Arkane's upcoming "reimagining" of the 2006 shooter Prey made its gameplay debut at QuakeCon 2016 and, as expected, didn't remotely resemble either the original title or what we saw of its canceled sequel.
Not that that's a bad thing — not by a long shot. The Prey we saw at Quakecon had some of the best elements of Arkane's smash-hit game Dishonored, giving its protagonist a slate of diverse powers and tools to solve abilities any way the player saw fit. Despite the brevity of that presentation, it was easy to see what Arkane is going for with Prey. It looked polished and exciting, and nothing like the decade-old shooter that preceded it.
So why call it Prey?
The Prey license is owned by Bethesda Softworks' parent company, Zenimax Media, who acquired the property in late 2009. In March 2011, Human Head Studios, the developer of the first Prey, announced it was working on a sequel called Prey 2, which would be published by Bethesda. Rumors of the project being stuck in development hell circled for years before Bethesda confirmed the project's cancellation in 2014.
At E3 2016 earlier this year, Bethesda revealed Arkane's Prey, and explained in interviews that the title was not a sequel to the original, nor would it utilize anything from Human Head's canceled sequel. If that's the case, why not develop the title as new IP? Why create a "reimagining" of a franchise with a single release in its 10-year lifespan?
According to Bethesda VP of marketing and PR Pete Hines, the Prey brand shared loose thematic concepts with the type of space shooter-RPG that Arkane wanted to make, and that both companies jumped at the chance to make that opportunity work.
'The name is cool, and there was a match for the high level concepts'
"We talked to Arkane, and they were like, ‘Look, if we can just treat this as a reimagining, and sort of distill this IP down to its very basics, and go nuts with it, and make it our very own, we're totally on board with just doing Prey,'" Hines said. "'Not as a reboot, we can just reimagine it. We'll keep the basic principle of ‘Aliens are hunting you,' and do what we envisioned — that's what we should do. We like the name; if you distill and take out everything you know about the previous game, or the canceled game, and just said the name Prey, it's a cool name. We think it really fits what it is that we're making.'"
Arkane's Raphael Colantonio, lead designer on Prey, added in a later interview that the decision to make the spacefaring shooter they wanted to craft a Prey title was a sensible one.
"We wanted to make that kind of game, and the Prey franchise was available for us to use," Colantonio said. "The name is cool, and there was a match for the high level concepts, which eventually, after some thought, made sense."
Colantonio said he admired many of the things the original Prey accomplished, innovations that were ahead of their time in 2006 — but that the title was nothing like the types of games that Arkane is built from the ground-up to make.
"They were doing some things with interesting, innovative mechanics," Colantonio said. "It's just that the type of games that they made back then, and the type of games that we make are so different, it's hard to directly to compare them, other than the theme."
Both parties were a bit concerned about the confusion that brand shift would cause, particularly if Arkane's title was as complete a departure from the original as they had described. There wasn't a focus on Native American identity and mythology, no gravity-shifting puzzles — "we don't have vagina doors," Hines joked. Ultimately, Arkane was told not to shoehorn in aspects of Prey or its canceled sequel, market confusion be damned.
"We're like, ‘Alright, then we're just gonna swallow the bullet of people either A, asking us about the canceled thing or B, asking us what this has to do with the original Prey, and just go with the thing we think fits from a tone and vibe standpoint, with what we're making," Hines said.
"Ultimately, where we ended up was that it was a cool name that fit the vibe of the game that they're making, so let's go with that, and own it," Hines added. "And eventually, all anyone's really going to care about is: Is the Prey game that Arkane is making that comes out in 2017 really good? Because if it is, that's what everybody's going to associate Prey with."