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The Tightrope Walk: Hitman Absolution, Freedom, and Realism
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The Tightrope Walk: Hitman Absolution, Freedom, and Realism

November 2, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

When it comes to the AI, there's got to be a line. You sort of talked about this. Where you're creating AIs that behave realistically, to some extent -- but then, is that actually fun?

TB: Yes.

How do you handle that?

TB: No, you have to try it out. It is very easy to fall into this "simulation trap", that it has to be realistic. You know, if you do something to this guy, he will forever remember it, and he will know you. It's like, well, that might be so in real life, but it just isn't fun to play.

You have to build a system where there is a certain forgiveness in the system, where essentially you know you're playing a game, and you can be immersed it in any kind of way, but in the end it does come down to mechanics and your understanding -- okay, how can I provoke the game, and what are the results?

And, of course, having to hide for an hour for them to stand down is not very interesting, so finding the balance between making it realistic and making it playable is something that we are constantly trying to see if it's working, and using user tests as a reference, to see are they having fun with this, or are they having fun with that? And different groups can say, "Okay, now it seems like 20 seconds is better than 50 seconds on this stand-down for these particular things."

When it comes to games that have heavy systems design -- meaty gameplay systems that operate on rules -- is that getting more and more difficult to do as games start to look more cinematic, more realistic? Is there a tension there between making systemic games and making visceral entertainment experiences?

TB: Yeah, I think you said it yourself. With the first Hitman game, you could basically just make a bald guy, and you didn't need to make anything around it, but now you have to create this enormous context, and you really have to spend a lot of effort to build up everything to a degree where you can immerse yourself more into any area of the game.

And I'm not sure. I think in some, you can say like "systemic" games, they will take more clever choices, I guess, because of their design that allows for simple systems. I remember when I played Portal 2, I was so envious of them in the design choices that they made, with having a first person game, everybody around you are robots, and the almighty voice is the one telling you the story of the game -- while we have to live with this world where everyone is right in your face, your main character is right there, everything has to be done flawlessly for you to be completely immersed in it.

And sometimes I really wish we had a game that could have done some simpler choices that would allow us to, for instance, tell the story in a simpler way than we have to live with. We have this almost mute character that is completely mechanical, so he will never express himself like Nathan Drake would, or like Kane & Lynch would, always telling you what they're feeling, and how they're doing in the game. So the only thing we can hope for is that people can then at least live themselves more into our main character, because he is such a non-described character, and because there is so much freedom of choice put in the world.

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Chad Wagner
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I like the idea of having enemy characters that recognize you forever - you could have disguises that function as lives, or opportunities -- once an enemy has seen them all, you'd better try another path.

Plus they become useful again as you move on to new enemy characters.

Michael DeFazio
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With respect to the "Instinct" Mechanic:

It would be interesting to me (as player) to be rewarded MORE by NOT using the mechanic, so it would be comforting to know that I have the option of using it if I get stuck in a level, (so you can "change the difficulty" by offering the mechanic (or making it an "earned" mechanic so it can't be abused).

Also perhaps the mechanic can highlight a "Sub optimal" path rather than the best one (so it will tell you what to do to get 'er done, but not the BEST/MOST REWARDING option...

On New Game + it would be interesting if the option was completely disabled so players could find the secret nuances for achieving better scores based on what they have learned/mastered on the first play-thru.

Ramon Carroll
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I liked the idea of an instinct mechanic. However, when I realized that it had nothing to do with "instincts" at all, and was nothing more than X-Ray vision, I was disappointed.

What I had imagined was a mechanic/feature that rewarded skillful application. I'm not sure how the existing instincts feature does that, but I'll have to wait and see. I may end up turning it off like many other fans have vowed to do.

Michael Pianta
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I find the comments about needing more characterization interesting. I guess I have a more old fashioned attitude, because I'm still perfectly happy with an ambiguous, abstract character. They (protagonists) are projections of myself (or a facet of myself) into the game world - so they do not need to be explained to me by the game world. Often times that's actually immersion breaking and as often as not I wind up skipping cut scenes and so forth in order to avoid that. So all of that extra work is wasted on me - well, not just wasted it actually makes the game worse - and yet, other gamers demand it. I feel like this is a dilemma that is somewhat unique to gaming. There's so many mutually exclusive ways for the audience to fragment, and it is literally impossible to satisfy everyone. Every big budget game that depends on a large audience is required to compromise, which often has the effect of satisfying no one.

Eric Schwarz
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My interest - and concern - is in how IO plan to reconcile these sorts of interactive AI systems with narrative content. Is developing so much more "stuff" worth it? I know as a player, I'm very attracted to the slightly raw mechanics of the previous Hitman games - sure, there is less realism because characters don't necessarily behave like real people, but I don't need unique dialogue for every possible situation to have fun playing this kind of game. There's also the danger of creating an experience that feels overly scripted and linear despite the amount of reactivity, because of the way it's presented.

Also, mistaking immersion for cinematics and for heads-up display - strike two, maybe. I've always thought of immersion less in terms of realism and verisimilitude, and more in terms of how encompassing a game is mechanically, how demanding it is to the player such that it requires complete concentration from all senses and mind-spaces, whether it invokes a "flow" state or not.

I already accept videogame abstractions of the real world, like a HUD, input devices, failure and win states, game rules, graphics as representation of mechanics, etc. Trying to find new ways to remove them is, to me, irrelevant and even a waste of time, because all you're doing is saying "this game should be more like a movie" - it completely discounts the unique interactive relationship players have with the medium, and suggests that its strengths are problems. But I guess this is the dangerous territory you get into when you make triple-A games that have to cater to a demographic of people who do not necessarily like videogames very much in the first place.

Sebastian Iniguez
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I've liked the hitman games ever since the first one but the thing is that they really haven't changed them all too much. I mean I like what they did with 47 in the new one but it didn't really feel new at all. Don't get me wrong though I still like the game.