Interview: Chris Parker Discusses The Development Of Alpha Protocol

by Jeff Marchiafava on Mar 08, 2010 at 08:00 AM

It's been a bumpy ride for Alpha Protocol fans since we first covered the game in our April 2008 issue. A year's worth of delays and a drought of new information have made the development of Obsidian's intriguing spy RPG more mysterious than the top secret government agent you'll be playing as. Luckily, Alpha Protocol's producer, Chris Parker, recently took the time to fill us in on the current state of the game.

A document leaked from Sega contained criticism that Alpha Protocol felt like it didn’t have enough RPG elements. Does the team have any plans for tweaking the RPG elements between now and spring? Or do you find the concern inaccurate?

It should be noted that the document being referred to contained criticisms on a demo that was quite old at the time - and that was some time ago. We refined our systems and the RPG feel a lot over the spring and summer of 2009, so when that came out both the Sega production group and Obsidian didn't feel the criticisms remained valid. The build they were from was just too different from what the game had grown into.

Alpha Protocol provides a massive number of RPG choices: you determine how you want your character to grow, what weapons and items you are going to use, what special abilities make sense for any situation, and the story has an immense number of branches and outcomes. Almost everything you do in the game is going to affect something else, and once players start to see the ramifications of their choices, they're going to be amazed.

Alpha Protocol has drawn numerous comparisons to Mass Effect. How do you feel the two games compare? What do you think makes Alpha Protocol stand out from the Mass Effect series?

Alpha Protocol and Mass Effect are quite different, but for many reasons I think comparisons are probably unavoidable: both are RPGs, both have cinematic dialogue systems, and in both you tend to use guns. I suspect the cinematic dialogue is the real culprit in drawing comparisons, because when you see a screenshot they look very similar. 

The two games feel very different when you play them. Because we are a modern day espionage role-playing game, the world looks and feels very different. When you get into gameplay, item use, special abilities, mission structure, and even conversations, you'll find Alpha Protocol is very much its own game. Our feature set is tailored to our mix of high action gameplay and superb story-telling, and it's really not like any other game out there.

I’ve been really impressed by the dialogue system in the preview build. How has creating such a system compared to the one you used in KOTOR II? How does the amount of dialogue in Alpha Protocol compare to KOTOR II, in terms of hours or spoken lines?

When we started work on AP's dialogue system, we knew we wanted to embrace the tension of an espionage movie, so we decided to force the player to make decisions in real-time.   These goals led to a system that works great and people really enjoy, but we definitely had some hurdles along the way.

One system-side example: we needed some way for the player to know, even before a choice came up, how they are probably going to respond in a situation. We developed the stance system for this where your choices map to variations of being Suave, Aggressive or Professional. This solution worked great, but sometimes writing conversations that fit into this template proved quite challenging. 

From an artist standpoint we needed to be able to make a lot of conversations, but have outstanding quality in each one. We created what we called the 'sound stage', a generic lighting and placement rig for all the characters which allowed a conversation to be set up quickly. This was great, but we found we really wanted more custom cameras and animations and we had to invest far more resources in this area than we planned. 

The quality of words/dialogue is on a par with KotOR II or NWN2, and there is more branching and reactivity than in any of our previous games. The overall appearance and emotion with which they are delivered is incredible - we're confident the end result is something players are going to love. 

Do you see AP as a standalone title, or series? If there are future sequels, would the player carry over their character and stats, or would it be a fresh start? Do you have any plans for DLC?

The world we've developed for Alpha Protocol is much larger than what a player will experience in the game itself, and opens itself up to a lot of possibilities with factions, world events, and even the future of Michael Thorton and the organization.

The direction the series takes will be determined by its publisher, Sega. Obsidian Entertainment has expressed interest in both a sequel and DLC and has submitted ideas and proposals for both. At this time the most important thing is that Alpha Protocol launches well and is well received by our fans.

Alpha Protocol will be released on June 1. For more information on the game, check out our preview in this month's issue. You can also view the new trailer for the game here.