List the people who've had the biggest influence on video games since the early '80s. Right now. Do it.
Who have you come up with? Miyamoto? Kojima? Carmack? Newell? Mikami? Wrong on all counts. The only names you need are Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Dan O' Bannon and H.R. Giger. Because being brutally honest, the Alien movies have probably done as much to shape the look and feel of video games as anyone in the games industry ever has. Want proof? Click on, and we'll list 12 things games have lifted wholesale over the last 30 years.
1. The Aliens weapon-set
Watch Aliens and make a list of the guns you see the Colonial Marines use throughout the course of the film. Pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, pulse rifle, flame thrower, grenade launcher. That's the list you'll end up with. And what is that list, if not the traditional FPS weapon hierarchy, as standardised by id Software between Wolfenstein 3D and Doom?
Doom was originally envisioned as an Aliens-licensed game, you know. Coincidence? Pah.
2. The 'countdown to destruction' ending
Alien, Aliens and Alien Resurrection all end with Ripley making a desperate, seconds-to-spare run through an exploding, siren-honking facility during the countdown to its solar-system-searing detonation. Games play with this set-piece a huge amount, particularly as a post-final-boss climax. Metal Gear Solid used the idea, and Resident Evil has used it so many times that its become a series trope. And as for Super Metroid, is it any coincidence that 'Aran' sounds like someone mumbling 'Ellen' with a mouth full of biscuits? We think not.
3. Air vents
The dark, creepy air vent crawl has become a long-standing FPS clich, albeit one that still elicits a quiet Pavlovian dread response in all who approach it, dating back to that long-suppressed incident involving the headcrabs and the involuntary urination. And to be fair it makes a lot of sense as a game mechanic.
The air vent is great for quickly switching to a period of quiet, tense pacing. The lack of running-away space and the inherent darkness makes them vomitously scary without anything actually needing to happen. And above all, they're really good for masking a cheap transition between environments without having to think too hard about the physical geography of the environment. They also present the same advantages to film-makers, which is why Alien used them back in 1979 and Aliens re-used them in 1986. Expect Aliens: Colonial Marines to be full of vent crawls like Swiss cheese is full of holes.
4. White cyborg blood
The Alien series established early on that not only can lifelike androids exist, but that they must be fuelled with nothing less that a 50/50 blend watered-down natural yogurt and carbonara sauce. White blood is the de facto filling for walking, talking robo-men and, wouldn't you know it, the same is the case for Metal Gear Solid's slicing, dicing robo-Raiden.
5. Sgt. Apone
Halo's Sgt. Avery Johnson is an entirely original creation and any similarity to any pre-existing characters in the Alien universe is purely coincidental.
6. Mobile gun turrets
Since Half-Life 2 gave environmental interaction a stout, HEV-booted kick up the arse, deployable defence turrets have been a staple part of modern FPS tactics. They're standard issue in BioShock 2 and Team Fortress 2, a core combat element for Borderlands' Soldier class and a weapon perk in Modern Warfare's multiplayer. But however many suspiciously Xenomorphous Antlions Black Mesa's finest might have turreted to death in the gloomy tunnels of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Corporal Hicks will always be the guy who did it first.
Almost every sci-fi or horror game has a small, horrible, skittery bastard of an enemy that makes up for its high burstability rating with a nasty turn of speed and a major penchant for jumping at your head with its mouth open. And all of them, whether headcrab, metroid, springing zombie leech, or that godawful upside-down human head spider thing in Doom 3, are inspired by Alien's Facehuggers.
So yeah, cheers for that, Facehuggers.
8. Insane secondary fire options
Okay, so real, modern-day military rifles do sometimes come with attached grenade launchers or under-slung shotguns, but games are outright obsessed when it comes to fitting out already fantastic guns with ludicrously powerful, totally incongruous and gloriously unnecessary secondary attachments.
We have exploding electro-spear guns. We have assault rifles that fire every bullet in the clip at once if you flick the right switch. We have guns that double up as grenades. But surely all of this stuff, however extravagant, owes a debt to the moment in Aliens when Ripley proved that DIY and killing do mix, as she taped together a pulse rifle and a flamethrower to create a bullet-spewing, barbequing, grenade-lobbing weapon of monster destruction.
9. Motion trackers
Apart from turret guns, the most iconic bit of tech in the second film is the Colonial Marines' motion tracking radar. The first film has a motion sensor of sorts, but it's more like a big blooping vacuum cleaner than the cool, real-time radar of impending death in the sequel.
These things exist throughout the gaming world, but alas they don't exist in the real world, regardless of what Modern Warfare 2 would tell you. So every multiplayer mini-map, every Metal Gear radar, and certainly MW2's heartbeat sensor owe a lot to Aliens in both functionality and visual style.
10. The Aliens themselves
There hadnt been a monster like the Xenomorph before Alien. So intrinsic was the idea of using an H.R. Giger monster to Dan OBannons script that the organisms unique and horrifying nature cut through the films atmosphere like a sharpened bio-metallic tail-barb. Part lizard, part insect, part nightmare, and displaying the cold, unrelatable predatory instinct that all that entails, the Alien is so unique in its physicality and traits as to be one of the few monsters in its genre to be truly alien.
But then Contra decided that it wanted its own long-headed, multi-jawed monsters (along with its own version of the Rambo and Predator posters). And then Alien Breed thought it could get away with borrowing them if it hid them under a top-down perspective (it couldnt). And then every FPS ever decided that stealthy, armoured horrors capable of climbing any surface and attacking from any angle were a great idea. And then Resident Evil 4 stuck a white gas mask on a Xenos body and made one of the best set-pieces in a game made of brilliant set-pieces.
11. Biological environmental design
The problem with being a unique visionary artist with an original aesthetic all of ones own in that it once your work stuns the rest of the world with its impact, it takes the rest of the world all of about 14 seconds to make your shockingly fresh aesthetic appear old-hat by ripping it off in various shamelessly derivative configurations.
Video games, you make H.R. Giger cry.
12. Metroid. Just Metroid
If you want to sum up all of the previous points in a single series (say for instance, if youre a lawyer representing 20th Century Fox and H.R. Giger in a case against all of video games, and want to call a killer witness), then Metroid is your game.
Lets see. Isolated female protagonist stranded on a strange and hostile alien world. Parasitic alien life-forms, with which she develops a complicated long-term relationship. Claustrophobic, biologically-inspired scenery. Government biotech initiatives. An antagonist named Mother. An antagonist named Ridley (named obviously after Alien director Ridley Scott). Dessicated relics of mysterious alien civilisations. A climactic battle with an alien queen in part two. Alien gene-splicing saving the heroine in a later sequel. A countdown to destruction roughly every 1.7 seconds. Need we go on? No really. But if you want more, theres loads over at the Metroid Wiki.
So, anything we've missed? Any other important pieces of Alien mythos or tropery that you reckon games have clearly appropriated for their own? Let us know in the comments.
Any while we're on a Xenomorphic kick, why not check out some of our delicious related content, like 13 must-know facts about the Alien universe ? Or you could always check out our Aliens: Colonial Marines hub page, for everything we have on the game thus far.