Arkane devs detail favourite emergent Prey moments

Posted: 20 December 2016 1:20 pm


Anything can happen in the world of Prey. We asked two of its key creators to detail the craziest things they have seen thus far.

Arkane Studios uses the Looking Glass method of game development. In this approach, a game isn't designed as a complete specific construct, but a as group of independent systems that are dumped into a defined world and allowed to interact with each other without being scripted. From this, a game emerges, and many like describe the result as "emergent gameplay".

In Prey, there is a space station, and within that station there are lots of aliens with different powers and personalities. Then there is a player, who has access to their own tools and abilities, which all behave in certain ways. On top of that, there are non-player characters (NPcs)and environment objects with their own “brains” and physicality. These are the systems, and what happens when they are pushed together is near impossible to predict. For example, the Mimic isn’t told what object to mimic in the environment, it just goes for what it feels is right in that situation. Not even the developer knows where it might appear.

Prey is now available for preorder from $64.99

While catching up with Arkane co-founder Raphael Colantonio and Prey’s lead designer Riccardo Bare, I asked them to detail such moments. To expose situations they’ve experienced while testing the game that have simply emerged, unpredictably, from this clash of systems. Here is what was said:

You mentioned during the game’s presentation that you don’t choose what the Mimic decides to hide itself as, and that it’s left to the AI. Can you talk about any other elements in the game that are like this, and left to the AI to decide what to do rather than being scripted?

Colantonio: I would say it is a common development strategy for us, as we practically script nothing when it comes to enemy behaviour. Other than in the missions, we just drop them into the environment and they do their own thing usually. They explore, they check objects, and they hear, see and sense the player, or enemies in general. Then they decide if they want to attack or if they want to go get some help. Then if they attack you and you’re winning, they choose if they will hide. There’s not much the level designers do other than placing them into the map.

Bare: Some of the aliens on the space station are also sensitive to the player upgrading themselves with alien material. There are two types of neuromod upgrades, where you stab the needle in your eye and rewire your brain – there’s a family that are human-related, like being a better hacker, or better at computer science. Then there’s a bunch of powers and abilities that come from the aliens themselves. The more of those you put into your brain the more you risk. There are some aliens that are sensitive and can detect other creatures that have the same powers they do. They will come after you. So you might be in the middle of the game somewhere, you install your next alien neuromod, and all of sudden you hear a roar because they are on to you.

It seems like there will be plenty of emergent gameplay in Prey like this; could you describe a favourite moment from the game that has just revealed itself as you’ve been playing?

Bare: We have a level designer, Shawn Elliott, and every time we put a new power into the game he goes crazy trying different combinations of powers and blending abilities together. The one in our QuakeCon presentation was actually one of Shawn’s videos. We created these two different powers in Mimic and Kinetic Blast, which is a strong physics impulse. One day he combined the two together, by turning himself into a small object and then using the physics pulse to launch himself across a level and up onto a ledge. So even though that is in our presentation, it was not planned ahead of time. It’s just a by-product of the way we design systems at Arkane.
Colantonio: I remember this moment where I was running out of health and almost dead. Then I saw this medkit and I was like "cool" and ran for it. But it was actually a Mimic. That was not scripted, it just happened to have chosen that object. But luckily I managed to shoot it, and then found another medkit that was for real only for another Mimic to come in. I shoot at it, but miss. Instead the bullet hits an exploding tank that was behind a huge closet. So the closet is thrown at me, crushing me against a wall. That was pretty cool.

Bare: The great thing about those Mimics, by the way, is that it’s all just systems playing together. If you have the Mimic power, you could run into a room and mimic a water bottle, so there are two water bottles. Then another mimic might come in and mimic you, making for three water bottles. At that point it becomes a staring contest to see who is going to un-mimic first!

If you have a love for titles like GTA, BioShock and even Worms, which simply create a playground and let you go at it, Prey can only be high on your radar. I love the kind of game that does not place rules on what you can and can’t do, but simply says, “if you can work out a better way forward, then good luck to you.”

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