Looking Back... Prey
16th Dec 2006 | 12:30
Human Head's physics-bending, portal-strewn shooter had a rickety ride to release. It was 11 years from brave theory to shop shelf - and who in 1995 would have imagined that the final game would feature ghost-on-child murders, tiny planets, vomiters coughing rejected limbs into your face, and thick pipes pumping around what might be muscle, or could well be excrement? It's time to catch up with Human Head's CEO, Tim Gerritsen, and co-founder Chris Rhinehart, to find out what's happening with the folk who kicked off the portal revolution...
Rhinehart: The level of interactivity in the initial scene in the bar had always been a major part of the storyline. We wanted to fi rmly entrench the real-world Earth aspect to the game, to give you reason to understand what Tommy's situation was and how he got into the situation he was in. Originally, we were going to make it less linear - you'd start the game with all of you being abducted, and you'd move back to the bar in a flashback sequence. In the end, we decided it was best to go the linear approach.
JENNIFER OH JENNY
Rhinehart: Will you see her again? Well, you see her at the end of the game. She's like the ultimate annoying girlfriend; she can come back spiritually like Obi-Wan. You can be hitting on a new girl, and all of a sudden she'll show up. Selfishly, I hope that Jenny's back in the sequel, because I want to hang with Crystal Lightning again - she's the voice actress who played Jenny. I definitely wouldn't mind seeing her again.
Gerritsen: Art got it right away. Myself and Ed Lima, the audio director, had contacted him to see if he'd be interested. Being games developers, we tend to be up late at night, so a lot of us had listened to Coast To Coast AM and thought it would be a nice touch to get it in there. When we contacted him, he was all for it right from the get-go. He's receptive to the idea of aliens, but at the same time he's sceptical enough to make it fun to listen to. We took him the initial scripts and told him to make them his own - it was completely natural to him. He's this crazy, consummate professional, and he did everything in one take.
Rhinehart: Getting the ship to look like it did involved a lot of people. We had this core idea that we wanted the ship to be alive, like you're crawling through this thing that's utterly alive. We split off into different teams, and made sure the texture artists had to build gross, gloopy walls, and the level designers had to work with this flesh feel in mind as well. We always wanted something moving in your view - tentacles, vomiters that spew out stuff. It was also really important to get this atmospheric feel, to give everything this misty feel. It took us a while to figure out how to get that from the engine though - at its basic level, the engine wasn't suited to our look.
Gerritsen: A combination of things influenced what we had on the jukebox. We originally wanted it to be full of old Roadhouse music, with what we Americans call 'shit-kicker music'. Just the kind of stuff you'd hear in a typical backwater bar in the States. That's what we were going for, but then we were told we could have some modern acts as well. So our audio director worked with the guys at 2K and tried to figure out what we could get hold of. We picked the old classics, but the newer tracks came towards the end. If you hang around and listen in the later scene where the aliens are in your bar, you can hear one of the Hunters say, 'I love that song'!
Gerritsen: The Death Walk wasn't in our original design - it came out about a year or two into the development. We were trying to work out ways to maintain immersion into the game, and one of the ideas to keep the immersion was that when you died, instead of being put back to a checkpoint, you went to an underworld. We went through a bunch of different versions before settling on the one in the game. Basically, we just wanted people to be able to complete the game. That's not to say that we wanted to make it easy, we just wanted people to enjoy playing. Some people say that it takes away the fear of death, but that's no different to quick-saving. We never set out to 'get' the player. It's a story, a movie, an interactive fiction that we wanted everyone to enjoy.
Rhinehart: Originally, the kids' faces just changed a little bit when they got possessed, and their eyes would start glowing. The problem was that the change was too subtle, so part-way through the game we decided to make them into ghosts to see if that would be any more creepy. It definitely helped us, because we put the children in a lot of the darker areas, and it was tough to see them with just the glowing eyes. We didn't want to light the room too bright so that it wasn't scary any more, so as ghosts they were both creepy and visible. It wasn't necessarily any better or any worse, it was just different, so in the end we decided to go with ghosts. And I'm sure it helped the game to get released in Germany, too.
DEAD CAN DANCE
Rhinehart:The idea was that the children were being taken over by the dishonoured dead, who were following Tommy back from his Death Walk. He's upset the balance in a way - the fact they come back with him is causing this to happen to the children. There's a bit in the sphere where the ship's voice says, 'These abominations weren't here before your sudden return, human', which is implying that he brought them back with him. There were certain things we wished we could have explained a bit better, and with hindsight this is one of them.
Gerritsen: At one point, we had it so they could possess you, as well as the children. But it was hard to convey in first-person. What would happen was, you'd be forced to Spirit Walk, so you'd leave your body and the ghost would take your body and run away with it. It was pretty funny, but to people play-testing the game, it just felt like a bug so we had to take it out.
Gerritsen: We actually had the seven trials planned for Prey. The idea was that Tommy would start the trials, and then the invasion of the spirit world would happen. Then we thought about it, and thought it would make more sense to have the invasion happen straight away. As far as his character is concerned, he's just killed his girlfriend. He's angry, he's ready to train with his grandfather, and he's been pulled into the spirit realm. From a pacing standpoint, we just couldn't have you go through puzzles - you're all revved up, so you have to keep on fighting. But we thought it would be kinda funny to make you think you had to go through seven trials. It worked really well with the play testers - when the invasion happened they were like 'awesome'!
Rhinehart: We're discussing a lot of cool new ideas for Prey 2, but we can't really talk about them. There's the simple dynamic stuff, developing the Portal system and the improving the way the alien AI uses the portals. Plus, there's already a mod out there that gives you a portal wrench, just the same as in Portal. We don't want to give away some of the cooler new stuff at this stage. We have some ideas that are way beyond how far we went in the first game that we want to explore pretty extensively - we'll definitely be taking things in a different direction next time.