Fireside Chat: Alpha Protocol reception and New Vegas

Discussion in 'NMA News and Information' started by Brother None, May 28, 2010.

  1. Brother None

    Brother None This ghoul has seen it all

    Apr 3, 2003
    "Yes, that's it," said the Hatter with a sigh: "It's always SLAM DUNK-time, and we've not time to polish the releases between the whiles."</center>
    With Alpha Protocol being Obsidian's last released title before New Vegas, its release and reception is bound to be of some interest to those considering buying Fallout: New Vegas. And well, it's not pretty. Get your review roundups at GameBanshee, which contains reviews like Eurogamer 7/10 and 5/10, whose thoughts can be quickly summed up as "something has gone awfully wrong for Alpha Protocol." (for reference, be sure to also read the much more positive 8.4/10 GamesMaster review)

    Far be it for me to ascribe universal competence to videogame reviewers, and on my personal scale there are certainly sites I'm more interested to hear from than these. I have already noted fans of the game accusing the reviewers of an unfair bias, and failing to see how the same reviewers that praise Fallout 3 and Mass Effect 2 can burn Alpha Protocol to cinders. I recognize the disjointed feeling of "are they talking about the same game I played?", but I can't comment yet (I do have the game, but no time to really play it yet).

    Nor should we forget that Alpha Protocol is in its nature a different animal than New Vegas. Its intentions on the "RPG scale" were meant to veer more clearly towards stealth and combat, and criticism in those areas are not directly relevant, other than criticism of choppy execution.
    Besides, those of us who have followed the project for a longer time know how messy its production cycle has been. An earlier design, by Vampire: Bloodlines' and currently Zombie RPG writer Brian Mitsoda, was completely scrapped, so completely that Mitsoda could simply say he has "nothing" to do with the current game's design. Even as a stable version formed under Chris Avellone's direction, the release date still had to be pushed back from October 2009 to May/June 2010. That is after being announced with an early 2009 release in March 2008. All of this points to a very poorly managed project.

    Yet with all the delays, when Eurogamer says "Alpha Protocol feels like a B-team effort", I can't bat an eyelash at it. It's just not surprising. This is the crux of the matter. Alpha Protocol was a game twice-delayed (at least), yet even the more positive GamesMaster review cited above lovingly calls it "a technical turkey". Mild when compared to this quotation from a 6/10 VideoGamer review:<blockquote>Then there are the technical issues; the plethora of graphical mishaps, animation blunders and odd design choices. The frame rate is of particular concern, which drops into oblivion during pivotal moments of a mission. Textures pop in left, right and centre and portals frequently appear in doors and walls, revealing a glimpse at the strange world outside of the developer's jurisdiction. AI is disturbingly last-gen too, especially for a game that relies so heavily on stealth. Enemies often won't notice you're stood right in front of them, and are completely oblivious to the likes of grenades. I honestly think Metal Gear Solid did a better job of artificial intelligence back on the PSone.

    Little things annoyed me too, like the awkward position of the camera, which follows Thorton around too closely and at too high an angle. It's a strange criticism to make, but I was always concerned that I couldn't see his feet, which for some reason made me feel uncomfortable. Thorton's sneak animation is comical too, and appears as if he's wandering around trying to conceal an erection. Alpha Protocol generally lacks the polish of a game that's been in development as long as it has. A few people have used the phrase 'rough around the edges' to describe the game in previews, but I'd argue that this is an understatement.</blockquote>"Fnneeeeeh!" the fan will say, in his incoherent rage, "technical polish is not the developer's task, it belongs to the publisher! Both production and QA belong in their portfolio, not Obsidian's!" Too true. And normally I'd agree, blame the publisher. But this isn't the first time this has happened with an Obsidian title. Heck, this, hmmpph, "tradition" even came up on J.E. Sawyer's recent Formspring cycle:<blockquote>Now, we all know that Obsidian has developed some pretty buggy games in the past, especially considered that they weren't developed from scratch (they were both sequels). Now, I'm pretty sure that wasn't the intention, so the question is : how it happened

    Poor planning, poorly phased implementation of content, poor scope management in general.</blockquote>And I posed the question three years ago when interviewing Kevin Saunders about NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer.<blockquote>GB: While Obsidian's games are well-executed, gameplay issues seem to be one of the biggest concerns for critics - even going back to the Black Isle Studios days with titles like Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment. Do you feel this (the mechanical side of game design, so to speak) is something that needs more focus or additional player input in future games?

    Kevin: That's an interesting question. Actually, most of the Mask of the Betrayer team (myself included) didn't work at Black Isle Studios. I think the problems mentioned are by no means systemic issues or Obsidian issues. The criticisms come down to a couple specific decisions and it's as simple as that.</blockquote>But now, three years later, we can definitely say it's not as simple as that. Three titles in, two of which were sequels, Obsidian's batting average doesn't look that good when it comes to technical execution. There's no blaming producers for this anymore, not when SEGA pushed back the release date of Alpha Protocol multiple times, it's become kind of painfully obvious that Obsidian just sucks at project management. For comparison's sake, there were two years and four months between Alpha Protocol's announcement and its release, while there looks to be about a year and six months between announcement and release for New Vegas, though that doesn't tell us everything on comparing their total production length.

    So what does that mean for us Fallout fans, looking forward to New Vegas? It pretty much just tells us what we already knew: when it comes to technical execution, Fallout: New Vegas will in all likelihood be a piece of junk. When originally announced, I kind of expected it to be a humble, quicky project, a sort of large expansion-sized project. Instead, we're overhauling SPECIAL, tweaking combat and interfaces, and adding a goodly-sized new world. Sounds pretty ambitious for a developer with a reputation for careful planning and allocating of time and resources. Sounds like a recipe for disaster in Obsidian's hands. And that's without factoring in that their publisher is Bethesda, a publishing house with a pretty poor track record, and whose Fallout 3 was no marvel when it came to technical factors such as bugs and animations.

    Discuss. Let us know if you disagree and feel Obsidian will be able to deliver a technically polished game. Are the changes from Fallout 3 to New Vegas all so minor that they should manage? And if you've played it, please share your Alpha Protocol experience, what hopes and fears the game has given you vis-a-vis New Vegas.

    This was an unscheduled blog-style post. Back to your regular programming soon enough.
  2. WorstUsernameEver

    WorstUsernameEver But best title ever!

    May 28, 2010
  3. Brother None

    Brother None This ghoul has seen it all

    Apr 3, 2003
    Hey WUE, nice to see you registered here!

    I wouldn't put much credence in anonymous "I'm a dev" posts, but it certainly wouldn't be the first time a disgruntled dev posts to complain.

    We should count our blessings if it's only as glitchy as Fallout 3.
  4. WorstUsernameEver

    WorstUsernameEver But best title ever!

    May 28, 2010
    Thank you for the warm welcome :D.
    Anyway, normally I would agree with you that simply 'I'm a dev, lulz, project was bad, new project will be so good' would be unbelievable problem is... it fits almost too well with what we know about AP's project, the delays, etc.
    Then again, I'll let you know more about how exactly AP is buggy when I'll finally get my hands on the game (I've probably been too naive in buying the game on release, but the project was too promising ). :D

    ... At least let's look on the bright side... Gamebryo is easily moddable, Fallout New Vegas will at least be patched by fans. :lol:

    P.S. : BTW, I think it was Ausir who tipped you guys about René Auberjounois.
  5. Verevoof

    Verevoof Cryptid oTO Orderite Board Cop oTO [REDACTED]

    Jul 12, 2009
    Yeah, it's a safe bet that there will probably be glitches on the scale of Fallout 3 or worse. Obsidian + Bethesda = Glitch and bug breeding ground. Maybe both did their homework, maybe there are some new and better testers and people willing to fix the problems. But, then again, Bethesda didn't even bother making a patch for the PS3 version of Oblivion to fix the vampire cure quest bug. Hopefully Obsidian will be more willing to fix game ruining bugs and glitches.
  6. Ratty Sr.

    Ratty Sr. Ratty, except old Moderator Orderite

    Apr 23, 2003
    Great summary, Kharn. I agree with all your points, though I must also admonish you for your failure to use the phrase "SLAM DUNK!" even once. :D

    This testimony sounds pretty credible to me. It also indicates that Obsidian has graduated from churning out half-assed, Feargus-style SLAM DUNK! sequels and spin-offs, onto developing collosal clusterfucks characterized by project management blunders, incoherent design and inadequate quality control; not that these three qualities aren't characteristic of nearly all of their prior work, but they really shine through on a big and ambitious project like AP. Who knows, at this rate they might start making halfway-decent games by 2018 or so, though I wouldn't be at all surprised if they folded in the next year or two. After yet another subpar release, what consumer will want to give money to a company with a record so sketchy and unremarkable?
  7. Mordegar

    Mordegar First time out of the vault

    Dec 23, 2007
    I've finished my first playthrough today with rather mixed feelings about the game.
    The gameplay itself reminded me extremely of Mass Effect 2, with a more glitchy ai whose reaction to grenades is even worse than compared with the old AI in UT99.
    Even the customization system feels like a cheap Mass Effect ripoff.
    On the other side, the dialogues and plots turns were mostly entertaining and better than in most other action rpg's, but the playtime was way to short with around 16 hours for a more rambo like character.
    A major plot downside are the possible *romances* for sure, which are more like *i talk her into the bedroom* choices without the need of building up a deeper relationship first.
    Now to end this rant, i haven't encountered any graphical glitches so far, so i can't give any feedback to this.

    I'd say that a company like Obsidian should be ashamed to sell a game like this as an AAA title, it's entertaining for sure, but they could do definitley better!.
  8. Brother None

    Brother None This ghoul has seen it all

    Apr 3, 2003
    Oh Goddammit. I knew I was forgetting something.

    Hang on...
  9. bhlaab

    bhlaab Where'd That 6th Toe Come From?

    Oct 30, 2008
    New Vegas already has a technical base on par with Fallout 3 which, despite some pretty heinous crashing and performance issues, was more or less stable on the gameplay level (no disappearing car trunks etc)

    Keep in mind that despite its size and scope, New Vegas is something of a professionally created mod. Things like AI are already there.
  10. shihonage

    shihonage Made in USSR

    May 8, 2007
    I think FO:NV will not be any buggier than FO3. It's far, far easier to make a game when all the core mechanics have been established for you and proven to work (to a degree).

    EDIT: beaten ;)
  11. Ausir

    Ausir Venerable Relic of the Wastes

    Apr 20, 2003
    Even this supposed disgruntled dev does say that FNV is better managed, for what it's worth. And so say my inside sources (as biased as they may be).
  12. Brother None

    Brother None This ghoul has seen it all

    Apr 3, 2003

    Yeah, no offense but they've said so every time between releases. Everyone will always sell this fluff.

    Besides, I have no doubt FNV is better managed than Alpha Protocol. It's pretty easy to be. Doesn't mean much. I don't want to know if it's better managed, I want to know if it's well managed.
  13. pexxx

    pexxx First time out of the vault

    Feb 12, 2007
    Can we expect any kind of damage control from Bethesda?
  14. Morbus

    Morbus Sonny, I Watched the Vault Bein' Built!

    Aug 16, 2006

    First off, this is Obsidian we're talking about. Releasing buggy games is their trademark. Secondly, Fallout 3's bugs were not so much in its mechanics as they were in the implementation... Graphical glitches, path finding, collision detection... All those are implementation and don't come with the engine.

    Of course there was also the very big bug of combat every 100 yards, and the very big bug of no food sources in the game, and the very big bug of 200 years old wooden houses, and the very big bug of crappy voice acting with actors clearing messing up their lines and going "whatever" and keeping on it... :D
  15. yukatan

    yukatan First time out of the vault

    Oct 26, 2007
    I knew somebody who was in the art team for Obsidian.

    Each of the shortcomings of games can't be attributed to one central issue. KOTOR2 for example, the main issue was that a) the company just formed b) it needed a short turn-around time or else the company would go under, which lead to a sequel that many thought was disappointing. They made it in about 9 mos, which was ultra-short. Alpha Protocol by contrast had plenty of time, but kept getting delayed without getting the polish it needed.

    In the end it seems like it is an issue of project management, but the reasons behind them vary. To be honest buggyness was never an issue for me, because I'd just wait like 3-6 months after release for it to get patched up =P
  16. Ratty Sr.

    Ratty Sr. Ratty, except old Moderator Orderite

    Apr 23, 2003

    I assume this is due to Bethesda keeping a close eye on the project. Though Bethesda has a rather poor record as a publisher, New Vegas represents the first instance of an external studio working on their IP (well, "their" IP), so it stands to reason they are much more stringent on quality control.
  17. Starwars

    Starwars Mildly Dipped

    Sep 17, 2006
    I finished a playthrough of Alpha Protocol earlier today and was very pleased with it.

    Now, I don't think there's any question whether the game had problems in its development cycle. But my experience (with the PC version) was that, while it does not have the same amount of polish and just AAA feel of ME2, I had very little problems as far as bugs and glitches go. The PC port is so-so, interface and such is clearly designed for consoles but it works pretty well once you learn in.

    The game feels a bit rough visually, some texture pop-in, some animations that vary in quality (and that doesn't link together well). I'd say it's those things I'd put in the lack of polish area. But as far as bugs go I had very little trouble. Nothing even approaching problems I had in F3 with crashes, the game becoming more and more sluggish the longer I play (memory leak?), some quests that I couldn't finish (got patched though). I had zero problems like that in Alpha Protocol.

    I'd also like to point out that given the amount of interactivity there is with whom you ally with and so forth, the flow of conversations is pretty damn impressive. References to past missions in convos don't feel "tacked on", they flow extremely naturally which is great considering how much reactivity there is and considering it's a story-heavy game.

    The AI is not very good though but it works decently for a game that is, all things considered, quite arcadeish in nature.

    There are also some fuck you moments in some of the encounters, some of the encounters just feel unfair in how they unfold.

    I think the game really shines in the writing, characters and choices. The spymovie type of writing is dead on, often very witty and sharp. The characters are some of the most fun to interact with since Bloodlines. The choices are hard to judge after one playthrough but you can really "customize" the story. Most, if not all, of the big characters can live or die. Many you can choose to kill yourself, others might die as a result of your actions. Again, this is nice given the story-heavy nature of the game.

    An interesting tidbit about the game is that EU sites and mags seem to like it more than the US ones. Canard PC gave the game a 90 for example.

    While a lot of it is subjective, to me it's nearly impossible to understand how Alpha Protocol can get a 5/10 (or even lower) though. Perhaps the game is truly terrible on console, unplayable due to technical issues. But I *really* don't see it myself. For the inevitable ME comparisons, I like AP quite a bit more (and I enjoyed ME2 a fair bit). It feels much more dynamic and interactive, if less polished.

    What does this mean for New Vegas? Fuck if I know, I guess one can hope it'll be a well-managed game like some people have pointed out. What I really hope is that they bring over the freedom and interactivity from AP to New Vegas. In fact, even more so given that Fallouts are more open games than AP.
  18. bhlaab

    bhlaab Where'd That 6th Toe Come From?

    Oct 30, 2008
    Not really if you look at the flexibility of the elder scrolls engine and the wasteland setting being particularly conducive towards reuse of existing assets
  19. shihonage

    shihonage Made in USSR

    May 8, 2007
    Perhaps the original name was "Protocol" but they added "Alpha" to signify its release state.

    "You knew what you were buying, people! It said ALPHA right there on the box!"
  20. Dario ff

    Dario ff Where'd That 6th Toe Come From?

    Aug 19, 2008
    Hey, don't cross-post Ratty's jokes. :P

    Even if there's the possibilty of technical problems of F:NV, I hope that it excels in the areas Obsidian has far more experience. Most possibly, dialogue, since Alpha Protocol seems to have one that's pretty entertaining.