West Yorkshire developer Team17 might be best known for Worms, but the studio originally won over hardcore gamers with Alien Breed, its 1991 co-op Amiga sci-fi horror shooter. Now, some 18 years after the original's release, Team17 is returning to the franchise, self-publishing Alien Breed Evolution for XBLA, PSN and PC. To mark the occasion, we sat down with studio director Martyn Brown at the Brighton Develop conference to tear as much information out of the outspoken developer as we possibly could. Read on to find out when Alien Breed's coming out (check out our hands-on preview), Worms on WiiWare and what Team17's got in store for the iPhone.
VideoGamer.com: Given that you're going down the self-publishing digital download route, and you can make whatever you want, why go back to Alien Breed as opposed to something completely different?
Martyn Brown: We actually are doing that as well. It's very difficult going from a known IP, something like Worms, to something that isn't known. Yeah I think we've obviously got a legacy in Team17's brand in the Worms brand. What we want to do is soften the blow of trying to do something new and taking such a big risk with maybe revisiting something. To be honest we've always wanted to do it. In one way or another we've been trying to get Alien Breed to be done. In retail on PS2, we were going to do it using Snowblind's tech - who did Baldur's Gate on PS2 - about five or six years ago. We got very close to signing a deal. We almost did it on PSP with someone, but for some reason it didn't happen. We've always had it our mind exactly what we wanted to do. So once we got the opportunity with no obstacles in the way, other than funding the bloody thing ourselves, it was actually, let's do this. Just the last few years with Unreal 3, and then everything following it with LIVE Arcade and digital and PSN, it was just like, oh let's just do this. We were so hungry to do it. I think you can see that in how we've actually done the game. There is absolutely new stuff going on. Very innovative - some touch screen stuff that we're doing now is unlike anything that we've ever done, so it's all new IP. Hopefully because we're going digital, we'll become synonymous with quality within the digital download space. Then people will maybe not just talk about Worms but Team17 games. That's where we want to be really.
VideoGamer.com: Have you pinned down a release schedule for this?
MB: It's only tentative. It's as tentative as it can be really. Until we get the thing certified through all the publishers, and that sometimes can take two months, sometimes it takes six months. Until we know that... we can kind of tie stuff to a quarter, realistically. We can't pin absolute dates on it. It's very different at retail. Things get rushed through because it has to tie in with a lot of spend. Things are a little bit different for us. A great example is Worms for the iPhone. We just got approval Sunday. Rather than release it on the 21st, I think is what we planned for, we just thought bugger it, we'll release it today. We released it two weeks early. That's the beauty of digital. We just thought, oh bollocks to it, we'll put it out there.
VideoGamer.com: In terms of quarters then?
MB: It's certainly looking like September, October for the first Alien Breed game. It's LIVE Arcade exclusive for a little while, and then it'll be on PS3 and PC.
VideoGamer.com: Have you got a tentative schedule for the gap between each episode?
MB: No. We've gone through a lot of conversations with Microsoft over time about how often do we do that. The jury's out on that. All the game is built. We've put a lot of effort into doing the first episode first, but the second and third ones can be very short and certified pretty soon after the first game. Really it's going to be down to a number of things. Microsoft has their own schedule on LIVE. It depends on the feedback from consumers. We don't know how each one's sales will affect another. It's real experimental stuff, what we're doing. There's a few - Telltale are doing episodic stuff and all the rest of it.
VideoGamer.com: They follow a monthly schedule, roughly.
MB: Yeah. It's very different content to this. Each game isn't a sequel. It's a bit like the Red Riding Trilogy that was on TV. If you think of it like that, that's how we've done things. That's just a useful thing that's come out recently, how we can describe what we've done. You don't need to watch any one of the others, but they all link. The answer is I've no bloody idea. I would think it's probably six or eight weeks between... I don't know. Two months, maybe three - even three - I don't know yet.
VideoGamer.com: Some gamers don't like timed exclusives. PS3 owners will be particularly miffed that they won't get Alien Breed at the same time as Xbox 360 owners. Any reason?
MB: I understand that. It's difficult. Obviously we'd like everything on every platform day one. The LIVE Arcade thing is simply down... and we get accused of being bribed or we've took Microsoft's money, and it's all bollocks. The reason is that we've got a long relationship with Microsoft's first party unit. We get on great with them. In exchange for exclusivity we get a lot more promotion. We've got a closer deal with them. That's just how it is. It's unfortunate. That's just how we work. If we were a standalone publisher, then yes we'd do both formats. But the sales and promotion we get on LIVE Arcade far outweighs the reason for doing that. It isn't the case of here's some cash in a suitcase. It just doesn't work like that. It would be nice if it did! I appreciate PS3 owners getting pissed off because it's not on their platform immediately, but that's up to Sony I guess to address that.
VideoGamer.com: So Sony should be doing more to incentivise developers?
MB: I think they do, really. They've got their own exclusives. You look at Super Stardust, which is exclusive to PS3. It works the other way round. For people complaining, at the same time, people on LIVE Arcade can't play Super Stardust or PAIN or a bunch of titles. It's just the way the world works really.
VideoGamer.com: Could Alien Breed work on Wii?
MB: It's been developed using Unreal 3. If we did Alien Breed on Wii it would be a totally different game - new technology, well maybe not totally different game but certainly new technology. For WiiWare, we are actually doing a title on WiiWare, we just have to see how that works. Nintendo have maybe got some re-educating of their marketplace with regards digital downloads. A lot of the hardcore are downloading stuff. I just don't think people even think about going online with the Wii. It's a social, family thing. We've had some sniff of numbers of what people have being doing. I think Final Fantasy stuff did really well on Wii. I would have hoped given the strength of brand and watching it everywhere else, that maybe we've got a chance with Worms. People know it. If that's the only way we can it on the Wii then maybe they'll do that. But I think obviously it's in Nintendo's interest to access the online side because that is the way everything is going to go. I think you're going to see more effort from Nintendo on that side.
VideoGamer.com: Is Worms likely to come to WiiWare?
MB: Yeah. It just hasn't been released yet!
VideoGamer.com: It's not suitable for Alien Breed then?
MB: We never considered Wii for Alien Breed. We just didn't think its solid demographic of the users. We certainly think it's the Gears of War crowd, the Halo crowd, pick up and play action, which is the demographic of the XBLA and PS3 really. It's mass market in that area.
VideoGamer.com: For the hardcore fans who played the original Alien Breed, what story titbits can you offer?
MB: People who played the original will recognise a lot. There are a lot of little moments in the game that you can hark back to the original. Alistair [Brimble], who did the music in the original game, has remixed the original score, which is hidden in the game somewhere. Somebody saw it from another developer in Newcastle a month ago and went, oh great you've even used the same woman for the voice. It's totally not the same woman, but I think it's wonderful that you felt it was the same woman because it's the same feeling and ambience of the game. People can see the old game in the new game, which is job done for us.
VideoGamer.com: How will the multiplayer work?
MB: It's online and offline co-op, two-player. Basically the co-op game, there's no real story, it's an action blast for you to pick up. You're scored on how efficient and good and cool and how many times you didn't die. If you die you get respawned in and you get an anti-bonus at the end. We've gone for a strong single-player narrative, because it's the only real way you can do the story, although there are parts in the game where you get story elements from the co-op game, so it crosses over. It's happening at the same time in a different part of the ship with two other people. Because it's two players it's not really a strong directed narrative, but there's moments that cross occasionally, just to remind you about where all that's come from and why its happened. You can dive into the game and just play it. You don't have to read all the logs that you get, you can flick past all the expanse of the comic strips we've lovingly created if you must. It's there if people want to get deep in the story. For people who just want to dive in and play that's fine too.
VideoGamer.com: Did you ever consider competitive elements?
MB: There's leaderboards. Not so much versus. It's not set up for a versus mode. It doesn't work. We are contemplating doing a four-player more arcade thing, out of the same universe really, doing a lot of that stuff, but that maybe would be a different game entirely. We completely built this for the story.
VideoGamer.com: Regarding price, it looks to me a cert for 1200MS Points.
MB: I can't comment on pricing at the moment unfortunately. That's one of the things we're asked not to announce before. With Worms, we fought like fury... I nearly said something else there... for months to keep it at 800, because we believed that that was the right price point for the title. This one's been a bit more costly to build. So therefore I would doubt it would go out at 800 certainly. That's about as much as I can say. I think when people see it, it is a retail game online really.
VideoGamer.com: Was there any goodwill lost after the release of Leisure Suit Larry that might affect Alien Breed Evolution?
MB: I'll be open as anything. Larry didn't turn out great. There are reasons why it didn't turn out great. I'm not going to rattle on about excuses. It's one of those things. You're only as good as your last game. Hopefully the new Worms on LIVE Arcade, other than a couple of bugs that went unnoticed on, not our testing unit but a testing unit, which we're fixing, I think the Metacritic on that is 84, 85 per cent. Certainly with Alien Breed, if anybody's got any grumbles about what we can and can't do, they'll certainly see the amount of effort and care put into a product where we're unbridled by any nonsense we had to deal with in the Larry project. Yeah, hands up, it wasn't great. At the end of the day people don't have to buy anything. They go on reviews, they go on demos and everything else. If people make that decision that's unfortunate. It's not something we're worried about.
VideoGamer.com: Alien Breed Evolution will have a trial, so people will be able to try before they buy.
MB: Absolutely. And that's the way it should be. The last thing we want is people to be complaining about stuff like that. The great thing about LIVE Arcade is it's a real leveller. I did a talk at Develop yesterday saying it's all about the trial, it's all about the demo experience. There's no better marketing than giving people your game and saying well here it is. If you love it, buy it, if you don't, then fair enough, move on and move along. That's what we absolutely believe. The great thing about doing the self publishing - it's all self-funded - everything we're risking is ours, and ours to lose. Would we have self-funded, would we have done Larry by ourselves? Would we bollocks. We wouldn't have done that. We were making a game based on somebody else's script, somebody else's ideas, and it's very difficult in that position. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't work at all, and that was unfortunate.
VideoGamer.com: One of the intriguing things about the digital download space is that it's perhaps an avenue for developers to experiment at a time when they might no be able to otherwise. Alien Breed Evolution is something we've seen before. Are you doing any new stuff?
MB: Yes we are. Stuff that's very different to Worms, very different to Alien Breed. It's cool to be doing all this kind of stuff.
VideoGamer.com: Can Alien Breed come to iPhone?
MB: Maybe. I think we've got to watch out what the take-up is of Alien Breed on LIVE Arcade. We're incredibly heartened by the response just the screenshots got. Once people start seeing video people will go, oh my god, it looks much better moving than it does in the screenshots. So, I don't know. I certainly wouldn't see any reason why not. We are looking at some of our other IPs maybe for iPhone, simply because the games are a little bit simpler. The idea of having a touch screen 18 years ago was not something that crossed our minds! The game was never built for touch screens and stuff. We'll see. I certainly wouldn't rule it out.
The first game in the Alien Breed Evolution trilogy is due out for XBLA this September or October. PSN and PC versions will follow.