Published on June 23rd, 2008 | by simeon0
General Game Overview¬
As part of our coverage, here is the full FAQ for the pending action game Prototype.
Q: How would you summarize PROTOTYPE to someone who has never heard a bit about it?
Answer: PROTOTYPE is first and foremost an open world/action game, offering players the chance to be a lethal shape-shifter named Alex Mercer and allows players the ability to consume and become ANYONE in New York City, while simultaneously cutting through relentless enemy factions and a deeply layered conspiracy that is 40 years in the making. We’re really pushing hard to redefine the boundaries of what the term ‘action’ means with this next-gen game.
Q: How did the big concepts in terms of story and gameplay take shape?
Answer: After working hard on bringing licensed properties to the gaming medium (i.e. – Hulk Ultimate Destruction), the team here at Radical were looking for a way to express ideas without potentially limited ‘creative handcuffs’. PROTOTYPE is our own ‘baby’ so we now have the chance to throw out the rule book and let players control a true anti-hero – someone who is neither black or white in terms of moral approach. In open-world games, it’s no secret that the majority of gamers like to behave very badly. Hulk was a great stepping stone for us in learning to understand these impulses, so with PROTOTYPE we’ve attempted to loosen the rules and let gamers have their greater freedom with the missions, the environment interaction and the choice of how powers can be used to complete objectives. So I guess you could say we’ve been driven by this attempt to let the open-world nature of PROTOTYPE’s game environment also help inform the open-choice nature of the gameplay structure.
Q: How long have you been working on PROTOTYPE so far and what have been the main obstacles developing it?
Answer: The PROTOTYPE team at Radical has been working on the project for over two and a half years now. We’re feeling really good about our work so far and can’t wait for gamers to experience the shape-shifting powers of Alex Mercer. I’d be lying if I said we haven’t had some pretty large challenges along the way though – making any open-world/action game on new hardware is a massive task in and of its own right. One of the largest challenges has been trying to work out how movement animation (or locomotion) could be blended and combined with artificial intelligence so that Alex Mercer can hyper-parkour across hundreds of cars, vehicles, buildings or pretty much any obstacle smoothly. We’re really proud of cracking this problem and I think the latest gameplay clips and videos definitely show the results to date.
Q: Can you tell us a little about what sort of experience gamers can expect to have while playing PROTOTYPE? How is the story integrated into the open city environment?
Answer: PROTOTYPE is first and foremost an open-world/action game, offering players the chance to be a lethal shape-shifter called Alex Mercer. Set in New York City in 2008, PROTOTYPE is a game that lets players consume and become ANYONE, and unleash a hundred new ways to kick ass that you’ve never seen before…against some pretty relentless enemy forces. And underlying it all is a deeply layered conspiracy storyline, presented in a completely new way.
Basically, we’re trying to show gamers something new in the open-world game space. Some games use the word ‘revolutionary game experience’ to describe what amounts to better looking water effects or improved motion of grass. That’s not what we think gamers want when it comes to new experiences. We’re really pushing hard to redefine the boundaries of what the term ‘action’ means with this game.
The story is delivered through a series of memory flashbacks that Alex experiences when consuming particular people in the city itself. The memories are effectively the building blocks to a ‘web of intrigue’ inside Alex’s mind – something only he can understand which ultimately lets the player solve the conspiracy unfolding around him. Rather than the traditional approach of having 40 minutes of cut-scenes to explain everything, we wanted the story-telling process to be more organic and the pace to be dictated by the player.
Q: Sandbox games are a competitive marketplace right now. What makes PROTOTYPE stand out?
Answer: PROTOTYPE is a game that brings something very different and exciting to the open-world market. Open-world games can take many forms, though traditionally the stories they tell involve rising to the top of a crime organization, or being a super-hero. We feel that the open-world structure is simply a ‘medium’, and using this medium, you can tell completely new kinds of stories and create completely new forms of action. For example, PROTOTYPE’s story is structured as a high-voltage thriller built around a conspiracy that’s the ultimate cause of all the incredible events happening. As another example, Alex Mercer employs a system of abilities we like to call ‘Deceive or Destroy’. At any point, in any mission, the player is completely free when engaging enemies and situations. Through one of Alex’s shape-shifting abilities, which is to consume and become anyone in New York City, he gains their knowledge, appearance, memories and abilities in a matter of seconds. You now get to mix-n-match how you play a mission and decide whether you want to unleash hell via explosive action or use deception and shape-shifting to sneak your way into a scenario.
Q: What can players expect to see in PROTOTYPE that they’ve never seen before?
Answer: Wow – that’s a question I may need some extra space to really get you the full lowdown, though one of the key aspects we’ve focused on getting right with PROTOTYPE is the locomotion and agility of Alex Mercer. When you have ultra aggressive, fast-moving enemies steamrolling towards you in an open-world recreation of New York City, you simply need to move FAST and be very agile. Through a combination of AI and animation technology, we’re extremely happy with our progress on making Alex move with a kind of ‘hyper-Parkour’ grace. Unlike other games that force you to choose the individual brick or tile that you wish to climb onto whilst in a chase, we put the focus on simultaneous high speed maneuvering and agile combat. Simplifying the control mechanic whilst maximizing the volume of interesting combat scenarios is a key goal. It’s just the right balance between automated response and interactive control. So if you wanted to jump off an 80 story building in Times Square, do a back flip over an Apache gunship and shape-shift into a military commander just before you land on an Abrams tank.. you can! That’s something we can’t wait to show off to gamers as something totally new to open-world gaming. Plus, our boss fights are going to be pretty amazing. There’s a REASON we needed to build a gameplay area as vast as Manhattan, though more on that stuff later.
Q: Will we have different endings of the game or is PROTOTYPE just a one-time game?
Answer: PROTOTYPE will have a big ending, though this story is an origin story. It’s our intention to build on this first game since conspiracies rarely are solved in just one episode. And also to re state some things I mentioned above, with the open-world, the Deceive or Destroy gameplay, the side missions, I’m sure there’s plenty of content to have gamers wanting a second go at playing through PROTOTYPE. We just can’t wait to get the game finished and have your readers play it later this year.
Q: Will the different gaming platforms deliver different gaming experiences (gaming style, graphics, sounds, online features) between PC and console versions of the game?
Answer: Radical has always tried to ensure every format delivers a high quality experience. Right now we’re concentrating on getting the most out of each respective platform since each has its own unique strengths and challenges. One thing we’re very proud of is that we’ve recently announced a pioneering partnership with THX where PROTOTYPE will be the first game to offer Neural THX 7.1 surround sound.
Q: Do you plan to develop the brand of “PROTOTYPE” any further?
Answer: I think any development team that has poured this much work into a new IP would jump at the chance to do a sequel. Once we get PROTOTYPE into the marketplace I think our ability to deliver a sequel will be strongly dictated by the world’s reaction. We’re positive that by listening to our fans from previous titles and additionally being massive gamers ourselves, we’ll crack something truly special in 2008 with PROTOTYPE.
Q: Since PROTOTYPE is an open-world game, how will the missions play out? We know you consume people, but how exactly will that tell you what to do?
Answer: PROTOTYPE is all about Alex Mercer; a man who wakes up with no past, hell bent on reconstructing his identity. By consuming people, not only does Alex gain their DNA and their abilities, but also their memories. These memories guide him by slowly revealing key objectives that tie into his past. The missions will revolve around Alex acquiring these objectives to fill the blank spots in his memory and will involve epic battles against both the Military and the Infected that plague the streets of New York.
Q: Speaking of the missions, what exactly will do besides kill things? What kind of variety can we expect?
Answer: One of PROTOTYPE’s main design principles is freedom of choice. It is important to us that gamers have a sense of independence in the way they choose to approach the game. Alex Mercer is a shape-shifter and has the ability to transform his body into a living weapon or assume the perfect disguise. With this ability, you can instantly activate your claws and carve through the military to get to your objective. Or you can trigger a disguise and use advanced weaponry to achieve your goals. The choice is yours.
Q: Can you describe what missions will be like? Will there be side missions? If so, any examples you’d be willing to divulge?
Answer: PROTOTYPE will deliver a wide spectrum of gameplay experiences throughout the story/missions. Because Alex Mercer can use either his shape-shifting powers at any moment in any mission, players will be able to choose how they wish to complete any mission. For starters, the concept of ‘Deceive OR Destroy’ is absolutely essential to our design process for each mission. You get to mix-n-match how you play a mission and decide whether you want to unleash hell via explosive action, or use deception and shape-shifting to sneak your way into a scenario. There are also side missions we call the Web of Intrigue that accompany the key storyline missions, though we’ll be releasing more info on these in the future.
Alex Powers (home)
Q: Can you tell us a little about the disguise and shape-shifting powers will work within the game world?
Answer: Alex Mercer operates under a system we call ‘Deceive or Destroy’. At any point, in any mission, we want the player to feel completely free when engaging enemies and situations. Through one of Alex’s shape-shifting abilities, which is to consume and become anyone in New York City, he gains their knowledge, appearance, memories and abilities almost instantly. You now get to mix-n-match how you play a mission and decide whether you want to unleash hell via explosive action or use deception and shape-shifting to sneak your way into a scenario.
The attack and defensive shape-shifting abilities then add another layer of choice to the gamer. And we’ve really beefed up the concept of traditional power progression. The goal is to make players feel extremely powerful from the start of the game, whilst correctly balancing the enemy threat so that you’re always on edge. The devastation that any one of these powers can cause is pretty spectacular, this is not a Tekken-like one-on-one fight, this is one man taking out 20 elite soldiers with a single killer move.
Q: Alex Mercer has the ability to shape-shift parts of his body in order to create new weapons and defensive shields. How will this be approached during gameplay? Will it be through button combinations or by selection through a menu?
Answer: The number one feature of PROTOTYPE is deadly shape-shifting action. Speed is an essential element to the shape-shifting mechanism, since Alex Mercer will face some incredibly fast and lethal enemies. The system is designed for super-fast equipping of shape-shifting powers into the available Attack, Defensive, Sensory and Disguise slots on the D-pad. You trigger an equipped power instantly by tapping the D-pad. It all happens in the blink of an eye. Even in the middle of extreme combat and epic movement across a burning sea of wrecked cars while being pursued by helicopter gunships.
Q: Shape-shifting sounds like it’s mainly used for disguise. Can you give a specific example of when shape-shifting would be useful, and how a situation might be different if you walked into it with the proper disguise vs. the wrong disguise?
Answer: Shape-shifting is a weapon. You can assume identities to fade into the background and make your attack that much more devastating when it comes, or to gain access to attacks you might not normally have access to. When the player is in the wrong disguise, alerts are triggered, enemies appear and the military are suddenly all over the place. When the player is in the right disguise, the world is an open-book. He can weave in and out of areas where minutes before he was under fire with no fear of discovery.
Q: As Alex Mercer kills, he absorbs the knowledge of his victims we know that can this reveals story elements (cut-scene flashes) and unlock new nodes/missions on the map. Can you cite other specific examples of how this affects gameplay? Can you absorb the knowledge of a sharpshooter and, say, learn how to aim a sniper rifle better or reload faster?
Answer: Everything from power upgrades, access to classified information which may give you a leg-up on a mission, finding a cache of never-before-seen weaponry, learning the location of a an identity needed to absorb to get to the center of a mystery; and yes, even absorbing skills, like consuming a pilot to become better at flying.
Q: How do the Assimilation mechanics work? Is it automatic (kill something, and it’s absorbed immediately), or is it manual?
Answer: PROTOTYPE is first and foremost about choice — freedom to do what you want, when you want. Consuming a target is up to the player; for example, you can grab a target and do any number of things with them: throw them forty or fifty feet to their death, consume them, or continue moving at insane speeds around the city while hanging on to them.
Q: Does every person you touch and power you gain go into a catalog, or are you limited to having a certain number of powers at a time (so if you’re at your max, you’ll need to forget one to learn a new one)? If so, is this catalog available at all times to assign to your “quick keys”, or do you need to find a BioShock-like “Gene Bank” when you want to switch?
Answer: Once unlocked, powers are always available, and are always accessible from the quick-select. You can even toggle the selection order of powers — assigning any power you like to be the “first up” in the quick-select menu.
Q: Can you assimilate any of the pedestrians milling about on the street, and would you ever want to? To regain health, maybe? Would some random pedestrian, say, have witnessed a key event because he was just walking by, meaning you’d unlock a “quest” through luck?
Answer: People in PROTOTYPE are health. The PROTOTYPE feeds on biomass. In certain situations — such as in the Web of Intrigue —Pedestrians might have witnessed something important. But these are the exception, not the rule.
Q: What is Radical’s favorite power, or ability of the main character Alex?
Answer: I’m sure every member of the team here at Radical working on PROTOTYPE has a different answer for this question, though what I’m most proud of is the shape-shifting ability to consume and ‘become’ any living person. The team worked very hard to get the effects and animations honed to really show off how a lethal shape-shifter could biologically break-down and ingest an enemy into his own body mass. I also love the ground spike ability that you can see in our trailers!
Q: We’re heard about blade arms and ground spikes or creating a shield; what are some of the other powers you haven’t covered yet?
Answer: We have quite a few powers up our sleeve that haven’t been mentioned yet. We have an array of sensory powers for example, that make the PROTOTYPE a hunter on the par of the Earth’s most dangerous predators.
Q: How do you explain where some of the more “out there” powers come from? From what would you absorb the ability to, for example, make spikes shoot up from the ground?
Answer: The PROTOTYPE is a creature for whom evolution is a dim memory — he’s moved beyond it— his genetic structure is completely malleable and under his control. These powers are not so much “absorbed” from targets (though that does occur), as the PROTOTYPE learns how to more effectively manipulate his genetic structure by advancing through the game.
Q: The concept lends me to believe you’ll have a theoretically limitless number of powers, but obviously that’s not feasible. How are you making sure it feels like there are enough different powers to make it seem like you really can absorb just about anything, without having too many redundant abilities?
Answer: Well, we have multiple categories of powers: ATTACKS, DEFENDS, SENSORY and DISGUISE. At any time, the PROTOTYPE can have one power active in each slot, and the combinations these generate (which affect the look of the character) make for a huge number of possible choices. Also, each power itself is composed of MOVES — these over-the-top uses are unique to the powers, allowing even more variety.
Q: We’ve seen the main character shape-shift into some cool stuff: super-powered body armor, crazy-ass hands – what are some of the other abilities he’ll be able to steal from folks. Will he ever use firearms?
Answer: Yeah we’re pretty excited about seeing player’s reactions when activating Alex Mercer’s shape-shifting powers. One of our favorite internal memes is that we want Alex to kick butt in a hundred different ways that no one has ever seen before. In addition to the ability to consume and become anyone in New York City, Alex can shape-shift his arms into lethal blades, whipfists, ground spikes and claws amongst others. Defense powers will include some very cool powers such as large arm-shields and a powered ‘armored’ form that let’s Alex literally smash through vans and large vehicles unhindered. If that wasn’t enough, we know gamers want to be able to run-n-gun so yes, I’m glad to say that we’re also offering the use of firearms in PROTOTYPE. We’re really trying to show off what we feel is ‘choice’ of next-gen gameplay.
Q: What incentive is there to use weapons, when it sounds like your absorbed powers are much more potent? Are the PROTOTYPE’s abilities limited by anything, like a ‘mana bar’ or other resource mechanic?
Answer: The PROTOTYPE is all about speed, choice and getting the job done. We do not limit the player in his ability to access powers, but sometimes, for example, the Ground Spike is just too much for the situation. Weapons in PROTOTYPE are there as an option — don’t want to fight an Apache in a prolonged engagement? Grab that Stinger missile and bring it down in one shot. Hiding as a Soldier and want to remain in disguise? Open fire and watch the madness ensue. PROTOTYPE is about options…
Alex Memory / Web of Intrigue (home)
Q: To what extent do you connect the story with the missions included in the game?
Answer: The PROTOTYPE story absolutely drives and informs the missions, directly or indirectly at all times. The conspiracy and the origin story of Alex Mercer is delivered through a series of memory flashbacks that Alex experiences when consuming particular ‘targets’ in the city itself. The memories are effectively the building blocks to a ‘Web of Intrigue’ inside Alex’s genetic makeup – something only he can understand which ultimately lets the player progress through the story and solve the conspiracy around him. Rather than the traditional approach of having 40 minutes of cut-scenes to explain everything, we wanted the story-telling process to be more organic and the pace to be dictated by the player.
Q: Several movies and video games use amnesia to push the story forward and help the player empathize with the main character. In the VGA trailer, we hear Alex mention he has no recollection of who he is or what has happened to him. Will his amnesia be an issue during gameplay or will it only be addressed in cut scenes?
Answer: We’re very aware of other “amnesia” stories such as the Bourne Identity or Memento. The unique aspect of PROTOTYPE is that Alex gains knowledge about his identity and unravels the conspiracy surrounding him by consuming the minds of his ‘web targets’. These are particular people or enemies roaming the world who know something about Alex and his past. To answer your last question, we are using some very cool interactive techniques called the “Web of Intrigue” to weave memories into the actual gameplay, going beyond the cut scenes.
Q: One of you guys said that PROTOTYPE’s story is going deeper than any other videogame story. What does that mean exactly?
Answer: This definitely does not mean we’re competing with story-driven RPG’s like Mass Effect, so let me get that straight right away. What our team is really happy with is the fact that we have built a pretty robust series of ‘layers’ to the unfolding narrative of PROTOTYPE because of its conspiracy-bound nature. Similar to peeling an onion, we’re letting the player choose just how many layers to peel back of the complete back-story via a system called the ‘Web of Intrigue’. The Web of Intrigue is a story-driving device that is visually represented in the game’s interface. As Alex consumes the minds of his victims, pieces of their memory and their knowledge flow into place in his overall web of memories. The more ‘web targets’ you consume throughout the city, even out of the main missions, the closer you get to re-constructing the entire depth of PROTOTYPE’s storyline.
Q: You put a lot of emphasis on the story and we get a glimpse of how rich it is when we scratch the surface of the Blackwatch conspiracy. Can we expect any user-driven plot twists or does the story follow a more linear approach?
Answer: PROTOTYPE’s story will have a pre-set arc that has been written to maximize the impact of the conspiracy as it unfolds. The way the player chooses to enrich and deepen that key story-arc is based on how much they wish to explore the ‘Web of Intrigue’. We will have a huge number of web of intrigue ‘targets’ for the player to track down, and by doing so, get a more complete understanding of all the factions, individuals and events involved in the origins of Alex Mercer.
Production Specific (home)
Q: Quite a few people have noticed the link between PROTOTYPE, its setting, and various comic book super heroes (something that you guys have already worked with), is there a major comic-book inspiration for the game?
Answer: A lot of the team members at Radical really do love comics, though to be honest we also love graphic novels, movies, and games. Our last game (Hulk: Ultimate Destruction) was the highest rated Super-Hero game ever and so we think of ourselves as specialists in epic combat and movement in an open-world setting. But now we’re inventing our own IP and we don’t have the limitations of a licensed property. Now we’ve got the chance to take off the handcuffs and really go nuts with all of our biggest ideas. We’re got some big plans for the PROTOTYPE IP so stay tuned for more info.
Q: So what was the original inspiration for this game?
Answer: At the completion of Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, the team here looked at a lot of options. We had a many ideas for new properties so it was a very exciting time of course. At a particular brainstorm meeting involving Eric Holmes, Dennis Detwiller and Martin Bae, two core ideas emerged which ultimately came to form the same concept.
Idea #1 was based on weaponization. We asked ourselves, “What was good in Hulk and how can we build on that? Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a character who weaponized himself rather than picking up a car to do that?”
Idea #2: Consuming people and assuming their characteristics – the team knew there was great potential here, so we asked, “What if we could consume anything in the game and take on some of its properties; to become it? What if you could combine elements from previous consumptions with each and every subsequent one?” There’s a lot of creative headroom with that idea – maybe a little too much.
At present we’ve come a long way from these points, though they were our initial kernels that inspired PROTOTYPE’s current design.
Q: Why did you choose this type of game? Are there any connections with your earlier game called The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction?
Answer: We choose to make PROTOTYPE an open-world/action game because that’s where our team’s greatest strength and experience lies. We had a lot of great feedback from Hulk: Ultimate Destruction from both gamers and press alike, though obviously we felt it necessary to not break ‘canon’ from the Hulk universe of powers and enemies. When Vivendi Games presented us with the opportunity to create an original IP, we became extremely excited because finally we could say to our designers, ‘The sky’s the limit – let’s make our dream product.’
There are some strong connections to our previous game with PROTOTYPE, though more so in the approach that our lead designer (Eric Holmes) has when it comes to player freedom. Freedom of choice, freedom of action and the ability to solve missions in multiple ways is something we try to instill in all of our open-world games. Prototype is no different.
Q: In your opinion what do you think are the advantages of doing something completely new in the gaming industry?
Answer: First, breaking into an original IP allows us to take off the creative ‘handcuffs’ that are traditionally associated with licensed properties. We’ll be forced to shelve a lot of huge game ideas or features because it simply won’t fit within an established licensed character’s personality or abilities. We’ve come to realize it’s now time to unleash the full force of these wild ideas into an open-world/action game that we get to control and shape 100% internally at Radical. Second, going for something ‘new’ is an obvious way to generate new audience interest and higher levels of hardcore gamer interest since there’s a lot of repetition in today’s games market. Open-world games can take many forms, though traditionally it’s a form revolving around urban crime gangs. We feel that the ‘open-world’ should be used simply as a ‘tool,’ and that as a tool, completely new forms of action can be derived within it. Third and lastly, it’s incredibly fun to work with such a talented team who are encouraged to improvise and challenge the status quo of action games today.
Q: PROTOTYPE looks impressive. Can you tell us something about the game engine?
Answer: PROTOTYPE’s engine is 100% developed and owned by Radical. We’re really proud of this fact and so far we’ve had the wonderful ability to develop all console and PC skus in a relatively simultaneous fashion. We have a great team of people in our ATG division [Advanced Technologies Group] who created this engine, titled the ‘Titanium Engine’. Without them we simply could not have pulled off a game like PROTOTYPE.
We strongly favor the internal engine-development model for many reasons, perhaps too many to list here. One key reason is that we get to control more of our own development destiny. If we have an issue with a particular tool, we have the luxury of being able to walk down the corridor and speak to the specific coder. You just can’t put a price on what that means for being able to hit tough deadlines.
Q: Can you tell us about how PROTOTYPE is exploiting next-gen technology and processing power to come up with truly new AI solutions? What do you feel are the most significant advances in AI programming and techniques for this generation of consoles (specifically in shooting games and third-person adventures)?
Answer: The two main areas where PROTOTYPE is pushing boundaries for AI are density and integration with complex environments. We have created a densely populated world with hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles, and tons of enemies, which was impossible until now. Also, those enemies have to navigate and understand a fully dynamic urban environment that, in the case of PROTOTYPE, is not limited to the streets, but includes the vertical dimension as well. Having hunters and helicopters chase you as you run up a building and jump from rooftop to rooftop is a new experience.
In order to make all of this possible, we had to do research in level of detail techniques, not just limited to the graphical representation of characters, but also for their AI. On top of that, individual behavior is more challenging, as the traditional approach of having everything pre-computed falls down in heavily dynamic environments like PROTOTYPE’s. Being able to take advantage of this is another area where technology has advanced. For instance, some of our characters can use props they find in the world as weapons, much like the player can.
Q: What do you think are the key problems facing AI coders when it comes to making realistic enemies in PS3/Xbox 360 games? Are the old bugbears of path finding and locating cover points still key?
Answer: Yes, path finding and generally understanding the environment are still extremely important. But on top of that, the focus for the new consoles is shifting into animation and, more generally, presentation. Characters can be smart, but all the AI code is meaningless unless players understand it and perceive it. We’re working hard to make animation realistic and dynamic, but most of all rewarding. Characters will look and sound more intelligent, and provide a much better game experience.
Q: Would you say that most elements referred to as AI, for example, leaping for cover or flanking the player, are still generally quite heavily scripted?
Answer: There are still many games using scripts, as they have proven to be a good solution to a certain category of problems. For an open-world game however, the amount of script that is needed to account for player freedom in these types of games makes this approach generally unfeasible. Instead, more dynamic and adaptive approaches like hierarchical state machines, behavior trees or even planning systems are becoming predominant. Players will also appreciate this, as enemies will be less predictable and handle emergent situations more robustly.
Q: How close are we to having autonomous agents (perhaps using GOAP) that perceive the game world exactly like the player, with no scripting, patrol routes or other ‘cheats’? Is this going to become more essential as games switch to sandbox rather than linear designs?
Answer: That is mostly tied to design considerations and the player experience. The technology is mainly there, even GOAP is generally well understood, but the main obstacle lies in translating that into a workable game design. Most players today still expect and enjoy particular moments, set-pieces in games, which are the perfect match for scripting technologies. And I don’t consider that cheating. The purpose of the AI is not to use purely autonomous technology, it’s to provide players with an enjoyable opponent or peer. In PROTOTYPE we keep a balance between autonomous and scripted behavior: all characters behave autonomously most of the time, but our level designers have the ability to control them when they need, inside the context of a mission.
Q: Why did you pick the name PROTOTYPE? Is there any connection with any older novel or the idea itself is completely unique?
Answer: We put a lot of thought into naming this game and ultimately, PROTOTYPE was the perfect answer that represented both the vision and tone for what we want to do with the property. Despite the fact that some people instantly think of a ‘car’ or ‘airplane’ when they hear the word ‘prototype’, the true meaning of the word is derived from biology and refers to an archetype upon which a larger group is based. In our case, PROTOTYPE completely encapsulates the plight of Alex Mercer, a character who is something more than human and perhaps the start of an entire new species. Additionally, we also like to think that we’re heading down a path of game design that lets players kick butt in a hundred different new ways, so we’re trying to make something prototypical from a purely gameplay sense as well.
Q: How about story, did the story predate the gameplay or did the gameplay come first?
Answer: To be honest there was pretty much a parallel growth between the two. To elaborate, I think that one needed the other, in order to crystallize into a full blown concept that could be communicated clearly to the larger team. We know our strengths are definitely in the action + open-world categories, plus we obviously were salivating at the chance to create an original character who could break the rules of traditional game characters. I think the chance to create a true ‘anti-hero’ and someone whose motivations were in the darkest shades of grey was something that guided a lot of the design decisions for PROTOTYPE.
Q: How did they affect each other? Like was there anything that you added to the gameplay because of the story, or was there some ability that came out of experimenting with the gameplay and then had to explain it in the story?
Answer: One element that definitely took form from how the story developed was our ‘Web of Intrigue’ system. We realized we had a really big story on our hands, something with layers like an onion because of the nature of a conspiracy-based approach. To tell it in a linear, cut-scene style would have probably taken way too long so we created a visual device that allowed a more organic distribution of the mystery. It’s something that becomes interactive and as you hunt down each successive target across New York City, the web becomes richer and deeper and allows for the ‘penny to drop’ at key moments. We’re quite proud of how it’s turning out so far –we think it will be a great way to further communicate PROTOTYPE’s overall story.
Q: What other games were influences on Prototype’s gameplay?
Answer: Well we would be extremely remiss if we didn’t state the obvious here. Many of our key open-world learnings have come from our previous games, though the entire team is made of avid gamers and movie-goers so inspirations are indeed wide. Games such as the Tekken series deliver excellent animation in combat, open-world titles such as GTA have obviously influenced a lot of people as well.
Q: In the Blackwatch Featurette, Art Director, Maurice Kimball, makes a bold statement: “We do not allow any restraints from 3D to hinder any creativity in this room.” Can you elaborate on how this feeling has manifested itself during the production of Prototype so far?
Answer: Well, we’re extremely lucky to have an amazingly talented world-art production team who are bringing PROTOTYPE’s world to life in a way that gets very close to the concepts of Maurice Kimball (our Art Director). It’s his job to set a visual benchmark. Although no console yet made could ever achieve this painted, hand-made vision, we’re really proud of how our art team on a daily basis are bringing it to life using our in-house engine and tools.
Q: The game’s visual style seems to be more gritty than cartoonish, more like Gears of War than Spider-man. Why, given the super heroic bent, did you decide to go in this direction and what were the influences on the game’s visual style?
Answer: One of our guiding principles in the development phase of PROTOTYPE has been ‘reality plus one fantastic element’. That concept guides everything we do here on the team. We wanted to completely leave the super hero space and move decidedly into the realm of realistic, relatable characters and scenarios that truly were recognizable to all gamers. By doing this, we get to heighten the impact and thrill of unleashing Alex and the Infected forces onto the city because you just DON’T expect such action to happen in a realistic setting. If we set this game on Mars in 2306, then gamers would pretty much be surprised by nothing Alex does, since we have no context or familiarity with Mars so anything goes. We want reality engrained, because we want the action that unfolds to be truly unsettling and unusual within that known, relatable setting. X-files or Lost both achieve wondrous results because they present a realistic setting against a spiraling ‘fantastic’ element.
Q: What kinds of gamers are going to love Prototype?
Answer: We hope that when people see PROTOTYPE in action for themselves, we’ll be validated in answering that question with ‘Anybody with a pulse’. To be more specific though, our immediate target is all fans of action games, whether that be open-world games like Grand Theft Auto or more linear-based experiences such as God of War / Devil May Cry. We love all of those games so we’re very aware of what gamers are looking for next, since our team ‘is’ that type of gamer already.
Q: What systems is the game coming out on? Will there be any major differences between them?
Answer: PROTOTYPE will be released simultaneously on Xbox 360, PLAYSTATION 3 and Games for Windows. We’re developing all three games simultaneously and we’re very happy with the progress on all fronts. Like previous Radical titles, we intend the experience to be identical on all formats.
Q: Barring any unforeseen circumstances, when do you think the game will be out?
Answer: We’re targeting Fall 2008 for PROTOTYPE’s launch.
New York City (home)
Q: PROTOTYPE is set in a contemporary New York City. How large and realistic will this scenario actually be? I’ve heard rumours that the in-game NYC is an impressive 70% of the real NY…true?
Answer: One of our guiding principles in making PROTOTYPE is that everything should revolve around the concept of ‘reality plus one fantastic element’. Having a very topical, believable environment lets us make the fantastic action become so much more stunning because you can contrast it against something you understand and recognize. We took 22,000 photographs of New York City and many hours of 7.1 surround sound-compatible recordings, so the first point to make is we’re really keen to do New York City ‘right’. Previous games have shown New York City and when you enter their version of Time Square, it has no more than 20 people walking around. That’s definitely NOT New York and so we’re really happy with the sheer density, intensity and bustling nature of our game world. We’re talking hundreds of cars, thousands of pedestrians – so when things start to explode you really get the impression the world is caving in around you. Importantly though, we’re not trying to recreate a slavish replica of NYC like what you may find on Google maps. 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.
Q: You’ve chosen New York City as the backdrop for Prototype. What led you to New York City rather than a fictional city?
Answer: There are a few answers to that though so I’ll quickly summarize by saying the following: New York City is the most recognized and iconic city in the world. It was very important to us to set the game in a real place that everyone recognizes. We wanted to contrast this reality with the fantastic and horrific events that are taking place in the story. The virus sweeping across Manhattan is the source of the mayhem and we felt it was more impactful to set this in a real location. The vertical and horizontal depth of the city lends itself perfectly to gameplay scenarios – action at every possible angle is something we’re trying to accomplish and the city lets us achieve this.
Q: We see Alex leaping from the top of a skyscraper in the Spike TV VGA 2007 trailer. We can tell he has the ability to jump very high, but can he also climb buildings as gamers have experienced in other games such as “Assassin’s Creed” and “Spider-Man”?
Answer: Yes absolutely! Alex uses a form of “hyper-Parkour” locomotion that allows him to move across ALL the surfaces of ALL the architecture of our giant Manhattan environment. What point is there in creating all of these huge skyscrapers if you can’t take advantage of them in gameplay? The action in PROTOTYPE will come at you from every possible angle, so running up and over buildings will be essential in trying to avoid enemies like the Infected Brawlers [who have the same movement abilities as you and are trying to rip you to shreds].
Q: From the early screenshots and videos the city seems pretty alive. Can we have some insight into what kind of encounters we are going to have in the game (rather than enemies)? Will there be day and night cycles or atmospheric effects like rain, etc?
Answer: This is an area of PROTOTYPE that we’re truly excited about and think gamers will love. It’s all about intensity of action and asking yourself whilst playing a mission, ‘What would happen if I unleashed a massive ground spike into the middle of a traffic jam in Time Square?’ Thousands of pedestrians inhabit our New York City, hundreds of cars interact with them and when you huge explosions going off, the mayhem of those AI-driven systems really starts to accelerate. For example, if you were to jump into a busy street, the nearest car would swerve to avoid you. It would probably ram into the side of the road and maybe cause two other cars to also make an emergency stop. The first car may explode, sending people everywhere running for their lives, which would then cause a truck to spin out of control and explode three other vehicles. This is the kind of mayhem and next-gen action we’re trying to deliver with PROTOTYPE. We will have a full day and night cycle, which we’re seeing come together right now in development. It looks very cool to see all of the street lights and neon signs of Time Square start to randomly turn on at 5pm.
Q: How destructible are the environments and how much of a part do the game’s physics play in the anti-hero journey?
Answer: We’re doing open-world destruction effects on an entirely new level in this game. One great example is that in real life, a missile hitting a building will cause large voluminous smoke clouds to linger over the scene for an extended time. We’re trying to replicate this in our game so that when you send a truck smashing into a tank and they both explode, massive smoke clouds, fire, debris and particles just fly everywhere and stay on screen in a more realistic extended way. We have our own physics system embedded in Radical’s Titanium engine, and we’re really happy with how it adds to the gameplay. For instance, if you throw a car into the middle of Times Square, it will bounce off other vehicles, smash into Blackwatch soldiers, who in turn will let rip with rocket launchers that cause secondary explosions that further impact the screaming crowds etc. Its physics and AI interacting at a pretty advanced level for console gaming. The incredible cascading knock-on affects of all these systems interacting really delivers the heart of why this game is fun.
Q: Executive Producer, Tim Bennison, takes pride in saying that developers at Radical Entertainment are “Open-World Specialists” with games such as “Hulk: Ultimate Destruction”, “Scarface: The World Is Yours”, and “The Simpsons: Hit & Run” under their belt. Will the player really have the freedom to roam New York City or will the story push the player into specific areas?
Answer: We’ve built pretty much all of New York City. There are no restrictions in where you can go. Since Alex can move on any vertical or horizontal surface, this is a huge volume of game world to play in. The story itself will guide the player on specific missions, events and scenarios. How a player navigates and completes those missions is completely up to them, which leaves a huge amount of creative room to play in. Additionally, players are always free to leave a mission and go on a hunt for our web targets, humans who when consumed by Alex, offer up their memories that fit into our ‘web of intrigue’ storytelling device. Open-world games need to offer open choice and freedom – that’s something we hold very dear to PROTOTYPE’s design vision.
Q: Is the open-world completely seamless, or are there instances where you’ll enter a building, for example, and it’ll load a new “level”? Are you offering “quick travel” from one side of the map to the other, or is the player fast enough to travel great distances by himself?
Answer: PROTOTYPE is completely open. The player can immediately travel anywhere on the game map from the moment he starts. As far as movement is concerned, I can safely say the player character has no problem covering HUGE distances at incredible speed. There’s no need to teleport around, moving the PROTOTYPE through Manhattan is so much damn fun, I get the feeling people will be doing it just for kicks.
Q: Can you explain the virus/human meta-game taking over zones of New York? How do you affect it? Are the changes merely cosmetic, or will you encounter different enemies or “quests” depending on who “controls” a section of the city?
Answer: The player can directly change the disposition of areas seized by the military or the virus. He can drag forces from one zone into another, causing a conflict. The changes are most definitely not cosmetic. Throughout the game, there are big changes in store for New York City.
Q: How much interactivity do you have with the city itself: We know you’ll be able to plow through small objects, but will you ever reach a point in power where you’ll be able to raze whole buildings?
Answer: The level of action in this game is as crazed, over-the-top and fun as we can make it. If you played INCREDIBLE HULK: ULTIMATE DESTRUCTION, you know we take our destruction very seriously. Everything in PROTOTYPE is taken to the next level — power, movement, speed and destruction.
Q: Is there gameplay up on top of the buildings, or do you see “high-ground travel” as a means to escape the hectic battle on the ground?
Answer: Once again it comes down to choice. Rooftops — like the streets — are always open to the player. Are you into stealth? Then disguise on the ground is your game. Do you like high-action shoot-em-ups? Then leap rooftop to rooftop and wade into the enemy. We think people will pick and choose between these two styles, they are not mutually exclusive.
Q: It might be too early to answer this, but do you know how many maps you’ll be including at launch and how many people they’ll accommodate?
Answer: Well we’re an open-world game, so all of New York City is our ‘map’. Unlike a traditional ‘map’ for an action game, we’re giving players the entire three dimensional space of New York City, since Alex can literally go anywhere and climb anything. When you think about that for a moment, you realize that it’s a colossal play area that we’re offering here.
Q: We’ve seen a lot of open-world games set in New York City. What steps are you taking to ensure that gamers won’t be bored with traversing this familiar backdrop yet again? Basically, what makes your NYC stand out among the others (True Crime’s rendition, the Spider-Man games, etc.)?
Answer: Firstly, we took 22,000 photographs of New York City and literally hours of 7.1 surround sound-compatible recordings – so the first point to make is we’re really keen to do New York City ‘right’. Sure, earlier open-world titles have recreated New York City, though when entering iconic areas such as Time Square, they’ve had no more than 20 people walking around! That’s definitely NOT the New York we’ve all come to know and love so we’re aiming for a new level of density, intensity and an overall bustling nature to PROTOTYPE’s game world. We’re talking hundreds of cars, thousands of pedestrians – when things start to explode you really get the impression that the world is literally caving in around you. So it’s this insane level of AI-driven systems colliding, combined with Alex’s extreme locomotion ability and movement across every building surface that we feel is our standout feature for the world itself. Not to mention what happens to buildings once the Infected get their hands on them…but that’s for a later reveal.
Q: Is this open-world bigger than your previous efforts like Scarface? Also, can you go inside buildings?
Answer: Well, I’d need to take out the measuring stick and actually walk both of those game’s perimeters to truly know the answer. PROTOTYPE has a massive landscape across Manhattan and the key difference is that we’re opening up every rooftop and building for Alex to explore. That alone doubles or triples the play size since gameplay will be coming at you from many more angles than traditional ground-only titles. Since Alex has these incredible movement abilities and can leap from building to building, interiors quickly became a lot less important in our game design versus the exterior spaces, so interiors will be available in very specific cases that link directly to the story missions.
Q: Is NYC the only city in the game or will you travel or other locations?
Answer: NYC is the only location we have announced. It’s a massive environment that really captures the feeling of being in a huge, iconic city. The key thing about our NYC is that it FEELS like you’re actually there, with an unprecedented density of cars, people, and interactivity. This is the backdrop, the playground, and you are dropped in the middle of it all, controlling one of the most powerful, versatile characters in videogame history.
Q: There are a lot of NPCs crowding the streets of NYC. How realistic are their actions and how complex is the AI?
Answer: Well, again to raise our previous point about hitting ‘Reality plus one fantastic element’, we’re trying to get as much behavioral fidelity into the pedestrians as possible for an open-world game. One thing we’re really keen to do is even have some pedestrians NOT run when Alex consumes somebody in front of them. The reason is that in real life, there probably are about 2% of people who actually would prefer to get their camera-phone out and film something incredible in front of them than actually run for their lives. That’s just something we keep striving to include each day as we press towards the finish line. Already though we’re really happy with how the world around Alex reacts to the destruction or deception he causes amongst his enemies.
Q9: How “interactive” will New York be? Is it possible to enter buildings?
Answer: The short answer is ‘very’. The longer answer is that PROTOTYPE has a massive landscape across Manhattan Island and the key difference is we’re opening up every rooftop and multiple buildings for Alex to explore. That alone doubles or triples the play size since gameplay will be coming at you from way more angles than traditional ground-only titles. Interiors will be available in very specific cases that link directly to the story missions. Since Alex has these incredible movement abilities and can leap from building to building, interiors quickly became a lot less important in our game design versus the exterior spaces.
Q: Our hero, Alex Mercer, is a truly powerful subject that can run, jump, lift heavy objects, turn his arms into weapons, even shape-shift himself into other people and use their abilities. All these powers have to be balanced by incredible and equally powerful kinds of enemies. Could you say something about them?
Answer: First off, I’d like to clarify that Alex Mercer is not a ‘hero’, but rather he’s actually an anti-hero. Alex Mercer is the PROTOTYPE, and while his intentions of finding out what happened to him are generally good natured, he will likely end up victimizing a few innocent pedestrians along the way. Additionally, one of the key things to remember for games featuring powerful central characters is the need to keep a very fine balance between empowerment and challenge. It’s very important that we keep the player feeling engaged with the action and that means having enemies who can really pose a big challenge to Alex Mercer.
In PROTOTYPE there’s a three way war happening, all taking place in NYC. One faction of that war is the single-minded group known as the ‘Infected’. We aren’t prepared to give away too much information on the Infected at this time, though we can reveal that both Alex and the military/Blackwatch Special Forces will not be spared from the Infected’s onslaught. They have some of the most deadly and destructive abilities in any video game and we can’t wait to show them off in the future. Then, as I note above, the other key faction is the U.S. Military and the ultra-elite and secretive ‘Blackwatch’. They will bring the latest in high technology against you and the Infected, including Apache helicopters, Abrams Tanks, UAV’s and a lot more.
Q: The story we know so far just tells of some factions ruling NYC. Other than the army and the mutants, will there be other groups and enemies? Why are these factions so important for Alex and his mission?
Answer: PROTOTYPE’s storyline is wrapped tightly into a global conspiracy so there will definitely be some stunning ‘reveal’ moments of other forces and factions that have an interest in Alex. The main ‘secretive’ faction of the game is the above-top-secret ‘Blackwatch’. You can watch our latest documentary on this heavily armored faction at www.prototypegame.com, though essentially they are very much operating in the shadows of official military and government circles.
Q: The Blackwatch is a Top Secret Branch of the U.S. Military that deals with biological outbreaks and their technology evolves to counter the player’s abilities. Will this be displayed through boss battles or will we notice it by simply fighting Blackwatch soldiers throughout the game?
Answer: The latter assumption is correct – the Blackwatch will be introducing new technology and weaponry that allow them to effectively counter the growing powers of Alex Mercer. We need to keep you constantly on a knifes-edge when it comes to feeling both ever-more-powerful yet challenged by the threat from enemies who evolve and adapt to your shape-shifting abilities.
Q: “The Specialist”, Blackwatch’s best, is human, but he is equipped and experienced enough to take down Alex. Will The Specialist also be gifted with organic abilities or will he be limited to technology and weapons?
Answer: We’ll be revealing more about the Specialist over the coming months and that’s where a lot more info will be divulged on his unique abilities. For now, let’s just say this guy is one tough nut to crack. The other day we had our lead AI programmer controlling the Specialist through code commands vs. our lead gameplay programmer playing as Alex Mercer. It was a truly epic battle and a taste of what’s to come in the full game.
Q: When speaking of Blackwatch, Senior Designer, Dennis Detwiller, mentions “They won’t run. They’re used to things like this, they’ve seen it before.” and that The Specialist had “dealt with things like Alex before.” If Alex really is just a “prototype”, is it safe to assume that Alex is one of many, and that the people who created him are working on a “final” version?
Answer: That’s also a very deep question and something that would probably destroy some of the story that we can’t wait for you and all gamers to enjoy when the game is released. Alex is definitely the first of his kind, though that’s probably giving away more info than we’re comfortable with. I think we’ll have to set the Specialist after you now!
Q: The Blackwatch are the bad guys, right? Are they based on any real life organization?
Answer: No, not any one particular organization but perhaps when you look at many of the most popular Tom Clancy books and any military-themed book or film you can obviously draw some comparative examples of similar ‘dark/sinister’ secret forces. They are trained to be absolutely single-minded, resourceful and relentless in achieving the tasks set out for them. Capturing Alex Mercer is one of those goals.
Q6: Who are these Infected creatures? Why are they attacking the army and Alex Mercer as well?
Answer: The Infected are a single-minded enemy faction of ‘Infected’ beings. Nothing in this game comes from anywhere except science/DNA-based thinking since we’re telling a story that remotely ‘could’ happen. DNA and the evolution of mankind is a wonderful playground to base fiction around, since there is still so much we simply don’t understand about it. The Infected are one of the key factions in this game and are somewhat linked to Alex. We aren’t prepared to give away too much information on the Infected at this time, though we can reveal that Alex, the military and Blackwatch special forces will not be spared from the Infected’s onslaught.
PC Specific (home)
Q: Talking about the PC version of PROTOTYPE, we need some specific information if you can say something about that. First of all, please tell us that the PC version is going to be published at the same time of Xbox 360 and PS3!
Answer: Yes it is our intention to have all skus of PROTOTYPE launch at the same time. We are already seeing the Games for Windows version run extremely well and we’re confident PC gamers will truly be able to experience one of the best open-world/action games on that platform.
Q: Again for the PC version, will there be some particular hardware requirements like DirectX 10 video card to run PROTOTYPE?
Answer: We’re still got plenty of time left in the development cycle, so we have yet to determine the final Games for Windows operating specs for PROTOTYPE
Q: Will the PC version allow for more “quick keyed” powers than the console version, since you’re not limited to switching with the d-pad? Are there any interface changes for the PC version? Answer: We’re still mulling this over; however, we’re definitely of the mind that if we can get it right on the console, why change a good thing? Our goal is seamless, fast in-game power transitions.
Weapons & Vehichles (home)
Q: Can you tell us something about special weapons and vehicles in the game? Will we be able to use different vehicles or is Alex Mercer “a vehicle for himself”?
Answer: Yeah we’re very excited about seeing players’ reaction when unleashing these shape-shifting powers. One of our favorite internal memes is that we want Alex to kick butt in a hundred different ways that no one has ever seen before. Alex has the ability to consume and become anyone in New York City, plus Alex can shape-shift his arms into lethal blades, whip fists, ground spikes and claws among others. Some of the defense powers will include forming large arm-shields and a powered, armored form that lets Alex literally smash through vans and large vehicles unhindered.
If that wasn’t enough, we know gamers want to be able to run-n-gun, so yes, I’m glad to say that we’re ALSO offering the use of traditional weapons in PROTOTYPE. We’re really trying to show off what we feel is next-gen gameplay and next-gen ‘choice’ of gameplay. It’s pretty darn fun just ripping a missile-launcher out of a Blackwatch soldier’s arms and taking down their own Apache gunships with it.
Q: What role does violence play in PROTOTYPE? Do you think you have created game for adults only? Do there exist ways to sneak around enemies without killing them?
Answer: PROTOTYPE is a mature video game, no different than our competitors who exist in this space. Adults are our target consumer of course and we hope to enjoy the type of commercial success as seen by games such as GTA, Assassin’s Creed, Crackdown, Scarface etc. Part of PROTOTYPE’s design mantra at Radical is ‘Deceive or Destroy’ – the idea that players can always switch between playing styles to accomplish their objectives. So in that respect, depending on a player’s ingenuity and patience there exists many ways to be deceptive in achieving mission success whilst minimizing outright violence. Player behavior in open-world games tends to be historically tilted to one thing though…doing very bad things. PROTOTYPE recognizes this and let’s players really have fun with few rules attached.
Q: What do you think about the violence in PROTOTYPE? It isn’t too violent? Aren’t you afraid of Jack Thompson?
Answer: First and foremost, PROTOTYPE will be an M-rated game, and along with Vivendi Games we fully abide by the ESRB’s rules regarding that. As such, we’re taking