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AusGamers Prey 2 Developer Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 08:07am 25/08/11 | Comments
AusGamers chats with Human Head Studios' Chris Rhinehart about Prey 2. Read on for what he had to say...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here to view in HD.

AusGamers: Hey guys, welcome back to AusGamers. You’re here with Stephen Farrelly and I'm here with Chris Rhinehart, who is one of the co-founders of Human Head Studios. We're out at QuakeCon once again and obviously Zenimax now kind of runs this event, which means their games get to be here as well, so we get to see some Prey 2.

I've seen a bit of Prey 2 already, and I want to see more -- you guys aren't showing off too much more yet -- but let's talk about the origins of this from the first game. Obviously a lot of the talk at the moment is that this is just so different to the first game -- and I was a big fan of the first game.

I'm actually really looking forward to this being different but still set in the same Universe. For you guys, when Prey was finished, did you have this ready to go? Were you already jumping on that?

Chris Rhinehart: We had a bunch of ideas as to where we wanted to take the story, but when we first sat down to do Prey 2 -- and we first signed with Zenimax in 09; in July -- one of the first things we did is go "ok, this is going to be a sequel to a game that came out in 2006; this is going to come out in 2012, so this needs to be... expectations are going to be much, much higher for what type of game the player is going to have".

We knew that we couldn't just do more of the same. We had to do something bigger, better, cooler. Just blow it out and do something crazy. And if you played Prey 1 -- now this is a spoiler, so anyone watching they might want to... -- but at the end of Prey 1, Tommy blows up the entire ship. He blows up the sphere; saves the Earth; saves the galaxy by blowing up the sphere. But we destroyed the entire place where Prey 1 took place.

So with Prey 2 we had the opportunity of taking the player someplace new; exploring another part of the Prey Universe. So very early on we knew we wanted you to be a different main character. We wanted to tell another story in the Universe. I mean Tommy's still part of the game. Tommy's not cut or anything like that, he has an integral part in the story for Prey 2 -- not just a cameo, doesn't just show up; he's an integral character.

AusGamers: That's fantastic because Tommy was such a great character, but he was always struggling with a lot of inner demons throughout the first game and it was about self-discovery as much as it was about alien abduction.

Chris: Absolutely!

AusGamers: Whereas this time around -- and this is kind of the mantra that you guys have been speilling -- is "now you're the hunter; now you're the guy that's there". You've reversed the Prey component. Was he always going to be the protagonist for the sequel and was he always going to be this strong, agile, badass?

Chris: Bounty was something very early on that we developed. The player's movement abilities being the movement badass. That was a thing that was very, very early on. Almost from right at the beginning, we knew that we wanted to expand the player's movement set. After we actually developed that, we knew we wanted to stretch it and use it everywhere.

I mean, if you just have it for climbing and it doesn't affect other stuff in the game, what's the point? So we integrated it with the combat. We call it agile combat, it's very deep, very cool but also very accessible.

To kind of go back and answer your original question: bounty hunter was very early on. Killian kind of grew out the bounty hunter aspect. But one thing I want to make mention is: Prey 1 was about Tommy and him discovering his heritage as you said; his origins. Like, who he is and how he fits in the world. Because at the beginning, he's on the reservation; didn't really know whether that's where he wanted to be; where he should be; whether he wanted to leave it.

Killian's story is actually kind of similar, because Killian's trapped on this distant planet called Exodus. He's the only human -- well, other than Tommy -- but he's the only human. So he's really a stranger in a strange land; he doesn't fit in that world either.

At the beginning of the game, the game start out with Killian not recalling everything that has happened, so the player goes in and there's a bit of a detective mystery to it, with the player uncovering what Killian and Tommy have been up to; kind of the larger happenings on Exodus. So it's still kind of a bit of an origin story, of uncovering your past in order to save the future.

AusGamers: Now we are talking about him being a bounty hunter and obviously that's going to entail a lot of missions going after bounties -- that's what bounty hunter's do. Can you run us through how that's actually going to work, because one of the big things that you're pushing is that it is a big open-world game. So I'm wondering how the mission structure works, from getting a target, then going and doing the investigation... and what sort of differentiation have you offered with each target to change up the gameplay? Because “open-world” is such a broad term.

Chris: It is. There's a lot of different ways you can get a target in the game. So talking about the open-world aspect, there's a lot of what we call "ambient bounties" so someone hanging out at a bar; having a drink with his friends; someone who wants him captured; they want him dead. So as a bounty hunter, you're wandering around the world, you can scan to look around and get information about characters. Then decide whether you want to take action or not, to try capture the guy; kill the guy. You might have to fight his buddies as well.

You kind of never know what's going to happen. So the enemies -- the kind of alien super-freaks you're going after -- they'll have different abilities as well. They'll have abilities, like, in the demo we show off an enemy that has the ability to teleport, so certain gadgets don't work well on him; he can get away a lot more easily. You need to use your movement abilities to track him down and get him. Other enemies will have things like they can drop mines -- they'll have crazy badass weapons; they'll be faster; they can jump higher; stuff like that.

Some will have henchmen. Some will have buddies that will attack you as well. So you can't just go and capture that guy. You have to deal with his henchmen before you can take him down. The kind of ambient stuff, and that carries over to the missions as well.

Now not all the missions are just going after a target. There's a lot of them that are going after a target, a lot of them that are dead or alive -- your choice. There's a number that are “you have to kill this guy” or “you have to capture this guy because they want information out of him” or whatever.

We do have a wide range of other types of missions beyond just going after a target -- going after a living target. We have missions that are going after, like, items that have been stolen: "somethings been stolen, go and get this shipment" We've got "recover something that was stolen that was a person" -- some kidnapping missions, someones been kidnapped and they want you to go in and recover the person that's been kidnapped -- and we've got some straight up assassination missions as well, where you just go in and wipe everyone out in this area.

So there's a variety to it. We always mix it up and keep it fresh.

AusGamers: One of the other things with Prey 1 was that basically survival was the key component to actually getting to the end of the game. What's the driving force behind this? Does Killian have a kind of end-goal objective that you can talk about?

Chris: Not that I can talk about. There is an end-goal to the story, but the moment-to-moment loop is about acquiring power. It's about capturing someone or finishing a mission to get more money, to buy more cooler gadgets and better gear in order to capture more people and do it more effectively and so on and so forth.

AusGamers: Because in the demo that you've been showing as well, it seems like the world of Exodus is kind of aware of Killian and he's actually kind of renowned a little bit. Will that be the case when the player picks up the controller for the first time? Will it sort of be that, or do you have to work to get to that point?

Chris: You're more neutral at the beginning and based on the player’s actions, will have affects on the overall world. So for example, if you go around and you gun everyone down and just constantly kill innocents -- kill the cops and all this -- your reputation will drop. Then eventually, people will recognise you as that and they'll cower when you walk by or look at you weird and try and step back and get out of your way. So there is a reaction to the world based upon what you've been doing.

AusGamers Now I know you guys have heavily modified id Tech 4 for the game. Can you maybe run us through some of the stuff that you added that's maybe pretty unique to Prey 2?

Chris: Absolutely. Well we started with id Tech 4, awesome tech, awesome base. We're comfortable with it and it's with Zenimax and we know the id guys really well so it's a great engine. Some of the big things we did is -- it's an open-world game so we had to have an open world -- we had to open it up a lot more. So that was one of the first things that our render guys did is we pretty much scrapped the entire renderer; rewrote a whole new renderer that has really cool new features like being able to see longer distances.

We wrote a brand new visibility system so we can have a lot more characters on screen at once and we can more effectively optimise out certain parts of of the world. We rewrote the lighting system and that's how we get the really cool visuals in the game; that's one part of it is the overall lighting.

And it's based upon the way that real lights actually work and bounce around. The environmental artists go and they just put in lights and they can base it up "this is a light bulb" you know, and "this is exactly the type of light that it will put out". That light will bounce around the world and it will properly take colours off of the world as it bounces around and light everything up. So that's how we get the really, really, realistic look and it's actually easier for the guys because they can just start placing these lights and everything just bounces around.

AusGamers: In terms of the iterative process for the movement... because it almost seems like this first-person parkour stuff that you guys have in there, should have been in games for a long time and you nailed it -- it looks so smooth. How long was that process for you guys, in actually getting that, and did the verticality sort of grow and grow and grow the more you realised it was such a unique and awesome tool?

Chris: Well the verticality and the movement stuff kind of came around the same time. It was something that we wanted to do early on -- we wanted to expand what the player can do. There was a lot of iteration on it and we've got some really dedicated people that really want to make it work.

So we went in and we iterate on it; we experiment with it. We rewrote the system a few times just to make this thing solid and it feels great. It works really, really well and I'm really happy that it turned out as well as it did. At the same time, we wanted to make a very vertical world. Well, as the movement was coming up, the vertical world was in development so we mirrored those together to make sure that we're getting the most out of the overall movement stuff.

So there were times where we not only iterated on the code but we iterated on the levels. We built a number of levels and we were like "well this isn't going to work best for the movement". SO we reworked the levels as to how it would work well. Sometimes the level designers would come up with a cool area and the movement doesn't work well in that area so we kind of reworked the movement to make sure that it works well in that area. It's been a cool process that and I'm really happy with the results.

AusGamers: Is there going to be some cool Easter eggs for daring people that just climb as high as they can and try to find lots of nooks and crannies?

Chris: There is. There definitely is yeah, there's a lot of cool places to explore in the game.

AusGamers: Now another big thing is obviously you don't have multiplayer in this -- which is fine, I actually think that's a really good decision. In terms of length it's always a bit of an odd question to ask anyone making a game, but are you guys aiming towards that ten plus hour single-player campaign?

Chris: Yeah we're targeting around fifteen is where we want it to be. But I mean your mileage may vary based upon how many of the nooks and crannies you explore and climb around.

AusGamers: Ok, cool. Well, we'll leave it there Chris. It looks fantastic.
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