Gearbox Palmed Development Off To TimeGate
Aliens: Colonial Marines feels like a rush job despite ostensibly being in development for six years, and this might be right on the money. Kotaku claims to have heard from numerous sources who worked on the project, who allege that Gearbox totally ignored the project to focus on Borderlands 2, outsourced the whole thing to TimeGate and then desperately tried to make a working product in less than a year.
According to Kotaku's sources, Gearbox were surprisedby the success of the original Borderlands and decided to throw their weight behind a sequel as well as Duke Nukem Forever. Colonial Marines therefore had to fall by the wayside, and Pitchford's studio decided to subcontract Section 8 developer TimeGate to handle development in 2009.
However, despite TimeGate initially being thrilled with the commission ("It was a very love-love situation," apparently), cracks quickly started to appear.
"There was obviously not four years of work done on the game," stated one of the anonymous sources, "a lot of assets just didn't seem like they fit there." Described as a "hodgepodge" of assets, Colonial Marines was apparently barely more than a collection of disparate design elements and the shaders from Borderlands. TimeGate had to knuckle down, and decided to make the best of it.
And then, Kotaku claims, everything went to hell.
First of all, the story wasn't finalised or even roughly drafted for several months, meaning that levels and characters were constantly being created and discarded. "For a couple months, we were just kind of guessing,"an employee stated. "It's really weird to work on a game when you don't have a basic idea of how things will work." SEGA and Gearbox also continually tugged the studio in different directions, with SEGA even wanting a standard FPS experience that sidelined the Xenos in favour of more traditional action.
For E3 2012, TimeGate knocked together that hands-off demo, which was real-time, but custom-built on non-consumer PC hardware with a massive budget, made-to-order animations and set pieces that weren't part of the game itself. "We were told many times through demo production, 'Don't worry about performance, just make it awesome,'" said one source. "There was a reason [the demos] were never playable." For consoles, however, TimeGate struggled with the asset pipeline and 512MB of RAM. "We were constantly cutting back more and more in terms of texture, shader and particle fidelity, in order to fit into the jacked memory restraints."
In 2012, Gearbox reassumed control of the project... and inherited a barely-playable mess that didn't even work on PS3. The bodging began.
"[Gearbox made] big changes to lighting, texture and shader complexity," said one source who had not played the final game, but was familiar with some of the later builds. "Design elements were altered or redone entirely. It looks like a lot of [TimeGate's] assets remained intact, with the exception of lower-res textures and faster-performing shaders."
Numerous TimeGate staff were allegedly made redundant over the shambles, and Gearbox might face legal action from SEGA going forward. Though these rumours have yet to be verified, they definitely make a great deal of sense.
"The game feels like it was made in nine months," a source concluded, "and that's because it was."
We gave Aliens: Colonial Marines 4/10 in our full review, lamenting the shoddy quality of its singleplayer campaign.