The Thing

How this clas­sic movie adap­ta­tion at­tempted to build a se­quel to John car­pen­ter’s land­mark hor­ror ex­pe­ri­ence

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Peer into the devel­op­ment of an un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated Plays­ta­tion clas­sic.

In 1982, hor­ror mas­ter John Car­pen­ter, best known for films like Hal­loween,

They Live, Big Trou­ble in Lit­tle China and Es­cape from New York, re­leased The

Thing to a mostly neg­a­tive crit­i­cal re­ac­tion. See­ing it as lit­tle more than a cheap ve­hi­cle to show­case blood, guts and gore, it wasn’t un­til af­ter its ini­tial re­lease and into the Nineties that it started to gain trac­tion and ac­claim. Now seen as one of the – if not the great­est – hor­ror films ever made, it’s con­sid­ered a clas­sic that has found both its au­di­ence and well-de­served praise. Based on John W Camp­bell Jr’s 1938 novella Who Goes There?, The Thing spawned a nov­el­i­sa­tion, a comic adap­ta­tion, a board game and a pre­quel film in 2011. How­ever, one over­looked en­try into the fran­chise is the 2002 videogame, sim­ply named The Thing. Tread­ing the line be­tween fa­mil­iar­ity and giv­ing the fran­chise new and in­ter­est­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties, it did what most off­shoots of the fran­chise were afraid to do with the ac­claimed se­ries: con­tinue it.

For the unini­ti­ated in the hor­ror mas­ter­work, the film of The Thing fol­lows a re­search team in Antarc­tica that be­comes the prey of an alien crea­ture, one that can per­fectly repli­cate what­ever or­gan­ism it comes into con­tact with. Never seen in its orig­i­nal form, the alien be­gins to take the guise of var­i­ous mem­bers of the re­search team. Alone and iso­lated in the depths of nowhere, the film plays into the para­noia and mis­trust that be­gins to brew amid the re­searchers, all the while the alien picks them off one by one.

The game picks up shortly af­ter the cli­matic events of the film. Planned to be a di­rect se­quel from the out­set and in­spired by James Cameron’s Aliens, it fo­cuses on a team of US Spe­cial Forces that are sent to in­ves­ti­gate what oc­curred at Out­post 31, the set­ting of Car­pen­ter’s orig­i­nal film. The player takes the role of Cap­tain JF Blake. It doesn’t take long be­fore com­mu­ni­ca­tions are down and the alien be­gins repli­cat­ing Blake’s team, ul­ti­mately lead­ing to a ti­tle that of­fers up ac­tion, a tense at­mos­phere and a team man­age­ment sys­tem that will have the player se­cond guess­ing the very peo­ple who fight along­side them.

Long be­fore work­ing on The Thing, most of the team at Com­puter Art­works were mas­sive fans of the orig­i­nal film. As Diarmid Camp­bell, lead pro­gram­mer on the project ex­plains, “I prob­a­bly first saw it when I was about 12 – it was on TV, and it scared the shit out of me! Ev­ery­one was talk­ing about it at school. Though I didn’t re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate its bril­liance un­til I started work­ing on the game, and so watched the film again as an adult. The set­ting is open and des­o­late, but no one can es­cape. Ev­ery­one be­comes to­tally para­noid, and ev­ery­one deals with it in their own way. Add to that the slowly pick­ing off of each char­ac­ter one by one, and you get this count­down feel­ing – it’s a bril­liant piece of film­mak­ing! The task of cre­at­ing a game se­quel was both daunt­ing and ex­cit­ing. The dif­fi­culty was that the film is char­ac­ter driven (rather than ac­tion driven), but in games, the player typ­i­cally does ac­tions, so try­ing to trans­late the psy­cho­log­i­cal el­e­ments into sys­tems you can play was al­ways go­ing to be dif­fi­cult.”

Lead de­signer An­drew Cur­tis echoes Camp­bell’s praise for the film. “It has a bril­liant cast, haunt­ing mu­sic and great ten­sion in a grip­ping sce­nario with nowhere to run – and not for­get­ting some of the best phys­i­cal spe­cial ef­fects in the his­tory of cin­ema. We saw mak­ing the game as a great op­por­tu­nity for a rel­a­tively un­known stu­dio, and were so full of ex­cite­ment we didn’t have time to be trou­bled by the task ahead.”

In speak­ing about how the team landed the IP for The Thing, Cur­tis says, “We were ap­proached by Uni­ver­sal In­ter­ac­tive, who al­ready had the rights to the IP. The pub­lisher Black La­bel Games was specif­i­cally cre­ated by Uni­ver­sal In­ter­ac­tive to avoid a sit­u­a­tion where ti­tles like Crash Bandi­coot and Spyro The Dragon were pub­lished un­der the same la­bel as a hor­ror game about a shape-chang­ing alien flesh mon­ster.”

With the IP in place, the team be­gan work on their am­bi­tious con­tin­u­a­tion of the famed hor­ror film. How­ever, one im­por­tant piece of The Thing puz­zle would be miss­ing from this game. As Cur­tis ex­plains, “John Car­pen­ter didn’t seem very in­ter­ested in videogames, and I think he was too dis­tracted with his film Ghosts Of Mars. He did agree to do a sign­ing at E3 to help pro­mote the game, and let us use his like­ness for the char­ac­ter Dr Shaun Fara­day in the game. Ev­ery­one work­ing on the game loved John, but he’s def­i­nitely not a gamer.”

This love and ap­pre­ci­a­tion the de­vel­op­ers had for Car­pen­ter’s film is very much ev­i­dent within the game.

From the open­ing lev­els that take place at Out­post 31 and the Nor­we­gian sta­tion that fea­tures such recog­nis­able film

It did what most off-shoots of the fran­chise were afraid to do with the ac­claimed se­ries: con­tinue It

el­e­ments as the frozen body of Childs, the space­craft that was be­ing built by the Blair ver­sion of the alien, and the frozen body of the Nor­we­gian re­searcher that slashed his wrists and throat be­fore the alien could take him, to be­ing able to lis­ten to Macready’s tapes, there’s a level of authen­tic­ity that is a true love let­ter to what came be­fore it. How­ever, once the player gets past these nods to the orig­i­nal film, the game be­gins to carve out its own place within the se­ries, and does so bril­liantly.

Though The Thing does ad­mit­tedly take a safe route with its third-per­son sur­vival hor­ror ap­proach in terms of com­bat and ex­plo­ration, Com­puter Art­works was keen to repli­cate what the film nailed so per­fectly. Cur­tis ex­plains, “Even though the game moved more to­wards ac­tion hor­ror, we didn’t ever want the player to feel safe. At its core the game is about para­noia and ten­sion; the feel­ing that at any mo­ment you could be am­bushed by a twisted alien mu­ta­tion, or an ally could at­tempt to kill and as­sim­i­late you.”

De­spite its sur­face level of fa­mil­iar­ity, with a whole host of ti­tles re­leased around the same time, there are three main el­e­ments that set it apart from any­thing that has come be­fore it. The game el­e­ments that were in­tended to be game chang­ing were the User In­ter­face, the Fear/trust Sys­tem and the In­fec­tion Sys­tem. As head of the Beta team that has been sent to Out­post 31 to in­ves­ti­gate, the player at all times has one to three ad­di­tional sol­diers un­der their com­mand. Those un­der the com­mand of the player fall un­der one of three po­ten­tial classes: sol­dier, medic and en­gi­neer. Each class serves a dis­tinct pur­pose dur­ing the game, and the player needs to know when and how to use them. From in­struct­ing en­gi­neers to fix a bro­ken key­pad in or­der to ad­vance through a door to hav­ing your medic patch you up af­ter a gru­elling battle with an en­emy, prop­erly in­ter­act­ing with your squad is

Thin-skinned mem­bers of your squad won’t be able to deal with grue­some scenes. Get them away from the area be­fore they have a break­down.

The alien can take many dif­fer­ent forms, some­times look­ing like a mish- mash of dif­fer­ent crea­tures and peo­ple.

If you’re not care­ful you may get lost in the snow fields in the game. Nav­i­gate them by us­ing the var­i­ous flares and lights that link var­i­ous points of in­ter­est to­gether.

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