Tracing The Blame Game: What Happened To 'Aliens: Colonial Marines'?

By Luke Caulfield , Updated Mar 02, 2013 10:38 AM EST
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The Aliens series remains one of sci-fi's most heralded franchises, and boasts some very rabid fans. Not as expansive as Star Wars or Star Trek, but certainly up there. The title's development over the years was closely followed, and fans were eager for a decent game. When it was revealed that 20th Century Fox was going to accept the events of the game as part of series canon, hopes couldn't have been higher. With recent "AVP" movies considered so poorly by hardcore fans, it looked as though they were finally getting a decent addition to the series. So when "Aliens: Colonial Marines" debuted with such a poor showing, it was a major disappointment to the fans.

But what happened? Sega had a respectable track record, and Gearbox was just coming off the success of "Borderlands 2," a multiple award nominee at Spike's VGA. Here's where things get a bit ugly. Since its abyssmal showing, things quickly devolved into a he said, he said blame game, with ex-Sega and ex-Gearbox staffers pointing fingers at each other.

But things are shady at best. Most of the folks playing the blame game claim anonymity while posting from various messageboards.

It first began with a supposed ex-Gearbox employee, who admitted that the game's development process could be categorized as a "trainwreck," the company wasn't responsible for the the majority of the game's development, just the multiplayer. Twitter sleuth Superannuation sourced the comment to TXAGS forum-goer under "mugwurt," who claimed that: "Primary development was outsourced to TimeGate Studios, which has a less than stellar past."

Gearbox president Randy Pitchford has since admitted that TimeGate did play a role in development. Pitchford told GameSpot back in June that he had found some "development partners" for "Colonial Marines" who had "brought some incredible ideas to the table, including TimeGate Studios."

Sega has denied that work was directly outsourced to the company, maintaining that Gearbox was the game's primary developer. Sega of America's Senior Producer, Matthew J. Powers, told Playnews that "the game has been developed by Gearbox Software. Other studios helped Gearbox on the production of single and multiplayer."

Pitchford was quick to share the spoils, citing Nerve Software as a developer of the game's multiplayer maps.

Shortly after all this claim to light, an anonymous Redditor who claimed to work on the project said "TimeGate managed to scrap together 85% of the campaign, but ...it became pretty apparent that what had been made was in a pretty horrid state. 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."

Complicating things even further, another staffer, this one from TimeGate, appeared before Rock Paper Shotgun to claim that the company "definitely played a much bigger role in the development of Aliens than either Gearbox or Sega is letting on: "Aliens: Colonial Marines" is essentially TimeGate's game." Head hurt yet? If so, that means you're still with me. So now we have Sega, TimeGate, Gearbox, and Nerve, all as potential chefs for the soup of awfulness that is "Colonial Marines." But wait, there was also Demiurge, who Pitchford said "was with us at the very beginning, helping us to explore networking and multiplayer."

Let's leave Demiurge and Nerve out of it for just a moment, and let's say TimeGate played as much of a hand in the game's development, as both this late staffer and Pitchford have both credited the studio with. Enter Destructoid's Jim Sterling, who found a number of resumes from TimeGate employees which state they worked on the game. Three out of four boast working on the game's level design, as well as various amounts of scripting, lighting, user interface, and a multitude of other game facets. Granted we all pad our resume a bit, but this makes it seem as though TimeGate did indeed do a hefty amount of work, for good or bad.

Things continue to get sticky from here. In a blog called "Sega Awakens" (which has since been removed), a "Sega insider" purports that the whole deal goes back even further: "Pitchford and Gearbox wanted to focus heavily on "Duke Nukem Forever," but how would they get the money to hire some of the 3D Realms team and even buy the intellectual property? Sure, they made a lot from "Borderlands," but guess where they got the money to fund "Borderlands" in the first place? Yup, SEGA." The author claims that Gearbox outright stole from Sega in order to pursue their own games, and let another developer do all the heavy lifting. While this seems to line up with a lot of the TimeGate information, and some of the author's claims are verifiable, it's ultimately a lot of conjecture, and there's likely good reason the blog is no longer up.

Finally, we have Kotaku saying that the whole game was made in as much time as it took for the world to bear witness to Honey Boo Boo; nine months, comparatively resulting in more sadness on the planet by a smidge.

With Sega having the only official word, and the rest coming from anonymous finger pointers, it's difficult to know what to believe, apart from the fact that "Aliens: Colonial Marines" is far from a masterpiece. After seeing what Gearbox could do with "Borderlands," it's difficult to place blame on the company like so many others have, but then I'm reminded of two things.

1) Anthony Burch is the man to which so much of "Borderlands 2's" humor, and by proxy, much of the game's success is owed
2) Gearbox made "Duke Nukem Forever." I feel as though this speaks for itself.

In the end, maybe Pitchford had this coming after all.

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