It's probable that younger readers won't be particularly familiar with Alien Breed, as the last iteration in the series was a 3D version of the 2D corridor shooter, which appeared in 1996. It has taken until now for Team 17 to figure out how to make a sequel, with two projects cancelled along the way. Having eyed-up the current digital distribution book, and decided there's a niche for them, the company has announced a self-published isometric 3D version of the game, titled Alien Breed Evolution. John Dennis, Team 17's design manager, spoke to us about the project.
RPS: This Alien Breed game has been a long time coming, and it seems to have had a fairly convoluted history. Can you explain a little about why a remake of the game has taken so long, and what has happened inthe past decade that led up to this point?
Dennis: Absolutely. It's been quite a wait for another Alien Breed game hasn't it? We've had a lot of email about Alien Breed over the last few years; in fact, after Worms, it's easily the game we hear about most from Team 17 fans. We'd actually been wanting to do an all-new version of the game for most of the last decade, and came close several times (and very close once). We've worked on a few Alien Breed games over the last ten or so years, but never managed to get a publisher to buy into the idea. I guess for those publishers, the numbers didn't stack up and for whatever reason it didn't appeal.
With the success of Worms on XBLA and PSN though, it became clear to us that we could bring a new "Alien Breed" game to digital platforms ourselves without the need for a publisher, so that's why we're talking about the game now. While opportunities were limited to develop video games without a publisher prior to XBLA, PSN, Steam and Wii-ware, the rise in popularity of those platforms has made it a viable option for independent developers such as Team 17 to develop games for those platforms the scale of which were probably not financially viable a few years ago.
RPS: Can you explain a little about how Alien Breed Evolution will play? How much inspiration have you taken from the original 16-bit games?
Dennis: Well, the game's all new. It's not a conversion and it doesn't have the same level design or anything like that, but we've tried to keep true to the feel and atmosphere of the original Alien Breed games. We've tried to focus on the things that made the game stand out when it was originally released back in the Nineties: we've done our best to make the game look beautiful, and the game environment is scary as hell, with failing lights, emergency alarms and swarms of hostile aliens. We've still got the co-op online multiplayer in there too, so you can share the experience with a friend: two players can join forces and take on missions designed specifically for multiplayer co-op play. I'd say it's pretty good fun playing the game with someone else... it turns into a bit of a "monster mash" when you play multiplayer, so it's good to have someone watch your back. For those players who remember the original game, it's pretty faithful to the feel of the original, so I don't think anyone who's an old fan will be disappointed. However, we've added a bunch of things to the formula...
The first big difference is the level design. In the levels in the original Alien Breed, you'd have limited keys and you'd have to shoot doors; sometimes you'd find yourself in a position where you couldn't complete the level any more. There's none of that in Alien Breed Evolution. Our levels have all had a lot of time lavished on them. There's a whole bunch of new weapons, and a selection of new and different aliens that act in different ways. They all require different strategies from the player to deal with them. You always have to think. You're always tested.
The other thing we've done is we've added a survival horror element, so when your player character gets to low health he starts limping around and he can't run, making his situation even more dangerous. Health and ammunition are always in really short supply, so you've got to be sure to use the weaker weapons on the weaker aliens rather than using your really powerful ones, otherwise you'll really struggle later on. We've also got intelligent audio, which ramps up the music when you've got lots of aliens on screen and adds a heartbeat sound effect when you're character's low on health. We've done lots of things to try and induce an unnerving feeling.
RPS: I understand the game will be available in a number of downloadable chapters? Is that correct? Can you explain the pricing models, and how these will be released?
Dennis: Yes. The game comes in three episodes. Each episode is a stand-alone game that can be downloaded and played separately. There's a narrative arc that links the three episodes together, each episode ending on a cliff-hanger that's resolved at the start of the next episode. So if people download the first episode, we hope they'll want to find out how the story carries on in later episodes, but if people want to join the series late, that's okay too... there's a "previously on Alien Breed" sequence at the start of episodes two and three that recaps what's happened so far.
Each episode has a unique selection of weapons, environments and aliens, as well as it's own set-piece battles and boss encounters, so each one has quite a different flavour. They're all pretty tense affairs though. It still makes me nervous playing the game on "Elite" difficulty, and I've been working on the game since the start!
I'm not sure what the price for each episode will be: I don't think it's been decided yet, but each episode's between 5-8 hours of play, so I'm sure it'll be good value for money.
RPS: Will all these chapters be playable co-op?
Dennis: Yes indeed. Each episode has three unique maps designed specifically for co-op multiplayer.
RPS: Do you have a release date for the PC version?
Dennis: I'm sorry I can't really help with that as I don't think we do yet. We're busy as anything on the game though, and we're trying to get it out there as soon as we can. We're almost there, so it won't be long!