Life in the trenches: Alien vs Predator

I’ve been making games since dinosaurs ruled the world. Well, perhaps not that long, but certainly since my first commercial release in 1981. I joined the industry full time in 1984, beginning an unbroken career that stretches to this day. I’ve done pretty much every job in development and publishing; I’ve worked with such companies as Atari, Electronic Arts, and Microsoft, across an eclectic range of titles, including Microsoft Flight Simulator, Alien vs Predator, and a whole host of open-world titles.

At the time of writing, I’ve gone back to my roots and formed a new development studio, Blue Sock Studios, so I’ll keep you posted as we seek publishers and partners for this new adventure.

So in this column, I’ll be lifting the lid on 25 years of industry techniques and practices, sharing anecdotes of how some of your favourite games were made, and tall tales from the trenches of game development. First, then, let me tell you the story of Alien vs Predator on the Atari Jaguar – and how such a big game ended up being developed around my parents’ kitchen table in the UK.

The programming for AvP was led by Mike Beaton and myself – both ex-pat Brits working at Atari’s office in the San Francisco Bay Area. Along with our producer Purple Hampton, we were working night and day to meet the game’s Christmas release. As the deadline approached, Mike understandably began to feel homesick. A hurried council of war was called to discuss how best to proceed. And so, before I knew it, a phone call had been placed to my parents, asking if we could hijack their home and use it as a temporary Atari office.

That might sound fairly straightforward. Mike and I would board an aircraft, and away we’d go, back to the UK. Things aren’t that simple, though, as in addition to us relocating to the UK, we needed our entire development kit, and machines, and array of tools we were using. In a bizarre scene, we had an army of couriers knocking at my parents’ front door, one after the other, delivering all our kit. This included extremely large Atari TT machines and monitors, prototype Atari Jaguars, a couple of PCs, and all sorts of impedimenta. It was more like an army of Sherpas carrying equipment for an ascent of Everest rather than a couple of programmers finishing a game.

So, in my parents’ small house, space was rather an issue (which we hadn’t considered before – we were, after all, programmers with a can-do attitude). We ended up spending many weeks coding the game on the kitchen table, with my parents providing full hotel services, especially for visits from Atari. We actually had Sam Tramiel, CEO of Atari, turn up and share beers with my dad as work progressed.

So if you think game development usually takes place in shiny air-conditioned offices, think again. A fair old chunk of Alien vs Predator was developed in a terraced house in Yorkshire.

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