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Exclusive: We interview Obsidian Entertainment on Alpha Protocol
by Chris Hawke
Remember Alpha Protocol? The Spy-RPG set for release in October 2009, but then pushed back and, for a long time, went undercover? Well, after revealing a new box-art, new screenshots and a new release date (June 1st), we sat down with Matthew Rorie, Producer, and Chris Avellone, Designer Of Spies (The coolest job title in the universe) to talk about Alpha Protocol in-depth.

You can choose between a stealthy, technical or all-out approach to missions. Does the game react to this by having specific rewards for sticking to each style, like better sneaking skills and silenced weapons for always being stealthy, or are players expected to use a mix of the three through the game?
MR: Obsidian tried pretty hard to reward people for sticking to a certain discipline. When you level up, you'll gain points that you can allocate to any skill that you like, such as Stealth, Assault Rifles, Technical Aptitude, or Martial Arts, and the proverbial "much, much more!" Specialising in a skill will unlock new abilities and tools that will make it easier for you to advance through the tougher challenges that come along later in the game. However, you're free to make a jack-of-all-trades character if you wish; you'll just be a minor badass in a lot of different areas, rather than a major badass in one or two skills.

There are certain unavoidable boss-battles with major baddies. Can you defeat them by using stealth or technical skills, or are you just meant to shoot them dead?
MR: We've tried to ensure that you can use any appropriate skills in the boss battles, including unarmed attacks, stealth, gadgets/grenades, or straight-up gunplay. While the gunplay is the most straightforward way of dealing with a boss, it's obviously frustrating to be forced to do something that you haven't been specialising in, or which doesn't feel right for your particular Mike Thorton character, so we've done our best to ensure that all options are valid for the boss fights.

Players have already had a dose of third-person action RPG with Mass Effect 2. Do you feel that the two games are competing? What separates Alpha Protocol from Mass Effect 2?
CA: While there are similarities in interface presentation, the mechanics behind the visuals are where the player is going to feel the difference. As an example, although the dialogue wheel in Alpha Protocol appears similar to Mass Effect 2, the mechanics are much different - NPCs won't wait for you to make a choice, the dialogue continues along at real time, and there's no going back, which makes the conversations much more urgent. During focus tests, we found that we were getting an adrenaline spike from dialogues on a level comparable to that of a running gun battle. These game mechanic differences are echoed in the skills, powers, combat, and even the morality mechanics throughout Alpha Protocol.

Speaking of Mass Effect 2 - can love interests in Alpha Protocol lead to some hanky-panky? Are we talking PG13, or X rated scenes? (Sorry, had to ask)
MR: We do have a few lovely ladies that Mike can romance in Alpha Protocol, but we've decided to keep things pretty tasteful in terms of how those romances can be consummated. So you shouldn't necessarily expect bow-chicka-bow-bow music; discrete fades-to-black are the order of the day here. We've really focused on making these relationships believable, first and foremost, and making graphic sex scenes seemed like it would distract from that work.

The game was delayed from October 27th, 2009 to Summer 2010. Why was it delayed, and what changes have been made?
MR: We can't really speak to the specifics of the delays, unfortunately; that's more a question for our publisher. Suffice to say that we think the game is well-positioned for a successful launch, and we hope everyone enjoys it when it hits store shelves.

The player has 'hub cities' acting as safehouses in Rome, Moscow, and other places. Will missions take place in these cities, or anywhere in the world?
MR: Our missions will generally take place in or relatively close to the hub cities, but we've managed to fit in a large variety of architecture and environments into the hubs that we've put into the game. Mike is going to fight (or sneak) through museums, archaeological ruins, embassies, mansions, secret government facilities, and even a yacht on the open water.

How open and expansive will these mission maps be? Will there be many different routes of access, or destructible environments?
MR: This will depend on the mission - most are intended to be freeform, with a variety of paths through them for you to take, which we usually use to reinforce the type of character that you've created. For example, in our train station level, do you want to stick to the walkways above a firefight and attempt to sneak by the gangs that are shooting at each other, or get down to the killing floor and participate in the bloodbath? Do you want to sneak into the embassy via the side entrance, or persuade/kill the guards at the door and bust in that way?

As far as destructible environments go, it hasn't been a huge focus for our game, but we do use them in a few places to amp up the action.

How many endings are there? Are most just slight variations on a few set endings (good, bad, etc) or can you drastically change the outcome with each playthrough?
MR: It's somewhat difficult to estimate this in terms of numbers - how you experience the end of the game will rely heavily on whom you've met in the game, and how you treated them. If you've befriended someone, made them hate you, or killed them, we've tried to reflect that gamut of feeling in the end of the game as best we can. Since there are plenty of characters to interact with, the end of the game has a lot of variables to it. So it's not as simple a dichotomy as "Mike was a bad guy/Mike was a good guy" in terms of the endings. Suffice to say that it should be different each time you play so long as you vary your choices up a bit.

Can you give us an example of the type of outcomes a choice can have?
CA: Arresting an arms dealer in Saudi Arabia can cost you access to merchants and contacts in the region. Continual abuse of a mild-mannered asset can cause them to turn on you in surprising ways. In short, choices have plenty of immediate and long-term consequences in Alpha Protocol, and not just the people you talk to - they can open brand-new optional missions, new perks, loss of intel, gain of intel, new handlers, cause a boss character to say he has too much respect to fight you, cause another boss character to abandon his plans and pre-emptively change his tactics solely because you've pissed him off, and gaining new information on a seemingly shallow asset to discover that they've got far more depth than you thought possible... and then using that intel to turn them for or against you as an additional weapon.

Did you ever think about including multiplayer options, such as co-op?
CA: It was discussed, both for the original product and potential sequels. We had a lot of interesting mechanics we suggested for how co-op could work, which we think would have been a nice spin on a new form of cooperative play that would complement the spy genre. If we do a sequel, we'd love to speak to about those mechanics more.

Are there any differences between the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC versions of the game?
MR: We've developed for all of the platforms simultaneously, so the differences should be minimal. The PC will have a custom control scheme for mouse and keyboard, and will look nicer if you have good hardware, but apart from that there shouldn't be any obvious differences.

What type of anti-piracy system, if any, are you using for PC (DRM, etc)?
MR: That's a question for our publishers. Sorry!

What's the coolest thing you've done in Alpha Protocol?
CA: Aside from telling various characters I meet to "fuck off" and not having it come across as juvenile; having two female handlers catfighting over my headset while I'm gunning down terrorists in the snow; the ability to toss grenades behind me as I run; unleashing a storm of bullets on an 80s obsessed mob boss until he's bleeding on the floor and offering me anything I want in his mansion - the coolest thing? Well, I convinced the secret shadow that monitors all global trafficking that I've inserted technical kryptonite into his eavesdropping system, and I pulled it off so technically smooth that this supposed "genius" was none the wiser. Who's the smart guy now, jackass? That's right: Me.

Do you plan to expand a possible Alpha Protocol series, continue making new IPs, or even go back to the Knights Of The Old Republic games?
MR: My magic eight-ball says that the future is hazy... all I can say is that we're working on some really cool stuff here at the moment, but unfortunately, until projects are announced we can't comment on them.

Who would win in a fight; Bourne, Bauer or Bond? (hand-to-hand, obviously)
CA: It'd depend on whose love interest had died in the last 15 minutes. The one who suffered the loss most recently would win. If they've lost no one tragically, Bourne's got my vote. The hand-to-hand fighting sequences in the first Bourne movie was so blinding and frenetic, I think Bauer and Bond would be hard-pressed to deal with Bourne. If it was a running gun fight, it'd be a toss up between Bauer and Bond. If it was a poker match? Bond all the way.

So, there you have it. Thanks to Chris and Matt from Obsidian Entertainment, and be sure to keep updated on both Alpha Protocol and Gamer's Guide to Life.


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- Chris Hawke
via source

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