Alpha Protocol Interview

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Eschalon: Book II

Developer:Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date:2010-06-01
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
There really hasn't been a whole lot of news about Alpha Protocol since the game's most recent delay, so I thought I'd change that by tracking down lead designer Chris Avellone and systems lead Matt MacLean for a conversation about a few of the game's moral dilemmas, taking a non-lethal route through the game, some of the lesser known gameplay mechanics, and more. Here we go:

GB: During a recent interview, you stated that you, personally, were "all done" with Alpha Protocol. When did you actually switch gears to Fallout: New Vegas, and how difficult of a transition was it to go from modern espionage to the post-nuclear wasteland?

Chris: Like almost all the designers, I've moved off Alpha Protocol. Switching gears from Unreal to the GECK has been painless. All the previous experience with Fallout back at Black Isle studios also made the transition easy as well - we got right back in the saddle, and off we go.

GB: In your latest blog entry on IGN, you compellingly discuss the focus that was put on moral ambiguity in the game. Can you give us an example or two of difficult decisions we'll have to make in the game? Is it true that we can blow up an orphanage if we care nothing for digital lives?

Chris: No orphanage-destruction specifically in Alpha Protocol, although we do have a "Orphans Created" counter so you could conceivably cause an upturn in orphanage funding in sections of the world depending on how many opponents you shoot in the head. As always, we try and think of the children and their families.

It's hard to choose the moral dilemmas without stumbling over the spoiler tripwire, and many of the consequences pan out long term, which goes even deeper into spoiler territory. Still, one example of a moral dilemma we have revealed to the press, however (although not the consequences) - you encounter a weapons trafficker. Letting him go could reveal intel leading to the next man up the chain, who is clearly more dangerous, but allowing the weapons trafficker to remain in business may cause more deaths in the region. If you bring the trafficker in, however, you may compromise your intel source and warn your real target of your intentions, possibly even lose him. And if your main target is free, that could cost more lives. What do you do?

One of the potential contacts in Moscow presents the player with another dilemma - while he is likely to have information critical for your mission, if you go see him (which is optional), you'll have to weigh the consequences that he's going to sell information about you to all the other power groups in Moscow, which is going to put you at a severe disadvantage in the field. Do you risk your own safety and potential difficulty in reaching your real target, or do you take the long way around, which poses its own dangers? Furthermore, are you willing to resort to unorthodox... and perhaps excessively violent... methods against the contact to insure his cooperation and his silence? And if you do that, are you willing to accept the consequences of a frightened informant based on what you know about his dossier, assuming you've done your research? We try to play fair with the player in hinting at possible repercussions in the game, there's other dilemmas the player's going to have to sort out on their own.

There are other moral dilemmas (which would be better examples to discuss after the game has shipped) but all of them are major spoilers - the game gets more complicated from the opening hub onwards, and the decisions by that point are going to be pretty big reveals. We can discuss them more after the game has shipped, though.

One last thing - note that these moral dilemmas are also player-motivation-dependent. Some moral dilemmas for Professional characters won't have the same weight as more cavalier-playstyle characters, and vice versa. And in some instances, your attitude and feeling about various NPCs may either increase the pressure of some dilemmas or negate them entirely. Still, that's an important part of role-playing in the world of espionage.

Also, see the "pacifist" path answer below. In some respects, choosing who to kill and who not to kill is also an in-game choice with its own consequences. Some enemies on missions are just doing their job, and it may raise moral questions if murdering them is really the right thing to do.

GB: You also talked about the various motivations the game's characters and protagonist can have throughout the game. Our personal motivations can certainly change during the game, but what of those for prominent NPCs? If an NPC is taking the "just plain nuts" route, will their agenda erratically change from game to game? Or are NPC actions entirely tied to our choices during the game?

Chris: Several NPC motivations in the game can change 180 degrees depending on their dealings with you, how much you understand them or try to understand them, and using dossier information to appeal to their personalities. Sometimes Thorton has an advantage because he's coming in on a situation from the outside, so he can share what he knows of the NPC, an organization, and the consequences/attitudes he's observed on his own to help sway an NPC. There's also instances where Thorton can change people's minds via example - simply behaving a certain way will cause an NPC to re-evaluate how they're behaving or approaching a certain situation.

GB: So the game's characters will be gathering intel on Michael Thorton - does this mean that they'll automatically know every detail about the righteous and/or dastardly deeds that we commit? Or is it possible to successfully obfuscate our true intentions from even the most well-informed contacts?

Chris: You can hide it from some of them, not all of them. Some notable figures in the game (and it'll make sense who) are very, very hard to hide intel from - the kicker, though, is Thorton can still do it if he's specialized in certain skills and performed certain Cover Your Ass moves, and the satisfaction of pulling one over on these supposedly well-informed operatives and agency leaders is pretty damn gratifying.