A mishmash of genres that combines action and stealth with gadget-based gameplay may sound daunting at first, but Obsidian Entertainment is certain it's on to a winner with its upcoming title Alpha Protocol. We spoke with producer Matthew Rorie to get a better look at how the elements of the game will all come together upon its release this October.
GameSpot AU: First thing's first. What does the story in Alpha Protocol revolve around?
Matthew Rorie: You play as Mike Thorton, a field agent for an agency called Alpha Protocol. After you're sent to Saudi Arabia for your first covert mission, things go very, very wrong, and you're forced to figure out who's behind a global conspiracy. Along the way, you'll meet a cast of 20 or so major characters that you'll interact with via your phone, e-mail, and in-person conversations. Each of these characters can be friends or enemies to Mike, and each relationship that you make will have an effect on the way the story plays out.
GS AU: Tell us a little about how the gameplay mechanics will work, given this is an espionage-based role-playing game.
MR: Mike Thorton is a spy, but we didn't want to lock players into any of the various spy archetypes that you might see in popular media. So, our solution to that problem was to allow players to be any kind of spy that they want. If you want to be a badass, take-no-prisoners sort of character, you can specialise in weapons like the assault rifle or the SMGs and go in with guns blazing. Alternately, if you want to be sneaky, we have a stealth tree that will reduce your visibility and let you move around more quietly; the better to avoid enemies.
GS AU: What are the role-playing aspects of the game? How will they be incorporated into gameplay?
MR: There are tons of role-playing elements in Alpha Protocol. Firstly, we have the ability to interact with a wide cast of characters and earn reputations with each of them, which will influence the way they interact with your character as you progress through the storyline. Or, if you wish, almost all of them can be killed, which will of course eliminate them from the rest of the game if you choose to take that path.
On top of that, we of course have the aforementioned skill allocation. Whenever Mike levels up, he'll gain a number of advancement points to throw in a variety of skills, and this specialisation will let players change the way Mike handles each mission as you go through the game.
GS AU: What kind of skills and abilities will players be able to upgrade? How many levels of upgrades will be offered?
MR: Mike has nine core skills, running the gamut from gun skills (increases accuracy, damage, and reload time) to things like toughness (increases health and endurance), sabotage (improves gadget efficacy and makes it easier to hack electronics, pick locks, and run electronic bypasses), and martial arts (makes it easier to punch dudes in the face).
Each skill has a maximum of 15 ranks, but you can only get that high if you specialise in a skill; otherwise, you can only reach rank 10. Each skill will also have a number of special abilities that you earn as you upgrade your skill level.
GS AU: How will the RPG element of the game affect story? For example, will completing one scenario one way affect the main storyline down the track?
MR: Reactivity has been the driving force behind Alpha Protocol since very early on in the design. With the multiple outcomes that we provide to all of Mike's choices, it would be difficult to imagine Alpha Protocol without the amount of reactivity that we've thrown in.
So, you'll notice as you play through that characters you come across will react to all of your choices. Other characters will react to things like the character background that you've chosen, your choice to kill or bypass enemies, your interactions and relationships with other major characters, choices you've made in other parts of the world, and, of course, how you engage them in conversation.
GS AU: Have you incorporated moral choices in the game? If so, can you give us an example?
MR: There are a lot of moral choices that Mike is forced to make, but we try to ensure that we never force a player into a right/wrong decision. We want to reward players for whatever they do. Even if you decide to beat up an old man sitting at a bar, you still gain some reputation with other characters down the line. There are, of course, larger decisions for Mike to make, which includes deciding whether or not to kill the major characters that you come across in the game. But you're going to have to play the game to discover them.
GS AU: How long have you been working on developing Alpha Protocol?
MR: Alpha Protocol has been in development for quite a while now, since 2006 or so.
GS AU: Are there any features that had to be left on the cutting room floor due to your time schedule for the game’s release?
MR: To misquote George Lucas, games are never finished, only released. There's obviously stuff that we wish we could've had the time to include in the game, but that's a side effect of an extremely ambitious design. In the end, the game features a massive amount of complex gameplay, and we're happy with the amount of stuff that we've managed to cram onto a disc.
GS AU: What kind of weapons can players expect in Alpha Protocol?
MR: In the game, Mike Thorton can raise his skill in pistols, SMGs, shotguns, and assault rifles. Each of these weapons fits a certain profile: pistols are short range but can be equipped with silencers for stealth takedowns; SMGs are great for taking out crowds of enemies; shotguns have fantastic stopping power and can knock enemies off their feet with a critical hit; and assault rifles are highly accurate at long range. Each of these weapons has three different types of ammo that it can be used with.
In addition to the firearms, though, there are a number of lethal gadgets, including explosive grenades, incendiary grenades, remote mines, and a number of nonlethal devices, including tranq rounds for your pistols, flashbangs, shock traps, and so on.
Mike can also choose to specialise in martial arts, which will let him unleash some pretty devastating combos and special attacks in close-quarters combat.
But wait, there's more. Some levels will have missile launchers, MG turrets, sniper rifles, and even automatic turrets that Mike can hack and turn on his enemies.
GS AU: Given this is a spy game, what kind of stealth and combat tactics have you employed in the game?
MR: We know our players are fans of stealth, so we've tried to emphasise that with our stealth skill, which reduces the amount of sound that Mike makes and reduces the range at which enemies can see him. You'll also get some special abilities as you increase your stealth skill, including the ability to temporarily evade an enemy's sight at close range, allowing you to get behind cover if you make a mistake, or the ability to run at full speed without making any footstep noise.
We've also given stealth players the ability to sneak up on enemy combatants and use takedowns on them. These can take the form of lethal knife attacks or nonlethal punches and chokes.
GS AU: Tell us more about the Fury mode.
MR: Fury is actually an activated ability from our martial arts skill. It temporarily allows Mike to bust out and deal extra damage with his unarmed attacks and also makes it more difficult for enemies to block and counter his attacks while it lasts.
GS AU: How many hours of gameplay are there in Alpha Protocol?
MR: We're guessing that it will take around 25 hours to get through the game, possibly more if you attempt to stealth, as doing so will mean you'll take a bit more time to get through some of the levels. We're also building in some benefits to people who want to replay the game, including a Veteran mode that allows Mike some new dialogue options and tougher enemies.
GS AU: When can we expect to see Alpha Protocol on shelves?
MR: We're in the homestretch of development on Alpha Protocol, and we're going to get the game on store shelves in October! Hope you guys enjoy it when it comes out.
GS AU: Matthew Rorie, thanks for your time.