Though it was originally going to be a sequel to the 2006 sci-fi first-person shooter of the same name, the version of Prey being released on May 5th for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC is actually a totally new, unconnected game that, unlike the original or scrapped sequel, is being developed by Arkane Studios; the Austin, Texas one, not the Lyon, France one that made Dishonored 2. To promote its release, Lead Designer Ricard Bare recently brought the game to Los Angeles, where he gave local journalist a chance to try it out [my assessment of which you can read here] and to ask him questions about it.
We know Prey is a sci-fi first-person shooter, but what’s the story you’re telling?
You take on the role of Morgan Yu, who is the key subject in an experiment, the purpose of which is to alter humanity forever. But when you wake up aboard Talos I, which is a huge space station orbiting the moon, things have gone awry. A species of aliens called the Typhon have overrun the station. So, you have to figure out how to survive.
Exactly. We like to call it an open space station game. Y’know, like an open world game. Talos I is one big interconnected space station, and eventually you’ll have the run of the place. There’s even times when you’ll go outside and can explore the exterior of the space station.
How far in the future is the game set?
It’s set in 2032.
Oh, it’s not that far off.
It’s near future, but it’s not our timeline, it’s an alt-history.
Did you hire a sci-fi writer to help craft the story?
We did it ourselves, though we did work with Chris Avellone [who helped write such games as FTL: Advanced Edition and Fallout: New Vegas]. He’s a friend, and we had him come in and help write some of the side quests and main characters.
What do you see as being the biggest influences on the story in Prey?
There’s not one thing that I think is the most influential, but one thing we tried to do is stay away from certain tropes. For instance, we didn’t want Talos I to have a military look or feel like a government facility. We didn’t want the environments to be spartan or utilitarian. Instead, it was built by a private space tech company, and they have a lot of wealth, so the spaces are very open and have high ceilings. We didn’t want to have narrow corridors or close, cramped tunnels.
In terms of literature, I actually read Solaris, the original novel [by Stanislaw Lem], and then I watched the first Solaris movie before watching the George Clooney Solaris movie. I also watched Moon, that’s a good movie.
But we also wanted our game to be somewhat grounded, even though it’s about aliens and psychic powers, so I also read non-fiction books about paranormal research, about real scientists who are trying to study psychic phenomena.
When you were detailing the plot, it sounded like the beginning of Dead Space 2. That game was, of course, trying to be scary. Is Prey scary as well?
Someone who plays the game might have a different take, but while I do think it has elements of horror, I wouldn’t describe the game as a “horror game.” We think of it as a science fiction game, and a first-person action game with depth, with the “depth” part referring to the RPG elements. We have a deep skill tree. It’s kind of like the original System Shock.
That said, most of the horror stuff in the game is unscripted. For instance, one of the aliens is the Mimic. It’s a little, spider-like thing that can camouflage itself as any object in the environment. But we, as the developers, don’t tell it which object to become. It can pick any object: a chair, a trash can, whatever. Even the level designers, when they walk into a room, they don’t know which object could be a Mimic. So we’ll all have different experiences. You might walk into a room, and the Mimic will be the coffee mug on the desk. But when I play the game, and walk into the same room, it might be the chair in the corner.
How big does a Mimic get?
It can be anything from the size of a mug up to about a chair. And what you start to learn is that the tell…
Don’t tell me the tell, don’t spoil it for me.
Now, you mentioned the psychic abilities. Will they work in Prey like they worked in such games as BioShock, where one hand is for your gun and the other is for your abilities?
Kind of. It’s not that your left hand is the magic hand, some of the guns are two handed, but you do have to equip a power and assign it to a button.
What are some of the abilities you’ll have in Prey?
They come from the aliens. So, for instance, later in the game, you’ll get the Mimic’s ability to become a chair or a cup or whatever.
There’s another one called Kinetic Blast. It’s pretty simple but rather effective, and what it does is let you target a spot in the world and create a physics explosion that slows down everything around it.
We talked earlier about how Prey has gone through some different iterations. Aside from both being sci-fi first-person shooters, are there any connections between this game and the original Prey?
Nope, none whatsoever.
What about the Prey 2, the sequel that was being made by Human Head [who made the original Prey]; I assume there’s no connection to that game, either, right?
No, none whatsoever. We were actually working on a game already that was going to be like that game Arx Fatalis [a 2002 game made by the French Arkane], and that was before the name thing came up.
We’ve talked a bunch about the campaign, but is there multiplayer as well?
No, it’s single-player only.
I do. Some of the game mechanics and the universe feel different, but we treated the space station like we treated Dunwall in Dishonored, like it’s a character in the game. Our goal is also always to give players tools so they can improvise their own solutions to problems.