Stealth Assured: Hitman Absolution Interview

By Dan Grill on January 11th, 2012 at 2:05 pm.

Just after seeing Agent 47 do his rather John Woo-like thing, our man Dan Gril sat down with Tore Blystad, game director for Hitman: Absolution aka Hitman 5 aka Hitman: Subtitle, and asked the most pressing of questions: whether we’ve lost the silent assassin to open action aimed at impatient console gamers, or if stealth and caution are still very much the order of the day. And also where 47 gets his suits from.

RPS: Have you altered 47′s appearance at all to match that of Timothy Olyphant?

Tore Blystad: Ha, no. Every time a different artist makes another rendition of him he kind of slightly changes.

RPS: Do you, like comic book artists, reinterpret him differently each time? E.g. Frank Miller’s batman?

Tore Blystad: It’s difficult with a character like this. There are so many things that you can’t change, but if you pay attention… his tie is quite different from before. He’s got this clip on his tie and the cut and fabric of his suit is different too.

RPS: So, who’s his designer? Who made the outfit?

Tore Blystad: We will reveal that in the game, actually.

RPS: So, you go into a shop where there’s just racks of red ties, black suits and white shirts?

Tore Blystad: Ha, you’ll have to wait to find out. I’m not allowed to talk about it.

RPS: The alteration in physique makes him more limber and lean than previous games…

Tore Blystad: (laughing) yes, we usually call him the tank. We try to get away from the tank.

RPS: But for a tank, he can’t take many hits.

Tore Blystad: (laughing) yes, a pretty rubbish tank.

RPS: More of a Volvo?

Tore Blystad: We really wanted the feeling of playing him not to be about failing mechanically, walking into a wall or failing to fibrewire someone, it’s more about failing to hide his body or contain the situation. In the old games, it was taken for granted that whoever was playing was so good with the pad or mouse and keyboard that they would be able to perform all these things but, naturally, they weren’t. So all these people were feeling like pretty rubbish hitmen, walking around all the time being shot at and failing to perform things that should be very natural to him.

RPS: Do you think that there’s a tendency, not towards levelling down, but for all action games to go towards a centrepoint because of the imperatives of the mainstream audience?

Tore Blystad: I think, from a control point of view, everyone wants a unified system because it gives a better input; if you can pick up a game and instantly know how things are mapped out. The problem for us, we’ve been trying that a lot, but we still fail because we have so many extra mechanics that we’re running out of buttons really quickly. In the old game, there were these stupid menus so you stood next to a guy that you could drag, take his clothes or his gun, there was a door, a fuse box and you had ten different options. How do we make this simple to understand? We’re getting closer to that but without comprising, how to say, fidelity or choice, then making it more obvious for the player how to play the game.

RPS: For the PC, I guess you have as many buttons as you want. But that’s like the old simulations where you needed a keyboard overlay.

Tore Blystad: (LAUGHS) Hey! Maybe we should do that! That’s awesome.

RPS: There was something about the early Hitmans that was very simulation; we’re going to make the best, most accurate game about killing people and trying to get away with it, and always realistically difficult. Are you going more for the entertainment side now?

Tore Blystad: That depends, there are a lot of the core mechanics to the game that have been revised but not fundamentally changed. The basic traits of the old game are the same in Absolution, but of course, there’s always been a very strong desire to make a cinematic experience in Hitman games. Now we have much better tools than we ever had before, but its the balance of… when you make a game there’s a lot of choice; how do you make a cinematic experience in that world without the player feeling that they’re kind of being controlled, right? Of course, it’s difficult to judge from a demo, but the way we’ve designed the games, the AI is the centrepiece of the tech, and the way that they react is beyond our control; for instance, the music system is listening to the AI, to determine what kind of music should be playing.

If you go in guns blazing, we know how many NPCs will go into combat mode or send out hunting parties for you, if you run away. The music will listen to all these things and give you a dramatic and suspenseful experience regardless of how you want to play the game. You can seamlessly go back and forth between all these different states. And this is how to show off without trying it out and seeing how my play style is reflected in how the game presents the world to me. This is the biggest challenge we’ve had, to feel linear but not be linear.

RPS: The end moment in the gung-ho playthrough, where you did the point shooting and killed a roomful of people, that was where you crammed all your cinematic tools in?

Tore Blystad: We can only do it there because that’s where the player has decided how he wants to perform it. We can show it cinematically, but there is a way to skip what we’re doing and say, either I want to do it by myself, set it up yourself, or say “screw this, I don’t want to watch this crap, I just want to get on and do it”.

RPS: Which would be impressive in itself, like the beginning of Swordfish.

Tore Blystad: Oh, god, yes, that’s awesome. We’re looking at stuff like that, how can we do this without compromising what the player wants to do. We tried all kinds of stuff for a very long time but so it’s getting closer, its still being worked on the system, even if you did the worst point shooting ever, it should still look good. That’s our goal!

RPS: And with the music, the way that syncs with the AI, if you killed anyone in the world apart from one of the nuns, will it change to angelic choirs? Or sexy Barry White music if they’re getting it on?

Tore Blystad: (laughs) I think that might be going a little bit too far. Because not only is the music layered, but every single level has its own unique music, so that’s a lot of content, many hours of music that needs to be produced. If there was a particular funny moment we would like to enhance it somehow, we have very diverse composers who can produce all these styles and sometimes they’re sitting and jamming and they say “hey, can we use this stuff?” and we say “hey, that’s awesome, let’s make a new level for this”, so its been very synergic effect between the music, which came early. That’s new to us, before it was very much ‘here’s the game finished, now score this’. The art direction and audio direction have been the founding pillars of the project.

RPS: Trailers. How hard is it to do a stealth trailer without making it really boring?

Tore Blystad: (laughs) It’s very hard. We have in-house group of people doing trailers and ideas, and it’s getting out to the PRs; “more action, you have to have these big set pieces.” But if you look back at the Hitman games, surprisingly much of the campaign material has been an AK or two guns shooting, it’s actually not much derailing from what we’ve done in the past, but it’s a very difficult thing to convey and we also had all these people coming with “stealth is dead, no-one cares, it’s too slow and boring” and we’re really… it’s the most suspenseful play style, if you just take a little bit of time to invest tin it.

RPS: You’re the Silent Hunter of action games.

Tore Blystad: (laughs) Maybe we can make more stealth-oriented trailers if you just tell these guys (points to PR).

RPS: Facetious question; what does he do in his downtime? Does he have any hobbies? Does he walk the dog?

Tore Blystad: (laughs) We’ve been thinking about that as well. It’s hard to answer. We cannot write those things out properly; your guess is as good as ours. We cut down his dialogue a lot from the original script. He simply cannot say the words. He’s so mechanical and logical. The whole disguise mechanic, the fact that he will just abandon his clothes and again, just to get through, he’s a very disposable character, a non-character in many ways.

RPS: He’s one of those tabula rasas, like Spock in Star Trek, a logical character, or any vaguely autistic movie character.

Tore Blystad: (laughs) Playing together with the choice that the player has, it makes him a very powerful character because then the player feels it’s their experience that he’s conveying in the level.

RPS: He’s the anonymous vector or avatar; he’s also able to take a lot of shots now, though not a tank. In the first Hitman, you’d snipe someone and if you made it out, just running out, you’d be very, very lucky.

Tore Blystad: Like I say, we’re taking some liberties with the code [today] just to make sure you guys don’t see some guy dying three times in a row. It is interesting how marketing and PR changes what you can show and how you show it, compared to what the eventual game is like. There’s a whole funnel. You can almost say that the code drops are kind of a trailer for the game as well.

RPS: So what you’re saying to our readers is that the game will be NOTHING like what I’ve seen.

Tore Blystad: (laughs) NO! This code drop is highlighting the choice and tools available to the player. It’s a very massive game. Naturally E3 was about bringing him back and showing him very superficially, the key strategies you can use in the game. This is more about what you can do to the game if you played it through in different styles. In the future, there are other topics that will also extend people’s understanding of the game.

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60 Comments »

  1. Teronfel says:

    He laughed a lot.

    • ratache says:

      Liars laugh alot, I saw it on TED.

    • Suits says:

      The questions were so funny after all.

    • sinelnic says:

      Was the interview taped in front of a live audience? (laughs)
      (applause)

    • El_Emmental says:

      he’s laughting because the question aren’t that generic and dull

      also, he’s clearly walking on eggs from the very beginning of the interview to the final word, laughting is a defensive maneuver in front of a stressful situation for him.

  2. supernorn says:

    Games don’t have to be ‘cinematic’. That’s what cinema is for.

    ” we also had all these people coming with “stealth is dead, no-one cares, it’s too slow and boring””

    Fire these people.

    • sneetch says:

      Yes, fire those with different opinions, we only ever want people who nod and agree, that’s bound to make our games better!

      Also, you’re assuming the people who said it actually work there and aren’t from focus groups or random feedbackers/forum posters from the net.

    • Jesse L says:

      That’s a strawman, sneetch. Don’t willfully misinterpret.

    • yhancik says:

      Yeah… I suppose it’s their game and they do what they want with it, but I often have this strange feeling, reading devs interviews, that they’re working hard on providing us with the cinematic experience we’ve all been waiting for.

      I never asked for this.

    • sneetch says:

      @Jesse L

      No, it’s not, I was being ironic. Well, maybe it was. A bit. Alright it was but the point I wanted to, but failed to, make is this: criticising and questioning conventions in games is good and this “STFU if you don’t agree with me” attitude doesn’t do anyone any favours. Some people are very quick to dismiss those with different ideas, or conflicting viewpoints, I come across that every day but if everyone did that then there’d be no innovation.

      Now in this case I completely disagree with the “stealth is boring and dead and no-one likes it” stance, I’ve loved stealth mechanics in games since Thief, when they’re done well, but mechanics like that are refined when someone says “this stealth is boring and I don’t like it, it’d be better if…”

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      Sneetch: Your general point is valid, but in this case I’d say the op has it right. If you’re making a stealth game, I don’t know what kind of use people who thinks stealth games are dead will be.

    • sneetch says:

      Yes, I have to agree with that point Post-Internet Syndrome, and so I have to apologise to supernorn for my strawman, sorry about that, sometimes I get sucked into the whole “internet comment wars” thing against my better judgement.

    • Synesthesia says:

      i’m amazed at how much we whine about cinema and videogames, when we all know how much the industry actually owes it. We could use some more of it, too. NO, not the qtes and the press X to jasons.

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      I don’t have anything against cinematic elements in videogames, not at all, but it has become a buzzword and a purpose in itself, which is not what games need. Games can definitely profit from taking inspiration from visual elements of movies, but trying to make games films is a very blunt way of doing that.

    • lurkalisk says:

      “Cinematic” elements in videogames are fine if they don’t detract from what makes a game a game, gameplay. Most people fail in this respect, thus pronounced cinematic elements are usually good signs of a poor game, in my opinion.

      In a case like this, it seems less likely to harm the game as a whole, but you never know…

  3. Turin Turambar says:

    He laughed a… damnit Teronfel!

    Also:

    “RPS: So, you go into a shop where there’s just racks of red ties, black suits and white shirts?

    Tore Blystad: Ha, you’ll have to wait to find out. I’m not allowed to talk about it.”

    So… he can’t talk about anything in the game? Why is he doing the interview, again?

  4. Ultra Superior says:

    That man on the picture is no priest.

    • brkl says:

      You don’t know the plot of the game. Who knows how 47′s character will develop!

  5. Post-Internet Syndrome says:

    1) PR people can kindly go to hell.

    2) Why should we as readers and you as game journalists make excuses for the devs? They show video after video of 47 violently murdering people, and none so far of him invisibly bypassing the obstacles. They show video after video of linear checkpoint-based corridors, and none of big open sandboxes where you can plan your approach.

    They have not showed us a game we would like to play, why should we imagine differently? It’s their job to show us what the game is like.

    3) “Cinematic”. Haven’t we been over this many times?

    • Optimaximal says:

      This is a developer whose demo of their previous game in the series was the tutorial level which demonstrated none of the finished products brilliance.

    • RakeShark says:

      This is also a developer whose demo of their previous game in the series was the tutorial level which demonstrated none of the finished products boss fights.

  6. CaspianRoach says:

    (laughs) I think I’m looking forward to this game.

    • Milos says:

      Ha! It will be released sometime in the future.

    • hosndosn says:

      (laughs) They are either willfully misrepresenting the game or the game has no appeal to fans of the series. Please pick the one you personally find to make you want to buy the game more.

  7. SiHy_ says:

    This game is going to be linear.
    This game is going to be cinematic.
    This game is going to be very popular.
    I am probably going to hate this game.
    (Laughs).

  8. Sunjammer says:

    Why didn’t you just use (Doesn’t laugh) for the instances when he didn’t? I mean clearly he was laughing by default.

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      He laughed on 11 of the 19 questions to be exact.

  9. barleyarley says:

    I didn’t really enjoy any of the Hitman games past the first one but maybe enough time has passed for me to give it another chance :P

    http://www.mechagaming.co.uk

  10. MFToast says:

    What’s the problem with this being a linear game? Every Hitman game is linear. It has to be, to a degree, because as much as you’d like to say so, you are not and will never be a real hitman. I really feel like anybody complaining or worrying about linear aspects in this series has never played it.

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      Uh what? Did you play the games at all? Yes there has always been more constricted levels, but Blood Money kept them to an absolute minimum (really only the opening tutorial, and the last level to an extent), and they are not the series’ strong point. The strong point are the big open spaces where you are free to play your own approach. And of course there have always been predetermined “solutions” that are there to be discovered, but the game was open to your own ideas too.

    • woodsey says:

      Of course they’re ultimately linear; they’ve never been “walk from one room to the next in a straight line” linear.

    • Multidirectional says:

      I really feel like anybody complaining about people complaining about linear aspects in this series has never played it.

    • Donjo says:

      Oh contraire my dear MFToast, I fully expect to be a real hitman after playing this. I’m sure the non-linearity will prepare me for the myriad real life decisions I’ll have to make before I murder you.

      Did I say murder you!? (Laughs) Oh my.

    • grundus says:

      I sometimes suspect the term ‘linear’ is going the way of ‘troll’ and ‘random’. Hitman has a linear objective, yes, but the multitude in ways to deal with the objective makes it far from linear. By that logic you could argue that Deus Ex is linear, though. There are missions in Hitman games where you don’t even have to be in the same room as your target to kill them and escape, one example that springs to mind is the Opera level from Blood Money where you drop a lighting rig on a guy who is crying over his boyfriend who has been shot by a gun that was supposed to be a prop until a naughty bald man swapped it for a real one.

      Ok, the White House level was linear, the one in Hitman 2 where you had to get from point A to point B in Japan with no manhitting at all was linear. The tutorial level in Contracts was linear, at first anyway… I think that’s all. I never played Codename 47 (which I should, as I own it), but 2, Contracts and Blood Money were far from linear.

      Also, I kind of enjoyed Conviction(‘s mode where you just had maps and a number of enemies to kill, not the story). If the next Hitman is similar to Conviction but leaning a lot more towards Blood Money without the ludicrously customisable weapons (what kind of Hitman needs to carry two fully automatic .45s with extended magazines or an M4 with… Well, anything?) I’ll be somewhat happy. Personally I think Hitman 2 was the best but I somehow doubt they’ll be able to recapture that in this day and age.

    • MFToast says:

      Even the more complex levels, such as the opera level, or the wide open snow level in Hitman 2 (I think?) have ultimately one good path to follow, with a couple other options available which can result in a less successful mission. So I guess 3 of something is a “Myriad” now? This is what I mean by “Linear”, basically a limited number of real options to complete a mission. You receive a series of missions in order, you complete them by going from one point to another and performing certain tasks in a specific order to achieve optimal success within a minimal amount of time. I really doubt they’ll make this new title any more linear than previous ones, if not less. Love ‘em all, by the way. Save the hookers!

    • Bhazor says:

      MrToast

      Yes there is one right solution and finding it is probably one of the best most satisfying puzzles in videogaming. But that never stopped you finding new ways to do it or stopped IO from making vast labyrinths to play in.

    • MFToast says:

      Agreed. My point wasn’t to criticize the game.

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      MFToast: The objectives tend to be completable in a variety of orders, with only some being dependent on others. There are definitely more or less optimal “paths”, but those often diverge at many points, so you can use approach A for the first objective and then change track and use approach B for the second, even though both A and B are both separate “paths” that could have taken you through the entire mission.

      The games are full of predetermined tools and events, and finding the optimal path that the developers thought out is definitely one thing you can do, but the games are generally very open to interpretation. And you should really look at some of the silent assassin rank speedruns. Preferably Suit Only ones. They definitely do not use prepackaged solutions.

      The open level design is what enables this. You are “supposed” to walk to this or that place, but nothing stops you from running in the other direction, apart from dozens of enemies. Hitman: Subtitle seems to be aiming for a far more restricted approach, with checkpoints that are chokepoints in the progression and stop you from backtracking.

      And again, it is entirely possible that the openness that we know and love is still in the game, but none of the marketing material have shown any of it.

  11. Paul says:

    Why not ask him about behaving like dicks to David Bateson?

    Also, horrible answers. I love Hitman franchise, but so far IOI have been incredibly hostile to its core fans when it comes to the hype campaign.

    • Outright Villainy says:

      “Incredibly hostile” is a bit of a stretch. Inconsiderate or uncommunicative, perhaps, but in every other interview with them I see them saying they still want to keep the stealthy approach and non linearity. Of course, there’s no real evidence of this at all from any promo material released so far, so I’m still cautious, but if they put their money where their mouth is the game should be fine.

  12. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    The preview made me grumpy. (laughs)

  13. Dervish says:

    …it was taken for granted that whoever was playing was so good with the pad or mouse and keyboard that they would be able to perform all these things but, naturally, they weren’t. So all these people were feeling like pretty rubbish hitmen, walking around all the time being shot at and failing to perform things that should be very natural to him.

    There is plenty of fruitful discussion to be had over interfaces, usability, and the complexity of required inputs, but “It would be easy for the character, so it should be easy for the player” is not part of it without serious qualification. When your character is the ultimate super-assassin, the logical end of that argument is never allowing the player to fail.

    It’s also the same reasoning used to defend the changes in Splinter Cell: Conviction, just in case you’re not tired of people making that comparison yet.

    • Nogo says:

      I think you’re reading into that a bit much.

      He’s saying if an action is easy and elegant for the character, it should feel the same for the player. Take Deus Ex’s melee kills: the first game technically had them, but standing behind someone and bludgeoning them with a wrench didn’t make you feel like a techno assassin. HR took the same action and made it feel appropriate to the character.

      All they’re doing is making the puzzle pieces nicer. It’s still up to the player to put them together.

    • Bhazor says:

      I feel the need to point out that the controls have always been horrible in Hitman. Combining that with high difficulty, long levels and no mid level saves does not a fun time make.

    • Jac says:

      Taking melee out of deus ex was ridiculous. I certainly didn’t feel more like a “techno assassin” only being able to punch two people in the face before running out of energy and it certainly wasn’t as fun.

  14. I.S.T. says:

    FWIW I highly doubt any streamlining of the game would have to do with consoles, given three out of the four released Hitman games were on them…

    • hosndosn says:

      I wouldn’t even mind them simplifying the awful, awful interfaces of past Hitman games (which I love and they only got better with each previous installment), but I have zero hopes they’re capable of doing that to “increase accessibility”. No, they’re adding a sticky cover button which will only complicate movement more and make it more quick-time-eventy.

  15. dontnormally says:

    Notice the length of his responses.
    All of them were fairly short, except for:

    RPS: There was something about the early Hitmans that was very simulation; we’re going to make the best, most accurate game about killing people and trying to get away with it, and always realistically difficult. Are you going more for the entertainment side now?

    …which was very lengthy.
    I hate to say it, as previously I actually had faith it would be the game I wanted, but I smell shenanigans.

  16. Bhazor says:

    “We have in-house group of people doing trailers and ideas, and it’s getting out to the PRs;”

    Ahh I see the problem, you’ve got PRatts infestation. Like crabs but shitter.

  17. Real Horrorshow says:

    I’m close to a full-on Hitman fanboy…and I fully expect this to be a gigantic letdown.

    Its fucking sad.

  18. Hulk Handsome says:

    Those were pretty terrible answers, but frankly I don’t think the questions were much better.

  19. gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

    I apologize if this is a rant.

    I started playing Hitman: Codename 47 on Sept 9th 2001. Two days later, I sat down at my computer after a day of watching tragedy and decided I couldn’t play a game about an assassin.

    I bought the 2nd and 3rd games used some years later, saying to myself I could go back and play them, regardless of how hard the first one is supposed to be, based on people telling me you had to use a FAQ to get it right and some level that was horribly cheaply difficult.

    I was going to start playing them again a month or so ago after finishing some large game that ate up my time (New Vegas), then I saw the article here with the footage of the Hitman brutally slaughtering policemen instead of sneaking around.

    My father-in-law is a retired policeman. I may have my reservations about police — the police in my town have been under investigation for years for inappropriate behavior and actions — but my father-in-law was a cop in a small rural town in West Virginia, and is one of the most conscientious men I’ve ever met. He has an old shirt he saved from where he was stabbed in the chest by a psycho with a pair of scissors while trying to stop a domestic abuse.

    When I watched the footage of 47 killing cops who were just doing their job, rather than sneaking away to end up putting a rifle slug in a mafioso for the cabal he works on, I was sickened.

    The Hitman should be a sneaky assassin just killing the gunrunners and criminals that the cabal points him toward. Not the damn Scorpio killer from Dirty Harry. When I saw that video, I decided to toss the old games.

    • Optimaximal says:

      So the entire series is being demonised in your eyes because of the ‘option’ to partake in the murder of police offices was used as PR material?

      The game has never had qualms with you shooting, maiming or exploding anyone – civilians, police, bad guys. You’re controlling a darn contract killer for goodness sake!

  20. riku0116 says:

    Tore Blystad: (laughs) Maybe we can make more stealth-oriented trailers if you just tell these guys (points to PR).

    RPS: Facetious question; what does he do in his downtime? Does he have any hobbies? Does he walk the dog?

    Tore Blystad: (laughs) We’ve been thinking about that as well. It’s hard to answer. We cannot write those things out properly; your guess is as good as ours. We cut down his dialogue a lot from the original script. He simply cannot say the words. He’s so mechanical and logical. The whole disguise mechanic, the fact that he will just abandon his clothes and again, just to get through, he’s a very disposable character, a non-character in many ways.

    The PR man has feelings too, you know. He’s just doing his job.
    Shame on you, RPS and Tore Blystad.

    • hosndosn says:

      PR men have feelings? (laughs)

      No seriously, they do? (doesn’t laugh)

  21. sinelnic says:

    You know, a game with Action! And Big Set Pieces! Actually sells itself, so no need for PR right? What the Fck are those guys being paid for?

  22. Shooop says:

    He used the word “cinematic” to describe what they’re doing.

    This game’s doomed.

  23. El_Emmental says:

    the guy needs to sell his game, be it a Kane&Lynch game or a true Hitman game, you can’t blame the man for trying to make a profitable Hitman game in 2012

    we’ll just wait for reviews and see, there’s no reason to be angry or excited over it