Spanish videogame blog Nuevebits has published a very interesting article/interview with Obsidian's creative director and co-founder Chris Avellone about Alpha Protocol, and luckily for us they have an English version too. The design decisions concerning the narrative, the game's reception and the possibility of a sequel are all subjects tackled in this interesting piece. Here's a sampling:
Agonz: It’s a fact that the reviews about Alpha Protocol were quite hard, to say the least. How much of it do you think it was due to the fact that even though AP looks like a shooter, it is an action RPG?
CFA: You’ve summed it up in the last question, all that’s only a part of it. AP represents a disconnect between what it looks like on screen vs. how it plays out – as an example, one of our design mandates from SEGA was that your gun skill effects your targeting and spread, which is something our studio is very much against, and you can see the consequences of that discrepancy in a number of mandated system mechanics in the game. Players don’t want invisible numbers in the background modifying what they’re physically doing on screen – if you have your cursor lined up, you should shoot where the cursor is pointing. Design decisions like that add up.
Alpha Protocol had its challenges on our side as well. I feel as much as it’s perceived as solely a shooter, shooter judgments carry over into the look and feel of the gameplay, and those certainly aren’t comparable to other shooters in the market – it’s not what our studio specializes in, and as such, AP was a new endeavor for us – to try and beat other mainstream shooters on the market with the first foray was a slim chance at best. We also suffered issues with AI, stealth integration with levels, and more. On the plus side, however, I feel our minigames were good, I feel the reactivity and the consequences were good, and as odd as it sounds, I liked the fact that I would hesitate when equipping my weapons, as I was trying to decide which weapons best suited my character build and accept the drawbacks and advantages of those weapons accordingly.
As for the story, I think its narrative structure was received slightly better to much better than the gameplay, but that’s because it represented more of our studio’s core competency. I liked the reputation system, and I liked the fact that pissing someone off simply gave you different bonuses.
I don’t know how much this played into it, but I also believe part of the negative press concerned the time of release, which put us in a bad spot – first off, the fact that the title was held with no improvements defied expectations of why it was being held – people expected to see more when a title is held for 5-6 months. I also don’t feel that the title being held and released after Mass Effect 2 (which had some of the best cinematic conversations to date) and Splinter Cell (which has some of the best stealth mechanics to date) was a solid release decision, and I feel that releasing before either of those titles would have helped its reception. As it stood, I believe it was held to build up marketing buzz to generate more sales, which is something that could have been started much earlier and never was.