Following in the footsteps of System Shock and Thief, Prey puts a lot of power in the player's hands
When asked what games influenced Prey, it can lead to a long and complex answer — with a lot of references that cascade out into yet more references. So, here’s what it would look like from our perspective: Prey is a combination of Dishonored for the systems and simulation, Arx Fatalis for the structure and crafting, and System Shock for the “RPGness” and the mood.
Now, it’s worth noting that Dishonored was influenced by Thief and Deus Ex, which itself was influenced by Ultima Underworld and Ultima VII, etc.
So there you have it. Our influences are Looking Glass and Origin from back in the 90s, but I guess only gamers that are older than 30 have even heard of these companies and their games.
Developers and fans refer to that family of games as “immersive sims.” It’s a style of game that sits at the intersection of two other genres: FPS and RPG.
But what makes the immersive sim more than just “FPS meets RPG” is that the game development philosophy behind it relies a lot on simulation. As many systems and outcomes as possible are simulated and layered on top of each other as opposed to being scripted and isolated from one another.
Arkane has always invested its full energy into this approach to development. To us, games in this genre are more than a game. We believe they have a magical power to both transport people and create emotionally engaging moments where players feel a tremendous amount of creative agency.
For instance, we remember a player having completed one of our missions in Dishonored in the most unexpected way ever. The target was on the third floor, inside an apartment. Instead of infiltrating the building and climbing the stairs to the third floor, the player stayed at street level, threw a grenade, immediately froze time (using Bend Time) as the grenade was still close to him, used Wind Blast on the grenade to propel it through the open window of that apartment on the third floor, which resulted in eliminating the target in no time.
We love this kind of player!
At Arkane, our development methodology consists of:
1. Creating a believable environment that serves as a playground
This is a combined effort between art direction, writing, and level design. Our goal is for the setting to have a deep sense of place that tells a story on its own, without any exposition. Just by looking at the detail of the world and the set dressing, players should be able to read what happened before they arrived. In addition, the environment is tactically interesting and invites exploration: spaces are interconnected with multiple pathways, there is verticality, objects that can act as cover, and plenty of hiding spots.
2. Populating the playground with gameplay elements that are simulated and interactive
AI’s (characters) who have behaviors players can learn and exploit, physics objects, traps, doors, computers, etc. For instance, in Dishonored players could learn that deadly swarms of rats seek out corpses. Dragging a body near to where guards patrol can create effective (and darkly hilarious) distraction.
3. Providing interesting tools to the players
We like to give players not only direct weapons, but also indirect tools that encourage creativity and experimentation with the game and the simulation in general. The GLOO gun in Prey is a good example: players can use it to incapacitate a human, but they can also use it to climb where we (the designers) didn’t plan.
As far as narration goes, we try to tell the story as much as possible through the actions of the player and through optional information that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the game: audio communications, overheard conversations, environmental storytelling, player objectives…
All this combined provides the kind of experience that is important to us and our values as gamers.