The first four Hitman games from IO Interactive have sold approximately 10 million copies worldwide. But the Copenhagen-based game developer is targeting an even broader audience with its 2012 release, Hitman: Absolution.
“The Hitman games of past have been very hardcore,” said Tore Blystad, game director at IO Interactive. “Even though the fantasy of the Hitman universe has a very universal appeal, the games have been so difficult to play, that it’s been more of an acquired taste. The biggest challenge that we had with this game was to make it much broader in every sense, so that it was easier to play and more accessible, but still retain a very strong, hardcore side as well. We don’t want to alienate any of our fans who have been extremely loyal for so many years.”
It’s been five years since the iconic bald assassin, known only as Agent 47 in the franchise, has gone on a virtual mission. During that time, the game studio has created brand new technology to bring a more cinematic interactive story to life. A story that turns the table on the hunter and has 47 pursued by the police and the agency he previously worked for.
IO Interactive developed the Glacier 2 engine to bring Hitman’s virtual world to life. The new game is set in the United States and one of the first missions the studio is showing takes place in Chicago. Blystad said the game engine was specifically built to create the different game features and additional qualities that the team needed for the gameplay experience.
“Everything in the game now is based on real-time feedback within the game engine,” said Blystad. “Every action is updating in real-time, which is a change from how we worked before. When it comes to the game’s features, we have a separate tech team and gameplay team that work together to ensure the new features work in the game.”
Blystad said the artificial intelligence (AI) that is featured in Hitman: Absolution is something that has taken the most time to develop. The gameplay revolves around player actions, and since there are many choices in every scenario, the AI had to be able to respond to any given situation at any given time.
“If you attack and enemy from any angle, than we’re able to have them fight back, or continue on in a normal state if you ignore them,” said Blystad. “There are similar things in games like GTA or these bigger sandbox games, but it’s on a much less granular level because we have a very strong focus on the abilities of the characters. You get so close to the characters in this game. They all have names, and they have all some kind of part to play in the story, so that they act as believable as possible is the most important thing for us. It’s the most central part of the game.”
To bring these characters to life, IO Interactive turned to Hollywood. Hitman: Absolution features a dozen Hollywood actors from film and television. The actors provided full performance capture for the game, which means when you see Keith Carradine’s villain Blake Dexter walking around in the game, the actor’s motions were captured digitally.
“Blake Dexter is a pretty complex character,” said Blystad. “He’s introduced at the very beginning of the game and then follows through the entire story, which is rather lengthy. He’s one of the characters that appears most throughout the story and has the most difficult scenes.”
Carradine, who stars in Universal Pictures’ Cowboys & Aliens this summer, was up for the challenge of performing in a video game. Some scenes had as many as seven actors performing together in full motion-capture suits.
“Acting always reduces down to the same basic tenets: know your character and tell the truth,” said Carradine. “In that regard, performance capture is no different than any other ‘capture’ of the actor’s work, whether it be film, video, digital, or the consciousness of a live audience.”
Once the acting was captured digitally, Blystad said his team had an insane amount of flexibility in working with the scenes inside the virtual set. While the actors were back working on film and TV projects, Blystad’s team was tweaking their performances, trimming scenes, and perfecting their virtual faces to create a cinematic experience.
“We also have a mo-cap camera set-up in our studio, so we’re able to go back and capture a scene using a digital camera,” explained Blystad. “This adds another layer of believability on top of the performances, because our camera in the game is not static. It’s panning and moving around, just like it would on a film or TV show.”
Bringing all aspects of a virtual character to life stuck with actress Marsha Thomason (“White Collar”), who makes her video game debut as Diana Burnwood in Hitman: Absolution.
“Actors would die to be the voice for a character on an animated film or TV show,” said Thomason. “It’s a dream and this is a spin-off of that. I would love to play a regular on a video game. It would be great. It keeps it fresh. It keeps it interesting.”
IO Interactive hopes new fans will find Hitman: Absolution interesting when Square Enix launches the action adventure game next year.