A few entries ago I made a big deal about how much I love the design of Talos-1 and I’m impressed with the attention to detail that went into building this world and making it feel real. So now it’s time for me to do my predictable face-heel turn and obsess over some nitpicky detail. Specifically, the sleeping arrangements on this space station are ridiculous.
I realize this is one of those details we’re not supposed to notice, but the crew quarters are absurdly, comically undersized. They are so undersized that I find it really distracting. I don’t mean they seem too small in retrospect, I mean they are flagrantly, outrageously undersized in a way that I can’t help but notice while playing the game.
I’m making a big deal about this because the population of Talos-1 is a known thing.
Bring Out Yer Dead! (Bonk!)
In the days of System Shock and BioShock, the level designer just scattered corpses around and called it a day. But here in Prey, everyone is accounted for. Every corpse is a named character with a defined appearance, an assigned job, and a uniform that matches their duty station. The bodies aren’t scattered around at random like office clutter. These people have stories and you can work out which people got ambushed while sneaking around in the dark and which people died in groups behind makeshift barricades. They’ll even have inventory items that make sense based on their job.Although the entire crew has an unusual affinity for carrying around fresh fruit in the pockets of their jumpsuits. If they have a desk job, then somewhere in the world you’ll be able to find their workstation with their email history. If they left any audiologs, then in addition to a dead body they’ll also have a portrait and a voice.
You can walk up to any security computer and see a huge list of the crew. You can then pick someone at random, have the computer locate them for you, and follow the waypoint marker to their swiftly cooling cadaver. (Or in exceptionally rare cases, you might find them alive. We’ll talk about the survivors later in this series.)
On top of all of this, you can learn about all of the countless little interpersonal dramas that were interrupted by the Typhon containment breach. These two people were dating. These five people are playing the D&D-esque Fatal Fortress. This guy was blackmailing this woman over smuggled goods. This guy did a half-assed job of repairing something with improvised parts and then was kinda flippant when his boss called him on it.
A lot of work went into this! According to this achievement guide, there are 250 crew members stationed on Talos-1. Imagine the effort that went into coming up with all of those people and their stories, making sure everyone is accounted for, that all of the bodies look like who they’re supposed to, and that there aren’t any duplicates.
Miniature Worlds of Adventure
We’re used to games that play fast-and-loose with size and distance. You can jog across the entire continent of Skyrim in under 15 minutes. The city of Whiterun is supposedly this ultra-important location, but the total population would fit on a typical city bus without anyone needing to stand. Half the population is comprised of town guards who have no names or families or places to live. Everyone in town lives off of the same three-acre farm, which is within shouting distance of a bandit cave so populous that it rivals the civilian population of Whiterun.
We exaggerate the number of bad guys so we have lots of dudes to fight. We compress wilderness distances so the world feels full and different activities are only thirty seconds apart. We leave lots of open spaces between buildings to make spaces easier to render, even though most cities are pretty dense. We make cities feel big by using construction styles and materials that are typically only used in densely populated areas, regardless of the actual size and density of the place.
When the game designer is done bending space to make their tiny world feel big, they turn around and bend time as well. Games with a visible day / night cycle often run at some absurdly accelerated speed, so that a minute of playing is worth an hour or two of in-game daylight.
It’s fine. We’re used to this sort of thing and we recognize it as a compromise in the name of fun. Game designers aren’t lazy or stupid. They know how big stuff ought to be, but they also know that holding down the W key for an hour is a dull and cramp-inducing way to spend your time.
This is common in videogames and the only reason I’m making a big deal about it is because Prey is otherwise meticulously constructed. A lot of thought went into the history, construction, layout, and usage of Talos-1. Most games don’t bother to realize their worlds with so much attention to detail. This extra care and attention spoils me, so that when Prey falls back into standard videogame level design it can feel sort of childish.
So let’s talk about the sleeping arrangements on Talos-1.
Like I said above, there are 250 regular crew members stationed on Talos-1. In addition, there are 18 “volunteer” prisoners doomed to die like lab rats, plus the Yu siblings.
Alex and Morgan Yu, being the highest-ranking people on board, have their own living spaces, which feel like luxury apartments. You could argue that’s a pretty decadent waste of space in these circumstances, but whatever. This place is run by a private corporation. What did you expect?
There are ten beds in the volunteer quarters. I guess this means that the 18 prisoners need to engage in hot bunking to make sure everyone has a place to sleep. That makes sense. These people don’t live here for very long and I doubt their comfort is high on anyone’s list of priorities. My one quibble with how the volunteer spaces are set up is that they live in the Neuromod Division but they’re ultimately sent to Psychotronics to “take part in the experiments”. (Die.)
The thing is, there’s no direct route from the Neuromod Division to Psychotronics. The only way to travel between these two places is to pass through the open common area of the lobby. The prisoners, the Typhon, and the experiments involving the two are all highly classified. Some prisoners go to Psychotronics and die right away, while others bounce back and forth between their living spaces and the test chambers many times. I just don’t see how all of that traffic could remain a secret, particularly when the prisoners would need to be guarded and restrained.
The Neuromod Division is physically above Psychotronics, and so it seems like there ought to be a special security elevator between the two. I wouldn’t mind if it was broken and unusable during the course of the game, I just wish the level designer had created an apparent way to move the prisoners around that didn’t involve parading them through the lobby.
In any case, we’ve worked out the sleeping arrangements for the executives and prisoners. Now we just need to figure out where the 250 regular crew members sleep.
Here in the Crew quarters we have dedicated rooms for twelve people. These fancy rooms are spacious single-occupancy deals, and feel a bit like hotel rooms in terms of space and furnishings. These rooms are personalized and clearly belong to specific individuals. We can’t entertain any notions of hot-bunking here.
At the end of the corridor is the “Habitation Pods”, which is an open room with an additional 14 beds.
That’s it. That’s all of the beds on the station, leaving us short 224 beds. The level designer gives themselves a tiny fig leaf justification in the form of a sealed door in the Hab Pods room. The area on the other side has decompressed, but there’s a sign indicating that the door should lead to more hab pods.
If you’re looking to be exceedingly generous, then I guess you could assume that the hab pods room is the first in a long chain that would account for the remaining 224 beds. And if that’s what you want to do, then go ahead and skip the rest of this. I appreciate your willingness to go easy on the level designer, but I can’t do the same.
My problem is that it strains credulity to imagine there are 224 beds on the other side of this pressure door. If we assume this first room is representative of the others, then that means we need a whopping sixteen more rooms like this one. That would make for a very long chain of rooms. That chain would certainly protrude from the side of Talos-1. In fact, it would more than double the total footprint of the crew quarters.
More importantly, there is a map of the Crew Quarters in the common area, and that map very clearly shows that there aren’t any rooms beyond the hab pods, not even beyond the pressure door. Also, the shape of the Crew Quarters forms this nice compact layout that fits within the volume of Talos-1 as seen from the outside. That falls apart if we try to glue sixteen more large rooms onto the given floor plan.
Also, this would make for a horrible layout. If there are sixteen more rooms beyond this door, then that suggests a chain of 17 hab pod rooms in total. The last thing you’d want is to stick them in a long chain like the level designer has suggested with this locked pressure door. The one hab pod room we see would be overwhelmed with foot traffic, since all sixteen of the other rooms would need to pass through here. Also, that would be quite a hike for people on the far end.
Now, arrangements like this do exist in extreme places. In particular, submarines are notorious for having shitty sleeping arrangements. But Talos-1 feels more like a cruise ship, and it doesn’t make any sense to create this long linear chain of rooms (that is never hinted at on any map) and introduce all of these problems with noise, privacy, and travel times. Particularly when there doesn’t seem to be any reason for doing so.
But What Do Yu EAT?
While we’re being unfair and nitpicking trivial things, let’s take a look at the cafeteria and see how Talos-1 does in terms of eating arrangements.
The place is in quite a bit of disarray, but it’s not hard to get a feel for how this place was originally laid out. It’s clear that while many tables have been flipped, turned into barricades, or otherwise moved from their original positions, we can tell that none of them have been destroyed. There are enough tables to reasonably fill the space, and I don’t think we need to entertain the notion of vaporized tables to figure out where everyone ate.
The cafeteria has seven round tables, which – going by the place settings – hold 4 people apiece. In addition there are twenty-one rectangular tables, which hold 6 place settings.
(21*6) + (7 *4) = 154 seats.
That’s just about perfect. The place can hold about two-thirds of the crew at any given time. Most cafeteria settings don’t want to attempt to feed everyone at once because you run into throughput problems in the kitchen. But this dining room is just right if we assume the cafeteria is open for about 90 minutes per meal. That’s enough time for everyone to rotate through, without the kitchen needing to feed everyone at the exact same moment.
Likewise, the Yellow Tulip bar can hold about two dozen people. The theater can hold 36. The television area, card tables, ping-pong, and pinball machines in the rec center can probably occupy another dozen or so people. The upstairs area can hold another dozen people reading, playing chess, or following other quiet pursuits.Although there’s a group that plays rowdy D&D here, which probably bothers the readers and chess players. The fitness center has enough equipment for a dozen people, and the adjacent pool can comfortably hold that many again before things start to feel a little crowded. Again, all of this feels just about right for a crew of 250.
Two dozen seems to be the magic number here. That’s about 10% of the population, and that’s about how many people these various facilities can hold. I’ve never run a hotel, convention center, or cruise ship, so I don’t know if these percentages make sense. Even if you want to argue that they’re too small, they’re at least properly sized relative to each other, so everything feels right on an intuitive level when you’re exploring.
But while it makes sense that we only have enough treadmills and pinball machines to serve 10% of the population at any given moment, that number is too low when it comes to beds. Like, everyone should have a bed.
I’m not sure what happened here. Everything else about Talos-1 is so carefully thought out. How did the designer manage to get all of these other details right and then leave out 90% of the beds?
To be clear, I don’t think we literally need 250 beds to fix this. Without looking at the wiki, the player doesn’t know the exact number of people on the station. And there’s no way to know the exact number of available beds short of walking around and counting them.
The problem is that the number of people and the number of beds are very obviously out of whack. Without needing to count, the player can tell there are “a lot” of people and only “a few” beds. To fix this, we just need to create the impression that there are “a lot” of beds, even if they’re still mismatched according to strict arithmetic.
What I’d suggest is taking the existing hab pods room and making it as big as the current floorplan will allow. It’s surrounded by a good bit of void space so we have plenty of available cubic volume to make this room larger. Get rid of the pointless open area in the middle of the room and fill that space with beds. Turn the lights off so the player can’t see the whole place at once, and can only view the beds through their flashlight beam. If polygon counts are a problem, you could cut the room in half with a baffle wall.
If you did all of this, I think you could turn this room of 14 beds into something between 30 and 40. The player could then run through this maze of bed racks. In the confusing darkness, this would leave the impression that there are “a whole lot” of beds here, and the only people to notice the remaining bed shortage would be lunatics like me who go to the trouble of counting.
 Although the entire crew has an unusual affinity for carrying around fresh fruit in the pockets of their jumpsuits.
 Although there’s a group that plays rowdy D&D here, which probably bothers the readers and chess players.
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