At Games Week 2011 in Milan I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dave Fracchia, Vice President of Radical Entertainment, and having a chat about the upcoming Prototype 2, that will be released on April the 24th next year for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
You can read Scott’s preview of the game here. He was quite obviously impressed and I have to say that I was too by the presentation I saw during the show. That’s why I had a lot to ask.
Luckily for me Dave had a lot to answer. You can read it all past the cut:
Giuseppe: This convention is rather small compared to those in the US and in other European nations. It’s at it’s first edition after all. I’m quite sure you’re almost the only developer that came. What brought you so far from home?
Dave: Besides the fact that my heritage is Italian, so I had to come back home to Italy? The main thing for us is that, as developers we feel very strongly that we should be representing our product, because we know it from the ground up. I think we owe it to our fans and even to the press to actually be available when we can. We already saw the crowd today. It may be smaller, but our own presentation has been full all day long. So for me, I see it as a great success.
G: Prototype has a style that reminds me of superhero comics, the darkest ones that feature vigilantes, instead of the black and white heroes and villains. If I’m allowed to be a bit of a heretic, I feel a small Lobo vibe. But I might be far off. What are your main sources of inspiration in creating and expanding a franchise like Prototype?
D: There are several sources of inspiration. If you look at our company, Radical Entertainment, this year is 20 years old. Our team dates back to the times of the Incredible Hulk (Editor’s note: he’s probably referring to the 1994 SNES game, not the 2008 one), and certainly people can see many cases in which something is derived from experiences on that game. Other sources are things form any sort of film or comics or games that deals with viral outbrakes. The story all started with taking things that are real combined with one imaginary element: the virus. We also did a lot of research on actual viruses. Of course there were comics that inspired us, there were films like 28 Days Later, even things like I Am Legend and so on.
Each of our designers has films that inspired them, games that inspired them, comics that inspired them and they all poured that into our game. We have found inspiration even in the feedback of the fans and of the press as well. Even that generated some ideas. I like to think it’s kinda like a melting pot even if we always tried to stay true to what Prototype was.
G: This isn’t a very original question, but it’s one I like to ask to developers, some hate me for that. What are your favorite games, beside yours?
D: I’m an old gamer too. I used to create games for the Commodor 64 and for the Atari 2609, back in the times of games like the Pitfall… I can say I played the original Pong when it came out. My favorite game growing up was Galaga. I held one of the highest scores back in home town.
Nowadays I’m personally big on first-person shooters, I’m a huge fan of Modern Warfare, I’m a big fan of RPGs as well… I’ll give you one good example: I played Fallout 3 for 160 hours.
G: That’s a lot.
D: I’m a completionist.
G: For someone with your responsibilities that’s definitely a lot of hours.
D: Yeah, you have to sneak that away at home as much as you possibly can, so…
G: Was it worth it?
D: It was definitely worth it. Another example is Batman.
G: Arkham City or Arkham Asylum?
D: Both games. There are lot of fantastic games I love out there. I could name many of them, but right now my focus is Prototype 2 and I spend dayentire day playing that game.
G: Your new game seems to be gathering an enthusiastic fanbase, despite the fact that the previous one was welcomed a little coldly by some. How do you feel about this change of heart of the fans? Do you feel encouraged to deliver an unforgettable experience?
D: Of course. First of all. The first game sold over two million copies, which is very good for a period in which the economy isn’t at it’s best.
G: Some critics weren’t very nice about it though.
D: Of course, and I think that after all a critic’s job is to look at things as objectively as possible. To be a critic. I’m actually thankful to them, because we really looked at those reviews and it helped us look at the first game and see how we could make improvements in the second game, give our fans more of what they want, keep the things that really worked well and enhance those. All that forms, for us, an incredible amount of feedback. I like to think about it not as positive or negative feedback, but just as great feedback, and we hope we’ll manage to deliver a great Prototype 2 experience.
Certain people will always hate certain games, and there isn’t much we can do about that, but the more we can convince that it is a great game, the better.
G: If you could go back in time and change only one thing in the first Prototype, what would that be?
D: This is actually a great question, I’ve never been asked about this, and you got me actually thinking about what I’d wanna go back and change… Geeze… despite whatever criticism there may be, I still love the first game very much. Maybe I’d like to make it ten times longer so that I could have that much more fun?
G: That’s actually a good idea. Personally I love long games.
D: I love sandbox games and the ability to go there and just do whatever you want. The great thing about Prototype is that you can just go in and fool around. Be in the open world and have a lot of fun with it. In the second game we’re trying to expand that open world so that it’s richer and there’s more of that sandbox experience.
G: What is your own personal favorite new feature in Prototype 2? What is the feature you think fans will appreciate the most?
D: Believe it or not my favorite new feature is not really a combat addition. You’ve seen the tendrils, that are fantastic, but for me it’s hunting.
G: That’s still kind of related to combat, after all.
D: It’s a prequel to combat. For me the idea of knowing that there’s a target somewhere out in the open world and use human sonar-like abilities to hunt him down… You know, feeling like a real predator. That really is what I like about Prototype 2.
G: What is the lead development platform? Will the game look the same on all patforms or maybe PC gamers will get some special ultra detail settings?
D: We have our own proprietary technology. We use very little commercial software, it’s all our own. Our build system builds the game on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC at once. We have senior tech people that are responsible for all the SKUs, so I like to think that it’s going to be a great experience on all platforms. Certainly we test on all the SKUs as well. On PC, depending on your machin,e you’ll be able to crank up the antialiasing and things like that, but we’re making the best experience possible on all three platforms.
G: Will any part of the environment be destroyable?
D: There are destructable props in the environments, most of them attached to buildings like scaffoldings and things like that, but in terms of destruction of buildings, there isn’t because it’s a locomotion based game, so if buildings were to come down, you’d lose the ability to climb them. So because we need that geography for the locomotion part of the game, we don’t have destructable buildings.
G: Will there be any difference in the story if the player behaves as a mercyless psycho killing anyone or if he actually plays a good guy and spares civilians?
D: No, we decided not to have any sort of moral consequences in terms of story. We looked at the fact that we have a virus that invaded someone, and if someone killed my family, maybe because I’m partly Italian as well, I wouldn’t stand for that and I’m not sure I’d let anyone or anything get in my way while enacting my revenge. This time we provided the ability to put civilians down for example…
G: … From the top of a skyscraper.
D: Well, that’s what I like to do, but… (laughs). There are no moral consequences in the story, but certainly if you kill civilians in front of the Black Watch you can cause an alert, so there will be consequences to your actions, but they’re not based on morals, and not in terms of the story.
G: What your approach to storytelling? Will there be many cutscenes, or maybe the plot will be unveiled more during gameplay itself?
D: There’s a combination of cutscenes and storytelling that’s part of the gameplay.
G: Are there new types of sidequests? Will all the previous ones be returning in the sequel?
D: In terms of the open world missions, they’re now based more on the story and the fiction of the zones. Previously they were just some kind of challenges that weren’t really tied in. For instance there are open world missions in which you find Black Watch communications vehicles. You can hack them and find out that there’s an operation going on within the zone and you can start to disrupt it. There will be more of this kind of missions because they help fill you in on the story and the fiction, giving you the tone of the zone you’re in. They create more ambiance as well as providing some fine open world missions.
G: You said you wanted to have a more relatable character this time around, and also focus on the story. How hard is it to balance over the top and fun gameplay with a serious narrative?
D: The important thing is that you have to give clear motivations, and you have to be careful about giving a really complex story at the same time, so, again, one thing we tried with Prototype 2 is to make it clear. It’s very clear that you play someone that lost his family and is going after the one that caused it. Let’s just say that at every step you’ll know what your character is doing and why, and you’ll always have clear the motivation to why you’ll want to cause that kind of destruction or disruption, to build up to that final conflict.
G: With Mercer?
D: Ah, I don’t know… Let’s hope that’s what will happen (Laughs).
G: Will there be any multiplayer at all this time around? Lately we have seen a lot of franchises and genres that normally wouldn’t call for multiplayer, that had some added in, sometimes shoehorned in. Do you think multiplayer is a critical element nowadays, or good single player games can still stand on their own legs?
D: I believe that single player games can definitely stand on their own legs and Prototype 2 is solely a single player game. I believe you can create an amazing game in a sandbox world without needing multiplayer. We talk often about this, and often people ask for it, but you see a lot of games that had multiplayer shoehorned in them, or that came out with it, that haven’t necessarily been successful. Maybe some have been critically successful, but not financially, so I think that putting it in just for the sake of doing it is the wrong approach.
You always have to think where is the best use of your resources, and we thought that our best answer was making our single player really strong.
G: What is the biggest challenge with the transition to a new character, specifically in a game where you keep the old main character and turn him into the main antagonist?
D: The first challenge is that there are many people that loved Alex Mercer, and they questioned why we did that, but what we came to realize is that Prototype is about the Virus and how it affects people differently. It ends with a character that is incredibly powerful, so where do we go from there? We didn’t want to just take that person’s powers away. We still had a story to tell about the infection of New York City, so the idea of Mercer creating the next Prototype was a cool transition, and the idea of that man going after Mercer himself, creating a battle of Prototype vs Prototype seemed so epic. We were just drawn towards it.
G: Is there anything you’d like to say to the fans of your game? Something that you’d really like them to know?
D: The main thing is “Thank you”. Our fans resulted in the first game selling our two million copies. Our fans have come to so many shows and have been just incredible. So, you know, I really want to say “Thank you” to our fans and to the many more that we seem to be getting. I’ve met many at the shows that didn’t even hear about the first game and now they want to play it before playing the second. So i’d really like to thank all our fans.
G: Did you know that there’s a popular comedy character here in Italy that’s named Fracchia like you?
D: I know that! Fracchia contro Dracula (Editor’s note: he’s talking about Fracchia vs Dracula, a very popular Italian comedy film with Paolo Villaggio)! I’d love to see it at some point. I’ve seen clips from the film and it’s pretty incredible. I haven’t seen the whole movie yet, so I may actually order it.
G: Thank you for dedicating some of your time to us.
D: My pleasure, thank you so much!