Interview: Prey 2′s Oddness, Freedom & Ians

By Alec Meer on May 12th, 2011 at 5:31 pm.

So we already know the broader picture of Prey 2 – a sandbox ‘alien noir’ world, with you as a bounty hunter taking on contracts – and how it’s a far cry from the first game, but what about the details? Let’s ask Prey 2 developer Human Head’s project lead Chris Rinehart and chief creative officer Jim Sumwalt for a closer look at just how the missions, the morality and the money-making works – as well as why they decided to leave the first game’s play style behind, why the themes are similar even if the lead character is not, whether it’s all urban or if things get wilder, and why the hell he’s called ‘Killian Samuels…’

RPS: How have fans responded to the direction you’ve taken so far, and the loss of stuff like portals?

Chris Rinehart – I think that people need to see more of what we have to offer. Once you actually get to see the demo and the wealth of gameplay that’s there… Because the one thing that isn’t quite there is the fact that isn’t just like a real easy type of sequel. This is a very ambitious game, a very large game – there’s a lot of stuff that you can do in it. I think that’s something that the players are really going to latch onto and really like once they can see the scope of everything that we’re doing. Even today, we only showed a small subset of the gadgets and the world that we have in Prey 2.

RPS: How did you end up moving onto something so different?

Chris Rinehart: When we first met with Bethesda and signed with them, we wanted to explore both sides of predator/prey, let the player be a predator more, and what popped out of that was that bounty hunting made a lot of sense. ‘I would like to be a bounty hunter on this alien world’. And we knew that we would need to find a new space to take the player to, because we blew up the sphere and we wanted to take the player to a new space and explore that. The other thing that led us to where we are today is the fact that Prey 1 was very much an origin story – finding your roots, who you are. There’s definitely a part of that in Prey 2 is that Killian, when he wakes up on this planet, has no recollection of how he got there, other than getting smacked in the face. So he’s kind of uncovering that mystery of what happened to him [in the intervening time], what he was up to… actually, what he and Tommy were up to during the time-frame he doesn’t recall.

The other thing, and this is a little bit abstract, is that Prey 1 was also about being a stranger in a stranger land. Not only Tommy being this human in this alien planet, but also the Native American themes – Tommy felt like he didn’t have a place where he fit in this world. There’s definitely those themes in Prey 2 as well, because Killian initially thinks he’s the only human on this planet. He definitely stands out as well, because it’s a melting pot, this world, but still he’s the only human, so when the aliens see him they react in certain ways, treat him as though he’s the only human. And of course, later on as you play more, they start treating you a little differently again because you become more known as a bounty hunter as well – so they recognise you not only as that human, but that bounty hunter.

RPS: So though there are people who are upset that you’ve lost the Native American character, you think you’re going to evoke similar stuff sufficiently by Prey 2 retaining the themes of displacement?

Chris Rinehart: We absolutely do, yeah. Definitely.

RPS: Is there any Bethesda-wide resource sharing going on? There’s quite a bit of open world and also Parkour stuff (with Brink) in here…

Jim Sumwalt: Purely coincidental. We wanted to go with open world motif and taking the first-person experience to a new place we’d always kind of wanted to do that – the freedom of exploration was just a natural extension of wanting to push the experience.Then we got a relationship with Bethesda and it was like ‘oh, hey, Brink!’

Chris Rinehart – There was a little bit of comparing notes, like “so how did you guys do it? Oh, I see how that wants!” They are different in how they are implemented.

RPS: And id, as you’re using their engine?

Chris Rinehart: Honestly, we don’t talk to them that much, because although it’s their tech we built a lot of stuff on top. Actually there’s a funny story that when we developed Prey 1 we were using id Tech, and this was before Prey was even been announced and we’d been working with it for quite a while. So the id guys called us and said “are you guys still using our tech? You’re still around? What’s going on over there?” We’re really kind of self-sufficient, building our own stuff as we need, but that’s not to say that in another year we won’t pick up the Bethesda bone.

RPS: To what extent can you live out the bounty hunter fantasy without the main story taking over? Could I spend, say, 10 hours just doing my own thing, exploring and taking random contracts before I have to engage with the core narrative?

Chris Rinehart: Totally, absolutely.

RPS: What breadth of content is there? Will we see a lot of stuff sort of repeating, like ‘here’s yet another roadside beating I can intervene in’?

Chris Rinehart: There’s definitely categories to that, like people in peril – whether it’s the guy being beaten, or another guy getting threatened to be shoved off the edge in front of the trains or something like that. There can be difference scenarios with those though – sometimes it could be one aggressor, other times multiple aggressors which will obviously change how you approach the situation, or if you even want to.

There will also be collectibles, but all of those we want to tie in and make sense from a narrative perspective – so not just collecting little bobbles that kind of make sense. One example is one of the factions in the game set up these kinds of tracers around that are tracking movements of police, and of all the citizens. If you go around and start destroying those, one of the other factions will start paying you money. So it turns into a thing of going and destroying all of these things as a job.

Jim Sumwalt: And all the areas are having their own conflicts and their own stuff that’s happening as a backdrop which is going to change those conditions. So while you’re freely going around doing your thing, there could be a conflict happening where there wasn’t before, and now that’s going to change that dynamic when you’re playing it.

RPS: Is there an element of picking a faction you want to side with?

Chris Rinehart: It doesn’t change the story, but if you want to try to align with a faction, do more of their missions, more of their open world stuff, you totally can do that. But a big part of the game, actually the interesting thing with the game, is pitting the factions against the other. For example, there’s a mission where one of the factions hires you to go and steal a bunch of weapons from the other faction, so you go over there and you steal a bunch of those weapons. The faction that you’ve just robbed contacts you later and says “hey, someone just robbed a bunch of our stuff – we need to find and track down the person who did this.”

RPS: Are you exploring any racial prejudice elements to these factions, given the multi-species nature of the planet?

Chris Rinehart: There’s some of that. One of the species is kind of a down-trodden people that everyone else just beats on, and they’re the thumping boys of the universe. There’s an aspect of that.

RPS: How much does moral decision-making factor into what missions you take and how you resolve them?

Jim Sumwalt: It’s more short-term, there’s not a sense of ‘am I right or wrong, good vs evil, Darth vs Luke’ – it’s noir. Nobody’s innocent, everybody’s degrees of bad, everyone’s got agendas, so the choices that you make and the reputations you have are for certain games within a certain time-frame of the game experience. It’s not going to deliver a Darth experience.

RPS: Must be pretty refreshing to play around in those grey areas after having previously done Hero vs Monsters?

Jim Sumwalt: Right, and you know it was a lot of “it’s coming at me, it’s gonna bite me, shoot it!’ It’s more complex now – the interactions between the guy you shoot or don’t shoot, truly refreshing.

Chris Rinehart: And we don’t do anything like judging the player for taking one action or the other, but we do kind of point it out. There’s one mission where you get contacted by a client who wants you to take this target out. So you head over and on the way the target contacts you and say “I know you’re after me, hunter. Tell you what, I’ll pay you double if you go and kill the original client.” So it’s your choice – do you keep going and kill the guy, or do you get back? If you do go back and kill the original guy, someone else will come and say “wow, that was cold.” Again, it’s not really judging, it’s just commenting on, kind of reinforcing what you’re doing.

RPS: How much context can you get in that kind of dispute? Can you sleuth out who’s right and who’s wrong and make a real judgement, other than just what you think the reward is?

Chris Rinehart: You definitely can, yeah. We’ve got a number of those. There’s another mission where you’re going after a target, and because you’ve got this comms system almost anyone can contact you. So the target contacts and says “I’m actually innocent, you can’t do this.” So you’re trying to track the guy down and having a hard time – he’s a pretty slippery guy. Then he contacts you and says, “I’ll make you a deal. I’m innocent, totally innocent, you gotta let me go but I know you’re not going to let me go and the client’s not going to give up until there’s a body. So I’ve found a guy who looks like me. I want you to kill him instead of me – will you do that?” And then it’s your choice, of killing the original guy or just this other one who happens to be just this street vendor who’s minding his own business? If you do that, from a moral standpoint…

RPS: …You’re really just a murderer.

Chris Rinehart: Yeah, exactly. Not so good. But again it’s just your choice how you wanna play it.

RPS: You mentioned Red Dead Redemption as an influence – what other open world stuff has inspired you?

Chris Rinehart: I always try to shy away from using too many other games as examples, just because someone might pick something out of that game that we’re not actually doing. But we’ve played a ton of different open world games – Borderlands, the Assassin’s Creeds, all of those. More for a comparison for everything that we’re doing, just to make sure we’re not missing some aspect that players might be expecting. But Borderlands is one of my favourite games of recent years, and in terms of the benchmark for open world: Red Dead.

RPS: Have you had much experience with STALKER? In my ideal world, every developer is inspired by that to some degree…

Chris Rinehart: Yeah, it’s a really good game.

RPS: Do you think this philosophy of the Prey games being such a departure from each other would extend to any future titles in the series?

Chris Rinehart: Possibly. We’ve got plans narratively as to what we’d like to pull off for Prey 3, but in terms of actual gameplay – maybe. Kind of being a little coy on purpose…

RPS: How weird are you going to get aesthetically? While the Blade Runner thing is cool, it’s kind of a familiar sci-fi setting in a way – will things get wilder later?

Jim Sumwalt: Yes, there will be an element of weird alien flora and fauna stuff on Exodus. And then there’s the sense of the grotesque that people always associate with Prey 1 – we definitely want to keep that going to some degree, but like I said before, with the AI and the NPCs in the first game it was basically just things that wanted to eat you or kill you. Now the population of humanoid, higher-level thinking organisms caused us to have conditions to levels and backdrops that are more like cities. You’re not fighting off bears and wolves in the woods on the way to finding one lone guy in the log cabin who’s got a bounty on his head. It’s playing people against each other and getting information.

We didn’t want to spend a lot of time explaining to the player how you use this or that – that this weird alien thing is actually a door or this is a nightclub. Working with our art director, we decided that we should start with the recognisable and move to the weird, versus starting from the weird and trying to discern some sort of form or utility.

Prey 1, silly

RPS: I got a little bit of a Predator vibe from the main character – the climbing stuff, the shoulder-mounted rocket launcher, the vision modes. Is that conscious?

Jim Sumwalt: Oh definitely, definitely. ‘Prey 2: Predator.’ [Laughs]

RPS: Where on earth did the name ‘Killian Samuels’ come from?

Chris Rinehart: I’ve always loved the name ‘Killian’, I just thought it was a really cool name.

Jim Sumwalt: And of course there’s the ‘Kill Ian’…

RPS: Who is this Ian guy, and what’s he done to you?

Chris Rinehart: [Laughs] That’s our final boss. Evil Ian Samuels. It’s like Kill Bill.

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56 Comments »

  1. DeepSleeper says:

    Whoa. You can have an interaction where you shoot a guy, or an interaction where you DON’T shoot a guy. This is some groundbreaking stuff we’ve got here.

    Sarcasm aside, this sounds pretty neat. I like the concepts involved, I like the ideas they’re tossing out, but I’m getting some Molyneux-level “Yeah, just show me in the game where this is possible, THEN we’ll talk” vibes off this.

  2. Phoshi says:

    I honestly don’t know why this is called Prey 2. It sounds amazing, and I’m looking forward to it (Slightly skeptical they can actually pull it off, but if they even get close it sounds like this should be great), but… why prey 2? Just for the established name? The two seem to have almost nothing in common!

    • Ringwraith says:

      Why are the Final Fantasy games still named as such when they have practically nothing to do with one another being based in different settings?
      Although, Prey 2 is actually set in the same universe as the first one, just elsewhere…

    • DAdvocate says:

      @RingWraith Prey has neither the brand popularity nor game play similarities between sequels which FF does. I suspect the Prey label is from the natural bias of a designer (parent) seeing their baby as prettier and smarter than they really are.

    • Reefpirate says:

      How about FarCry and FarCry 2? I’m sure there’s other examples of legitimate games out there breaking your strict rules of what a ‘series’ means.

      No aliens in FarCry 2?? ZOMG! Outrage!

    • Ringwraith says:

      There were no aliens in the first Far Cry!
      I’ll think you’ll find the Trigens were mutants.

    • drewski says:

      Because it continues the story from the first Prey.

  3. Tokjos says:

    Ian, the bastard, shot me in the back!

  4. Flint says:

    It’s bizarre. Whilst I enjoyed Prey and think it’s a fairly distinctive FPS in its own way, I’ve never really thought of it as a particularly memorably great game. A good FPS and not much more or less. Yet I still find it somewhat off-putting that the sequel has pretty much nothing to do with the original, despite the roundabout/vague attempts of finding similar themes this interview mentioned. If you’re abandoning pretty much everything the first game had going on, what’s the point of making it a direct sequel in name?

    This seems like it could be a really good game but for some reason I just feel incredibly nonchalant about it. Might mostly just be me slightly getting tired of massive open-ended open world games right now, though.

  5. DK says:

    Yeah and we better meet the Sphere-Resistance Woman and Tommy again, because that’s what Prey is about.
    They can even have everyone, including the main character, freak out when Tommy shows up and does his spirit magic – because it didn’t seem like the aliens in Prey had any idea what the ghosts were about.

  6. gganate says:

    So far, Prey 2 sounds like it’s going to be pretty interesting. It’s nice to see a sequel that tries to do more than the original. Tthe recent Deus Ex 3 preview stated it could be an expansion pack to the first game, which isn’t bad, but whatever.

    • Teddy Leach says:

      Thing is, Invisible War tried to be different and people went absolutely ballistic. So you can’t blame them really.

  7. passingstranger says:

    I am all klinds of up for this game if it delivers on what’s promised. The first felt very much like a shooter that had gotten funding because of the “We have portals!” and “We have gravity-defying walkways!” bulletpoints on the pitch page.

    But a noir-ish, well fleshed-out sci-fi world? That is a place to which I want to go.

    • DeepSleeper says:

      It’s always important to remember that the original Prey started out development in 1995 and wasn’t released until eleven years later.
      They were talking about using the portal technology developed for Prey, in the game they’d release after Duke Nukem Forever. Duke Five: Now With Portals. Can you imagine that?
      So yeah, at that point “We have portals!” and “We have gravity-defying walkways!” would totally have gotten them a big whack of funding money.

      All that said, I agree with you. If this delivers I’m all over it. I’m just used to developers swinging for the moon and punching themselves in the head, then releasing whatever they made while severely concussed.

    • dadioflex says:

      I guess the ante was seriously upped for Portal based games recently so don’t compete where you can’t win.

      I love the idea of this setting, just hope it isn’t all shooty-shooty. Gimme something like the Dark Brotherhood missions from Oblivion.

  8. Hunam says:

    Can you punch aliens in the face? In the game or not, doesn’t matter to me.

  9. Lars Westergren says:

    I really like where they are going with this. I played the first game to the end, and while the shooter mechanics were enjoyable the story was a paper thin thing that felt like leftovers from Quake. And apart from the first scene (which was ok) I don’t think they went anywhere with Tommy.

    So I really don’t understand why people are raging so hard about the changes. This looks like the first proper Blade Runner-ish game in….a decade. Awesome.

  10. felisc says:

    mh, they didn’t react much at the stalker question.

    • Rakysh says:

      I thought that; all the way through the developers sound like they’re doing their best to agree with exactly what they think Alec wants them to answer.

    • Mistabashi says:

      Agreed, he mentioned Assassin’s Creed which kind of makes sense I suppose, but Borderlands seems a strange one to drop in there. Also a console-centric selection, which doesn’t inspire me with confidence.

      The promo shots look great, I like the art style and the premise, but I can’t help but get the feeling this’ll end up as another Far Cry 2, where you just repeat the same 3 missions over and over again until the game ends or you get bored and uninstall it.

      Perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic though, I guess it’s too early to tell.

  11. Sinnorfin says:

    This game really sounds like something worth waiting for..

  12. frenz0rz says:

    Just a heads up, the original Prey is on Amazon UK for £1.79 – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Take-2-Prey-PC-DVD/dp/B000EPBIMK/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1305223111&sr=8-2

    It was previously 90p, but I bought the last one in stock from that supplier.

    Muahahahaha!

    • Dhatz says:

      that’s just ridiculous, youre not contributing anything by hunting for ancient resells instead of pirating it like a man-da(man/panda) or buying when it was meaningful.

    • frenz0rz says:

      Uhm, what?

      Forgive me if you were trying to be sarcastic, since if so it went completely over my head, but since when did buying a game have to be ‘meaningful’? I dont understand what on earth you’re trying to suggest. Are you claiming that legitimately buying a game years after it’s release, or buying it second hand, is somehow inherently wrong, and that one should either buy a game for full price on release or choose to pirate it? Should I insist on giving Amazon more of my money, in some vague effort to ‘contribute’ to something? Are you just looking for an excuse to call me a panda? So many questions. So many, in fact, that I’m not sure why I bothered writing this response when I could have been doing something else. Ah well.

    • Thants says:

      Dhatz: So you’re saying he should go back in time and buy it at full price?

  13. woodsey says:

    “For example, there’s a mission where one of the factions hires you to go and steal a bunch of weapons from the other faction,”

    Hopefully they’re being careful to avoid Far Cry 2 syndrome with that one.

    Anyway, I’m quite looking forward to this, can’t wait to see some gameplay. I can sort of see what side the reviews are going to fall on, but it does look good still.

  14. Bret says:

    You know what I was thinking just the other day?

    “More games need Red Harvest scenarios. I want to play Continental Op, setting everybody against each other and collecting a check in the end.”

    And it sounds like you’ll be doing that here. I’m interested. Hope this turns out.

  15. Sagan says:

    I like this so much. It’s great seeing a developer and publisher who are actually brave and trying something new. Anywhere else this would have been killed at the second meeting where a big change was discussed or at the first time that playtesters play this and say that they want the old game back.

  16. mwoody says:

    I like what they’re doing here. I found Prey to be an interesting universe but, as a game, sort of boilerplate (probably a result of its frequent delays). So taking the story of an alien invasion and using it not as the fundamental impetus but rather the mere background for an unconnected tale – this could work. I’m intrigued and excited.

  17. FunkyBadger3 says:

    If they’ve changed the setting and got rid of the portals, why is it called Prey 2?

    • drewski says:

      Because it continues the same universe and the same story. Just on a different part of it (to start with, at least) and with a different protagonist.

  18. FunkyBadger3 says:

    Going to be sad if you don’t get Navajo Powers as well…

  19. Daave says:

    I would have liked a stronger interview tbh. “Is your game going to be good?” “Yes it will” “But will your game be inspired by this good thing?” Yes also” etc.

  20. unimural says:

    I’m kind of saddened that quite a few people seem to think the devs have departed too far from the original. Sure, the first game was nice. But everyone seems to agree it wasn’t all that memorable. Based on what’s been written, it seems they are trying to make something far more ambitious than Pray was (in the end). In my opinion, there’s far too little of that going around.

    Or perhaps I’m reading this wrong and they’re actually just trying to cash in on the whole open world phase/craze. But I hope I’m reading this right.

    • RakeShark says:

      I’m kinda on the same boat with you. Prey is a more interesting concept to hear about than it is in practice. Personally I’m more interested in where Prey 2 is going now than some theoretical alternate sequel continuing Tommy’s thing.

      Why am I thinking that people harping on the “no portals, no Tommy” issues are kinda like people complaining that a Ben Stiller movie doesn’t have nut kicks or hair-gel gags?

    • drewski says:

      I’m more interested in how they develop the universe than I am that I don’t get to play Tommy.

      If they do it well, I won’t care. If they do it badly, I will be disappointed, but because it is badly done, not because the dude I’m playing changed.

      Fanboys get too attached to the tropes of their favourites games. Developers should ignore them whenever possible.

  21. whitebrice says:

    Killian is Kieron in Japanese.

  22. Radiant says:

    Yes but does it have the original Prey’s vagina doors?

    http://bulk.destructoid.com/ul/user/2/2164-88936-preyjpg-468x.jpg

    WE MUST HAVE VAGINA DOORS.
    Even if they’re on a car I’m not too fussed.

  23. Josh W says:

    They called him that cos Samuel Killian wouldn’t let them use his name.

    Shortsighted.

  24. Scandalon says:

    Misplaced reply moved.

  25. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    Hmmm. I will still be keeping my eye on it, as it seems intriguing, but, after reading (part)way through this article, some of the answers he gives make me lose a bit of hope. But still, a welcome change to Prey 1, I might buy it, but not day 1 release.

  26. BreadBitten says:

    I LOVED the first ‘Prey’, its one of the few games this generation that got storytelling right. while I’m cautiously optimistic about this sequel its starting to sounds an awful lot like Far Cry 2, a game that got its mechanics down pat but had a serious case of repetition…and don’t get me started on that utterly forgettable “story”.

  27. I3LiP says:

    Its really a shame that they are moving away from the more unique aspects of the game. For me the Prey experience was the most memorable I’ve ever had. Sure it was a mediocre shooter, and the story wasn’t great, but what they did get right really blew my mind. The planetoids, the gravity walkways and the portals added to make a really mind bending piece that really hit home about the crazy and unique areas games could go. The key moment was when I realised the square room I was in only had three sides! I will really miss these elements and would have liked to see them incorporated into the more open world of Prey 2.

  28. Spliter says:

    IMO you forgot to ask the most important question of all: will there be more physics defying gameplay.

    Also, I’m happy it’s a first person game, not third person.

  29. Iskariot says:

    If they can pull this of, it will be a dream come true for me.

  30. DrazharLn says:

    [Registering interest]

  31. elijed23 says:

    Well they definitely branched out from the first one and showed what they could do. I have heard mixed opinions about it. Some like the new style; other are upset that they weren’t consistent. As for me, I am still holding out to form an opinion.
    Elisa Jed | http://infootdocs.com

  32. jbond1616 says:

    This looks like an interesting game. I’m not very much into futuristic aliens and space adventure but I’m still excited to see it released and can’t wait to try it out for myself.
    John Bond | http://www.obgyn.jabsom.hawaii.edu