Jonathan Lim, or Jono as he known to his friends, started his video game career with a short stint at Electronic Arts before he moved to Radical Entertainment where he’s been ever since. After his humble beginning in Q&A, Jono worked his way up the ladder at the developer to occupy a leading role in the creation of games based on well known creative licences, as well as the developer’s landmark original IP, Prototype. While he admits to being a big fan of eating chicken, he is quick to point out that he is just as big a fan of eating beef.
You started work at Radical Entertainment on a pair of Simpsons game, Road Rage in 2001 and then Hit & Run in 2003. What was that like?
Radical Entertainment producer, Jonathan Lim (JL): I have some fond memories of working on those games. I started at Radical as a Q&A tester in 2000 and I had no idea what I was in for, as I was fresh out of school and I had not studied anything related to video games.
Working on The Simpsons Road Rage was a huge opportunity, as I thought the game and the property were really awesome. Not only was I testing a Simpsons game, but I was getting paid to do it. Work on that game was a tremendous amount of fun and the team working on it was full of super talented individuals. Both games also did really well and I was excited about that.
You then moved on to work on other licensed properties such as The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction in 2005 and Scarface: The World Is Yours in 2006. How different was your experience on these games compared to The Simpsons titles?
JL: It was a little bit different, but back then the strength of Radical was working on licensed IP. What we did really well was capture the essence of those IPs and that was what we were universally praised for. So whether you played the Simpsons games or Scarface: The World Is Yours, you felt like you were the characters in those worlds. I think that’s what we really did well with all of those licensed games.
In terms of the development process some things were different, but the focus in capturing the essence of the IP for the games was quite similar, as well as making sure people have fun while being in that universe.
What are some of the general challenges with working on licensed titles?
JL: There is always a huge set of expectations from the fans that you have to meet otherwise you will get backlash. You have to stay true to the universe and capture each character in the right way, and sometimes that can be a big challenge. It can also be a bit restrictive in terms of the stories you can or want to tell. With new IP, it sounds great on paper as the sky is the limit and you can do whatever you want, but that freedom is also tough. If you don’t know what you want to do with that IP and don’t know where to go with it, you can wallow aimlessly before you finally settle on something. The challenge then becomes how to tell an interesting story that people will get excited about and then make a game out of it.
You were able to work on a new IP with the open world superhero game Prototype in 2009. How did you find the leap into creating a new IP based on open world gameplay?
JL: Any time you start a new endeavour is difficult, and not only was Prototype a new IP for us, but at the time it was also a leap in generation for us. All prior games at Radical had been on the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube, and now we were moving to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. From a technological point of view, there were certainly a lot of challenges in making sure we were competitive with what was out there.
Creatively, we had to figure out how to tell the story and how to capture the interest of players. These hurdles also made it fun, as a lot of us go to work to face these challenges and conquer them. That was a lot of what drove us with the original Prototype.
Prototype sold well and was a hit for Radical Entertainment, but what reaction did players have to the game?
JL: The great thing about releasing a game is that there is no shortage of feedback, as we can turn to all the reviews, blogs and comments on forums. Generally, the reception was quite positive and the game was seen as unique in terms of what you could do with the main character, such as wall running, jumping high into the air, and gliding. Players enjoyed the locomotion and combat mechanics.
How about constructive feedback from players?
JL: As far as criticism, the biggest one was about the difficulty curve ramped up quite unfairly at times, and to a certain extent, the story was a bit of a mess. We concentrated on having this nice conspiracy, but players just weren’t interested in that. There were too many layers and players just disengaged from the story to go and blow stuff up instead, which is always fun. [Laughs] We tried really hard to address both of those issues with Prototype 2, so hopefully that will stand out when people play the game.
Prototype had the interesting timing of coming out in 2009 in the same time frame as Sucker Punch’s Infamous. Were you surprised by how the media and public reacted to this?
JL: It’s definitely a weird phenomenon when two creative works come out that are similar in scope. There were the films Volcano and Dante’s Peak in 1997, as well as Armageddon and Deep Impact the following year. Somehow fate conspired to release these two works together. As far as the public reaction goes, it is human nature to see these two games and start asking questions. At the end of the day, what I think stood out about these two games was that they were quite different and there was space for both of them.
What do you feel separated both games?
JL: Infamous felt more of a third person shooter to me, while Prototype had more melee-based gameplay. That’s why I think the market has shown it has been comfortable with having both titles.
Prototype 2 is coming out on its own in 2012, as Infamous 2 already came out a year earlier. With 2012 all to itself, what do you feel Prototype 2 will do differently than its predecessor?
JL: For me, the standout feature of Prototype 2 is the story. It’s a very personal story about James Heller and how he lost his wife and daughter, and why he is hell-bent on revenge. Ridding the game world, New York Zero, of the virus becomes a personal vendetta for him. I think it is much easier to identify with Heller than with Mercer, and by driving that story players will become more engaged with James, what he’s doing, as well as his motivations. I feel that’s a huge leap over the first game.
How about gameplay-wise?
JL: For me, it would have to be the combat system. As I mentioned before, Prototype felt a bit unfair at times due to the difficulty and it wasn’t the gamer’s fault. We did some things that did not shine through in the tutorials, so players did not quite have the tools to deal with those situations.
This time around the big focus for us was the tutorial system and making sure that players know how to adequately use these tools in the right situations.
Considering that fans were already familiar with Alex Mercer in the first game, what was the reasoning for switching protagonists in Prototype 2?
JL: From our perspective, it came down to a couple of things. One was the fact that we weren’t sure where to take Mercer after the first game. By the end of the game, he was an über-powerful being that had all of these powers but we had trouble figuring out what he could do next. Was he going to fight planets next? [Laughs]
The other thing was that the most interesting part of the first game was the fact that you’re taking this guy from human to something that is crazy powerful. That process of transformation of the character and how he reacts to it is a much more interesting story to tell.
However, we did not want to lose fans of the first game by ignoring Alex completely, so we knew we needed to tie him into the story. Bringing him back as the antagonist was designed to satisfy both camps of people, those who like Alex Mercer and those who want something new.
So is Radical Entertainment keen to make the series a trilogy with Prototype 3?
JL: Anytime you put out a product, you want it to be successful to the point where you can work on it again, and I think that’s ultimately our goal. If Prototype 2 is as successful as we think it will be, we might be back here talking about Prototype 3.
While another sequel to Prototype is all well and good, when is Radical Entertainment going to release a sequel to Scarface: The World Is Yours?
JL: I had a lot of fun working on Scarface: The World Is Yours and I wish there was an opportunity to work on the sequel, but it’s kind of out of our control at this point. Will there ever be a sequel? Maybe, maybe not. I can’t really say. Though, it’s nice to know that the game still has fans!
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