Pastel Horrors

Alien Syndrome is an Arcade game born in 1987. It's a top-down run and gun game based on the Alien movie. The game itself isn't much to hang in the Yule-tree, but it does have one thing going for it. The art style clashes with the scary alien theme in a humorous way. All the aliens are drawn with happy pastel colors and don't look very scary at all. Unfortunately all the sequels and ports have completely ignored this defining aspect of the game and went for a more serious gritty look instead. What a pity.

Edit: It's possible that the game was darker on a real arcade machine and didn't have a happy pastel look.

The gameplay consists of searching for comrades (other humans) who have been stranded on various space ships. Each spaceship is like a little maze, and you have to find a number of comrades and reach the exit. When you pick up a comrade (by touching) they will just disappear. Maybe they're beamed off the ship. They're also immune to the mean aliens while the player is not. The player can not leave the ship until a number of comrades have been saved. There's a time limit which stresses the player to move along. The aliens just teleport in, and although only a certain number of them can appear on screen at once, there's no shortage of supply.

Certainly, the game is not meant to be realistic. The use of abstractions can be handy when trying to deliver an arcade experience. However when devising an simplified rules of something that is realistic, it's easy to start accumulating exception rules to patch things up. In the case of Alien Syndrome you have infinitely respawning aliens, and the player has infinite ammo. This creates a scoring problem. The player could just stand and accumulate easy points all day (and hog the arcade machine). To patch this problem a timer was introduced (a self-destruct, time bomb or whatever).

Robotron aside, I don't really care for highscores, and a timer not only stresses me, it kills immersion too. It's like something outside of the game is counting and checking up on me. It's a bit like not being able to put on high level boots in an RPG because I'm low level and using the boots too early would break the (poorly devised) game.

If Alien Syndrome had been for a modern PC, a lot of fun stuff could be made. Finite ammo, health and pickups could keep the player moving about looking for loot. If the alien reproduction is integrated into the gameplay then various tactical situations could emerge, such as destroying the queen, food supplies, blocking off paths, etc. The larvae could develop into different things depending on what food they find. Maybe the aliens use smell trails like ants do, and the player could manipulate those. The Comrades could barricade themselves in, engaging in firefights with the aliens, holding until the player arrives. The missions could vary in nature and the solutions could be improvised.

Yeah, well, enough feature creep and brain farts for today. I might post some other stuff soon...