Prey 2 producer on taking new direction, with 'capable' id Tech 4

Prey 2 raised eyebrows at Bethesda's "BFG 2011" media event last week for its almost total lack of resemblance to the original game. Following the gameplay presentation, I picked the brain of associate producer Matt Bisenius to find out more about this startling sequel.

Because Prey 2 is such a clear departure from the first game, I wondered if the developers at Human Head were trying to fix some perceived problems. "We didn't look at Prey 1 and pick out mistakes as much as look at it and pick out the core themes of Prey," Bisenius clarified. "So we kept the alien abduction, 'Keepers' as the main race, one man versus many aliens, and then the predator/prey relationship."

He made it clear that Prey 2's new direction is not an effort to address any flaws in Prey 1, but instead reflects the natural progression of the overarching Prey story. Whereas the first game was contained within The Sphere, an organic ship that sustained itself on species from across the galaxy, Prey 2 will open players up to the franchise's universe at-large, which, in a way, revolves around the still-mysterious Sphere.

"A lot of this blossomed from the tiny little seed that was using a bounty hunter," Bisenius explained of the core concept behind the gameplay. "From day one, we wanted to make a game about a bounty hunter." Killian, the main (human) character in Prey 2, wakes up with retrograde amnesia in an alien city and soon finds out he is a skilled bounty hunter. From this idea stemmed many of the changes in the sequel.

Neither the player nor Killian has any idea how he got there, but bashing in skulls seems to be the standard protocol in this situation. From the parkour-inspired movement mechanics to the verticality of the noir-toned gameworld, "every direction and every question we asked came back to that: 'Does that make sense for a bounty hunter?' Or, 'What would a bounty hunter do or be able to do?'" Bisenius said. "So he has to be able to run and jump and pursue, so a lot of that is climbing."

It seemed a bit curious, then, that Human Head co-founder Chris Rhinehart had specifically mentioned Red Dead Redemption (pictured right) as an inspiration for Prey 2 more than once during his presentation -- I'd have gone with Mirror's Edge or even Mass Effect first. I asked Bisenius to elaborate, since the connection was not so obvious.

"One of the key things, whether it's Red Dead or any open-world game, is to provide the player with lots of stuff to do in the world," Bisenius said. "If you give them this whole big world and they can only do a few things, you've basically built a linear game with an open world, so what's the point?" Indeed, there are countless distractions to entertain the player in Red Dead Redemption, and Human Head aims to likewise fill out the gameworld of Prey 2 with non-essential, but no less compelling content. By activating Killian's objective visor, the player is alerted to opportunities to hunt, capture or help out various aliens.

"From day one, we wanted to make a game about a bounty hunter." - Matt Bisenius, assoc. prod.

Of course, I had to ask just how long has Human Head been creating this seemingly immense game. Reports that a Prey sequel was in development surfaced in early 2008, then, a year and half later, Bethesda parent Zenimax acquired the rights to the franchise -- and we still hadn't heard any firm details about the project itself. "3D Realms decided to announce we were working on Prey 2 when we were only bouncing ideas around for it," Bisenius recounted. "We didn't start exploring the Prey 2 universe you see here until we were with Bethesda in 2009."

This lengthy development process also explains Human Head's decision to use the id Tech 4 engine, instead of the updated id Tech 5 version that powers Rage. Bisenius explained that the team had built so much of Prey 2 using id Tech 4 that a switch to the latest technology would be impractical. "We put a lot of time and energy in that, and we really love what it's capable of at this point," Bisenius said, defending his team's use of "heavily modified" id Tech 4. Prey 2 is looking good, whatever engine is under the hood, and Human Head's commitment to building out a dynamic open gameworld is just as promising.

Nationally acclaimed freelance writer Jonathan Deesing has been covering video games for dozens of weeks. His professional knowledge ranges from skiing to Peruvian history, and, of course, anything with buttons.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.