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Hitman: Absolution – E3 Interview

Hitman: Absolution – E3 Interview

While at E3, the Imagine Publishing crew double-teamed the Hitman: Absolution developers. Over on NowGamer.com, Dave Cook tackled lead producer Hakan Abrak. Over here on Play-Mag.co.uk, I tackled game director Tore Blystad.


I noticed the emphasis of your E3 presentation was on Agent 47 escaping, not assassinating.
Yeah. He is on the run. He have paced the game a little bit more than previous games. In Blood Money, we felt it was one huge mission, then another huge mission, then another huge mission… and you always start outside and probe your way in. It got a little repetitive at the end.

There are certain sections of the game that start a little emergent such as this one with the cops looking out for you. You have to make choices a little faster and your strategies might be a little different. But the old classical Hitman levels are still in there.

So you’re bringing in new elements alongside the old ones?
Yeah. You can imagine we have 15 minutes at E3 to show off the game and to show off the diversity and showing off the stealthy Hitman sections… it’s difficult to compare against Battlefield 3! So we choose a section of the game that lent itself to this kind of show. It is, I would say, dynamic in the way you have a lot of choice. We have also chosen a route to show that improvised weapons is now a new thing so even if you’re empty handed, you still have a lot of choice and ways to deal with these situations.

Why the long break between Blood Money and Absolution?
Basically, we got the opportunity to make the game we really wanted to make with Absolution and that required a completely new technology, what we call Glacial2, our in-house engine. It’s extremely powerful in terms of AI and cinematics. We can make a totally cinematic experience based on the way the player is playing. So if you play differently, the style of the music and cinematics will be different because it’s all based on player choice.

So the sequel didn’t exist because the technology didn’t exist.
Yeah. I mean, when Hitman was made in 2000 I guess it was, we made an engine called Glacial1 that took us through all these games. Now at Absolution, it’s been a mixture of making completely new tech on the render side, gameplay and sound direction.

Looking back at Blood Money, what was the main area you wanted to focus on for this sequel?
We always try to make cinematic games but it’s been hard for us in the past because they’re set-up as very cinematic, they could be like a movie… but the presentation is very rigid. You could say they hadn’t been presented as well.

So we wanted to bring the cinematic experience into the gameplay and bringing the story closer to the player, rather than being this convoluted story that didn’t have any connections. We wanted a much tigher experience while keeping all the choices of the old games, which has been a big task for us.

Was that the only thing you wanted to address?
We took everything with the entire franchise and thought, how do we want to make a new game that keeps the legacy intact and also modernises the Hitman formula? In terms of gameplay, focusing on AI. You can see it’s more nuanced and not as black and white as in the old days where you take a disguise and if you get found out, everyone knows about it. It was completely obscure for the player to understand.

Now it’s more logical. If someone sees you in your disguise, they’ll be suspicious, you can draw them out the way and kill them. If you wait, they might start telling their friends and suspicion will spread through the level, like ripples in the pond. So it’s more about containment rather than you do something bad and then everything goes wrong and you have to restart the level.

We do a lot of user research where we bring in hardcore Hitman fans and people who play third-person games and even SingStar fans to see how people react to the game. We can see that everybody who knows the franchise, the moment they’re exposed to anything, they hit reload. It’s inherent in them! And we’re like no, no, you don’t have to reload anymore! It might be a bit messy but you’re not doomed if you clean up after yourself and continue.

We want the game to be flexible for the player and not punish you as hard as in the past. But we know we have a lot of hardcore fans who want to be punished so we will flog them as hard as they want! We have a lot of nuanced systems for tracking what they’re doing so we can give rewards and take them away as they fail.

Has the experience of working on Kane & Lynch between the Hitman games helped the studio?
We wanted to open up, right, to see if we could have more IPs running at the same time. We are a small studio located in Copenhagen. It’s difficult for us to scale because we simply can’t find the people. But both Kane & Lynch and Mini Ninjas have brought us new experience that we’re not that many people in the studio, so some of those people are now working on Absolution, bringing in whatever experience they have. But there’s nothing direct.

It was fair to say the reception to Kane & Lynch 2 was mixed…
Yeah. Yeah. That was crazy. Getting from 10/10 to 0/10, that was tough on the team. There was a lot of balls in that game and in certain areas, that game really excelled and some of the stuff is amazing but I think… yeah. What can I say?

After a critical mauling like that, do you want to play it safe now?
I wouldn’t say it’s playing it safe this time. For our hardcore fans, things are changing and they see it. Whatever we change, they are screaming and they are screaming very loud! We feel we’re taking a lot of bold moves with this one [laughs] but it’s all for the sake of the game. Everyone on the team wants to make the best Hitman game they possibly can. Most people came to IO to work on Hitman, right? So it’s not like we want to destroy the franchise. We just want to make something that is really cool that we hope people can enjoy.

How did you feel when even during Kane & Lynch days, everyone was demanding the return of Hitman?
Every time we made an announcement, everyone was like “what? It’s not Hitman? Fuck you guys!” Now it’s like every time we say something it’s like “what? It’s not Freedom Fighters 2? Fuck you guys!” We can’t say anything without pissing anyone off! [laughs]

Nature of the beast.
Yeah, of course! We’re all really thrilled to work on the franchise and have such a loyal fanbase, right? I mean we have 350,000 fans on Facebook without saying anything for a really long time, so that is crazy.

Now you have your new engine in place, how much further can you push PlayStation3?
I don’t know. We’re still pushing it with this. You saw what we had four months ago and we’re still improving on that. Our render guys are finding more milliseconds here and there and pushing in more characters, so it’s moving upwards, especially with obscure tech like PS3, you can always dig out some more cycles here and there… if you know some guys at Sony you could get some inside information! [laughs]

When we look at games, we might say it doesn’t look completely photorealistic or 100% believable but we’ve also reached a level where everything looks pretty good and it’s more about style rather than if you have the best tech or not. It’s how you handle the game and present it to the player. It’s hard to say with new platforms what it will bring. It will bring more in terms of distribution I guess and being a service to the player rather than bringing these monstrous titles that take a long time to produce.

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  • TReaper

    sounds like a lot of dumb stuff still

    here is your cover http://www.coflash.com/stuff/hitmanabsolution.jpg

  • Ryan

    They better not screw this one up.

    btw, What the hell is freedom fighters?

    Sorry guys, but EVERYONE WANTS HITMAN…like YEARS AGO already.

    Don’t they want to make money? Seriously..

  • Ian Dransfield

    Freedom Fighters is one of the best squad-based shooters that ever saw the light of day. IO made it back in 2003/2004, I forget exactly when, and it was thoroughly ignored by the gaming public at large.

    I want a sequel so hard.