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Space station meets alt-Victorian world with Arkane

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One is set in a fantastical alt-Victorian world. The other takes place on a space station. Dishonored 2 and Prey are clearly very different games – yet they share one thing in common. They are both developed by Arkane Studios.

Make that more than one thing. Ever since Arkane was founded in 1999 in Lyon, France, the studio has specialized in making a certain type of game that is, well… uniquely Arkane. These games defy easy genre descriptors. They’re not shooters, but you can shoot stuff. They’re not pure action games, but you can certainly get your fill of bloody, brutal combat. They’re not RPGs, but you have the ability to make choices with real consequences. And they’re not purely stealth games, but there are times when you can finish a mission without ever being spotted.

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“At Arkane, we always apply the same values to the games we make,” says studio President and Co-Creative Director Rafael Colantonio. “Dishonored and Prey share a lot of those values.”

For Colantonio – who led the original Dishonored with Co-Creative Director Harvey Smith – that means a game “where simulation is very important, and where the choices of the player are very important.” Or, as Smith adds, “Arkane is dedicated to very immersive games that engage in first-person combat and first-person stealth. We allow the player to recombine powers and moves in different ways that we couldn’t even predict. We care about empowering the player. You can play our games very creatively.”

After the original Dishonored released in 2012, Colantonio moved his focus to directing Prey in Arkane’s newer studio located in Austin, Texas. Meanwhile, Smith – an industry veteran who joined Arkane in 2008 to work with Colantonio on Dishonored – moved to Lyon to direct Dishonored 2. While they now live in different countries, the two of them continue to collaborate on a daily basis, testing each other’s games, sharing expertise and more. “Harvey and I are constantly talking,” Colantonio smiles. “Either we’re chatting on Skype, or we’re texting each other.”

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A Sense of Place

For Smith, Arkane has become more than just a studio. “From the time 17 years ago when Arkane was just Rafael Colantonio and four guys in an office in France, with a network cable between their computers for transfers, a lot has happened – a long, rich history culminating most recently in the Dishonored series,” Smith says. “I’ve been with the company for eight years, which blows my mind. It’s longer than I’ve been with any other company. It’s amazing, it feels like home.”

When it comes to Arkane’s games, that feeling of “being at home” is no accident. “We are very much into creating a deep setting where there are layers of history,” Smith says. “We understand the architecture of the place, and the waves of settlers that came in, and how the foods have changed since then. It’s the kind of company where we just really care about creating worlds.”

While that makes sense for a lore-rich, fantastical setting like Dishonored’s Empire of the Isles, how does this world-building philosophy translate to a sci-fi game like Prey? Set on board the space station Talos I, Prey offers a vision of the near future that’s built upon a foundation of reality. “But it’s not the world exactly as we know it,” Colantonio says. “It’s another version of 2032. In our world Kennedy survived his assassination. We’re not very overt about it. We hint at it. This allowed us to take all the filters the new timeline would create, and build our world through those filters.”

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Which is why astute observers will see a mix of eras and styles reflected in the design of Talos I: Everything on board is rooted in a carefully thought-out alt-history timeline, with all details accounted for. The space station even includes some very lavish elements because, as Colantonio explains, “They built it in a way that would be attractive to the best scientists in the world. There’s even an artificial park with some engineered trees.”

Self Discovery

Within these Arkane worlds, the teams are also passionate about allowing players to build their own identity. It’s why Dishonored 2 offers a choice of two playable characters – Empress Emily Kaldwin or Royal Protector Corvo Attano, each of whom has unique powers and different perspectives on the world around them. And in Prey, players can choose whether Morgan Yu is male or female – but that’s just for starters. One of the major themes of Prey is identity: Along with killing aliens, players embark on a journey of self-discovery. This is even reflected in the gameplay. “We track what players do all along so there can be consequences to their choices,” Colantonio says. “We give players a lot of tools. It’s all simulated. Players can explore those tools in the environment and against the different AIs, who are themselves simulated – they’re not on a set path but are organically moving around based on what they sense. There’s a full ecology with the aliens. All of this combined really provides for experiences that are unique to every player.”

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Of course, Prey and Dishonored 2 are very different games as well. Dishonored is mission-based, with richly detailed, signature levels that you explore and complete in a myriad of ways. Prey, on the other hand, is built around a massive contiguous space, with areas you can revisit. Dishonored places a greater focus on stealth (with the option to play as chaotically as you choose); in Prey, stealth exists, but it’s not the central pillar of the gameplay. And while both games include a wealth of customization options, Prey places an even greater emphasis on RPG-like elements.

And yet they both share similarities that make them uniquely Arkane. “If you like Arkane games – those games that blend narrative and simulation, some choices and a lot of player exploration – Prey will be a game for you,” Colantonio says.

For Smith, Dishonored 2 represents eight years working at Arkane on Dishonored games. “I have a great passion for it,” he says. “The whole team does. Down to every object, the watermarks on the walls, the history of the place you go to, all the quirky characters. We just want our very vocal fans to know that we really are inspired by their passion and their enthusiasm. And for everybody who hasn’t played the first game, we think this is going to be a great entry into the Dishonored world, and Arkane games in general.”

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Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Robots coming to IFA

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Robotics is no longer about mechanical humanoids, but rather becoming an interface between man and machine. That is a key message being delivered at next month’s IFA consumer electronics expo in Berlin. An entire hall will be devoted to IFA Next, which will not only offer a look into the future, but also show what form it will take.

The concepts are as varied as the exhibitors themselves. However, there are similarities in the various products, some more human than others, in the fascinating ways in which they establish a link between fun, learning and programming. In many cases, they are aimed at children and young people.

The following will be among the exhibitors making Hall 26 a must-visit:

Leju Robotics (Stand 115) from China is featuring what we all imagine a robot to be. The bipedal Aelos 1s can walk, dance and play football. And in carrying out all these actions it responds to spoken commands. But it also challenges young researchers to apply their creativity in programming it and teaching it new actions. And conversely, it also imparts scholastic knowledge.

Cubroid (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Korea starts off by promoting an independent approach to the way it deals with tasks. Multi-functional cubes, glowing as they play music, or equipped with a tiny rotating motor, join together like Lego pieces. Configuration and programming are thus combined, providing a basic idea of what constitutes artificial intelligence.

Spain is represented by Ebotics (Stand 218). This company is presenting an entire portfolio of building components, including the “Mint” educational program. The modular system explains about modern construction, programming and the entire field of robotics.

Elematec Corporation (Stand 208) from Japan is presenting the two-armed SCARA, which is not intended to deal with any tasks, but in particular to assist people with their work.

Everybot (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Japan approaches the concept of robotics by introducing an autonomous floor-cleaning machine, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.

And Segway (Stand 222) is using a number of products to explain the modern approach to battery-powered locomotion.

IFA will take place at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds (ExpoCenter City) from 6 to 11 September 2019. For more information, visit www.ifa-berlin.com

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