The Mak­ing Of: Hit­man: Co­de­name 47

Dis­cover how IO In­ter­ac­tive turned mur­der into an art­form

Retro Gamer - - CONTENTS - Words by Ed­ward Love

h ind­sight is a funny thing. To­day, the Hit­man se­ries is beloved, with a cal­cu­lated an­ti­hero and a tried-and-tested stealth ac­tion setup. Ev­ery time you slip into Agent 47’s dark suit you know you’re gear­ing up for a suc­ces­sion of guilty plea­sures, from filch­ing dis­guises to as­sas­si­nat­ing key tar­gets, a for­mula so good that it has had its share of copy­cats since. But like any great idea, IO In­ter­ac­tive didn’t crack the Hit­man code in one sit­ting. It took hard work and re­fine­ment to crys­tallise the vi­sion, and as we have dis­cov­ered, a thou­sand pieces needed to fit to­gether.

The truth is that IO In­ter­ac­tive nearly didn’t make Co­de­name 47 at all, and it orig­i­nally in­tended to make a sim­ple shooter that would pave the way for big­ger and bet­ter things. The com­pany was a joint ven­ture be­tween Reto-moto, a Dan­ish de­vel­op­ment house, and Nordisk Film stu­dio. The for­mer wanted to make a fan­tasy MMO they had dubbed Rex Domi­nus. The lat­ter was hes­i­tant. “One of the mar­ket­ing guys at Nordisk Film per­suaded us to stop de­vel­op­ment on Rex Domi­nus,” re­calls Ja­cob An­der­sen. “We were asked to prove our­selves with a sim­ple shooter first.”

A run-and-gun ac­tion game would in­deed be quicker to cre­ate and it would give Ja­cob and his team the lee­way to get back to their world of might and magic. So they changed tack, draft­ing sto­ry­boards for an ac­tion game based on John Woo movies like Hard Boiled and The Killer. You’d play an as­sas­sin in a suit ic­ing Chi­nese mafia types, hard­ballers spit­ting fire and fury.

Many of IO In­ter­ac­tive’s work­ers had cut their teeth mak­ing Mega Drive ti­tles in Los An­ge­les for Scav­enger, Inc, but this new game would be built for the PC. Why? “Well, it was hard for us to get hold of de­vel­op­ment kits in the new setup,” Ja­cob re­calls. “On top of that, 3D hard­ware was be­gin­ning to ap­pear for the PC, which made it ex­tremely in­ter­est­ing to de­velop for.”

The Glacier en­gine was built and IO spared no ex­pense. “Since killing was the main theme of the game, we wanted to do some­thing spe­cial,” Ja­cob says. “Stan­dard ‘death an­i­ma­tions’ just looked too static so some of the coders tried to see if they could use re­al­time in­verse kine­mat­ics for the fall­ing bodies. The first ver­sions ran ter­ri­bly slowly un­til one of the pro­gram­mers fig­ured out a way to fake the whole cal­cu­la­tion.”

As fate would have it, IO In­ter­ac­tive was in­tro­duc­ing proper rag­doll physics into the fold, which is one of the

first ex­am­ples of the tech­nol­ogy. In other games around the same time, en­e­mies would fall down in a canned an­i­ma­tion, but IO’S shooter was dif­fer­ent. En­e­mies col­lapsed based on the wound and the en­vi­ron­ment.

This tech­nol­ogy caught the eye of Ei­dos, and in par­tic­u­lar, Jonas Eneroth, who would go on to ex­ec­u­tive pro­duce Co­de­name 47. “The rag­doll physics re­ally opened up op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­plore a shoot­ing game that went beyond a run-and-gun ap­proach,” Jonas tells us. “It was the first time we [at Ei­dos] had seen rag­doll physics as a key game­play ele­ment. It was very much a new and key dif­fer­en­tial fea­ture.” Sud­denly Jonas sniffed the pos­si­bil­i­ties. Imag­ine mov­ing re­al­is­tic dead bodies around a map and us­ing this as a source of ten­sion? “Hit­man fea­tured a num­ber of gam­ing firsts, in­clud­ing de­formable cloth and plants, but its rag­doll physics en­abled a game­play shift to the slower, more thought-out game­play that de­fined the se­ries.”

That wasn’t the game IO In­ter­ac­tive was in­tend­ing to make, mind. It was look­ing to do a sim­ple shooter and move on. The ear­li­est sto­ry­boards de­picted an as­sas­sin jump­ing over ta­bles and shoot­ing out fish tanks. The John Woo in­flu­ences were writ large and Hit­man was des­tined to turn out like some­thing close to 2007’s Stran­gle­hold. But Jonas en­cour­aged Ja­cob and the team to tone down the ac­tion and fo­cus on a me­thod­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. Serv­ing as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, he brought learn­ings from projects like Thief and Deus Ex. The art of stealth was, to his mind, worth em­pha­sis­ing.

The pieces be­gan to fit to­gether. In the game, play­ers slip into the pol­ished shoes of Agent 47, a ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered killer with 47th chro­mo­some and a lab rat’s bar­code. He’d be able to don dis­guises, kill en­e­mies un­seen and move bodies out of the path of other char­ac­ters. Lev­els are open-ended, with the prime tar­get hid­den, and a num­ber of NPCS stand­ing in your way. Stealth is a key to vic­tory, and to make mat­ters harder, there’d be no way to save dur­ing a mis­sion.

Thanks to its ini­tial work on Rex Domi­nus as well as its prior ex­pe­ri­ence mak­ing games, IO was

com­fort­able cre­at­ing open worlds that could run on low-end PCS. “We built a mas­ter sys­tem out of old-school tile maps we had used in a pre­vi­ous game, A-M-O-K,” Ja­cob re­calls, “as well as a sim­ple mod­ule sys­tem that we had used in our 1996 ti­tle Scorcher.

If I’m not mis­taken, our sys­tem is used to­day when mak­ing maps for Hit­man.”

The first lev­els take place in Hong Kong, a hang­over from the early sto­ry­boards. Agent 47 has es­caped the lab from which he was hatched and is now work­ing for the In­ter­na­tional Con­tract Agency. His tar­get is Red Dragon Triad leader Lee Hong but smaller tar­gets lie in wait first. The lev­els are big­ger than your average shooter and were state of the art for the time as well. “I re­mem­ber mak­ing a crazy an­i­ma­tion for the aquar­i­ums in the Hong Kong restau­rant, us­ing de­for­ma­tions in 3D Stu­dio Max and then ‘baking’ them out as ver­tex an­i­ma­tions,” Ja­cob re­counts.

The ac­tion shifts to Columbia where drug lord Pablo Ochoa is in your sights. This a nod to Scar­face and fea­tures an Agent 47 clad in war paint and mil­i­tary over­alls. A shorter ex­cur­sion through a Hun­gary ho­tel, based on Ho­tel Gel­lért, fol­lows. “The mer­ce­nary, Frantz Fuchs, is mod­elled on a real Aus­trian ter­ror­ist named Franz Fuchs, a re­ally scary guy, that I read about in the news­pa­per when de­sign­ing the map,” Ja­cob says.

Even­tu­ally, Hit­man: Co­de­name 47 comes full cir­cle and you end up where you started: in the lab, face to face with your creator, a das­tardly doc­tor by the name of Ort-meyer. B-movie shlock is served up in spades cul­mi­nat­ing in a face off against the mad doc­tor and his army of clones. 47 pre­vails. Or does he? To say Co­de­name 47 is pun­ish­ing is like say­ing the Bu­gatti Vey­ron is just a car. True, but a gross un­der­state­ment as well. The un­pre­dictable NPCS are like drunk chess pieces ca­pa­ble of tot­ter­ing across the board with­out warn­ing, and for another, it’s im­pos­si­ble to save mi­dlevel, mean­ing the odds are al­ways stacked against you.

“Co­de­name 47 re­ally showed that we were con­sole de­vel­op­ers,” Ja­cob ad­mits. “We didn’t con­sider a save game op­tion. On con­soles at the time, you were just given a code that would al­low you to skip lev­els that you had al­ready com­pleted. Also, the key­board lay­out was all messed up. Still, one good thing we brought from con­soles was the 3rd per­son per­spec­tive. All char­ac­ter­based games on con­soles had to be 3rd per­son. 1st per­son was a Pc-only thing at that time.”

Hit­man shipped at the tail-end of 2000, a markedly dif­fer­ent game from the one that had first been con­ceived. With state-of-the-art rag­doll physics and gor­geous graph­ics it was a tech­ni­cal dar­ling, but crit­ics were di­vided on whether it was worth the price of ad­mis­sion. Some loved it, some felt it was too pun­ish­ing, but Ei­dos spied the po­ten­tial for more pol­ished and user-friendly se­quels to come.

hit­man 2: Silent As­sas­sin shipped in 2002. This time, the PS2 and Xbox were the fo­cus, though the PC and Game­cube got ver­sions, too.

“Now that the main plat­form was Playsta­tion 2, we felt more at home,” Ja­cob re­mem­bers, and it feels like a more pol­ished, more as­sured ef­fort, though hard­core fans scoffed at the in­tro­duc­tion of a mid-level save sys­tem. The con­trols were im­proved and the team tried to fix AI nig­gles, but NPCS found new ways to misbehave. “Many have tried to fix the AI since and all have failed,” Ja­cob smiles. “It just has to have those odd mo­ments, oth­er­wise it wouldn’t be Hit­man.”

That straight shooter that was sup­posed to pave the way for Rex Domi­nus had, well…turned into some­thing rather mo­men­tous. To­day, Agent 47 is the star of cel­lu­loid and the hero of sev­eral se­quels in one of the big­gest fran­chises in PC and con­sole gam­ing. There have been six full-fledged ti­tles and two Hol­ly­wood movies. Not bad for a “sim­ple shooter”.

Ja­cob An­der­sen would even­tu­ally lend his ex­per­tise to four of the Hit­man ti­tles. In ad­di­tion to Co­de­name 47 and Silent As­sas­sin, he helped de­velop Hit­man Con­tracts (2004) and se­ries favourite Blood Money (2006). To­day he works at the re­formed Reto-moto with many of the orig­i­nal IO crew. The team is hard at work on Heroes And Generals, a free-to-play shooter and strat­egy

“co­de­name 47 re­ally showed That we were con­sole de­vel­op­ers” Ja­cob an­der­sen

game that does a lot of things that were not pos­si­ble in Hit­man. In Ja­cob’s words: “Mul­ti­player, a per­sis­tent on­line world and ac­tion, strat­egy and RPG el­e­ments - all in one game.” Per­haps Rex Domi­nus, af­ter all this time, lives on with a new name.

As for the man that helped steer Hit­man in the di­rec­tion we’ve all come to love, Jonas Eneroth worked on some of the big­gest games of the Nineties and Noughties. He’s now en­joy­ing a change of pace in Malta as the co­founder of Kar­mafy. In Jonas’ words: “Kar­mafy is a so­cially re­spon­si­ble char­ity plat­form for game de­vel­op­ers to support good causes in their games.” In­ter­ested? You can find out more at kar­

The story of the first Hit­man is the story of boundaries be­ing pushed to the ex­tent that a new game was spied and de­vel­oped. The story of Hit­man is of best-laid plans fall­ing at the way­side, and some­thing new emerg­ing in its stead. The clas­sic games you know and love were never straight­for­ward to make. No pro­ject ever is, no act of col­lab­o­ra­tion ever can be. Even the birth of a no-non­sense as­sas­sin had sev­eral twists and turns and forks in the road. But the good news? We got there in the end, and Co­de­name 47 is a fit­ting blue­print for a truly won­der­ful se­ries that en­dures to this day.

» [PC] When you’re in a mob­ster’s home sur­rounded by his goons, you bet­ter make sure you’re in a dis­guise.

» [PC] Hit 3 on the key­board to switch to the dy­namic cam­era. » [PC] Some­times your best-laid plans fall by the way­side.

» Ja­cob An­der­sen worked on the first four Hit­man games.

» [PC] Plan­ning your at­tack is one of the juici­est as­pects of the Hit­man ex­pe­ri­ence. In that re­gard, there’s a map to help you out.

» [PC] A thou­sand un­sus­pect­ing chefs have died at the hands of 47’s fi­bre wire.

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