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Alpha Protocol Design Interview

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Alpha Protocol Design Interview

Interview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Fri 9 April 2010, 10:39:50

Tags: Alpha Protocol; Chris Avellone; Obsidian Entertainment

Vault Dweller, who still works occasionally as an Undercover Agent for the Codex, tricked a few Obsidian folks into answering his questions. Topic: Alpha Protocol.

<p style="margin-left:50px;border-style:solid;border-width:1px;border-top-color:#ffffff;padding:5px;border-right-color:#bbbbbb;border-left-color:#ffffff;border-bottom-color:#bbbbbb;">3. I'm sure that when you started working on Alpha Protocol you looked at many different designs - above mentioned SS2, Deus Ex, which was cited as an inspiration for AP, Bloodlines, the Thief games, Bioshock, Mass Effect, etc. What, in your opinions, are the best design decisions that any developer should pay attention to before attempting to design a similar game? Which mistakes should be avoided? Basically, when it comes to "first/third person RPG with guns", what works and what doesn't?

Chris Parker: The biggest problem we ran into was trying to balance the action game and maintain the things we think are important in RPGs. For example, you can't have a high action shooter with bad weapon mechanics - so when you are figuring out how you want your RPG system to work, you need to work against some of the typical RPG clichés like having your ability to-hit determined by skill. Instead you need to embrace all the great things about the first or third person shooter, and then figure out how to make your RPG without screwing those things up.

Matt MacLean: What worked for us is deciding how much we wanted the game to be player-skill-driven vs. character-skill-driven and stick to it. For instance - we were okay with making the player actually aim, shoot, and take cover via action controls and not a tactical menu were you select attack or defend - if you can't play an FPS, you probably can't play our game but to try and accommodate that level of action handicap would require making two different games.

From there, we knew we wanted the game to be theoretically beatable if you never used any RPG skills but were just ridiculously good at action gaming - not because we wanted the player to ignore the cool abilities we offer, but because giving the player the choice to put points anywhere means we can't make progression contingent on any one ability - so we were okay with skills you didn't invest in getting less useful vs. enemies rising in power as the game goes on - there's just never any obstacle that requires any one certain skill.
6. One couldn't help but notice that there are no dialogue skills. Can you comment on this design decision?

Chris Avellone: When you see a Speech skill in a role-playing game, it's usually the "correct" response. That's not much of a choice. So we made the "speech skill" based on actions you take in the game world including research, paying attention to cues in the dialogue, your attitude when speaking to someone, the amount of Intel you've gathered or purchased, and how you treat other people - not just the person you're talking to. We want you to act the way you want when choosing a stance or action, not have a skill point you to the "best" option.

In addition, dialogue in Alpha Protocol is complicated in that you don't always want to succeed in a conventional speech check against someone. In the spy feel of the game, there are many positive and negative repercussions to dealing with folks that pay off immediately (which is how players have been trained with Speech) but also longer-term counterbalancing positive and negative repercussions (which do undermine how Speech skills are perceived). By the end of the game, there isn't always a clear win when all's said and done - just reactivity.

In short, the payoffs for a response or behavior that would be typically defined by a short-term Speech skill success are often "too soon to tell," both immediately and in missions down the road.

I'll recapitulate:
1) Basically remove combat skills and replace them with player skill so that the game is beatable if you never used any RPG skills. This will net you proper <s>shooter</s> modern RPG combat.
2) Remove social skills as well, because they're dumb in the first place and don't make for much of a choice.
3) Add a few *RPG skills* like Technical Aptitude and Sabotage, which actually (at least I presume it) unlock Minigames that again require player skill.
4) Add a couple of Extreme Skillz for the lulz, like an Invisibility spell for proper *stealth gameplay* or a skill like Biotic Charge in ME2 which makes for fun moments.
5) Don't forget the most important RPG elements: collargrabbing dialogues and emotionally engaging romances.
There you have it: a modern RPG.

Spotted at: ITS

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