Let’s Play Alien: Isolation – Part 4 – Killing Time

Well, that last part could have went better now didn’t it?  Truth is, as we ended part three, we had made a mess of things by making too much noise!  Running or walking, opening automated doors and the use of the motion tracker within proximity of the xenomorph is all rather deadly combination.  It had taken a fair amount of time to navigate through the San Cristobal medical wing all for it to fall apart after we had acquired our much needed keycard.  Having picked up the courage once again to grab the pad, we pushed on and got back to where we were before the alien saw fit to kill us.  It was at this point I started re-evaluating an issue raised in part 3: the alien has a habit of returning to the part of the map you are currently residing in.  This suggests at least to me that there is a broader experience management system running under the hood that is telling the alien not to stray too far from my position.  Ultimately, we want to maintain this uncomfortable experience whereby the creature is always within relatively close proximity of me, thus keeping the tension high as often as possible.

In fact, it had reminder me much of the director AI behind Left 4 Dead (something we’ve discussed a lot on AI and Games, in both blog and lecture format), in that the alien will leave me for periods of a minute or two at a time and then come rushing back to almost exactly where I am.  It might not enter the room that I am in, but if there is a corridor close to that room, it will often patrol it for a minute or two.  If it just so happens to walk into the room I am hiding in, then I need to ensure it doesn’t spot me.  While the latter is not a certainty, we can guarantee that as time passes, the probability of the alien returning to the area I am currently hiding in will tend towards one.

Sigh... you again!
Sigh… you again!

So I started experimenting with the notion of waiting to see just how long it takes for the alien to return to a particular area of the map.  Especially if I elect to hide in the same spot over a period.  The video covers this in more detail, but the important thing is that there is no suggestion that this antagonises the alien or has an influence on its intelligence.  I wondered if it would elect to start being more thorough in its investigation of a particular area in the event that the player had not been found after a certain amount of time.  It seems that this wouldn’t be the case: the aliens behaviour doesn’t really change.  It follows the same routines as it navigates through the environment.  Furthermore, there was little evidence to suggest it would explore areas it previously had not, unless good reason was given to consider it.  This was evident when making my way back through the medical wing to the area we had started back at the beginning of part 3.  This clarification if you will begins to take some of the mystery out of the alien, given it suggests that if you wait long enough to learn the pattern, then you can simply begin to navigate the space afterwards without too much hassle.  But that wasn’t the only thing we learned in this particular entry.

After we cleared this particular segment, we moved on to another area of the medical wing in order to grab a trauma kit (ultimately providing a narrative drive to progressing through all of these areas).  This brings us into the morgue of the medical area where I need to pick up a medical kit to help our colleague who we left behind at the beginning of part 3.  Now while I have set of objectives to complete at this point, I decided to ignore them and instead focus on the issue of the alien routinely coming back to the same part of the map as I am.  How obvious is this in the eyes of player and can it get to a point where I can predict it?

So um.... hi!
So um…. hi!

With this in mind, we spend roughly twenty minutes continually hiding in cabinets within proximity of an air vent, waiting to see what happens.  The alien continually returns to the area but with so sense of periodicity. It continues to move around air vents within proximity of the player, but does not guarantee a return to a particular area within a certain timeframe or at least which we could establish.  It is notable however that the alien has a tendency to linger within close proximity of the player when in hiding.  Whether that is intentional is honestly anyone’s guess at this stage, but we honestly feel like this is a recurring behaviour at this point.  What is interesting is that after this twenty minute period, in which the alien returns roughly three or four times, we decide to deliberately antagonise it by standing underneath the air vent it enters from.  We discover that this actually blocks the alien from playing the exit-vent animation.  The video covers this in a lot more detail, but ultimately the alien continually floats around the air vent, but won’t exit it, or even attack us, until after we move away.

Is this a one-time occurrence?  Will this behaviour occur at subsequent air vents?  We don’t know yet, but we will find out for part six.

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Tommy Thompson Written by:

Tommy is the writer and producer of AI and Games. He's a senior lecturer in computer science and researcher in artificial intelligence with applications in video games. He's also an indie video game developer with Table Flip Games. Because y'know... fella's gotta keep himself busy.

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