Three years ago, the guys at Radical Entertainment gave us Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, an open-world sandbox game starring our favorite anger-management-needing superhero. But as you can imagine, even a super-strong character like The Hulk has its limitations. After all, you can't make him do anything in the game he hasn't already done in his comic books: He can't just Hulkercize his arm when he goes to arm wrestling competitions, can't wear pants that aren't purple, and can't date Mary Jane Watson and Pepper Potts at the same time without them finding out. This might be why, for their next game, those aforementioned guys at Radical are making Prototype, a sort of superhero game without the superhero that Sierra will publish at the end of the year for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC -- though according to Tim Bennison, the game's executive producer, Prototype is more than just Hulk: Unlimited.
Crispy Gamer: From what little you've shown of the game so far, Prototype looks somewhat similar, gameplay-wise, to Crackdown. Am I wrong?
Tim Bennison: Well, it is a next-gen open-world action game, so that immediately throws Prototype into a highly select range of games. Crackdown is obviously now well-known in this space because of its free-form gameplay approach, something we're proud to have heavily pre-dated with our game Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. One of our companies' strengths is our long experience with open-world gameplay and recognition that it's simply a tool that can be wielded in many different and as yet unexplored ways. 'Open World' doesn't necessarily need to mean 'Gang Warfare and yelling the F-bomb in every cinematic sequence,' so with Prototype we always had a clear vision of how it would stand apart from any other open-world game, whether that be Crackdown or Incredible Hulk.
Crackdown also dealt with a human character who used technology-based augmentations, and while you can use conventional military weapons and military vehicles, in Prototype we're looking to take a different route by allowing your entire body to become an organic Swiss army knife of destruction. Prototype's goal is to bring a step-change or 'evolution' of what it feels like to be powerful in an open-world game. You can consume and then become any living person in New York City, you can jack any military vehicle in real-time, and you have the choice to deceive or destroy by conquering enemies and missions through either disguise gameplay or sheer relentless force.
We think gamers will see just how unique Prototype is within moments of getting their hands on it.
Crispy Gamer: So what was the original inspiration for this game?
Bennison: At the completion of Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, the team here looked at a lot of options and had a lot of ideas. At a particular brainstorm meeting involving Eric Holmes, Dennis Detwiller and Martin Bae, two core ideas emerged that ultimately came to form the same concept.
The first idea was based on weaponization. The members of the team asked themselves, 'What was good in Hulk and how can we build on that?' and 'Wouldn't it be cool if there was a character who weaponized himself rather than picking up a car to do it?'
The other idea dealt with consuming people and assuming their characteristics. '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.
The team has come a long way from this point, but these were the initial kernels that inspired Prototype's current design.
Crispy Gamer: Besides your Hulk game, what others were an influence on Prototype's gameplay?
Bennison: 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 composed of avid gamers and movie-goers, so the source for inspiration is indeed wide. Games such as the Tekken series deliver excellent animation in combat, and open-world titles such as GTA have obviously influenced a lot of people, as well. Crackdown's use of co-op gameplay also proved that there is an excellent role to be played for this type of feature in open-world action titles.
Crispy Gamer: Now did the game's story predate the gameplay or did the gameplay come first?
Bennison: 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 were definitely in the action and open-world categories, plus we were obviously 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, someone whose motivations were in the darkest shades of gray, was something that guided a lot of the design decisions for Prototype.
Crispy Gamer: How did these two elements affect each other? 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 that you then had to explain in the story?
Bennison: 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 that had many 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 addition to the game.
Crispy Gamer: What are some of the abilities you have in the game?
Bennison: Well, we sometimes refer to Alex Mercer as a human 'Swiss army knife.' You can whip our your biological claws and carve into the military to reach your objective, or you can trigger disguise and use their advanced weaponry against them.
But without a doubt, our biggest feature is the shape-shifting power I mentioned earlier. Alex has the ability to transform his body into a living weapon. Alternatively, you can assume the perfect disguise and literally become anyone you see walking down the street.
Crispy Gamer: Were there any powers with which you experimented but ultimately rejected?
Bennison: One idea we initially had was that Alex could also assume the form of animals, such as a rat. We threw it around for concepting but, to be honest, it really came down to the question of, 'Why would you want to be a rat or a cat when you have the chance to parkour over a building, jack an Apache helicopter, and take over a military installation as Alex?'
Crispy Gamer: And were there any powers that did work but had to be cut because including them would've made your character too strong, and thus the game would have been made less interesting?
Bennison: After making Hulk, we knew we had to get the balance right between 'powerful' and 'invincible.' Feeling constantly on edge and against the odds, yet armed with the knowledge that comes with possessing staggeringly brutal power -- this is something that's key to our game design.
Crispy Gamer: So what kinds of missions do you go on in the game's single-player mode?
Bennison: A principle factor for us when designing missions is to always keep in mind freedom of choice. It's important to us that gamers have a sense of independence in the way they choose to approach the game. Alex is a shape-shifter, so that obviously paves the way for multiple ways to solve a mission. Having said that, the variety of missions will be wide and we intend to incorporate elements of chase, disguise, infiltration, defense and all-out obliteration.
Crispy Gamer: How about multiplayer -- what kind of multiplayer modes will the game include, and which are online and which are off?
Bennison: Online multiplayer is something we're very excited about. Prototype will support full online co-operative play for two players to complete missions together. That essentially lets you unleash twice as much firepower onto the bustling, overcrowded streets of New York City. We're already having a blast with co-op mode, because the complexity of ambient systems we have interacting with two players is actually almost a game in itself. For example, we'll have the ability to have one player jack an Abrams Tank whilst your buddy can support you from a jacked Apache attack chopper. Alternatively, you could approach a mission by having one person use a disguise-based tactic, pushing through mobs of pedestrians undercover, whilst your friend caused massive distractions for the military by blowing up their base downtown. We're very excited by our co-op mode.
Crispy Gamer: Will there be any multiplayer modes where you can go mano a mano?
Bennison: We're tinkering with some interesting 'combative' ideas right now, and they may end up in the final product or potentially in downloadable content.
Crispy Gamer: From what I've seen, the game's visual style seems to be more gritty than cartoonish, more like Gears of War than Spider-Man. Why, given the superheroic bent, did you decide to go in this direction and what were the influences on the game's visual style?
Bennison: One of our guiding principles in the development phase of Prototype has been 'Reality plus one fantastic element.' That, as a concept, guides everything we do here on the team. We wanted to completely leave the superhero 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 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 ingrained, because we want the action that unfolds to be truly unsettling and unusual within that known, relatable setting. TV shows like The X-Files and Lost both achieve wondrous results because they present a realistic setting against a spiraling fantastic element.
Crispy Gamer: Finally, what kinds of gamers do you think are going to love Prototype?
Bennison: Well, we hope that when people see this game in action for themselves, we'll be validated in answering that question with 'Anybody with a pulse.' But to be more specific, our immediate target is fans of action games, whether that be such open-world games as Grand Theft Auto or more linear-based experiences such as God of War or Devil May Cry.