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Prototype 2: The Journey From Hero To Villain

GarrettMartin
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Posted April 26, 2012 - By Garrett Martin


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New Games This Week: Prototype

When you think of Prototype, you probably remember the ridiculously deep set of superpowers, the horrible infection devouring Manhattan, and the gleeful destruction of both life and property that was almost impossible to avoid. You also probably remember protagonist Alex Mercer, the maladjusted scientist who viewed his miraculous powers as a curse to be overcome and avenged. To be blunt, he was a bit of a dick.

Prototype 2 promises much of the same, but with one crucial distinction: you don't play as Mercer. The new lead is a soldier named James Heller. And he's not just replacing Mercer as the game's hero; he's actively trying to hunt Mercer down and kill him. The first game's hero is now the sequel's big boss.

Dave Fracchia, VP of Radical Entertainment, explains that Heller's introduction and Mercer's new role as the bad guy reveals a deeper truth about the franchise. "The star of Prototype is the Blacklight Virus itself, and how it effects everyone differently," Fracchia asserts. "If you look at movies dealing with viruses it's often about how that virus has infected all sorts of people throughout the world. So we realized that's who the star was. Being able to tell the story from another angle got us very excited, and got us thinking about other protagonists."

Radical didn't want to drop Mercer entirely, though, especially after memorably reconstituting himself at the end of the first game. "We didn't want to lose Alex's potential story," Fracchia says, "so one of the guys in the room came up with a brilliant idea - what if Alex created the next Prototype?"

Prototype 2

Enter Heller. Heller has good reason to want Mercer dead - his family died as a result of Mercer's actions. Heller's search for Mercer drives Prototype 2's story. It's like Death Wish with Marvel's Venom replacing Charles Bronson in the central role.

Heller's backstory and motivation grew naturally out of that idea of Mercer creating the next Prototype. "That got us thinking about what this next Prototype is like," Fracchia says. "What happened to him in this world? How can we make Heller's story more engaging, more emotional, more personal? We realized that to transform a person in this way, to make them seek the type of vengeance they seek in this game, to make them do the kind of things they do in this game and to make them very focused about it, they'd need a very strong set of motivations. The strongest thing that we realized could propel someone to do the things that are done in this game is the death of a family. Losing your children is probably the worst thing that could ever happen to you."

"It started coming together where you have Alex creating a prototype out of Heller. You've got Heller wanting to go after Alex because he holds him responsible for the death of his family. And then you get this really interesting situation where Heller is given powers by Mercer that can help take Mercer down. Heller embraces those powers like Mercer didn't in the first game in order to go after Mercer. It's the intersection of their stories that cause a lot of twists that lead to the final climax."

Heller's embrace of his powers contrasts greatly with Mercer, who spent most of the first game complaining about the amazing things he was capable of. Heller is a much different person than Mercer, somebody who understands what it means to live in a warzone.

"Mercer was a scientist, who we found out was the one who released the virus in Penn Station," Fracchia reminds us. "If you look at his background he was kind of a sociopath. He wasn't that great around people, didn't have the best childhood. When he gets these powers in Prototype he's literally upset at whoever has done this to him. In fact he's pissed off at having these great powers and he's trying to find out what happened to him. He's very much guided and directed by other characters like Dana Mercer and Ragland and the secret agent, so he's sort of told what to do as he tries to reconstruct his memory.

Prototype 2

"With Heller we wanted someone who was much more of a man of action, someone responsible for his own destiny. So we made him a military man, which means this guy knows how to fight, and also understands collateral damage and what it means to have to take someone down. He's stared across the barrel of a gun toward someone else going after him and he hasn't thought 'well, this guy might be a father'. He just realizes this is someone going after him. That motivates him very strongly. We also again wanted to propel him into action, so having him be a loving father and a loving husband who's had everything torn away to the point that he really loses himself establishes him as single-minded about revenge on Alex Mercer. He's really a man on the edge. Heller's brutal and single-minded and really pissed off at the situation with his family, and he really embraces these powers and can't wait to use them to take down everybody that gets in his way."

Turning a game's protagonist into its villain is risky, but it's not like Nintendo is swapping Ganon out with Link in the next Legend of Zelda. The angsty Mercer was never quite a hero, and in fact his dubious morality is central to the first game's themes. His petulance and cavalier disregard for innocent citizens made him one of the more unlikable protagonists in a video game, and that's saying something for the medium that's given us Kratos and Jon Dowd.

Fracchia readily acknowledges Mercer's detractors. "You can find people in forums and blogs calling Alex Mercer a dick," he notes. "Part of it was because he was very odd. In one cut scene he'd be kind of one way and in others he'd be another way. He didn't really seem that likable of a character, or even a character that had any sort of emotional depth to him. I thought Alex was quite cool, power-wise, and very stylistic and unique in his look. But I come from a story background, I had ten years of film and television, and it was hard for me to grasp Alex's story and to be as emotionally engaged as I am with Heller's."

Prototype 2

Still, Radical was aware that many fans of Prototype might revolt over the sequel's changes. "We thought [fans might be unhappy], expected it would happen, and it did," Fracchia acknowledges. “When we first announced it we probably had a fifty/fifty split between fans who were excited by the new character or didn't like Alex that much and others who said 'I won't even buy the game now because you put my beloved character in the villain role'. That's one of the reasons why we put out a video on why we made that decision. We wanted to explain to our fans that this is what the core of Prototype is and that's why this direction is quite exciting and epic, and it did start to turn the fans around. People seem less and less upset about that now, and when we announced at Radnet that one of the awards you get for completing challenges is the Alex Mercer skin, that got some of those fans excited again.

"We had to stop and ask, is Prototype about one guy? Are we going to carry one character's story through any sequels that might pop up? We realized that Prototype is more than that, so we gravitated towards another protagonist. And if we're able to do more, we'll certainly think about that again. We'll look at Heller, we'll look at Mercer, but we're going to be looking at how the virus continues to progress through the cities of the world, if we can."

Fracchia is confident that fans will like the changes. "Hopefully what we can do is give fans something they may not have thought they wanted or thought they would like but that in the end they love. I keep thinking about Steve Jobs. He used to say, and I'm probably misquoting him, that he didn't necessarily try to make something that people were asking for; he made something that he knew people would then want. Very bad paraphrasing, but you know what I mean."

Prototype 2: The Journey From Hero To Villain
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