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A One-Letter Typo Was The Cause For Bad AI In Aliens: Colonial Marines

Aliens: Colonial Marines didn’t have the most glamorous of launches. Marred by a number of issues including noticeable downgrades from previous demos, odd pacing that resembled more of an action game than a horror FPS like the promotional material suggested, and more bugs and glitches (some even soft-locking the game) that were never truly accounted for, the game was announced as a triple-A title and released as a clearly incomplete B-title.

It ended up being way more damaging than that, as the game show demos and material used in the game’s marketing were so severely different from the final product that the game spawned a lawsuit for false advertising against publisher SEGA, which they were eventually forced to pay out $1.25 million for. SEGA tried to pin the blame on development studio Gearbox, better known for the critically acclaimed Borderlands titles, but Gearbox successfully escaped legal troubles through claims that they had nothing to do with how the game had been marketed.

One of the largest issues with the game was the AI for the Aliens, who should (emphasis on should) be the most threatening and scariest thing in the whole experience. Instead, a number of AI errors causes the bot-controlled Xenos to smash their heads into walls, stand in place and allow themselves to be shot at, run in circles, run up to your feet and forget to attack, and so on and so forth.

However, due to a recent sale on gaming site Fanatical that offered the full game plus all DLC for only $3, many people who had never given the game a chance finally got to do just that. One of those people was moddb modder jamesdickinson963 (james), who released a patch on the mod site which fixed many of the game’s more prominent graphical and AI glitches. And according to a post by james, the biggest problem that resulted in the Xenos going haywire was a single letter.

According to a post james made last year, the typo is in the following line of code:

ClassRemapping=PecanGame.PecanSeqAct_AttachXenoToTether -> PecanGame.PecanSeqAct_AttachPawnToTeather

james’s post continues to explain how this one letter messed up the AI scripting so much: The typo actually invalidates both lines seen above, because the second line becomes unreadable which renders the first line “stripped” (or useless). If “AttachPawnToTeather” was fixed to “AttachPawnToTether”, the affected Xenos would be acting on a much more complete AI.

“When a Xeno is spawned, it is attached to a zone tether. This zone tells the Xeno what area is its fighting space and where different exits are. In Combat, a Xeno will be forced to switch to a new tether (such as one behind you) so as to flank, or disperse so they aren’t so grouped up etc. Whenever the game tried to do this, nothing happened. Now it does!”

But while this single typo does improve one of the game’s most prominent issues, one letter can’t take an unfinished product and make it into a great one. All it does is provide a slightly improved experience, and also add in some evidence to suggest this game struggled from an extremely rushed development cycle.

Issues like this are ones that would normally get squashed during bug fixing periods, but it’s possible that such periods were cut due to unfortunate time constraints. If there is blame to be placed here, the aforementioned lawsuit certainly did so correctly by placing it on SEGA and not on Gearbox, who has more then proven themselves as a capable studio with the beloved Borderlands titles.

Situations like these further evidence the point that offering more time and money to complete a game experiencing development setbacks is almost always worth it over releasing an unfinished product.

At the very least, consider running it through a spellchecker before shipping it out.

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