Hitman: Absolution hits the streets next Tuesday, and it marks the eagerly-awaited return of bald hardnut Agent 47. His last contract was back in 2006, with Hitman: Blood Money, so our boy has been out of the loop for quite some time. But IO Interactive is adamant that the stern-looking assassin is still as fit and active as always.
Ahead of the gameís release, I had a chat with IOís art director, Roberto Marchesi, about the design elements of the game and whether the studioís experimentation with social media in Sniper Challenge
could lead to further community interaction in the future.
SPOnG: Has it been daunting to get back into working on Hitman after many years away from the franchise?
No, it hasnít really. Itís such a pleasure to work with. I started out as a concept artist on the series, and that sort of work is always really fun. You have such a large spectrum of locations to play with, from the super-high class and trendy areas to the more outrageous, and everything in between. Itís a huge freedom to work with.
From a gameplay point of view, the game lends itself so well to the early stages of production. We took a long time with development on Absolution
because we wanted to create an engine from the ground up. Our ambition was so great, that we realsied pretty quickly that we would need something like the Glacier 2 engine to allow us to push the graphical style, character detail and AI that we needed.
SPOnG: In terms of art direction, one thing I notice is that thereís a lot of bloom and vivid colours that don't fit with a totally realistic world. Itís more like a graphical novel, in appearance. Was this intentional?
It was very much intentional. We went for a hyper-realistic approach - if you look at all the characters, the tools and environments, you can see that we try to give them all a bit more definition and detail than they probably would have if we were imitating reality.
We also wanted to have a very theatrical art style - the goal was to be very dramatic. Very cinematic. We did this by playing with the lighting as much as possible. We know that some of the light setups in the levels are not necessarily realistic, but we chose them because we believe in a dramatic approach.
Lighting is also used as a tool for conveying information to the player. Hopefully some people will pick up clues in this manner on a subconscious level - where they simply get drawn to what is relevant in the game world without thinking about it. At the same time though, as well as informative we wanted to look as entertaining as possible.
SPOnG: A lot of AAA games at this late stage in the generation have focused on open-world play. Hitmanís stayed close to its roots, using classic sequential level design. Is the Contracts Mode a way of opening up the Hitman world a bit more? Is open-world even necessary for a game like Hitman?
Well, open-world is a really cool concept and can work well in many types of games. But a Hitman
game is very much made up of social stealth, outrageous accidents and methodical planning of target execution. You can still shoot everything that moves, or decide to sneak around the whole time for the Silent Assassin rating, but level design in a Hitman
game is more about the preparation of your kill and exploring open-ended game mechanics.
Some of those elements just donít lend themselves well to a completely open-world environment, as we know from other titles. So this is very much a choice that we made ourselves, to ensure that the levels are as interactive as possible and allow for a higher graphical fidelity and pixel density on screen.
is meant to have levels that feel like living, breathing worlds. A world that is entertaining, that you can spend hours in, plotting and scheming. That is something youíd have a hard time achieving if such levels and missions are spread out across entire regions.
SPOnG: Hitman: Sniper Challenge was an interesting experiment, using social networking to stage a mini-game competition. What did you take away from that, and are there plans to go down that road again in the future?
Roberto Marchesi: Sniper Challenge
was our pre-order incentive, and it was created from a desire to offer a bonus that was really worth the money you put down to pre-order. Weíre really proud of this game, and we wanted to make people feel like they were getting something out of ordering early - not just a golden gun, or something like that.
We decided to make a level that contained this unique gameplay, but at the same time it ended up playing on the philosophical aspects and pure gameplay elements of the Hitman
franchise. The fact that you had to take out a target without detection, where you can set up accidents but confined to a solitary spot. All of that was very true to the seriesí roots.
It all came about after we were testing the sniper rifle for Hitman: Absolution
on a mock-up level made by our designers. We were having so much fun with it. Someone had the brilliant idea of just re-skinning it and releasing it as a viable game - if we were having such fun with it, what would happen if it really was an official release?
As to whether thereís going to be any more of that... I canít really go into that right now. But it has proven itself to be a great success, with many people playing and challenging one another. The entire competitive aspect of it has really gone above and beyond what we expected to see before we released it.
SPOnG: Now that the game is done and dusted, what do you think has been the most challenging and yet rewarding aspect of developing it?
Ahh [laughs]. In a way, this is the Hitman
game that we have always wanted to make. It has all the elements that we were trying to achieve with the previous ones, but now we have the abilities and tools to actually convey it on screen. That in itself was hugely rewarding, but challenging at the same time. To be able to finally put all these pieces together and create the most complete Hitman
game we could make.
Itís been a big payoff for us, I think. And we also tried to be true to the legacy and build upon it. That was a big focus for us, and now that we pulled it off, itís a big relief!
SPOnG: Thanks a lot for your time.
Hitman: Absolution will be hitting PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC on November 20. Keep an eye out for SPOnG's review on Sunday at 1pm.