EXCLUSIVE: Returning to the Nostromo with Alien Isolation creative lead Al Hope

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Oct 6, 2014, 11:27 AM EDT

Al Hope isn't very good at Alien: Isolation's survival mode, the DLC for the upcoming videogame that challenges players to run through a level in the shortest time possible. The game's creative lead explained that it took him a whole two minutes to make it through the first map, "which is not a very respectable score. I've been playing the game for so long I don't take risks. I'm conditioned to try to be cautious."

It's not surprising. From my brief time with Alien: Isolation, I learned that sprinting would attract a bulletproof alien and that stealth was the only way to keep my face unhugged. Alien: Isolation's survivor mode subverts what we've learned about the game, just as a horror movie burst out of the chest of the science fiction film the game is based on.

Hope is a fan of Alien, the 1979 movie that spun off a series of movies, comic books and videogames, about a crew who unwittingly take on an alien passenger that shreds the notion that humans are apex predators. In fact, Hope was the one who pitched the game to his boss at The Creative Assembly. And publisher Sega happens to have the rights to make Alien-based games. Hope said, "I felt like there had to be a cool game experience based on the values of that experience."

Those values include gathering information as Ash did, carefully working your way through your environment as Ripley, Lambert and Parker did, and avoiding confrontation … as Dallas did not.

This puts Alien: Isolation in the stealth genre of games, as opposed the previous games, which are firmly planted in the world of the 1986 sequel, Aliens, and tend to be shooters. As Hope notes:

"Previously the games within the Alien world had been about killing and clearing, very action based, and we wanted to do something different, where one alien could be absolutely terrifying. What would it would be like to try to encounter and survive that original alien it would be a kind of hide and seek gameplay, and your actions had consequences on your chances of survival."

The fact that the game wasn't about killing but about surviving is what helped bring the original actors (Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt and Harry Dean Stanton) of the ill-fated Nostromo back on board for this project.

One of the DLC modes lets you choose between the characters Dallas, Parker or Ripley moments after Brett's death; there you can try to lure the xeno into an airlock, with help from Lambert and (egads) Ash. Another lets you play as Ripley navigating her way around the Nostromo, trying to reach the shuttle Narcissus after Lambert and Parker get grimly reaped.  

"Most of them haven't reprised their roles since they left Shepperton [Studios] back in 1979. We worked closely with…all the actors, their likenesses, and the dialog. When Sigourney walked back into the recording booth and started delivering her lines, everyone was kind of transported back to the Nostromo. It was spine-tingling stuff."

Hope said the actors also appreciated the care and attention The Creative Assembly brought to the game. Specifically, Alien: Isolation has a distinct retro-future look.

"We made sure it kept in true spirit of the original. We really took apart the visuals and broke down the visuals on an atomic level so when we created new content, it felt as if you were stepping in to an alternative space that could have existed in that first film," Hope said. "Fox gave us amazing access to their production archives. We received a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes assets, set blueprints, continuity Polaroids, prop imagery—a huge amount of in-depth information to help us recreate that world."

Something in the game that feels true to life—if this life were 1970s science fiction, that is—are the emergency telephone booths that appear in each level. But because Alien: Isolation is a videogame, they cleverly act as save points.

Hope said, "Just seeing one of these in the world generates a sigh of relief, because you'll be able to save your progress. But there's also anxiety around them, knowing that they take time to save: You're not safe when you're saving the game. You can't just dash toward one and press a button and know you're safe. I quite like those because there's mixed emotions around them for the player."

Just like when the audience of Alien felt ecstasy when we thought certain crewmembers of the Nostromo would survive and agony when most did not, it seems that Alien: Isolation has its own share of pain and pleasure.

You can experience it yourself on Oct. 7, 2014.