Hitman: Absolution’s Tore Blystad on pleasing fans, Metacritic and nuns. Lots of nuns

With Hitman: Absolution out next week here’s an interview with director Tore Blystad where he discusses what it’s like to update the franchise and the fan rection to the ‘new’ game. We also discuss the importance of Metacritic scores, those troublesome nuns and loads more.

It’s been a very long wait for fans since the last Hitman game. Are you confident that Absolution can live up to their expectations?

Tore BlystadTore Blystad That’s a good question! We have a very large group of fans, even after all these years, and they’re extremely loyal, dedicated, and passionate about the game. But the biggest thing is that they’re a very diverse group: I mean, we have people that you might call more casual gamers who just love the franchise and the fantasy, and they’re just looking forward to playing [Absolution]. And they’ll probably have a blast. Then at the other end you have the purest players, the people who only liked the first Hitman, because that was the only true, super-hardcore experience, right? Everything else is just peanuts. So it’s very hard to please all these people who want all these different things. Our goal is to create something for everyone. We won’t focus on just one section, we want to improve everything that we can and make the game as broad as possible. Which is also why we’ve added, especially for these purest players, a special game mode called the ‘Purist Mode’, which is, in our opinion, even harder than the first Hitman. So if you really want a challenge then that’s where you go! And if you want to just play through the game you’ll go through it on normal or easy.

Speaking of the difficulty, Hitman’s traditionally been quite a tough series, going back to the first game. How hard has it been to bring it in line with modern games that have features like regenerating health and checkpoints?

TB We’ve tried most of these things. But with a game like this, because you have to think a little bit more if you want to play it properly, if you can constantly assault the game and just hang back until everything regenerates then the challenge is lost. So we actually opted for something of a hybrid, where you regenerate some health, but you still have to pick up health too – there are health stations if you want to use them. And with all the mechanics, we tried to apply them in a way that fits with the game we’re making. So we have some checkpoints to make it slightly easier to get an overview of a section, so you don’t have to worry about the entire levels, which are very huge. In the old games you had this kind of butterfly effect where you were doing something in a small corner of the level, but the effects would sort of spread out and just mess up everything that you’d done. You could spend three hours getting there, then destroy everything you’d done within three seconds. We wanted to make sure you had more freedom to push the game, and it would push back, but it wouldn’t just demolish you immediately.

Obviously the killing off of Diana has been a big talking point. How was that first suggested, and how difficult was it to commit to?

TB There’s been a lot of talk in the office about this, because it’s a difficult topic. We knew we wanted to make a personal story for Agent 47 from the get-go. We have a character that is basically a machine, right? He doesn’t have any feelings or emotions or anything; he’s only working from a very logical perspective. So how can we do something with him? The only way we can get to him is through the person who’s closest to him, and that’s Diana. The logic behind the decision is that for anything to become personal for 47 we had to do it through Diana.

Will that have an effect on the series moving forward? She’s been such an integral character so far – do you think that puts you guys in a difficult position for the future?

TB We’ll have to find out! [laughs]

There’s been talk of making 47 more human this time around. Do you think it’s difficult to convey a hero who’s not very sympathetic, and just sort of cold?

TB It depends on the game you’re making. We found out the hard way with Absolution. We actually tried to give him a lot of personality, emotions and such – but it turned out as we went through the process that it didn’t really suit him, so we’ve taken out most of the stuff that we added! His character became smaller by trying to define him more. Because the game is so much about choice, you as the player are actually 47. The actions are yours; he just executes them – you’re the one who controls him. If you want to run around with a fire axe like a maniac then he’ll do that. But you’re the one deciding that. That means you can live [through] him as a character because he’s such a blank slate. We have other game characters who are extremely animated and always talking, and they are the characters of that game. But Hitman’s strength has always been that you felt you were 47 because you could easily project yourself into him.

Why did you feel this game was the one where you had to make things more personal?

TB After Blood Money we’d basically made four games in succession that were relatively close to each other in the way they were built, the mechanics done and the stories told. Okay, you have all these disconnected hits and you have to connect them in some overarching story. But you could basically jumble the missions around in any order and the game would still work perfectly. So we wanted to have a more story-driven game, where it actually matters that this level comes after that, and that you’re the one building the missions yourself. And with new technology we had tools to do this. It felt like the natural thing to do after the first four games, to take as big an evolutionary step as we could, while still keeping within the boundaries of a Hitman game.

Hitman absolution ps3 new screensThese days there’s an instant focus put on review scores when games come out. How do you feel about that? Would you beat yourself up if your game scored under 85 on Metacritic, or is that not something that bothers you?

TB This is also a big talking point at the office. How much should we care? It’s a number that’s staring you in the eyes, so of course you want to make a game that’s over 90 on Metacritic, because it means that people out there anonymously like what they see. The problem when you’re making a game that’s very on the edge is that you’ll always have a bigger spread of opinions about it. So it’ll take down your Metacritic score, because you’re touching on subjects that appeal differently to different people. So we’re discussing a lot about how this game will fare. This time we’re really aiming for a game that will get a high score. It means a lot to us because we want people to like our games and to play them, naturally. And of course review scores matter to the public and are a strong indication whether people will like it and buy it.