The lights are on
Setting matters. With few exceptions, the most memorable contemporary games are set in interesting locations with their own sense of history. Would BioShock have worked if Rapture hadn’t been so exquisitely crafted? The Elders Scrolls games have each built rich and lore-filled worlds that flesh out the day-to-day lives of its inhabitants. And even if we wouldn’t want to live there, Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos presents a vision of a west-coast city/nightmare that’s oftentimes uncomfortably close to reality. Arkane Studios’ upcoming sci-fi game Prey features a meticulously designed and researched space station, Talos I, which provides a plausible backdrop for a bizarre new threat.
Prey is set in an alternate history, in which the Russian and United States governments put their differences aside following an encounter with an alien foe. You can watch this video to get a better sense of where our timelines split (big change: the aliens). The station evolved over several decades, depending on its purpose at the time. Initially, it was merely a prison to contain these new aliens, the Typhon. From there, the U.S. government took over fully, building a research station around the core. Nothing came of those early efforts, aside from another deadly incident between scientists and the Typhon. At that point, the government decided to cut its losses, and shuttered the project.
Years later, a corporation called TranStar was founded. It took over the station, which was idly orbiting the moon. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, the company was able to finally harness the Typhon, taking advantage of the aliens’ unique body and brain composition. (For a more in-depth look at these creatures, take a look at our feature). Eventually, TranStar developed a product called Neuromods, which restructure a person’s brain to enable them to do things that they couldn’t before – such as learning to play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language, or even have greater strength or endurance.
These Neuromods are a big business back on Earth, and the corporation has reaped in the rewards. Our adventure in Prey is centered around Talos I, but thanks to the work of Arkane’s art and design teams, players can pick up a variety of clues about TranStar’s place in the greater world, as well as what life was like on the station before yet another catastrophe struck.
You invariably have to suspend some amount of disbelief when you’re playing a game with aliens in it. Still, Prey’s designers felt that it was important for players to feel as though they were exploring a place that felt real and adhered to its own internal logic. That meant that Arkane put a lot of effort into designing Talos I with an eye toward believability and functionality – even as players battled aliens that could shapeshift into garbage cans.
“[We] spend a lot of time thinking about, ‘Hey guys it doesn’t make any sense that someone has to walk this far to do this,’” says lead designer Ricardo Bare. "'There would be an elevator here or a staircase here. It sounds dumb, but this place doesn’t have a bathroom. Where do these people pee? They have to hold it for 12 hours and then ride an elevator back down to the bottom of the space station?'" Bare says that Arkane did its homework in making sure that the place felt like a fully staffed location, and that the people didn’t just teleport away once their shift was over. “We know where everybody’s sleeping quarters are, where they eat, where they work.”
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