Alien vs Predator Header Image

The header image for this post was created by DeviantArt user daRoz, the original version is available here

One of the most unwieldy controllers I’ve ever used

no, not the original Xbox controller

was the Atari Jaguar controller. It had a d-pad, pause, option, and A, B and C buttons

that doesn’t sound so bad

and a full number pad from a telephone.

Atari Jaguar Controller
Source and discussion on the controller design: https://kotaku.com/5759566/this-is-possibly-the-worst-control-pad-ever-made

This thing was bigger than the original Xbox controller, which it pre-dated by nearly seven years

you’d have thought that Microsoft would have learnt a thing or two from the mistakes of others

On top of that, I would have been about 9 years old when we got the Jaguar.

At 6.25in wide x 5in long x 1.75in tall ( or 16cm wide x 12.5cm long x 4cm tall if you speak metric)

thank you MathPirate

it was way too big for my diminutive hands (remember, I was 9 years old when we got the Jag) to handle but we persevered.

The first game we had and tried for it was the incredibly impressive

and extremely annoying

Cybermorph. It had amazing (for the time) polygonal 3D shapes, a set of seemingly endless landscapes to fly around and a really annoying computer voice.

imagine Navi from LoZ: Ocarina of Time, but more annoying

But that’s not what this post is about.

The Game

Alien vs Predator was a First Person Shooter game developed for the Atari Jaguar by Rebellion, and published by Atari Corporation in 1994. It was the start of a long running series of Alien vs Predator games created by Rebellion.

Cast of Characters

The first thing that anyone notices when playing this game is that it has three interlinked stories. The next game that I can think of which had interlinked stories is Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast.

though I’ll happily be corrected, let me know in the comments

AvP allows the player to take on the role of either:

  • Predator
  • Colonial Marine
  • Xenomorph

thanks Gorman, you always were an asshole

The longest story is that of the Colonial Marine, and the shortest being the Xenomorph one. While the other two stories are tales of survival, the Predator story is more of an arcade game.

AVP boxart - front
Even the box art is pretty baller
… in an early 90s CGI sort of a way

Scenario

Before I cover the three stories, lets look at the scenario. The attract screens

attract screens are different from intro screens, but are often confused with them

relay the following information:

The Weyland-Yutani Colonial Marine training base Golgotha picked up a message from an unidentified ship, which was brought back to the training base via a Tug class ship. Despite attempts to hail the ship no response was received. When the ship was brought into dock, a team was sent to investigate and an intruder was detected.

Aliens

All escape pods from the station were launched.

Another unidentified ship entered the area, which responded to the distress call from Golgotha. The computer systems of the Golgotha allowed the ship to dock and and immediately detect another intruder.

Predators

The Xenomorph

I’ll start with the Xeno-game:┬áIt’s a standard run-and gun, but with a twist.

You can’t heal and only have close quarters attacks. You have to claw, bite and tail whip you’re way through the hordes of Colonial Marines and Predators.

In this mode of the game, the Queen has been captured by the Predators and you have to heed the call to rescue her.

You start on the Xenomorph ship (pretty close to the queen’s lair) and have to fight your way through the invading Colonial Marines. Once out of the Xeno ship, you have to fight through 3 floors of marines and Predators – taking to the air ducts to get around, because you can’t use the elevators.

When you’re finally at the base of the Marine floors, you have to board the Predator ship. From this point onward, the balance of enemies is thrown off kilter as you’re surrounded by Predators

who can, and do remain invisible most of the time

and have to find the Queen. As soon as she is freed, the game is over.

Oh, and if you manage to accidentally strike the Queen whilst saving her, she kills you before the game over screen, causing instant death (i.e. “you failed”).

Both enemy types have long range weapons and, as I said earlier, you can’t heal. So what gives?

Well, you can cocoon up to three marines by giving them the old Claw, Tail, Claw treatment. They’ll fall to the floor screaming and walking over them will cover them in resin

you’ll also be treated to a terribly creepy sound effect as their body is covered in quick dry resin

This will start a new Xeno gestating and you’ll be able to continue from this point (once the Xeno has grown fully), if you die.

A Marine-Resin baby
An unlucky marine has been covered in Xeno resin

The Predator

The Predator game is all fun arcady/action type stuff.

Your goal as the Predator is to sneak from the Predator’s ship, up through the Marine ship, into the Xeno ship, and to take the Xeno Queen’s skull as a trophy.

The map plays out similarly to the Xeno one, but in reverse

and with Xenos all over the place, rather than Predators

with a big difference being that you have weapons.

The Predator’s weapons are interesting, in that you start with a wrist blade and you unlock the weapons as you play by killing Marines and Xenos. You can cloak but any kills made while cloaked cause points to be deducted, which can lead to your weapons being taken away. It leads to a really cool sneaky ninja like strategy, which can provide a breath of fresh air after blasting Xenos and Predators for hours as the Marine.

Unlike the Xeno you can heal, but you do this by picking up health packs and storing them until needed. When you need to heal, you hold down the 5 key

remember, there was a number pad on the controller

which causes the Predator to scream in pain (just like in Predator 2, when he’s healing in someones bathroom). This can have a strategic downside of giving your position away to the enemy, too.

Marine attack
The predator interface is pretty swish, with a nice yellow frame

The Marine

The Marine game is the main draw for those who want to play something with a little story.

You awake from cryostasis (the character you play as was placed in stasis for striking a superior officer before the game began) and find that the entire ship is deserted.

You have no weapons (until you exit your cell), no contacts and no security passes. There’s no auto save function, no check points, and limited ammunition and health kits.

The one thing that there are plenty of are Xenos and you wont know they’re there until they are on you.

Xeno attack
It’s too easy to be surrounded by them in the open spaces

Private Lance Lewis

that’s you

has to figure out what’s happened on the ship; gain access to all of the officer only areas in order to get all of the powerful weapons

because the shotgun is only just powerful enough to bring down a single Xeno… eventually

work his way through the Marine ship; set the self destruct sequence and find an escape pod.

Again, without checkpoints or auto saves.

this is how FPS’s used to be played, kids

This is the most engrossing version of the three stories, as you really do want to find out what’s happened on the ship and get out of there. In order to find out what happened, you need to access terminals which are dotted around the ship

most of which are locked out, so you need to find security cards on corpses

The designers even spent some time expanding the universe with some really cool journal entries about some of the other extraterrestrials in the joint universe, too.

I don’t know whether these were created specifically for the game or whether they’re from the comic book series

So it’s fun to spend some time reading through them, too.

Atmosphere

Most of the time spent playing this game

especially in the Marine story

will be spent wandering the corridors with almost no sound aside from the screams of the odd Xeno that you blast into a puddle of acrid acid

walking over the acid harms you, by the way. So blast those nasties with plenty of space to walk around the mess

or the gentle background hum of the lights, power systems, and door mechanisms.

Just when you think you’ve settled into the game, there’s a whispered “any time”. This is your clue that there’s a Predator in the area, that he’s almost on you, and that you’d better hope that you have ammo for a powerful weapon.

There are jump scares in this game too. Unless you’re really listening for it, you wont hear the Xeno eggs opening and facehuggers running for you. You’ll know when they’re on you, though, because… well…

Face hugger
Bam!
From: http://retrogamingmagazine.com/2014/09/28/revenge-of-the-license-alien-vs-predator/

Graphics

There’s no getting away from this one: the graphics are on par with Doom, which was released a full year before AvP was and used a similar system for generating the animations for the enemies:

The dev team had some detailed models of the characters made, and used a combination of digital photography and rotoscoping to create the sprites.

which is the same system the the folks at iD used for Doom

Because of this, the sprites are always facing you. The means that the cocoons and eggs tend to rotate to “look” at you constantly, and enemies run directly at you (even when they are running around corners).

The thing is that the game is so engaging and fun that you stop noticing about 30 minutes in

if you can survive that long, that is

In fact, I’ll say that the graphics for AvP are better than Doom. Doom has a very cartoony feel to it, even back then. Don’t get me wrong it was still extremely violent

and buckets fo fun to play

but the enemy designs always came off as only a few steps away from the Wolf3D enemies

which, lets face it, may as well have come directly from a comic book

Whereas the character sprites and background art have a “digitised version of the movie sets” feel to them – even if it’s an early 90s digital camera feel.

considering that a full dump of the game weighs in at 4MB, too…

You also have to remember that 1994 was a year of games which didn’t really push the realism in graphics envelope (for home consoles, anyway):

  • Sonic 3
  • Super Metroid
  • Final Fantasy VI
  • Mortal Kombat 2
  • Earthbound

All of those games where released around the same time as AvP.

On top of that, AvP was the killer app for the Jaguar. It had been delayed several times

007 Goldeneye suffered this fate and was released 2 whole years after the movie of the same name

It was created by a handful of developers and designers, from an unknown (at the time) development house in the UK

technically an indie, by today’s standards

and in Assembler

anyone who knows about programming will know that Assembler is programming in Hard Mode

for a device which didn’t really have a full SDK (software development kit), the developers weren’t able to easily test their code.


Side note on SDKs:

These days, almost everyone on the development team will have a physical device on their desk (or in the workspace somewhere). When ever a developer makes a change to the code it’s rebuilt, deployed to the physical device and started so that they can test their code immediately.

The Jaguar was plagued with all sorts of issues, back in the day, and hardware shortages was one of those things.

Imagine making a change to something, but not being able to see it straight away.


Summing Up

AvP became the Jaguar’s most successful title, it also spawned a series which is still going strong to this day. It sold 50,000+ copies, which is pretty good.

50,000 copies might not sound like a lot today, but that was one heck of an achievement. Some will joke that there might not have been 50,000 jags to play the game on, and they’re almost right. Only 250,000 jags where sold, which makes me

and SquidgeyFidget

one of the privileged few to have played this game on original hardware, back when this game was released. In fact, Squidgey still has my Jag and my copy of AvP (along with Cybermorph and some other classics).

Have you ever played this creepy classic? Did it scare the living daylights out of you, as it did me back in the day?

If you’ve never played it (or any Jaguar games), would you be willing to attempt to use one of the frankly massive controllers?

Jamie is one of the Waffling Taylors. He spends a lot of time blogging about things sometimes related to programming and sometimes not.