Arkane on creating a new Prey universe
Much as it did with Dishonored, Arkane Studios is building a universe with Prey that extends far beyond the game’s timeline.
One of the surprise announcements of 2016 was the return of Prey, an IP with a history as chequered as Duke Nukem's. With only one release and multiple failed incarnations during its two decades of existence, most fans had given up on the space-set alien-blasting FPS. But under the guidance of Bethesda Softworks it has re-emerged in the unlikeliest of locations.
Arkane Studios, the developer behind Dishonored, Dark Messiah of Might & Magic and Arx Fatalis, has picked up the name and stuck it on its open-world, psychological thriller, with unfolds on an alien-infested space station in the year 2035.
We recently got a chance to chat to Arkane co-founder Raphael Colantonio and lead designer Riccardo Bare, and we asked them whether Prey was being built as a one-off, or if they are constructing a broader universe around this game’s narrative. Here is how the conversation went.
With Dishonored, Arkane went to a lot of effort to create a world with depth and lore. For example, I remember receiving a map alongside filled with details about areas never mentioned in the game. Does Prey have that same depth and detailed lore around it to set up a grander universe, or is it more of a focused single game??
Bare: Oh absolutely. When we developed the world of Prey, we took a similar approach to what we did with Dishonored. With Dishonored, we went back in time and tried to ground everything - the history, the architecture - in something real. At least to start with. So we looked at things like London during the plague and the great fire, things like that. So that informed everything. And then we twisted it by asking things like, “what if instead of electricity there was whale oil?” We took the same approach with Prey. We wanted it to be grounded in the real world. So we went back to the 1950s and looked at the Soviet and US space race era. So the Soviets launched Sputnik [the first artificial Earth satellite] and that freaked everyone out, so the Americans tried to respond. They were like, “we’ve got to up our space game!” So our world is grounded in that reality, and then we started to twist things by asking what if questions. Like, what if Kennedy didn’t die; what if he lived and doubled-down on the space race tech? Maybe in that world, by the year 2035, technology would be way more advanced that what we will have in our real world. So that has informed everything, in terms of the available technology, to the design of the space station.
In fact, we also asked, “what if the space station was already there orbiting the moon in the 1960s?” If true, then over the decades they’d just kept building and adding to it to make it bigger. So you would see these layers from across the decades, building on top of each other. When you play the game, you get to see some of that. You walk into parts of the space station that have this design informed by the 60’s and 70’s, but then you will peel back those layers and end up in a lab that is really old, and has a Russian submarine-type design.
Is that history spelt out to the player as they progress, or is it more of a subtle design element?
Colantonio: It’s more in the subtle background stuff. You almost pick it up subconsciously. It’s like a filter that helps us while making the game as the team is cognitive of it. It makes the game feel more real – or that it could be real – but we don’t overtly talk about it. We don’t go, “oh, Kennedy survived,” it’s more just for us at Arkane.
Whenever we hear a developer talking about their approach to world design in this way, it invariably pays off in a more immersive world and a more enjoyable experience, Dishonored being a good case in point. It’s also a great foundation from which to build sequels and more stories. There may be no plans for a series yet, but the way the creative process works, you can bet the studio’s staff will – in the building of this universe – conjure up stories and ideas that don’t fit this release. And these ideas can be the birthplace for exciting sequels.