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Hitman: Absolution Interview with Roberto Marchesi and Travis Barbour

Recently, our inteprid reporter Kirk Mckeand braved the shady world of professional killers and shadow organisations to bring us the following coverage of Roberto Marchesi and Travis Barbour. These men are known to be part of the combined forces of the organisations known as 'Square Enix' and 'IO Interactive'.

Acting undercover, Mckeand exposed substantial details relating to their latest operation, codenamed 'Hitman: Absolution'. The following transcript is highly sensitive and we cannot guarantee the safety of those who read it and you do so at your own risk. Be aware, be safe and keep your eyes open; their agents are everywhere.

The following is a lengthy Q&A with the Art Director of Hitman: Absolution and IO Interactive's Community and Brand Assistant.

Will there be a rating system on the contracts mode?

Art director – Roberto Marchesi:
Yes, we also plan on having featured contracts, where people from IO can sort out the contracts we deem are the most interesting. When you finish the contract you can rate it, if you like it or not. Also, if a person (who has earned the most money from contract mode) makes a contract, they will be featured as the richest assassin.

Brand Assistant – Travis Barbour:
Yeah, we have three different leaderboards, so as well as the contracts you have between your friends, we also have several leaderboards for you to compete in. So, the most popular assassin is the person who has gained the most “likes” on their contracts, so you can immediately see who is making good contracts. The richest assassin is the guy who has made the most money, that's pretty straightforward. Deadliest assassin is, the one who has the...most kills?

RM:
Yes.

TB:
You can also choose the disguise and the weapon that you want to start the contract with. You don't necessarily have to use that weapon, but if you want to take a particular weapon like the Katana sword (and you know the sword is in the level), you can always go in with the Silverballers and the Sword. Mix-and-match the kills. So you could kill one guy with the sword (whilst wearing the suit) and another guy with the hammer in a police officers outfit; then send it out to your friend and he has no idea where the Katana is, how to even get the police officers disguise and kind of has to figure it out themselves. Like I said, sending it out to your friends and saying, what can you do here? Can you even do it? Nevermind do it better.


RM:
It's a bragging tool.

Can you keep contracts private?

RM:
Yes, you can send it to your friends, or keep it private.

TB:
With each contract you can decide who you want to share it with – who you want to compete with. If you made the contract and you only want to share it with – or compete with two people, that's fine, you can do that. Then you can also invite people even afterwards, for example if you're having a little duel with one of your friends and you’re both talking about it and like, someone goes “how can I get involved in that?” you can send them an invite and suddenly you have three on the leaderboard (instead of two). That's perfectly possible, and then you get a little pop-up message like (for example) John has just beaten your score and you can immediately jump back in and try to get it back.

RM:
Teach John.

TB:
Yeah, teach John a lesson. It's actually 14:47 by the way. You see that number everywhere when you work at IO, everything is just 47.

Someone else speaks up at this point, mentioning the fact that there are 47 seats in the room.

TB:
Is there really? They're everywhere, when you're aware of it.



Is the player awarded for exploration outside of the objectives?

RM:
Exploration plays a huge part in Absolution, but also in general in the franchise. We really want to promote player choice, we do that by making the world interesting. You will often have a route that looks like the most logical one, or the easy way out, like by killing someone, but there are other ways of getting around the problem. We also like to put moral choices along your path. The same goes for when you are listening to certain characters, you can go to areas that are off the main path, you can learn something about the level by hearing their conversation. That's how we want to reward the player, by making exploring interesting.

What about Easter Eggs? Like in past Hitman games you had the ghost etc.

TB:
There is an absolute bucketload of them.

RM:
One of the unwritten rules about Easter Eggs is if the programmers or the guys on the team can sneak any in the last week before the producers get involved, then it's pretty much free game. There's still loads of stuff in there that even I haven’t seen yet myself.

TB:
The ones that I've seen are brilliant, if you've played Blood Money, there are quite a few references to that. That's another part of the exploration, some of them are very difficult to find. I really want to tell you, but I'm not going to.

You said that how you play the game affects how it develops, can you give more information on that?

RM:
The most important thing is it affects how the single level is perceived, and how the NPC's on the level react. We tried to make them as believable as possible and they react to the players actions.

Back to the contracts mode, can you tell us more about how your friends beat you? Because, if you're setting up a certain kill, with a certain gun and your friend does it exactly the same, how can they beat your score, if it's exactly the same?

RM:
The timing has a huge impact on how you can solve that problem.

TB:
The requirements are more important than the timing, you get less points for different guns etc.

RM:
You can mess with peoples heads, when you have finished the contract, if you were using the Silverballer, or wearing the suit or whatever you were wearing at the time, you can set it as not being a requirement. That way you can actually confuse them.

TB:
Kind of double-bluffing them. If you make it too obvious (for example) the sniper rifle in the suit, they kind of know what they have to do, but if you can figure out a really cool way to take that guy out, you can then blank off the requirements, it will just say any weapon, any disguise. They won't know what you found, what disguise you took in, they will have no idea. And they might try and do the sniper kill and realise they only have half the score, and they have no idea how you did it. So sometimes it's cool to say “can you kill this guy, with a sword, in the Chipmunk suit?” it's also cool to say “I killed this guy, and got this score, can you even do it?” Then they have to explore the whole level and figure out how you did it. So that choice is yours at the end, once you've completed it you can just toggle the requirements on and off.

RM:
The thing about Contracts is you play to create this contract, so then it has a huge flexibility, because you know when you get a contract; someone has finished it. It is possible to do it and it's probably possible to do it better.

Back to the moral choices, do any of them affect the story?

AD:
No. They are level specific, because we really wanted to focus on the development of 47 this time around. What we have in 47 is a really interesting character, that in the previous games hasn't shown much of himself and that is also a strength and we didn't want to ruin it too much because that way players can become him when they are playing it. But at the same time we did feel that there is much that he can bring to a story; that we wanted to delve a bit more into the personal side, which is why we start the game with such a pivotal act like taking out Diana. The entire story unfolds from there, forcing 47 to take this choice. We didn't want to have it too open-ended like, hey if you do this you get the good ending or the bad ending. This is the story of Absolution.

TB:
There's one other thing I would like to add if you don't mind. Going back to the Easter Eggs, the game also has a big list of challenges, so every level has a set of challenges that are separate from the achievement or trophy list, There's too many of them, there's something like 10, or 15 for every level: so of course there's complete the level suit only, there is don't get spotted, and then some of them get absolutely crazy, so there's things like kill a certain amount of guys with the sword in a certain disguise without getting spotted, and that's your challenge. And for every challenge you complete, will add a multiplier to your rating, similar to the Sniper Challenge (pre-order bonus) if you played that, so if you do the challenges and go back and play the mission, your score gets boosted. You really have to explore to find these things, in the menu they're quite cryptically described, so it kind of gives you an idea what to do; you can kind of figure it out, but it's not laid out for you. Some of them are really cool and some of them are multi-layered. It really highlights all the different ways you can play a level, so you look at the challenge list and you're like “wow” there's a lot to do here. The same when you complete a level, it shows you all the weapons you could have picked up and all the items. Every item that you pick up is kind of saved, so to completely complete the entire level, like 100% completion, there is a lot of hours there. If you want to do that of course, it's entirely up to you, but there is a reward by upgrading the score modifier. They aren't exactly Easter Eggs, but more like: did you know you can do this in the game? Try it, and they kind of lead you along the path of something cool.

The following is a short one-on-one interview with Roberto Marchesi.

Kirk Mckeand:
What was your inspiration for the art direction?

RM:
The inspiration was mostly taken from movies in general, I think they are very good tools to get a basic understanding and inspiration for a game. Especially in the beginning during the pre-production period. Also, because I think the art direction is very much there to create a mood and to create a place for the players that is interesting enough to explore. Directors like David Lynch have also been huge inspirations for the world we wanted to create and the direction we wanted to take. David Lynch more for the story telling, because the characters that he creates and the worlds he presents in his movies are so interesting and compelling.

KM:
Hitman, in the past has always been about giving the player plenty of variety and I can see from the presentation that every location is unique.

RM:
You ain't seen nothing yet, I must say. As a concept artist on the project it's a pure joy to work on this kind of title, because the span of the locations is really, really wide compared to many other games. You can really go from super high class areas to run-down, but also there is a certain humour that is present in the series. The premise is very serious, you are a paid murderer, but at the same time it's a game and it knows it's a game. It's a very serious game, but at the same time you can get away with some humour.



KM:
Like the guy you dragged out of the window in the presentation? That's genuinely one of the funniest things I've seen in a game.

RM:
That is because it is a game and we want the player to have fun.

KM:
You mentioned earlier that you actually had a professional dancer come in for the motion capture during the strip-club scene. How strange was it seeing a dancer writhe around on the floor in a mo-cap suit?

RM:
Hahaha. Well it's more strange to see the previous animator in the game. Because after a while you realise what makes up a person's movements and all of a sudden you can tell when a character (in the game) is actually someone you know, who was mo-capped. It's very unsettling to know that, that girl dancing on a pole is the guy from the animation team.

KM:
I can imagine, yeah. Hitman is a big project, and you had a lot of criticism in the beginning from the first gameplay trailer you showed off, but as I can see, you didn't show anything really. You were just trying to show the new systems. Is there anything you want to say to appease the doubters, and give people a better idea of what to expect?

RM:
Well I think they can expect the most complete Hitman game so far. We really wanted to make a game that communicated well, that played well, that felt responsive and that gave you more tools and more choices. During the advert campaign we have tried to make cinematic trailers that showcased some of the level and we had some gameplay levels that showcased all the tools at your disposal. That is why some of them, especially the gameplay trailers, might come out a bit more violent than many of the classic players are used to, but that's specifically because we just wanted to show the new tools. But, as you saw from today, all the levels can be approached in any way and it's up to player choice to do whatever they want to.

KM:
Some people enjoy using the weapons anyway.

RM:
Exactly, that is the point. We don't know how people are going to play the game, we just want to make sure that whatever path they choose they will still have a fun experience. Also, a rewarding one. That is why we spent so much time perfecting both the social stealth and also the action elements, or having the right feel to the weapons, animations and cover system.

kirkules | 6th December, 2012

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