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BDG 2011: Prey 2 Developer Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 11:23am 22/04/11 | Comments
AusGamers chats with Human Head co-founder Jim Sumwalt about all things Prey 2. Read on for the full interview...

As well as sitting through an extensive demo unveiling much of what Prey 2 is going to offer, AusGamers was given the chance to chat with Human Head co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Jim Sumwalt, in what should have been a video interview if not for an issue with sound (*sad face*).

We did manage to salvage the revealing information we got out of said interview though, and so have a full transcript for you below.

AusGamers: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to AusGamers. You’re here with Stephen Farrelly. I’m out a very special event; the BFG -- Big Friggen Games I think that might stand for -- with Bethesda. I’m here with Jim Sumwalt, who is Chief Creative Officer and co-founder of Human Head Studios and we just had an amazing look at Prey 2.

I know a lot of you are concerned about a lot of aspects that have been revealed so far, but you can read my preview to find out that this game should be awesome in and of itself.

So let’s start with the first big question, and that is that Tommy isn’t gone. He’s actually in this game and you are going to run into him, correct? Let’s start there.

Jim Sumwalt: Correct. We are opening up the Prey Universe in a way that explains more than just Tommy’s story but we’re not leaving behind Tommy’s story. Those of you who are interested to see, or want to know, what happened to him after he stepped through that portal at the very end; that’s going to be a part of Prey 2; we’re not going to leave that behind.

But the focus of Prey 2 is a new character, with a new story and how that is also entwined with Tommy’s story.

AG: Now interestingly, after the announcement and reveal trailer, the live action trailer, I went back and started playing Prey 1 again -- and I’d already played through it once before -- and I came across the moment when see the jet engine when you’re going up in the elevator. And I was like “wow, that has to be the same thing”, then you guys obviously revealed that it is.

So Killian is a U.S. Air Marshall and we learn that he’s been abducted -- well, part of a massive abduction initiative -- and fights back, but then finds himself some 31 days later, on an alien planet called Exodus -- a tidal planet that’s locked to a dark side and light side. Which is going to give us some very different environments to play in, I assume.

Jim: Correct, yep.

AG: Let’s explore that a little more. Why did you guys go with that sort of direction? I mean, you had Tommy in these really confined, small corridor spaces and really feeling the alien-ness of everything around him. Whereas Killian seems almost to have just embraced everything around him and is kind of living in this world as a bounty hunter.

Jim: Well we definitely... earlier on, we wanted to switch the script a little bit, in terms of predator/prey. We wanted to make the protagonist the predator and not the one being preyed upon. So that led to the bounty hunter aspect and if you’re going to be a bounty hunter, you’re going to need to have plenty of targets so the population quantities are required by that dynamic as well.

The bounties that he is going after are sentient, humanoid-esque, smart, conniving aliens. Although still alien and bizarre and weird, with all kinds of wacky abilities, they kind of have to have that quality. So tracking these different characters through different heavily populated conditions, on an alien planet is what inspired us to go forward with the work on that.

AG: It’s been quite a while since the last game, did you have much of an issue jumping from that kind of really core, linear experience to this massive open world. In that small taste of the demo, there was just so much to consume.

Jim: Yeah definitely, it’s been new for all of us. But in a great way; we’ve really grown in that way. We come from a linear storytelling vibe and we thought that it would be really cool to take the open-world, choice-based gameplay and try and put narrative into it in cool and interesting ways that isn’t dictated by a corridor shooter.

I hate hearing the term corridor shooter; we wanted to go beyond that aspect but it is a difficult balance. And just a byproduct of saying “open world” is that you can lose a bit of control over that roller-coaster ride. But you do follow a narrative -- it’s a path; the acts that a proper story needs to have -- and you’re going to have to meet some of those. You can’t just define your own story, but we look at it as you’ll be moving you’re own way along that narrative thread and can kind of define some of that story in that way.

We also have certain little side-missions that take you to certain establishments where I would say it’s slightly linear, but it gives us a little bit more control to do some of our crazy exotic stuff and some more narrative storytelling.

AG: Yeah, I was going to ask, because one of the key components of the first game -- which added to that whole “holy shit, I’m in an alien ship!” factor -- was some really awesome scripted moments, that just kind of hit the player for six. Obviously we’re going to get those again. Will they be strictly tied to the narrative?

I mean in that, will you find those when you go off the beaten path, or is it more down the narrative path?

Jim: Mostly somewhere down the narrative path, yeah.

AG: Now obviously this is a direct sequel -- almost a tangent I guess you could sort of say -- to the first game. Beyond the two characters, the abduction aspect and the plane, are you guys tying anything else back from the first game?

Jim: Yes. I can’t really go into too much detail about what we’re tying in, but some of the questions that we plan on asking were: What happened to Tommy? What’s he been up to? And these spheres -- these crazy planet-abducting spheres -- what are they all about and where do they come from? Are there others? So that’s about all I can say.

I will say that the Exodus has a narrative and a quality to it that is involved in some of these questions and that is an interesting narrative unto itself.

AG: You guys mentioned that you wanted to look at this as more of a franchise opportunity, and if you’re talking about more spheres then I guess you can talk about more planets and I guess you can talk about more aliens. Well, you can’t talk about them but I can assume. [laughs]

Jim: [laughs] I can’t specifically talk about them.

AG: One of the key components of the first game was that Tommy was always reacting to everything around him, but through that whole demo Killian never said a word. So I’m curious. Is that because you just haven’t thrown any voicing in for him yet, or is it too hard to add a voice to him in an open-world environment How are you guys gong to flesh him out as a character, beyond just the action that he does and the missions that he does?

Jim: Well, following his narrative thread and character development, you are going to learn, of course, more about Killian and who he is and why he’s there. As far as the voice as a quality of that, it won’t be to the degree that Tommy talked about things, but it will be there and it will be delivered in a way that will probably be less expected.

I think what we’re conscious of is, we call it the player-delta, in that you have someone playing the game for the first time and you have a protagonist, and how different are they? Does the protagonist know everything there is to know about this world and now you’re jumping in, with that quality to the character? We kind of want to minimise that delta, where the protagonist is learning at the same rate -- or close to the same rate -- as the actual game-player is learning about their condition and their abilities and who they are in this larger picture.

So that factors in to whether or not you’re going to have the voice-over and the people that he may or may not identify with. But of course, he’s got to be a great character. He can’t just be devoid of any character qualities -- it’s a fine balance

AG: One of the cool things is that there’re a lot of gadgets in the game; a lot of weapons and verticality as well, as a gameplay tool. And you combine all of those with the idea that you’re a bounty hunter -- tracking information and doing all that legwork to get to your target.

How hard has it been for you to craft a gameplay experience that doesn’t always repeat every single time you’re going after a new target. I mean, the first Assassin’s Creed offered a lot that you are now and still tended to fall into repetition. What have you done to address that issue and how different does each mission flow?

Jim: Well they’re pretty different from one another and they take you to very different places. You’re not going to just stay in, like the Bowery that you saw in the demo. One mission could take you from there to another place in the light-side of Exodus and that’ll have certain gameplay mechanics.

That and using your different weaponry, your different gadgets, the combatants and the targets that you’re asked to take out -- because they’re alien and they have some pretty exotic technology of their own -- offers a lot of “holy cow, did you see that?” moments and unpredictability to what this target is going to do versus that target.

AG: You guys are pretty early in development at the moment and the game looks great as it is now, but one of the big... well I guess it wasn’t really an issue, that I had with Prey 1, but the way the gameplay was delivered to you. The AI wasn’t really overtly dynamic; the guys were just standing there. And in that demo, I noticed that they didn’t appear to be as smart as they could be, given the area of play that you have and the amount of cover that they can grab.

What are you guys doing to address giving them the same kind of recourse in terms of tactical play as you do?

Jim: We’re definitely striving for what the player can do in terms of tactical abilities that they can do. Using high-ground and the verticality is something that’s kind of special to the player and we reserve the exotic behaviour of NPCs to a limited amount of that. But the use of cover, in the same way that Killian can use cover -- in the sense of getting around the player and flushing them out of cover -- is part of the overall AI scheme.

We definitely realise that we need to push the AI forward from Prey 1 quite a bit to meet current standards.

AG: Yeah, that’s good to hear.

Now just for the PC players out there. I know you talked a little bit about platform parity, which is a dirty word for a lot of PC players these days, because it sort of means that the game might not be all it can be on PC. I know you can’t really talk that much about it at the moment, but are you at least pushing for simultaneous release across all three platforms?

Jim: I can’t go into too much detail or too many specifics about that, but we are definitely aware of what the PC can offer us in terms of the quality bar.

AG: Finally, the other big thing that you guys pointed out was the influences that you’ve had. There was Blade Runner of course, and I mentioned weapons before and one of the cool weapons you had was the shoulder missile-cannon and you talked about predator versus prey -- please tell me that you guys just pulled that straight from Predator.

Jim: [laughs] Predator, definitely. Predator was definitely an inspiration, yeah. Part of the bounty-hunter thing that’s cool is that I have to capture something; I don’t just kill everything that jumps in front of me. But you are in general, definitely looking at -- both from the narrative and the tone of the world, as well as the visuals of our world -- you mentioned Blade Runner. Blade Runner -- not only from the cyberpunk quality, but the kind of crazy colour and that mixed with even earlier noir had a lot of reflective surfaces and distorted images and we thought that was awesome; mixing those two, lots more colour and high-reflectivity to just throw that colour around.

Distorting perception was something that we’ve totally worked into this environment. And the noir kind of vibe of a bounty hunter in a seedy world where no one is innocent and everyone is out for their own agenda -- that’s perfect for a bounty hunter.

AG: Obviously one of the other staples there is rain. You can’t have a noir film without rain.

Jim: Exactly. So the interesting thing about rain is that it’s fun for a little while. But all the time? If you imagine sssshhhhhhh all the time, right? So it’s a fine balance, yeah. The reflectivity does come from the atmosphere and particulates. But to the point where it’s a downpour all the time? No.

AG: I’m going to take that as an affirmation that there are different types of weather in the game.

Jim: Definitely, different climates, yes.

AG: Awesome. Well, we’ll leave it there. But the game looks great. Thanks so much for your time today Jim.

Jim: Thank you.

AG: Cheers.