How Horror Video Games Are Created


When acclaimed British developer Rebellion released Aliens vs Predator, I talked to Paul Mackman about how horror video games are created.  He's the producer of the game and has worked with Rebellion for over 5 years.  His other projects include Star Wars Battlefront. Read this interview after the jump.

What goes into the writing process for a game like this?

We had two freelance writers on the game, while I managed story continuity and general story production, amongst other things.

When it comes to storytelling in games, you start out with an idea, which almost always comes from the game designers. You then develop that idea: the world, the premise, the characters; in tandem with the game design. It's a while before you're actually ready to write dialogue.

The majority of the dialogue for most games is comprised of in-game content. In AvP's case, as for many games, this was written as a first pass by the designers. The writers then polished this up as needed, and on an iterative basis. They had a lot more freedom, and a lot more fun, I think, with the cut-scenes and audio diaries.

What role does a producer on a game like this play to ensure the project is successful?

In terms of story production, it's a matter of maintaining the key narrative beats whilst still maintaining the flexibility that's required to adapt to iterative game mechanic and level design. The level-by-level story has evolved considerably since the early days. However, our primary beats, that were carefully storyboarded relatively early in the project, were in the end fully realized almost exactly as planned.

How does a person start a career writing and producing in this field?

I've been both a writer and a producer in this field, and as with any creative medium it's about working very hard at the start of your career to create opportunities for yourself and make the right contacts. After that, all you have to do is work hard, and keep learning.

Given the long legacy of this franchise, are there any special rules you need to follow when charting out a new game?

First off, you need to know your source material. That's not a big ask with this franchise, as pretty much everybody in the industry knows these movies like the backs of their hands. It helps that Rebellion made the game that started it all too.

If you know and respect the source material, there's every chance you'll do it justice. It's just a question of striking a good balance between homage/reference and genuinely new material.

Naturally, we forged a close working relationship with FOX, the license holders, from the start, and worked with them to create a story everybody was happy with.

Were you a fan of the movies before you worked on the game?  Does it help to have that kind of relationship with the source material?

I think it's fair to say almost everybody who worked on this title was a fan of the movies. It kinda comes with territory. Yes, it really helps.  Working with Lance Henriksen (Bishop) and Bill Hope (Gorman) from James Cameron's Aliens was a real treat, and a career high. It was great to hear from both of them how much they liked the script.

Obviously the technology to create games like this has come a long way in the last decade, but it also feels like there's more of an emphasis on the story and the writing today, too.  How important is a well-developed story to the end product?

Gameplay is naturally our top priority and what the technology truly serves. But a compelling story helps provide context and motivation for your actions as a player character. Given AvP's cinematic heritage, an engaging story was always going to be part of the package. Working with our partners at FOX we think we've created something that not only draws inspiration from the four corners of the AvP universe, but also brings something new. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.


Brian James Freeman is the Managing Editor of Cemetery Dance Publications, the publisher of Lonely Road Books, and the author of several novels and novellas and many short stories.  His most recent book is The Painted Darkness.  You can read more about his work on his official website,, and you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.