Why Alien Isolation’s monster ditched the movie design: “We all know it’s a man in a rubber suit”
So how do you go about recreating one of cinema’s most iconic monsters in a game? As Creative Assembly‘s Jude Bond, the lead artist for Alien Isolation on PS4 explains “We had to start largely from scratch”.
That might be an odd choice given the wealth of reference material available and Bond is clear to point out, “absolutely our first point of reference was the original ’79 alien”. But there’s a problem there: “We all know that’s a man in a rubber suit”. It’s something that works in a perfectly shot and framed cinematic classic but “that’s not going to stand up in our game” points out Bond.
“One of the first things we did was make the guy nine, ten foot tall” he explains, which immediately created a new set of problems. “From that we were like ‘well 9, ten foot tall bloke isn’t going to be able to walk around this space that’s designed for six foot humans in a very convincing way’”. That led to a phase of experimentation. “We ended up iterating on the actual physiology in the alien, so it kind of could work in that space. It’s evolved naturally”.
Alien Isolation’s creature evolved to create something large that could still navigate human spaces.
The important thing was to ensure the team didn’t “build an alien that physically can’t work”. Something that involves a basic awareness of anatomy, even for a made up creature. “A cow can’t walk on two feet,” explains Bond, “that’s not how it works. The alien is like that”. As a result, a lot of the initial form and the influences that has on movement and behaviour still drawn from the film. “The actual physiology of the creature and how the skeleton was set up, we’ve taken our cues as much as we can from the original, but we’ve had to evolve how that functions in the space”.
It’s that mixture of what works in the films and what works in a video game that “really has informed how it can move” states Bond. “We start off with a creature, it has a morphology and that had an influence on how it behaved. It worked quite naturally. We had to think should it be like this or that, there’s been a great deal of iteration, but a lot of that has been handed to us through its physical form really”.
“The actual physiology of the creature and how the skeleton was set up, we’ve taken our cues as much as we can from the original, but we’ve had to evolve how that functions in the space”
While the alien has evolved to fill the different requirements of the game there’s one part of the original movie design that’s been kept – the original’s almost forgotten eyes, or rather its skull-like indents. That’s something Bond admits to having “mixed feelings about”. They’re there though because “that’s how the original prop was built. That was in the original movie. The lighting and how that’s actually presented may not be clear to some people, but people are aware. Some people don’t know that’s part of the original costume and some do. Again that may be perceived by the player, maybe not, but having that detail in there, and caring about that stuff? Of course we’re going to do that”.