By Joseph Leray
By most accounts, “Aliens: Colonial Marines” was not a good game. We concluded our thorough drubbing by flatly explaining that “even the most forgiving fan of the series, even the most ardent shooter fanatic should really pass … because there is absolutely nothing here of value.”
Since the game’s release, concerns have been raised about “Aliens’” development (to put it lightly). The game was developed by Gearbox with (depending on who you ask) varying amounts of help from TimeGate studios, a Houston-based studio known for its work on the “F.E.A.R.” franchise and, more recently, “Section 8.” There seem to be some discrepancies about which group developed what, but the fact remains that not only was “Aliens: Colonial Marines” a bad game, but that its entire development was a hot mess.
Let’s break the timeline after the jump.
May 4, 2012: On a forum for TexAgs.com, a website covering the athletics program at the Texas A&M University, a user claiming to be an ex-Gearbox employee writes that the development of “A:CM” has “been a total trainwreck.”
“Gearbox isn’t even making the game, except for the multiplayer,” he continues. “Primary development was outsourced to TimeGate Studios”
An anonymous post on a college football forum isn’t much to go on, so no one notices. The post was later dug up by games industry supersleuth @supererogatory.
June 4, 2012: In an interview with Gearbox president Randy Pitchford, Gamasutra reports that “80 percent of the work on ‘Colonial Marines’ is being done in-house at Gearbox, with the rest being done by outside developers.”
February 11, 2013: Pitchford tells IGN that TimeGate studios worked “probably about 20 or 25 percent of the total time,” also explaining that “if you take preproduction out of it, their effort’s probably equivalent to ours.”
February 12, 2013: “Aliens: Colonial Marines” is released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.
At a release event in Italy, publisher Sega responds directly to the TexAgs forum post. When asked if the single-player portion of “A:CM” had been outsourced to TimeGate, Sega senior producer Matthew J. Powers told Playnews (via DSOG), “Absolutely not, the game has been developed by Gearbox Software. Other studios helped Gearbox on the production of single and multiplayer.”
February 13, 2013: An anonymous user alleging to be a Gearbox employee posts a long history of the development of “A:CM” on an “Aliens”-devoted subforum of Reddit.
The post reveals that the game was codenamed “Pecan” and suggests that Sega was prepared to take Gearbox to court after numerous delays on “A:CM,” which was originally announced in 2006. Gearbox’ acquisition of “Duke Nukem’ Forever” and the development and release of “Borderlands 2” both allegedly contributed to the delays.
The post corroborates the original rumor, as well: “Initially, the plan was for TimeGate to take the majority of campaign, GBX would take MP … This decision was made mostly so that most of the developers at GBX could continue working on Borderlands 2.”
The post continues on to accuse the TimeGate developers of shoddy work, claiming that the “campaign didn’t make much sense, the boss fights weren’t implemented, PS3 was way over memory, etc.,” when Gearbox received the final build of the game. “GBX was pretty unhappy with TG’s work, and some of Campaign maps were just completely redesigned from scratch,” the source writes.
Later that day, another anonymous source “close to the project” told Kotaku that the Reddit post was “credible” and expanded the story further: when TimeGate signed on to the “A:CM” project, the first thing they did was, allegedly, scrap the four years of code, art, and design Gearbox had produced.
When the game was returned to Gearbox, most of the staff weren’t interested in working on a game they no longer felt belonged to them, says Kotaku’s source.
Even later yesterday, a fourth source — guess whether or not he was anonymous? — also told Rock, Paper, Shotgun that the information in the Reddit post was true. “TimeGate definitely played a much bigger role in the development of Aliens than either Gearbox or Sega is letting on,” said RPS’ source. “Aliens: Colonial Marines is essentially TimeGate’s game. From my understanding, almost all of TimeGate has been working on it for a few years.”
Got all that? Good.
At the end of the day, “Aliens: Colonial Marines” is a bad game, no matter who worked on which parts of it. Nevertheless, Gearbox is in a bind now: both studio president and publisher have gone on record saying that Gearbox were the primary developers on a terrible game. Even worse, four different sources have provided information to four different websites that directly contradict Pitchford’s statements to Gamasutra and IGN.
At best, Gearbox and Sega released a bad game; at worst, they were caught lying to the press about the development of that bad game. The games media is mostly here to help consumers make informed decisions about how to spend their money. If game companies can lie to media outlets, it’s the consumers who eventually suffer — “Aliens” is still a popular license, and someone out there just wasted $60 on “Colonial Marines.”