Arkane Studios Interview -- The Design Challenges of Prey: Mooncrash and What's Coming Next
Arkane's Ricardo Bare spoke to us during a recent Bethesda event about the creation of Prey: Mooncrash while clarifying previous comments about the Dishonored series.
Arkane Studios has been one of the industry’s most prominent proponents of single-player experiences that allow the player to test new things out in a given environment. These ideas are at the root of every Arkane game which made it all the more interesting when they revealed that they’d be making releasing Prey: Mooncrash, a new roguelike take set in the world of 2017’s Prey. Despite not being without flaws, Mooncrash excellently combined the roguelike genre with these Arkane values that promote experimentation.
At a Bethesda event during PAX West, we spoke to Arkane Studios’ Lead Designer Ricardo Bare about the recently released expansion Prey: Mooncrash and the ideas that came with developing a roguelike title while keeping the core elements of Prey intact. We also spoke about what could be next for Arkane in the future, though Bare was on his game when it came to not giving us too much to work with.
Logan: I wanted to start by talking to you about Prey: Mooncrash since that’s the most recent thing you have released. How has everything been since you launched that expansion during E3?
Ricardo Bare: Really fantastic. Parts of the team have started working on other things, we still have Typhon Hunter coming down the road, and we just announced a new free content update coming to Mooncrash which is going to be super fun for people who are fans of roguelikes and roguelites. The community response to Mooncrash has been so gratifying and humbling.
L: Potentially my only concern when I first saw Mooncrash announced was just how different it was compared to that of the standard Prey. Despite that, has the feedback you’ve received been pretty much wholly positive?
RB: Yeah! I mean, you can always find someone who isn’t going to like your game — the Internet’s gonna Internet. Given what we made, we were just braced and hoped people would like it and that they would get it.
There is some initial skepticism because one of the things Arkane is known for, of course, is building these really intricate settings with lots of environmental storytelling, a strong narrative, and lots of player improvisation.
A roguelike, or roguelite, seems on the surface to be antithetical to that because it’s lots of randomly generated stuff. I think the approach that we took preserves both of those things and made a unique combo that to me is like how someone figured out how to put peanut butter and chocolate together.
L: Knowing that this genre somewhat clashed with what you guys are known for in the first place, why’d you decide to go down the route of making a roguelike anyway?
RB: A couple of reasons. One of them is that a bunch of us on the team just love roguelikes. I mean, in terms of a value proposition to the player, you’re paying the same price for something like a single-player game but you’re getting way more gameplay out of it because of how renewable and rejuvenating the content is.
Intrinsically, it’s something that rearranges itself into a new expression. So lots of us are just fans of roguelikes and games like Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, Risk of Rain, and Dead Cells — we love those games. Because we typically make games where you give the player lots of abilities, tools, and weapons to improvise and create their own experience, we wanted to create something like that but have the environment be more dynamic also.
If you play a game like Prey where you have one character with like a bazillion abilities, one of the things that happens is that players get stuck in a rut. They get comfortable. They pick one or two powers, or one gun, and they just play the whole game like that. The thing is, the game is like this big but you only see this narrow slice of it. What we did with Mooncrash was we wanted to choose a game structure that would expose players to more of the game.
That’s why there are five characters and the five characters each have a subset of those powers — plus some new ones that we added. So when your first character dies and you’re forced to play as the second character, you’re forced to go into someone else’s shoes and play a different way and experience more of the game.
L: The thing that stood out to me the most when I played Mooncrash was that you had found a way to turn Prey into a roguelike while still keeping all or most of the systems from the base game intact. That’s crazy impressive to me considering how many systems are in Prey and how they all build off of one another. Was it hard to keep those all working in tandem with each other while adapting Mooncrash into a roguelike or was it easier than you’d think?
RB: One of the biggest challenges was figuring out the meta-progression. What parts of the game reset when you die and what parts of the progression do you keep. We decided that equipment would reset but you would keep equipment unlocks and you keep ability upgrades so you wouldn’t have to buy everything again. That was one of the more challenging bits.
We also added new systems on top of the systems by adding all of the little weapon upgrades that are random and give you elemental damage and things like that.
L: Was another reason why you guys went down the roguelike route to add more replayability to the Prey package? I’m sure a lot of people after they finished the game last year likely just put it to the side and didn’t go back to it unless they just wanted to once again. Did you find that this genre would allow you to sort of bring a mass group of players back and keep them sticking around a bit longer?
RB: Absolutely. It’s funny because some of the ideas that are in Mooncrash like the levels changing dramatically between runs–sometimes its dark, sometimes the stairs have collapsed, sometimes the whole level has flooded and is full of electricity–all of those ideas were originally in Prey.
But we realized that Prey is a single-player narrative experience that takes twenty to thirty hours to complete — 99% of people on the planet are not going to play that game more than once. A system like that is wasted. Therefore, it makes way more sense in a game where the structure is to continually replay the same spaces and have them change underneath you.
L: As a sort of retrospective since we’re now over a year after Prey’s release, is there anything you wish that you could’ve done differently before launching the game?
RB: If it was up to designers we would probably never ship a game. We’re always trying to change one more thing or add one more thing. There are definitely things that I would change or want to add or take away from the base Prey game. I think the last act of the game is a little too long.
I wish I could magically go and excise one or two hours out of that last quarter of the game just to make the down ramp to the finale a little smoother.
L: So what are you guys looking to do with Prey in the future? Is it a property you still want to work with?
RB: [laughs] That, unfortunately, is a question I can’t talk about. Then I’d be talking about what our next big thing is.
L: Well after Gamescom and the whole thing about how Dishonored is currently being shelved I think people have been curious about…
RB: I did not say shelved! People inferred that.
L: You’re right, you didn’t say that directly but that’s how a bunch of people took it.
RB: I didn’t say nothing Dishonored related would ever come out again. I just meant there’s nothing coming out in the immediate future related to Dishonored.
L: Well again with that in mind, people are more curious than they have been in a while about what Arkane is up to. I guess to ask something a bit more broad that you could speak to, is sticking with the immersive sim genre something you guys are still looking to do moving forward? It has kind of been your bread and butter.
RB: I’ve joked with someone before that immersive sims should die. [laughs] What I mean by that is that it should die in the way that a dandelion dies and all of its seeds fall and makes everything else better. So of course, there are values that are immersive sim values that we care about deeply.
We believe in creating very coherent, deep interesting worlds. We believe in giving players improvisational abilities. Those things are not going to change but we may import those values into other games — into other game experiences. Like we just did with Prey: Mooncrash. We basically said, hey, what if we took immersive sim Arkane-style values and merged those with some roguelike values? What would happen? Mooncrash is the result.
L: That’s exactly what I was getting at. Not necessarily continuing to make only immersive sims but whether or not you’d still be working with those same ideas that are found in your games.
RB: No, it’s not like we’re going to be making racing games tomorrow. Those core values are still going to hold true. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to make aggressively single-player games on giant space stations for the rest of our lives.
L: It’s interesting that you bring up the single-player aspect of your games because I wanted to dive into this. Arkane more than any other studio under Bethesda has been almost strictly single-player creations. You have Bethesda Game Studios now working on Fallout 76 which is online and multiplayer along with id Software and DOOM Eternal which seems to have an interesting integration of multiplayer into the single-player campaign. Is a deeper look at those integrations or working solely on multiplayer-style games something you guys are looking at?
RB: Well, Typhon Hunter is multiplayer. It’s a lethal game of hide-and-seek based in the Prey universe. We’ve done multiplayer in the past too, it just didn’t ship. Arkane was working on something a long time ago called The Crossing. We’ve got experience with that stuff but I think Typhon Hunter is the first thing that we’ll be able to release officially that is multiplayer.
Both Prey and Prey: Mooncrash are available now on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Typhon Hunter is slated to launch at some point before the end of the year and will come for free to those who bought Mooncrash.