IO Interactive had a surprise waiting for press and gamers alike, when showcasing Hitman: Absolution at Gamescom earlier this month.
It staged a special conference just to unveil it. I was fearing the worst - a badly-hacked together multiplayer featuring multiple Agent 47s pottering around trying to cap each other. Instead, I was treated to a fascinating user-generated content feature called Contracts - see the video here
When journeying through Agent 47ís story in single-player, one can pause the game and opt to accept a user-generated Contract - which modifies the current level on the fly and switches targets, forces a particular assassination method and challenges you with taking a particular course throughout the stage. Itís all very interesting, and to learn more I had a chat with IOís game director, Tore Blystad.
SPOnG: You recently announced Contracts Mode. It looks very unique. What were your inspirations for coming up with a mode like this?
Well, as you can imagine, because this is a big franchise thereís been pressure to develop some kind of multiplayer for the game. Working alongside the Kane & Lynch
team meant that we had the expertise to create such a mode. But the way Hitman
is constructed - this powerful, dominating main character with a very personal storyline - it ended up being quite challenging to come up with any kind of multiplayer that would fit this kind of universe and way of playing.
We looked to the fans and how they were playing the previous games. And a lot of fans still play some of the early games, which are some ten years old now. They knew them so well, that they were coming up with alternative targets for the levels, because they were too tired of killing off the regular ones. We thought that was really inventive, and thought we could do something with this.
SPOnG: That must have been just as challenging though, right? To create a whole new mode when you could have just built a multiplayer mode?
Yeah. The thing is with Hitman, is that the AI is basically the shining star of the game. Thatís the driving force of all the gameplay that we have. We have to create a system where every single NPC can deal with anything you can do as a player. If you want to sneak up on someone and attack them from behind, or completely evade them or use disguises, the AI has to deal with all of that.
In a way, because of that, building the Contracts mode ended up being a natural thing for us to do. The way we designed the game, anyone can be a target - itís just a simple case of the code flagging a certain character. We could build some special behaviour around them, of course, but thatís not really what makes the situation interesting. Itís more the constellation of the level surrounding him, and how you choose to approach him.
The main challenge was in designing the editor. We knew that the code could handle Contracts mode from a design aspect, but the question was how to create the user-generated missions. Itís usually very daunting to have a level editor that people go in and use to move things around. In a game with so many moving parts, it becomes quite complex.
It was suggested that we tried playing the game to select targets. We found it strange at first, but in practice it adds so much more. First of all, as a creator youíre challenging yourself to do something within the game. You donít want to just select the first available guy, kill him off and run away. Thatís not a very satisfying way of playing the game, and anyone can do it.
So youíll go in and consider who to shoot and whether you want it to be challenging, funny or just unusual. As the creator, you can spend any amount of time just making what you think is the perfect contract for someone. It could just be for the one friend that you know will really like it, and you can test them to beat it. If they one-up you, they can send it right back. Now, suddenly you are challenged on your own turf.
SPOnG: Does all of this happen solely within the game, or is there scope to launch an accompanying website in the same style as Call of Duty Elite or ResidentEvil.Net?
Yes - I cannot say too much about it, because I am only working on the game. But, whenever you create a Contract you are given a long text string, which works like a barcode. Thatís the Contractís Unique ID, and these things can travel on any device. Players can send cool contracts to one another simply by sharing this code.
Of course, weíre looking into opportunities on how to easily share these codes between friends on different media. This is something that youíll probably see in the future. Thereíll also be a Like and Dislike feature added, that will naturally float the more popular contracts to the top. If you are very particular about your tastes, you will also be able to go in and filter things down.
SPOnG: Are you thinking about making the website a premium entity or a free service?
Iím not sure about that.
SPOnG: Are the briefings that come with the contracts automatically generated, depending on how you set up the scene?
No, you can write that out yourself. Itís free text. So if you have a funny story that you want to tell about a particular character, you can do that.
SPOnG: ďThis cop ate the last donut, this cannot be forgiven?Ē
[Laughs] Yeah! And for me, I must say personally, one of the most interesting things with games is telling a story. A story that is told without impeding on your experience. So this sort of thing just adds an additional element to a user-generated content feature and making it more fun to play. Iím really hoping that people are creative with their stories, making stuff up that we could never come up with that would create great comedy or drama.
SPOnG: We saw a couple of levels - the library and the... marijuana house. These were quite small arenas - are there bigger maps planned?
Yes. If you see some of the other maps, like the Streets of Hope video that we had for E3, there are far much larger areas to take advantage of. But actually, the different constraints of each level doesnít necessarily make one more interesting to play than another. It just changes the experience. Sometimes, want just want to play something that only required half an hour or ten minutes to figure out, rather than three or four hours.
SPOnG: I wanted to touch on the recent ĎAttack of the Saintsí E3 trailer. It obviously caught a lot of controversy when it was released. Do you think thereís a fine line between creativity and controversy, and is it difficult to straddle that line?
Yes. Well, when youíre creating something and putting it out there, thereís always going to be this unknown factor. You never know how people will actually respond to something. For us, the Attack of the Saints trailer is inspired by a part of the game. There is a level that starts like this, where these super-assassins from 47ís agency are attacking him with a rocket launcher. Thatís how the level starts, and then you can choose how you want to go about the level.
Obviously, if you know the Hitman
games, youíll also know that this is not an unusual setting for a Hitman
game. Itís always been this quite cartoony, extreme world where anything can basically happen and any element can be added to it. So we were quite surprised about the controversy. Especially now, when everything is so connected, everybodyís on Twitter or Facebook or some kind of social network, news travels lightning-fast and these things can flame up very quickly and unexpectedly.
I think... we are trying to be, of course, as creative as we can with the game because we want to create a very diverse and fun experience for the players. We donít want to deliberately offend anyone, or put them off the game, because thatís kind of meaningless for us. We want to create a game where people can be a part of this world, not put off by it.
Iím sure if this catches on... if people use it and enjoy it, we will do things to expand it. But we cannot talk about any clear plans for it right now. Obviously, from a developer point of view, this is a new opportunity for us, and we are going to be very mindful to which areas and levels are the most interesting for people to create contracts in.
We donít have enough data yet on what makes people tick in that regard. Well, of course we know that killing people is important [laughs]! And choosing how to do it is the key to that. But anything else involves elements that we have to explore for ourselves.
SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time.