Aliens: Colonial Marines: how too many cooks may have ruined the game

By all accounts, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a mess. Even after two delays, the game had a lot of issues that not even a huge day-one patch could fix. The game looked promising early on, so how did it end up so bad?

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Aliens: Colonial Marines, by all accounts, is a mess. Even after two delays, the game had a lot of issues that not even a huge day-one patch could fix. The game looked promising early on, so how did it end up so bad?

Apparently the bulk of the problem is too many cooks in the kitchen. According to a story pieced together by Kotaku, Gearbox Studios had four years of development on the project, but outsourced the single-player campaign to TimeGate Studios as it worked on Borderlands 2. TimeGate then proceeded to get rid of all the art and production work that Gearbox had done and replace it with its own from 2010 to late last year, according to an unnamed source speaking to Kotaku. Once Gearbox got the game back and saw what had been done, it basically had to start from scratch to try to retain the game it had envisioned. The version from Kotaku's source lines up with a Reddit thread posted by someone claiming to be a Gearbox employee:

"Campaign didn't make much sense, the boss fights weren't implemented, PS3 was way over memory, etcetcetc. GBX was pretty unhappy with TG's work, and some of Campaign maps were just completely redesigned from scratch. There were some last minute feature requests, most notably female marines, and the general consensus among GBX devs was that there was no way this game was going to be good by ship. There just wasn't enough time."

Gearbox had already gotten a nine-month extension from Sega and was not going to get another one, so Gearbox supposedly was forced to do what they could to make the game certifiable:

Features that were planned were oversimplified, or shoved in (a good example of this are challenges, which are in an incredibly illogical order). Issues that didn't cause 100% blockers were generally ignored, with the exception of absolutely horrible problems. This isn't because GBX didn't care, mind you. At a certain point, they couldn't risk changing ANYTHING that might cause them to fail certification or break some other system. And so, the product you see is what you get.

A responder in the Reddit thread with apparent knowledge of TimeGate's side said, however, that TimeGate only did what it was told to do by Gearbox:

Everything Timegate did was under clear and explicit direction from Gearbox. Gearbox had creative control of everything that occurred at TG. In addition, Gearbox was responsible for firing some of the most talented people (and internationally recognized as such) TG had employed, all of which were snatched up immediately by competitors. It was Gearbox's shitty oversight of the project that led to the product you all now have before you.

The day before the game came out, Gearbox head Randy Pitchford maintained to IGN that TimeGate only handled the game for about "20-25 percent of the total time." He also acknowledged assistance from Nerve Software on multiplayer maps. Ryan Hawkins commented that some Polycounters worked on the project late in the development cycle, and that a lot of the art assets were outsourced to Shanghai.

Videogamer did a comparison of a demo from last year and what was actually released, pointing out some glaring differences in how the same locations were shown, including the lack of dynamic lighting and even missing characters.

Shacknews received a late copy from Sega, but expect our review soon.

Contributing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 14, 2013 1:30 PM

    John Keefer posted a new article, Aliens: Colonial Marines: how too many cooks may have ruined the game.

    By all accounts, Aliens: Colonial Marines is a mess. Even after two delays, the game had a lot of issues that not even a huge day-one patch could fix. The game looked promising early on, so how did it end up so bad?

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      February 14, 2013 1:41 PM

      oh I call horseshit that this article saying that Gearbox was totally in the dark about what Timegate or whomever was doing. You don't have Project Managers??? You just hand off a title to someone to create a large part of the game and NOT know what they did or are doing?? Bullshit.

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        February 14, 2013 1:48 PM

        Gearbox has been doing their usual blame everyone else strategy.

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        February 14, 2013 1:57 PM

        Agreed. It shows a project management oversight for sure.

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        February 14, 2013 2:03 PM

        Well of course that happens if you're an incompetent manager.

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        February 14, 2013 2:06 PM

        Maybe it's just so poorly managed that it's actually true?

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        February 14, 2013 2:07 PM

        This sounds like finger-pointing. Gearbox has their name on the box, just like they did for DNF. Also just like DNF, they had no problems painting themselves as making the product in all the previews where they bragged about how good it was.

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        February 14, 2013 2:18 PM

        Agreed, this is Gearbox's mess, nobody else's

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      February 14, 2013 1:56 PM

      Gearbox is a bunch of assholes.

      Ruined Duke Nukem (blame 3D Realms all you want, but Gearbox chose to release a very VERY rough alpha).

      Ruined Aliens.

      **** you Gearbox.

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        February 14, 2013 1:56 PM

        Oh and Borderlands 2 is OVERRATED!

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          February 14, 2013 1:59 PM

          Simmer down Captain Sunshine. Life will go on, I assure you.

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          February 14, 2013 1:59 PM

          I enjoyed DNF and loved BL2. Get off your high horse.

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          February 14, 2013 2:03 PM

          Borderlands 2 is a good game, so it obviously shows that Gearbox is capable...

          They just didn't give enough of a fuck about this game to do it justice.

          That's really sad and REALLY shitty on their part. I feel bad for Sega, to be honest.

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            February 14, 2013 2:09 PM

            I bet they have a hard time working with other publishers in the future after this.

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          February 14, 2013 2:13 PM

          BL2 is fantastic. I've only played the demo for DNF but it was enough to scare me off of the game, even when it went on sale for sub 5 dollar prices.

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          February 14, 2013 3:12 PM

          BL2 deserved to be considered for GOTY

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          February 14, 2013 8:04 PM

          Nah, BL2 deserves it's praise.

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        February 14, 2013 2:11 PM

        Duke Nukem ruined Duke Nukem Forever.

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        February 14, 2013 2:19 PM

        So gearbox was supposed to buy DNF, then start from scratch? Or they could polish up the game they were actually making. Because to make DNF a good game, you'd have to burn it alive and start over.

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          February 14, 2013 3:07 PM

          I guess I kind of take issue with it being released as a full price retail launch, rather than a relic from the past rescued and served up "As Is" at a discounted price. I know I'm glad I waited for the giant discounts.

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          February 14, 2013 8:43 PM

          Maybe they just shouldn't have bought it.

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        February 14, 2013 2:21 PM

        I wouldn't call Duke Nukem Forever alpha. It technically worked just fine, was the expected length, and had all the features one would expect in a modern game. Are you familiar with what the word 'alpha' means in relation to software?


        It just wasn't very fun :/

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          February 14, 2013 2:30 PM

          Alpha means feature complete but buggy and unpolished around here.

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        February 14, 2013 2:36 PM

        They've had this track record for a decade. Remember the horrible Halo PC port? That should have been a no brainer, slam dunk, but they messed it up.

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          February 14, 2013 2:48 PM

          Not saying Borderlands 2 isn't fun. I said its overrated. Big difference.

          I would play Skyrim or Fallout for hundreds of hours before playing Borderlands 2. It just felt like too much of the same.

          I enjoyed DNF because I grew up on Duke Nukem Forever but my Alpha comment relates to how buggy it is. As someone who works in Project Management in Software, to see such a sorry state of code is more than bit frustrating. We have acquired other companies codes before and before we released we took months and thousands of man hours to fix problems and re-write bits of code. It may not be a video game selling millions of copies, but I know our several thousand customers appreciated it each and every one. They could have at least done a little more for the valued 'customers'.

          At that point in the cycle it becomes either what is termed a 'loss leader' (adding value to a future Duke Nukem title based off the fact 'look at how bad this one was' and maybe used as a 'here is something free' in the future as well as how much it lost) or it becomes a surprise hit. Give it a fighting chance.

          This comes from someone who has been in and around the indie game development scene as well and also setup studio with a number of other like minded people before our self funding ran dry. The difference is I won't compromise my values, integrity or quality of a game. And I wouldn't throw another company under the bus.

          Gearbox has just gotten two big for its britches. That's what it boils down to. And yes I would walk up to Randy Pitchford and tell him he is an asshole to his face.

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          February 14, 2013 2:57 PM

          I forgot that they did the Halo PC port.

          You know how some people have complained that Borderlands feels floaty? You know what it actually feels like? The Halo PC port. I don't actually think it feels bad, but at least two characteristics (the shield/health dynamic and the floaty movement, particularly the way jumping feels) are similar between the games.

          To be clear, I'm not suggesting that the Halo PC port feels very different from the Xbox version; I never played the Xbox version, so I can't comment on that. Also, for full disclosure, I didn't care for Borderlands 1, but I think Borderlands 2 is significantly improved (from the little amount of time I've been able to spend with it).

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            February 14, 2013 3:06 PM

            BL2 starts off good and gets better as it goes. This seems rare.

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              February 14, 2013 5:34 PM

              The writing is miles better. It's even funny in parts.

              "I just have one question for you: EXPLOSIONS?"

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              February 14, 2013 8:58 PM

              it's really amazing. I've finished it twice now and going through it a third time.

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          February 14, 2013 7:58 PM

          I really don't see how that port was horrible.

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        February 15, 2013 7:38 AM

        They explicitly stated that the goal of shipping DNF was to preserve what George B and the folks at 3DRealms (and later Tryptic) were making.

        It's a game that started production in 2008, that plays like a mediocre game released in 2007, that came out in 2011.

        If anything was a mistake, it was selling the game at a full 59.99 when it should have been a budget game ($40 at most) which I would blame on 2K and not Gearbox. Heck I bought it from Green Man gaming at $35 a few days before release and I don't feel any buyer's remorse for it.

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      February 14, 2013 2:12 PM

      Anonymous reddit posts are news sources these days? Really?

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      February 14, 2013 2:17 PM

      Nice. Blame Timegate for this dog.

      At least the preview videos revealed the sheer crapulence of this game ahead of time - it was fairly easy to tell that it was going to suck hard.

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      February 14, 2013 2:18 PM

      In other news, Gearbox to announce exclusive rights to System Shock 3

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        February 14, 2013 2:33 PM

        Heard they were coming in to finish Half Life 3 for Valve, pheeeew, in safe hands finally.

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        February 14, 2013 2:38 PM

        like someone said earlier, thank goodness they lost out on the Blade Runner licence. Good golly what a mess that would have turned out

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        February 14, 2013 3:15 PM

        Nintendo is outsourcing all Mario and Zelda games to them.

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        February 14, 2013 5:09 PM

        that will be the day i call out a fatwa on pitchford's head.

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          February 14, 2013 8:14 PM

          Like Iran on Salman Rushdie Allah Ackbarin'

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        February 14, 2013 8:44 PM

        FLOG THIS GUY FOR MERELY SUGGESTING THIS!!!!!

    • reply
      February 14, 2013 3:25 PM

      Hahahaha, a Shacknews editor put "Developer: _No Company" for A:CM's game database entry. http://chattypics.com/files/evilbannerad_ej4da58buy.jpg

      (BTW, that "where you can download free games" ad in the center right is pretty damn disgusting; I copied the link URL in case it has an ID string that's useful for contacting the ad provider for a complaint. I don't want to post that URL here, but I can Shackmessage it to an editor or moderator).

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      February 14, 2013 4:21 PM

      Boy do I feel silly now. After salvaging what they could from Duke, releasing a great piece of work in Borderlands 2, and Colonial Marines looking good in demos I was a believer in Gearbox.

      http://www.shacknews.com/chatty?id=27708352#item_27708352

      http://www.shacknews.com/chatty?id=29631067#item_29631067

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      February 14, 2013 4:29 PM

      Where's that Chris Faylor?! THIS IS ALL HIS FAULT.

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        February 14, 2013 5:45 PM

        Honestly, I feel sorry for Chris, Steve, and Maarten, because after this mess, we're probably not going to hear anything other than the official marketing messages from Gearbox that have passed through Pitchford and legal. If Sega is gearing up for a potential lawsuit, then we won't hear anything honest for a few years.

        In a way, that's the mess they walked into, but back in 2009, none of us knew it was going to get this deep.

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          February 14, 2013 8:50 PM

          At least they don't work at Valve, otherwise they'd have to cover up the conspiracy to steal our video games.

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      February 14, 2013 8:49 PM

      http://kotaku.com/5984456/maybe-mods-can-improve-aliens-colonial-marines-on-pc

      One such mod adds DirectX 10 support to the game, enabling better lighting, shadows, weapon reflections and muzzle flashes. It also makes the game load faster.

      Another is called SweetFX, which gets a little more artistic, playing around with the game's shadows and lighting to try and make it feel more like an authentic Aliens experience.

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        February 14, 2013 8:53 PM

        The gameplay and animation are so piss poor no amount of paint can clean up that turd.

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      February 14, 2013 9:37 PM

      Hopefully they will redeem themselves with their next game. Humans make mistakes, people need to get over it. GB obviously know how to make good games, most of the time :/

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      February 14, 2013 10:12 PM

      I'm not a big GearBox fan, and regardless of who did the work, it was GearBox's game and it is their responsibility to ensure quality.