The cryptic and catchy name of Madison-based Human Head Studios refers to a joke about a missing bag packed with human craniums. You might have thought the east-side software development company was also missing. It was way back in 2006 when fans packed the lobby of the Orpheum Theater to celebrate the release of Prey, the studio's last major release.
"The thing we're really good at doing is flying under the radar screen," says Chris Rhinehart, one of the studios' six original cofounders, each of whom broke away from Middleton-based Raven Software in 2004.
They're not under the radar any more. Last week, Bethesda Software announced that Human Head would be returning to the hostile alien killing fields sometime next year: They'll be fronting Prey 2, a first-person shooter that, according to unconfirmed reports on several major gaming websites, revisits the events of the first game from the perspective of a bounty hunter charged with tracking down the alien hordes.
So what's with the silent treatment? Blame it on the modern game industry biz, says Rhinehart: "Ten years ago, publishers and developers would announce projects immediately. Now they like to hold their cards a little closer to the chest."
Turns out that Rhinehart and company spent their post-Prey time working on some projects that never ended up seeing the light of day, improving their tech, refining their game design skills -- and surviving the devastating 2007 fire that seriously damaged the company's studio on Commercial Avenue. When it came time to begin shopping the prospect of a sequel, Bethesda was quick to step up and purchase the rights from 3D Realms. Human Head began work on the game in 2009, and now has a staff of slightly less than 50 working hard to meet Prey 2's expected 2012 release date.
Expect the return of the game's signature portals and gravity-bending effects that had you walking upside-down and sideways to pick off (or be picked off by) aliens. Will we see an appearance by Tommy, the Cherokee Indian hero of the 2006 game? That's unclear. The only official info currently available on Prey 2 can be found on the game's newly created Facebook page: A game trailer filmed from the point of view of a passenger on an airplane that seems to encounter an alien ship -- the one that attacks Earth in the opening sequence of the original Prey.
Rhinehart promises that more will be revealed in the May issue of the Official Xbox Magazine. "I can't wait to be able to talk about the next wave of information," he says.