"Playing as a sewer rat is no fun"
30th Apr 2009 | 16:13
Quite recently, we interviewed Prototype Executive Producer Tim Bennison who revealed so much about their forthcoming free-roaming anti-hero action adventure, we (sadly) had to cut about 90% of it out of the magazine - such as the fact they took 22 thousand photos of New York to model the in-game city, and recently modified the gameplay to allow your character to blend into the background by morphing into a 65-year-old jogger. More below...
How would you describe Prototype to the average gamer?
Tim Bennison: Prototype is an open-world action game, offering players the chance to become Alex Mercer, a deadly shape-shifting 'anti-hero'. Mercer can shape-shift his body into lethal biological weapons as well as consume and become anyone in New York City. His main goal is revenge, as he cuts through relentless enemy factions somehow involved in the conspiracy that created him.
When we started this project, we really wanted to create something different that couldn't be done on the previous generation of hardware. We think we've achieved this with Prototype's combination of unique movement and combat mechanics and the original back-story. Judging from gamers' reactions earlier this month at New York Comic-Con, we're feeling great about hitting our goal.
Could you walk us through a typical 'mission' in the game?
Tim Bennison: Due to the large array of over-the-top abilities we've given Alex Mercer, we tried to create equally 'epic' missions. To beat the game, you'll have to make really effective use of movement abilities, shape-shifting combat and disguise, and tons of military hardware. Missions generally revolve around three key elements: adaptive parkour movement, shape-shifting powers, and disguise gameplay.
One example of disguise gameplay might be where Alex needs to infiltrate a rooftop helipad guarded by Blackwatch Special Forces soldiers. Alex needs to sneakily consume a few key outlying patrol guards, and then he can take control of the chopper as a 'pilot'. A different mission may then need Alex to get his hands dirty and chase down a 20 foot Infected boss rampaging through the city streets all while holding a key person Alex must rescue. We've also got a boatload of really cool "Event Challenge" missions, which provide intense doses of extreme action.
Prototype sounds very much like Assassin's Creed with its parkour style movement. Is that a fair assumption?
Tim Bennison: First off, we love Assassin's Creed - it's a great game. One of the main differences between Prototype and AC lies in the character movement. In AC, the movement of Altair is more intricately designed around building 'outcroppings' where the player chooses which brick to connect with as Altair climbs. In Prototype, because Alex Mercer is on the run from military attack helicopters, huge Infected brawlers, etc, the players' decision is not 'which brick to connect Alex to', but rather, 'which skyscraper'. Action will come looking for you in Prototype, so Alex needs to be able to jump across Times Square, not just the roof of a village square.
How realistic is your version of New York, and how important is the look and feel of the city to the overall game?
Tim Bennison: Very early on in development, our main theme was reality plus one 'fantastic' element. The 'fantastic' in Prototype is based around the Infection and the effects that has on the population. But it was important to us to set the game in as real and recognizable world as possible, hence New York City in the present day. We felt that the action and events would have more impact in this kind of setting.
We took approximately 22,000 photographs of New York City and captured hours of 7.1 surround sound-compatible recordings, so we were really keen on making New York City right.
Historically speaking, videogames have featured New York City with no more than 20 people walking around the in-game version of Times Square. That's definitely not New York, so we're really happy with the sheer density, intensity, and bustling nature of Prototype's New York City. We're talking hundreds of cars, thousands of pedestrians - when things start to explode you really get the feeling that the world is caving in around you. Importantly though, we're not trying to recreate a slavish simulation of NYC that looks like a GoogleMaps replication or anything. If you're going to include, say, an alleyway, then you'd better have something fun to do in that alleyway. Hence we're going for a slightly modified vision of the city that builds in more action-per-square-foot than all of our previous efforts.
Tell us about the super-powers. Which three powers do you think will most wow gamers?
Tim Bennison: We designed the powers to be biological in nature, and to make Alex Mercer feel like he's some kind of human Swiss-Army knife. With one press of the power wheel button, players can mix-n-match the powers together in cool combinations. Alex can even shape-shift into new forms while in mid-air, say during a jump or glide between skyscrapers. It's all about speed and control.
Judging from our recent showing at New York Comic-Con, three powers that proved definite favorites tended to be the Claws, the Hammer-fist, and the Blade Arms. It never got old just watching players' faces when they'd trigger the Hammer-fist power, run to the top of a skyscraper, and then perform a flying elbow-drop on a combat tank moving through Times Square. Creative gamers even realized you can pull-off combinations, such as jump off a tower while holding a rocket launcher, fire a round at the tank in mid-air, and then execute the elbow-drop to ensure a brutal double-kill.
It's this kind of mix-n-match creativity that we're really hoping to encourage with Prototype. We like to make games that let our fans kick major ass.
Will Alex be able to shape-shift at will, or are his powers tailored to specific parts of the game?
Tim Bennison: Generally speaking, Alex always has access to his shape-shifting powers of disguise. The specific offensive, defensive, and sensory powers are unlocked through core-story progression, as well as earning enough Evolution Points. Evolution Points are the game's currency, earned by completing missions, event challenges, and taking down major enemies throughout the game.
To help players quickly understand which of their powers work most effectively against particular enemies, we introduce those specific powers with their ideal enemy type.
How does the morality system work? Will the game react to you if you choose to play as a good or evil character?
Tim Bennison: Alex is an anti-hero. That means there is no morality code of "good" and "evil" during the gameplay. If good or bad things happen to Alex or other characters during the game, they happened because someone got in Alex's way. And that's a very bad idea. The good news for gamers is that even when the game starts, Alex is already pissed-off and ready for a fight. This is an original story; Alex's goal is to obtain the memories of anyone who can fill in the gaps of his past life, his current powers, and the reason behind Manhattan's three-way infected war.
The game does not reward or punish players for being 'good' or 'evil', so there are no separate rewards for how players act within a mission. The focus is on player choice, not punishing players for adopting the style of play that suits them.
How customizable is Alex?
Tim Bennison: The short answer is... a lot. Alex can customize himself in many different and powerful ways. First, he can consume and 'become' anyone he sees in New York City. The gameplay implications for this are huge, as it enables Alex to disguise himself and slip away into a large crowd, and thus evading capture from incoming military forces.
Alex can also mix-n-match his biological weaponry and sensory powers anytime he wants. For example, if the player has the Claws and Armor powers equipped, they can do a running jump off a building, and, before even hitting the ground, Alex can shape-shift into a 65 year-old jogger. Voila - the heat is off, the military loses you, and you can continue your mission. The trick is to ensure no military or Blackwatch personnel spots you during the consume transformation itself.
We know the plot is very much under wraps. Can you expand on anything about Prototype's story that isn't in the official press release?
Tim Bennison: It's always hard relaying a lot of information about Prototype's story without ruining the key twists and turns. One thing we can reveal is Alex's one true ally he can turn to when the game begins, his sister, Dana. Dana is a journalist, so her access to case files, historic information, and leaked data proves to be a big help for Alex in his search for the truth.
Prototype has been in development for a few years. Tell us about some of the things that have changed since you first showed it, and tell us why they were changed.
Tim Bennison: Due to its open-world nature, we knew we had a really huge task in developing Prototype, so we took advantage of the longer development cycle to bring our initial conception and game vision to life. Polishing graphics and A.I., tweaking missions, balancing enemy types - all of this combined is what will truly make Prototype stand out.
Once the gameplay was ready for focus group testing, some of our earlier ideas needed to be scrapped. One such idea was that Alex would be able to shape-shift into small animals, such as a New York sewer rat. We can make it official right here and now in the pages of PSM3 magazine - playing as a sewer rat is absolutely no fun when you can be a guy as powerful as Alex Mercer.
You've got some famous names doing the in-game voices. Why did you choose guys like Barry Pepper to be in Prototype?
Tim Bennison: Barry really nailed the tone and nature of Alex Mercer. Once we got him into the studio and listened to the audio takes, it was quickly obvious that Barry would be a great voice talent for the role. He has a frightening intensity in his voice that suits the character perfectly. It's been quite fun to see the fans try to figure out who's behind Alex's voice from our trailers.
Finally, what are the main influences of Prototype?
Tim Bennison: We are big gamers, movie buffs, and comic-book fans here at Radical; we're generally influenced by many IPs from these media, both main-stream and obscure. Open-world games are not easy to develop, but we think there's plenty of room to experiment and try out new game mechanics and story structures within the open-world format. Our animation and free-running elements introduced in Hulk: Ultimate Destruction provided a basis for these mechanics. With Prototype, we bring the idea of an "anti-hero" to the forefront and try something totally different in the sandbox format with our conspiracy-driven, thriller structure. Prototype allows gamers to kick ass in a thousand new ways, such as throwing military soldiers through the windshields of attack helicopters. :-)
Now that's comprehensive,
Have a great night