Prey. Technology of the Show?
by Paul Bannister
May 30, 1998
We were among the few and privileged invited in to see 3D Realms’ upcoming everything-killer, Prey. Paul Schuytema, the project leader for the game, walked us through a small technology demo for the game, as well as some of the early levels (they claim to be about 90-95% done with the engine and about 35% done with the levels — shooting for a Q1/Q2 ’99 release).
Well, needless to say, we were blown away by what all of us were saying was easily the best-looking 3D shooter at the show. First off, we were treated to a demo of the “interactive” environments in the game. Paul shot out some free-standing objects which exploded, which has been seen before. Then he blew out an entire wall (at least 40 feet tall). But then, and most impressively, he blew out the poles that supported the ceiling, which collapsed onto the floor! Extremely impressive interactive environments. He noted that every environment will be interactive by default; the level designers just need to “turn on the switch” so to speak.
The second portion of the technology engine was the what Paul referred to as “hyper-dense” environments. Essentially incredibly detailed environments where you could zoom in on small objects (like a electrical outlet, or the words in a magazine) and get incredible resolution. They plan on using this super-realism to draw people into the game early (the first 25% of the game takes place on Earth, the other 3/4 take place on an alien spaceship), and then when people are sucked in, throwing them a lot of curveballs.
Next up from the technology point of view was the “portal” system that is being used to program the game. We watched the main character of the game, Talon Brave, from an external camera. Paul zoomed out, and all of a sudden, we were watching, from a totally exterior environment, the same scene, suspended in air. Essentially, we were watching a television point of view that was attached to a six-degrees-of-freedom device. So what came next was that Paul started to spin the device (with the scene with Talon Brave in the device) and you could see through this “portal” into the other environment. Truly impressive stuff.
The portals are obviously the main driving force behind the engine in the game. We then saw Paul lay down two devices that created these portals in midair, and basically one portal was a view through the other one, so our character could see the back of himself in the portal he was looking in. Shoot through that portal, and you can shoot yourself. Shoot in one portal and it will come out the other, and even go back out of the second portal, if you aim correctly. He also showed portals being used to model mirroring effects. A well-polished marble floor was a scene we saw, and when we looked at the ground, we could see a totally clear reflection of Talon Brave, and since this is all part of the engine, it isn’t just some hack added on for mirroring effects later on. You’ve seen this before, like in Unreal, but the detail in the reflection was unsurpassed. You could see the ridges on the ceiling and other cool stuff.
But aside from the technology, some of the game environments we saw were incredibly impressive. We saw pools of water from above, and then went below the surface, and looked up through glass that held the pools of water, and then up to the sky. Buildings in the alien environment were dozens of stories tall, and were complete objects that you could shoot at and do damage to.
Paul said that they won’t be revealing much about the game before release. Only 2 weapons were shown and even those might not make the final release. First was the “Drunk Missile Launcher”, a triple missile shooter that fires three random-trajectory missiles. Paul said the launcher might be in the game, but probably with heat seeking missiles. Next up was “X5”, just a code name for the particular weapon. It fired plasma gun-like bolts; it also had a secondary fire mode which fired a huge plasma bolt that shook the world when it crashed into a distant wall.
In all, Prey was an incredibly impressive title. Running through different scenes in the game, we saw some of the coolest effects ever. We saw it running on a P2-266 with a Voodoo 2 accelerator card, and it was absolutely flawless, even in the hyper-dense environments, there was absolutely no slowdown. It really had a true air of “reality” about it, and we think this will really be a game to watch in the coming year as it gets closer to release. PreyTech, what Paul called the engine, will be utilized in a series of games, including Duke 5. He also stated they would be licensing it out to other developers. We will definitely be following this game closely and may even have some more E3 coverage about it. Stay tuned!