Eurogamer Expo 2012: Hitman: Absolution Interview with Designer Torben Ellert

by on October 5, 2012

Hitman: Absolution was one of the biggest hitters at this year’s Eurogamer Expo at Earl’s Court, gamers coming to the event from all over the UK being able to get their hands on the “King of Chinatown” stage.

However, that demo only showed us a glimpse of what was to come in this new sequel, for which gamers have had to wait around six years. Indeed, Agent 47 made his last appearance on our home consoles with Hitman: Blood Money back in 2006, and fans of the series have been waiting anxiously for their next opportunity to put on the iconic black suit and ready their garrotting wire.

At the Expo, designers from IO Interactive – Torben Ellert and Christian Elverdam – took to the stage in one of the developer sessions to discuss and demonstrate the new Contracts mode, where gamers can create and play their own hits on any level, then save them and challenge their friends to better their own score. Anyone can become a target, and players will be able to set different objectives and requirements that must be fulfilled to score top points in their custom Contract. For more details, see the Eurogamer Expo Hitman: Absolution – Contracts session below:

Earlier in the day, GodisaGeek.com got the chance to sit down with Torben Ellert, the lead Gameplay Designer on Contracts, and ask him a few questions about the new mode as well as the Hitman series in general.

First of all, with it being six years since the last Hitman game, almost a whole generation in console terms, what do you think is the enduring appeal of the series, and does the continued enthusiasm of the fans surprise you at all?

We are really appreciative of our community, because they have done really fantastic things with Blood Money – which was the last outing for Agent 47 – and in many ways, what we have done with Absolution is inspired by that. Contracts Mode – the social gaming feature that we announced at Gamescom earlier in the year – is really inspired by them. As to the games enduring appeal, well I think there is something iconic about Agent 47 and the world he lives in. This gritty, dirty, urban myth world he lives in is pretty unique.

Since demo videos and footage of Absolution began to come out, many people have expressed concerns that it looks too action-orientated. Would you say that this is a misconception due to the way the game has been marketed so far, or has there been a conscious effort to add more action elements into the game.

We have heard our fans airing these concerns, but they have had a chance to play the games now and I think that their response is very clear: Hitman is back and Hitman IS Hitman. The point being that what we’ve showed are some action sequences, but we have also shown very stealth-oriented sequences, and that comes down to the core of the series, that freedom of approach. Obviously, the cleanest kill is closest to the core of the Hitman franchise, but if you want to go in guns blazing, that is a conscious choice, and you are free to do so.

There really is a lot of freedom, even in Blood Money, you could spend a long time simply exploring a level and scoping out all the different approaches and ways to tackle the level. So, as you say, it has always given people a lot of room for experimentation; unlike any other games really. Do you think that is one of the main selling points of the game?

We’ve always had a very strong focus on giving players a lot of different ways to approach the noble art of the kill. In Blood Money, with the huge range of different scenarios that we put players in, and the huge range of ways in which players could pull off a hit in an Opera House (for example), by switching the prop gun, or carrying a gun yourself, or any of the number of things you could do, that whole feel of presenting you with a puzzle box, and then presenting you with the question, “Here is the puzzle box, what are you going to do with it?”. That is very much what is fundamental to Contracts Mode, which is built around the idea of almost this philosophy we had when we were developing it, which was: What if anyone in a level could be a target? So, in the Library level that we showed off when we announced the game, where we have a Bullying Sergeant Meyer, picking on an Officer, we said what if he could be a target? Contracts Mode allows you to do that, so you really get a chance to go to a level and say “that’s all well and good, but I want to place a hit on the Drug Dealer, I want to take him out with an accident”, go ahead, Contracts Mode will let you do that.

Do you expect that your fans will run with Contracts Mode, and how will that add to the longevity of the game?

Very much so, as they have already been doing this in Blood Money anyway. Videos such as 100 Ways to Kill a Clown, videos like these, where they show off ludicrous ways to pull off kills, would effectively challenge their friends to try and do it better. With Contracts Mode, we formalise it, so you actually formally challenge your friends to pull it off as well as you did – or more creatively – so I fully expect this to add a huge amount of longevity to a game, which has a huge amount of longevity to begin with. There is a massive amount of re-playability in Absolution, more than any of the other games.

Did you ever consider integrating direct video uploads into Absolution?

You experiment  with a lot of technologies, but sometimes you have to make tough choices because when you are releasing on a lot of different platforms, you have to make priorities. So we looked at it, but we decided that it was more interesting to do it interactively. Showing off a video is nice for boasting, but hooking this implicit challenge into the end of it – look at how I did this, but someone else could do it better, all formalised within the game – I feel that is a more interesting way of doing it. It keeps it more social.

The series obviously has a very dark tone in one sense, but there has also always been a certain sense of humour in some levels, or little nods here or there that lighten the tone. Is it important to the team to put that into the game?

There are two things there, first of all it IS important to the team, we have always had that sense of humour, those darkly humorous moments are always something we enjoy doing, but it is also important to the tone of the series generally, because when it comes down to it, Hitman is a game about a professional assassin and that could go to some really dark places. By keeping Agent 47 as the straight man in the middle, and by foiling him with some more ludicrous elements around him, you get a game world that isn’t as depressing as it might be if you went the absolutely realistic route. So I think that is very much the right choice, where you get a slightly unreal, urban myth kind of world. That is where 47 lives.

In playing the game this morning, when you compare it to previous games in the series, because there is so much going on, and you have so much choice available to you, it feels almost more difficult than the previous ones. Is this an issue that you came across at all in the development of the title? That some people became confused as there is too much to take into account?

What we spent a lot of time on doing with Absolution, was increasing the accessibility of the game. Accessibility is not the same as “easy mode”. Now I have had this question a lot from fans, the classic one was from a journalist who berated me greatly about Instincts mode, which he claimed was like “easy mode”, and that he wouldn’t use it. I had a laptop with me, with the game running on it, so I asked him, “why don’t you play it?” and within minutes he was using Instincts Mode. So, the thing is, we provide all of these tools that allow you to become Agent 47, and 47 has an instinctive understanding of how people move within a space, he knows where to stand and exactly the right moment to make the kill. So Instinct and all the other tools we provide are really gameplay tools that add to the experience, they don’t take away from it. The game is challenging, and we haven’t really seen anyone who just picks it up and pulls off a Silent Assassin, because you really do need to get your game on.

Even in the demo, which is on normal difficulty, there are so many things to think about, you need to be constantly aware of what is going on around you.

It also plays into the replayability of the title. You can always come back and try something different. That is then hooked up to the Challenge system, and Challenges, of course, affect your score and your scores are shared socially. Scores also unlock Assassin techniques, so there are all of these hooks to get you to come back. Okay, you killed him with an explosion; how about using poison this time?

You already have the Contracts Mode that will add longevity to the game, do you plan to support the game with more DLC post-release?

Well, coming post-release are what we call Featured Contracts, which will basically be a mechanism where we create some contract that we think is interesting, and we also take contracts the fans are creating that we think are worth playing, and we put those in a specific list where people can find them and play them. Then we also advertise them in the main game, so when you are playing a certain level and you pause the game we will show you what is basically an advert and when you press a button and then it will take you into that contract.

With that, we say thank you to Torben for his time, and hope that this interview has raised your excitement for Hitman: Absolution even higher than it already was. The game is only a little over one month away, gamers won’t have to wait much longer to try out features such as the new Contracts Mode themselves.

Hitman: Absolution is set to release on November 20th for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. Keep up with the latest issue of the Hope News Times at the official site for the game – The Barcode Society.

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