Eye Spy – Dark And Light In Splinter Cell: Blacklist

There really aren't enough atmospherically green-hued lighting fixtures in the real world.

Way back when Splinter Cell: Blacklist first leaped into the spotlight, it did so in a fairly strange fashion by, well, leaping into the spotlight. Instead of methodical skulking, we saw fast-paced hulking – in broad, nearly blinding daylight, no less. It felt bizarre, as though Sam had suddenly become some hard-charging young gun in his old age. Recent videos, however, have eased my fear the teensiest of bits on that front – first with some admittedly takedown-heavy stealth, and now by showing us just how much time and effort is going into getting various forms of light and darkness just right.

Clearly, the details are what count here. Different light sources, how they play off the camera, how they affect visibility, etc.  Also unsurprising but still nice to hear: all light sources are hand-placed. In this age of procedural generation, a light human touch goes a long way, I think.

But yes, I’m still far from sold on Blacklist (that introductory daytime E3 demo looked like everything I despised about Conviction multiplied by ten), but I can’t in good conscience write it off entirely either. I tried squinting really hard at this trailer and also offering my ability to tip-toe to the pagan stealth gods, and a couple scenes looked kind of Chaos-Theory-ish. So maybe it’ll surprise us like the Splinter Cell of yore. Maybe we’ll never even know what hit us. But probably not.

I’ll cross my lithe ledge-gripping fingers regardless. Blacklist will be out sometime next year. Do you plan on giving it the time of day?

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  1. AJ_Wings says:

    It’ll probably be a more complex Conviction which is nice since I enjoyed that game but it’s still not enough like Chaos Theory as much as I would love it to be. The binary lighting system (even though the lighing system looks quite lovely), less speed modes, No sound indicator, No hacking, no lockpicking, focus on “set pieces”. I’d love to see all these elements come back for it to be a great Splinter Cell game.

    • KenTWOu says:

      Sound indicator sucks, because it’s a part of UI. If your game mechanics depend on UI, they suck. Stealth sound designers should make such system, if you can’t hear your own steps because of noise around you, your enemies can’t hear your steps either.

      • Erinduck says:

        I thank every possible deity that you aren’t a game designer. There’s nothing more annoying than having to deal with having no possible indicator that I can be heard while dealing with ambient noise in my own home.

        • KenTWOu says:

          I thank every possible deity that you aren’t a game designer.

          Yeah, you’re absolutely right, I’m not a game designer, but I think that stealth game mechanics should work without UI/HUD, UI/HUD should only support them, so it’s possible to play the game without UI and HUD at all. Note I didn’t say that’s UI/HUD is the worst thing ever. But if you can’t play the game without mini map on your screen, it means that the game level design sucks and has lots of blind spots here and there.

          Guess what, I’m not the only one who thinks that. Here is a quote by Raphael Colantonio (Dishonored co-creative director) from sneakybastards.net interview:

          “It’s the level of hardcore-ness,” adds Colantonio. “For some people, they’ll feel like, ‘You know, I don’t need those indicators.’ Because this is just one support of a system that already exists. It’s more to make it even clearer for the people that maybe don’t want to spend so much time, or like very clear information. But some people like ambiguity more than others.”

          • maonwvs says:

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        • Dahoon says:

          And I wish he were one! The light gem in Thief is a really good example of how not to do it. Sure it worked back then and it still would, but the way he suggest it works would be so much better. Ambient noise is not a problem unless you make it so. Unless you go Batman-style and use subtitles for sound effects in every other game (“Boom, you’re dead!”), no “Thief light gem” would not be a problem. Playing a game with only half the sound (because of “Ambient noise”) is like playing with shades on…

      • Mman says:

        “If your game mechanics depend on UI, they suck.”

        Wow, this is the dumbest thing I’ve heard in a while (which is saying something).

        • KenTWOu says:

          It’s worth mentioning that I’m talking about stealth games here. And you took my quote out of context.

          • Mman says:

            Given that the best stealth games of all time heavily rely on HUD-based light indicators that doesn’t make your point any better.

          • KenTWOu says:

            Can you name them all? I’m pretty sure you’re talking about old slow paced stealth games like Thief of classic Splinter Cells (I love these games by the way). Slow paced! That’s why you have a lot of time to look at your HUD in them. But this is Splinter Cell:Blacklist, it has fast paced stealth ala Conviction. If you think that sound indicator or light meter in your HUD could improve fast paced stealth, you’re absolutely wrong!

            And sound indicator sucks even in slow paced Chaos Theory. It’s an absolutely great idea, but unfortunately you can’t play the game without it (by the way, you can turn off the HUD in PC version via ini file) Why? Because you can hear your own steps even if enemies can’t hear them. That’s the crucial problem of CT sound design! So most of the time you’re looking at UI/HUD using your peripheral vision. You can’t play the game without HUD. And more importantly you can’t play fast paced stealth using similar HUD indicators.

        • Dahoon says:

          Taken out of context. His point is a very valid one and I fully agree. At least they could make the noise meter work if they want it there! As it is now you can often run around and make lots of noise that you can clearly hear yourself but the enemy right next to you wont react, ’cause, you know, “the meter says he’s quiet, so I can’t hear him!”

      • Justin Keverne says:

        If your game mechanics depend on UI, they suck.

        Those Thief games sure did suck with that light gem right there in the middle of the screen all the time.

        • KenTWOu says:

          Yeah, look at Dishonored, it uses your own hands as a light gem. Look at Mark of the Ninja, it uses your own avatar as a light gem. Light gem sucks, it’s a part of UI/HUD, it’s totally outdated.

          • beetle says:

            I have to agree with this. The thief games were great, but the light gem does seem like the easy way out. Authors are frequently admonished to “show don’t tell”. UI widgets are a game designers way of telling rather than showing.

          • cue kalamos says:

            BUT THAT IS UI, UI stands for user interface, your hands are apart of your UI and your HUD, the ninja on the screen changing color IS UI, its just well designed USER INTERFACE
            if you’re so smart then what the hell do you replace the sound meter with something that doesn’t rely on you having 100 of your attention on the sound itself? you have to remember not everyone actually listens to the game.

          • KenTWOu says:

            your hands are apart of your UI and your HUD, the ninja on the screen changing color IS UI, its just well designed USER INTERFACE

            Applying your logic, hands on the screen are also well designed user interface. We’re talking about HUD, then.

            if you’re so smart then what the hell do you replace the sound meter with something that doesn’t rely on you having 100 of your attention on the sound itself? you have to remember not everyone actually listens to the game.

            I don’t want to replace sound indicator. I want sound system that works without sound indicator at all. And it’s really possible to do, sound designer could even cheat if he wants and tones down the steps volume if ambient sound is really loud. So if you can’t hear your own steps, you are noiseless. But if you want you can turn on sound indicator in HUD options menu.

      • mwoody says:

        Peter, go back to working on GODUS.

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        Sir, your pants are upon your head.

  2. dee says:

    Age of procedural generation? In select indie games, maybe. What AAA games have been procedural recently?

    • MistyMike says:

      Well, Skyrim experminents with some quests. XCOM generates the abduction missions. Those are not particularily robust examples, however.

    • Cinek says:

      Oh, I really hope it dies as quickly as it appears.

      • Durkonkell says:

        I disagree, although I don’t want it to replace more traditional methods. Minecraft’s procedural world generation is fantastic, and Infinity: The Quest For Earth’s procedurally generated galaxy, star systems and planets has always sounded potentially really exciting (and it’s these bits that actually work at the moment – it’s just the actual game that doesn’t exist yet). On the other hand, I love Skyrim’s hand-crafted world and the tight level design of Valve games.

        There’s room for both. Let’s not get all “I want it to die”.

  3. PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

    No Michael Ironside as Ubisoft are too tight to pay him he only just made Conviction at the last minute apparently as Ubisoft were reluctant to pay him a lousy $100K (these games make a whole lot more).

    Think I will pass on this game I’m just not feeling it at all.

    • Premium User Badge

      liquidsoap89 says:

      “a lousy $100K”

      Where can I sign up?

    • KenTWOu says:

      No Michael Ironside as…

      He doesn’t like that Sam became a government pawn again instead of rogue agent.

  4. AlwaysRight says:

    The ‘through the lens’ art direction seems a bit annoying to me. Do we really need more lens flare, bloom and random stuff dripping down the screen? Are we meant to believe there is a floating camera following Sam around?

    • PopeRatzo says:

      Without a “floating camera” how else does any third-person game make sense?

      This is why I hate third person games. They are the bane of computer gaming and I cannot play one but to be constantly reminded of the suppurating wound on computer gaming known as the “console”.

      Better Sony and Microsoft be cast into the sea with stones tied around their necks than release “new-gen” consoles.

      • Wreckdum says:

        Tomb Raider one of the biggest OG’s of third person gaming debuted on PC… Consoles didn’t start the third person trend.

      • Citrus says:

        “This is why I hate third person games. They are the bane of computer gaming and I cannot play one but to be constantly reminded of the suppurating wound on computer gaming known as the “console”.”

        I grew up playing games like Heavy Metal FAKK2, Shadowman, Slave Zero and Rune on PC so this “suppurating wound” has provided me hours of fun similar to FPS games out there.

      • Tyrone Slothrop. says:

        This is why I hate third person games. They are the bane of computer gaming and I cannot play one but to be constantly reminded of the suppurating wound on computer gaming known as the “console”.

        This is why I hate reading the comments here.

      • khomotso says:

        Make sense? You mean there needs to be a naturalistic explanation for the POV? That seems a silly argument: as if interior monologue were the only defensible way to express a novel, or as if all films should be documentary-style.

        Added to which: let’s be clear about the sense-making of FPS, and how it really constrains things. Sit in front of your monitor or TV the way you normally play. Box your hands around your eyes to limit your FOV to just that part taken up by your screen. It’s like you’re wearing a welding mask. Then imagine going about the world similarly handicapped – is this really the most reasonable thing, the most immersive thing?

        I’m content to say, ‘Maybe sometimes, depending on the game you’re trying to make.’ At the same time, there are levels of engagement with the world I get out of a 3rd-person POV that FPS games have never been able to match. Different tools in the toolkit.

        It’s not consoles that have saved us from your monomania, but if they have then that seems a reason for praise.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Suppurating wound. What lovely visual terminology. I fancy a go at that. Hmmm

        “Pustulating faecal matter”
        “Necrotised rectal phlegm”


    • Simplisto says:

      I also think it’s overkill. It makes sense in the context of a cinematic game, such as a highly film-inspired game like MGS3, but not this.

      Still, it’s not as bad as using such lens effects in a first-person game. While I accept the use of certain lens effects (such as those used to account for a TV or PC monitor’s inability to be any brighter that white), seeing drops of rain and blood drip down what is supposed to be the view through the character’s eyes is quite silly.

    • Saarlaender39 says:

      Yeah, that disturbed me, too.
      Maybe a little explanation: due to poor eyesight, I must wear glasses…so I know that ‘raindrops and dirt spatters running down my field of view’ phenomenon in real life, and one thing I can tell you: that really sucks!

      And in a third person view, it’s absolutely inexplicable. (Whereon exactly is the rain/dirt/blood/whatever running down)?

  5. Vraptor117 says:

    I think Far Cry 3 pushed me over the line: I’m tired of one button, instant, invisible “takedown” moves. DX:HR was when I first felt the fatigue and now it’s just overbearing. They’re so boring, the same canned animations, the lack of skill required. I’d almost rather line up a shot, because at least, if you fuck up a pistol shot, it has consequences [in some games].

    Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re going away. And making them more complex just turns every enemy into a QTE mini-game. (shudder)

    • Citrus says:

      “I think Far Cry 3 pushed me over the line: I’m tired of one button, instant, invisible “takedown” moves. ”

      You have to time the take downs and even when sniping you observe movement to make sure you kill where bodies aren’t found. In close take-downs you have to unlock a skill that allows you to move the body after silent kill (which is kinda stupid skill to unlock) which means you have to be really fast to take down people without that skill before they notice the bodies.

      DX:HR was just a fucking joke and even lamer gameplay-wise than IW.

      Even SplinterCell: Conviction was more fun in comparison to HR (probably cause in Conviction shadows actually matter).

      • Spider Jerusalem says:

        except you can do takedowns in fc3 from practically across the map, which cuts down on the drama a bit.

      • KenTWOu says:

        HR was way more fun than Conviction, because non lethal approach actually matters.

  6. DickSocrates says:

    “Hey, I’m Zach Douchebag.”

  7. Citrus says:

    ” Also unsurprising but still nice to hear: all light sources are hand-placed. In this age of procedural generation, a light human touch goes a long way, I think.”


    Yeah I fondly remember.. that AAA game.. um.. where.. procedural..

    Yeah AAA developers aren’t really lazy enough to do that. Good thing too. I don’t want some shitty procedural turd-engine screwing up light placement.

  8. Simplisto says:

    I know its been said before, but taking lighting so seriously when the main character is lit up like a Christmas tree is quite amusing…

    Looks pretty though!

  9. SuperNashwanPower says:

    It will end up with both sneaky AND in-your-face.

    I think what we are seeing nowadays is a mid-point between nods to financial concerns, and the demands from fans. To me, Far Cry 3 is a massive example of this – the fans have shouted and said they want open world. But the Boardroom still believes that a game needs to copy elements from ‘other’ AAA titles in order to sell. So you end up with this mix of awesome open world emergence, interspersed with turgid turret car / boat chase scenes, QTE’s, cutscenes and “you are leaving the mission area” statements (Side note: I wish I hadn’t prioritised taking out all the outposts / radio towers and getting all the crafting done on the first island – FC3 and Rook Island becomes dull as dishwater when all you have is the story missions).

    Same here with Splinter Cell: The fans want the stealth of old, but the ‘market’ demands in your face action and shooting. Money is needed to make games, and the money men have their calculations that tell them what is safe, saleable. Of course they have seen backlashes on mulitple games from fans about dumbing down, and thats a financial threat too. So we are getting SOME of what we want. But they still can’t quite let go of the AAA formula – the shareholders are just too twitchy. So we are going to get both.

    Thankfully there is the thriving indie / kickstarter scene, where at least some innovation can be pursued without constant nods to the middle pages of the Financial Times.

  10. Suits says:

    I like Conviction alot to be honest, just not as a Splinter Cell game, so I will probably get this at some point. Just not right away, which is what I would do with a true CT sequel.

  11. Chandos says:

    No. I let my guard down with Hitman, look what happened. I`m not letting the fear ease until it comes out and gets its WIT.

    • KenTWOu says:

      Absolution is much better than RPS WIT told, and after the second patch, which tweaked disguise system a lot and made disguise useful even on highest difficulty levels, it deserves special mention in RPS Advent Calendar.

  12. Pathetic Phallacy says:

    I have to say, I really wish they would bring back the game that Conviction was going to be. Hiding in groups of people within a city sounds so much more fun and interesting.

  13. mwoody says:

    There are a lot of really odd, really emphatic opinions on game design in this posts’ comments.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Jackablade says:

    I do hope you can turn off those big white blotches obscuring large sections of the screen while you’re already squinting into what’s frequently a black on black environment. While it’s an interesting effect it just strikes me as a terribly bad idea from a gameplay point of view.

  15. Outright Villainy says:

    I’m still not really sold on this at all. It’d be hard for me to say I hated conviction, because I didn’t feel very much about it at all when I was playing it. The game really wanted to play itself, from the mark and execute mechanics, to having space move you from cover to cover without needing to do any of it yourself, and so far I haven’t seen them make any intentions of rectifying that. I wouldn’t mind as much that they betrayed the series’ roots if they actually made an interesting action game out of it, but Conviction simplified too much without having a strong base to rely on.

  16. burkhardt5 says:

    It is the same old story. Make a great game, create a few good follow up versions and then cut the budget and just milk what they can from one or two last games in the series. Then repeat the proccess with a new game.

    It reminds me of the world of warcraft cataclysm expansion, what a let-down. I still play
    World of Warcraft but my heart is not really in it like the old days.

  17. gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

    I have a backlog of SC games to play. I never played the fourth one, but I have it on GameCube (that’s right young whippersnappers, Gamecube) and PC both since I heard they were different. Is it worth playing both?

    • KenTWOu says:

      GameCube version is the last gen Double Agent, so it’s definitely worth playing! Next gen version not worth it.

  18. Dahoon says:

    As pretty as that is I have to say that god it looks like shit.