Alpha Protocol with Ryan Rucinski
Obsidian and Sega believe they've struck gold with the original premise behind Alpha Protocol, an RPG that dismisses fantasy worlds, or sci-fi futures in favour of a gritty, geo-political present. Jason Bourne would be proud. Alpha Protocol is looking like Mass Effect meets James Bond, and we're promised a game of subtlety and intrigue, where conversation and plot are perhaps more crucial than guns and fists. Without further ado, we sat down with senior producer Ryan Rucinski to learn more.
Alpha Protocol represents something a different premise from most RPGs. Where did the idea come from?
The idea actually came from a couple of the owners, Feargus Urquhart and Chris Jones, who were talking at lunch. They had just seen one of the Bourne movies and were talking about it when they brought up the question, "Why aren't there any espionage RPGs set in the current day?"
This started the ball rolling. Not only did it seem like a good idea, they couldn't think of any reason why not to do it. They pitched it to the other owners and everyone seemed to like the concept. It didn't take too long after the product proposal before the title was picked up and we started work on what would become Alpha Protocol.
Is it risky setting an RPG in the present day? How do you create that sense of being elsewhere in such a setting?
The biggest risk we had with our concept being set in the present day and not some far away future or mystical land was the fact that we wouldn't have any crazy technologies or magic to call upon to make it game-y.
We have to make sure to sell our theme for a particular hub by having them look very different than the other areas of the world.
What influences have you called upon in developing Alpha Protocol?
The JBs (James Bond/Jason Bourne/Jack Bauer) have been the primary influences. We allow the player to choose what kind of spy they want to be: aggressive, suave, or professional. This doesn't mean that a player can't mix up how they want the character to be but we use these as our basic archetypes for the options given while playing the game.
How does the new ‘classless’ RPG system work?
In the very beginning we have some suggested archetypes that are geared towards particular playing styles, but we also allow a 'Freelance' character where a player can put points wherever they want. Later, they can choose to change their skills or specialize in the high-end abilities.
This allows the player to put advancement points into the skills that they want to use. For example, the player could put advancement points into technologies and stealth. They could then use their abilities to remotely hack into computers, lay traps, and skirt around sentries without ever being detected.
Conversely, the same player could get to a point where they might prefer a different play style and instead of putting points into stealth skills, they could easily put them into assault rifles and then specialize into the top tier abilities. They would be loud but deadly from a distance.
We basically just let the player make the kind of character they want to play but we do reward focusing into the higher end of the abilities. The Jack of All Trades is the master of none.
Which settings will we take in during the game, and how are these being brought to life?
After the initial foray into Saudi Arabia, the player has the option to go to Moscow, Taipei, or Rome.
A lot of our lighting style comes from the Bourne movies, Traffic, Ronin, Nacho Libre, and Syriana. When you look at the movies you can see a distinct saturation dependant on where the movie is taking place. Our Saudi levels are bloomy and brighter in the yellows. Moscow with blues. Rome using greens. We use the same techniques that these movies use to make sure that each hub looks and feels differently from the others.
What is the significance of character interactions?
This is a primary feature of Alpha Protocol, because all the relevant story information is fuelled by talking to the characters.
When the player is in a dialogue with one of the many NPCs in the game, the attitude or stance being used will determine which information will be received and how future dialogues with the NPCs will unfold.
If the player shoots a guy in the kneecap to get some information, the next time the player visits the NPC they might not be so willing to share information... or they might be extra-willing to share information because they don't want to be capped in their other leg. The player will have to figure out what may be the best way to handle folks.
How will the story be told without it degenerating into cliche?
Great effort was taken with the writing to make sure that we didn't fall into any of the traditional pitfalls. In fact, the story had to be written several different ways to take the player's decisions into account, making it quite the endeavour.
That, and we don't have any evil masterminds stroking white hares.
How is combat integrated into the game, and how large a role does it play overall?
When the player isn't buying, selling, in a dialogue, or researching intelligence for any upcoming mission, the player will actually be in a mission. The three basic ways to beat a mission is by stealthing through it, blowing away everything that moves, or using technology to hack their way around obstacles. The player can mix it up (and often will have to) to be able to get through the level.
Does this game mark the beginning of a new series?
We certainly hope so! If the game is well received and sells a bunch of units I can assure you that a sequel would be looked at by the powers that be.
Is there a political dimension to Alpha Protocol?
There is. Without going into great amounts of detail I will reiterate how the player's actions affect everything that happens in the world on a global and political scale. Hypothetically, if you shot a high ranking official and make it look like another country did it, that could cause tensions between the two countries.
The game is out on PC and consoles. What are the challenges of creating an RPG on consoles?
Thankfully some great RPGs came out on the consoles in the last couple of years that have helped pave the way for upcoming titles. The key thing is to maintain a delicate balance of how much information to feed the players. If we have a ton of information buried in a bajillion interface screens, the players (PC and Console players alike) are going to drop your game like a bad habit. Luckily we have some very talented people working on our UI, which is looking sharper every day.
Lastly, what do you believe sets this game apart from the crowd?
The obvious first choice would be that there are no spy/espionage games set in the present day. I would follow that up with the dialogue stance system. When Brian Mitsoda came up with it, it was so straightforward that we were all surprised that it wasn't used more often.
Basically, when you are in most RPGs you can re-hash the same conversation over and over until you milk all the information from the NPC. Not in Alpha Protocol. The conversations unfold in real-time and decisions have to be made quickly, giving it a much more cinematic feel, both visually and aurally.
Thanks for your time, Ryan.