The Average Gamer

Hitman’s Torben Ellert: “Use or abuse the gameplay”

The November release of Hitman Absolution is less than a month away and having played through a Chinatown hit, I’m really looking forward to it.

I hacked my target’s head off with a fish-seller’s cleaver and ran out the exit. I ran up to him, shot him point-blank in the face and got massacred by his bodyguards.

And I bopped a sleeping guard on the head, stole his clothes, sniped my target from a nearby apartment window, coolly strolled across the plaza past a host of police officers and walked straight out the door. Bad-ass.

As well as boasting sexy nuns, this fifth game in the series has overhauled the disguises and thrown in a type of asynchronous multiplayer challenge mode.

Disguises in the previous game, Blood Money, were more like access cards. You knocked out a hapless bystander, dressed up in their clothes and that got you through a door. In Absolution, they help you blend in with your surroundings.

Wander around a crime scene dressed as a plumber and you’ll get suspicious looks from the policemen but dress as a cop and, from a distance, the other coppers won’t look twice at you. Get too close however, and you’ll raise suspicion with your unfamiliar face so try to act normal. Go eat some doughnuts to calm their fears. Levels are filled with these disguise-specific opportunities to blend in.

The Contracts mode is new big feature for Absolution, which allows you to design your own contracts. During development Game Designer Torben Ellert, and the rest of the design team at IO Interactive started thinking about the places between the hits. With the game’s strong emphasis on building a believable world and atmosphere, there are plenty of levels going spare. Ellert told me how the Contracts mode came about.

“We started thinking well, these great levels that we’ve got that maybe don’t have hits on them because it’s for escaping, what would happen to this level if anybody could be a target?” said Ellert. “And we started thinking, well, how could we allow players to create their own contracts in some easy way that wasn’t a clunky editor? So we came up with this idea that’s called Play To Create.”

What Play To Create does is allow you to create custom contract hits simply by playing the level. You walk around one of these maps, look at the NPCs you want and press a button to flag them as hits.

“The way you take them out – sniper rifle, explosion or whatever – is tracked by the game,” Ellert continued. “The way you go about it is also tracked. Are you seen? Do you hide the bodies? Do you miss shots? Do you kill non-targets? And then you go to one of the exits that the level has and save that as a contract.

“So if you walked into the level and picked up three street vendors and took them all out with broken bottles, for example and then exit the level, that becomes a contract. You can then save that to the server. Other people can pick it up and try to beat your score so it’s almost like an asynchronous multiplayer. A challenge mode, if you will. Fundamentally, it’s you showing off how you can use or abuse the gameplay on all of our levels to pull off impressive hits.”

IO Interactive love that their fans have been finding unexpected ways to use the previous game’s systems. “We know that our fans will find ways to use our AI that are not ‘intended’ and you might be tempted as a game designer to say ‘Oh no, that’s abuse we must patch it’ but the idea in contracts mode is if you can pull it off, well done.

“Like in Blood Money there was a mission where you could get a target’s protection detail to run him over in his own car if you chained these events together in some bizarre ludicrous way. Instead of saying ‘Oh no, that’s abusive’ we say ‘Well done. Well done.’ Because the fundamental point of contracts mode is that it’s play to create, when you get this murder mystery, you know it can be done in at least one way and our experience tells us there’s always at least one more way to pull it off. Often in a way that leaves the contract creator thinking “No, no, no! You weren’t supposed to do it like THAT” but that’s the awesome part of it.”

In tracking the way that you kill your targets, the game allows you as a creator to enforce certain conditions, including the exit. In some cases you can peg it out the correct door as soon as you’ve nobbled your foe but if the designer has chosen to enforce hiding the body, you may need disguises to lure your victim somewhere sheltered or make your escape.

As for the style of kill; knock someone off a balcony and it gets logged as an accident, so another player might achieve the same result by blowing up a gas cylinder nearby. Kill your target with a pistol and your challengers can use any pistol from the game.

The prop weapons that you pick up are more interesting. “Things like knives and spanners and golf clubs, we enforce those specifically because those are items you have to find in the level. You can’t bring them in with you so if you pull off three kills and one of them is done with a morningstar, then you pick up this contract and go ‘A morningstar? Is there a morningstar in this game?’ Well, there obviously is. Find it.”

Hitman Absolution will be released in the UK on 20th November for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.