Prey’s creative director and founder of Arkane Studios, Raphael Colantonio, steps down

Raphael Colantonio, the founder and president of Arkane Studios and creative director of recent fuzzy alien basher Prey, has stepped down from the studio after 18 years. “It is time for me to step out to spend some time with my son,” he wrote in a statement, “and reflect on what is important to me and my future.” Colantonio was also the co-creative director on Dishonored, and the man who once referred to us grubby journalists as “press sneak fucks”.

That latter accolade was part of a series of emails received by Kotaku suggesting that he and Bethesda’s Pete Hines weren’t entirely forthright when they denied any involvement in taking over a Prey sequel back before anyone knew about it. Basically, he got caught being not-totally-honest and then he got caught calling the people who caught him a bunch of “fucks”. OH WELL.

But that’s only the most salacious moment of Colantonio’s career with Arkane, which began in 1999. He’s worked on some much-loved games and was part of the team before ZeniMax took over the studio, working on fantasy RPG Arx Fatalis. Here’s the core of his parting statement:

I’ve lived many magical moments. I’ve also been through the hard times. But, I can say that joining ZeniMax took things to the next level and gave Arkane the opportunity to emerge as a world-class studio. ZenIMax enabled us to make the best games that we’ve ever made. And I know there is even more to come.

ZeniMax strongly believes in Arkane’s ability to make great games, and is committed to supporting the studio. My long-time friend and colleague, Harvey Smith, will oversee the team in Austin and I will be around for as long as necessary to ensure a smooth transition to the new management team in Lyon.

I wish the best to everyone at Arkane, Bethesda, and ZeniMax. Without a doubt I will miss everyone.

So, Harvey Smith, his co-creative director at Arkane, is taking over the Austin team. What that means for development and the way they do things at Arkane isn’t clear just yet, but we’ve reached out to Harvey Smith for comment.

82 Comments

  1. Banks says:

    Ds2 and Prey didn’t sell well at all. Arkane is either getting “restructured” or completely shut down.

    There have been mistakes and baffling marketing decisions, but Arkane has the heart in the right place and makes hugely interesting games.

    • woodsey says:

      Dishonored 2 didn’t sell as well as the original, but then none of the games that released in the same period sold as well as their predecessors.

      I haven’t read anything to suggest both games sold particularly poorly.

    • kwyjibo says:

      Mankind Divided did not do as well either, ending the Deus Ex series. Obviously, there were problems with Mankind Divided (it came across half-finished), but maybe 0451 games aren’t as mainstream as we’d hope them to be?

      It’s another genre, but I think it’s similar to how Torment and Tyranny underperformed too.

      • Unclepauly says:

        Sad set of circumstances. I feel like the average gamer just isn’t hip to the greatness of this style of game. I think it’s mostly people who have seen the evolution of SP games that are most aware of the awesomeness.

        • mrevilboj says:

          I’m sure it had nothing to do with Dishonored 2 being quite broken on release and Mankind Divided doing nothing particularly interesting apart from just being more Human Revolution.

      • Blake Casimir says:

        Just when it seemed immersive sims are returning… they underperform because most people seem to prefer unsubtle cutscene laden mostly linear killing simulators. FFS.

      • phuzz says:

        I enjoyed the first Dishonoured, but got to about 90% of the way through and just found myself with no will to continue.
        Human Revolution I ended up quitting after the first mission.
        I don’t know what it is, because I generally love that style of game (and both games had great style), but somehow I just never grew to love them in the same way I did (eg) the original Deus Ex. There just seems to be some spark missing that prevents these games from grabbing me.

      • causticnl says:

        LOL, Arkane has NOTHING to do with the Deus Ex series. I just love how you try to link totally unrelated news to this article.

        • Remmoth says:

          I wouldn’t say ‘Nothing’. People at Arkane, like Harvey Smith, had a hand in both the original Deus Ex and Dishonored…

  2. haldolium says:

    Sounds like the classical VG industry burnout. Guess the pressure has been much higher under Zenimax in the past years too.

    • Spherical says:

      Or, you know, he actually just wants to spend more time with his son?

      • LexW1 says:

        In the business I worked in, I saw a lot of leaving/getting fired/etc. letter which cited “spending more time with his family” as a reason, and I’m pretty confident in saying, to judge from the nature and addresses of the jobs they went on to, in the majority of cases – the vast majority – spending more time with one’s family cannot actually have been a reason, or they managed to spend the all the time they wanted very rapidly.

        The proof of that will be in where Colantonio ends up next, either way. But just believing that? Well, you might as well believe all those politicians who quit just as a scandal is brewing to “spend more time with their families”.

      • haldolium says:

        It’s very likely a part of it, but the reason he quit is because the job doesn’t allow a proper work/life balance and, speculatively, a few other factors as well.

        That phrase is frequently used to avoid either NDAs/legal issues or a discussion in general. The circumstance that this origins from the ZeniMax blog raises suspicions into the actual reason for his decision.

        It’s a fact that the industry is often, especially in the AAA environments, exhaustive, demanding up to straight hostile for your health and/or sanity and given how Arkane has upped their AAA product output under ZeniMax severely it is far more likely that there were quite a few other reasons for him to leave.

        As LexW1 wrote, his choices for his work future might shed more light upon it and maybe some interviews down the road.

  3. Blackcompany says:

    Ahh the “benefits” of working with a large publisher.

    Judging by Dishonored 2 and Prey – not to mention, that this is the publisher that tolerates Bethesda – “Creative” Director isnt high on their list of priorities to begin with.

  4. rubmon says:

    The ZeniMax thugs bullied Prey for the Gods to change it’s name, so Prey is one game I’m not gonna buy.

    I’ll now pray for the gods that ZeniMax goes bankrupt. Amen.

    • Kingseeker Camargo says:

      Surely you meant you’ll praey for the gods, right?

    • pentraksil says:

      So lets not buy and support a pretty solid and a bit different shooter for todays mainstream just because a publisher made a small indie game change the name. Not saying they were right, they were completely wrong for doing so….but come on….

      • Premium User Badge

        MajorLag says:

        I agree that overall it’s a pretty minor thing to be upset about, but if the poster feels strongly about then why not? If we allow “made a pretty good game” to be an excuse for not punishing the kind of behavior we hate in the industry, then they’ll just keep doing it.

        • Kingcole225 says:

          It has less to do with the fact that this is a “good” game and more to do with the fact that this is a unique game which doesn’t fall in line with the rest of the big AAA gaming crap that is being shoved down our throats on a daily basis. If you want integrity in the gaming business, you’ll want to support Prey.

          • Emeraude says:

            What’s the relationship between “unique product” and “business integrity”?

    • fish99 says:

      You’re also punishing Arkane though.

      • horrorgasm says:

        ONLY punishing Arkane and anyone else who wants to make games like this, really. This could have sold zero copies and it wouldn’t make a dent in ZeniMax. All they would learn from it is that people must not like this kind of game and so then they wouldn’t bother with games like this anymore. Then they’d use the money to put Skyrim on another 5 platforms instead. You sure showed them!

        • ColonelFlanders says:

          By that token of incredibly flawed logic, by supporting Arkane you’re also supporting Zenimax’s shitty business practices.

          I’d rather not play a good game than give any money to those fucks.

          • mavrik says:

            And as a result you won’t be able to play good games at all in the future.

          • Styles says:

            @Mavrik: Yes, because only shitty, thuggish, litigation-happy publishers with despicable business practices (and who constantly force the release of buggy, unfinished products) make good games ….*slow clap*.

            @ColonelFlanders: Exactly. How else can we let it be known that we won’t tolerate these awful business practices if we’re just going to throw our money their way anyway. Sales figures are the only thing that matters to publishers like this. You’re arguing with Bethesda/Zenimax fanboys though, so they’re unlikely to listen or understand.

          • ColonelFlanders says:

            Yes because those games I’ve purchased from companies like introversion, Ludeon, Frontier and so on are all total shit. You’re totally right, I think I’m just going to go back to buying cash-cow annuals from EA and Ubi now, since that’s definitely the kind of industry I want to support. Hopefully they’ll start gassing Jews next so I can blithely ignore that too.

          • LexW1 says:

            What the hell Mavrik? Do you think only Bethesda/ZeniMax publish “good games”? That’s amazing.

          • TheHawkster says:

            @LexW1:
            Considering that third party publishers are creaming their pants over typical AAA affairs like open world games and multiplayer-only games, I’d say Bethesda are good for comitting to publishing single-player games

            Give me single-player games like Dishonored, Prey, DOOM, and Wolfenstein any day of the weel.

            So as far as I’m concerned, Colonel Flanders’s useless crusade against Bethesda is useless

          • ColonelFlanders says:

            I don’t have anything particularly against Bethesda. They’ve made some good games, and published some other good games. But Zenimax owns them, and are a shitty shower of pricks and I don’t like them. I won’t buy any of their shit, just like I won’t buy anything from Nestlé if I can help it. It means that I’ll miss out on some games that look good, but thankfully the world will continue to spin, and I’ll be happy that I didn’t support something I don’t agree with.

            I’m not telling anyone not to buy their stuff, I’m just stating reasons why I don’t. If you don’t like me then fine, but you can fuck off if you think you can tell me what my moral compass is shaped like.

        • rubmon says:

          I said ZeniMax are thugs, not stupid. If the game doesn’t sell and people post about why they’re not buying it, rest assured, they’ll know.

      • rubmon says:

        Well, Arkane better find someone else to do business with, then.

    • mrevilboj says:

      So you’re boycotting them because trademark law requires that people defend their trademarks?

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        They also decided that the word scrolls belonged to them, that was a fairly bullshit manoeuvre. Also also they have let Bethesda get away with building shitty-arsed hodgepodge games for almost a decade now, which is equally irritating.

      • upupup says:

        This a myth. Trademark owners are not required to ceaselessly defend their trademark or risk losing it. Unwillingly losing a trademark is quite rare. Trademark holders attack their competition in this manner because they want to, not because they need to.

        The case itself is weak, based on a frivolously granted trademark. “Prey” is a common word, so anyone using it in their title is using it to mean the word prey, not implying “Prey, the game by Arkane Studios”. There is no risk of confusion. Bethesda has a beastly legal team, though, so they were correctly counting on their weak opposition not being able to sustain a protracted legal battle and acquiescing to their demands.

        • Premium User Badge

          MajorLag says:

          And that’s why we call it a legal system instead of a justice system.

      • rubmon says:

        A word from the dictionary is not a trademark. The people who say otherwise are the same gangsters that are able to use that against the little guy.

    • Stingy McDuck says:

      “And let’s hope everybody related to Zenimax loses their job, putting their families at risk. May all this happen just because of an stupid sense of justice/morality and because of a damn indie game I probably won’t buy anyway”.

      Amen.

  5. Sin Vega says:

    He once sent me an email to say thanks when I wrote a retrospective of Arx Fatalis, a game he was quite rightly proud of that never really found the success it deserved. So that was nice. Best of luck to him, really. The wee fuck.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      That’s cool. The article too. Do a retrospective of Outcast.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Fairly sure that retrospective was the reason I finally played Arx. It’s kind of wonderful, isn’t it? We don’t get enough underworlds.

      • Blake Casimir says:

        What I would give for another “open” dungeon crawling RPG like Underworld with modern visuals and MODDING.

        Okay, OtherSide are working on one… but THAT’S IT. :(

  6. Vegas says:

    Raphael Colantonio has been at the head of some truly incredible games. His transformative influence will be missed.

  7. Christo4 says:

    I haven’t really played dishonored 2, but i did play prey and the first one and i have to say… Am i the only one who didn’t think they were really that great?
    I mean take for example prey, the newest addition. The enemy variety was pretty low imo, there were plenty of fetch quests (if you can call them that) and others which didn’t really have any depth to them. There wasn’t really any grey area. And others didn’t really feel engaging. You also had to read a lot of messages and stuff to see more about the world, but most of it was rather pointless… SPOILER maybe, but i never cared much for mikaila, or the doctor that you save from a container. The choices you had to make were pretty obvious, i mean, why not save an ailing woman or someone stuck in space? It’s just too plain what you had to do. Unless you wanted to be evil for evils’ sake. Which isn’t really that great writing.
    The level design was the best i think and the station seemed interesting, the settings as well, but otherwise, the actual story felt and characters felt really lacking and the combat was just ok.

    I think their games now suffer because they try to do too much at the same time. In dishonored they tried to make combat and stealth work, but in the end none of them shined imho (both too easy, because they had to cater to different playstyles while making none shine). Then in Prey it felt like they tried to make an interesting and coherent world, which mostly they did, but the characters felt shallow imo and the combat the same. I also don’t think they ever explained the different types of phantoms other than the normal one… It felt like they were just there to spice up enemy variety by adding some quick stuff. Or why there are creatures that can control technology or humans. Just… why? maybe i wasn’t paying attention, but it doesn’t make sense imo. And the new things it creates, like the mimic thing lose their novelty VERY fast since there aren’t really a lot of things you could do with it. It also felt like you were shoehorned into choices, because you really didn’t have any reason to act otherwise.

    Compare this to witcher 3, which has a LOT more content imo and good one at that, i don’t think there’s much comparison…

    I would’ve liked it a lot more if you actually saw how the station was before, interacted with the characters and they were fleshed out some more. Then when the typhon got free there were actually enemies that made sense and were alien or did more interesting things at least. For example, i’d like to see a phantom use a gun perhaps, or a mimic copying a turret, which you can do, but they never do it in the game.

    It was quirky and i liked it for that… But i still think a different plot would have fit the world better. Especially since in the end nothing you did really mattered.

    EDIT: Welp i wrote a lot. At least i hope it was any good. 2am rant.

    Just wanted to add that, while in prey i kinda wanted to do different playthroughs, it just felt… Pointless. If you play with a lot of hacking and stuff like that, then there’s nothing more really that you can see if you play typhon only or with other things. It’s there just for the challenge or combat, which isn’t that great and in the end your choices don’t lead to a different outcome or characters interacting with you too different so… what’s the point?

    • Unclepauly says:

      “Especially since in the end nothing you did really mattered.”

      And in the game.

      • Christo4 says:

        How did it matter? The world was fucked anyway and you just went to the end and pushed a button below or above if i remember correctly.

        Also to the guy below, if it’s so much about personal preference, then tell me, what is a reason for NOT helping mikaila or the doctor? Or anyone else for that matter. Other than just wanting to be bad for no reason. There wasn’t anything in their history or other things that i actually found.

        And the dishonored criticism isn’t about personal preference. The stealth is just bad, they added powers just to make it a crutch. Any game that needs to use wallhack innately will lower the stealth quality that it could do. It’s not a focused game like thief 2 is. and it loses for it.

    • horrorgasm says:

      tldr: rambling about personal preferences, more rambling about personal preferences, completely irrelevant comparison to Witcher 3, rambling about personal preferences.

      Go to bed.

    • Emeraude says:

      I think their games now suffer because they try to do too much at the same time.

      Dishonored 2 I still haven’t finished, I keep rebounding hard off it, but I’d say from what I’ve seen of the games of the now so-called “immersive-sim renaissance, one big trouble is how they fail in the weaving of narrative and game-play. On several levels.

      To compare with the grand-daddy of the genre, Thief both from a narrative and mechanical standpoint justifies its gameplay in ways none of the newer games even attempt – you’re inside a limited design space and *inside* that space you’re free.
      Compare with the more modern games where every option ends up equally usable, and equally insignificant for it.

      But it goes beyond that. The games are not really interested in weaving your decisions into the narrative. Prey-recording and retelling your actions at the end feels hollow – a cop out to not have to do that properly during the game. Enumeration as a way to avoid having to do proper reactions.

      Mankind Divided had that moment which encapsulate something I find: if you go forcing open every door on your way, you end up finding a room deposit covered wall to wall with pictures of you. To no reaction from Jensen or anyone.
      It’s only if you’ve started the proper linked quest, when you’ve met the proper triggers that comments on the place will occur. The game is more interested in its own story than it is in the one you make happen – in giving you the options to make it happen. In that respect it fails.

      Dishonored 2 seems like it have something similar of a similar nature in that instead of noticing you’re not using/buying powers and making the game-world react to it, it gives you the choice upfront… and then you’re still being pestered by the Outsider as if you had a special relationship anyway…

      There’s a point right there which I need to articulate better. But I do think there is.

      Arkhane probably still has the best level-designers in the business though. Has to be said.

    • TheHawkster says:

      Christo4:
      Sounds like you didn’t like them because they didn’t match your flimsy expectations

      And you know what? That’s perfectly fucking okay. Arkane’s games are not for everyone

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        Sounds like you enjoy trolling/shitting on people who express different opinions to you.

  8. JOHNNY_LIGHTNING_OFFICIAL says:

    Prey is pretty much exactly what I wanted from a SS2 follow-up (having never enjoyed the other big -Shock series) & it sucks to see the dev evidently taking a hit for low sales due to inept marketing by the publisher or, possibly, invoking a heretofore unidentified Looking Glass Curse.

  9. Michael Fogg says:

    Give him 6 months. He’ll be back on Kickstarter or Fig helming the new indie spiritual successor to Arx. Or at least I hope.

  10. Seyda Neen says:

    Woah. That’s a big change. Good luck to Colantonio, and good luck to Harvey and whoever takes over at Lyon.

  11. fish99 says:

    Bit sad if he’s taking the blame for Dishonored 2/Prey not selling well, when Bethesda’s review black-out cost these games a bunch of sales IMO. If you don’t let people review your game for launch, it makes it look like you have something to hide, like you don’t have any confidence in it. By the time the reviews start coming in 3-4 days later and people find out if it’s any good, the launch hype is gone.

    • Vegas says:

      This is an interesting point. They definitely spend money on advertising for these games though. I know I saw plenty of TV ads for both Dishonored 2 and Prey. But maybe these games don’t sell as well to the TV audience as something like Call of Duty does, because an immersive sim may be more of a “gamer’s game.” They may be better off building hype among people who appreciate the ambition of these kinds of games.

  12. Mouse_of_Dunwall says:

    Dishonored and Prey are probably my two favorite games ever. Good luck in the future, and thanks for the great games.

  13. yogibbear says:

    If Bethesda didn’t charge $80 USD for these games on Steam in my country I would buy them all at launch for the $60 they sell them for in the US. Instead I am violating the law if I use a VPN to buy them at the $60 USD it should cost me so I DON’T buy your games until a key reseller sells them to me for $20 USD 6 months (and nowadays more like 2 months) after the fact because WHO GIVES A SHIT IF BETHESDA DOESN’T. I bought Dishonored 1 at launch. I bought Dishonored 1 DLC at launch. I fucking DIDN’T buy Fallout 4, DOOM, Dishonored 2 or Prey at launch because of the price rort just because you find my country a small market that you can price gouge.

    • Styles says:

      Yep. Plenty of studies show that people do want to legally purchase good games and support developers they like, but publishers like Bethesda/Zenimax (and plenty of other big ones) want to gouge as much cash out of countries like this one as they can, so they charge the Australia tax because “they can afford it” …which is rubbish.

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        Or “a load of facking cunty bollocks mate” if you’re Australian.

  14. Lachlan1 says:

    “journalists”

  15. Iggy says:

    I red this awesome article from Polygon yesterday and now this? I am kind of sad, but good luck to him and thanks for great games.

  16. geisler says:

    So ends the mini “immersive sim” renaissance. In 10-20 years time this man’s games will be looked upon like classics not unlike the Looking Glass / Irrational games are looked upon now. I fear for the products Arkane will produce now.

    • Voidy says:

      > I fear for the products Arkane will produce now.

      You mean with Harvey frigging Smith at the helm? Yes, they will be awful, I’m sure.

      • geisler says:

        He’s a great designer I’m sure. But it doesn’t take smirky sarcasm to know that the products won’t be the same with one (arguably the most important) half of the creative duo gone.

        • Voidy says:

          “Arguably” being the operative word here. Smith is one of the founding fathers of the immersive sim genre, after all. Also, there is a lot of other fantastically talented people at Arkane, so your misgivings are a bit premature, I think.

          Similarly, you can’t argue in good faith that the immersive sim renaissance is over. With upcoming System Shock 3, SS1 remake, and Underworld Ascendant it doesn’t seem very likely, does it?

        • Jason Moyer says:

          I fear for the quality of their future output, but I know for certain that there are many other talented people working at Arkane who love immersive sims as much as Raph and Harvey do.

  17. upupup says:

    Dishonored 2 needed another month or two to iron out the performance issues before they released it, as the actual game part was exceptionally done and modders weren’t going to be able to fix it.

    I wonder if another part of its underperformance could also be due to the average player not being primed for good, immersive level design. Dishonored had the surprise factor, but few other games nowadays treat the structure of the levels themselves as the main attraction, using it instead to guide the attention of the player to where they want it go.

    Games with levels that are both not-randomised and meant to be replayed due to how fun they are to play, seems limited to being platformers. And if that’s all that modern players are shown then it’ll be harder to get them to appreciate a game like Dishonored 2 on those merits, because they would have little experience with enjoying those qualities in the mainstream. This could mean that the game itself will sell well in the long term if it establishes a reputation and people start playing it with different expectations, while the developer itself suffers in the short-term due to a perceived lack of success.

    • mavrik says:

      Were the performance issues really this important/bad? The console versions ran fine as far as I know and I don’t remember having any issues on PC after first patch either. Is this just repeating the same old thing over and over again?

    • brucethemoose says:

      I think BGS spoiled ZeniMax. People (including me) keep buying Fallout/TES despite being unacceptably slow and buggy, hence Zenimax execs aren’t particularly concerned with performance when deciding to delay or not.

    • RationalImpact says:

      upupup. I’m a bit late to this article, but I literally signed up just to reply to your comment because of how accurate it is and am so happy that someone else gets it. I have been ranting about the lack of actual level design for a long time. Even the old school fps games like Doom and Duke Nukem 3D had real design in their levels despite them focusing on action. And over all, the levels have aged well- albeit some of the abstract switch puzzles from doom are a bit annoying. And has much as I love games like Half-Life and Half-Life 2, I believe those action games were the first to really put a higher focus on linearity. Half-Life 1 still had a great sense of place and thus didn’t feel to linear, but half-Life 2 with its almost cinematic focus, taking you from one place to another really started the linearity as far as I can tell. Then Halo, while I enjoyed it as well, really mainstreamed linear design and finally Call of Duty was the last nail in the coffin for real level design. Now like you said, levels are just a way to funnel the player to where they need to be. And I am also over the trend of random generated levels as well. Sure it works perfect for games like Spelunky, but even when done right it takes a certain handcrafted element out of it. I actually think even Spelunky would have been better with hand crafted levels. But at this point it feels like most developers are just either to lazy or lack the creativity to make actual levels. So games like Prey and Dishonored 1 and 2 and even Mankind Divided are a breath of fresh air, because there’s actual effort and creativity in their level design, though they are far from perfect. As someone who aspires to make some games of my own someday; I am focusing big time on level design and really want to make action games with real level design again, like Hollywood holocaust from Duke Nukem for instance. That map alone has several ways into and through it, but it never feels arbitrary or shoehorned in. I wish more shooters would incorporate this design style. Having to actually navigate a level adds so much more to a game and its world then just taking linear paths where you shoot everything. My dream game would be one that takes the adrenaline soaked action of the 90s era shooters with the level design and immersion of the world with the 90s style immersive Sims.

  18. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    He led Arkane through some turbulent times and helped create a bunch of great games. Best of luck to him.

  19. Emeraude says:

    Basically, he got caught being not-totally-honest and then he got caught calling the people who caught him a bunch of “fucks”. OH WELL.

    “Press sneak fucks”, if I recall happens to be the one.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      And then he had the humility/sense of humor to make that an achievement in Prey.

  20. celticdr says:

    Jeez you call some grubby journalists “press sneak fucks” and they never forget about it, what kind of world are we living in?

  21. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    Colantonio also showed he had a pretty good sense of humour about the whole issue, but I guess we’re too busy being offended to mention that part of the story.

  22. SaintAn says:

    Glad to know our Zen/Bethesda boycott is working. Keep it up! We need to make sure to get rid of paid mods.

    • Emeraude says:

      Irony aside, sometimes we do go for completely inefficient ways of demonstrating against something because there is nothing else we can do.

      Sure it does nothing to the designated target, but hey if it helps alleviate the feeling of utter powerlessness…

  23. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    I hope he returns someday. Prey and Dishonored are really masterpieces of the genre.

  24. toxxxxy says:

    He called you fucks because that’s what you are. Gaming journalists are grubby drama stirring fucks. I’m glad people are slowly coming onto the fact that the entire position is a joke.