Hitman 3 is out and it landed like a precision sniper shot from 500 meters. IO Interactive took the plunge into self-publishing for the final installment in Agent 47’s latest trilogy and it paid off, becoming an immediate sales success.
The wins don’t stop there for the Denmark-based studio, though. The developer recently announced that it’s snapped up the Bond license and is working on its very own OO7 game.
We sat down to talk to Hitman 3’s executive producer, Forest Swartout Large, about Hitman, why IO is a perfect fit for Bond, and what it is that makes IO’s games so distinct.
Spoilers for the final mission and ending of Hitman 3 are included in the conversation.
TheGamer: Hitman levels are built around the player disrupting as little as possible-
[Large pulls a face – a face of doubt]
TG: I mean, if they want to pull off the perfect hit.
TG: There’s playfulness there as well, if they want it. But I wondered why so much work at IO goes into building destructible scenery, car tyres that can be popped, when, really, it’s not built for players to be shooting everything anyway?
Forest Swartout Large: I think that’s a great point, and honestly, we ask ourselves that quite a bit. Full transparency – we talk about that a lot.
We want to make sure that if we do add destruction or what I call “Michael Bay moments” to Opportunities that there’s an actual gameplay reason or gameplay purpose and it’s not just to tick boxes for technical people. That said, I think Hitman is a niche game. I think it has been, up to this point, not well understood by the majority of people. I think there’s a deep appreciation by some people who really get it. But I think there’s also an aspect of destruction, “Michael Bay-ness” that allows the game to come into the mainstream.
Then what hit us like a bucket of ice is we have these Michael Bay moments and people think it’s an action shooter, and it’s not. [Laughs]. And then they’re terribly disappointed. But I feel like this time around, we managed to thread the needle – a little bit of excitement for those players who might want moments of action or that element in their game experiences. But also, just driving home that it’s a puzzle game – if you want to execute the perfect kill, you should try to be thoughtful.
Destruction for the sake of destruction is not important to Hitman, but if you worked so hard for the perfect kill and the perfect kill is an environment trap that involves getting a target underneath a chandelier, and when you drop that chandelier it should look great, right? And it should sound great. It’s another way of rewarding the player for their hard work.
TG: That makes sense. I guess it kind of adds to the systemic nature of the game as well, doesn’t it? Because if you shoot a car and the alarm goes off, that might lure an NPC over to investigate. I was going to ask this question later on in the chat, but it leads on from what we were talking about there with the more action-y sections. I wondered why you went that way with the final mission because that’s a linear corridor that you shoot your way down.
FSL: Hitman 3 was about closing the trilogy and giving a satisfying ending for players and for ourselves. Our objective was to set Hitman free, or at least free Hitman at the end of this trilogy. The end, even though it is more on-rails – we still provide freedom of approach in terms of how you want to take out the final target. You can go action-style, guns blazing and just take everyone out or you can do it Silent Assassin, suit-only. Torbjørn, our principal designer who was the brains behind Sapienza and Hokkaido, when he played the final mission, he did it Silent Assassin, suit-only. Just hearing that he had done that and had fun, I was like, “We did it!”. You can completely sneak your way through, you can do it suit-only and suit-only without a, you know, naked!
TG: Birthday suit-only!
TG: Did you ever consider calling it Hitman Free? Since it was about setting him free.
FSL: [Laughs]. I think people would get confused then. “Why am I paying money?” But it was a big secret for a long time. It’s only in the last 12 hours we’re talking about it openly, about setting him free.
TG: What does it mean for Agent 47 to start his own agency then? Does it mean Hitman is done?
FSL: One of the things that we talked about a lot is: we wanted to empower players. That’s what Hitman is about – player empowerment. And one of the ways players can be engaged and feel even more invested is when you have an ending where the player can take the “what if?” and they can imagine what that looks like. We’re not defining it. We’re not saying that’s what’s happening or that’s not what’s happening. We intentionally left it very open so players can take that journey themselves.
TG: Is it also so you could come back to it one day if you wanted to?
FSL: We’re continuously working on Hitman so we are already looking to the future.
TG: What about DLC like the bank and the island?
FSL: We are definitely going to be doing some DLC, but we haven’t defined what that is. I think for now we are not looking at new maps like the bank and the island. We’re more looking at using existing locations and reimagining them, twisting them. And this time around, we can use the whole trilogy. We can look back at Hitman 2016 maps, Hitman 2 maps – we have all the locations.
TG: It’s cool – it’s such a good package. Why did you decide to decrease the number of Opportunities for this one? It feels like they were halved?
FSL: Definitely. So, they’re really labour-intensive, these Opportunities or guided mission stories. And we believe the best Opportunities are the ones that really open up different areas of the map. I have a bias that the best ones are deeper and longer and more complex. And so, by doing fewer guided ones, we are able to say, ‘OK, the three guided ones are going to be amazing, they’re going to be must-play stories, take you in areas of the map that you wouldn’t [visit] if you weren’t an exploration-type player. Because that is the purpose of the guides: to take players who don’t want to explore for themselves and give them a nice introduction, if you will.
We have the idea of guided mission stories and then unguided. That’s something that has always been an important part of previous maps. This time around, between guided and unguided missions, we probably have around a dozen per map, and then, of course, all the other crazy, creative things players can do – systemic kills, environmental traps, and whatnot, that’s not part of the dozen. There are around a dozen story-supported ways of taking out your targets.
TG: I feel like sometimes it’s more satisfying to figure things out for yourself, rather than following [the objective markers]. I enjoy the Opportunities, don’t get me wrong, but you’re spoonfed the kill, whereas when you go to Berlin [mission 3], there are no opportunities and you’ve just got to figure out this huge puzzle that’s so intimidating at first. It’s one of the best missions in the series, and that feels like pure Hitman to me.
FSL: Thank you! That was a dream to make. Cold open[ing], no guidance, no guide – just pure discovery, pure exploration, creativity, and freedom of approach. We just really thought the few guided mission stories we had would breadcrumb players and really plant the seeds of alternate routes and other ways of approaching the targets. Because, you know, you can also try different playstyles as well.
TG: Yeah, and I guess it’s hard to tutorialise a game like Hitman as well, right?
FSL: Yeah. But I think if we’ve done our jobs in terms of well-placed and well-presented dialogue, visual hints like well-placed spotlights that draw the player’s eye, or draw their ear to something, we’ve done our job to bring the opportunities to the player, where then the player can choose, “I’m going to take that” or “I’m going to experiment with that”.
TG: Because we’ve only got a short interview, I’ll switch gears a little bit here and ask about the thematics of Hitman 3. In Dubai, you can see the burning oil fields in the distance and you’re inside this shimmering obelisk. And then in China, you’ve got rich people experimenting on the poor. I was wondering if there’s a class divide message you were hoping to convey?
FSL: It’s not our agenda to make statements or commentary, but we have a big team of creatives who have opinions and find different things interesting. It’s always a great opportunity to surface these contrasts, depravity – and we were going really dark with this one so we were just like, “OK, what does ‘loneliness’ mean? What does ‘depravity’ mean? What is isolation? What is poverty? Resource scarcity – what does that mean?” We’re not trying to be overly political, I would say, but we’re not afraid to surface some of those themes and shine a light.
TG: Well, you did a good job with it. Speaking of, the launch trailer was absolutely amazing, by the way.
FSL: Thank you!
TG: But it felt like IO was just screaming, “Imagine what we’re going to do with Bond.”
TG: Was that intentional?
FSL: Actually, you know what’s funny? I’m going to tell you a secret. It’s not a secret, but I haven’t said it [before]. The creative force behind our Hitman 3 launch trailer is the same creative force who was behind the 2016 trailer with the running. When we were having our early talks and getting going with Hitman 3, we found ourselves thinking so much about the  trailer. For some reason, we were drawn back to that feeling. I really remember when I saw that trailer and all the feelings it evoked in me. I wasn’t at the studio at the time, but I remember where I was and how it felt, and I rewatched it again and again. We really wanted to call back to that. And because Hitman 3 was about closure, we were thinking a lot about where we began. It just so happened that the creative director behind that trailer came back to the studio and was in charge, creatively, of all our marketing assets. I think that was a little bit of a tangent. What was your actual question?
TG: I was wondering if you were flexing about having the Bond license because it had that kind of vibe to it.
FSL: We weren’t, actually. I think it just more goes to show that it’s great we got the license because we were just doing that anyway. There are so many synergies, right? Bond is its own IP and Hitman is its own IP.
TG: Do you think they’ll share some DNA? I promise I won’t ask about Bond again after this one.
FSL: I hope that the Bond team will be inspired. There are things that IO does incredibly well and it would be a huge missed opportunity if the Bond team didn’t leverage all of that expertise, take it, and then make their own with it. What I can see from the side, I believe that they will do that. I would say there’s something about the DNA of IO when it comes to creativity and stealth – especially disguise stealth.
TG: The systemic design as well! I just realised, in the third game in the series, that you can shoot extension cables to make them spark, rather than using a screwdriver. There are so many little things in IO’s way of working that make the games so deep for players. I saw a video the other day of Agent 47 choking people out and if you don’t tap the button, they’ve got unique dialogue for Agent 47 cuddling them. How many other hidden little things are there in there?
FSL: I live and breathe the game and I have been for the past five years, and I’m still learning. I know our bug database inside and out, I know what’s in our backlog in terms of, like, features we’ve always wanted to make, ideas, what has and hasn’t gone into the game, and I’m still learning. I think [the answer is] infinite and vast.
TG: How happy is IO with the sales success it reported the other day?
FSL: We are so pleased. It’s been such a journey over the last several years and this iteration of Hitman, with different publishers and now we’re self-published. It feels like such an achievement. It’s also like, “There’s a business case for stealth [games]!”. Not only is it amazing for IO, but I feel, personally, for stealth fans, it’s awesome. And with so many studios consolidating and fewer and fewer independent studios making big titles, I feel really proud that we did this independently and self-published this.
TG: That’s awesome, thank you!
FSL: I have to say, we work so hard and, for me, it’s such a treat to talk to journalists and people who understand and appreciate the game, so thank you!
Next: Hitman 3 Review – Slick, Stylish, Smooth
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Kirk is the Editor-in-Chief at The Gamer. He likes Arkane games a little too much.
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