Interview: Alpha Protocol
Does it feel like you’re breaking new ground, mixing RPG elements with a real-world setting?
Yes. It was actually an interesting challenge because we couldn’t just look at, say, fantasy games and say ‘we’re going to do a hybrid of Diablo, Neverwinter Nights or Mass Effect. Mass Effect was already out when we started developing this thing, so we had to forge a lot of ground ourselves with regard to how exactly this would work. We had to balance out the intensity of the game experience with giving the player that ability to become really powerful. Our main system design push was to fuse the player’s skill with character skill so everything in the game, whether it be martial arts (how well enemies can defend against your punches) to how big your reticule is to how much time you have in minigames – absolutely everything, even how many slots you have to carry gadgets – is based upon an RPG mechanic somewhere that you can actually develop. So it’s all about giving the player a boost, to allow them to deal with the situations they’ll get themselves into.
Did you choose to design levels to the advantage of each skillset, as you went along?
As far as area design is concerned, we wanted to make sure that the game as a whole would be fun for someone that specialises in the soldier type, stealth or tech ability. You’ll see some missions that are more stealth-like. There’s a mission in Rome that is very tech-friendly, where you get a few minutes to set up a bunch of traps before enemies come pouring in, by way of example. There are a number of missions, even, where’s it’s totally possible to progress without killing anyone. You can beat the entire game without killing anyone if you use a specific type of pistol takedown. There’s something instantly gratifying about blasting a load of guys in the face with a shotgun, and that’s certainly a fun thing to do when you have phosphor rounds that will set them on fire, but there’s also something really, really gratifying about being the stealth badass.
Is there a right and wrong way to approach conversations, in the game?
We don’t want to punish the player for making choices. Our whole philosophy on this is we want the player to be the kind of Michael Thorton they want to be. You’re always going to play that character but the way you play him can be radically different. That definitely goes for dialogue. You’ll see situations in which getting someone really mad at you means they can be goaded into doing things. Even on a mechanics level, we reward you with perks for making different choices, so if you are continually adopting different dialogue stances all the time, there’s a perk for that. If you’re doing all aggressive, there’s a perk for that. If you romance all the women, there’s a Lady’s Man perk. The opposite of this is the There’s No Time For Love perk, for which there’s an Achievement.
Are there many endings, or does the experience converge at a point?
There is a point of convergence, and then you will have two to three main branches, depending on what you did in the game that will determine how you reach the end, however within those branches there are a lot of different iterations. Who’s your ally, for instance? There are a lot of things that come up just from the tutorial, which come back at the end of the game. We actually had to create a cohesion strike team in the end to ensure the whole thing was making sense when put together.
What factions will we come across in the game?
There’s the Triads who are pretty much Taipei-specific. They’re basically gangsters. You can ally with them, there are missions where you can fight against them. This is the case with any of our factions, of course. There’s the VCI – the Veteran Combat Initiative – these are ex-commando guys who work for a company that is hiring them out. Then there’s the G22, a super secret agency with plenty of tech at its disposal, which has its own vision of how the world should be. There’s also a terrorist organisation. There’s at least one situation in which you can agree not to fight them for political purposes…
You can read the full interview with Nathan Davis in the next issue of X360, which is on sale 21 April.