RPS-ish At-ish E3: Day 3 – Sega

I’ve just passed the mid-point of E3, and by this point, no matter how hard I try, it’s all starting to blend together. It’s at this point that you might start to hallucinate that everything you’ve seen was actually all just the same game – a music title set in a decaying city that featured instrument peripherals with hundreds of buttons.

Thankfully I’ve kept it together a little more than that. Though perhaps not enough! Because when I was showed Alpha Protocol, Obsidian Entertainment new action RPG set in the world of espionage, I was positive I was just being shown Mass Effect. Positive!

I guess it kind of makes sense, considering that Alpha Protocol has been built using what I presume must be the Mass Effect engine. The resemblance is uncanny, and I can’t help but hope they do more to differentiate the games.

[UPDATE: We checked this out with Obsidian, and the games are developed separately off the same Unreal 3 technology. There’s no shared tech bar that. Their look just seems to be very similar. And we apologise for the error in previous versions of this story.]

They did show a few different mechanics outside of the other major difference (the setting) – such as up weapon skills so you’re able to, say, line up head shots from cover or enter bullet time – and also that you’ll be able to dress up the main character, Mike Thornton (where do they get these names?) pretty much as you’d like. Though he looked incredibly lame in the baseball cap, goatee and sunglasses the Obsidian staffer picked out.

Conceptually Alpha Protocol isn’t lame. There is a lot to be said for transporting Mass Effect’s morality system to a world where your morality’s flexibility would have obvious results. During the demo I was shown a mission where Mike was on the hunt for an arms dealer as his assigned mission from the CIA, but if you choose to allow him to escape (after being bribed, of course) he’ll be available as a black market arms dealer later in the game.

It wasn’t obvious from that small demonstration exactly how many different paths through the game there were. It’d be nice if Alpha Protocol broke the trend of “you can be good or evil, but you’re still a hero in the end” but I currently doubt it.

Next at Sega I checked out Empire: Total War. Now, the Creative Assembly staff on hand let me know that Jim was going to see them next week some time, so I’m not trying to steal his thunder with my quick preview, but it is absolutely stunning and I did only manage to get to see the new naval battle system in action.

I’m not much of a real time strategy kind of guy (and yes, I know there’s more to the Total War games than just the real time battles) so I haven’t really kept up on what is currently possible, but even if I’d been paying attention I still think I’d be stunned by a game in where the naval combat featured ships with all of the seamen that are actually on the boat visible (from the admiral at the back to the men working the cannons) and above that uniquely dressed.

That sounds like graphical gorgeousity for the sake of it, but in combat, you can actually judge how functional your ships are by looking at them to see how many men you’ve got on board. They’re more than just numbers. And they’ve even gone as far as modeling everything in so much detail that if a cannon ball is fired, it isn’t just a scripted graphical effect – it sails through the air based on physics, and rips sails and smashes holes in boats based on exactly where it hit the boat and how hard.

The battles aren’t limited to cannon fire. Ships can board other ships, with a completely realistic (and not scripted) sequence of hooking the chosen ship with ropes and soldiers swinging across to enter battles – and soldiers don’t just line up and fight in formation, either. They actively “pair off” and skirmish with each other in a way that almost forms miniature narratives in each battle. It’s quite captivating to watch and really does feel like the chaos of a real battle.

As I said though, that was all I really got to see, but they did chat with me for a while about the potential for battles on land. Cavalry will actually feature different types of horses. Your units will be able to occupy houses on the map for cover (but they can be as easily destroyed by artillery) and weather effects will have a serious effect on battle, with mud bogging down your soldiers, their guns misfiring more due to wet gunpowder…

I can’t wait to try out a full campaign again – not only because everything they showed was so impressive, but because I’m itching to help Canada burn down the White House again…


  1. rob says:

    Empire looks lovely but I’m not at all happy buying anything from Sega until they bring their old intro back.


  2. Not That Lebron James says:

    There are like 79 games using “the Mass Effect engine”, aka Unreal 3.0 :p

  3. Nicolas says:

    rob, I’m sure you could replace one of the startup videos with the old Sega sound yourself.

  4. The Hammer says:


    Hell yeah. They didn’t even have it as the main start-up for the Sega Mega Drive Classics Collectionon on PS2!


  5. CJ McFly says:

    Every time I hear a snippet of news about E:TW I get excited. Really excited. With so much improved on the gen 1 and 2 Total Wars (I had no idea about the 2 different AIs in previous games until the E:TW previews came out! But it made so much sense re: that backstabbing pope) I may actually have to quit my job and live off chips and noodles until I conquer Europe, ROW AND the High Seas. Go Creative Assemly Go!

  6. Jim Rossignol says:

    re: The old Sega logo. Someone could do a How To on replacing the intro vid with the original on your PC games?

  7. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Darned Canadians!

    Every so often, they like to remind us Yanks that they repulsed our invasion, counter-invaded our capital, and proceeded to UberPyro all our important Buildings.

    We retaliated, however, by marking up all their videogame prices so that even if the Canadian dollar is stronger than ours, they’re still paying more than us.

    Americans. We’re a vicious bunch.

  8. CrashT says:

    It’d be nice if Alpha Protocol broke the trend of “you can be good or evil, but you’re still a hero in the end” but I currently doubt it.

    Considering it’s being written by Chris “Planescape Torment will forever go here” Avellone, I suspect it probably will.

  9. cliffski says:

    Empire Total War is one of the few big budget games I’m genuinely excited about. (that and spore). it means I don’t have to bemoan the loss of my Imperial Glory DVD so much.

  10. Michael Pearson says:

    Obsidian so far: Kotor II: Good, but not as good as the original, and rushed at the end. NWN 2: A major dissapointment, considering the original – I think they actually went _backwards_ on the UI front. So, I’m not really holding out much hope for ME2 er I mean Alpha Protocol.

  11. Okami says:

    @Not That Lebron James:

    I guess he meant all the additional work Bioware have put into it. I’m pretty sure that Mass Effect was not scripted using Kismet, but that Bioware have implemented an updated version of their own Aurora Script language into UE3.

    With all the modifications Bioware have done to the UE3 engine in order to use it for an RPG, I’d say it’s ok to talk about the “Mass Effect Engine”.

  12. Rook says:

    Obsidian have almost managed to outdo Bioware in all their games, they certainly have better narative and storytelling. They just need to actually have the time to polish/finish them off to really sieze the crown.

  13. Ginger Yellow says:

    I’m looking forward to Empire more than I am Spore or indeed any game apart from Little Big Planet. Why the hell didn’t Microsoft have it at their press conference. Bloody PC gaming haters.

  14. Pidesco says:

    I’d like to remind people that Mask of the Betrayer knocks anything Bioware has ever done into a cocked hat, with the possible exception of BG2.

  15. Skree says:

    I read “our units will be able to occupy houses on the map for cover” as “our units will be able to occupy horses on the map for cover”… Interesting mental picture there…

  16. Matt says:

    Chris Avellone is a pretty good writer and he is lead designer for Alpha Protocol. I’m hoping that the game benefits from that. I think Obsidian have been a bit restricted by D&D their more recent games recycled a lot of their old ideas and to some extent characters. Though it was an unfinished game the writing behind KotOR2 was excellent, so I am hoping having their own setting and story will give them a creative boost. For me Obsidian are capable of writing a more intelligent subtext into their games than Bioware. Bioware seem better at creating a solid and professional product, their games are well designed and have a lot of polish.

    I’m looking forward to Empire too I enjoy the TW games, they always look great too.

  17. Meat Circus says:

    Penny Arcade’s entirely accurate 3-panel In Sum of E3:

    link to penny-arcade.com

    I wonder why Nintendo bothered to turn up. The sexually-frustrated fratboy market and Nintendo no longer see eye to eye. There’s no reason for it to be there.

    It was a gut-scorchingly tedious E3. If Mirror’s Edge or Prince of Persia are shit, I will have everybody involved destroyed.

  18. sigma83 says:

    I have always had a serious soft spot for the age of sail. Consider me sold on Empire: I didn’t like Rome but I thought Medieval 1 was lovely.

  19. Lukasz says:

    out of three total wars I played (shogun, med 1, Rome) Shogun is my favorite. It had the feel, the climate which sucked me like there was no tomorrow.
    others failed to do that.

    Empire seems much more promising.

    but I am more interested in alpha protocol. (with so many cut content, with so many bugs KOTOR 2 still was one of the best games ever. I just adore obsidian.)

  20. propanol says:

    SEGA should have announced a Condemned 2 PC port.

    Alpha Protocol is being written by Chris Avellone (who wrote Planescape: Torment and KOTOR2), so it’ll at least have the edge over Mass Effect in one aspect.

  21. Mattress says:

    I’m pleasantly surprised by Sega publishing Alpha Protocol. I never played NeverWinterNights2, but judging from KOTOR2, Obsidian seemed hampered by budgetary and deadline concerns probably because as a (relatively) new company they didn’t have financial independence to withstand such issues.
    Sega aren’t widely regarded as a publisher who rushes titles or puts unnecessary pressure on developers… though if you look at anything Team Sonic has made in the last 15 years you’d wonder how anyone who gives it a second look would see fit to release their games…
    Still it’s great to see Chris Avellone taking the lead on a game again, let’s hoped it’s marketed well so it’ll be commercially successful too!

  22. Ozzie says:

    I don’t know.
    Alpha Protocol has an interesting scenario and some ideas sound promising, but……..well, I just don’t hope that the gameplay and writing will be as bland as the art direction.
    Looks generic as hell.

  23. mkreku says:

    His name is Mike Thorton. Not Thornton.

  24. Ginger Yellow says:

    “I wonder why Nintendo bothered to turn up. The sexually-frustrated fratboy market and Nintendo no longer see eye to eye. There’s no reason for it to be there. ”

    E3 isn’t for the sexually frustrated fratboy market. Not any more. It’s for the mainstream media (broadcast in particular) and retailers.

  25. Daniel says:

    This game has absolutely nothing to do with Mass Effect. The only similarity is that they both use Unreal 3.0 and that it has a somewhat similar dialogue system. It does not have a morality system in any way resembling that of Mass Effect. Alpha Protocol has a reputation and faction system that has nothing in common with the Paragon/Renegade points system.

  26. Donald Duck says:

    “I wonder why Nintendo bothered to turn up. The sexually-frustrated fratboy market and Nintendo no longer see eye to eye. There’s no reason for it to be there. ”
    Thought the presentation was every bit as boring as usual, though I can definitely sympathize with them showing positive software sales figures to developers. But when you sum it up, there’s quite a bit to be happy about for “hardcore” (yuck) gamers. Motion Plus looks like it will deliver exactly what everyone has moaned about the Wii lacking – fencing that works. A headset. An exclusive GTA for the DS, with online multiplayer. Capcom announce Dead Rising. Nintendo announce Pikmin 3. There’s Mad World and The conduit. So yeah, lots for the “hardcore” to look forward to. And frankly, I love seeing Nintendos E3 presentations, they always do something really weird on stage after they’ve finished showing graphs.

  27. Kieron Gillen says:

    Re: Engine controversy: Just trying to get confirmation either way on it.


  28. Alex says:

    We retaliated, however, by marking up all their videogame prices so that even if the Canadian dollar is stronger than ours, they’re still paying more than us.

    Games go for the same $60 for PS3/360 and $50 for PC here. It’s one of the few markets where there isn’t really any difference in prices.

  29. Pidesco says:

    What engine controversy? It’s just Unreal Engine 3.0.

  30. Pijama says:

    Empire Total War will be an excellent complement to Europa Universalis and Victoria, that is for sure. Sometimes I ache for a visualization of a WTFEPIC battle for the liberation of the Netherlands, or the British winning against what seem impossible odds… :D

  31. Daniel says:

    J.E. Sawyer on Obsidian forum:

    “Any modifications we’ve made to the engine have been done in-house.”

  32. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Does anyone have a link to an online petition that Sega must change back to their old jingle? I mean, surely I’m not the first one to think that would be about the only useful thing you can use online petitions for?

    Also, Chris “Fallout 1” Avellone shaves his beard with Chuck Norris.

  33. Kieron Gillen says:

    Daniel: Yeah, just got confirmation back from our query to Obsidian. Fixed now.


  34. mathew says:

    Hello everyone,

    Managing to post from E3. I want to apologize for getting this wrong. I know why I got it wrong though.

    Because I saw Alpha Protocol, said to myself “these guys have obviously used Bioware’s version of the engine” and didn’t confirm it in case they got irritated that I felt their game was overtly similar to Mass Effect.

    Of course, I then went and wrote what I did, expecting that while I was miles away from them, safe in my little room, their annoyance would be unable to touch me!

    But it was a stupid mistake and actually arrogance on my part to say “I know what this game is based on”. So I apologize to you, our readers, and to Obsidian too.

    However, they do look bloody similar. From the dialogues, to the main character, even the font they use (it’s the same!) are so closely aping Mass Effect that it’s striking.

    I promise you that when you try it yourself you’ll be able to see why I made my mistake.

  35. Daniel says:

    So, are the melee combat and the stealth mechanics in Alpha Protocol similar to those in Mass Effect?

  36. Mr. President says:

    And does Alpha Protocol have Mass Effect’s innovative dialogue system, with its groundbreaking “saying something entirely different from what you choose” technology?

  37. Pidesco says:

    Also, I was under the impression that the quests in Mass Effect were of the “shoot everything, talk to one guy at the end” variety, instead of the multiple ways to solve quests that Alpha Protocol seems to be going for.

    And I seriously hope Alpha Protocol’s dialogues aren’t in the monologue wall of text style.

  38. Ginger Yellow says:

    There are stealth mechanics in Mass Effect?