Prototype: The GDC Presentation

One of the most impressive sessions I was able to attend at GDC was the discussion of Open Worlds in the context of the development of Prototype, as hosted by Tim Bennison and Eric Holmes of Radical Entertainment. Much of the presentation was focused around the nature of developing open world environments and the way in which systems interconnect to provide options for players within those kinds of game worlds. Interesting stuff, if spider-diagrams of game systems and possible player actions are the kind of thing that draw you in.

The showpiece of the session, however, and the reason many of us were there, was to watch Holmes play through a large slice of the game. And, well, I think my interest in this game has now been validated.

Holmes travelled across New York, both roaming free, bouncing across the roofs of moving trucks and cars, and triggering a number of scripted events. By the end of the sequence he was plunged into a three-way battle between hideously mutated gorilla-lion things called “brawlers”, special forces soldiers and helicopters and, well, the protagonist himself. Alex Mercer is superpowered, in the most brutal and explosive sense. Hurling trucks, consuming people’s corpses, tearing the lids of tanks and liquidising the occupants… that sort of thing.

The sequence we saw contained some shocking violence. I had expected Prototype to be gory, but Alex Mercer’s second victim, a hapless screaming woman, was worn into bloody pieces by his tendrilous, corpse-eating, altered anatomy, and some of the GDC crowd gasped (and I think someone whooped). A third victim was beaten to death on the pavement… this was seriously bloody stuff. I’m not going to make any judgment on that, except to say that it seems like Radical want this game to be taken seriously, perhaps in the way that the horror movie aficionado wants his collection to be taken seriously… Holmes and Bennison’s presentation touched on the idea that “players want to do bad things” in open worlds, which I’m not entirely convinced by, but that aside, it was a pretty savage statement of purpose for the budding action game.

Let’s not dwell on the violence – Holmes didn’t. He was soon leaping across rooftops, scrambling at ninety degrees up the side of skyscrapers, slamming into the asphalt after a hundred foot drop. It was fast, probably faster and certainly more intense than Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. The two games clearly have strong connections, but Prototype is carved from dark material, and rendered in ugly detail. Mercer’s progress across the city was filled with brutal set-pieces, such as his leaping onto the side of an attack helicopter, climbing inside, hurling out the gunner and then crushing the pilot against the inside of the window.

Yet still it was movement that really capture what Prototype was all about. During one ludicrously chaotic battle Holmes was able to dance Mercer across the tops of a number of crashed cars and then run along the side of a tumbling truck as it was blasted from the battle – a free-running moment of impressive fluidity that acted as a momentary bridge to the side of the building from where he would vault back into the destruction.

I’ve no doubt that Prototype will be in some way flawed, because I can’t see how such an ambitious project can arrive on our gaming systems unscathed. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’ll really deliver an entire game of the kind of absurd carnage we saw at that presentation. If so, it’ll be the kind of game we’ll put on to show off to our friends. You remember when GTA3 first turned up and we put it on just to let people steal cars and go on meaningless rampages? Yeah, it’s /that/ kind of game. Perhaps all the fragmented, memory-collecting non-linear story stuff will work too, maybe not. Maybe it won’t even matter. Whatever, this one’s on The List.


  1. Zaph says:

    There’s some videos of the game in motion over at Gametrailers and it looks smoooth. I love how he bounces all over the place, and the violence is delicious.
    It looks good so far, it definitively is likely it’ll to turn out to be a really fun ass-kicking romp.

  2. fearian says:

    Thats just a healthy layer of cynicsm speaking. And its probably right. to a cirtain extent.

  3. Seniath says:

    Crackdown with The Thing-alike corpse eating powers? Sign me up!

  4. Chris Evans says:

    This one has been floating in and around my ‘List’ for a while now, and while everything you said makes me want it right now…I just fear it is too ambitious and will be horribly bug ridden :(

  5. Log1c says:

    Holy hell it sounds awesome. I want to see more.

    Wonder how playable it will be with a mouse and keyboard…

  6. Chris R says:

    Man, a free-roaming sandbox game with SUPERPOWERS?? This is exactly my type of game! WOOOOO!

    @ Logic. Dude, have you played any of the GTA’s with a mouse and keyboard? Way better than a Xbox controller, you can flick your mouse and instantly be facing the opposite direction, look anywhere you want with a quick motion, and aiming a weapon… lets not even go there. In other words, it will be very playable with a mouse and keyboard (the guy running the demo seemed to do just fine).

  7. Legandir says:

    I’m cautiously optimistic about this. The free running bits sound like they could be better to watch than to play and the story sounds like it lacks structure in the interview from GDC. Having said that, i’ll wait and see. If they pull it off this could be a great game

  8. ran93r says:

    It’s late and I’m skimming, I saw gorilla-lions, corpse-eating and attack helicopter.

    Ding Ding Ding, we have a winner!

    (still waiting for the right moment to shoe-horn in “and bully’s special prize” into the comments)

  9. Lu-Tze says:

    @ Chris R : Suspend your utter belief in the control system for a moment, Prototype is not a game about running and gunning like GTA (which suits the mouse keyboard combo just fine) but looks and feels more like a console title that would be built for analogue stick and button layout. The mouse might make a fine replacement for the right analogue stick, but WSAD doesn’t capture the nuances of the left, and those few keys near your left hand and the couple of buttons on a mouse don’t come close to representing the 10 that are right under you fingertips on a controller.

    What with Prototype seemingly aiming for a simultaneous PC release, along with the fact that they chose to demo with a mouse and keyboard rather than a controller, then I am fairly assured that these problems will be addressed. Likening it to GTAs controls because they share an open world architecture is naive though.

  10. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    “I had expected Prototype to be gory, but Alex Mercer’s second victim, a hapless screaming woman, was worn into bloody pieces by his tendrilous, corpse-eating, altered anatomy…”

    That actually made my stomach feel a bit queasy just reading it.

    Then again, I’m not the gory-violence sort of person, just the regular-violence. But damn, the game looks smooth. Just the “wreaking random havoc” possibilities alone would earn this game a spot on anyone’s shelf.

  11. Perko says:

    Gamersyde has the entire gameplay presentation in glorious shakycam:
    Part 1
    Part 2

  12. The Fanciest Of Pants says:

    The fact that this can be played co-op makes me shriek with girlish glee. Cannot wait

  13. ElGuapo says:

    One of the most fun things about Hulk: UD for me were the big battles with the strong Hulkbusters. It felt like a Superman II type street brawl with both sides being thrown into the sides of buildings, through bus stands, into cars, etc. One thing that led to this were the fantastically fluid animations when Hulk was thrown or hit . . . he’d be a lifeless lump for part of the arc then recover and dig in when he hit the ground, ready to fight. Great stuff. I hope they can improve upon the chaotic frenzy that those battles had.

    Anyway, here’s hoping this is Radical’s unofficial sequel.

  14. Chris R says:

    @ Lu-Tza:

    “..not about running and gunning…” Whhhhaaaa??? Are we reading the same article here?? The game is all about running and gunning, watch the videos that Perko links to. If that’s not “running and gunning” then I have no idea what is.

    Prototype looks almost exactly like a GTA world, except with much faster action, and of course the “superpowers.”

    Also, this is where we will differ in opinion, but I’d rather have the mouse and keyboard rather than a controller for all games that I play. I play all my games with the WASD keys, and I have access to all the keys starting from the left side of the keyboard to the “5, T, G, B” line. That’s 23 keys that I have access to with my left hand (includes the Tilde, Tab, Capslock, Shift, Ctrl, Alt, and Space keys).
    You can have your two sticks and your 10 buttons, I’ll take my mouse (which has 9 “buttons” on it by the way [MouseUp/Down, TiltLeft/Right, Back/Forward buttons, Wheel Click down, Left/Right buttons, plus 2 extra buttons that adjust sensitivity on the fly]), and my keyboard, thanks.

  15. Matthew says:

    All sounds great until you hear theres a storyline too…

    If they don’t get that right then we might have another Assassin’s Creed on our hands.

  16. Chris R says:

    I get the most fun from just “faffing about” (as ZP put it) in these open world, sandbox, go anywhere types of games. Sure there’s a BIT of a storyline, but that’s not the main draw for me.

    Look at COD4… So linear you can see the rails, but a pretty decent story and game. However, I only played it through one and a half times. I couldn’t finish my second playthrough because it was EXACTLY the same as the first, and I lost interest. I guess that’s what the multiplayer was there for.

    In an open world like GTA3, VC, SA, etc, I can go off and explore a huge world, and each time I load up the game I’ll have a different experience. That’s the beauty of sandbox games, since my imagination is pretty much the only limiting factor in how much fun I can have.

    The storyline can go stuff itself for all I care, I know how to have fun, and don’t need someone holding my hand, showing me where to look and telling me why I ought to shoot those guys.

    Seeing those two videos that Perko linked to, I knew immediately that I will easily be able to spend 200+ hours in this game just running around causing mayhem. I’ve spent nearly that much in San Andreas, and about 150 or so in Crysis (a smaller version of a sandbox game) basically just screwing about.

    Long live open world sandbox games!

  17. KBKarma says:

    *comes in late*

    This game looks insane. The whole hyperviolence thing is something of a turn-off, but seriously: the way he moves is fucking AWESOME.

    This is hovering near my (admittedly near non-existant) List.

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