EGM had a chance to sit down with Chris Reinhardt, the Project Lead of Prey 2 and Co-Founder of Human Edge Studios.
EGM: What phase of Prey 2 are you guys into with it? Are you still designing some major stuff or have you moved onto the tuning phase?
Chris Reinhardt: We’re in the tuning phase. We’re doing a lot of user testing, just going through and plopping people down in front of the game and asking how they’re doing with it and looking at how they’re doing and what they’re doing when they play. Are they screwing up, are they confused, what’s causing the confusion, etc. It’s definitely not in the final tuning aspect. That’s a completely different phase from where we are now. We’re in the phase where if something’s not working we may end up chopping certain things or emphasizing certain things or go “hey this is working really well, let’s make more of these types of missions”.
EGM: What do you see people responding to the best?
CR: Combat. Combat is a big thing and getting people to respond to the combat was an interesting thing of putting people down and having them test the combat and giving them no tutorial and then quickly going “we need to give them more of a tutorial”. Once people get it, they really get it, but just like any game they need a little bit of training and need to be taught how the controls are and they’re a little bit different than every other first-person shooter you’ve played and here’s what’s unique about our game.
EGM: Tell us a little bit about that uniqueness. What’s the thing that really sets the combat apart?
CR: Well, the biggest thing that sets it apart is what we’re calling “Agile combat”. So that’s what we’ve built the whole movement abilities with where you can climb, vault, hang, jump and slide and shoot while doing all of it. So we really wanted to merge your movement abilities with your combat ones. So I can do all my movements and shoot at the same time. But the other big thing is that since we are a cover-based shooter, so you slide and duck into cover, but we reward you for being agile and doing things quickly and efficiently. I slide to cover and I get a little bit of power. I pop up and kill a guy quickly and I get a bit of power. I vault and I get a little bit of power. So we reward you for continuing to move around instead of hunkering down behind one piece of cover and just blind firing the whole time.
EGM: Was there any inspiration from a Mirror’s Edge kind of template? It’s just very rare to get that kind of movement in this style of game and genre, but to me that uniqueness that you’re describing is what I’m most looking forward to. But it’s just that people don’t seem to ever go there at all.
CR: It was a very difficult thing. We iterated on it and worked on it a lot. And it’s kind of like the go big or go home aspect because movement and open world and a very vertical world, all of these challenges basically having to be solved at almost the same time. But the movement stuff we had worked on very early on and iterated very early on and one particular programmer who was super-hot on it, so when we decided we were going to do it, he was all over it like “I’m going to do it, I want to do it!” So he jumped right into it and we got the initial prototype up fairly quickly. It was a little rough, but the potential was there and so we just expanded out from there. Because it was an interesting mix of who was designing it and how we wanted the movement to work, the programmers were working very closely with the designers because the level has to fit how the game play was going to work, not the other way around. So there’s a strong marriage there with the level designers going “here is this cool thing I built around the climbing abilities”, but in reality that breaks the climbing abilities. So, okay, how do we fix the climbing abilities in having to work with this area and give the player feedback so they can intuitively figure out where they have to climb and go to next. Kind of going onto a little tangent, but that’s been another big thing with the user testing as well. Just plopping them down and letting them know that you can climb anything. If you see it and it looks like something you can grab hold of, you can climb it. And just watching how people react to that and what they climb, what they don’t climb, because the player can jump fairly high, and having them understand they can reach that pipe there.
EGM: You have a power in the game, right? Like hover boots? I didn’t realize you were focusing that much on the verticality of the game.
CR: Yes, the hover boots and yes, the verticality is a very, very important part of the game. Not only to find informants and to interact with characters, but there is a lot of cool collectibles and places to search and little hidden areas up high. It’s actually turned out pretty cool.
EGM: This is a big departure from the original Prey. It’s just a very different game at its core. At what point did you guys decide to just hit the reset button and go into this new territory? Where did that come from for you guys?
CR: Before going further, I just want to say that some people had surmised that we were working on a completely different game and then slapped Prey 2 on it. That is not at all what happened. When we first met with Bethesda, from the get go it was what we wanted to do with Prey 2. Consumer expectations are so high because of franchises like Call of Duty and Gears. They want a polished, awesome experience. So what can we do to make the game stand out on the market, make the game something players will be excited about, and honestly as developers work on something where we’re like “this is really cool, I want to build more of this and make it unique and fun and interesting”. So we didn’t want to do more of the same. We didn’t want to do a linear shooter. And one of the opportunities we had was to explore more of the Prey universe. You play through the first game and you blow up the entire ship and that whole space is gone. Right off the bat, we can’t set the sequel there. So this was the opportunity to go and explore other parts of the Prey universe.
And the other thing was that it all just kind of started building on itself. We said we want to take the player to a new space. We want to give the player something new and something different to experience and that was a really big thing with Prey 1. We took the player to a space they really hadn’t seen before, gave them game play there, and we wanted to do that again with the sequel. Another thing we really wanted to do was explore the predator/prey relationship. In Prey 1 you are the hunted. In Prey 2, you get to be the hunter and that’s where the idea of a bounty hunter came from and everything else just builds upon those core ideas.
EGM: Were you guys focused on this being a single player only game very early on?
CR: Yes, that was a focus for us very early on. I mean, my personal take on it is, you don’t want to do something that feels like tacked on multiplayer. I’m not saying that would’ve been the plan, to make a tacked on multiplayer, but there are a lot of first-person shooters out there that come out that have tacked on multiplayer.
EGM: Speaking to the open world side of things, obviously very few games have attempted to create a narrative in a first-person shooter in an open world space. What are some of the challenges you guys ran into putting that together and what is it going to allow you to do that we haven’t seen before?
CR: I would say the biggest challenge, and this is sort of a low-level challenge, but as designers, if you’re making a single player, linear game, you know where the player is going to be pretty much at any time. Linear, I know the player has to go from point a to point b and will take this route to get there so I want to place monsters at these three points. That sort of thing. With ours, we don’t know exactly where the player is, we don’t know where they’ll enter the arena from for combat. We have an idea. You need a mission, go to mission giver at point 1 and the player can get there and if the mission starts there we can have things spawn a certain way. But there are still so many angles for you to approach it from after that with the world and most of it being out doors and most of it being vertical. They could approach from above, below, a cardinal direction whatever. So we’ve had to design the combat spaces to accommodate that and also to accommodate the combat itself. Depending on where the player approaches from, we can spawn additional waves. We can’t have the wave spawn right next to you though, it has to spawn at appropriate places and times. So that’s been an interesting challenge.
The other thing with the open-world game that has been an interesting challenge is reusing spaces as well. It a similar thing where I have an area and I’ve got a combat that works against a particular type of grunt enemy, but then we put flamethrower enemies in there and we need to see if the combat works well there or if have to adjust the combat to fight the flamethrower guys and then layering on top of that, like what if there is a target I’m going to go after, am I going to have the target run through this space? So there is a lot of little tweaking and moving and adjusting that needs to go into accommodating all of that.
EGM: Right, so as a bounty hunter what sort of missions are you going to send the player on? What kind of trouble are they going to be getting into throughout this world?
CR: Well, there’s your standard bounty hunter type of missions like go capture this guy or kill this guy or your choice of capturing or killing. If you capture, you might get a little more money, but if you kill him you’ll have an easier time of completing the mission. And then there are recovery missions, not of just objects, but sometimes people. Someone’s been kidnapped, go and get this particular person. There are some flat out assassination type missions, which is similar to a kill bounty mission. You’ll have to go into a room or building though and just wipe out a faction, like whoever that hired you, like they’re rival. There’s a fair number of the recover object missions. But what’s interesting about those missions, and one that I like quite a bit, is that you’re recovering these stolen weapons. So after you recover them, you get the choice of returning them or do I keep them, mission giver gets mad, the mission branches as a hit squad comes after you, but then if you survive, you’ve got these awesome weapons.
EGM: So from that perspective, obviously with an open-world, it sounds like you guys have a lot of variation with how you can tackle the missions in that Deus Ex kind of vein where you have choices like to go in guns blazing or sneak around. Are there any kind of enhancements you can pick up that can open up more of those paths, is there any kind of specialization?
CR: Yeah there is. I can’t go into the specifics, but we definitely have gadgets that encourage stealth game play. So if you want to go in stealthy you can or go in blowing everything up with grenade launchers you can as well. That’s been another interesting thing with the user testing has been going through and having users try these three gadgets, then trying these three gadgets, go through this mission as stealthily as possible.
EGM: So you try to see what they might break with each play?
CR: Yeah exactly. It’s an easier way to test each mission without having to make the person go through the entire outer loop and buy the gadget and letting them do what they will. No, you make them go “do this mission, then do this mission”.
EGM: Something I picked up on when you had unveiled the game was that you talked about how you appreciate quiet moments as well. Just how much of that is there? You’re creating this really cool world and I feel like sometimes you have games that are just pretty much balls-out the whole way through. Granted you have choices of how you’d like to go balls-out, but you’re just constantly engaged in combat. Is there some stretches where you really do just go and explore and discover things and appreciate the world you guys have crafted?
CR: Definitely, yeah. And there are some missions that are intentionally more down-time kind of missions where you go around and explore and find things, more so than just shooting everyone up.
EGM: One thing that was interesting to me, just reading a bit of the background of the game, is from a narrative standpoint, you have this character who really doesn’t get who he is or what he’s doing there and yet he’s still going on all these missions. How do you guys weave in these missions and branching paths into the narrative and I guess what’s the game really all about for this guy?
CR: I can’t go too deep into the narrative right now unfortunately, but there’s a big aspect, which is in Prey 1 Tommy trying to uncover who he is and finding out about his heritage and his place in the world. In Prey 2, Killian has a similar aspect to what’s happening as he doesn’t recall what’s happened to him in the beginning. He’s just kind of thrust into this world and thrust into being a bounty hunter and he takes on these missions and it’s kind about him uncovering his past and what he and Tommy were up to on this planet because Tommy is on Exodus as well. He has a pretty large role, too, in the story. But it’s about Killian uncovering his past and how he fits in to Exodus.