While none of their games have been the industry-shaking hits I would have loved them to be, Dishonored and Prey developers Arkane have put the immersive sim genre back on the map. At QuakeCon last week, agents for the ever-sneaky VG247 managed to pin down Ricardo Bare, lead designer at Arkane. Despite the studio being famously evasive ever since that whole Press Sneak Fuck incident, he did have a few things to say about the present and future of the studio and its games.
It's probably best to get the sad stuff out of the way first. While there's every chance Arkane may have some secret projects rattling away behind the scenes, Bare's statement that "anything could happen, but [Dishonored] is resting for now” implies that whatever's next, it's unlikely to be that dream-game I've always wanted set in Dishonored's endlessly teased Pandyssian continent. Ah well, at least Death Of The Outsider provided a satisfying end to that particular story arc, so I can stand not returning to Dunwall for another few years.
That said, Bare had some heartening things to say regarding immersive sims in general, and the studio playing to their strengths. While nothing new, it's nice to hear them so confident in the formula.
“The things that are important to us as a studio are coherent, deep world building and environmental storytelling – we’re always going to craft spaces that you feel like you’re visiting, whether it’s Dunwall or Talos 1. It’s just as important a character as the player or the people you meet. Then it’s improvisational gameplay – giving players a bunch of cool abilities and tools, then saying, ‘You figure it out, you be creative, you own the experience’. And, typically, we stick to first-person, though that’s not a hard rule and we might try other things from time to time.”
I'm personally hoping to see Arkane build on the light roguelike framework that was the core of Prey's recent (and excellent) Mooncrash expansion, which I personally thought typified that creative, improvisational experience better than ever.
We're thankfully past the age where every game had to have a deathmatch mode tacked on to fill a marketing bingo board - something Bare described as "super destructive" - and now studios are free to experiment a little more with online integration. While according to Bare a game in the vein of The Crossing (a cancelled multiplayer title where players took turns in the protagonist's role) isn't on the cards, there is the possibility of something similarly experimental in the online sphere.
All of that said, Bethesda and Arkane are notoriously good at keeping secrets (some teasing aside, Prey's expansion was launched live on stream at E3, plus they managed to throw a few people off the scent of Prey), so anything goes. If nothing else, it's just nice to hear that the immersive sim as we know it is alive and kicking, even if it's liable to pick up a few new mutations along the way.