The Prey series has been dormant for a decade–but now it’s back.
Arkane Austin’s new Prey launches today for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. It’s what rose out of the ashes of the canceled Prey 2, which Human Head was making before Bethesda decided to reboot the project and put Arkane Austin (the sister studio of Dishonored creator Arkane) on the game. Apart from the name and its high-level themes, the new Prey has basically no connection to 2006’s Prey or the canceled sequel.
GameSpot recently had the chance to sit down with Arkane president and Prey creative director Raphael Colantonio to discuss a number of topics about the sci-fi shooter. He told us about the origins of the project, its influences, his reaction to nasty Twitter comments, and a lot more.
As with other recent Bethesda games, review copies were not made available ahead of launch, so keep checking back with GameSpot to find our review and other coverage in the days ahead.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
GamersPlay: Going back to the beginning, there was a lot of talk and unconfirmed reports about when Arkane became involved with the project and everything leading up to that. So I’m wondering if you could just talk about how Arkane became attached to Prey and what you bring to it from your background and perspective?
Raphael Colantonio: We were doing the same game that we always like to make: a first-person RPG/shooter with a lot of simulation. And we wanted to do something this time on-board of a space station with aliens, where you have to escape. So more like a System Shock-inspired game since it was one of my very first games of the genre that I liked to play when I was younger. And as we’re developing it–we still didn’t have a name, we just had a code name back then–the name became available. Prey became available because the other game was canceled.
And we were asked if we wanted the name. We thought about it. The themes are pretty similar. It’s been ten years between Prey and this new game, so we just went with it.
Can you talk about how everything surrounding the whole Prey IP and everything impacted what you wanted to do with your version?
I think in the movie industry, it happens all the time. There are ten movies with the same name and nobody really has a problem with it, but in the case of this IP, it was [of] a more fuss about it. When we took the [Prey] name, we were like [to Bethesda], “As long our game doesn’t change.” And it’s the game we’re doing. It’s an Arkane game, and that’s all that matters. We did not try to put any link other than the high-level themes with the original.
“In the movie industry … there are ten movies with the same name and nobody really has a problem with it” — Colantonio
So, when you’re looking back at those two games, you would say there’s basically no connection between them outside of the name?
Outside of the name and the high-level themes, there’s no connection.
There hasn’t been a Prey game for ten years, so can you talk about some of the challenges of bringing that franchise back after so many years away?
There were none. We didn’t even think about it. We never looked at it like, “How do we bring this back?” It was like, “How do we do our game?”
And then diving into the game itself, the story seems really interesting to me. Can you sum up the story?
The story itself is you play the role of Morgan. You are scientists. You are part of an experiment to alter humanity forever and at some point things go wrong and …
As they always do.
As they always do in these kind of things. And you find yourself on-board of a space station infested with aliens and you have to escape using your wits, newfound abilities, and anything you can find on-board the station. That’s pretty much the game, right? And it’s first-person, RPG, simulation game where the player is offered a lot of choices in the way he plays.
In terms of the alien design, was their one common thread that ties all the aliens together? I really like the mimic ability. So could you just talk about the alien and critter design?
Yeah, it’s a family. It’s an ecology of aliens. And you find out as you play that the … So the Mimic is the very first one. It’s the one that was found by the Russians in the ’60s, so that’s for the background. And they contained it, and then at some point they were doing experiments with it and something happened. All of the aliens in the room have a purpose in the ecology, and so the Mimics are the scouts. They gather energy and multiply when they have enough energy and then, when there are enough of them, they get combined into something called a Weaver. The Weaver is a creature that creates other aliens as well. So like from corpses they create the Phantoms that we’ve seen in the demo as well. Et cetera, Et cetera, and the Phantom are the guards and … So the Weaver is the creator, is the mother, and you have some more that you find out as you play.
And then, eventually, you find out that they all have a common purpose which is revealed in the game as well.
And then in terms of influences, it’s a sci-fi game, people look at it, and one of the things I see online is BioShock and then System Shock, just touchpoints that people quickly go to. But what were specific influences for you? Whether it be games, or movies, or TV, or anything?
Well, System Shock definitely. BioShock–it’s funny when people say Bioshock, because Bioshock was System Shock underwater. So that makes us System Shock underwater, in space, which goes back to System Shock, I think. But other than that, I would say there’s some Dishonored as well because System Shock is an old game and I think what inspired us was the mood, the overall approach of it. You look at the systems, we’ve added all our own spiel to it and so all the Dishonored approach and level design style and all the branching of the stories, et cetera. This is on top of all that.
And then as far as movies go, or properties in general, I think there’s a little bit of Lovecraft. There’s a little bit of Lost. There’s Moon, Sunshine, Total Recall, Aliens, Starship Troopers.
I understand development is a very fluid process and things change, but how closely does the original design match up with what is coming out this week?
Very, very closely. The only thing we didn’t know were the implementation details and the exact looks of the creatures and the look of the world. But as far as the experience goes, and overall story structure, it’s very close to the original.
Was there anything that was left on the cutting room floor? Things that didn’t make it?
Millions of things. As always. And some might see the day in some other future game or date or … but, yeah it’s always part of the process. In fact, probably even more in our company than some others. We do a lot of prototyping, and we put the systems in the game–even at an early stage where it’s not solid yet–just to test the feel of it, and then we can do ones that survive the most.
A lot of games today are going very online-centric, but Arkane’s latest games have not really done that. Have you ever thought about multiplayer in the Prey universe? Is that something you guys have thought about?
It would be great. Yeah. A multiplayer, co-op version of the game would be amazing. In this case, we did not do it as [there are] typical constraints to doing this. [It would be a] different game as well. But that would be cool.
What’s it like working with Bethesda?
Well the part that matters the most to me is that they’ve always been very hands-off as far as creative decisions. They’ve always been very trusting. And so we’ve always made the game we wanted to make [whether it’s] Dishonored, Dishonored 2, or Prey. And they’ve always been supportive with that. So that’s great.
And then another thing I’m really liking about the latest Bethesda games is Mick Gordon. I loved his music for Doom. You guys are working with him as well for Prey. Can you talk about that relationship and what his music brings to the game?
[Music is a] very, very strong impact as far as the identity goes. There’s the visuals, the gameplay, and there’s the audio. And we definitely wanted something special. And I heard his music in [Wolfenstein: The New Order] and I really, really liked it.
He had very cool guitar scales that he was using. And so I wanted to try to see how those arpeggios that he’s so good at would work with a moody space game. And so we did a test and he came two weeks later and it was great. It’s actually the music that now is in the menu. And it kind of defined the direction for all the music that then come for this game.
Prey seems to be a lot of things in term of genres. It looks scary. I think you guys have said psychological as well, but not to the horror end of it. How would you describe the genre you guys are trying to go for?
Yeah, I think psychological thriller. A lot of tension. It’s interesting; we’ve never tried to scare people off so much, and watching the videos on YouTube and reading Twitter, people are terrified. It’s funny. I mean, I watch the videos and people are literally yelling, screaming.
So that’s cool. I mean, it’s a good plus. I think we did not want horror as a focus because it’s a means to an end. It becomes a thing where we would scare you off, which is not the idea. Plus you have to keep it up all through the game. Which, it’s a little bit of a … It sounds too narrow for the kind of game that we wanted to make.
We wanted to provide an experience about how you escape a place and then how you’re going to unravel some other layers of story in there and what kind of decisions it would take. Yeah, so the horror is more like an aside.
And you’re just referencing the story and the heroes and everything. It has multiple endings as well. Do you ever think about all the work you’ve put in and then someone just doesn’t see one ending? Are you encouraging people to go back and play a second, a third time? Are there systems in the game that encourage you to?
For a long time, I would have told you that we don’t really worry about that part. It’s true. You do more content than people would see. But nowadays content is so expensive and a lot of other games expose their content all the time. Like, ‘Oh you haven’t seen this? Play again. Do this now.’ It seems to be modern approach. And we’ve never really looked at games this way. We just offer this space for possibilities and then you find your own story and it hopefully feels great.
And you might want to play it again, but this time it would be a little different. So we will, of course, encourage people to play several times. And I think they will realize that they are mutually exclusive things, so as they do that, they probably will want to either reload or start a new game from scratch and this time take [a] different set of neuromods and [make] different decisions so they can experience different angles of the game.
And in terms of the actual gameplay, is it possible to have like a pacifist playthrough? Can you get through without killing the aliens?
No. It’s not a legacy from [the] Dishonored games.
Given Arkane and Bethesda’s history, in terms of ongoing support in the future, is it safe to assume that there are more stories in the Prey universe that you want to tell? Whether it’s with this game or things even further?
Yeah, we’re looking at what kind of games we’ll do and how do we keep the game alive. There’s nothing official right now I can speak of, but we’re interested in all this of course.
One of the things about Arkane’s last game, Dishonored 2, was the PC version had a little bit of struggle. Out of the gate, some people were a little upset with the way it ran. And obviously you guys patched it and it got better. Can you speak to the PC version of Prey right now? How confident are you that you’re going to start strong?
We’re pretty confident. First of all, it’s not like we first do the game on console and then at the end we sort of only import the game to PC.
Right, it starts on PC.
Starts on PC, right. That’s how the game development works. So every time I read, “Oh, these guys are not doing the right port,” it always makes me laugh a little.
The real reason why PC games often have problems is because there are so many current editions of hardware. So [much] stuff out there and sometimes timing, you know, the drivers come out at the same time as our game or something happens that makes it more challenging. But, of course, this time we are, given what happened with Dishonored 2… We doubled our thoroughness in making sure that the game is going to run smoothly. So that’s where we are at this point. The game is fully ready. But that’s what we’ve been doing for the past months is, you know, a lot of tests on different configurations and making sure it works.
So, to answer your question, we’re pretty confident. You never know, but we’re pretty confident.
And, like you were just saying, different permutations of hardware is now the case with consoles, too, where you’re supporting Xbox One and then, presumably, Scorpio, and PS4, and PS4 Pro. So, do you plan to have updates for those new systems coming out?
Yeah, we will. We’ll probably follow up with that of course.
And then I’m always curious to hear from a developer’s side: How much overhead is actually going on to support those new consoles?
It is not a crazy amount of work. It’s just that every time it’s one more SKU, it’s one more submission. Every time it’s one more little project. So you fragment your team and your effort and your testing, et cetera. So it’s not negligible, but it’s not like porting it to a new system, something like that.
I don’t know if this is something you can answer, but do you have a Scorpio kit that you’re working with now?
[Asks PR person] Can I answer this? I don’t know. I think it’s safe to say that we have pretty much every hardware that is available in our office. At least to check it out.
We saw that Bethesda is a partner with Nintendo for the Switch and that console seems to be off to a good start. They just announced sales this week. We’re seeing Skyrim there. If the install base is big enough, is that something you’ll think about bringing Prey there?
Honestly, that would be more of a business question than a developer question. We do it if they want to.
And then, with its very tense moments and its psychological elements, is that something you think would work in a VR environment?
It would probably work very well, yeah. VR definitely adds one layer of immersion. We don’t have any plans for it, but yeah.
Another very interesting thing about Prey is you guys have a demo out which is not really all that common today. Can you just talk about why you wanted to do that?
I think we just wanted to maximize our chance for people to see what the game has to offer. And putting out a demo is always hard because it’s more work … when you’re already late. It’s not the thing that developers like to do. In our case, I think it worked out well because the beginning of the game, …it’s not a too-slow start. Sometime we do games where it would not have been the right approach.
Some games just are slow burners.
Right, right. It just feels right for [Prey]. It was not too much work for us because, really, what it is just too often the beginning of the game. I think Bethesda wanted to explore [a demo]. We do different things [for] different games based on what’s most adapted and it felt right in this game.
That’s something else that’s a big trend in games today, is transmedia like we’re seeing. It’s very rare that a game is just a game. There’s some kind of connection and offshoot whether it be comics or movies. Do you think of Prey as like a transmedia property? Or is it just a game for now?
For now, it’s just a game. We designed a world that is much bigger than the game, so it could be. I’d love to see that, but for now, it’s just a game.
How much do you read into nasty things people say online about you and your game? Do you think about that a lot? Sometimes it feels like a vocal minority.
Yeah, I usually don’t, but lately, as soon as we [released] the demo, I’ve been on my Twitter every two seconds to check what reactions are. Yeah, checking them too early is more disruptive than anything for us. And again, it’s hard to know what the noise that it generates, it’s hard to know if it’s a big number or a tiny very loud [group]… so there’s too much thinking about it can be misleading to us, so we try to ignore it. Plus there’s a lot of people who speculate on things, either that this thing’s going to be amazing even though they have no idea because they haven’t seen it. Or some people swear it’s going to be the worst thing ever even though it doesn’t make any sense either.
I check out a lot of the videos that they post of the playthroughs. And I’m actually having a lot of fun seeing their screaming and what happens at the moment when they … You know, the big twist. When they find out actually what’s going on is also a good moment for us to just watch it. It’s very cool. And, yeah, there’s a negative thing, but overall I found it’s mostly positive. A lot of people are really, really thrilled about the game.
I guess that just leads to a wider question about how you balance what you know is good game design. What you learned from all the years, versus what the community might just call out for.
Sometimes it’s not necessarily the most complex things that bring the most satisfactions to players, so I have my views on what I like and what is hard to do and what’s cool. But sometimes they will rave about something that was not a lot to do, or sometimes they were just totally overlooking something that took us forever to make.
So I don’t know. For me, as a gamer … I like when I feel that the game is a simulation as opposed to a script. Just like the fact of picking up objects, throwing them around, and hearing the noise. Maybe it would attract an AI to come in and so it’s looking for me as opposed to it know where I am already. All these things are just, for me, elements that make a good game.
What are some games you’re playing today that you think are doing that really well?
I was going to mention a game that I’ve been playing that I really love but that is not doing this at all. Inside.
I love Inside–that’s for another reason, right? Because it’s another type of experience and they do that very well. And kudos to them.
Other games that do the kind of things we do … Well, in a way, I would say Fallout probably. They have bigger scale and they do things a little different, but there are a lot of common DNA I think between what they do and what we do.
Is there anything else that you think people need to know about Prey? Because that seems to be one of the things too with the demo. You want to get it out there. You want people to have a sample of it. So what should people know about it? The thing that really sets it apart?
I think it’s a game with a lot of possibilities and I hope that it will leave memories to players. And opportunities for them to do a lot of videos on YouTube because there are so many types of combinations between the mechanics that some fun stuff will emerge and I think people will want to show that.