The lights are on
From the outset, Arkane Studios took great pains to ensure that Prey wouldn’t be set in your typical video game space station. Instead of plain white corridors, Morgan Wu faces off against aliens in a diverse set of backdrops – from opulent living quarters to behind-the-walls sections that are solely focused on function. Talos I has a rich history of its own, which we explored in a previous feature, and the station’s past is represented through several visually distinct layers.
“We didn’t want to do sci-fi like everyone is doing it, so we came up with a narrative that drives the art and when you look at it you say, ‘Wow. I’ve never seen this before,’” says Raphael Colantonio, Prey’s creative director and president at Arkane Studios.
The station is essentially a Russian nesting doll, consisting of several different layers. Its core was built in the late 1950s, during the height of the space race between Russia and the United States. The two nations formed an alliance after a deadly encounter with an alien and a Russian satellite. The result of the Russian/U.S. collaboration was the Kletka, a reinforced capsule designed to keep the threat contained. From there, a space station was constructed, before it was eventually decommissioned. Decades later, a corporation called TranStar took over, expanding the orbiting structure into the Talos I that we see today. (Check out this video for a more-detailed recap of the events.)
That history isn’t just there to provide fodder for the game’s audio logs and emails. As players explore the various parts of Talos I, they can get a sense of passing through different eras – from the brushed aluminum and boxy lines of the ‘60s to a Neo Deco style that represents TranStar’s presence.
“There’s Deco, but we wanted to do something a bit different,” says art producer Jessie Boyer. “For this, we started off with inspiration from a hotel in New York City called the Viceroy. They do this really great interpretation of Deco that’s really modern.”
Art Deco isn’t a style that’s foreign to games. BioShock’s Rapture is a great example of the 1920’s-era style, which is characterized with clean lines and extravagant materials. Arkane’s art team says they didn’t want to adhere to as strict interpretation of the style. One of the biggest differences is how it incorporates more advanced technology, such as display panels, while retaining the overall elegance of the original inspirations.
The innermost core of the station was built purely with function in mind, and that’s where you’ll see elements such as white quilted insulation and gold foil – things that are often associated with early space exploration. We didn’t have space stations in real life when the Kletka and surrounding structures were built, so Arkane had to use a little creative license for the ‘60s-era sections.
“We wanted to make sure that we referenced really interesting technology from that era as well, and not look too out of place,” Boyer says. “So we looked at early IBM designs as well as designers such as Jacob Jensen for high-end consumer electronics, because they had a really striking aesthetic for the era.” That area of the station is filled with wood, along with elements such as brushed aluminum. Here, you see sharp edges, along with cooler color tones. “Whenever you layer this all together, it really starts to paint a picture of a world in contrast, which is what makes it really interesting and compelling.”
TranStar has spruced up the station where it makes sense – including an arboretum with a Falling Waters-inspired office for its CEO – but there are places where renovations simply aren’t feasible. There are, after all, deadly aliens aboard the station, which are being contained and experimented upon. In those containment areas, putting up elaborate candelabras or murals might not be the best use of resources. But you’ll see evidence of the company’s lavish spending elsewhere.
“TranStar is a private company with a lot of money, so they very deliberately said, ‘Yeah, we can make the space station out of plastic and metal, but we’re TranStar. There’s real wood on this space station. Actual leather seats,’” says lead designer Ricardo Bare.
“You can kind of see the visual history, and it’s more apparent in some levels than in others,” Boyers says. “It also really depends on the function of the level as well. Maybe some of the areas where there’s more restrictive security access, they don’t let renovators in there and spruce it up, so you can definitely see that it’s a bit older and more true to its roots than maybe some of the more public-facing areas.”
Arkane is working to tell a story within the environments themselves, and from what we saw during our visit, the hard work is paying off. Prey is shaping up to be a great-looking game, and we left their offices impressed by how cool the environments themselves were. By now, most of us has spent entirely too much time in drab space stations – or at least, virtually – and Prey’s interesting visual take is a refreshing change of pace.
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