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AusGamers Hitman: Absolution Developer Interview Video with Roberto Marchesi
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 06:45pm 09/10/12 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with IO Interactive's Roberto Marchesi, who serves as art-director on Hitman: Absolution. Read on or watch for what he had to say...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for a direct link.

AusGamers: Ladies and gents, welcome back to AusGamers. You are here once again with Stephen Farrelly. We’ve got a very special guest, who’s come all the way over to Australia: from IO Interactive, we’ve got Roberto, who’s the Art Director on Hitman: Absolution.

We’ve just run through a pretty awesome presentation. Let’s get into the big one: Contracts, which is a really interesting thing that kind of spawned from the community. Can you kind of talk about... I mean, you told us in the presentation, but let’s talk about the genesis of that.

Roberto: Certainly, when we started out with Absolution, we knew we wanted to have some form of online element for the community to keep on playing, but multiplayer as we know it in general, is just not a good fit for this type of game -- it doesn’t make any sense to run around with a flag on your back, and shooting at people. So we wanted to have something that was more true to the franchise.

In reality, just when we were looking around, it turns out that the people who had been playing Blood Money for all these years had actually already come up with the answer for us, and that was the inspiration for Contracts mode. It’s fundamentally a mode that starts out on the premise that anyone on a level can be a contract, and that’s what the community has been doing all these years, they’ve been finding innocent people on the levels, that have nothing to do with the contract we set up originally, and trying to take them out with different weapons in very creative ways.

And this goes back to the core of what Absolution is: it’s a game about freedom of choice, and creativity, and contracts will lend itself very well to this.

AusGamers: Let’s talk about the “innocent people” that you just mentioned, because one of the big things, obviously, with the Hitman franchise over the years -- and any stealth game really -- is AI, and you just talked about that in the presentation. The demo you ran us through had some pretty dynamic AI; some pretty interesting AI scripting going on.

What drove... in Contracts, was Contracts always a part of the initial blueprint for Absolution, and did that drive some of the complexity of the AI, or was it just a single package?

Roberto: Well, Contracts was pretty much something we wanted to add from the early times, but it didn’t necessarily drive the AI as such. What drove the AI, is the fact that we know we can’t control it, and we cannot predict what the players will do -- the game is pretty much open in its nature, and the possibilities are pretty much endless on how you can complete your mission on a given level.

What we needed was an AI that was robust enough to withstand the poking and shoving that players will give it, and we can see easily in playtests, that usually people come up and play the game for the first time, they come up with solutions that we’d never thought of. But still, the AI needs to be able to cope with them, and give players a meaningful response that is fun and engaging to fight against.

AusGamers: So how robust are the routines then? Because obviously, the longer you wait, the more motions the AI goes through. How layered is that?

Roberto: It’s very... it really depends on the state they are in. The AI has different states, on what type of level you are. But what is very interesting about it, is that the AI -- how we set it up -- talks a lot among each other, it has to share knowledge.

For instance, if the first cop finds a dead body, he will get alerted and start to be agitated. If there are no cops in the vicinity, he won’t be able to share this knowledge, so the other cops on the level will not be alerted. The moment that he meets another one, they can share this knowledge and they’ll both be on the lookout for you, but until that point, it’s not a hive mind, they have to talk to each other.

So basically, you can actually contain situations; unlike the old games, where if you were spotted at the beginning of a level, you actually restarted it because you were forced into combat all through to the ending of it. Now you can encounter situations where it gets a bit iffy, you’re spotted by one cop, and you’re forced to take him down before he actually calls for help. Or if they’re suspicious of you, and they’re running after you, you can manage to hide long enough for them to stand down, and then you can keep on playing the game without having to stay in combat all the time.

This is also a balancing issue, because of course, if an NPC is on the lookout for something suspicious, he would probably do it longer in real life than he will do in the game, but here is where it’s suspension of disbelief, and the fact that you need to create meaningful gameplay that is also fun comes into play.

AusGamers: Well that’s another good point, because in creating, you also mentioned that there are different conditions that the players can set for their contract. Again, how deep does that go? What level of conditions are there? Is there a limit to how many things you can do within each contract?

Roberto: Yes. Fundamentally there is a limit. What you can do is... there’s lots of variations though: you can take any weapon, and any disguise on a Contracts level, and you can place up to three targets, and you can choose to kill them in whatever way you choose. Then it’s up to the other players that receive this contract to try and figure out how you did it, and if they can do it better than you did. Just because you chose to bring a sniper rifle on a level, it doesn’t mean that is probably the best way to solve this given contract.

AusGamers: Another interesting thing is: obviously you can share contracts with your friends -- that’s the point of it -- it seems, because it’s a checklist so-to-speak, for the player to go through, there’s the potential for cross-platform play, without having to have an Xbox 360 player physically playing against a PS3 player. But are you guys thinking about offering shared contracts?

Roberto: Well, the game ships with featured contracts that are played upon the Contracts levels, and they’re created by us. And they can [go] classic in their loadout, or they can completely turn around a level in its approach. For instance: what we showed today was the library, which is a simple A to B escape without being spotted by a cop in the single-player. But in the feature contract that we showed, we have placed the target in the middle of this huge library, full of cops.

So the challenge is completely different, and the outcome of the playthrough is completely different. We will regularly also create contracts that people can download, so if you’re not the competing type of person, that gets a kick out of becoming the world’s number one assassin, you can still just get contracts from us that will have hopefully have a fun factor, that will allow you to revisit levels , and play them in a completely different light.

AusGamers: Will there be contracts for every level in the game?

Roberto: No, not every level in the game, because not every level in the game is suitable for this type of contract. I would say that it’s definitely a majority of the levels that are contract-suitable.

AusGamers: Moving on to the single-player: what have you guys learnt from Blood Money, and from the community, moving forward with the single-player? And what you have implemented to… obviously AI again -- we talked about that -- level-design obviously has to reflect that as well -- having each level as a mini sandbox for people to play in.

Can you kind of elaborate on, I guess, what was the launching point for you guys, and where did you end up?

Roberto: Well, this is kind of a big question, but our mandate at the beginning, was to make the most ambitious, biggest, wildest, craziest, and best-playing Hitman game IO has ever made -- which sounds pretty good. The trick is also, to give to the fans of the franchise that have been following so long; give them something that we knew they wanted -- come up with a feature that innovates the gameplay, but at the same time, is true to the legacy of the game, and doesn’t break something that is considered a pillar of the franchise.

These pillars can vary a lot: just from a looks point-of-view, the suit; the way that 47 presents himself is very iconic, and is not suitable for tampering. Another pillar is the disguise gameplay -- that’s a classic hallmark of the series -- and that’s something we wanted to build upon. We didn’t want to change it too much or take it away, so what we did is introduced the blending mechanic, which basically goes a layer deeper than the previous disguise mechanic.

Accident kills are also something which are very much a pillar of this franchise, and also something we wanted to keep very much alive, and come up with new creative ways of getting rid of your targets.

AusGamers: You obviously have a pretty robust cast. I’ve seen Powers Boothe in there, Vivica Fox, and a bunch of other quite well-known names. Can you talk about the level of storytelling, versus dynamic outcomes for players? Will there be different endings, different conversations, different tangents that happen as a result of the way that you play?

Roberto: Yes and no. Meaning that the story itself -- the story arc of Absolution -- is one. This time around, we really had a lot of focus on putting 47 through a more personal journey compared to the previous titles, so that story is pretty much locked down. But you can also get a secondary level of storytelling of the Universe -- creating a living, breathing world feeling -- when you’re playing the game. That’s the story that gets told to you when you just have your controller in your hand, and you have enough patience to hide behind a couch and listen to what’s happening around you.

In that situation, you can actually affect what’s happening during a level. You can get different outcomes out of the NPCs on the level, depending on how you play. If you decide to kill people, to go more aggressive, or to just sneak through, it will change some of the information you get, and that’s where the 2000 pages of dialogue we have, come into play. Because if you play through a game once, you will never hear them all, you have to push the NPCs in certain situations to get something out of them, and some of the situations negate another one.

So in that way, you can affect what type of game it is; how you perceive it. And I’m pretty sure that just by the gameplay itself, it’s inherent that people will finish this game differently. Someone will take out the target with a sniper rifle, someone will shoot, or poison him, someone will have him fall to his death, and that creates a completely different feeling to the game. If you create a mass panic in a crowd, you will probably have a different idea of your Agent 47 when he’s finished a level, instead of maybe just sneaking by all these people.

AusGamers: Will you guys be supporting or fostering the idea of people being able to share how they’ve approached levels? Because obviously, everybody has a different way of playing -- as you just mentioned. Will there be any sort of recording device or anything like that? Any upload potential?

Roberto: Well not recording as such, but fundamentally, that is what Contracts is doing. When you start to create a contract, the contract starts recording every move you make, and the moment you take out your target -- be him a new one, or the one that is outlined from the story mode -- the contract will record what you were wearing, what weapon you used, and when you did it, and from there on, everyone can see it.

AusGamers: I’ll finish up with two more questions: Will there be any difference at all across any of the platforms? More specifically PC. Have you scaled the engine to basically be pretty much parity across all three? Or are we going to get a bit more oomph out of the PC version?

Roberto: Well, the oomph is definitely there. As you can see, we have a high-end PC running the build here, and it’s on three different screens, and I think the resolution is 5000 x... it’s ridiculous; it’s huge. But that’s the easy part. The PC build is the high-end one, and will release simultaneously. It will have better graphics, and definitely more special effects and particles on-screen. It will not change gameplay-wise. But the other consoles are on par.

AusGamers: And finally, has anyone in the studio actually managed to finish the game on the purity level?

Roberto: Yeah.

AusGamers: Because that sounds crazy...

Roberto: The purity level we have at this point in time is a good purity level. At one point we had nothing on screen, meaning we didn’t even show the crosshair, or what weapon you selected -- because of course, you could see what you had in your hand -- and we didn’t have any prompts at all of any kind. Now purity’s purest mode -- which is the hardest mode -- takes away any kind of hints, and most of the prompts on-screen (for instance: your crosshair) will still show, because people found it difficult to aim, in a third-person shooter, without the crosshair. Having played the game enough, you actually become quite adept to aiming without the crosshair [laughs].

AusGamers: Well, it’s awesome that a developer has actually gone and thrown that really old-school hardcore mode at people, because a lot of classic gamers are really asking for that now.

Roberto: This is one more focus of the team, because we really wanted to stay true to the legacy. We wanted to make the game more accessible, but that doesn’t mean easy -- it’s really important to understand that. We wanted to make people understand the rules of the game, and to react to it. But if you wanted to go for the Silent Assassin rating -- which is a hallmark of the Hitman series -- the game is not easy.

AusGamers Allright. Well, we’ll leave it there, but it’s a great year for assassination games; stealth games, it seems. But as you guys have pointed out throughout the media for this game: the original assassin, the original Hitman is here. So the game is looking fantastic; thanks very much for your time. Cheers.

Roberto: Thank you.
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