Aliens Online is a 1998 massively multiplayer online first-person shooter video game developed by Mythic Entertainment and Kesmai Corporation and published by Fox Interactive for PC. It was released through the GameStorm subscription service, and ran off a modified version of Mythic's engine for the online first-person shooter Rolemaster: Magestorm. Teamplay was heavily encouraged, and later versions added co-operative missions and goals for each side.
Upon starting the game, players selected their side and entered into a central lobby with a themed UI for their faction ("Staging" for Marines, "The Hive" for Aliens). The lobby tracked multiple games running concurrently on different servers, with near-live updates to remaining lives for each team, or the status of objectives. Players could also chat in the lobby, send private chat messages to particular players, or set up private chat rooms (called "Tables") and invite players into them.
Every map had a "drop zone" where Marines spawned, and a Hive containing the Alien Queen (player-controlled Aliens spawned randomly throughout the map). Game types generally required the Marines to move through the complexes and reach the Hive, with reasons for doing so varying.
Marine lives were tracked through "billets." Each Marine death subtracted from the same pool of billets, and when all billets were exhausted, no Marines could respawn and no additional Marines could join the match.
Alien lives were tracked similarly, but were tied to artificial intelligence driven NPCs. Alien players entering the game inhabited the body of a random drone, and jumped to a new drone after death. This gave Marines a numerically superior enemy to fight no matter how many Alien players were in the mission, and also allowed Marines to lower the number of Alien players by tangibly chipping away at their pool of lives (whereas Marines were always controlled by players, and Marine billets only removed by killing a Marine player).
Matches were strictly Marines vs Aliens, with no possibility of inter-species battles. Both sides granted varying amounts of XP to players who successfully killed members of the opposing faction. Both factions granted different bonuses for reaching specific XP milestones, though XP was strictly tied to rank.
The number of players on a server was virtually unlimited; it was possible to have up to 200 active players inside one map.
There were only two sides to choose from, but fundamental differences between them made each a separate experience:
The Alien side emphasized speed and stealth over firepower. Aliens moved noticeably faster than Marines, and ran without making a sound. Maps were designed with various tunnels and air vents to allow Aliens to move around relatively unhindered, and players could lie in ambush at various access points. Aliens saw the world through red-tinted vision, and had the advantage of seeing every NPC and enemy marked on their minimap.
Aliens dominated at close range, with fast and vicious claw swipes as their primary attack. The Alien's tail could be selected as a secondary attack, delivering raw power with a slower recharge. The Alien's lack of far-ranged capabilities were their main weakness.
There were four playable Alien types:
- Facehugger - The facehugger was the smallest playable Alien and the hardest to hit, but also the weakest. No points would be lost if the player was killed as a facehugger, unlike the rest of the Alien classes.
- Drone - The Drone was the all-around Alien class to use, with their claw swipes being able to down an enemy in 2-3 hits.
- Queen - The Queen was immensely tough, having greatly heightened armor and strength. Only one Queen was present on each map, and was controlled by the A.I. until taken over by a player high enough in rank. Despite being extremely powerful, the Queen was obviously inadequate in the stealth aspects of the other Alien classes, being notably unable to crawl in vents. Players could earn the right to control the Queen by gaining experience from killing Marines. Marines who killed the queen would gain a large amount of XP as reward.
- Empress - The most powerful playable Alien. The Empress functioned identically to that of a Queen but with even more increased stats than the latter. The required XP to play as an Empress was also immensely larger than the Queen.
Functionally, the Marines are the exact opposite of the Aliens. They excel at long range through their superior firepower, but feature no melee attacks.
Marines had access to 8 weapons:
- M41A Pulse Rifle
- Pulse Rifle grenade launcher (selected with "2" key)
- VP-70 Pistol
- M56 Smart Gun (fire team only)
- M-240 Flamethrower (fire team only)
- Hand grenades
- Land mines
Also present in the Marine's arsenal was the Motion Tracker, as seen in Aliens. The tracker displays all movement signals nearby (friendlies, NPC drones, and player Aliens) in a 180-degree arc. The player must drop their weapon to bring up the tracker, and cannot attack while it is in use. Also, as it's name suggests, the tracker only detected motion.
Lone Marines entered the map with the Pulse Rifle, Pistol, Shotgun, and Motion Tracker. To access heavier weapons, Marines had to join a fire team, where they could replace the Tracker with the Smart Gun or Flamethrower. Fire teams were squads of up to four players who entered the mission together. They were designed for clans or players intending to play as a team, but teamwork was not enforced=. Members of a fireteam could activate small "helmet cam" windows for each of the three other members, allowing them to see that member's view.
Marines carried an inventory of ammo clips for their weapons and four health packs. Health packs were bound to a hotkey and replaced some of that Marine's health. Health packs could not be used on friendly Marines. Weapons could be reloaded at any time, but this would discard any bullets left in the used clip. If the player ran out of bullets for all weapons, (not likely, but possible) they were left defenseless. Additional clips and health packs could be picked up off the corpses of slain Marines.
Unlike the Aliens, Marines were customizeable, (though only to a limited extent). Marines also had four classes to choose from - Infantry, Heavy Weapons, Medic, and Scout. These classes gave bonuses to a series of RPG-style stats meant to improve the player's skill with particular weapons, or the amount of healing per health kit. A character's class could not be changed once created.
Rank, however, boosted a player's effectiveness significantly. Compared to the Aliens, Marines had an elaborate system of military-style ranks, with each one granting more health to the player. Ranks beyond Corporal required some dedication, and ranks beyond Sergeant required serious grinding. The tradeoff was near-invulnerability at the Gunnery Sergeant and Master Sergeant level.
Aliens Online featured eight total maps, cycled through at random across multiple game instances:
- LV-426B (colony)
- Agro V-345Z (agricultural complex)
- USS Coronado (space ship)
- Station Zeta-4 (space station)
- MR-456 Mining (mining colony)
- Military Base (added in v2.12)
- Waste Facility (added in v2.12 )
- Undersea Base (added in v2.12)
All maps were enclosed arenas with multiple pathways allowing for circular movement. The exception to this are the Mining and Waste maps, which required a linear progression through three towers (and underlying tunnels) to unlock the door to the next tower. The LV-426B and Agricultural maps also featured outer doors which could be locked, denying shortcuts to particular sections until unlocked again. Design was not limited to hard right angles, and frequently featured slanting walls, overhangs, or irregular geometry in the hive sections.
All maps featured a multi-leveled design, including tunnels and overhanging air ducts for the Aliens. Aliens could leap high enough to enter these with impunity, while Marines could only access them from ladders at specific hatches. With the obvious exception of the space maps, all maps contained indoor and outdoor areas, with seamless transition between the two. Agro and Waste featured water areas that slowed players down and generated noisy "splashing" when moving through them.
All maps featured working doors, wall-mounted switches, and translucent windows. Lighting effects were limited, with areas of different lighting levels, and lights that could flicker but not fade. Marines carried portable flashlights with a limited radius, that could be toggled on and off. Aliens saw a uniform light level at all times. Marines and Aliens could also look up and down at a maximum 45-degree angle, mostly allowing Marines to look up at vents for attackers, or Aliens to look down and wait to pounce.
Aliens Online originally released with only one game type (Eradication). More were added with patch 2.21, expanding the basic team deathmatch into variants of capture-the-flag and last man standing.
- Eradication - Typical team deathmatch.
- Timed Eradication - Similar to a team deathmatch but adds a time limit.
- Capture - Marines must enter the hive and collect a limited number of eggs, then take them back to the drop zone. The Marine carrying the egg moves slower and cannot attack. Aliens can also pick up and return, or hide, the eggs.
- Demolition - Marines must carry explosive charges from the drop zone to marked areas of the map. Marines carrying charges move slowly and cannot attack. Aliens cannot interact with the charges, or disarm them once planted.
- Stranded - Marines start in a locked room with a timer counting down. When the timer expires, the doors open and no further Marines may enter the game. Marines must make it to a marked evacuation point on the map, with no respawns allowed. Marines that arrive at the evac point early must hold it until all Marines arrive, or until the stragglers are killed.
- Retrieval - Marines must locate a data core on the map and return it to the Drop Zone. The data core is a reskinned demolition charge, and applies identical penalties to the Marine carrying it. Aliens originally were allowed to pick up and move the core, but this led to griefing by placing the core in air vents Marines couldn't cross (such as over the Coronado bridge).
Online was first released March 31st, 1998.
AO's final moment When GameStorm was sold to Electronic Arts in 1999, EA examined the lengthy GameStorm catalog and made decisions regarding which games to continue supporting. Aliens Online didn't make the cut. The servers were permanently shut down on May 29th, 2000. Subscribers were mailed a free copy of Ultima Online and a one-month subscription as a parting gift.
Despite reaching v2.21, Aliens Online never officially made it out of beta.
Aliens Online featured a tight, social community, many clans featured internal military ranks and a defined hierarchy. Some clans devised formations and tactics, with shorthand commands given in the chat window. Fan fiction was fairly common on both the official and clan-hosted message boards.
Community nights were not uncommon, and became more organized toward the final year of the game. The Encounter night was organized by the community and monitored by system ops, and regularly drew hundreds of participants. Spokesmen/Generals for the Marine and Alien side were chosen, and picked the next battle according to an out-of-game map. Each planet had multiple installations on it, and winning each map won control of the planet. Encounter ran for two "seasons' (with one Alien win and one Marine win) before Aliens Online was closed.
Some notable clans:
|Divine Right - [DR]||Marine KIllers - M*K|
|Team Kindred - [K]||Alien Mafia Family - *AMF*|
|Alien Killers - A*K||Illegal Aliens - IA|
|Long Range Recon Patrol - *LRRP*||Drop Zone Killers - DZ||Veterans - <VET>|