Even though the video-game industry is overflowing with creativity, many of its biggest titles aren’t wholly original. They’re often adapted from movies, comic books, and other material.
Recently, I visited the office of Radical Entertainment to learn about Prototype. This game, released on June 9, is based on an original concept, making it what the industry calls a new intellectual property (IP). An open-world action title, Prototype features a complex conspiracy story in which an amnesiac with incredible powers tries to uncover what happened to him.
That day, about four weeks before the release date, the game-development studio—which occupies the top floors of an office building on Terminal Avenue—was buzzing. In a brightly lit boardroom, I sat down with president Kelly Zmak, producer Max Belanger, and art production manager Steve Mele.
“We’re all really excited right now,” Mele said. “We’ve had people telling us that we’ve got something special here.”
I first stopped by Radical to hear about Prototype in November 2007. Then, I met with Tim Bennison, executive producer of the game, and Dennis Detwiller, who along with Eric Holmes wrote and designed it.
Bennison had been at Radical for 14 years, and all the games he’d worked on were licensed titles (games based on concepts from other media), such as The Simpsons Hit & Run, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, and Scarface: The World Is Yours. After his team completed the Hulk game, Bennison realized they had an opportunity to pitch a fresh concept.
“For us, the Holy Grail was to get to work on an original idea,” he said.
Bennison, Detwiller, and Holmes had been mulling over the idea for Prototype since the summer of 2005, and convinced the publishing company that the game should be their next project.
Taking on an original IP is risky, Bennison explained, because the development costs are high and games based on familiar franchises are more reliable sellers.
If an original game is successful, though, the financial reward for the developer is high, and it can create a new franchise on which to build. For example, The Legend of Zelda and Halo arose from original concepts.
In a December 2008 interview, Zmak said, “Creating an original intellectual property is the hardest thing to do in our industry.” Bennison had admitted to him that developing Prototype had been harder than they had expected, was taking longer than they wanted, and was costing more than they had anticipated. “To actually do something exceptional is painful,” Zmak remarked.
With the game now out, Zmak noted that the expectations of Activision—which owns Radical and publishes games from the studio—are high. “We’ve got to sell a lot of units in order for us to carry this beyond being a great game,” he said. “It needs to be a franchise.”
Belanger said Prototype was developed with the hope that it would lead to sequels, even though only a small percentage of games based on original concepts are successful.
“Nobody wanted to create a one-off,” Zmak said. “We never started this with low expectations.”