What went wrong with Aliens: Colonial Marines? The fallout, rumours & accusations
This is a labour of love.” Those were the words Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford used to reassure Xenomorph obsessives last April, when he leapt in front of dozens of journalists at a major press event and admitted he’d spent most of his career nicking ideas from the Alien films. It was a statement meant to convince those in attendance that the studio was up to making a game worthy of the movie’s most famous monster.
What went wrong with Aliens: Colonial Marines?
Gearbox announced it was working on an Aliens game in December 2006but despite flying in journos from all over the world, no single-player code was available to see or play at the event. It was an ominous sign that one of PS3’s most wanted games – issue #17 of OPM, with the game on the cover, remains our biggest-selling ever – would never be able to match the hype. Such was the eventual fallout post release it’s currently being hit with a class action lawsuit that claims the demos that were shown at E3 and other events, and other promotion constitutes ‘false advertising’ of the final product. So, what wen’t wrong?
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It all starts with post on the forums of Texas A&M University sports fansite Texags claiming to be from an ex-employee of Gearsoft. Responding to some excitement over a preview, he wrote: “I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high for Colonial Marines… The development of that game has been a total trainwreck. Gearbox isn’t even making the game, except for the multiplayer. Primary development was outsourced to Timegate Studios, which has a less than stellar past.”
The comment barely registered at the time, but then in January of this year review code started arriving with journalists, and it was clear the game would not match Aliens fanatics’ lofty expectations. For a start, it seemed to lack many of the graphical effects of an earlier demo. Real-time lighting was missing, smoke and particle effects were gone, and texture detail was down. Something was rotten on LV-426. What had happened?
In early February, Pitchford spoke to IGN about how several studios – Timegate, Demiurge Studios and Nerve Software – had helped with development. According to him, Timegate worked on “probably about 20-25% of the total time”. But then the Texags comment resurfaced, just as reviews started to come in. Was this the reality? Sega senior producer Matthew J Powers told Playnews, “Absolutely not, the game has been developed by Gearbox Software. Other studios [like Timegate] helped Gearbox on… single and multiplayer.”
“Messaged people in TimeGate and
found [it] had a hand in everything. And
I don’t mean conceptualisation, it did the
actual work. Some had the estimate that
50% [of the] campaign is its work.”
But that’s not what Timegate appeared to be saying. On 12 February, a moderator on the developer’s forum wrote: “Messaged a few people in TG and found out [it] basically had a hand in everything. It is responsible for the weapons, the characters, some of the story, a fair amount of the aliens. And I don’t mean conceptualisation, it did the actual work of making said weapons and so on. Some had the estimate that 50% [of the] campaign is its work.”
Then the reviews started coming in – most negative, many laden with acid blood-fuelled disappointment – and its Metacritic score at press time was 44. The next day, a post appeared on the forums of news aggregation service Reddit, purportedly from another disgruntled ex-member of the dev team. They claimed Gearbox’s work on the game had repeatedly stalled due to other projects, notably Borderlands 2 and Duke Nukem Forever. Finally, facing an immovable deadline from Sega, it outsourced much of the campaign to Timegate.