Like a Thief in the Night....
"The name 'Agent 47' is just a whisper on the lips of the dead...because if he comes calling for you you'll never even know until it's too late. Then, like a ghost, he'll disappear. A phantom. A legend." - Alexander Leland Cayne, Hitman: Blood Money
Darkness falls, bringing with it light, gentle rain. From somewhere deep down the decadent hall of some decadent mansion, the thunderous choir of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana O Fortuna plays upon an old recorder, the needle catching every pitch, every scratch in the vinyl. The song reaches its crescendo, Imperatrix Mundi, sending an echoing wail down dark and dusty halls. And in some secluded dining room, soft-lit by candlelight, a man eats his last supper. Because death has come for him.
In his ill-spent life, this man sold drugs, sold girls into slavery, had good men and women killed. Accruing an empire built on sorrow and sin, it was inevitable that someone, someday would collect. It was karma, nature, life fulfilling and maintaining the balance between good and evil. And so he sits, carefully cutting his steak in measured, equal bites, savoring each and every morsel. He has eaten countless one before, some more extravagant and more expensive and lavish than this one.
But for the life of him he cannot think of any that have tasted more delicious than this particular one.
The candle flutters in some unseen wind, the man pauses, a bite of steak inches from his lips. The candle finally wavers and dies, the stench of burning wax and wicker punctuates the air. In the dark the man simply resumes eating, pulling the steak from his fork with his teeth. Soft, gentle rain patters against the roof. The record finally stops playing, the soft scratch of blank vinyl marking the end of the song. Somewhere in the dark death stands ready. A flash of lightning and the growl of thunder that rebounds against the walls far louder than nature intended. The air carries with it a sulfurous stain.
The man settles back in his chair, feeling the warm expel of blood from his chest. The bullet has pierced his heart. As his head slowly slumps forward, as his eyes begin to dip into the final rest, he looks out over his ill-gotten empire and sees nothing. Nothing but shadow and death.
It was a perfect kill.
It's been almost six years since players last stepped into the shoes of one of the most notorious assassins in video game history. And for many, it almost seemed like it would be the last time. But there's a saying in development, 'with age comes perfection,' and when it comes to bringing the world of Agent 47 to life, six years of re-envisioning and reworking the franchise for a much broader audience was just right to make the formula work. Developer IO Interactive, now under the care of Square-Enix, are set to reintroduce the Hitman franchise to an eagerly awaiting fanbase, and are hopeful that a much larger audience comes along for the ride.
"It's been a long time and we've spent a lot of time with the technology for the game," says Tore Blystad, Game and Art Director for Hitman: Absolution. "....we made a lot of games on the old tech and it was getting really old and difficult to work with. And just kind of this big patchwork [engine], so now...we're starting from scratch. We're [building] a new Hitman game on completely new technology.....it's been a really big task just getting that completely right and building all the parts to fit the character we wanted for the game.You can say that the entry point is lower [this time] but there is a lot of depth in the game, we're only really scratching the surface with what [we've shown]."
Replacing the long running Glacier 1 with their new Glacier 2.0 Engine, Blystad and team are really excited to bring the Hitman world to life in ways they've only dreamed of before. Namely by giving the A.I.'s considerably more brainpower. "There are a lot of the core mechanics to the game that have been revised but not fundamentally changed," he said. "The basic traits of the old game are the same in Absolution, but of course, there’s always been a very strong desire to make a cinematic experience in Hitman games. Now we have much better tools than we ever had before, but its the balance of… when you make a game there’s a lot of choice; how do you make a cinematic experience in that world without the player feeling that they’re kind of being controlled, right? Of course, it’s difficult to judge from [our demos], but the way we’ve designed the games, the A.I. is the centerpiece of the tech, and the way that they react is beyond our control."
This, they say, will allow players to mold the story as they see fit, with enemy characters reacting in a realistic manner. For example, keeping to the shadows, keeping silent and quiet, using disguises to pass by enemy forces, as opposed to going in, killing everything in your way, can dramatically affect enemy behavior throughout the game's narrative. "If you go in guns blazing," Blystad says, "we know how many NPCs will go into combat mode or send out hunting parties for you, if you run away. The music will listen to all these things and give you a dramatic and suspenseful experience regardless of how you want to play the game. You can seamlessly go back and forth between all these different states.....This is the biggest challenge we’ve had, to feel linear but not be linear."
Shadows and Dust
Truth be told though, the biggest hurdle the team has to deal with the most is the still very vocal Hitman fanbase. And although the team needs and wants to be as respectful to the established lore and canon of the series as they can, change is inevitable in just about everything, even video games. "We have a very........vocal and strong kind of community," Blystad says with a small laugh. "It's a very diverse community, because if you go to the forums and read - which we try to do as much as we can bear....it's [been] very emotional when you're trying to make a game as good as you possibly can and you just get torn down by these very vocal fans."
"But of course," he goes on to say, "they just want a great game and that's what we want too. But we also want a game that caters to all those fans. The guys that want the pure...old school, Hitman experience, they will be able to get that through the game but we just haven't shown that yet. Our biggest challenge is to create a Hitman game that caters to the entire spectrum of fans and even beyond that, because we believe we can bring more people into the game. It's a very attractive, perversely enough, fantasy where people really want to be a hitman, they really want to be this guy, and we believe we can take in new people into the game and convert them into hardcore Hitman players."
One of the new features that will hopefully please both old and new fans fo the series is the game's underlying sense of freedom; freedom of choice, freedom of thought, freedom to deal and tackle any given scenario the way a player sees fit. Something that Absolution's Lead Producer Hakan Abrak is proud of the most in the game. "From a creative point of view, with the story there is a big change. In the prior games the structure of the story, the pacing of the story, was linked to the hit structure. Diana would give you a hit and that would push forward the story, with the next hit and the next hit. It's very different in Hitman: Absolution [because] we wanted to make the story a more personal one.  is betrayed and on the run. So he needs to make the decisions now. You become a lot closer to him, get to know a bit more about his background and who he is. You get to make the next steps, the next moves as Hitman would in the game," Abrak says.
This freedom owes no small thanks to those very vocal fans, as well. "We appreciate our fans and we know way back from Blood Money.......of different ways of solving a hit, coming up with very smart ways of doing it the developers probably [never thought] of, even," says Abrak."That freedom we really want to have in Absolution as well. There's a huge replayability value in it and we have some features in the game I cannot speak about that will enhance this and make this easier, and heighten the replayability value for the hardcore players as well."
As the team puts on the finishing touches, making sure to dot all their i's and cross all their t's, one has to wonder if the game will offer up anything in the way of multiplayer. Oddly, this is something that Blystad and his team go surprisingly quiet on, yet somehow it speaks volumes. "I cannot comment on the multiplayer stuff. I can't say anything. I'm not allowed to use any grammar at all," he slyly teases.
Hitman: Absolution is on target for a November 2012 release.
At a Glance: Hitman: Absolution
Blog entry posted by wastelander75, Jul 31, 2012.