At an Activision preview event a few weeks ago, we got our first look at Radical Entertainment's Prototype 2 since the reveal trailer at December's Video Game Awards. This time around, gamers play as Sgt. James Heller, a soldier who returns to NYZ (a post-disaster New York) from Afghanistan and sets out to find and destroy Alex Mercer, the original game's antihero, whom Heller blames for fatally infecting his wife and daughter with the Blacklight virus. As Heller pursues Mercer, he himself becomes infected and develops many of Mercer's mutant powers—as well as a few others, including devastating throwable bio-bombs and tendrils that can rip enemies apart.
It's an ultraviolent time to be sure, and Jonathan Lim, an assistant producer on the game, was kind enough to sit with us after the demo and answer some questions. We're sure to be hearing more any minute now that E3 is upon us, but for now enjoy the early access—along with a gang of new screenshots (above).
So let's start with a bit about the challenge of sequelization. How soon after you guys had shipped and started to hear the feedback did you think "let's go again"?
Jonathan Lim: Well, we got the feedback right away, and it was really interesting to parse through it right from the get-go. We knew we wanted to take Prototype 2 as far as we could, so as soon as we got the go-ahead we started working on it.
Once you've found a game universe that you're happy with, i understand the desire to stick with it. But what in your mind distinguishes a studio with new IP after new IP vs. "let's stay within he universe"? Why the choice to stay within Prototype rather than taking what you'd learned and the positives of the original and developing something else?
As you know, developing a new IP is an incredibly risky and incredibly time-consuming process. the fact that we were able t be so successful with prototype 1, selling over 2 million units worldwide, it kind of gave us the signal that hey, people are taking notice of this game. if we take it to the next step, we can really blow it out the door.
So heading into the development cycle, which is going to be shorter and a little bit easier, having that base layer set, what were your top priorities as far as improvement goes?
We really took a lot of feedback in and tried to dissect what they all said, and we saw a few key improvement areas that we needed to hit. One of them was the pace of combat: people really enjoyed combat in Prototype 1, but at times it got a little bit too hectic. The pace of the gameplay is now back in the player's hands. with moves like the tactical dodge and the longer attack times from the enemies, it really slowed the pace of gameplay down, and that's one of the key things that'll bring new people into the Prototype universe.
Do you have any personal favorites as far as the innovations go?
The bio-bomb's probably one of the most exciting things for me. one of the things you can do, once you stab somebody and bio-bomb them, you can actually pick them up and throw them down the street and watch them detonate from afar. the first time you see it, you'll laugh out loud. it's awesome.
Do those bio-bombs have collateral damage? will they take out civilians as well?
Prototype is really about the virus, and the bio-bomb is just a reflrection of the virus. it has a mind of its own, so it's not really under your control. so whatever's nearby, whether civilians, vehicles, military, infected, they'll all feel the wrath of it.
The four big new things we saw in the demo were the bio-bombs, new enemies, weaponization, and tendrils. The tendrils had a visual presence in the first game, but weren't a gameplay mechanic. What was behind formalizing it and making it a factor in the game?
We wanted to introduce a new power to Prototype, and we racked our brain to think of what would be different from Prototype 1. We brainstormed and thought "what if we had webs that were intelligent?" We explored that idea, and tendrils are what became of it. It has the ability to rip people apart, it has the ability to pull all sorts of things into it and implode them in a black hole move. It's really something we're proud of.
Some of the single-player changes—the in-game challenges and perks—there's a little bit of an RPG influence, but it also echoes some of the predominant conventions of multiplayer play. You guys are single-player only, though; what's behind he decisions to stick with that when so many single-player games are feeling the pressure to add multiplayer functionality?
We really wanted to focus on the singleplayer and get it right, and we didn't want to sacrifice it for anything that we saw. we knew that undertaking an enormous project like multiplayer would be incredibly beneficial to the game, but it would come at a cost to the single-player—and that's where are focus was, and that's where our heart took us.
Were there any steps taken down that path early in the developoment process but you just ended up scrapping it?
I'm...not at liberty to tell you right now, sorry. [Laughs.]
Fine! Talk a bit, if you would, about the difference between James Heller of Prototype 2 and Alex Mercer, the original protagonist—and what that means. When a gamer plays a character, they end up buying into the morality of that player—in some games you can go down any number of paths, but the antihero thing is almost built into Prototype. are there any differences that you see between Mercer and Heller in that regard?
Mercer in the first game wasn't really sure what he was suposed to be doing at any given time. He was caught in this huge conspiracy, and he was just confused. Heller, on the other hand, has a very clear objective: "murder your maker." Mercer is his target. It's like Raiders of the Lost Ark: you can pause that at any point in the movie and know that he's going after the ark. In Prototype 2, you can pause the game at any point and know that you're trying to kill Alex Mercer.
On a more technical level, moving to the sequel, what kind of upgrades were there?
We've taken huge leaps forward, both visually and technically, with our new Titanium Engine 2. Titanium was the engine we built the first Prototype on, and during the time between the two we've taken that engine apart and rebuilt it, basically from scratch, to try to push it as far as we could.
If you had to distill the changes in Prototype 2 into five key points that would bring people to the game, what would they be?
Definitely the improved graphics. It just looks a lot better than what we had. Second of all, placing the control back in players' hands in terms of having players drive what gameplay will be like. Not taking hits from offscreen, not taking hits when you don't see he attack coming. Third, having clear motivation for the character himself. Heller is very motivated. We know what he's doing, we know why he's doing it, and that speaks to the player and shows him the path he's supposed to go down.
Man, you're gonna make me come up with two more? [Laughs.] The tendrils power, definitely. The creativity that can happen with the tendrils in an open world—it makes me giggle to myself sometimes. There's a couple of new things I can't yet talk about quite yet, but one of them—I know this sounds cryptic—really excites me.
How open is the game? With Blacknet, there's a great deal of flexibility as far as the side missions you take on, but narratively and play style, how much flexibility is there?
We wanted to to introduce the three zones of NYZ much like how Rockstar does with their worlds. We slowly portion it out, one by one by one—so the whole thing's not free, and we keep some things fresh for as the player moves throughout the world—both for things like the missions that come out of Blacknet and the story itself.