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JFK survived in Prey's alternate reality, so now you have to fight aliens

Building a believable, lived-in fictional world is one of the most difficult things in game development, but Arkane proved with Dishonored that they were up to the job. We adored Dishonored’s industrial city of Dunwall, and Arkane is approaching Prey’s science fiction world with the same care.

“We went all the way back to the 1950s and started thinking about the space race, with the Soviet Union and Americans—that whole era of trying to one-up each other,” lead designer Ricardo Bare told PC Gamer. “And then we started tweaking things. What if Kennedy didn’t die? What if he lived and he came back and doubled down on the space tech?... What if there was a space station orbiting the moon as early as the sixties and they just kept building and building onto it?“

These questions lead the team to a world backed up by a deep fictional background. “The result is Talos-1,” Bare continued, “and as the player moves through the station, you’ll see some of that. You’ll see parts that look like they have that decor from the sixties and seventies, but then you’ll go deeper and be like ‘Wow, this part looks Russian!’ and there’ll be this fifties and sixties Russian stuff.”

Planning a game set in 2035 by building an alternate 1950 is a good example of the kind of thoughtfulness Arkane brings to their particular brand of immersive simulated environments. Though it’s still early days, there’s no shortage of unpredictable features.

One of the primary abilities of the aliens is to mimic nearby objects, meaning that every trashcan, discarded office chair, and box of ammo could be a disguised alien. “That it is not scripted behaviour,” Bare says. “[Aliens] walk into a room and they go ‘OK, there’s twenty physics objects in this room that’s on my list of things I can turn into...oh god the player’s coming! Hide!’ and they just pick one.”

Players will be able to explore the entire space station at any time, though some parts are more dangerous than others. To navigate past a barricade, players could turn into a coffee cup and roll through a small gap. They could use a gun that dispenses hardening glue to build a stairway over the obstacle. Or, they could hack a terminal to open a side door.

The logical conclusion of this philosophy is the fabrication machine, which recycles objects and uses the raw material to print any other object. “Well I guess it falls into the “play your way” category,” creative director Raphael Colantario says of the fabricator. “It’s more customisation for your playstyle. Say you can find a medkit, you can find grenades or whatever—but what you’d really like is to shoot with a shotgun. You can recycle those [medkits and grenades] and keep refabricating shotgun shells.”

Prey was one of many stories to come out of QuakeCon this year. To see all of our QuakeCon coverage, click here