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Borderlands 2 dev on creating the canonical sequel to James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ (exclusive)

While Gearbox Software celebrates the release of the critically acclaimed Borderlands 2 this week, GamesBeat sat down with CEO Randy Pitchford’s unofficial stunt double, John Mulkey, to talk about the studio’s other big shooter. Mulkey is the design director for the long-in-development Aliens: Colonial Marines, which is set for a February 12 street date next year, If being the canonical sequel to James Cameron’s Aliens film wasn’t a lofty enough responsibility, Gearbox is also promising to make Alien 3 a better movie. What wizardry do they wield?! Find out below.

Above: John Mulkey

GamesBeat: I have to ask: Do people often mistake you for Randy Pitchford?

John Mulkey: Yes, all the time. People that work at the company, even. I was upstairs, and there was … Christine is the person who does our financials and all that kind of stuff. I’m walking along, and she looks at me and says, “This is a different look for you.” And I’m like, “Who do you think I am?” And she says, “Oh my God, you’re not Randy.’ No, I’m not! So even people who have worked with Randy for years mistake me for Randy. It’s just weird.

Above: Randy Pitchford

Image Credit: Gearbox

GamesBeat: Do you guys ever mess with new hires or anything like that?

Mulkey: We haven’t done anything like that yet. My concern about what’s happening is I’m going to be the guy who gets assassinated, like the body double who gets shot. That’s gonna be terrible.

GamesBeat: You’re his Keira Knightley.

Mulkey: [Laughs] Yeah.

GamesBeat: Okay, we should probably talk about the game.

Mulkey: Why not? We’re here. We came all this way.

GamesBeat: This game’s actually been in development for a while, and some speculate that it’s been caught in development hell. Did it go through hell?

Mulkey: All development is hell. [Laughs] I hate to burst your bubble. But, no. … It was basically put on hold for a little while. There was a period of time when we weren’t doing anything with it because we were focused on other things. Then we came back to it and pushed on it hard. Now we’re finishing it up.

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GamesBeat: For the old PC version, the one by Monolith. …

Mulkey: I used to work there. They did Aliens Vs. Predator 2. Rebellion did AVP, and then Monolith did AVP2, then Rebellion came back and did another game and called it AVP, just so it would be all nice and clear.

GamesBeat: Right, right. So the first two on PC were actually really good. They were very well-received.

Mulkey: Yeah, they were pretty good.

GamesBeat: And it seems like we’re getting that same kinda flavor again here.

Mulkey: Yeah. Well, this one. … This doesn’t have the “P” in it. This is entirely the Aliens universe and the Colonial Marines. This is the sequel to James Cameron’s Aliens film. There’s not the whole Predator crossover thing. This is the canonical sequel to that story. So it’s a little different.

GamesBeat: You’ll play as both Aliens and Marines?

Mulkey: You’ll only play as Aliens in the competitive game. The campaign is very much a narrative campaign. It’s a story.

GamesBeat: Do you feel like you have no narrative to tell from the Alien’s view?

Mulkey: Oh, no. You could do all sorts of stuff with that. That’d be awesome. It’s just that we wanted to focus…we got the opportunity to make the sequel to James Cameron’s film. The sequel that fans of the films always wanted to see. So that’s what we embraced. “Yes, please, we will do that.” The idea that we get to be official is awesome. This isn’t just us running off and telling some goofy story. This is all fully sanctioned by Fox, and they’re involved. If any other films are made, they can take advantage of what we’ve done with this storyline. We’re doing some very cool stuff. I can’t spoil it, but we’re doing some really cool stuff. If we pull it off right, we’re going to make Alien 3 a better movie. Which is pretty sweet.

GamesBeat: Well, good luck with that.

Mulkey: [Laughs] I’m not saying it was a bad movie. … Not saying it was a bad movie. But we’re gonna make it even cooler.

GamesBeat: Was James Cameron involved at all?

Mulkey: He has not been involved. But we got together with Ridley Scott. Brian Martel, the creative director for our project, got to go meet with Ridley and sit down and talk with him. Ridley pulled out his original script from Alien and was thumbing through his original storyboards, where he had all his markups and everything. He talked to him about it, which was pretty sweet. Totally jealous he got to do that. But he was getting some insight into the perspective of the Alien and that kind of thing, which was really cool.

And we got some other guys. We got Syd Mead involved. He’s a concept guy, a futurist. He designed Blade Runner and Tron. He also designed the Sulaco for the Aliens film. We contacted him, because we’re like, “We want to go back on the Sulaco. We want to be official, but we want to take them places that weren’t seen in the film. You’re the guy that designed it. What do you say?” So he got involved. That was pretty cool.

GamesBeat: Gearbox has a pretty wide-reaching sense of humor in all your games, for the most part. Will Colonial Marines have some of this, or is this arguably the darkest game you guys have done?

Mulkey: I would say that we haven’t put any over-the-top humor in it. But it is a drama, you know? And a bit of a horror story. Life is funny, but life isn’t a comedy. It’s that kind of thing. There’s going to be humor in the adventure that you’re going on. But Claptrap isn’t gonna show up and start cracking wise or anything like that.

GamesBeat: I guess Brothers in Arms also wasn’t very funny.

Mulkey: No, it wasn’t very funny. This was probably funnier than that. I don’t know. …

GamesBeat: Like Bill Paxton funny, but not. …

Mulkey: Right. It’ll be more the camaraderie kind of stuff. That mystique of the Marines. The Colonial Marines that James Cameron created.

GamesBeat: The multiplayer modes in single-player narrative-driven games, a lot of times they feel tacked on. Yager Development just got done saying that 2K shoehorned the multiplayer into Spec Ops and made it a much worse game. What can players expect on the multiplayer side? What have you done to make it a whole experience on its own?

Mulkey: Well, we’ve taken an interesting approach. We’ve got our campaign, which is co-op, so you can play with your friends through the campaign. Then you can play through the competitive multiplayer aspect of it. We have an overarching metagame that crosses between the two types of gameplay. You can go into campaign and be gaining rank, unlocking upgrades, purchasing upgrades, and then jump right into a competitive game with all of that and all of your customizations. Then you can rank up there some more and jump back into the campaign. You can go fluidly between the two different kinds of gameplay, which is pretty cool, I think. It helps to tie them together.

GamesBeat: At the same time, though, couldn’t you level up all the way through single-player, then jump in and immediately dominate multiplayer?

Mulkey: We’ve got some checks and balances in place to make it so that it doesn’t become an unbalanced game that way. Yeah, that’s a huge concern. It was a huge challenge to us, trying to accomplish this. Typically it’s separate. A lot of games will have their narrative that’s a completely separate game from their competitive. The competitive has the upgrade path and all that stuff. We wanted to have it so that you’re a Marine, that’s who you are, and you share that across the game. It was pretty cool.

GamesBeat: Playing as the Aliens, will it be more like Left 4 Dead, or will it be more like Dead Space 2?

Mulkey: It’ll be Aliens: Colonial Marines. [Laughs] It’s pretty fun. You really start to find yourself playing the role of the Aliens that you’ve seen in the film. It’s kind of awesome to watch people come in who have not touched the game, and you hand them the controller and say, “Hey, go be an Alien.” Very quickly, you watch them become the Alien from the films. They realize very quickly that running into all of the bullets is not going to be the best way to play. They start working together as a pack and setting up ambushes. Using the ceilings. All this stuff. Really hunting and stalking their prey. Trying to break the Marines up so they can’t stick together.

They’re very strong together, but they’re in trouble when they’re all by themselves. That’s really awesome. It’s cool to see, because people are very much getting in touch with what the game’s about and embracing the mechanics and having a great time. They’re going right into these roles. It’s been really successful. Really fun so far.

John Mulkey image via x360a.org / Randy Pitchford image via Dual Shockers


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