A heated underground war appears to be underway between Gearbox Software and Section 8 developer TimeGate over the extent of their respective contributions to the rather disappointing Aliens: Colonial Marines.
TimeGate, Demiurge Studios and Nerve Software all helped out with the long-in-development shooter, which finally saw release this week. In the words of Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford, Demiurge "with us at the very beginning, helping us to explore networking and multiplayer". TimeGate, meanwhile, put in "probably about 20 or 25 percent of the total [development] time". Gearbox itself also chipped in 20 or 25 per cent, not including preproduction work, though Pitchford insists that "it's not fair to take preproduction out of it".
Subsequently, a self-described Colonial Marines developer posted a torrid account of the project (known internally as "Pecan", apparently) on Reddit. OXM can't confirm the writer's identity at present, but elements of his/her narrative have been corroborated by a Rock, Paper, Shotgun source, the identity of whom we are also unable to confirm. You might want to keep a salt shaker handy as you read the following paragraphs - for close encounters.
"Initially, the plan was for TimeGate to take the majority of campaign, GBX would take MP, Demiurge and Nerve would handle DLC and various other focused tasks," writes the Reddit poster. "This decision was made mostly so that most of the developers at GBX could continue working on Borderlands 2, while a small group of LDs, coders and designers dealt with Pecan."
"Somehow the schedules for Pecan and Borderlands 2 managed to line up and GBX realized that there was no fucking way they could cert and ship two titles at the same time," the post continues. "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 GBX instead came to an agreement with SEGA that they would push the release date back one more time, buying GBX around 9 mos extension."
"About 5 of those 9 months went to shipping BL2. In that time, TimeGate managed to scrap together 85% of the campaign, but once Borderlands 2 shipped and GBX turned its attention to Pecan, it became pretty apparent that what had been made was in a pretty horrid state. Campaign didn't make much sense, the boss fights weren't implemented, PS3 was way over memory, etcetcetc.
"GBX was pretty unhappy with TG's work, and some of Campaign maps were just completely redesigned from scratch. There were some last minute feature requests, most notably female marines, and the general consensus among GBX devs was that there was no way this game was going to be good by ship. There just wasn't enough time."
Colonial Marines allegedly "crash-landed through certification and shipping", as Gearbox either outright removed or "oversimplified" features to get a workable version on shelves. Apparently, "issues that didn't cause 100% blockers were generally ignored, with the exception of absolutely horrible problems". This Videogamer video - the work of widely despised former OXM writer Matt "BackStabber" Lees - may shed a little light on how the game was chopped back in the run-up to release.
Among the thread responses we find the following, which appears to be the work of TimeGate staff. "Everything Timegate did was under clear and explicit direction from Gearbox. Gearbox had creative control of everything that occurred at TG. In addition, Gearbox was responsible for firing some of the most talented people (and internationally recognized as such) TG had employed, all of which were snatched up immediately by competitors.
"It was Gearbox's shitty oversight of the project that led to the product you all now have before you. I wouldn't expect you to understand, considering you're probably some QA who has no idea what goes on outside of his department. But TG had absolutely no control of what was produced, they did exactly what they were asked to. You should be furious with Gearbox for assigning such shit quality creative directors to the project."
Now, over to Rock, Paper, Shotgun. "TimeGate definitely played a much bigger role in the development of Aliens than either Gearbox or Sega is letting on. Aliens: Colonial Marines is essentially TimeGate's game," claims the site's source, who styles himself/herself a former TimeGate employee. "From my understanding, almost all of TimeGate has been working on it for a few years, and they are not a small studio."
"Preproduction is a very insubstantial period in a game's development," the account continues. "For [Pitchford] to say that the contribution was equal sans preproduction is basically saying it's equal. You can see that Randy's math isn't really adding up. If Timegate did half, and Gearbox did half, where does that leave Demiurge, Nerve, and Darkside?"
These are muddy waters. The one thing we can say for sure is that Colonial Marines isn't the Aliens game we were hoping for - but then, perhaps you're having more fun than our reviewer did. Any thoughts on either the game or its convoluted gestation process?