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GDC: Radical Talks 'More Is Better' For Prototype

Well known for developing open world games such as the well received The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and Scarface, Radical Entertainment’s Tim Bennison and Eric Holmes explained new IP Prototype in a GDC lecture on Thursday.
Well known for developing open world games such as the well received The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and Scarface: The World is Yours, Radical Entertainment’s Tim Bennison and Eric Holmes explained that when they had been offered the chance to do a new IP with open world next-gen action adventure game Prototype they “wanted to do was give the player something new.” By that, he explained that they felt that the current feeling in new experiences is to offer people “better” experiences –- better graphics, more polygons, etc. Whereas what a Radical wanted to offer was “more.” To explain, Holmes, in what seemed to be a non-sequitur, said “I really liked The Prestige,” further explaining that the reason was that he “didn’t know where it was going right until the end.” “That’s a really valuable experience. That’s where we really want to be going with Prototype.” But why bother, Bennison asked? “A lot of people are doing a fine job of exploring better, but is that really where new experience lie? Better taps out eventually,” he warned. In support, Holmes showed a trajectory of the development of “better” in the FPS genre: the massive jump between Wolfenstein to GoldenEye, but the continual slowing to the current generation with the like of Call of Duty 4. Radical, Bennison explained, don’t see a next-gen game as being something that runs on an Xbox 360 or Wii. They think of as something “more or better leveraged, in a way you couldn’t play before,” giving examples of games which offer more, the Grand Theft Auto titles and which offer better, such as Gears of War, and the few titles which offer “more and better”: such as Elite on the BBC Micro. Open World Games Holmes described that what Radical felt open world games were “all about” was “systems interacting.” “That’s the fun,” he said. The fun for many players, he did admit, was in “behaving badly.” Radical’s solution? “Go with the flow” and let them behave badly. As a result, Prototype was designed from the ground-up as an open world game: Players take the role of Alex Mercer, the “prototype” a man without a memory armed with shape shifting abilities. “I want this fucking loud,” said Holmes, before demonstrating the game in the way he felt best – by playing it. After an incredibly gory and violent 15 minutes of gameplay (including the repeated intentional murder of innocent bystanders, exploding tanks, extreme parkour and absurd shape-shifting) the lights came back up to a (frankly) shell-shocked audience. The surprises didn’t stop there: Bennison promised “unlike other games with an amnesiac protagonist, our amnesiac is different.” By stealing memories by taking them from the physical forms of other people (the aforementioned grisly intentional murders) Mercer can piece together the story. “One of the key elements is reality plus one (only one) fantastic element,” said Bennison. “The reality is New York City and the fantastic element is the virus that is spreading across it.” “It’s important to make it feel real,” agreed Holmes, showing a piece by photographer Charlie White, a clear inspiration, “As you look closer you realise it’s nothing you’ve ever seen before.” Bennison and Holmes explored the pillars of the game: set game concepts created for the team to work to when the project was begun. Holmes offered as advice, “you need to give the team as much direction as possible to make sure their decision making is properly guided.” He felt, however, that the core of the IP was really the character and his control. “Locomotion is very important to us: we have what we call an adaptive open world parkour system. It’s a one button system: I hold a shoulder button and point him where I want to go.” Unusual for open world games, the game world, NYC, evolved through the story via a meta game: as the game progresses, a three way war rages across the city: Mercer vs. the infected vs. the military, with shifting neutral zones, secure zones and infected zones (“and where they collide, war zones.”). Production Bennison returned to the concept that a game is “a bunch of systems.” “Through the systems we deliver content. In open world games the world has content, but the focus is on the systems.” In a typical development process, he explained, there was pre-production, production, some post and then final, while in open world games the pre-production should be the testing of systems to find the core set, and production should involve system building in parallel, to be developed and combined in post-production. Holmes explained again “the fun comes from systems interacting: player behavior is key.” “As a developer identify your systems as early as you can -- I highly recommend you ‘bake them into your IP’ and then consciously connect them. Scale is another thing you have to think of. We were limited to 8 enemies at a time in our last PS2 game!” In summary, Bennison returned to the battle between more and better. “Use the more power of the current generation of consoles to create something that’s different, that’s new.” Holmes finished, “players are crying out for this. They’re desperate for new experiences. It’s not just about more polygons and more realism. It’s about new potential game experiences using that power.”

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