Q: How did you find the funds to set up Arkane's Austin studio?
Raphael Colantonio: Well, there was not much funding for it because it started with pretty much just me. I sublet some office space from another small developer back then, who was very grateful for that rent – a room for, like, 300 bucks. That was pretty much the only expense I had, and then little by little, I started to grow the company. As we had more business from publishers, we would slowly have enough to sustain office space and the people that would be in there, until eventually Bethesda came on board, and that's when we truly grew.
Q: Why Austin?
Raphael Colantonio: There are so many reasons. I could tell you it's because of business or this or that, but the reality is that I felt a personal mission to go there just because I was a fan of Ultima creator Origin and Deus Ex maker Iron Storm. So I had been there a few times just as a fan, and loved the people that I met. So I thought, 'One day when it makes sense I'll move here'. At some point with Arkane when we were big enough and… we were struggling to find publishers, so I thought 'hey, maybe there is a way to associate my passion and my desire to move there with some business reason'. And the business reason was: we would be closer to publishers. Instead of proposing games that are being made in a different country (which is kind of scary to a lot of American publishers), having a studio there would be reassuring to them. So that's the reason why I did it from a business standpoint, and eventually it worked out.
Q: What's the development scene like in France?
Raphael Colantonio: We have a few companies that are successful. The '90s were probably the best time for French developers, and since then it's been hard. But it's better than the 2000s, when everything went south.
Q: Do you think French culture has an impact on your games?
Raphael Colantonio: I think so, yeah. Our art director in the case of Prey and Dishonored as well, Sebastian Mitton, is French. [Prey lead visual designer] Emmanuel Petit is French as well, and his eye and vision is very present in this game, so I think it's a little bit of the French influence in there.
Q: What are the values at Arkane?
Raphael Colantonio: I think we're attached to one specific type of game; people refer to them as first-person immersive sims. We always try and say yes to players, we always try to acknowledge what they do. We like consequences to those choices, we like players to play with their own style and find strategies within our systems that they can explore and experiment with. And also we like to have players travel in our world and build some cohesive world that will leave memories.
Q: Why don't more studios make immersive sims?
Raphael Colantonio: I think it's because they have historically been very difficult to sell. It's artistically very interesting, and there's a lot of gamers that love them – the hardcore audience. All the people like me or some of the press outlets are very, very nostalgic of Ultima Underworld or System Shock – all the games that were providing this kind of experience. But the publishers look at numbers, and they are hard to sell. They are just hard to sell. Dishonored was a big hit, so I think we turned that around, and hopefully it's true as well with Prey. That's the main reason.
The other reason is they are really hard to make. They are hard to make, and they feature a lot of invisible value. By that I mean: there's a lot of work that most people don't understand why we do it. Like, 'why do you let the player kill the good guys? What's the point of that? Why don't you just make them invulnerable like any RPG and they give you quests and that's it?' And the reason why we don't do that is because it's actually more powerful to the player if he has those possibilities. He feels more like he's immersed in a simulation if he can do anything he wants. But it's true that it comes with a lot of work to fix the crazy things that players can do, as opposed to focus on a tight experience like most games do.
Q: Bethesda publishes games from a lot of studios – is there any communication between you all, or sharing of expertise?
Raphael Colantonio: To some degree. We're all busy with our own games, but occasionally there are a few moments when we have company events when we eat and share trade information about our games. We also playtest each other's games. And occasionally there are moments when a team is done with a game, they have some resource and we use some other people – artists for example, or some programming support. So it's a pretty good group. We are not all the time together, but we do help each other.
Q: I read that the idea for Prey came to you on an airplane. Was it a Prey game at that stage, or something else?
Raphael Colantonio: No, there was no name back then. We were still at the stage where we only knew that we wanted to do a game in space with aliens where you survive, and it's all based on escaping. So it was very System Shock-like in my mind. But there was no name for it.
Q: Prey is "a reimagining of the IP"? What does that mean?
Raphael Colantonio: Again it's more like the theme, y'know. First-person, space, aliens, escape a space station. Those are the themes that we use, and everything else is a re-imagination. It's our take on that. It's kind of similar to what you'd have in some movies where two or three or sometimes five movies have the same name in the history of the movie industry.
Q: Why did you settle on an alternative '60s timeline?
Raphael Colantonio: It was the process of 'how do we create a compelling world that is both familiar and different?' Familiar enough that people understand what's going on, but it's different enough that they are interested in wanting to explore it. And whenever you see a screenshot, immediately you'd recognise the game. So it's part of the identity of the game. for us. When we create a new game, we look at it from the point of gameplay identity, but also visual and audio identity. So in this case, we went and looked at what kind of future aesthetic we think is exciting and pretty quickly we thought something a little retro would be an interesting direction.
Q: I read that Prey was influenced by the films Moon, Starship Troopers, and The Matrix. Assuming that's correct, what was the influence of each?
Raphael Colantonio: You could also add Groundhog Day and Total Recall, and those are not specifically for the visuals, it's more for some moments, some drive, some motif. So it's more on the story side I think. Sunshine has some visual reference in there for us. But Moon for example there's something about identity about it, and there's an interesting twist at the end. It's not the same for our game, but there are things in common.
Q: Why did you settle on using CryEngine rather than use your own Void Engine?
Raphael Colantonio: I think it was a matter of not piling risk on top of risk. We were developing the engine for Dishonored 2 simultaneously with the game, and that's already a very big risk. It was really hard, it's a huge technical effort. So, trying to add another game to that would have been probably impossible. So we thought 'we have enough of a challenge starting a new game from scratch, let's use the technology that's available – at least for this round'.
Q: How did the Chris Avellone connection happen?
Raphael Colantonio: We do like external eyes on our game, we've always done that. This time, the moment that [lead designer] Ricardo Bare and I were done with the story structure, we thought that we would love to have someone have a look at it and help us deepen it. We thought pretty quickly to contact Chris, because we were both were great fans of his work – specifically on characters. There are some games where he has developed some really cool characters, and both Ricardo and I were excited about having his influence if possible. I tried to contact him, and he was thrilled by the idea, met us, and that was it.
Q: The Typhon are a very unique alien, for a video game at least. What was your mandate with their design?
Raphael Colantonio: I think it was an opportunity... when we looked at what's special about our game, we knew there were going to be aliens, and it's an opportunity to not make aliens as everybody does. So from the get-go we knew we did not want to have the classic two or three existing archetypes. So that's why ended up with this ghostly, paranormal, psionic approach, which was not something we had seen before. And it's a good opportunity to make scary moments. It worked well with the theme of our game in general.
Q: What do the Typhon want?
Raphael Colantonio: So that part I'm not going to tell you! but they do want something – they're not just a hassle. At the beginning of the game, that's pretty much how they look. It looks like there's been some weird infestation and there are weird monsters around, but it's more than that.
Q: Is a 'no powers' run possible?
Raphael Colantonio: Yes you can. You can use just human upgrades. But you have to use upgrades honestly, because otherwise finishing the game is going to be very hard. But you could just use the human upgrade trees.
Q: Two game releases in two years is rapid fire for you guys. What made that possible?
Raphael Colantonio: I think having two locations physically separated was key to that, because for sure when you have two teams in the same studio, usually they end up stealing each other's resources. When one team starts to be late they panic, so they start to snatch people around etcetera. So being physically separated was very key for Arkane. Both are the same company, but are at the same time disciplined enough to not scavenge people.
Q: How many people work at Arkane?
Raphael Colantonio: I don't have the exact numbers, but we tried to stay pretty small in-house actually. We did a lot of outsourcing for the art specifically. But in-house, it's probably much smaller team that most AAA games.
Q: Outsourcing in that manner seemed to be becoming more common in the industry – is that a fair statement?
Raphael Colantonio: I think so. For us anyway it's a nice way to not grow and then layoff people. Because there's an entire segment of your team you need just for a moment. And I think that's a good way to proceed with that. There are more and more very, very good talent outside, and they are very motivated to do some good work, so I think it's win-win.
Q: We're big Mick Gordon fans, especially because he's an Aussie. Did the Bethesda connection get him involved?
Raphael Colantonio: It was actually when I played Wolfenstein. I enjoyed the game, but the thing that really, really stuck with me was the quality of the music. It felt to me not video game music, it felt like movie music or more. Like independent songs that were really awesome. He has these really cool arpeggios that are really dramatic. So I wanted that, I wanted that part – the arpeggios with the guitar. They are definitely unique, and I wanted my own version of that. So it was definitely through Bethesda that I contacted him.
I asked him if he wanted to do a test for the game, and he did it in two weeks after I spent maybe 30 minutes on the phone with him telling him the game's story, feeling, and mood, and my desire for arpeggios and mixing with synths etcetera. He came back with a test that was spot-on – it's the music that's in the menu actually. It was like that – he got it spot-on. After that, the word 'western in space' came to me listening to that. It feels almost like Ennio Morricone type melodies, but with a mood and '80s synths on top that makes it really take it somewhere else. So 'western in space' became the filter for all the music he wrote.
Q: How do you feel about Bethesda's recent 'no review copies before launch' policy?
Raphael Colantonio: Yeah, we don't have much say in that policy – it's something that they started recently, and they do that across all games. So for us, it's just part of the process.
Q: In your opinion, what does a Reployer do?
Raphael Colantonio: [Laughs] I have a few theories, and we might reveal what they do later. But I have a few very precise theories that actually make sense.