The six-year saga of Aliens: Colonial Marines is reported to have strained the relationship between headline developer Gearbox and publisher Sega over a dispute that Gearbox was focusing too heavily on its Borderlands series.
Talking to GameSpot, one industry source close to Sega said the publisher became increasingly concerned about Gearbox's commitment to the oft-delayed title.
"Sega was very concerned that the bulk of Gearbox's resources/manpower was being spent on Borderlands and that they weren't investing the effort in Colonial Marines that they should have been," said our source, "hence it being repeatedly delayed."
"Obviously, judging from the end result, that issue was never resolved," they added.
Aliens: Colonial Marines received a 4.5 in its GameSpot review. Last year's Borderlands 2, on the other hand, was awarded an 8.5. Aliens: Colonial Marines was announced in December 2006 and was subjected to multiple delays before its eventual release yesterday. Borderlands 2 was announced in August 2011 and shipped in September 2012.
Friction between Sega and Gearbox--and the looming threat of legal action--is also mentioned in a Reddit thread titled "A lot of you are (rightfully) upset at the final product that is A:CM. Maybe I can shed some light as to how it got the way it is."
The anonymous poster, who said they couldn't speak publicly through fear of breaking NDAs but claims to have worked on the game for a year and a half, mentioned that Sega wasn't pleased about the game's delays but kept the project going and allowed Gearbox to outsource development of portions of the game.
"[Gearbox] outsourced a good portion of the game to outside companies," said the poster. "Initially, the plan was for TimeGate to take the majority of campaign, [Gearbox] would take MP, Demiurge and Nerve would handle DLC and various other focused tasks. This decision was made mostly so that most of the developers at [Gearbox] could continue working on Borderlands 2, while a small group of [level designers], coders and designers dealt with Pecan."
Pecan was allegedly Gearbox's internal codename for Aliens: Colonial Marines.
"Somehow the schedules for Pecan and Borderlands 2 managed to line up and [Gearbox] realized that there was no f**king way they could cert and ship two titles at the same time," added the poster. "Additionally, campaign (which was being developed by TimeGate) was extremely far behind, even as Pecan's Beta deadline got closer and closer. In April or May (can't remember which), Pecan was supposed to hit beta, but [Gearbox] instead came to an agreement with SEGA that they would push the release date back one more time, buying [Gearbox] around 9 mos extension."
Gearbox formally announced the delay, and that Aliens: Colonial Marines would eventually ship in 2013, on May 21, 2012.
Considering that SEGA was pretty close to taking legal action against [Gearbox], asking for an extension wasn't an option.
"About 5 of those 9 months went to shipping BL2," added the poster, "In that time, TimeGate managed to scrap together 85% of the campaign, but once Borderlands 2 shipped and [Gearbox] turned its attention to Pecan, it became pretty apparent that what had been made was in a pretty horrid state."
"Considering that SEGA was pretty close to taking legal action against [Gearbox], asking for an extension wasn't an option, and so Pecan crash-landed through certification and shipping. Features that were planned were oversimplified, or shoved in (a good example of this are challenges, which are in an incredibly illogical order). Issues that didn't cause 100% blockers were generally ignored, with the exception of absolutely horrible problems."
"This isn't because [Gearbox] didn't care, mind you. At a certain point, they couldn't risk changing ANYTHING that might cause them to fail certification or break some other system. And so, the product you see is what you get."
Another alleged ex-developer also said that the game's development was a "total train wreck" and that TimeGate Studios handled the campaign. Sega senior producer Matthew J. Powers has hit back, speaking about Aliens: Colonial Marines at the Italian launch event (via DSOG). "Absolutely not, the game has been developed by Gearbox Software. Other studios helped Gearbox on the production of single and multiplayer."
How much of the game was actually made by Gearbox is still being questioned, however. Over on the TimeGate Studios forums, moderator Rossinna-Sama posted that about 50 percent of the campaign was made by TimeGate. "I thought TG worked on the MP component, but I was wrong. Messaged a few people in TG and found out that TG basically had a hand in everything."
"They are responsible for the weapons, the characters, some of the story, a fair amount of the aliens, and I don't mean conceptualization, they did the actual work of making said weapons and so on."
"This said, the game underwent a lot of changes so [TimeGate Studios] doesn't actually know how much of their content is left. Some had the estimate that 50% of what you see in the campaign is their work, others wanted to see for themselves and would get back to me after playing the game themselves."
Sega did not respond to a request for comment.