An alien-infested area station isn’t the best place to query your life’s function. As Morgan Yu learns in Prey, the existential battle is simply as actual because the lethal creatures lurking within the shadows.
Arkane Studios confronted related questions on identification (however with a lot much less bloodshed) whereas making its sci-fi thriller. Out now on PlayStation four, Xbox One, and PC, Prey is an motion role-playing sport the place it’s a must to battle an alien species referred to as the Typhon. It’s a premise we frequently see in popular culture, not to mention in games. What makes Prey stand out is the story behind its development, the place an unproven group resurrected a dormant franchise in a style that’s tough to grasp.
Arkane’s sport is a reboot of the unique Prey, a story-driven first-person shooter that Human Head Studios launched in 2006. That firm was engaged on a promising sequel till writer Bethesda Softworks killed the project in 2014. Then after years of rumors, Prey resurfaced eventually yr’s Digital Leisure Expo tradeshow, the place Bethesda unveiled a a lot different take on the franchise.
However except for the title, Arkane’s sport doesn’t share something with Human Head’s sci-fi universe. In accordance with lead designer Ricardo Naked, the core concept for Prey had been percolating on the studio ever since they completed the final of Dishonored’s add-on content material in 2013.
“Even before we had the name, we wanted to make a game like this: a game that takes place on a space station with aliens that has our signature Arkane-style game mechanics,” Naked stated in an interview with GamesBeat. “The chance to make use of the title got here afterwards.
“The truth is, Arkane has made a sport like this earlier than. The primary sport that Arkane made was known as Arx Fatalis, and it was structurally similar to  Prey. It was a fantasy sport that befell underground in a dungeon. So we name the area station our ‘space dungeon’ now.”
The rise of Arkane Austin
Based in 1999, Arkane consists of two groups: one group is within the headquarters in Lyon, France, and the opposite is in Austin, Texas. Naked, a veteran designer who beforehand labored at Ion Storm (Deus Ex) and Halfway Video games (Blacksite: Space 51), joined the U.S. department in 2009. On the time, it only had a handful of individuals, together with artistic director Harvey Smith and Arkane founder Raphael Colantonio. It quickly grew to round 20 workers.
However the majority of the corporate (greater than 60 individuals) had been in France. Either side labored collectively on a number of games, with the builders regularly touring backwards and forwards between the 2 workplaces.
After Dishonored’s launch in 2012, Arkane determined to separate the group so it might work on a number of games on the similar time. Lyon took cost of Dishonored 2, swelling in size to accommodate the sequel’s greater ambitions and the arrival of the PS4 and Xbox One consoles. Austin underwent the same transformation because it started engaged on the venture that might later grow to be Prey.
“On the Austin side, we started to incubate this new IP [intellectual property], this new game, as well as expand the team massively,” stated Naked. “We switched consoles, we got a new game engine, a new IP, and a brand new team all in the same dev cycle, which is kind of ridiculous.”
Although the Lyon group helped out on occasion, Prey was very a lot Austin’s child. The U.S. group grew to 70 individuals over the course of development, lots of whom had been new to the corporate. Whereas this hasn’t created any rivalries between the studios — Naked stated they’re extremely supportive of one another — it did add some strain for the newcomers, who felt like they needed to show themselves to the oldsters in Lyon.
“They wanted to impress their Lyon colleagues by doing a really good job. … They wanted to show that they can make a compelling and beautiful world as Dunwall from Dishonored,” Naked stated. “I think they did.”
A plausible sci-fi world
Prey’s Morgan Yu is a scientist who can be the principle take a look at topic of a mysterious experiment. When the Typhon break free, it’s as much as Morgan to cease them — however the character isn’t your typical area marine badass. One huge distinction is that Yu is Asian, a rarity among gun-toting heroes in huge sport releases.
Arkane Austin turned to quite a lot of science fiction for inspiration. The group studied Solaris, Moon, and different movies that discover what it’s prefer to be alone in area. Naked additionally learn outdated tales from sci-fi creator Robert Heinlein, resembling “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”
“Me and some people on the team also just did a lot of actual scientific reading. Even though the game gets wild … we tried to at least start it at a place that was very grounded,” stated Naked.
“So we did quite a lot of studying about neuroscience — discovered quite a bit concerning the mind [laughs], which was tremendous enjoyable — quite a bit concerning the area know-how business. It’s actually cool that we dwell in an age the place this non-public area business is occurring.”
Prey’s model of 2035 imagines what somebody like SpaceX founder Elon Musk would’ve finished had he began his ambitions earlier in historical past. On this alternate timeline, the Chilly Battle area race led to the invention of the Typhon and the development of a big area station to comprise it. Later, a robust firm known as the TranStar Company takes over and transforms the vessel into the skyscraper-sized Talos I.
One other instance of Prey’s grounded roots is the Neuromod, a software that you simply use to study the Typhon’s powers and improve your human talents (resembling hacking computer systems or repairing tools) by altering the chemistry of your mind. It’s loosely based mostly on real-world experiments the place scientists can manipulate neurons by making them delicate to mild.
However as a substitute of lasers, Prey’s device makes use of needles. Huge ones. To unlock the upgrades, it’s a must to stick the Neuromod’s needles into your eyeball.
Like Dishonored, Prey encourages you to experiment together with your weapons and powers. You should utilize the Typhon’s Mimic Matter — which transforms you into on a regular basis objects — to own one of many area station’s automated gun turrets or to cover from the aliens. With Raise Discipline, you possibly can both launch your enemies high into the air or use it to propel your self to hard-to-reach locations.
The powers you gather can have penalties exterior of fight as nicely. The turrets, for instance, could be a worthwhile ally as a result of they robotically target any aliens round them. However should you harvest an excessive amount of Typhon DNA, they’ll activate you. The opposite human survivors on Talos I may also react to you in another way.
Nonetheless, you possibly can keep away from that by merely not studying any of the alien talents. It’s potential to complete the sport with out them.
Classes from Dishonored
The combo of Typhon powers, instruments, and traditional weapons supply a level of freedom and suppleness that isn’t seen in lots of games. However that’s not a signature of Arkane’s therapy of Prey. These advanced and unscripted interactions are an intrinsic a part of immersive sims, which first emerged with PC classics like Ultima Underworld, Thief, and System Shock. The seminal System Shock collection from Trying Glass Studios was an enormous inspiration for Prey by way of making a tense sci-fi setting.
Although Arkane tried to make other types of games earlier than, it retains coming again to immersive sims. Every little thing in its catalog, from Arx Fatalis to Prey, have detailed worlds with interlocking mechanics that depart room for the participant to improvise. The studio most just lately demonstrated this with Dishonored and its sequel.
One of many classes the Austin group discovered from engaged on that collection is the significance of easing gamers into these digital playgrounds, particularly for individuals who haven’t tried an immersive sim earlier than.
“Unless the game invites players to do so, it’s not always obvious that [for example] you don’t have to find the key to this door,” stated Naked. “You’ll be able to go searching and discover an alternate method, or you possibly can hack the door. Possibly you possibly can blow the door up. I believe a lot of different games prepare gamers [to think], ‘There’s only one answer to this downside. And it’s a must to attempt to uncover what the designer had in thoughts.’
“Whereas we’re like, ‘No, there isn’t one solution. You can improvise a solution to this.’ You might be able to come up with something we don’t even know about because of all the systems interacting together. Part of the challenge is letting players know that it’s possible. That was challenging on Dishonored. And it’s still challenging on Prey. But we learned we have to present [those possibilities] to the player very early on.”
But Arkane didn’t wish to overwhelm gamers with an excessive amount of data. So the builders determined that for the primary few hours, you’ll only have entry to your human talents. Finally, the story introduces extra nuanced instruments just like the Neuromods and the Psychoscope (a device that scans the completely different Typhon enemies for his or her powers and weaknesses).
Nonetheless, planning for what talents a participant would possibly mix in any given state of affairs (and thus rewarding them for his or her curiosity when it really works) is an not possible process. The best Arkane can do is simply spend quite a lot of time taking part in by the sport to determine any fascinating combos it ought to help.
“And the things that don’t [seem cool], we cut and get rid of,” defined Naked. “You know you’re in a good place when different people on the team are arguing about things like, ‘This power is the best!’ and ‘This other power is useless!’ And the other person is saying the opposite. … That means different people are finding different ways to play.”
Ideally, the purpose is to make gamers really feel just like the only restrict is their creativeness.
“The best feeling is feeling like you’re playing a game where anything is possible, even if it isn’t literally true,” stated Naked.
Making a ‘sublime experience’
In case you look by discussion board threads or YouTube movies about Prey, it’s clear some followers nonetheless mourn the lack of Human Head’s Prey 2. That put Arkane in an ungainly place when it got here to managing individuals’s expectations for the sport.
“It’s tricky because, admittedly, the original Prey was a really interesting game. And the pitch and demo of [Prey 2] was cool, too,” stated Naked.
However the designer reminded GamesBeat that the corporate actually only makes one type of sport: immersive sims. That specialization is without doubt one of the causes he joined Arkane within the first place. It’s a style few builders attempt to sort out.
“For one thing, [immersive sims] are really hard to make because they’re so complicated. But they’re also super rewarding, and they ask a lot of players,” stated Naked. “In case you’re taking part in a linear shooter the place your directions are simply to maintain transferring ahead and shoot every little thing that strikes, that sport doesn’t ask quite a lot of you, proper? It doesn’t demand quite a lot of the participant.
“But playing a game like Dishonored or Prey is a little bit like playing a musical instrument. The game asks a lot of you, but it also rewards you tremendously, more than the other kind of game that I’m talking about.”
From Arkane’s perspective, these forms of games all the time have a minimum of two issues in widespread.
“They always have a strong sense of place — that’s where the ‘immersive’ part comes in the word immersive sim,” Naked added. “They all the time really feel like a really cohesive, well-built world the place you possibly can go searching and deduce the story of the place and [figure out] what occurred. Every little thing has depth.
“It’s like an iceberg: You see the tip, but you know there’s so much more below the surface in terms of world-building. You believe that you’re in a real place. And the second part is those layered, super-rich game mechanics, which just translate to the player feeling like, ‘I can do anything in this world. There are these rules and systems, and I can understand them and make a plan. And when it works, I feel this magical, almost sublime experience.’”
The brand new Prey can by no means dwell as much as the promise of the cancelled Prey 2. As an alternative, Arkane is carving a brand new identification for the beleaguered franchise (whose origins really stretch back to 1995), one which builds on the beloved immersive sims that got here earlier than it. If the reboot is profitable, it’ll additional cement the studio as a top-tier developer — and perhaps even give the Austin group one thing to brag about to the Lyon workplace.
As for why they selected to make use of the Prey title, Naked stated the rationale was easy: It’s an awesome title for a online game, and “naming video games is hard.”