Josh Sawyer: Chapter II

Let’s move on to Aliens: Crucible. What was your role there?

Yeah, I was originally the lead designer on it—this was before we had directors at Obsidian, so lead designer was on the same level as lead programmer, lead artist and so on. We worked on Aliens for a few years and toward the very end, I talked to the owners about becoming the director of it, because there were some problems with it. Obsidian hadn’t had a director before. The difference between a director and a lead designer is that the director actually has authority over the entire project. On previous projects, in a lot of cases, if there were disagreements between leads, it wasn’t that easy to resolve them. So, as a director, I was more tyrannical [laughing]. So I could come in and say, “Okay, look, I’ve listened to everyone and this is how we’re gonna do it.” But, unfortunately, we didn’t get things going fast enough, and the project was canceled.

That was developed for SEGA if I remember it correctly, wasn’t it?

Yeah it was for SEGA.

So, what was the underlying philosophy for Aliens? What kind of game it was meant to be?

It was just single-player. It was focused. At around the same time, SEGA was working with Rebellion on Aliens vs. Predator 3, and also with GearBox on [Aliens:] Colonial Marines, so they had a number of titles going on concurrently. Our focus was really on what we excel at, which is single-player RPGs.

So role-playing games, I think, are at their best when they’re about character interactions and how you choose to navigate the difficulties of people in conflict

Which movies of the Aliens franchise served as the prime inspiration for the game?

It was mostly using elements that you would find in Alien and Aliens—the first two films. So, corporate agents, marines, engineers, scientists, things like that. It was the corporate aspect, the military aspect, the so-called “blue collar”—the kind of working class—the crew of the Nostromo, those kind of folks. I was trying to bring together all those elements.

Do you remember a more specific timeline of the game within the Alien universe?

You know, I’m actually trying to think of exactly when it was set. I don’t remember exactly—it’s been too long. It’s funny because when we announced the Aliens RPG, people were very confused. They were like, “How could you make a role-playing game out of Aliens?” I thought it was actually not confusing at all [laughing]. Because, to me, the Alien movies are about human interaction; they’re about how humans deal with stress and adversity and greed and all of those things. So role-playing games, I think, are at their best when they’re about character interactions and how you choose to navigate the difficulties of people in conflict. So there was a really heavy emphasis on human drama and interaction and psychology, and managing that kind of stuff.

Well, that sounds pretty complex. So, was it also dialogue-heavy?

Our focus wasn’t really on stopping and reading enormous blocks of text. I think you can see this in some of the leaked footage, when there are pop-ups that you can respond to but they’re done in real time as you’re exploring. And we resolve the D-pad for giving responses to these little pop-ups, or you can sit back and let people talk and not really intercede. I would say less than being dialogue-focused in the sense of a lot of written dialogue, it was heavily focused on character interactions, and these tense complexes between people.

Something in Bioware‘s fashion?

Hmm, I guess it’s more similar to that. It was more similar to something.

So not like in Mass Effect?

A little bit, but that maybe is taking it a bit too far because Mass Effect also has the abbreviated lines and stuff like that. We weren’t really going for that.

And the combat element?

I think people can see some of that stuff on the leaked footage that we had. It was third-person with a couple of buddies and stuff like that. It was survival-oriented.


How much of the project had you actually managed to complete before it got canceled?

Yeah, I don’t know if I can actually talk about this [laughing]. But I guess that’s the really sad thing about this; that we had a lot of areas designed and we had a lot of dialogue written, and we had a lot of systems implemented, and we had very few maps. Our area-creation pipeline was very slow and we had lot of problems with that. It was the first time that we had used Onyx, which is our internal technology, and there were a lot of problems with how we built levels. I think that was one of the reasons why they really did not work out in the end. We needed to make this big expansive world to explore and it was very smalleven after several years in development.

Yeah, that’s sad indeed.

Yeah, a lot [laughing].

One last thing: Can you reveal where the story took place?

I can’t say [laughing]. It took place in a very Aliens [setting]. It was something that was very true to Alien and Aliens; we tried to capture the spirit of those sort of environments.

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