Hitman: Absolution Interview - Agent of Change
Written Tuesday, July 17, 2012 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
It’s almost time. For more than half a decade Agent 47 has been lurking in the shadows, waiting for his moment to strike. Now Hitman: Absolution is just a few short months away.
Here we talk to producer Luke Valentine about that six year gap, whether the game is forgetting Hitman’s stealthy roots, and IO interactive’s attempt to bring Absolution to the masses. They’re not being shy about it either. IO want Hitman to sell in “huge, huge volumes.”
You’ll notice that we make reference to a demo of the game during the interview. You can find the write-up from that demo here.
In the first level of the demo we played, it seems as if it can be completed very quickly. You can just run in, shoot and run out. Is it like that all the way through, or was this just because it’s one of the early levels?
Luke Valentine: It shouldn’t be quite that easy. The build you’re playing isn’t the latest. Also, there will be some balancing before we release the game. The idea isn’t that you can get through the level in 10 seconds. But depending on your play style and luck and skill at games, some levels might be completed fairly quickly. And I guess your desire to replay is on the strength of the game. If you’re intrigued by the challenges, for example, or score, you might be inclined to revisit a level and see what else is there for you.
Is that part of the reasoning behind the Challenges? They offer prompts for things like “Poison the coffee.” Are they assists, or encouragement to replay the game in different ways?
LV: Both. I mean it’s kind of a pity when there’s stuff that doesn’t get discovered. And also we want people to get a lot of value out of the game. We know games are expensive and we don’t want people to feel that they can just fly through it, having a pressing forward, skipping through cutscenes, oh-I’ve-finished-it kinda experience. So challenges are part of that.
We’re also aware that it’s pretty easy to find out about hidden parts of the game now. You just go online soon after the game has come out and someone will have put up an FAQ. But yeah, we do want people to replay the levels, definitely. It’s a very intentional part of the game design.
As you increase the difficulty, do the hints and signposts change much? In the level we played there’s a lot of hints telling you what to do.
LV: The level geometry doesn’t change, but the hints do. So the level we showed off, you are quite guided through that particular level. And that’s intentional. In the absence of a tutorial in this level, we need to give the player some help. That level won’t be quite so guided when it is final. Nevertheless, if you play on normal difficulty you will get hints and those hints will be reduced as you escalate up through the difficulty settings.
A lot of stealth franchises these days seem to be going from the hunted to the hunter, but you’re going the other way. What was the reason for that?
LV: You have to bear in mind that we don’t have that split second reaction like you do in some other industries. The course you set off on is quite a few years back, so we’re not necessarily responding to what is happening around us. At the same time we’ve made four Hitman games in a particular style. So we wanted to change things a little, to maintain a lot of the mechanics and the things that make the previous games cool and introduce a rich story that we didn’t really have in the previous games. This aspect of vulnerability, of taking Hitman’s connection away from the agency was something we thought would be interesting for the player.
Does that affect his gadgets as you go on? In previous game the agency would just throw loads of gadgets at you, so you had the tools of the trade at your disposal. How does that work differently with Absolution?
LV: The E3 demo had quite a disheveled looking Hitman. He’s isn’t the $2000-suited guy we saw in the previous games, he was a bit rougher and was using more of the stuff in the environment as weapons rather than state-of-the-art weapons. So there’s a lot more to the story that we haven’t revealed yet.
Would you say it’s more action oriented than say Blood Money and the previous three games?
LV: It really depends on how you play the game. If you want to play using a lot of cover-based gameplay and a lot of violence in close combat and prop attacks and so forth, you’re free to do so. We know there’s people that enjoy playing games in that way. But the same time you can play stealthily and be rewarded for that.
We think that the patient, stealthy player will be rewarded not only in the Challenges and the score, which is pretty immediate, but also in moments - overhearing conversations, witnessing dialogue that you wouldn’t if you just shot everyone in sight. We think there’s a certain amount of reward in that too.
Do you think that the action-based element of the game has to be there to appeal to a wider audience, because stealth is a niche genre?
LV: I mean, we want to be successful, and you can look back on the sales and see the sales of the previous Hitman games. They sold well, but we wanna sell more. And we know that to target more people we need to register with and excite more people. We definitely didn’t want this to be a niche product. No. Because niche products don’t sell in huge, huge volumes.
Saying that, we don’t want to dumb down and make something that’s crap and won’t please the hardcore. Really now it’s up to people like you to make up your opinions on what we’re trying to do. I really hope people come away from the game feeling rewarded and getting everything they want.
Is it tricky to balance bringing the game to a wider audience and keeping the core Hitman fans happy?
LV: Yeah, I’d say it’s hard. I’d say that forum comments are as public to you as they are to us. We know that every single asset we’ve released has had a huge amount of analysis. It’s just amazing. We could say anything and it would be scrutinised, and obviously the reason for that is that not only is there quite a hardcore, loyal fanbase, but we haven’t released a Hitman game in six years. There’s obviously a lot of interest and that’s cool, y’know.
It’s not a tired, worn-out franchise. It’s something that people are excited about.
Why has it been six years?
LV: There’s no straight-forward answer. The only thing I could use to explain that big gap of time is that we had our proprietary in-house engine, Glacier, which we used to power the original four Hitman games, Kane & Lynch 1 and 2, and Freedom Fighters. That served us well and shipped lots of games and made lots of people happy, but we wanted to something different.
We could have licensed an engine, but we made the decision to build a brand new engine. This engine was built specifically for Hitman: Absolution. That has its own challenges and takes a certain amount of effort, and what we’re hoping today is that you see the fruits of that labour. We are very proud of what we’ve been working on. We’ve got so much more to show too.
A lot of that effort with the engine seems to have gone into the crowd reactions. In Hitmans gone by the crowds were just husks wandering around, now they have a lot more personality. Was that one of the big obstacle that you had to overcome.
LV: Crowd technology is certainly one aspect of the engine that we’ve been showing off. Also, the AI. You didn’t really notice much because you completed the level very quickly, but if you try again you might notice that when the police get suspicious, the suspiciousness makes their behaviour change. With that comes the animation and the language they use.
It escalates up through different states of alertness, from being curious to actually going into combat and hunting you. And if you get away then they actually come back down through the states again. That’s an aspect of the technology that we’re really, really proud of.
The way we handle music and audio in the engine is really impressive too. The way that we layer music depending on the situation, and on the AI and state of the AI as well. It’s very dynamic and something that we’ve build from scratch and we’re very proud of it.
Luke, thanks for your time.
Hitman: Absolution is out on November 20th, 2012.