time off of shelves and—going back to the early summer—to refuse to actively, let alone aggressively, market a product with known deficiencies. Sega and Gearbox couldn't or wouldn't do any of that. To cancel or to publish, whatever the choice, at this late stage these two were bound to pay. The difference is in how long they will.





STICK JOCKEY



Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears Sundays.




PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Natural Selection 2 dev “filled with sadness” over Aliens: Colonial Marines">Natural Selection 2 preview







Unknown World's Natural Selection 2 has kept its horned head low throughout Aliens: Colonial Marines' pasting from critics, but in a forum post, Unknown's PR head Hugh Jeremy now says the NS2 team feels only sadness in place of its initial awe and even fear of the bigger-budget competitor.



"The degree to which we feared Colonial Marines was, in hindsight, crazy," Jeremy writes. "Potential release dates for NS2 were discussed with reference to ACM's potential release date. Around the lunch table, we pondered the lambasting reviewers would give us if they were simultaneously reviewing a AAA mega-budget aliens vs. marines title.



"At shows like GamesCom, PAX East, and E3 I walked around the ACM super-booths in awe. I spoke to ACM PR reps, and they had no idea what NS was. I watched the demos (especially the E3 one) and thought, 'How can we possibly stand up to these guys on the aliens vs. marine stage?' I walked around the Power Loader in multiple countries and shook my head at the poor luck of having to face this Sega/Gearbox monster in our launch window."



Jeremy sympathizes with ACM's dismal performance, but he's also bummed over the fact that a game with "a launch trailer that probably cost more than 30 percent of the entire development budget of NS2" failed on delivering the Aliens experience sought after from fans.



"I'm filled with sadness," he states. "Sadness at being an Aliens fan and not being able to experience LV-426 like I had imagined I would. Sadness that we spent so much time being afraid of a game that we have beaten on Metacritic by 30 points. With that marketing machine, with that moneypot, with that kind of development time, with that kind of bullet-proof intellectual property, ACM should have been an absolute hit."



Responding to a suggestion from an NS2 player asking if Unknown Worlds would capitalize on the void left by ACM, Jeremy flatly put such an idea to rest, writing, "No, UWE won't be milking the poor reception of ACM. To do so would make us wankers, and it would be dishonorable. Remember when Medal of Honor: Warfighter exploded? Activision ran a targeted ad campaign hitting every single Warfighter keyword with Black Ops II pre-rolls and banners. I'm sure it got them sales. But it also said much about the kind of company they are."
PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Aliens: Colonial Marines mods duct-tape on DirectX 10 features, improved lighting effects">Aliens: Colonial Marines SweetFX mod







Well, that was fast. Only a little over 24 hours have passed since Aliens: Colonial Marines emerged from its dark alcove, but graphics mods are already becoming available. Two such offerings are the DirectX 10 and SweetFX add-ons which spruce up shadows, lighting, and color palettes for something a bit more reminiscent of the films' murky tones and cool hues.



The DirectX 10 mod softens shadows a bit and tweaks illumination and to bounce and reflect off weapon textures and other surfaces. Installing SweetFX provides a less subtle effect: deeper color saturation, a sharpened texture filter, stronger shadows, and a faint blue gradient for outdoor areas. The latter looks a little extreme in some indoor areas, but it's definitely a darker flavor than the default visuals.



Though Colonial Marines wasn't the Aliens game reboot fans desired for years, it's still nice to see a few dedicated modders pushing for graphical excellence regardless of the quality of the game. Have a look at some sample shots below for both DirectX 10 and SweetFX, and head to Mod DB and DSOGaming to download each one.



DirectX 10 mod



Default lighting and colors



SweetFX enabled
Kotaku

In Defense Of That Alien: Colonial Marines GIF Everyone Keeps Making Fun Of By now, if you've been keeping up with Aliens: Colonial Marines, you've probably come across certain GIF of an alien waddling through a sewer level. See above. I know, I know. It looks silly, it looks ridiculous.



And I'm here to defend that level.



The GIF doesn't inspire confidence in the game, no. Just the same, that sewer level was actually a highlight of Colonial Marines for me.



Basically, that level requires you go navigate some sewers and to make your way back to your squad. The catch is, it takes away your guns and any means of defense. You're vulnerable, and the aliens are still running about and they can still kill you.



You're supposed to keep quiet as you try to find the exit. The point is to avoid alerting the type of alien you see in the GIF—now, this is the incredibly stupid part. They're blind aliens that are attracted to sound and explode on contact.



OK, let's ignore that for a second—how much sense a Xeno like that makes and whatever. Where the start of the game highlighted tension and anticipation, most of Aliens: Colonial Marines is a mediocre shooter that empowers you too much to truly capture the feel of Alien. You can gun everything down, and most aliens run straight at you.



This level, though? As stupid as it was, I actually felt some fear. That's what happens when you have to stand perfectly still as an alien sniffs the air around you, or when you're trying to find a way out while these walking bombs are grazing by you.



I couldn't shoot my way out of that situation. And I had to look at the aliens eye to eye and not freak out. Which is to say, in that level, I believed the utter threat of the aliens, despite how silly they looked. And even though I'm sure the level could be done better, it was a segment of Aliens I actually enjoyed playing.


Kotaku

In Defense Of That Aliens: Colonial Marines GIF Everyone Keeps Making Fun Of By now, if you've been keeping up with Aliens: Colonial Marines, you've probably come across a certain GIF of an alien waddling through a sewer level. See above. I know, I know. It looks silly, it looks ridiculous.



And I'm here to defend that level.



The GIF doesn't inspire confidence in the game, no. Just the same, that sewer level was actually a highlight of Colonial Marines for me.



Basically, that level requires you go navigate some sewers and to make your way back to your squad. The catch is, it takes away your guns and any means of defense. You're vulnerable, and the aliens are still running about and they can still kill you.



You're supposed to keep quiet as you try to find the exit. The point is to avoid alerting the type of alien you see in the GIF—now, this is the incredibly stupid part. They're blind aliens that are attracted to sound and explode on contact.



OK, let's ignore that for a second—how much sense a Xeno like that makes and whatever. Where the start of the game highlighted tension and anticipation, most of Aliens: Colonial Marines is a mediocre shooter that empowers you too much to truly capture the feel of Alien. You can gun everything down, and most aliens run straight at you.



This level, though? As stupid as it was, I actually felt some fear. That's what happens when you have to stand perfectly still as an alien sniffs the air around you, or when you're trying to find a way out while these walking bombs are grazing by you.



I couldn't shoot my way out of that situation. And I had to look at the aliens eye to eye and not freak out. Which is to say, in that level, I believed the utter threat of the aliens, despite how silly they looked. And even though I'm sure the level could be done better, it was a segment of Aliens I actually enjoyed playing.


Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Nathan Grayson)

If Aliens could cry, entire planets, ships, and conveniently placed ventilation systems would be dissolving under a torrential downpour of acid-laced tears right now. See, in spite of their lovable looks and multi-mouthed charm, no one wants to take credit for, well, pretty much anything about Aliens: Colonial Marines. First, Gearbox kinda did, but then TimeGate was accused of incubating Colonial Marines’ loathsome single-player campaign – which prompted Sega to descend from its mountain of unreleased Shenmue sequels and tilt the needle back in Gearbox’s direction. Seems like a lot of fuss to make if it was really all Gearbox at the helm, though, huh? And that’s where a winding Reddit post by an alleged Gearbox employee enters the picture. Further, RPS reached out to a former TimeGate employee (who wished to remain anonymous) to clarify the situation.>

(more…)

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