Andy Borkowski – Interview With Cord Smith On Hitman: Absolution
***EDITOR’S NOTE*** – Andy Borkowski is a guest features writer and video game aficionado in the Toronto Area. You can check out some of his articles and interviews over here, or on the VideoGameSophistry‘s YouTube Channel. The video of this interview can be found below. Enjoy!
Borkowski: Hi, I’m Andy Borkowski with VideoGameSophistry. We’re talking today about the game that I want to play more than anything, come the end of the year: Hitman: Absolution. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Smith: Absolutely. It’s been six years since we’ve seen Agent 47 in action, and Hitman: Absolution is his most personal journey to date. It actually involves, at the beginning of the game, assassinating his long-time handler, Diana. This flips everything on its side, and it turns out he needs to protect a young girl through a series of events that span from Chicago out to the badlands and back again.
Borkowski: Now, it’s been close to six years, like you said. What have you done to rejuvenate the franchise but still make it appeal to gamers who played it almost a decade ago?
Smith: People thought, if we made it more accessible, we’d dumb it down, and the team has proven that’s not the case. So, there’s “Instincts” mode, which gives you the ability to see the world through the eyes of Agent 47. You can detect enemy pathing a bit. You can see their locations. It’ll give you hints on really cool kills and things like that; on the harder difficulty levels, he gets dismantled or disabled completely. We haven’t dumbed it down at all; we’ve actually added more breadth to the experience and freedom people can have, so we’re hoping this is the breakout for the hardcore (gamers) – they’re going to love it so much! We have “Contracts” mode, which is really something they’ve been asking for for a long time, which I’ll talk about in a second, but for those that have never considered themselves Hitman fans, I really feel – and I’ve personally played through the entire game – it’s just going to really blow people away.
Borkowski: It’ll still resonate even though they may not be into it.
Smith: More so than ever, yes.
Borkowski: Now, you hinted at it: Contracts mode. That’s a big thing about this game. Everyone’s talking about it. Tell us a little more.
Smith: So, it turns out it was completely inspired by the community. People were playing Blood Money, and they were recording themselves playing missions, but they weren’t killing the target: they were picking a random character in the level and killing them in very bizarre, elaborately creative ways and then posting their videos online.
Borkowski: I think I’m guilty of that of a particular mission where you have to kill all the FBI agents, and you kill all of them, come that end. I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Smith: There you go! So, Io-Interactive sees these videos. They talk to the community, and the community says, “Can’t we have something like this?” Absolutely, we’re going to formalise that. We’re going to create a whole mode. We’re going to keep track of your actions: who you kill, how you kill them, when you kill them, and how well you can officially escape, and allow you to send that out to anyone, everyone, all over the world, and let them challenge your scores and try to do it better than you. So, basically, we’re going to find, for the first time ever, the world’s ultimate assassin.
Borkowski: Playing the demo essentially that was available with the Sniper Challenge, you integrated a lot of what you’re talking about here, and my favourite thing about that was the objectives that you had: the really, really funny and odd sorts of things. Is that going be in Hitman: Absolution?
Smith: If you love that in Sniper Challenge, you’re going to freak out when you play Absolution. Freak out! Basically, at the end of every level, you’re going to get a score and assessment, and it’s instantly going to show you what achievements you’ve done, but it’s also going to show you, blatantly, everything you didn’t do. So, sometimes, you’ll get to the end of the level, and you’ll see, like, five boxes saying ‘yes, I did that,’ but scroll through, like, eighty more. And they hint at – much like Sniper Challenge – they hint at what’s possible without giving it all away. What I found is, in a single level, much like Sniper Challenge, (it’s) ultimately replayable; a single level in Absolution could last you an entire weekend, if you really wanted to play through and master it, and I just love that about it. Plus, with Contracts mode, now you have the ability to remix all the content itself. We don’t know what people are going to come up with. It’s really exciting times.
Borkowski: Testing that with people who have played Contracts mode and all the testers out there, what has been the consensus? What do they feel about it?
Smith: Much like Sniper Challenge, it incites this really crazy competition. It’s not who can get the most headshots. There’s this level of depth and creativity to it that really involves a whole new level of shit-talking. The shit-talk gets really amazing, because people are doing things that you never thought they could do, and you need to contend with it. Let’s say you’ve found a weapon in a level that no one’s ever really found; just to complete that contract, they’re going to have to go find that weapon, but then they also have to figure out how to use it efficiently, then they also have to figure out how to escape, and the parameters of that are just crazy.
Borkowski: And that’s all secondary to the main story of the game.
Smith: Absolutely, this is a complete bonus level that, if taken off and put in the right hands with the right hardcore game players and even new players sending out creativity and putting out these contracts… I don’t think the game’s going to get old.
Borkowski: Sounds very exciting. In terms of customizability, it’s something that was in the other Hitmans – whether you’re choosing your weapons – is that going to be something that is brought into Hitman: Absolution?
Smith: In Contracts mode especially, you’ll be able to choose from your entire load-out, so you can start the level with whatever disguise you want and whatever weapons you want. As you perform and achieve certain parameters through the main story game, you do evolve in terms of skills: a larger magazine clip; controlled breathing; your knife-throwing gets faster and more accurate; your hand-to-hand combat gets better; your abilities with different weapons (how fast you reload them, etc.) It’s pretty crazy. So, as you play through, you’re kind of given all these as gifts, and it makes you feel like you’re a better player, in spite of the fact that the game is actually crafting a better Agent 47 for you to play as.
Borkowski: Playing the games in the past, I have noticed that there are usually two sets of players: the ones who go through it and enjoy it and come to the end and love it, and the ones like me, who will kill themselves trying to get completionist Silent Assassin on every single level. I noticed in Blood Money, and the games beforehand, there were only a few certain ways that you could reach that pivotal Silent Assassin rank. One thing I’d like to see in Absolution - and I know other people would like to see – is different ways to do that. Is that available in the new Hitman?
Smith: Absolutely. The Silent Assassin ranking is a badge of honour for players. It’s not an easy thing to do; you can even watch tutorials on how to do it, and it’s still difficult to pull off. In Absolution, you do: the level of depth in each level is really enhanced. You have larger areas. You have more permutations given the improvised weapons. The Accident Kills, as we call them, which is really the key to the Silent Assassin ranking, are more numerous and also a bit more creative. For example, in one area, there’s a backyard barbecue, and the guy barbecuing says, “Hey, go get the hot sauce!” And the guy’s like, “I’m always doing errands for you!” Well, if you’re fast enough, you can switch lighter fluid for the hot sauce bottle, and the guy comes out and is like, “Yeah, here’s your freaking hot sauce!” And he’s like, “About time!” And everybody around the grill goes up [in flames,] and it’s so funny to watch. There’s the nods of appreciation for these Accident Kills. Very dark humour, as created by the player, and I think that’s wonderful. Another thing (is) I’ve left out a number of players who’ve tried Hitman and walked away and gone, “Too hard. I’m not smart enough, and I’m not patient enough.” We wanted those people in, and we wanted to train them and teach them that there’s better ways to play Hitman, so Instincts mode allows you to see that pathing. It allows you to understand the way enemies detect, etc. But you also have checkpoints: in certain areas, you can activate your own: you can opt in for a checkpoint, as well as checkpoints between areas. So, let’s say something goes wrong or you just feel like being a maniac and you want to go guns blazing: go guns blazing! If you’re in a secure area, and you walk through a door into another area and get that checkpoint, you’re not going to be detected. You control the pace of the game; you control that experience. Personally, I love that I can play the new game guns blazing and have a blast. With the new cover system, the weaponry has evolved, the aiming is super precise… It’s fun to be a maniac, but again, you walk away from that level with a negative score, not feeling that smart, and sure, you’ve had fun, but you have this urge to go back and play it a little smarter, and it’s not about stealth: again, setting these skills up and things like that, sure you’re operating without people being aware, but it’s not skulking around in shadows. And again, you’ve also got hiding in plain sight: the disguises that you’ve seen in the past are now more powerful. Certain disguises allow you access to new areas that you otherwise wouldn’t have. You can take the robe of a judge, for instance, in a courtroom level, come back in, and rule on the hearing. What game allows you to do that, right? And there are lots of other examples like that, so that’s fun for people to play around with. It’s not just about not being detected: it’s giving you new powers.
Borkowski: In terms of AI – because I know, in the past, playing those previous games, putting on those particular outfits, sometimes you weren’t exactly certain if you could go in certain areas, and there are many times when you walk up the stairs, thinking everything is okay, and then get shot in the face by twelve people – what have you done to improve the AI to make sure that it streams and plays a little bit better?
Smith: The new tech. This is the first time they’ve brought out the new engine. Actually, Sniper Challenge is the first time people have gotten their hands on it – Glacier 2 – and the scripting is so advanced in it. It really gives us all these sub-layers of behaviour patterns in the NPCs, etc. We also have, if you’ve seen the footage, the soft art of detection, and that static sound in the game gives you a lot of feedback on whether you should come into the area or not. And there are a lot of areas where there’s a soft failure. So, let’s say I walk up and the guard’s like “Hey, get out of here!” He doesn’t immediately get out his weapon and try to kill you: that doesn’t happen in real life, or it shouldn’t. So, I think it’s really nice cause you can kind of toy with the AI in this cool way. They will react, they’ll talk to you, but you’re going to circle back and flank them and do whatever you need to do, or say, “No I’m still here,” and there’s the escalating threat.
Borkowski: Sounds excellent. For you, what’s your favourite moment in the game? I know it’s a difficult question, but one that really resonated with you and you remember right now.
Smith: Okay, I can’t tell you a lot of details about it, yet, but I can prep you for it.
Borkowski: Okay, give us the bare bones of it.
Smith: Have you seen the Saints trailer?
Smith: Okay, we got a little controversy over that trailer. People thought that we’d crafted something that was meant to just titillate, and it was a marketing vehicle. Well, no, it’s very accurate to events within the game, and I can tell you that, when you get a chance to actually hunt the Saints – basically the hunted becomes the hunter, that sort of scenario – you do it over the course of three levels, and for me, those levels, were so much fun. It’s what I try when I have to present the game in private or show certain partners. It’s my go-to. It’s just phenomenal.
Borkowski: Sounds like even a throwback to how Hitman: Contracts ended, when you’re being attacked in the opera house.
Smith: Kind of similar to that. I mean, you’ve seen the trailer: they come in with the RPG blazing and it sets the tone for everything that happens from that point onward, and the setting is so unlike any I’ve played. That tiki motel is really great, but it leads from there into areas that you just can’t predict. You’ll love it.
Borkowski: We’re all done here. Thank you so much for taking the time. When can players pick up Hitman: Absolution?
Smith: Thank you for asking. It’s November 20, so we’re getting there. There’s just a little bit of a wait. For anyone who hasn’t picked up Sniper Challenge by pre-ordering at Gamestop, get out there, have fun with it. The scores are ridiculous, but we’re still giving away monthly prizes in North America, and we’re still promoting the heck out of it. Man, I just can’t wait for people to come and play this game. They’re really going to love it. And you, as a fan, it’s really great to meet somebody –
Borkowski: I cannot wait! I’ve been waiting for this game for a really long time, and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.
Special thanks to Steph DaPonte for the transcription.
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