Alpha Overhaul

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I'm not going to say alpha protocol was a terrible game.

I'm going to say that every good thing it did was matched with at least two bad things. Actions having consequences (beyond filling up a little bar) is pretty much the holy grail of gaming at this point. What few games that did them well will forever be placed on a pedestal and held up as examples of "this is how you do that."

But very few games execute this concept well and most people haven't even played one.

The problem is the mainstream. Most people, when they play modern games, are seeking an hour or two a day of vicarious wish fulfillment (or ego masturbation, as I like to call it). They want their character to be without flaws, who goes around beating up all the bad guys and getting all the chicks. Actions having real consequences would throw this entire design philosophy out the window.

Using mass effect 2 as an example; The entire game is a build up to a "suicide mission." Which is a non-existent concept in gaming. I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't even play the game if there was any realistic possibility of failure or losing squad members. But since most people ace the suicide mission (apart from one or two "random" deaths mostly caused by missing the fact mordin is not leadership material!), the illusion of risk becomes paper thin. Now... if most playthroughs looked like this, we'd have something to talk about. This guy spent countless hours sabotaging the game in every way possible to kill every character possible. The fact he had to work exponentially harder to get a bad outcome from a suicide mission should bother the shit out of everyone. But its a measurement of everything wrong with current game design. You don't earn anything. You don't accomplish anything. Everything must be easy enough for the average person to stumble through, else you run the risk of alienating your bread and butter, the LCD. "[They] play games to have fun! Punishments aren't fun!"

DeadlyYellow:

Onyx Oblivion:

That said, I myself prefer the "leveling up" meaning. But why can't we have both, like with Dragon Age? A deep leveling system and that "role playing", all in one.

Eh, I never really considered Dragon Age's system deep. But then I'm holding it against older systems like Fallout and Arcanum; the former being fairly diverse yet easily comprehensible and the latter being tantalizingly restrictive for all it offered.

what ever happened to arcanum style gameplay? after fallout 2 it just kinda...disappeared.

I think Alpha Protocol has a lot going for it in terms of roleplaying, but the actual gameplay is pretty faulty. I found myself wanting to skip through to the bits of the game where you actually make decisions and choices, leaving the boss fights and combat-intensive areas behind. Then there was the fact that the endgame glitched out so badly it broke the game.

All in all, I have this fascinating love-hate relationship with the game. For once, a game actually delivers on all its "there will be consequences for every action" hype. And some of the choices are morally gray and require you to make them in limited time. Plus, there are plenty of branching storylines. Obsidian has really captured the soul of a good RPG. Unfortunately, that soul resides in the body of a paraplegic, as this game is unforgivably broken. I'd like other developers to take a look at what Obsidian's done right, but you can't start a revolution around a badly bugged game.

After reading this, my interest is being piqued. I haven't played an RPG for a while. Mass Effect (1) was my last one and that was just plain silly when it came to decisions. Everything was too localized.

I think I'm gonna take a look at this just to see if branching gameplay paths (or at least some consequences to your actions) are starting to come in properly.

alpha protocol got way badder rap then it desserved... i really enjoyed it! itsthe ONLY game i have ever played to have this kind of system work. the dialog needs a bit of sorting out... and the game play was average. what i dont get is fallout was far worse...it had bugs that made it practicly implaybel and the shooting was so boring that it felt like they put vat in to cover it up...yet it got goty...this game does one thing perfictly, it was rushed out broken and unfinished so the team could go work on something else, but it does the interlaying changing evolving story like never before. and for that it deserves alot more then the rap its getting...

Susan's review of the game (which was the first to come out) actually saddenned me. I'd heard some things about this game, figured it was some lame shooter that was trying to fake out depth, and forgot about it. Before I read/watched her review I didn't care at all about it. After I read it, I was actually disappointed over its wasted potential.

Onyx Oblivion:
And shouldn't Lionhead be in the first group? Last I checked, Fable 1 and 2 did have choices.

Oh man, there's that article Shamus wrote about Fable 2... it's hilarious, as long as you don't actually enjoy Fable 2.

This is why I Hate Obsidian. If they just made bad games, they wouldn't make money and would eventually go away. Instead, they make sequels to great games that are weighed down by bugs and have confusing plots. We get stuck with games that could have been fantastic, but then end up being okay at best. Anyone who played Neverwinter Nights 2 (wait, so the guy who massacred my hometown TWICE and killed my prospective love interest isn't the main villain, or even working for him?) and KotOR 2 (never got through the Nar Shadaa level without the game crashing at least once) know exactly what I'm talking about. They should be able to make good games, but they consistently fail to deliver.

Fallout New vegas is going to really fix up this issue. Obsidian have stated many times that the choices in NV are going to greatly affect your gameplay, whether instantly or in the future. I'm really looking forward to NV, most likely if it's as good as Obsidian say it will be then we won't even need a Alpha Protocol 2.

I think his remarks about Bioware do ME2 a slight disservice.

Thanatos5150:

Ultratwinkie:
Rebecca

Rebecca did an Alpha Protocol song? Where?

its on the moon, guarded by the dreaded moon ogre.

Shamus Young:
I know the term "RPG" is an absolute mess, almost to the point of having no meaning at all. For the record, when I say "RPG" I'm talking about games from the likes of BioWare, Obsidian, and Bethesda and not Square Enix, Blizzard, or Lionhead. Someday I'd love to have terms that clearly differentiate between "leveling up" and "roleplaying". But today is not that day.

Have I mentioned your columns are my favorite part of this website?

Well, you've sold me. If they ever release a patch or just a complete overhaul and remove the bugs (I couldn't care less about the graphics) I'm buying this game. I haven't had a game where choices mattered in... ages.

I completely agree, Alpha Protocol is a great game. Its successes easily add up more than the sum of its flaws. If they patched up those flaws, then you'd have an astounding game. More to the point, Alpha Protocol is one of the first games where I actually had to rely on my gut instinct to choose rather than how could this choice benefit me.

I actually really enjoyed that make-choice-NOW! type of desicion.

I stopped reading after the bit about Lionhead, Square and Blizzard. It really ruined the article for me. It was a pointless shot at what the author believes to be a RPG. Just because Soccer was the first form of football does not mean that American football can't be called football as well and the same with soccer. They are still RPGs they just focus on different things. Games like Final Fantasy and Fable are not about leveling. In fact I think you are more trivial choices in Fable than you did in Oblivion I mean in Fable 2 you could have several families. There are roleplaying in those game whether you like it or not they are RPGs. There is more to RPGs than making a character look like whatever you please and naming it whatever you please.

Damn it, you know I wasn't gonna buy AP, but now I don't know...When the patch comes out, I'll check the feedback.

I agree wholeheartedly, on your points, the sequel and the patch, though a post hovering just above mine says that's a certainty.

This was pretty much my own experience of the game. Yes, it does have flaws and yes they aren't merely trivial ones and for me the biggest one is the fact that (as Yahtzee pointed out) the game is a bit unbalanced and the boss fights might indeed not have been that necessary in the end.

But the RPG mechanics are simply without comparison as of right now and that's precisely why I'm glad the game was finally made and why I'm still moreso glad I bought it than not. So yes, outside of RPG enthusiasts I can see how gamers might not be drawn to it. But really, if you are a sucker for RPGs then this still is a must-buy in my book, simply because it delivers something no other developer has thus far managed to - choices that truly matter.

"Although I hope they make a patch for Alpha Protocol 1 first."

They'll need to if they want me to buy it, along with many other people I'm sure.

Wow, that sounds like exactly the kind of Rpg elements I want in a game. In fact, it's the only Rpg elements I want in a game, and I'd want it in every game!
Maybe Obsidian working on New vegas isn't so bad after all. I mean, they're still using the same engine, maybe it won't be too buggy, and If this kind of system were in place it'd be fucking incredible.

Cynical skeptic:
But its a measurement of everything wrong with current game design. You don't earn anything. You don't accomplish anything. Everything must be easy enough for the average person to stumble through, else you run the risk of alienating your bread and butter, the LCD. "[They] play games to have fun! Punishments aren't fun!"

This is how I feel. I can remember when games had challenge. For another Bioware example look at Dragonage: Origins.

Have you read all of the pissing a whining? "The combats too hard", "I had to switch it to easy to beat X", "I dont like that I have to imput commands in combat" (read why wont the computer do it all for me?).

My first play through was on hard. There were times I got my ass handed to me, when I had to change my party to make it through certain areas, alter my tactics because it wasn't working, fights I had to dodge and come back later for and some choices I went with because the guy could kick my ass so I went with what he said.

Every area felt like a suicide mission, Ogres were engines of death, I regularly carried injuries and I always felt out numbered and out gunned. Exactly how the game is meant to be. You are meant to be a survivor on a near impossible mission against all odds. I got a massive sense of accomplishment when I finally beat the game. Also I didn't power game my charecter, I picked skills and stats that felt right.

My subsiquent play throughs have been on normal and combat has no challenge at all. This is the difficulty most people are complaining about. Obviously these people never played games in the 80s/90s when they were genuinely hard, everyone wants their hand held now.

OT: I like what AP tried to do, I'll get it but I'm waiting for a price drop. I do hope there is a more polished sequel.

Ultratwinkie:
huh. took yahtzee, rebecca, and shamus to change the minds of people who were mislead by haters? huh.

Yeah, it took the opinions of people who actually played the game.

I know you didn't like the Witcher when you played it originally, Shamus, but its the other recent RPG I can think of that has a morality system just like the one your describing here, you basically choose between the various factions in the game and each faction responds appropriately. There are choices outside of the factional dispute that have complex and unpredictable consequences as well.

Even the director's cut has its fair share of problems, the story has huge gaping gaps, at points, pacing that is slightly off, and of course, the juvenile "sex cards" business, which is thankfully optional. Nonethless, it has dealt with most of the bugs, technical issues, some of the interface issues and other assorted dreck.

It's about time I found an article that agrees with my opinion of Alpha Protocol. The bugs are nowhere near as bad as people are making them out to be and the great writing and gameplay choices demand that you should play it several times (even if it's just to get your head around the story).

What I want to see is a game so scripted that every single choice the player makes, every instance of action or inaction they perform, has an impact on the game.

Picture it this way: Bob's village is under attack, so he's trying to seek the Sword of Massive Violence in order to wail on the attackers. If the player does nothing or never talks to Bob in time before he leaves on his quest, there's a preset result -- maybe he finds the Sword, maybe not.

The player can help him find it, give him other magical equipment, help him kill the bandits without it, kill him and hunt for the Sword, kill him and ignore the Sword, or beat him there and either leave him to die or take the Sword before he gets there -- whether or not the player knew about the sidequest at all.

It sounds massively over-complicated, but I'm sure people more intelligent than me could find ways to make it work -- I thought about the game in question having a default plotline that happened if the player did nothing at all, but that would instantly devolve into a crazy flowchart of results for every single variance.

Something like "You helped me save my village! We'll help you against the Big Bad's army!" or "You left me to die, and you want me to help you? I'll kill you myself."

Or perhaps "Thank you for your help, but while you were away, bandits overran the village and killed everyone" if enough post-invasion random bandit spawns manage to defeat the defenders.

Argh. I'm not explaining this well at all...

Shamus Young:
Experienced Points: Alpha Overhaul

Here's hoping other developers are paying attention to Alpha Protocol.

O' Almight Shamus; as a player of RPGs (the Bioware sort and the Lionhead sort, though not the Square Enix sort), I would like do know if you would recommend I should get Alpha Protocol inspite of its awful bugs and the like? This idea of meaningful choices does sound very appealing.

And, if you are able to do so, I would be most happy if you could reply within about 2 hours as the Steam sale ends by then...cheers if you do, no worries if not.

I've wanted to try Alpha Protocol, as the choice system seemed rather interesting. At least I wanted a taste of what everyone was talking about, but my local Blockbuster has severely cut back on their stock of video games... which means I have to consider signing up for GameFly if I want to continue console-gaming. It is a sad time indeed.
I agree with the comment about how Square-Enix isn't much about the RPG elements anymore. I recently played the last Final Fantasy game (told you the store was cutting back!), and after a few hours, I was still wondering what the hell was going on in the game. Aside from the minor skill tree upgrades for combat, even the leveling system was automatic. How am I even supposed to feel like part of the game when the game itself makes all the major decisions for me? That isn't really what I feel role-playing is about. Fable and Fable 2 have their selling points in regards to proper role-playing, but really you are still just following a script (and should you avoid said script for a short time, they don't hesitate to remind you to get back to work). Then again, as in Shamus's example, you don't really want the fun to stop because you want to open a hot dog stand instead of killing people. If this were an actual choice in a game, I think that would be the point where the credits would start rolling, unless it was just a mini-game included to bore the crap out of you until you wanted to go back out and cut off some heads. Such choices are fine for MMO games, but standalone games really don't need such options. Unless you are forced to craft items to continue (without it being a needlessly boring side mission), then I don't see a huge point for including it into a game where the main focus is action. Is it weird to say that I think RPG games are action games? After all, you aren't sitting around discussing war plans and conferring with generals and the like before going forth to start a mission... unless that occurs in a cutscene.
Having localized ramifications for your actions really does make the most sense. Unless word spreads at the speed of light, I don't think someone on the other side of the game world is going to know I was entertaining myself by kicking the ass of every chicken on someone's farm because I was bored, and therefore should hate me for making my own sicilian chicken.

*Mass Effect 2 mild SPOILER* In all of Mass Effect 2's choices I only remember a few but the one that has stuck with me is that mercenary in Samara's recruitment who i let go...but in fact she had killed the volus.. I genuinely felt bad about it... I wished Mass Effect was more of those kind of decisions..from what you say about Alpha Protocol it sounds like it...

i have actually discovered a way to break alpha protocol, investing in pistols gives you the chain shot ability (time slows to a near halt and you are able to pick up to 6 or 8 shots, i cant remember which, which will then be fired simultaneously) using the higher levels of this on boss battles is pretty much an instakill.
The game itself i find enjoyable, and i do like how the background you choose is mentioned more than once, and how the recruit and veteran backgrounds give different dialogue option. But what really made me like it is how the choices actually are noticeably effective, for instance one of the Moscow missions has you storm a mansion, and depending on who you buddied up with, you may sneak into the mansion, via zipline and sneakiness or you go bursting through the front gates in an APC.

If a patch come out that fixes the most glaring problems, and it sells through Steam, I may get it.

Cynical skeptic:
Snippety-snip-snip

Get yourself some Demon's Souls and get over it.

Seriously though, I do agree with you. Aside from the fact that your post was full of generalisations and whatnot, you still speak the truth, and I'm going to have to agree with you here.

You really sound like you need some Demon's Souls style punishing, though.

Doug:

Shamus Young:
Experienced Points: Alpha Overhaul

Here's hoping other developers are paying attention to Alpha Protocol.

O' Almight Shamus; as a player of RPGs (the Bioware sort and the Lionhead sort, though not the Square Enix sort), I would like do know if you would recommend I should get Alpha Protocol inspite of its awful bugs and the like? This idea of meaningful choices does sound very appealing.

And, if you are able to do so, I would be most happy if you could reply within about 2 hours as the Steam sale ends by then...cheers if you do, no worries if not.

As a fellow player of RPG's I'll answer instead of Shamus to make sure you get an answer before the Steam sale ends:
Yes. Buy Alpha Protocol, so far I've had a lot of fun with it and really don't see anything wrong with it. No bugs so far (I'm about 2/3 in, I didn't get it from steam), and the shooting is fine.
Also, it reminds me of Deus Ex, which is always good.

Well honestly Alpha Protocol has that controlled path I mean you have one goal and you are set in that way. Unlike in most rpg's it gives you a lot of ways to get there. Doing certain events in certain times may or may not help you later depending on decisions. The choice system is truly the strongest feature and my main draw to the game. It even made me ignore all the bad review work to get it and I paid full new price.

Complaints about the combat seem to be it and after 5 playthroughs I havent had but one bug happen to me and it was just the game froze when I was exiting a hacking minigame. But that might have been just a fluke, given ever since then I have had no problems at all bug wise.

TooMiserableToLive:

Cynical skeptic:
Snippety-snip-snip

Get yourself some Demon's Souls and get over it.

The post was full of generalizations because I was talking about the general state of mainstream gaming.

One game, much less, demon's souls, doesn't change a whole lot. Especially since the only reason demon's souls was allowed to be so punishing was because the devs found a way to directly integrate gamefaqs into it.

Holy shit someone else enjoyed Alpha Protocol.
Great article, I enjoyed the game and quickly adapted to the way it wanted to be played. If I had to mention one thing I hate it'd be the enemies' all having an x-ray vision and being able to spot your toe in a bush halfway across the map forcing me to go the more boring route, shooting everything to bits.

Nice. The illusion of choice as you say, is what put me so far off Dragon Age. Played a bit, tried some new directions, mist cleared and I could see the railroad.

It is why I still play more 3.5 with a good group of friends.

bjj hero:
My first play through was on hard. There were times I got my ass handed to me, when I had to change my party to make it through certain areas, alter my tactics because it wasn't working, fights I had to dodge and come back later for and some choices I went with because the guy could kick my ass so I went with what he said.

Every area felt like a suicide mission, Ogres were engines of death, I regularly carried injuries and I always felt out numbered and out gunned. Exactly how the game is meant to be. You are meant to be a survivor on a near impossible mission against all odds. I got a massive sense of accomplishment when I finally beat the game. Also I didn't power game my charecter, I picked skills and stats that felt right.

My subsiquent play throughs have been on normal and combat has no challenge at all. This is the difficulty most people are complaining about. Obviously these people never played games in the 80s/90s when they were genuinely hard, everyone wants their hand held now.

Funny. I played DA:O on Hard as well, and I think it was piss easy, especially from the moment when my mage and Morrigan learned cone of cold, or whatever that spell is called.

Anyway, to everyone 'not sure' about trying AP: Try it. It really isn't that bad as reviews tried to paint it. In fact, if you can ignore not very fresh graphics and horrible ragdoll, it's probably one of the most enjoyable RPGs that came out lately.

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