Gamasutra – game design deep dive: the save system of alien: isolation

Game Design Deep Dive is definitely an ongoing Gamasutra series with the aim of shedding light on specific design features or mechanics inside a gaming, to be able to show how apparently simple, fundamental design decisions aren’t really that easy whatsoever.

Take a look at earlier installments around the unique touchscreen charge of Helix as well as on the guarana plant-growing mechanics of Grow Home.

Also don’t miss these developer-minded examines the tutorial system in Rogue Legacy and Amnesia‘s sanity meter from your ever-growing Deep Dive archive.

Who: Gary Napper, design director at Creative Set up

I’m a game designer with 14 years industry experience and lead positions on the majority of triple-A titles, on a multitude of genres including third person action adventure games, film licenses, racing games, first person shooters, platformers and simulation games. Most lately I had been charge designer on Alien: Isolation, which released October of this past year and continues to be scaring people, based on my Twitter feed.

What: Alien Isolation’s save system

I’ve frequently clarified questions about the sport’s systems, the option of crafting approach, the amount design not to mention, the alien itself. Of all of the systems, AI entities, mechanics and fashions which have renedered Alien: Isolation this kind of immersive game, one auto technician frequently leads to a big reaction from people, so that as mundane because it sounds, it’s the save system.

Who’d have believed that this type of choice would trigger such passionate reactions from players all over the world? As it happens, when you get a simple auto technician right, you are able to trigger just that. The save system in Alien: Isolation required an extremely drastic and a few would say “old school” method of saving. We’ve no “soft saves” or checkpoints hanging around. The only method of saving is to locate terminal on the planet, place in your access card, wait for a systems within the imaginary machine to warm-up, after which wait for a three simple lights to blink off — even while knowing you could be wiped out at any time.

Why pressure players in order to save by hand?

Whenever we first contacted the save system we’d the typical checkpoints and menu-based saves. We checked out the games i was all playing, and spent a while balancing when these saves occur and just how frequently.

Like every team of developers, all of us play lots of games and every have our favorites. Frequently our decisions and choices colored through the games we play and our very own requirements. At this juncture, I had been focused on utilizing a checkpoint system with hard saves every occasionally. For me personally, it labored in games such as the Dead Space series, Metroid games and BioShock, and it was an easy system to know.

However, sometimes “simple to know” isn’t the right approach when you’re creating a game that’s designed from the core to terrify and set people on edge.

Certainly one of my personal favorite game mechanics of-time may be the active reload system from Gears of War. I had been lucky enough to meet its inventor, one Clifford Michael Bleszinski, in an EA event i was both working in a couple of in the past. I requested him if he’d invented it, and that he confirmed it had been him — and that he added how surprised he was that other games hadn’t copied it more. Following a good chat where we experienced games that may used it, we went our separate ways.

The main reason I love this auto technician a lot is it added an enormous degree of emotion to some formerly simple interaction. Pressing X to reload was a standard feature of many games. It grew to become a pain instead of an interaction, in some instances. Probably the most emotional factor you can get from this was "dead man’s click" — aim, fire, after which nothing, besides the realization you have a clear clip.

Using the active reload system, should you perfected the timing, you probably did more damage and also got a quicker reload. “Damn, I’m good!” what you know already like a satisfying glow made an appearance in your ammunition and also you could start mowing lower the Locust faster. The flipside may be the sense of dread while you messed up: A jammed weapon, an extended reload, a lost chance at bonus damage. It had been risk versus. reward within the simplest form also it labored a goody.

The issue I discovered myself asking was, "Could an easy interaction like saving trigger such emotion?"

Now, I would like to say it had become my idea, which it was the program all along, but alas it wasn’t. During development, our designers (now a senior) named Simon Adams found me having a pitch for any manual save system. I stated no many occasions — "what we should have is okay.Inch It appeared in my experience like an excessive amount of change, or hassle, and lots of focus on the sport atmosphere: We would need to place terminals everywhere, alter the art for that impacted areas, and alter the code for that save system.

There was the alien. For individuals who haven’t performed the sport or don’t know, our alien is systematic. It’s an AI entity that actually works under its very own logic, looking for indications of the gamer, other humans aboard, and anything it may kill. It adapts towards the player’s movement, choices, weapons, and makes some interesting design possible.

It had been the issue of how to handle the alien whenever we save that elevated the controversy of save points again. "After I reach a gentle checkpoint and also the alien is going to kill me… What goes on after i return in? Is he there?Inch

We’d two obvious options. One option meant not doing anything which may trigger a vast loop of dying and respawning. Another option ended up being to take away the alien around the load, which may mean sprinting to some checkpoint would be a valid tactic — as after he wiped out the gamer, these were safe again. Neither of those were adequate, nor supported the main game play.

Simon again pitched his manual save idea, this time around as a strategy to our issues. When we will have a save location, we’re able to either affect the alien’s behavior in some manner in order that it could adjust to save points or let it rest to the player to make sure that these were safe when saving.

We made the decision to check the second inside a simple quick-and-dirty prototype. Our design team rapidly come up with an easy scripted push-button save point that will trigger a handbook save. The very first pursuit to make use of this all of a sudden required on the different feel. No more were we travelling, with no care, understanding that when we died, we wouldn’t lose much progress. I was afraid. When we didn’t reach the save point and effectively save, we’d lose our progress. Even in one mission it was tense.

"Imagine should you have had been playing for some time and never saved? How tense would that be?" This can be in which the emotion began to look. Saving grew to become tense. Searching for any save grew to become tense. Suppose! The straightforward act of saving became supportive towards the game’s driving factors of terror and isolation. An additional modifier for this would be a simple tweak that Simon designed to the prototype save point. He altered the model which was used from the push-button towards the card terminal utilized in other interactions hanging around. This interaction was taken from the initial film, where Dallas uses a kind of key-card to gain access to Mother, as seen below:

Simon designed a switch to this interaction and used our game’s scripting tools to pause the animation for some time although three beeps triggered. This small change made a significant difference around the auto technician and in lots of ways, offered it towards the non-believers and checkpoint-savers.

The End Result

Seeing players bouncing their knees and speaking aloud although a save point triggered, saying such things as "Seriously! He’s nearby!" was amazing. Another emotion seemed to be present which was unpredicted: relief. Players were relieved once they effectively used a save point, as well as upon seeing one. A feeling of pleasure at locating a save point grew to become a highlight on the way through an amount, and something that typically caused players to dash for doing things — even if it had not been safe.

For me personally, this grew to become a obvious evolution in our save system, and something that benefitted the sport in general. Players would risk further and additional stretches of game play between save points, knowing constantly they will have to save soon or risk losing their progress.

A real feeling of loss came if this risk didn’t repay and, even though some have known as it "punishing," they fit with design for the sport and it is primary enemy. We attempted to create a game title where once the player was wiped out, they understood it had been something they’d done — or unsuccessful to complete. A person only will need that feeling of loss once from losing progress to have the tension and stress of searching for any save point at nighttime, by having an alien hunting them.

Although I would like to go ahead and take credit with this idea, the inventor was Simon Adams, also it would be a team effort to apply the skill, animation, code, audio and level design. The sport was altered forever by its use. I’m glad I took in to Simon… eventually.


Creative Assembly Talks Game Engine Development for Alien: Isolation


Foxiol: For me (personal opinion) the best game from 2014.\n\nBest optimized (FX8350 4.2Ghz, 8GB RAM 1866mhz, AMD R7 SSD, GTX560 Ti OC 1GB at 1080p maxed just without V-Sync average 70FPS), great graphics, sounds, lighting, gameplay, story and atmosphere. \n\nI personally love Aliens as a movie and horror games as well…so of course if the game was well made I would enjoy it as much as I did…40+ hours played in Hard difficult taking my time to take every step. \n\nA job well done by these great developers. thank you for this game. 😉  

Dawid Freeman: This is how you make GOOD ENGINE !!! 

Ravelord Nito: I was amazed at just how good this game ran on my system. Ive had games that looked worse and ran worse.

NUKE: The best graphics I have ever seen in a game so far, belong to Alien: Isolation. \nFor real this game is at a whole new level. \nI never thought that they made their own engine for their game, that's crazy!\nAnd we love it!

Tuennemann72: I play this Game ~ 50 Hours and it was for me the best Game Experience in 2014 … 

MechaG2: A:I's game engine is incredibly impressive. CA's attention to detail in recreating the look and feel of ALIEN has been nothing short of amazing.\n\nThe only gripes I have with the game engine is that the player character doesn't cast any shadows or reflections. I wish they'd correct this in an update.

XΣRXΣS: It's gorgeous, well optimized, and it's true survival horror.

ConsolePeasant92: Making your own engine is the best a game developer can do.

Kamil Skalny: I am absolute stunning how light performs in that engine. Optimisation is superb, run super smooth in 4K on GTX980. Grate job.

some guy: they delivered what gearbox promised