<D <M <Y
Y> M> D>

Some Interesting Game Aliens: Editor Kate pointed me to this list of the best and worst aliens in video games. Without wanting to say anything bad about that list, I noticed that it (and similar lists I've found online) focuses heavily on the visual design of humanoid aliens from first-person shooters. So I thought I'd make my own list, in honor of the print release of Constellation Games (Publishers Weekly calls it "fun"!), highlighting some video game aliens that I find interesting from a game design perspective. I'm sure there are plenty more I haven't heard of, so if you have any additional suggestions, I'd like to hear about them in comments.

The invaders (Space Invaders)

Just gonna get this one out of the way. Among the most iconic aliens ever devised, the invaders in the middle row have come to symbolize video games as a whole. Apart from their visual style there's nothing there, but the style is great.

The blobs (A Boy and his Blob)

These were my gut-reaction nomination for "best", because they're the only aliens I can think of that only make sense in a video game. The blob in A Boy and his Blob is a game mechanic personified: a sentient inventory. This causes serious problems if you try to think about the species outside the context of the game—when your toilet clogs on Blobolonia, do you feed your friend a jellybean and turn them into a plunger? But within the game, it works great.

The Melnorme (Star Control II)

If you want vivid alien characterizations, Star Control II is your game. Unfortunately, most of those characterizations are based on asinine stereotypes. That's why the Melnorme win it for me. It would be easy to make "the trader race" greedy and sleazy—in fact, SC2 does this with the other "trader race", the Druuge. But the Melnorme are friendly cosmopolitans who're fun to talk to. And they occasionally drop ominous hints that are never followed up on anywhere in the game.

That said, there's nothing game-y about the Melnorme, they just happen to be in a game. Every race in SC2 could guest on Star Trek, and many of them have. So I'm not pushing this one very hard. At least they're not humanoid.

Honorable SC2 mentions: the Zoq-Fot-Pik, who are silly and fun; and the Orz, who are similar to but not as well-executed as...

The Endermen (Minecraft)

From another dimension rather than from outer space, but aliens nonetheless. The Roadside Picnic of video game aliens; the Endermen follow rules that make perfect sense... to them. Their random rearrangement of blocks and sudden fits of aggro bear a twisted resemblance to your own behavior in Minecraft. Like you, they are interlopers in the game world, and their behavior was designed to challenge your dominance of it.

Giygas (Earthbound)

I almost didn't count Giygas for the same reason I'm not counting the Meteor from Maniac Mansion: I already gave the "cool aliens that happen to be in a game" nod to Star Control 2. But the final battle of Earthbound does some interesting things with the game's generic JRPG battle system, so sure, I'll count it.

"Them" (The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask)/The Martians (Metal Slug 2)

These aliens are composed entirely of pop culture cliches. The interesting thing is not their design but the fact that they show up at all. These aliens aren't just from another planet: they're from another genre. The Martians show up and abruptly turn your tasteless WWII run-and-gun into a '50s saucer flick. And "They" show up in a Zelda game. Albeit a Zelda game that also features a time loop and travel to the moon.

When I asked on Twitter for peoples' favorite video game aliens, the only response I got (thanks, Laura!) was also in the vicinity of this category: Crypto from Destroy All Humans, which I haven't played but which looks just like the movie Mars Attacks!.

Board game bonus! The Loser (Cosmic Encounter)

Cosmic Encounter is all about embodying game mechanics into alien species, and the Loser is the best, because it forces you to have debates about what it means to "win" a game. Whatever chaos is happening due to the other players' equally unbalanced species choices, the Loser multiplies it. My absolute fave.

And there you go. Let me know of any you think I missed—this is a bizarrely underexplored field, though maybe I just think it's bizarrely underexplored because I spent a long time writing a novel about it. I mean, I also thought it was weird no one had explained how game titles work.

Image credits: Flickr user philosofia, DeviantArt user aeonpants, DeviantArt user dczanik, DeviantArt user EliteParanoid, SNK, Felicia Cano.

Handheld Device:


Unless otherwise noted, all content licensed by Leonard Richardson
under a Creative Commons License.