Creative director, Io Interactive
The episodic structure Hitman was intended to launch with proved controversial, and when Io announced it was splitting Hitman’s introductory three-episode package into still-smaller chunks, a vocal component of the community turned feral. But creative director Christian Elverdam anticipated it, and it didn’t dampen Io’s enthusiasm to face the challenges of a live studio. Here, Elverdam explains what Io means when it invites us to enter ‘a world of assassination’. How have you felt about the public reaction to Hitman adopting an episodic model? We were expecting people to be sceptical up front – there’s this old quote: ‘Everyone loves progress, but no one really likes change.’ We can’t really persuade anyone that this is a good idea, I think. We’ll have to let the game speak for itself. I recently toured around with the preview code for Sapienza, our next episode, and the feedback was really good. When I look at forums and general chatter about it, I see much less worry about it after Paris came out than before. Before, people were really talking about how much content there would be, and I think if you really dig Hitman and you turn off the hints you don’t need, there are a lot of hours in Paris, and I think it starts to click with people why it’s a good idea that the next episode then comes out and there’s a new, fresh level instead of just barrelling through. When did you decide that a live game was something you wanted to try as a studio? That decision actually goes back a long while. There are so many words these days – to me, ‘episodic’ became more about how to tell the story, because way before we started talking about episodic ‘content’, we knew we wanted to try to build a digitally distributed game. We saw that Internet connections were reaching a critical mass where it could be done, and we saw, talking to Sony and Microsoft, the policies they have around patching games – you couldn’t have done it with the previous generation. That allowed us to modify and work with the game when it was out, and we knew we wanted to do that. I want to see that happening with the rest of the season: that we identify stuff that could be better and actually work with it. What prompted the jump from the initial threeepisodes-at-launch format to a single episode on a monthly basis? There was no doubt that it felt more natural to us, because it meant we could absolutely polish Paris and Sapienza more, so it was a very clear decision for us. As in any sort of complex sandbox game, there’s the odd glitch and the odd bug, but Paris feels like a game that knows what it wants to be. You can judge it and say, ‘Yeah – that’s a Hitman game.’ It was already meant for that structure in the first place, because we were talking [about doing] episodes for a long time. Obviously it’s early days, but Contracts mode is quite non-specific: kill this person with whatever you choose, wearing whatever you like. How do you hope to see Contracts evolve in the long term? We need more player agency. When you think about the difficulty settings in the game, at the moment they’re governed by the Opportunity system and simple rules like ‘a guard can carry any weapon’ because that’s a good starting point. But when I’m thinking in my advanced mode, is that really what we want? Isn’t that a bit suspicious? Who would ever carry a silenced pistol if not to be an assassin? We may introduce a setting called Advanced Weapon Rules, or, if I shoot a guy and I leave holes in his outfit, can I actually then use the disguise? I would love to see, a few Escalation contracts in, which elements people like. Do you think there’s a risk that in building fewer, but deeper puzzles, you put off some of the Hitman fans who are in it for the story? There’s always risk when you do something like this. I hope if you’re in it for the story it’s going to be good enough that you want to go back and check what happens. I have to say I think we’ve found a good tone for the universe this time: it’s a little bit more serious and I actually think a lot of people will appreciate it. But I think if you’re a really story-driven player – if that’s your most important prerogative – you always have the option to wait. We’ve kept that option open all the way. So Sapienza is up next – how does it differentiate itself from the challenges we faced in Paris? Sapienza is different on many levels. If Paris was busy and high sophistication, this is about the laziest town you can come to. It’s a small town in Italy and it’s just after lunch. It has this vibe of a real holiday location – you would actually want to go there and have some time to yourself. And that’s a theme we’ve worked with because on the surface you have this charming Italian mansion, and then you have Silvio Caruso, a brilliant scientist who has tragically lost his mother, and you have this feeling that everything is pleasant, but then under the surface there’s a lot of mad, dark stuff going on. That’s true of the mark and the level: it’s a very vertical level because the town’s on a mountainside, and as you dig into the level you’ll need to find where Silvio keeps his secrets. Meanwhile, Silvio has a very fragile psyche, and there’s a psychiatrist in town.