Dennis Detwiller talks Prototype
We sit for a nice cup of tea and a custard cream with Game Designer Dennis Detwiller, the mastermind behind Radical Entertainment's outrageous 'Prototype', an action title set for next-gen consoles and the PC in 2008.
What genre do you see Prototype slotting into, and does the game break convention when compared to near-rivals?
Prototype crosses several genre lines: it's a thriller, a mystery and a power-fantasy. As a game, it could well be described as a high action open world game. Maybe.
The game breaks with convention in many ways. For one it is not a straight-up story of good vs. evil. From the beginning, we imagined Prototype set in our world. This is incredibly important. A shape-shifter rampaging through Times Square in 2008 is engaging, but one on Mars in the year 2550 is not nearly as interesting. People need to relate to the situation/location on a fundamental level to buy-in.
It also puts the player and character in the same shoes - the experience the player has is identical to the character in the game. When they begin, they know nothing, and together they piece together the history of the world of Prototype.
Story is heart of Prototype. What can you tell us on the premise?
Prototype is about mystery, memory, retribution and what it means to be human. Unlike most games which gloss over the history of the main character ("My name is Mike Blade and I kill people...."). Prototype is about the history of the main character. Who were you before? What were your motivations, your morals, your goals?
The player must dig to the bottom of the mystery that is Alex Mercer and find out what makes him tick; and what he finds may not be to his liking.
How will this plot be integrated into the 'open-world' of the title, without harming either the plot, or impairing the freedom of the player?
We have a rather unique opportunity with a main character who can consume and become any character in the game. Alex Mercer collects minds like a detective gathers clues. In the game, this is represented by the Web of Intrigue, an interactive chain of clues which are actually minds of select important individuals, spread throughout the game world.
All of Alex's main abilities - how he fuels his powers, genetic advancement and health replenishment – are focused around consumption. Alex can consume humans, absorbing their mass, genetics and minds; allowing him to become a perfect duplicate of the target and, more importantly, allowing him full access to their memories. So, he consumes Web of Intrigue targets and gains a memory relevant to your history - these memories are displayed as videos that illustrate some fact dealing with Alex's past. The videos are available to you in an interactive web of nodes that you can search through in real-time. The more nodes you collect, the clearer the conspiracy that lies of the heart of Prototype becomes.
We've witnessed plots based around saving New York before. Is it fair to say this is a story inspired by others before it?
While there are significant influences on the Prototype story, it's not accurate to say that Alex's sole motivation is to save New York. While the events in New York City directly oppose Alex, his motivations are much more personal (and even greedy) than the altruistic idea of ‘saving the city’. Alex's motivations can be broken down to a single concept: to understand who he was before his transformation into a shapeshifter, and to find out who did this to him. Both Blackwatch — the government agency attempting to stop the outbreak in New York — and the outbreak itself hold the secrets of Alex's past. To uncover these secrets, Alex must confront and defeat both Blackwatch and the forces of the virus. He also has several personal reasons to stop the destruction of the city. His sister Dana is his lone tie to the life he once had — if New York dies, she dies with it. All in all, we hope to personalise Alex's motives, as opposed to regurgitating the same old ‘save the world’ tropes.
As for being inspired by other stories before it, what story isn't? However, I expect people to be surprised at the choices in the story. It certainly isn't the same old flat tale of good verses evil in an unchanging world or cartoon concepts. Prototype is dark, gritty and realistic, with enough twists and surprises to keep even the most jaded fan engaged.
Our hero - Alex Mercer - can change his shape, can't he? What will this mean from a gameplay perspective?
There are two major applications to Alex's shapeshifting that have huge ramifications on gameplay. One, he can assume a perfect disguise by becoming the person he consumes, and two, he can instantly reshape his body into biological weaponry. In gameplay, these seamlessly blend. For example, Alex can consume and become a perfect duplicate of a military captain. He can then waltz right into the middle of a military base undetected and use his identity to call in an artillery strike on the base itself. If discovered, he can then grow a pair of three foot claws and cut his enemies to shreds. Or perhaps he’ll grow a body-full of chitinous armor to deflect tank rounds then use his infrared vision to locate targets in hiding. The greatest thing about the these powers is that you can activate them almost simultaneously, at least within a second or two.