Aliens: Colonial Marines Syd Mead Interview

The legendary concept artist talks about his return to the Aliens universe in Aliens: Colonial Marines

Aliens: Colonial Marines is the sequel to Aliens you never saw in the cinema. That’s the hope at least, with developers Gearbox (Borderlands) going all out to provide an authentic Aliens experience on home consoles (and PC) by creating a new story on LV-426 and even hiring “visual futurist” Syd Mead, who designed the Sulaco for James Cameron’s action classic to work on the look of their game. We spoke to the man himself to find out what to expect.

The Aliens: Colonial Marines UK release date is Tuesday 12 February. Check back tomorrow at 9am for our review.

SFX: How did you get involved with Aliens: Colonial Marines?

Syd Mead: I received an e-mail following by a phone call at the start of my involvement with Aliens: Colonial Marines. I received a general run-time script/story and briefing from the primaries at Gearbox and started sketching. I was not aware that the Aliens franchise had been secured by Gearbox until that initial contact.

We understand your original designs for the Sulaco are being used in the game along with parts of the ship we never got to see on film. How much did you create specifically for the game, and how much is work created in 1986 that never made it to the screen?

The original design for Aliens of the Sulaco were the exterior, the mess, the drop ship bay and the weapons bay. Designs that were not used included a corridor, the dropship and assault tractor and the loader. I designed these but when the production went to Pinewood studios, those designs were done on site to satisfy limited budget considerations.

Was it a challenge creating new environments in a style you haven’t worked in for such a long time?

The challenge wasn’t to design in a style I hadn’t worked in for such a long time. My working technique had not changed at all. The design “style” changes with every job depending on story content, the personal taste of any director and budget considerations than control miniature build, CG work, etc.

What are the key new areas you’ve created for the game?

New areas that I created for the game included pressure doors, generic corridors and the EVA vestibule.

How did your collaboration with Gearbox work, and how much freedom did you have to expand on your work in Aliens?

I worked closely with Gearbox in order to make my contribution rational relative to the game run time content. I would e-mail my designs to them and receive comments back detailing changes made necessary by their editing flow and the game point sequences.

It’s been more than 25 years since Aliens was released. Why do you think it’s still relevant enough to be given the blockbuster videogame treatment in 2013?

Aliens was a sequel to Ridley Scott’s original Alien, although the story rationale was quite different. In Scott’s version, the spacecraft resembled a lumbering oil refinery with contract staff onboard. Cameron’s Aliens was an armoured utility craft, sort of a combination of space freighter and battleship. The story was quite different also, concentrating on confrontation to a greater degree than Scott’s Alien. I think that the story still resonates because, like all good confrontation stories, it mimics human fears ranging from xenophobia to simply existing in a hostile environment.

You’ve worked in the videogames industry for a number of years now, do videogames offer any opportunities or additional challenges for you as a designer compared to working on films?

With the current (and future) capacity of computers, the difference between movies and video games is minimal. For me, it doesn’t matter whether I’m working on a game on for a movie. The design process is identical, I work with the top executive people on the project and my designs are only created after detailed and careful consideration of what the actual demand task is. I’ve worked on video games since four-bit days when we were limited to those pale VGA CLUT.

Do you think the way videogames are becoming increasingly cinematic in their approach is a good thing?

A good thing? Who knows? It depends on marketing and what the demographic target wants to drive purchase. The video game industry competes head to head with the theatrical release market.

The Aliens: Colonial Marines UK release date is Tuesday 12 February.