Alex Mercer, the protagonist of the first Prototype, wasn't the strongest character to debut an exciting new property with.
Sure, he had the physical strength to single-handedly bring down choppers, he could elbow drop a tank and walk away unscathed and toss soldiers thousands of feet into the air. But as a personality he was unmotivated, unrelatable and unlikeable.
In creating a sequel Radical's first order of business was to kick Mercer out of the starring role and replace him with Sergeant James Heller, a soldier and family man that's come home to find his loved ones have been killed because of Mercer's actions.
We wrangled design director at Radical Entertainment, Matt Armstrong, long enough to have a chat about the franchise's new focus, swapping heroes for villains and superpowers.
How soon after the release of the first Prototype did you know that another Prototype game was going to be made?
That's a fair question. I would say, it was probably about six to nine months after the first game came out.
There were some interesting background politics that launched us into that situation. There was different game that we were working on after Prototype and that game was one we decided to move away from for various reasons.
That decision actually coincided with the fact that Activision suddenly noticed that Prototype was selling rather well - it was heading towards the two million unit mark at that point.
It's important to have a character that people can actually buy into and like and that communicates with players
So Activision decided that was a bit of synergy here; they knew they had the opportunity to work with this franchise again. They came back to us and asked us if we wanted to do a sequel, and we very eagerly said; 'yes we do!'
Talk us through James Heller's genesis as a character; when did he first start to take shape? How did you decide what you wanted to do with him?
That's a bit of a long answer, I'm afraid. From an IP standpoint I was always of the opinion that it wasn't Alex Mercer (from the first Prototype) or James Heller (from Prototype 2) who were the star of our game. It was always the Blacklight Virus, because it's instigator of everything in the world we've created. It also allows us to keep the IP fresh moving forward.
We can take it to brand new locations, give it a brand new protagonist and we can express it in different ways. We could even move it into different genres of games very easily, if we wanted. So that was a compelling motivation in the first place for wanting to move away from Alex Mercer and have a different protagonist.
It was also the case that when we looked back on Prototype, we looked at what had worked about Mercer as a protagonist and what hadn't, and we created a list of things we wanted to do differently. This was something we'd hope help define who this new character had to be. At the top was the fact we wanted a more focused character than Mercer had been.
Around the same time, we started tossing ideas onto the table, which at first seemed insane, but gradually gained traction. One of these was the idea that Mercer could be the bad guy this time around. He would go from being the hero to the antagonist and none of us had ever seen that in a video game before. It actually created a bit of a butterflies in the tummy affect when we started to talk about it.
It also came down to: what would happen if you played someone who was effectively a victim of your own actions in the previous game? I mean, those were Mercer's actions, but they were your actions by extension. This made us a little nervy because it was clearly going to be risky and a little bit controversial but I felt that, if we weren't getting that feeling of nervousness, we probably weren't pushing hard enough or being ambitious enough. And that's where Heller came in."