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Making everything new, old again in Alien: Isolation

Xav de Matos, @Xav

Though Ridley Scott's classic Alien takes place in a distant future, the film's production values were a product of the late 1970s, with sets and props cobbled together with elements from the era. Rather than evolve the original designs-of-necessity in its upcoming and inspired Alien: Isolation into more modern props and environments, developer The Creative Assembly chose to embrace the "lo-fi sci-fi" concepts found in the horror masterpiece.

"You could say the first part of development was this phase of deconstruction," Creative Lead Al Hope explains. "Kind of taking everything we knew and loved about the film and pulling it apart, so that when we built new content it would still look and feel as though it were from the film."

To achieve an in-game design that would mesh with the original film's aesthetic, The Creative Assembly pored over three terabytes of behind-the-scenes video, photos, handwritten notes on props and continuity photos from the production of Alien, courtesy of the 20th Century Fox archives. The treasure trove even included some rarely seen production pieces, such as detailed blueprints of the cargo vessel Nostromo, which proved vital for creating the spaces within Isolation. Using the source material, the developer made what Hope calls "a brave decision," and began populating its game with objects and environments created by replicating production techniques used for the film's development. Computers are slow, clunky and always seem on the verge of breaking down. And it's all by design.

Gallery: Alien: Isolation (1/7/14) | 14 Photos

"Basing a game on 116 minutes of footage comes with its own challenges," Creative Lead Al Hope explains. "We have to make a game, which is going to last, obviously, a lot longer. But we need to create something that still remains true in spirit to the original."

Although Alien: Isolation takes place on a different (and larger) star freighter, The Creative Assembly wanted to create something that would feel familiar to even the crew from the original film, as though it would be possible to turn a corner on Ridley Scott's sets and end up in The Creative Assembly's environment and have them feel like they occupy the same world.

While some liberties were taken – including Amanda Ripley's motion tracker, a more compact version of the one found in Alien (though it still sports a design featuring the famous ice cube tray casing) – the goal was to create something that was believable for the established atmosphere of Ridley Scott's feature. But design isn't specific to aesthetic, it affects gameplay and presentation.

For presentation, in-game video was run through a process of transferring logos and computer information to VHS copies of Alien before being played back, manually distorted and recorded for a more clunky, almost broken appearance – a hallmark of the computer equipment in the original.

As for the motion tracker, Hope promises it is not a magical device masquerading as standard video game radar, it is a physical object with functions, advantages and complications. When players pull the device up, for example, the background becomes blurry to indicate where Ripley's eyes are focused. Squeezing a trigger can swap this focus, blurring the motion tracker in the foreground while examining the background. Hope calls it Alien: Isolation's "trade off of information."

"It's really making you think about the choices you're making and what risks you're prepared to take."

Alien: Isolation is coming to the PC, Xbox One, PS4, PS3 and Xbox 360 sometime in 2014. All versions are being developed in-house at The Creative Assembly, Hope confirmed.
[Images: Sega]

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