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Radical Entertainment's recently released sandbox, super anti-hero game Prototype to solid review scores and a warm reception by action fans.  We asked Max Belanger, producer on Protoype about what went wrong, what they absolutely nailed, Prototype's gore, what happened in the log cabin at Radical's offices, and how previous Radical titles helped with Prototype's development.

 

Thanks for your time, Max!

 

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Prototype Post Mortem Q&A

Conducted by Aaron Simmer

 

prototype          prototype

 

Please introduce yourself and let us know your background in the games industry, your role and function on Prototype, and regale us with what you had for breakfast this morning.

My name is Max Belanger. I am a Producer at Radical Entertainment (Vancouver, Canada). I joined Radical in 2007 to work on Prototype. They said it would be the ride of my life...and they were right.

 

I’ve been in the Industry coming up on 11 years now. During that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work for other World Class studios such as Ubisoft Montreal and Digital Illusions (DICE) on a number of high profile titles. I really can’t complain.

 

Breakfast you ask? I start off my day with a Nexium caplet which I down with a couple cups of dark coffee. Sugar and cream are for the weak.

 

There’s a tendency for game journos to concentrate on the negative, so I won’t break the mould here: What’s one aspect of Prototype that went wrong?

Yeah, why is that? We faced many challenges while developing Prototype. One aspect that didn’t go as well as we’d hoped was managing Scope. Our scope was huge. Even with cuts, it remains a very BIG game. One of the features we sacrificed

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along the way was multi-player. We ended up dropping Co-op in order to focus on delivering a quality single player and that was a disappointment to the team and to the studio.

 

Okay, now I’ll be the essence of the consummate, balanced professional game journo by asking a contrast question: What aspect of

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  Prototype can you point to and say, “We absolutely nailed that!”

“Power and Agility” was one of our key game play pillars. It relates to the character’s locomotion abilities. I think we nailed that part. It’s fun; it’s fluid; it’s best of class in Open World Action games in my opinion.

 

Prototype is getting a lot of comparison with one of your previous titles – Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction – and the recently released inFamous, but is this comparison justified?  And is the comparison flattering?

We’ve been compared to many great game franchises over the course of development: GTA, Assassin’s Creed, Crackdown, Devil May Cry, and most recently InFamous. It is definitely flattering and I can only wish for our game to be as successful as those games.

 

[But] if I had to pick the most influential game, I would rest my choice on Prototype’s predecessor Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. We leveraged that experience and built upon great foundations to achieve bigger and greater things.

 

Are the comparisons to other titles justified? Well, they are unavoidable. Not every feature in Prototype is new. A lot of it has been done in other games. That said, what is really UNIQUE and FUN about Prototype is the way these features all come together and deliver an utterly satisfying over the top experience.  No holds barred…what the gamers WANTED.

 

prototype          prototype

 

What’s the difference between flying and being able to ping-pong around an environment?  Would flying (without the aid of vehicle) “break” Prototype (i.e. make the game too easy)?

Aside from hijacking a chopper, the closest thing to flying is gliding. Once unlocked, it provides a mean to cover greater distances effortlessly and in style!  We knew we wouldn’t be taking the player’s locomotion to the next stage (flying) because of the knock-on effects to enemy AI, mission balance, combat, and its potentially negative effects to other gameplay features such as hijacking and flying helicopters. 

 

Prototype’s gore is intense.  What was the thinking here?  Is it to be seen as “XTREME!” or was it a logical choice given how the protagonist “consumes” NPCs to grab their memories?  Where did the line get drawn on the level of gore?

This game was pitched as a mature game from the start. It was no secret that we were setting out to create a badass anti-hero and that he would be doing bad things. Ironically, very few people outside of the realm of the journos questioned the level of violence and gore in our game. Why? Prototype is clearly a fiction. To the player, Prototype is a Power Fantasy. To Alex, it’s a revenge story. And this, we knew, really appealed to the audience.

 

Alex Mercer goes with a hoodie look, but there must have been dozens of concepts batted around before the look was settled on. Describe a couple of them.

You’re right in saying that we spent a great deal of effort finessing the look of our main character. We had an earlier in-game version of the character where he was bulkier (white hoodie, down vest). We decided that this look didn’t suit his background and personality. We opted for a more subtle and refined look. In appearance, Alex is an average guy yet he conceals these amazing powers and abilities. Alex is a highly educated/intelligent man (PhD Genetics) and assumingly financially well off, thus the sense for fashion or style. The hoodie remained a key visual element of the character and it supported the idea of concealing his identity, Alex being constantly hunted by Blackwatch and the Infected forces throughout the game.

 

Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction had the Canadian flag boxer shorts as a nod to Radical’s Canadian roots. And Scarface: The World is Yours had plenty of jabs at Canadians (because we’re so damn self-effacing).  Does Prototype contain similar nods?

There is nothing of that sort in Prototype. The only thing predominantly “Canadian” about the game is the credits…eh! J

 

What was the main challenge for the team in creating a massive open world with a character that isn’t held by realistic laws of physics and still provide challenges and things to do that don’t become repetitive?

As mentioned above, managing scope was a challenge. We faced several others such as defining/refining the IP as we went along, developing the tech alongside the game, or even balancing the game given the wide array of abilities/powers vs enemy types. Speaking of the latter, there are a lot of tools available to the player and the various missions types/objectives are setup to provide freedom of choice. This sandbox approach helps mitigate the perception of repetition for as long as the player chooses to vary his own approach or style. But that alone might not be enough for some players…

 

Now that the game is out, we’re taking notes. If given the opportunity, we will certainly look at addressing concerns in our future releases.

 

prototype          prototype

 

Gamers and journos love stats – I have a pie chart that completely supports that – so tell us, how many people worked on Prototype, how many “Prototype babies” were born during the game’s development cycle, how many gallons of coffee were consumed, and how many meetings were held in the log cabin during the final “crunch” phase of development?

Wow. I wish I kept a log on all of these things. Roughly 120 people worked on Proto at its peak (including an important onsite QA team). By today’s standards, it was a rather small team. I can tell the readers that many non-infected babies were born during the development. Some folks enjoyed it so much that they repeated the experience. It was after all a 3 year undertaking. As a result of the extended breaks taken by several of our employees, I suspect many more babies to be announced 9 months from now. The Log Cabin was used for focus testing. We brought in over 15 different groups of individuals to play the game on all platforms and give us feedback.

 

Because I want to make sure I get flamed on the message boards for asking a softball question (and thereby getting an increase in traffic and revenue; suckers!): What do you hope Prototype is remembered for?

I asked the team to answer that one. Here’s what some of the people had to say:

I hope it’s remembered as a fun, frantic and incredibly empowering experience

...remembered for hopefully one of these 2

...the best locomotion system in a open world game

...A scale of battle unseen in an open world game

...I hope it’s remembered for

...Over the top action and chaos

...I hope it’s remembered for its chaotic action!

...I hope it’s remembered for its sense of freedom of locomotion. Go ...anywhere you want easily and quickly

...I hope it’s remembered for its nearly indistinguishable X360 and PS3 Skus. Most multi-platform games have a noticeably worse version on the latter.

...I hope it’s remembered for delivering what game-players wanted

...I hope it’s remembered for its over-the-top gory action unlike any other game out there

...I hope it’s remembered for making you feel like a god.

...I hope it’s remembered for putting Radical Entertainment on the map

 

(June 19, 2009)

 

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