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Prey Preview

3D Realms' innovative corridor-crawler may reduce the competition to rubble


In the beginning, there was darkness, and id said "Let there be Wolfenstein," and there was Wolfenstein, and it was good. And Wolfenstein begat Doom. And Doom begat Marathon. And Marathon begat Hexen and Hexen begat Duke and Duke begat Quake and lordy lordy, look at all the bodies piling up around here - they're starting to look a lot alike.

But not for long. With the upcoming Prey, 3D Realms' goal is nothing less than a first-person shooter that is at least "two evolutionary steps" above the corridor-crawler as we presently know it. One standing philosophy among the designers is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," and most of the conventions of Doom-style shooters will still be in place - with one or two radical, fundamental differences that could, quite literally, leave Quake and Duke Nukem in the rubble.

Prey pits the player, in the role of an American Indian character named Talon, against a trinity of alien races (and also a fourth race whose relation to all others forms part of the mystery behind the game). While hesitant to release too many specific details of the storyline, 3D Realms is quick to point out that the approach here is not humorous at all, and that plot, while fine and dandy, should not and will not get in the way of what is first and foremost a bloody, high-energy action game.

So what's the big leap? Simply put, it's the environmental mechanics. The physical reality of previous 3-D worlds, such as the environments found in Quake, means that the computer has to cope with the totality of chamber linked to chamber as a whole. Reality, as has been noted by many, frequently sucks. Prey will utilize a portal technology that (in a weirdly existential way) means the processor only deals with what it needs to at the moment; if the player can't see the next chamber, neither can the computer, so it ain't there. Such selective perception on the processor's part can result in some fascinating and bizarre constructions, such as rooms which are larger than the structures that contain them (think about that before you nod sagely and move on), or free-floating, zero-thickness teleporters that only provide line-of-sight and transport in one direction (or from which the player emerges on the ceiling or between the walls of another chamber, as though he had fallen into some kind of Escher print). Add to this the 'Radiosity' technology that provides realistic moving lighting effects so accurate that the yellow blaze of a rocket as it hurtles down a corridor will create other, true colors as it mixes with the ambient glow of various light sources along its path, all without making the computer twitch.

And while all of that is certain to at least quicken the pulse of avid corridor-crawler gamers, it's nothing compared to the next consideration, which is this: Gamers in 3-D modeled worlds want to blow stuff up, including the worlds themselves. What, the Apogee designers asked themselves, is the point behind giving a gamer some hellish man-portable missile launcher if he can't then use it to make some major-league alterations to the local scenery? If an opponent is busting caps at him from beneath a fragile archway, why shouldn't he be able to just bring the thing down around the enemy's ears? Since when does crumbling stone and worm-eaten wood stand up to a quarter-kiloton tactical nuke? Since never. And in Prey, it won't. It's a gamer's dream come true: After twenty years of frustrating computer games in which, too often, players could not do the obvious thing and simply lay waste to the simple, stupid barriers keeping them from what they wanted to see or where they wanted to go, it will finally be possible to take Alexander's approach to the Gordian Knot and just hack right down through the middle of the damned thing. In Prey, if a player can accumulate the firepower, there isn't any special reason why he can't tear his own new holes in the local terrain; expose new rooms, shortcuts, long-sealed chambers, and pathways to the wide-open outside world; or even (given time, ammo, and the proper psychoses) reduce the entire tangible computer world to a post-Apocalyptic junkscape.

But make no mistake, Prey is a long way off. "Sometime in '98" were the exact words of the developers. "When Prey is the game we play most around here," they said, "that's when we'll release it."

Let us Prey.

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