The best alien races in video games

I think most lists of “Best Aliens in Video Games” that you’ll find out there are bullshit. They don’t include the really interesting aliens or even aliens that are truly “alien” and other-worldly. So, I’ve come up with my own list.

Table of Contents

-Intro

-Rubric

-Five Best Video Game Alien Races

–1. The Ceph from the first Crysis

–2. Eridian Guardians from Borderlands

–3. The Shivan from Freespace

–4. Hunters from Halo

–5. The Krynn from Journeyman Project 2

-Honorable mentions:
–Skaarj, Star Control aliens, Oddworld creatures, Smarties and Meccaryns, G-man and Combine Advisors, aliens from Duality, Seekers from Advent Rising

-A note on the absence of Mass Effect aliens

Intro:

Aliens are a guilty pleasure of mine. That shouldn’t sound dirty to you. It’s not. Although it could be. If you’re into that. Or whatever, it doesn’t matter. Aliens in fiction have always captured my imagination for some reason. I’ve always enjoyed reading about them and using them as a window to a new perspective on reality. The inclusion of cool aliens can even get me to enjoy something I normally wouldn’t, such as movies starring Vin Diesel. This is only true of interesting and unique creatures that either capture the imagination or provoke speculation. Star Trek’s aliens don’t have this effect on me because they’re shit. Star Trek is a universe where where all aliens are just humans with at least one character trait that universally spans the entire species. And visually they don’t look any more interesting than a teenager wearing a name tag saying “I’m weird”. Screw Star Trek.

Aliens should be alien.

They should be foreign, strange, unsettling, and they should challenge our assumptions. When we’re faced with something inexplicable, we try to understand it by comparing what we’re seeing with our expectations of reality. Something truly alien will lead us towards introspection and a thoughtfully designed alien acts as a foil for humanity.

Or aliens can just look cool and do cool things, that’s okay too sometimes.

So, I’m usually disappointed when I see a list of “Best Aliens In Video Games” because it pretty much goes something like: Aliens, Predators, Starcraft guys, Halo guys, Mass Effect somebody, and maybe a surprise guest like Metroids which are really just Ninento’s PG version of facehuggers. Some lists even have the gall to list the roided out bad guys from Gears of War. I’m not sure what is the rubric for “Best” they happen to be using but it seems to equate to “Appears In Popular Franchise”. So, I decided to write my own list where “Best Alien” actually means an alien that best exemplifies what an alien should be.

The Rubric:

1. They must be alien, strange, foreign, and unsettling.

2. They should subvert our expectations.

3. Only aliens that originated in video games; no movie franchises.

4. Ideally, they are aesthetically well designed.

5. Ideally, they are narratively unique and intriguing.

6. Aliens that can fit into the archetypal Celestial, Terrestrial, Diabolic trio will be avoided (which disqualifies Starcraft aliens).

7. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Star Trek style aliens that are essentially humans with weird faces are ignored because they exemplify unimaginative, uncreative, and thoughtless design. Which basically disqualifies all of Mass Effect.

The Best Alien Races in Video Games :

Ceph from Crysis (but not Crysis 2) by Crytek:

Some Ceph scout vehicles shooting freeze rays at warm things.

Okay, so how many aliens do we see, especially in video games, that arrive on a foreign planet and are actually prepared to explore it with, like, a protective space suit, breathing apparatus, and the means to navigate difficult and unfamiliar terrain? The Ceph from Crysis, that’s how many. Even the Grunts in Halo, which have breathing apparatuses, seem unconcerned about the effect foreign atmospheres might have on their skin, eyes, and anything else exposed. And on a side note, what’s up with aliens in general, like Elites and Grunts, having partial armor that doesn’t protect their stomach and crotch? Shouldn’t a lack of concern for your organs and genitals be something that evolution would have weeded out?

Anyway, the point is that most aliens we see in games aren’t well clothed despite exploring potentially hostile environments. Even the boring looking Ceph in Crysis 2 have parts of their unprotected bodies just dangling out of their space suits. So, the Ceph (from Crysis 1) make it onto this list in large part to the fact that they invade a foreign planet and are actually prepared to invade a foreign planet. Along with protecting them from harsh environments the suits and vehicles they use are clearly adaptable to a variety of terrain. The Ceph can fly or float and their suits/vehicles have several robotic tentacles which can used as legs when landing on uneven or precarious terrain. Those all seem like really good abilities to have when exploring unknown alien landscapes. I think the Crysis story says that the Ceph-2 are more advanced and sophisticated than the Ceph-1. I don’t know about that. I’m pretty sure that flying is more advanced than walking, and that being able to stand stably on any kind of terrain is more advanced than only being able to stand on relatively flat planes.

Also, the fact they are completely hidden within their squid-like suits means that when their true appearance is revealed it makes for an interesting narrative turn  and a visual reward towards the climax of the game. When we finally see them out of their armor the Ceph look like, I don’t know, some sort of nightmarish mer-folk.

It’s not a terribly unique design but it’s different enough and more interesting than the typical bi-pedal, humanoid aliens we see, like the Ceph in Crysis 2 (who, admittedly, may look boring but work much better as FPS enemies). The Ceph are mysterious when in their suits, and monstrously alien outside their suits, which are exemplary alien qualities.

Although they do lose points for not owning any clothes outside of their suits.

Eridian Guardians from Borderlands by Gearbox Software:

Who are these Protoss lookin’ boys with their wrist mounted laser blades? How did this seemingly cliché faction of Celestial beings get on this list? The answer is that when dealing with alien creatures, looks can be deceiving. These gangly beings may look like the nerds of Borderlands with their awkwardly proportioned limbs and gaunt bodies, but there’s meaning in their visual design.

In general they are extraordinarily thin. Their arms and torso don’t seem thick enough somehow and they don’t seem to use their hands for anything. It’s not like they hold weapons or something; their guns are mounted on their chests or their backs. Also, the Guardians don’t really use their legs for walking. Most of the time they’re hovering or flying over the ground with their legs dangling behind them. When something alerts them they rise into the air ejecting their payload in rhythmic bursts onto their target. So, I think they do use their legs to perch on things, but most of the time their legs don’t do much.

Their faces/heads are a little odd too. Their heads are pretty thin when viewed from the side, almost like a mask, and they stick too far forward. We can learn a little more about their faces by reading the description of some fantastic concept art done by artist Keith Thompson (here and here). “Faces reform to approximately mimic the appearance of whatever species it interacts with.” So, it seems that their faces aren’t really faces, meaning they’re not a collection of sensory organs; they are more like a display or greeting placard. Which must be why their “faces” extend so far forward: it’s the first thing another species is meant to see. Their actual “brains” and “sensory organs” are probably located closer to their torso. Perhaps those lights at the base of their “necks” are their actual “eyes”.

With their strange arms, torso, legs, and “faces”, the Eridian Guardians seem more like an approximation of humans, sort of like a marionette. They look like an alien’s attempt to mimic the human form. Their true nature exemplifies how when presented with something new, humans will fall back on their assumptions to try to understand it. When we see the Eridian Guardians we assume they are humanoids, but the appearance is mostly cosmetic.

Even if the Borderlands story never explained the nature of the Guardians you’d still be able to intuit it based on their visual design and behavior alone. But Borderlands does explain it: they’re robots left behind by an alien race called the Eridians. They are constructed to simulated certain natural forms which requires the addition of structures that have no function. Their arms are weird because they don’t serve the same function as human arms. Their legs aren’t really designed for walking around, they are designed mainly to look like legs. Their bodies are unnaturally thin because they don’t need them; those bodies don’t store organs, don’t need to be supported by a skeleton, and don’t need to be moved by a muscular system. And their faces stick dangerously far out from their bodies because their entire face is just a cosmetic addition so that other lifeforms, like humans, can form some sort of connection to these creatures by focusing their attention on something familiar.

An interesting thing worth noting:

The Eridian Guardians fit the concept of the Celestial Faction spot on. They’re technologically advanced with shiny armor and a taste for melee weapons even though they have laser cannons. Interestingly, their names also draw direct allusions towards Celestial beings. The three types of Eridian Guardians are called the Sera, Arch, and Principal Guardians which are directly taken from Seraphim, Archangels, and Principalities, which are three tiers within the Biblical hierarchy of angels.

Shivan from Descent: Freespace by Volition:

These guys are real badasses. They are powerful both individually and as a species. Every so often they emerge out of nowhere to exterminate whoever happens to be the most advanced space faring civilization at the time. Also, here’s a video of an individual Shivan launching through outer space to land on a human ship and then punching the ship to death. That takes brass.

And here’s a video of some Shivan beating the tar-nay-shun out of some human marines, but feel free to keep reading.

Usually “cool” aliens are the one’s that are aesthetically pleasing in some way. Even species which are supposed to be grotesque are aesthetically well designed; they’re Hollywood ugly. Not the case with the Shivan. They are ugly ugly in a way that makes them look badly drawn. There’s something wrong with the way they look. They are nothing but arms and weirdly knuckled hands reaching in all directions. The lines along their limbs are weird and the joints connect in shapes that don’t quite feel right. The fifth, shortest appendage which hangs underneath them might as well be clutching an apple. Do they have a body or just a knotted nexus of limbs? Who knows, but it almost looks badly designed, even though you can tell it’s not. Which is great. It makes sense.

Thinking realistically, why would aliens look aesthetically pleasing to us? The forms we find pleasing to the eye are based on the way life has evolved on Earth. Truly alien life, having evolved in response to very different environmental pressures, shouldn’t look pleasing to us, it should look unsettling and “wrong”. Our eyes would try to make sense of what they’re seeing and ultimately give up. So the Shivan end up looking almost poorly thought out, which is perfect since that’s how aliens would appear to us. This aesthetic ugliness isn’t ruined by the creators trying to explain the Shivan either. The Shivan’s exact physical nature is kept enshrouded in shadows. Are they organisms or robots? Are those arms part of their bodies or robotic extensions of their space suits? Are those suits or is that their exoskeleton? Hell, for all we know they could be a race of sentient garden carrots with a lust for blood.

Aliens should be mysterious to a certain degree and if too much is explained then they stop being alien and it ruins their appeal (I’m looking at you Halo 2). When used correctly ellipses can go a long way in keeping characters mysterious. The plot of Freespace smartly doesn’t say much more about Shivan civilization than it does about their physical forms. The story only reveals that they are an ancient race who emerge from hiding every now and then to exterminate the most recent space faring species. Then they disappear. There’s no explanation for why they do it, where they come from, or what they do during the time they’re hiding, but most likely it’s having arm wrestling competitions. It makes them seem like a wild force of nature that tears through the world, which like their unaesthetic appearance, actually makes sense when you think about it. Any alien civilization that is so different from us that we can’t understand it would seem like a force of nature, like a collection of powerful physical forces that alter the world around itself. Even we humans are sort of like hurricanes and earthquakes in how we can demolish forests, uproot the earth, reroute rivers, and reform the landscape.

An interesting thing worth noting:

Really creative aliens will often lead us to ask questions about our own species and to question our assumptions about life and intelligence. The Shivan however manage to get the human characters in Freespace to ask those same questions.

One character considers whether the Shivan are actually evil. If the Shivan hadn’t eradicated an ancient alien civilization thousands of years earlier then that civilization could have killed off primitive humans once it expanded its empire to Earth. Humans might owe their current existence to the Shivan. And now that humanity is spreading across the galaxy they might end up destroying some other up-and-coming sentient species before it get’s its chance to reach for the stars. By trying to destroy humanity the Shivan are giving another species a chance at survival. These musings, triggered by the inexplicable actions of aliens, are usually done by the audience. Here, though, the characters themselves question the nature of their existence and their responsibility to other life.

Hunters from Halo (series) by Bungie:

Ah, the Hunters. What a bunch of super cool, weird dudes.

To begin with, they are badasses, real tough customers. Halo’s story describes them as being deployed by the Covenant like heavy vehicles. Other species in the Covenant stay out of their way because the Hunters just pulverize anything between them and their enemies.

Most of their visual design is dynamic and not static. Their large shields create a slight visual imbalance, a slight asymmetry, that keeps our eyes interested in what we’re seeing. Their ability to extended out of their armor or contract into their armor gives them a dynamic physical presence that conveys a sense of bizarreness and adaptability. The quills on their back give a sense of aggressiveness and intimidation, like the hackles on an angry cat. The quills also add personality to the Hunters. The Hunters will flex quills and stretch their spikes until they shudder, and this idle behavior makes them seem more real. It gives the impression that they have motivations not related to the player, it gives the impression that their world does not revolve around us, even though it actually does because they are video game characters.

Here’s a video of a Hunter just standing around being cool. Later you can see some in action.

The Hunters don’t really have a discernible face just like most of the aliens on this list, which is a good call on the part of the designers. When we look at another human or an animal we generally focus our attention on their face since that’s where we get most of our information on what they’re thinking and feeling. But, if some creature doesn’t have a face then our mind doesn’t know what to focus on and has trouble contextualizing what it’s seeing. This usually gives us an unsettling feeling of dissonance which is what we should feel when we’re presented with the truly alien.

But the Hunters don’t exemplify “being alien” just by looking dynamically strange. A well designed alien should defy our expectations and laugh at our assumptions. With aliens, looks should be deceiving.

When you first saw a Hunter you probably saw a bipedal humanoid. A weird one, sure, but still a large humanoid of some sort. The fact is, that’s not what you’re looking at. Each individual Hunter is actually a colony of worms, individually called Lekgolo, which spend most of their time on their home planet slithering around eating things (they eat metal I believe). By themselves they aren’t particularly intelligent or strong, but that’s okay because the Lekgolo can group themselves into cooperative colonies forming creatures that are larger, stronger, and more intelligent than the individuals making them up. The Hunter is one type of colony that Lekgolo will form. The giant Scarab tanks you see in Halo are piloted by another type of massive Lekgolo colony, part of which you can see in the Scarab’s core. When you’re fighting a Hunter you’re fighting an orgy with a laser gun. When you hear the groans and rumbles coming from them you know it is because thick muscled shafts are writhing against each other.

To look at a Hunter and see what it truly is requires a conscious shift in one’s perspective, kind of like looking at a Magic Eye. It is more of an armored vehicle piloted by a crew of worms than a person; its legs are not legs and its arms are not arms, they are the mechanical parts of the vehicle being driven. You have to overcome your brains attempt to tell you that you’re seeing a bipedal humanoid and you have to wrench your perception into actually seeing the colony of symbiotic worms running at you with a battering shield.

They honestly may be the most unique alien in any video game fiction. They are a complete departure from any thing else in terms of individual nature, social organization, location on food chain, source of intelligence, and anatomy. The Hunters are so culturally strange that the other aliens in the Covenant just avoid them. Even other aliens find Hunters to be extremely alien.

An interesting thing worth noting:

The Hunters have an interesting meta-lineage in science-fiction.

In Bungie’s previous FPS franchise Marathon, there are a group of aliens also called Hunters. They wear cybernetic armor, with spines on their helmets, and have arm shields. Visually the Halo Hunters may have descended from them, but conceptually Halo Hunters are more related to Marathon’s race of cyborg aliens, the S’pht. The S’pht, like the Halo Hunters, are diminutive creatures until they are placed in cybernetic exoskeletons in which they can become fierce warriors; despite being part of a large alien conglomerate (the Covenant and the Pfhor) they are culturally separate from it; and like the Halo Hunters, the S’pht are able to use a variety of very different cybernetic exoskeletons.

But the lineage doesn’t stop their. In Marathon’s story it is revealed that the S’pht only have sentience because of their cybernetic enhancements which are installed shortly after birth. Originally the S’pht were basically animals until they were given their cybernetic armor by a more advanced race. Jason Jones, cofounder of Bungie, has mentioned in interviews that one of the science fiction writers that he enjoys is Vernor Vinge, and so it’s not surprising that the S’pht uplife narrative has some striking similarities to a species of aliens, called Skroderiders, in Vernor Vingh’s novel Fire Upon the Deep. The Skroderiders are sentient plants that ride around in cybernetic wagons. The Skroderiders are not naturally sentient; they get their self-awareness and short term memory from the cybernetic “skrodes” that they ride, which were “given” to them by a more advanced space faring race. The concept of “uplift” isn’t new, but normally uplifted creatures don’t require constant connection to some cybernetic frame so this connection between S’pht and Skroderider is more than coincidental I think.

On the topic of “uplift”, the narrative of the symbiotic Lekgolo colonies may have been inspired by an alien race that appears in the Uplift series by David Brin. The Jophur (known as traeki before being reenginered) are semi-sentient fungal rings which stack together to form a larger, fully sentient organism with communal intelligence. I don’t believe these fungal rings can organize in different forms, though. I think they always form the same type of creature.

So the Hunters’ descent goes from Skroderider, to S’pht (and possibly Jopher), to Hunter, which isn’t mind blowing but it is fun to be aware of.

And yet another interesting thing:

Has anyone other than me noticed the similarity between the Hunters and Earthworm Jim. They’re both worms that use cybernetic suits to become laser firing warriors. I feel this fact is really important somehow.

Krynn from Journeyman Project 2: Buried In Time by Presto Studios:

(There are pretty much no images of the Krynn on the internet, so the low quality images I have posted here are actually screenshots of the youtube video I link to later.)

Visually I like these guys a lot. Sentient fish aren’t usually covered by science fiction and when they are they’re usually squids. Buried In Time avoids the clichés and presents us with a strange alien whose body doesn’t really look like anything from Earth and yet is understandable. With a mushroom shaped head, a single “eye” in the front, and a smooth sleek body meant to glide effortlessly through slick passages it incites uncertainty and yet interest.

Take a look at this video from the game, showing some brief glimpses of the Krynn in motion. At about 2:18 you can get a glimpse of two Krynn briefly swimming past the player. At around 5:18 the leader of the Krynn teleports and begins talking to the trapped player. His speech kind of rambles unintelligibly for a while and at around 6:50 the player does something that wins and you can see the Krynn leader swimming away. The face with the awkward expression is the player character I think and has nothing to do with what I’m talking about.

Stylistically the Krynn are interesting and unique. Narratively maybe not. However, there is something in their narrative that is worth talking about. It involves their antagonistic motivation in the game’s plot.

The Krynn were sentient fish, but without appendages they weren’t able to build any sort of civilization (which is nonsense that I’ll address later) so they just hung out and had conversations for thousands of years or something. When a space faring race of aliens discovered the Krynn they offered to attach cybernetic arms to the porpoisosaurs and the Krynn accepted the offer. Soon they built a civilization and were able to join the other species frolicking among the stars. But some of the Krynn still had a chip on their shoulder. The game’s plot deals with some of the Krynn stealing technology that will let them utilize time travel. Why do the Krynn want time travel? So they can go back in time and alter their genetic evolution so they can evolve limbs and build machines thousands of years before they were given cybernetic arms. They try to frame the player for their time hijinks so you have to chase them down and prove your innocence. On one hand, it is refreshing that the aliens’ physiology is tied into the plot and that their visual design is actually important to the story. It’s a more unique motivation than “being monsters”, “wanting Earth’s resources”, or the convoluted plot behind the Covenant’s pseudo-religious, secretly falsified, riddled with backstory motivations in Halo. On the other hand, there is something very grim about the real world perspectives implied by the plot in Buried In Time. I actually get serious at this point.

A very interesting thing to talk about:

The Krynn are committing crimes. They are committing crimes because their bodies are not correct and they feel the need to alter history itself to “fix” them. Why are their bodies not good enough? The game’s claim is that it’s because with their handicap, a lack of arms and hands, the Krynn couldn’t build a civilization. That’s nonsense.

Humans have numerous handicaps, none of which stopped us from being one of the most successful species on the planet. Humans aren’t able biologically and physiologically to chop down a tree, kill a giraffe, survive in arctic climates, or convince a horse to be ridden. That didn’t stop us from doing all those things. Our intelligence, communication, and imagination allowed us to work together to overcome our physiological weaknesses. So why would the Krynn, a species confirmed to be sentient and intelligent, let their physiological weakness prevent them from finding a means to alter the world around them? Why couldn’t the Krynn work together to use simple objects to construct primitive tools, to construct sophisticated tools, to construct buildings, vehicles, or whatever?

No, the answer to why the Krynn’s bodies are not good enough isn’t “no hands”. Humans didn’t achieve everything we’ve achieved because we have hands and opposable thumbs, the same way Europeans didn’t achieve their success because of light skin pigmentation.

So, what’s the only reason that the Krynn’s lack of manual limbs is considered a handicap? Because their bodies are not like human bodies and therefore inferior; because if you don’t look like a human you can’t accomplish the same things humans have accomplished. It is an unimaginative and ethnocentric perspective to take. It all amounts to the assumption that people who aren’t like you cannot be happy; the group you belong to is the ideal that all other groups must aspire to become  or forever be miserable. That bigoted perspective is strangely duplicated in a plot where beings are given human body parts to make up for not being human; and then they start committing crimes because they’re angry about not being human.

This perspective, and the “weird aliens need mechanical arms to be functional” vignette, is reproduced in many fictional works dealing with alien species. Just look at any video game with aliens and see which kind of aliens are the most powerful, the most important, and who get the most screen time. Look at Mass Effect. The aliens with the least human physical appearance, the Elcor, Hanar, Rachni, Keepers, and Volus, are also the ones who do almost nothing and can’t be part of your squad. When aliens do look inhuman, like the Zerg, they are usually portrayed as near-mindless animals that are incapable of actually building anything.

The assumptions in these presentations of fictional aliens, that we can judge someone’s abilities by their physical appearance and that anyone who doesn’t belong in our group is miserable, mirror real world assumptions that have appeared throughout time: that only men are capable of rational thought while women are not; that Blacks require simple jobs because their brain is incapable of handling complex tasks like reading and counting; that the Japanese are unable to create anything, they are only able to steal and improve. “Hey you! Brown people! You don’t have tobacco, cricket, and Christianity? You must be miserable! We’ll just move in and fix things for you. You like dictatorship, right?”

The fiction of the Krynn, and all fictional aliens like them, reveals the bigoted egoism lurking within humanity whispering to each of us that our individual way of life is the only path towards happiness. It is an egoism which tells us that to be different than us is so horrible that it leads to criminal and immoral behavior.

HONORABLE MENTIONS AND A NOTE ON THE ABSENCE OF MASS EFFECT ALIENS:

Sometimes aliens are cool but not much else can be said for them. They are a part of gaming history, and have something good going for them, and so they deserve an honorable mention. The following list briefly pays homage to aliens that are interesting, visually well designed, or well written, but which also don’t quite meet my intangible standards for what makes something a “best alien”.

Skaarj (Unreal)

A kneeling skaarjI don’t see how all those other people listing the Predators as one of best video game aliens can mention the Predators but not the Skaarj. I mean, I know the Skaarj are Predator copycats, but they’re our Predator copycats and they deserve some gamer loyalty. So, despite taking a large amount of inspiration from another franchise, the Skaarj get an honorable mention because they look cool, are fun to fight, and none of the other lists I’ve seen on the internet bother giving them credit for being radical.

Oddworld creatures (Oddworld series)

Oddworld has a menagerie of creatures that are just a visual delight. Pretty much every stylized creature is a celebration of artistic design, even when they are basically humanoid in shape. They almost always look visually interesting and strange. But, I don’t think there’s much to say beyond that in terms of how “alien” they are.

Star Control aliens

An alien Spathi from star control being scaredI have never played the Star Control series which seems unfortunate. Based on everything I’ve read, each species in Star Control is memorable and creatively written. Their narrative tones range from the dark and captivating backstory of the Ur-Quan, to the humorous cowardice of the Spathi, to the Syreen which act as a throwback to the “green alien babes” of B grade Sci-fi. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about them to write more than what I just have.

Smarties and Meccaryns (Giants: Citizen Kabuto)

Not much really makes these guys stand out aside from their excellent comedic repertoire which unfortunately disappears one third of the way into the game. Personally there’s something that intrigues me about the Mecc’s appearance; it’s like their featureless, yellow heads hint at a more alien anatomy than their human-like armor suggests. But I know that’s probably just me.

G-man (Half-life series)

The eery G-man bathed in shadows.He looks human although his true nature is a mystery. He gets an honorable mention because of his inexplicable behavior, his truly alien presentation (especially the voice acting), and because of how his hints at a cosmic game being played out in which humans are tiny pawns touches on Lovecraftian themes more accurately than most anything mining the name “Cthulhu”.

Combine Advisors (Half-life 2 series)

Most of Valve’s aliens in HL2, with their organic fluid forms, are an example of excellent visual design. Originally the Advisors were part of the main list. When a bunch of fat ellipsoids are able to govern a pan-dimensional empire while wearing pajama onesies you’ve gotta give them some credit. I even had this thing where I talked about how the Advisors function as an allegory for the dehumanizing effect of technology and wealth. Then I realized they’re clearly just the Brain Bugs from Starship Troopers.

They are both the fat leaders of the alien antagonists, they both suck out the brains of human beings with a proboscis. Then I realized the antlions are just the Bugs from Starship troopers. Then I realized that the Striders are just the Tripods from H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, which I didn’t realize before for some reason. Then I remembered that the headcrabs are just face huggers. And then I just got disappointed.

The Aliens from unreleased game Duality

Double Aught was a group who split off from Chicago Bungie, made Marathon: Infinity, and started working on a game called Duality before the company folded. Not much about Duality is known except a few screenshots. This character model shows an alien being that has many individual insectoid features, but on a whole those features combine into a form that’s very different than most anything we see. Also it looks cool. And, despite looking monstrous and inhuman I don’t believe they were the antagonists of Duality, which earns them points for avoiding the cliche that “ugly” aliens are always the most evil. However, they lose points for being naked. What is with people always making aliens naked?

Seekers (Advent Rising)

Maybe it’s just me but I don’t see many centaur aliens which makes these guys unique in their appearance. Despite having, essentially, the bodies of horses they are not encumbered by equine mobility; they’re able bounce off of walls, climb various terrain, and perch on railings which makes them significantly different than even the creatures they seem to be based off. Also, their aesthetic design is really smooth and crisp and just looks good. They only get an honorable mention because their narrative is mundane, cliche, and there’s not much to talk about except the way they look.

A quick note on why no Mass Effect:

I feel I need to explain why no Mass Effect aliens ever came close to appearing on this list. The game may be fun and cool but the aliens are only slightly more imaginative than the aliens concocted by conspiracy theorists. They all fall into the nonsensical cliché that an entire species of intelligent beings have the same over arching personality traits. The Asari, with their stupid head flaps that make them look like leukemia patients with penises growing out the back of their heads, are basically a race of Ambassador Spacehookers; the frog-like Salarians are a race of Dr. Scientists; the feline Turians, who get points for evoking cat-like imagery without actually looking like cat people, are all just Mr. Warrior; the Batarians are cannon fodder; the Geth are cannon fodder; the Vorcha are Baraka from Mortal Kombat; the Collectors are cannon fodder; the stupid Hanar, the naked jellyfish people that do nothing and make no sense, are stupid; the Yahg look as though the person designing them didn’t feel like doing work that day so he said, “Okay. Here we go. The Yahg!” and then vomited up his spaghetti dinner; the Elcor are tree ents with Asperger’s Syndrome and look like they’re made from play-doh; the Volus, who are short in stature and good with money, are clearly the Jews; and the lone Prothean, the last survivor of a hyper advanced civilization that disappeared thousands of years ago, has no unique qualities and is just like everyone else. And almost every single one of them is just a human body with a weird face attached to it. Lazy, lazy, lazy. There’s no excuse for this kind of laziness when you’re designing aliens for a video game. You don’t have the budgetary restrictions and costume limitations that constrain the makers of film and television. Anyway, enough of that.

THE END

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. textopisec

    While I like some of the designs mentioned, and I’d surely list them in my own Top 10 list or what have you, I see a number of things that I didn’t like about your take here.
    Namely, you have a strange way of approaching things. First you say you dislike other such lists because they feature aliens that “Appears in Popular Franchise” and you expressed in your very first paragraph that you think that’s bullshit and you want to do things “your own way”. Your so called “own way” resulted in citing 4/5 aliens from popular franchises as well (some may count the 5th as popular as well, I only didn’t because I’m not familiar with the game myself, but the other 4 are well known, popular franchises). So much for going on something different. Yet you criticize others.
    Alright, what happened next – Other lists featured too many “archetypal Celestial, Terrestrial, Diabolic” species according to yourself, yet what we see is you praise the very #2 on you rlist as a “celestial” alien. I’d say the Shivans fit the diabolical type too if I’m gonna make bridges with your filter for aliens and that particular one at that. So, nothing different from other lists. Even though you claimed you’d stay away from that. So, why make your own rules for a list if you are gonna shamelessly break them, the very second you start the damn list? If you make rules – stick to them. Or don’t set rules in the first place. Simple as that.
    In between that we have a banter on about (otherwise) well-designed alien races from other works of fiction, who are a lot more unique in ways to the ones you listed, but because they are too often cited in lists you decided to use the ‘trash-them’ approach. It’s hard to take you seriously with that. It would have been better if you just said – “these aliens are featured in most other lists, so I decided to feature some who are not that well-represented”. Putting dirt on those other designs while the ones you presented don’t rank any higher on originality or alienness than the others, just makes this post seem ridiculous. Even more so by your use of leukemia striken people as adjective of something bad or morbid by your own standards. Its not actually ridiculous, its sad. The level of disrespect you are showing.
    As a final comment, I’d like to point out a small fun fact that seems its not very obvious to you, but the very same filter you used, especially the way you described the Mass Effect aliens, the same way can be used to nullify any creativity and originality in the aliens you have presented here. They can be brushed off just as easy with the same brush. Instead of focusing why other stuff sucks, perhaps stick to claiming its your personal list with different stuff than the norm, because your criticism is immature and brattish.

    Like

    • Philtron

      The thing I don’t like about long, nit picky posts is that it forces me to either completely ignore them, or respond in just as nit picky of a fashion.

      So, here we go:

      You’ve posted a complaint in a blog post that is THREE YEARS OLD. Come on. A simple, “hey I know this is an old post, but here are my thoughts about what you wrote back then” would have shown some respect and consideration for the fact that I may not have the same opinions now as I did when I wrote this.

      I actually do have the same opinions, give or take a few, give or take some attitude, but there was no way for you to know that.

      The first thing I noticed in your complaints is that they are invalid because you are misinterpreting what I was actually saying in my post. My theory would be that you really like Mass Effect, got upset over my cheeky criticism of it, and this colored/altered your perception of the rest of the post.

      I may be wrong, I don’t know, but the point is simply that you are misinterpreting what I was saying.

      1)
      I never said I disliked other such lists because they feature aliens from popular franchises. You’re misinterpreting what I was saying.

      Go ahead and reread it if you want. My problem is that those other lists feature aliens ONLY BECAUSE they’re from popular franchises and for no other reason. It’s why they’re on those lists. My list may include aliens from popular franchises, but that’s not WHY they’re on the list.

      2)
      I didn’t break my own rules. You’re just misinterpreting what is going on.

      Let me quote part of your complaint, “you praise the very #2 on you rlist as a ‘celestial’ alien.” Your syntax and grammar implies that you think I praise the Eridian Gaurdians BECAUSE they are the Celestial Archetype. Which is not true.

      Actually, this entire complaint is completely ridiculous because in the first paragraph I straight up acknowledged how strange it was to put these aliens on the list and immediately justify their inclusion: “there’s meaning in their visual design.” They’re being included because the narrative meaning behind their visual design supercedes being an archetype.

      And my own rule states that “Aliens that can fit into the archetypal Celestial, Terrestrial, Diabolic trio will be avoided”. Not that they will be flat out “excluded” but that they will be “avoided”.

      You can consider the Shivan to be a Diabolic archetype; I do not.

      3)
      The rest of your comment isn’t valid complaints, it is just you being angry that I don’t see things the same way you do.

      “In between that we have a banter on about (otherwise) well-designed alien races from other works of fiction, who are a lot more unique in ways to the ones you listed, but because they are too often cited in lists you decided to use the ‘trash-them’ approach.”

      What are you talking about? You need to use proper nouns so I know which aliens you’re referring to.

      Anyway, you say I trash “otherwise well designed” alien races. Well if I’m criticizing them I obviously don’t think they’re well designed now do I. And you say they’re more unique than the ones I listed, but again, I obviously don’t think so otherwise I wouldn’t have written what I wrote three years ago. So there’s no flaws in my logic; you just don’t like my opinions.

      Actually everything that comes after that paragraph isn’t criticizing me for any flawed logic on my part, you’re criticizing me for not having the same opinion as you. You’re just complaining I don’t see things the same way you do. And then you don’t even include the reasons why you think the aliens are well designed (I still don’t know which because you didn’t use proper nouns).

      Again, “the ones you presented don’t rank any higher on originality or alienness than the others, just makes this post seem ridiculous” is actually you trying to use your opinion as though it were factually better than my own, which makes your complaint seem ridiculous.

      And please don’t try to say that I’m doing the same thing, by treating my opinion as factually better than the opinion of other “best” lists out there. I clearly frame this entire post as my opinion of what should be praise worthy aliens: “Aliens should be alien.” That “should”, and the others throughout my blog post, implies that this is all just my opinion; it implies that I’m not trying to be objective. That’s why I give my own rubric for what I consider to be alien, so people understand where I’m coming from. But that just went over your head I guess.

      And then again we have you misinterpreting my criticism with, “your use of leukemia striken people as adjective of something bad or morbid by your own standards”. Lol, that is not even close to what was written. In no way did I say that someone with leukemia looks bad or morbid to me; read correctly and you’ll see that my complaint centers around the Asari being a race of “Ambassador Spacehookers”. Which doesn’t mean I think ambassadors or hookers are bad. It means that creating an alien race that basically shares the same exact behavioral characteristics so they can be summed up in two words is bad and lazy character/alien design.

      4)

      So in conclusion, most of your complaints are either misinterpretations of a three year old blog post, and complaints that the writer doesn’t have the same things you do.

      Happy fourth of july.

      Like

Speak, mortal, if you dare...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s