Long Lost Games: A.I. Alien Intelligence

Posted by Daeity On Friday, January 7, 2011

Back in 1995-96, Flatline Studios, LLC. pitched a game demo to Interplay and they were signed on to do a title which was eventually called AI: Alien Intelligence. Unfortunately, Interplay shelved the title after their unsuccessful IPO (and Flatline's 2 years of development). It was cancelled in 1999 just prior to the retail release.

Flatline consisted of about 20 employees at the time and they were responsible for all aspects of development (video, sound, coding, gameplay, cinematics, etc.) They were royally screwed over in the deal, and the company died after AI was shelved.

Being an avid Starcraft player, I was really looking forwards to the game back in 1998. It was a very ambitious project for it's time and it had the potential to succeed Blizzard's Starcraft. If history played a little different, we might all be playing "World of Alien Intelligence" right now. =]

So, imagine this scenario: It's about one year after Starcraft is first released and another Sci-Fi RTS arises. It has superior graphics, cinematics and sound. You can manage units on multiple planets throughout a universe (which you can also explore) and you can also travel between (ie, trade with), colonize, or conquer other (un)inhabited planets. All of this is in realtime Starcraft-style but with simultaneous land and space combat.. and even planetary bombardment. Oh yeah.

Not only that, but throw in:

- Massive technology research trees (150 levels of tech that you could develop or steal.)
- Six alien species (with their own characteristics, technologies, play styles, and combat strategies.)
- More advanced NPC A.I.
- Over 10,000 ship designs
- A playing field that spans multiple star systems.
- Diplomacy, trade and resource management (4X features).
- Non-linear sandbox-style gameplay in an realtime game universe (more of an epic feel rather than linear missions).
- Superior multiplayer support (LAN, Modem, Serial, and TCP/IP Internet).

(Historical Note: Starcraft 1 provided no method to play TCP/IP games over the internet other than through Battle.net which was extremely slow and unstable at the time. Many players couldn't even access Battle.net due to lack of internet connectivity (school, university netorks, LAN parties). There were also other major problems with Battle.net such as substantial cheating and the inability to locate friends.)

Anyhow, here were some old videos I was able to dig up:

Descriptions for each race:

1. Psionids - "highly evolved, possess strong mental powers that they use to confuse the enemy in the heat of battle."
2. Strixthes - "Insectoid, behave like ants with mindless drones being controlled by a queen."
3. Arkanians - "Insectoid, more like roaches that can construct anything out of garbage - they're also excellent thieves."
4. Munzoids - "Closest to the human race. Descended from Mongolians captured and enslaved by an alien race. The Munzoids are extremely aggressive and never surrender."
5. Metalloids - "Somewhere between Star Trek's Borg race and the T1000 from Terminator 2. Artificially created as servants, their individual thought processors are controlled by a central computer known as The One. They reproduce by absorbing metal and then splitting, amoeba like, in two."
6. Drache - "Dragon-like. These former slaves are skilled workers and can transform a barren landscape into a habitable world."

Here was an old write-up about the game:

"The planets that you colonise will give your race not only a place to grow, but also many resources. At the same time, planets have their own ecosystem which could be upset if you choose to meddle with it. For example, you may decide to eliminate a creature that becomes a pest, but in doing so, the predators that live off those creatures might start viewing your race as an alternative food source.

Once you've successfully populated one planet, you will want to expand and for that you need ships. In addition to outpost and colony ships, there are seven basic hull types for each race, all of which can be customised to some degree. Some of these are ideal for ferrying troops to newly discovered planets, while others are combat specific. Not only can these interstellar behemoths face off against enemy fleets, but they are also capable of bombing planets.

War is avoidable, though: diplomatic relations are a large part of the game and you can maintain neutrality, enter into hostilities or even form an alliance with another race. Trade is another area and will provide you with resources that you cannot get for yourself and money, which goes towards the development and running of your colonies.

Naturally, careful resource management is central to the success of your empire. For your colonies to flourish, you need sufficient food, as well as plenty of buildings and structures. You can't have buildings without metals, which must be mined, and power, which is derived from radioactives. And of course, you can't build anything without money, which you'll need for units, ships and structures. Fortunately, resource management is made easier because materials can be used anywhere, not just in the area they were acquired."
I was sitting on this blog post for quite a while now, but I was hoping to get some more information before posting this (e.g. more details, screenshots, videos), but my contact (Eric Smith - former President of Flatline Studios) got a little busy and forgot all about me. =[

Maybe if he finds this blog in his travels, he might get back in touch (I'm looking at you Eric!). Apparently, he still has Pre-Production boxes and a few Demo/Beta CD-ROMs lying around somewhere. I'd love to get my hands on some old videos or screenshots of live gameplay!

While preparing this entry, I also pleasantly discovered a recent post about Alien Intelligence here. Glad to see that it's memory is still being kept alive.

It has been described by some as a Turn-Based Strategy (what MOO3 should have been) and by others as a Real-Time Strategy (like Starcraft but on an epic scale). The demos seem to indicate that most of the game was a real time strategy - so I assume it had a lot of features like a 4X game (ie, resource management, diplomacy, espionage, etc) but there might have been a way to task a NPC to micromanage certain aspects of your empire for you. And, if you had time between building construction, combat, or travelling to other planets, you could do some micromanaging on your own. Without playing the actual game, though, I can only fill in the gaps with my imagination. =]

Oh well. At least I'm comforted in knowing that A.I. Alien Intelligence survives somewhere in a parallel dimension where Interplay made smart business decisions, the game shattered sales records, and my counterpart was addicted to it for several years.