Of hunters and prey - the history of Arkane Studios

Today, join us in taking a glimpse at one of the top game companies in France, Arkane Studios. Created by Raphaël Colantonio, the studio is behind such cult hits as Arx Fatalis, Dishonored, and Prey. Let’s take this time to learn more about these titles, in case you ever decide to check them out on PC.

The first chapter

The company’s origin story is inseparable from Raphaël Colantonio, a brilliant designer with extensive experience in the game industry. He started his career in the European division of Electronic Arts in the early 1990s, where he worked on a few high-profile titles, such as System Shock and Ultima Underworld. After noticing EA's shift towards console and sports titles, Colantonio decided, in 1999, to pursue his own unique career path in video games.

The birth of Arkane Studios

So, what kind of games did he want to work on now that he had started on this new adventure, founding Arkane Studios? Mysterious, story-driven titles that feature dark, gritty, and highly immersive atmospheres. He accomplished this, as Arkane Studios titles fit this description perfectly.
As Raphaël Colantonio said in an interview with Game Informer:
- Every time we do one of those big games, we know we commit for a few years of our lives. So, it better be a game we would like to play and be proud of.
The studio’s first project was Arx Fatalis, an action RPG made largely in the Ultima Underworld spirit. It was set in a world where the sun had failed, thus forcing the above-ground creatures to take refuge in caverns. The game’s open-ended, dynamic gameplay and dark fantasy world were both met with critical acclaim, paving the road for future Arkane Studios projects, like Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.

Dishonored and the rise to fame

When the second decade of the 21st century came around, Arkane Studios already had a few games in its portfolio, two offices in Lyon and Austin, Texas, and a whole team of talented people. Among them, we feel it important to mention Viktor Antonov, the astonishingly creative art director from Bulgaria, and Harvey Smith, an American writer and game developer known for his work on popular titles like Deus Ex.
Together with Colantonio, Smith became a creative director on the set of a big-budget project that was commissioned to Arkane Studios by Bethesda Softworks. This title, Dishonored, would be a stealth action-adventure game and one that took several years to complete. It included top-notch visuals and Hollywood voice acting from stars like Chloë Grace Moretz, John Slattery, Lena Headey, and Susan Sarandon.
The story follows Corvo Attano, a disgraced bodyguard of Empress Jessamine, who becomes an assassin graced with magical powers. Dishonored garnered praise among gamers and critics alike. Among the many awards Dishonored was up for, the title won Best Action-Adventure Game at the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards and the Inside Gaming Award for Best Environmental Design. As Raphaël Colantonio explained:
- For us, Dishonored was a huge, huge milestone. […] Most of all because we proved to ourselves and the industry in general, that this kind of game, the immersive sim, can actually be successful.
Boosted by that success, Arkane Studios made a sequel of the game, Dishonored 2, and a spin-off, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider. Both were set in the same dark steampunk world where the hunter can easily become the hunted.

Towards the stars

The same Darwinian trope was used by Arkane Studios in Prey, a first-person shooter set in outer space. The game bears some resemblance to System Shock, a title Colantonio was working on in his EA years. Like System Shock, our hero is stranded on a space station filled with dangerous monsters and obstacles. Only this time, the focus is put more on dynamic action than RPG elements. Combined with stealth elements and a claustrophobic atmosphere, Prey gives the gamer an adrenaline-pumping, immersive experience from start to finish.
During the two decades of its existence, Arkane Studios has been approached by many big publishers wanting to make the next big hit. Recently, during a documentary from Noclip about the company, it was revealed that Arkane Studios was at one point engaged in the Half-Life: Ravenholm project alongside Valve. Sadly, the project was scrapped due to creative differences between the two companies.
Prey marked the end of Raphaël Colantonio’s tenure as president of Arkane Studios, a position he held for 18 years. He left behind a team of developers still overflowing with creativity and ready to approach new challenges. Their next game, titled Deathloop, is planned to premiere in 2020. The title will be a science-fiction first-person shooter where the main character is stuck in a time loop.
We’re already excited about Deathloop and we’re sure it will bring us hours and hours of fun!