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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 3 of 3

You just referenced "immersion", and this is a word we hear a lot, specifically usually with big console games, but it's not that well-defined. How do you define it from your perspective, as a developer?

TB: Well, it's about you feeling that you're really inside the experience, and that in some way this world is coherent and believable for you, and the logic of the world is not taking you out of the experience.

And we have been discussing this a lot with the heads-up display, and the intrusion into the world that it has, and how cinematic a game would be the more you remove it from the game.

But sometimes it also seems like adding these elements, because you very quickly abstract [information] from these things, that it will not necessarily take you out of the immersion. It will just suddenly help you to live yourself truly.

But it is, as you say, an undefined word. It's difficult to say what it does to you, and sometimes it can be not necessarily the drama or the animation that will make it immersive, it will be the mechanics of the game that you just start to understand, and you're looking at the clockwork more than you're looking at the production values, so to speak. So I think you can have games that are very minimalistic that are extremely immersive experiences.

I think for a game like this, honestly, having a HUD that lets you quickly check all the information that you need to know is actually more immersive than trying to take it away.

TB: Yes.

We've had games in the past where people experimented with things like more blood on the shirt, or whatever, he starts limping, that kind of stuff. That gives me another layer of decisions I have to make, another kind of information I have to process. I think a bar that just tells me how hurt I am is the quickest solution.

TB: Yes. That's why we also reverted back to a more, you could say "classic", heads-up display. While seeing games like Dead Space, of course everybody's really envious of them. They have this really cool suit, they use that actively. They have the very cool menu system. You just look at it -- it's so sexy, you know? And everybody wants it.

But it would never fit this game, right? Having his barcode [on the back of the main character's head] fill up with blood, for instance? [laughs] So we can't really use that. Everybody has to use their own way, I guess, to see what fits. You have to see what fits your game and your mechanics best.

Speaking of Dead Space brings me back to something you mentioned earlier. People are very much getting used to linear games. Dead Space is a pretty linear game. How do you let players know they have options?

TB: This is also something we've been working with. And this is also a big problem, or it's a big challenge for us, because our fan base are very diverse. Some people, they resent being told anything in the world. They just want their target, and they want to find out by themselves. Other people, they actually want to be told the options that they have and the opportunities in the world.

We found out that yeah, one thing is explaining the mechanics, so that you know that you have these different options in for your character. We have this new feature called "instinct" that's been a big debate, which seems to go down very, very well when people actually get their hands on it. But you can also use that to find things in the world that might not be directly linked to gameplay, but more kind of conceptual areas.

If I press my instinct button, you see these little sparks rippling up different places in the world, and this is just simply telling there are these points of interest that might be few spots down -- kind of subtly telling you that there are these opportunities in the world.

But this is a real tightrope for us to walk, because the players have to define themselves, in a way, as they approach the game. If they want to play on normal, they will get more information. If they play on easy, they will get even more. But we really try to restrict ourselves from telling you a solution, because we want to say, "There are these opportunities, and you always have them available, and you should find out for yourself which one is the best one."

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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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.