If you haven't seen Prey in action yet, you really ought to take a look. For those who aren't familiar, it's a new first-person shooter with a sci-fi feel and an interesting take on boring old gravity - and it's heading to PC and Xbox 360 later this year.
The storyline revolves around Native American garage mechanic Tommy, who finds himself trapped aboard an alien spaceship with a personality all of its own. It's your job to rescue Tommy's girlfriend and find a way off the ship, together with the help of a ghostly hawk by the name of Talon. Luckily, you're armed with all sorts of mysterious Spirit Powers to help you in this task - not to mention an arsenal of really quite exciting guns.
We sat down with Tim Gerritson of Human Head to ask him all manner of questions including what makes Prey different from your average FPS, why there are only two multiplayer modes, and whether a console controller can ever really beat the old mouse-and-keyboard combo... Read on to find out more.
Eurogamer: What sets Prey apart from other first-person shooters?
Tim Gerritson: There are several things. There's the reluctant hero who isn't a space marine or a soldier, but rather just a man put in a position where he has no choice but to survive. There's the story told from a first-person point of view, where the hero is active and talking [about] the story that unfolds around him.
There's the use of Death Walk to get you back into the game after you've died, but without requiring you to replay an entire section of the game.There's the unique level design that throws out the usual laws of physics and places you within a living organism.
There's the use of Talon, your spirit totem to assist you as you navigate through the world. There's the setting, high above Earth, where you are constantly reminded of the menace that faces your loved ones. I could go on and on...
Eurogamer: The game seems to have a bit of an Aliens feel to it - were the Alien films an influence on you? What other films have inspired you?
Tim Gerritson: Specifically, HR Giger was a big influence on us. His ability to create a look that is at once biological and mechanical had a huge influence on us visually. We were inspired to create a unique look of our own that captured his spirit without specifically trying to ape his style.
Star Wars and its unique blending of spiritual and science fiction elements was also a big influence on us, as was Fire in the Sky, an abduction movie that finely captures the ever-present sense of fear in a totally alien environment.
Eurogamer: Where did the idea for the 'living ship' come from?
Tim Gerritson: That came early on. We felt that by making the ship you are abducted to a living entity, it gave us more opportunities to evolve the story beyond the usual science fiction drama. Getting the right look for that ship took much longer and was far harder.
Eurogamer: Can you explain a bit about the Spirit powers? How do they work, and at what points are they likely to prove useful?
Tim Gerritson: The spirit powers that Tommy learns during the game are Spirit Walk, which is the ability to leave his body and travel as a spirit. He leaves his body behind (leaving it defenseless and subject to attack) giving his spirit [the power] to travel semi-invisibly to by pass enemies (or sneak attack them), and to interact with key objects in the real world.
The next spirit power is Death Walk, which is what happens if your physical body is killed. Your spirit travels to a plane of existence between our world and the next and is forced to fight to return to the real world, where it can rejoin your physical body.
The final major spirit power is your spirit totem, Talon. He is a hawk that acts as your translator but also your companion, who defends you during battle by seeking to distract your enemies.
Eurogamer: What exactly is 'portal technology'? What are the portals for?
Tim Gerritson: Portals are used in various ways. The most obvious one is as a door between two points that enemies can travel through to attack you. Other portals are more subtle - they are used to change the physical setup of the world and make it something very different from what you see in our world.
Others may be invisible to the player entirely, but I don't want to give too much away regarding that.
Eurogamer: What's your favourite weapon in the game, and how does it work?
Tim Gerritson: My favourite weapon is the hider weapon, a sort of acid shotgun that shoots out the yellow glowing gastric juices of one of the enemies you fight. A lot of people like that gun, though I think the playtesters like the flexibility of the leech gun - a gun that sucks the power out of energy nodes on board the startship, creating different shooting effects depending on the type of power drawn upon.
Nearly all of the weapons have some sort of organic component to them as well, which creates both a visual interest and 'ick' factor when seeing them in use.
Eurogamer: Why are there only deathmatch and team deathmatch modes? Why not capture the flag, or something more original?
Tim Gerritson: Prey is predominantly a single player game, and we didn't want to divide our focus by trying to add on a ton of half-baked modes to multiplay.
Instead we decided to focus on making Deathmatch and doing it right. We reasoned that if we did a good deathmatch mode and got it right, and released the editor and SDK, we'd be in a far better position to create or support new modes down the road.
If we delivered a bad multiplayer experience, and few people cared about it, we figured there would be no point - since future development would never happen. This is the strategy we saw Valve use with Half-Life and we feel it worked very well in their case, thus proving our theory.
I think too many developers of limited size and resources like us try to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, thus creating a multiplayer that is quickly forgotten. We didn't want to do that.
Eurogamer: How does the anti-gravity element of the gameplay affect the way multiplayer matches play out?
Tim Gerritson: It's not really anti-gravity so much as different gravity, and it's the key to why our multiplayer is fun. By throwing out the typical rules of gravity, we created multiplayer situations where you really have to be thinking and reacting at all times.
We were very concerned early on that players would become overwhelmed by this feature, but in test it has proved to be easily adjusted to by most players and a hell of a lot of fun. Any game where you can be standing on one surface, while every other surface in the room has it's own localised gravity is a different experience to say the least.
Eurogamer: What are the main differences between the Xbox 360 version and the PC version?
Tim Gerritson: Both versions use the same source content though some of the visuals on the 360 use the medium PC quality settings for performance reasons. The 360 version has fully integrated Live support while the PC version uses the traditional user server based play.
Of course there's the controls as well. The PC version was designed for keyboard and mouse while the 360 uses the controller, though we tried to make sure the controls on each were adjusted so as to be comfortable and feel natural to the player. Outside of these differences, however, the experiences are very similar.
Eurogamer: A lot of hardcore FPS fans would say you can never have a truly great FPS on a console, because nothing can beat the mouse and keyboard combo. How would you respond to this?
Tim Gerritson: I believe Halo laid this to rest with a strong FPS experience on a console. For the super fast twitch style player who rules with a keyboard and mouse, however, I don't think anything will ever make them accept the controller/console experience.
For the mainstream gamer, the controller-based FPS is a lot of fun. Bad controls are bad controls, however, regardless of platform. For the 360 we worked with Venom to make sure the basic controls felt smooth and we followed the Halo setup as the guide. We also made the controls customisable with several different presets and easy adjustibility of the controller sensitivity to make the experience unique to each person who plays the game.
Eurogamer: Last time we saw the game we noticed there were two difficulty levels - 'Normal' and 'Wicked'. Are you familiar with the meaning of 'Wicked' when used within South-East London?
Tim Gerritson: No, I'm personally not familiar, so pardon my ignorance on that. That's an unlockable version of the game that has actually been changed to Cherokee mode. The original use comes from another 3D Realms game - Max Payne - that had a similar unlockable mode.
Basically, the game has its own dynamic difficulty adjustment system that adjusts upwards or downwards on a limited scale based on how the player is doing. Once you finish the game, you unlock Cherokee mode, which is far harder - there are no health pick ups, less ammo, and everything is set to a harder level so you can really challenge yourself after you've played through the game.
Eurogamer: The PC demo has just been released? What can players expect from it?
Tim Gerritson: It's a fairly large demo. Not necessarily in terms of size, since it clocks in at about what most demos do these days, but in terms of how much content. We've shipped with two multiplayer maps and the first five levels of the game. You get to see a fair bit of the game in action to get a feel for it.
If you buy the full game, though, the demo save games work with the final version of the game (at least on PC) so that you don't have to replay sections if you don't like.