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Sniper Elite V2 – An Interview with Steve Hart

by on January 26, 2012

Our Sniper Elite V2 coverage continues – Last Thursday I visited British developers Rebellion, as they continue to work on the sequel to their well received Xbox/PC/Wii title. While I was there, I managed to get some time with the game’s Senior Producer, Steve Hart.

So for those who missed out on the original Sniper Elite, what is the game all about?

It’s set at the end of World War II – You play a character called Karl Fairburne, an Allied sniper dropped in during the dying days of World War II. The Russians have invaded Berlin, and there is this furious final battle between the Nazi regime and the Russian army.

It’s your job to weave through this battle, taking out V2 rocket scientists who look like they are going to defect to the Russians, whilst trying to secure those who could come to the Allied side. Effectively, it is this “Brain Race” between the Russians and the Allies, which starts what is more commonly known as the Cold War.

It’s been a few years since the glut of World War II themed games, that were prevalant around the time that the original Sniper Elite was released. With most of those big name military shooters moving to more modern periods and settings, it’s now quite refreshing to see a game that goes back to World War II. Was the game always intended to have been based in this setting, or were their any plans to change?

It wasn’t necessarily always intended. We did look at a lot of different conflicts, but we kept coming back to World War II, just because you have that inrigue and espionage. There was so much Intel and R&D taking place, whilst there were three sides trying to win a war; it was really quite a unique thing.

We went around in circles; we were looking at Korea, we looked at ‘Nam and we looked at current day settings. The other thing we get with this setting, is a more “honest” and low-tech style of sniping; you have to calculate your shots and be good at what you do.

Sniper Elite V2 Interview Screenshot

With military shooters being such a success, especially this generation; how does Sniper Elite set itself apart from the competition?

I think for us, because this is a primarily sniping game, there is certainly no “run-and-gun”. It’s a thinking man’s shooter, so we want people to pause and assess what’s in front of them before they try and challenge it. That’s kind of what we’re after and in order to do that, we have this bullet ballistics system in place which forces you to calculate your shots, especially on the harder difficulties. You’ll need to keep your distance from the enemy, and when you can’t, you’ll need to be as quiet as you possibly can be.

Quite clearly he visuals have been improved over the first game. Are there any other improvements over the original?

The first game didn’t age particularly well. We’re on this current generation of console now, so we immediately have the various power and graphical advantages; things like ballistic calculations can be more accurate than they ever were on the original Xbox and PS2. Obviously there are some big strides there in terms of the art quality for textures and the particle effects – Basically everything can be turned up ten notches from the original.

The KillCam is a good example; because it is a dynamic system, it’s all rendered on the fly. The animations aren’t “canned” in any way. It’s based on a score system, we determine exactly what we want to draw at that time.

Speaking of the KillCam, there is quite an emphasis on the gory results of your shots. Has there ever been a point in development when you’ve looked at some of these animations and thought “Maybe we should tone this down a bit?”

If we were making this game ten years ago, no; but I’m a family man now, so I see things a little differently. There are real reasons for this, the KillCam isn’t about grossing people out, or being gratuitous for no good reason; this is trying to get players to see and accept the consequences of their actions. I think it works really well, I’m entirely desensitised to a lot of this, having worked on the project for so long, but I can’t lie and say it wasn’t put in there for a bit of fun as well.

We were briefed with turning up the KillCam a notch and this seemed like a good way to go. My only regret is that it was beaten to market by Mortal Kombat…But theirs is pre-canned; ours is procedurely generated, so we have that in our favour.

Sniper Elite V2 Interview Screenshot

So has it been hard to balance the realistic with what looks awesome?

We create an anatomically correct model and look at how the bullet passes through it. We deform the bullet and we do look to change the trajectory of the bullet as it travels through the body, depending on what it collides with. Other than what damage is delivered, with what what is drawn; we try and be as realistic as we can as games developers, but we didn’t get surgeons involved with this – Instead we went with what looked right.

Certainly, the character developer has had to delve into a few medical books in order to make sure we were correct with things, but in order to assertain what happens to a lung when a bullet punctures it – There’s Hollywood references obviously, a big influence on our KillCam is the film Three Kings, where there is a small section of the film where a character explains to these three rookie soldiers what happens when a torso is hit by a bullet; we get a snapshot of the innards and we see a bullet penetrate and pierce the gall bladder, and that was a good reference point for us when we looked at the KillCam.

Once again in regards to the KillCams, when we saw the demo you mentioned the KillCams were triggering a lot more than we can expect in the final version. Is there going to be any function for the player to tone them down or turn them off?

Not currently, it’s one of our key sales points really; I’d be a little upset if we had to switch it off entirely.

Maybe there could be an option to only trigger the KillCams after a certain score? For example, over a 1000 points, etc.

That’s what we do currently, the current system in place determines if your score is of a certain number or above, then we determine what KillCam you get, so for the top score you would get the most elaborate KillCam. What we’re most aware of as developers, is if we keep pulling the player out of control of their character, it’s going to  become tiring.

What you saw in the demo was definitely a lot more exaggerated than how you would see them in the final game – I suppose as an idea of what you might see, it could be half of that in the final game; with maybe 50% of good scores getting a good KillCam. But as you saw they don’t all feature X-Rays, sometimes we just snap the head back with loads of blood and they fall to the floor in what is maybe a three-second sequence, while others could be 6 or 7 seconds long.

How much historical research has taken place to factualise the game and link it with specific events during the war?

The scenario we’re focusing on, did happen; there were British soldiers that drove into Russian-occupied Berlin and they were grabbing these technical people;  shoving them into the boots of cars and driving through Russian checkpoints with them. This is the kind of stuff we are talking about here, with the assassination and rescuing, the salvaging of tech and brains and the like, which really did happen.

We’ve done a lot of research, from the weapons and how they fire and the sort of attributes that are dealt to them, in terms of muzzle velocities, how much bullet drop you would expect, through to the scenarios that we’re in. A lot of research went into it – We’ve got probably 80,000 shots of Berlin from recent shots of old areas, to 1940’s Berlin, and the internet has been a fantastic source of getting a lot of this kind of stuff, in terms of the visuals.

Sniper Elite V2 Interview Screenshot

Does Sniper Elite V2 offer any multiplayer options, are you able to talk about that at the moment?

Not at the minute, we’re going to do that in the next month or so. We can confirm that there is an online multiplayer component to this – As you’ve seen there are 11 levels in the single player campaign, and this probably equates to only half the gameplay.

Would there be anything in terms of a Co-Op mode for multiplayer, or would it be strictly Deathmatch.

*Steve’s lips are tightly shut*

And I see your lips are sealed!

What you’ve got to understand, is that multiplayer sniping is only fun for the one sniper – But when you have 8 snipers pretending to be bushes in a level, and all of them are waiting for one of them to move; when that one moves and you have 7 bullets going for them, it’s not fun. In a game that’s so focused on sniping, it has introduced it’s own set of challenges for our online experience.

On the main menu I noticed there is an entry for Challenges, can you elaborate on what they involve?

Only that there will be some single player (and possibly online) challenges.

Would there be a particular target, or skillshots…

Just challenges *grins*

Are there any plans for DLC, maps, game modes, etc?

We’re not really talking about it, but it is an important part of strategy for all modern games – You look to support the market with post launch material.

We’d like to thank Steve for taking the time to talk to us.

Sniper Elite V2 will be released onXbox 360, PlayStation 3 & PC in May. Don’t forget to check out all of our previous coverage, including last week’s Preview.