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Hitman: Absolution - IO is ready to be "schooled"

IO Interactive made Hitman: Absolution. It built a new engine for it. It knows its mechanics inside out. And, as art director Robert Marchesi tells us, it's ready for you to show how it's really played.

"We have a couple of people who think they’re good. But I’m pretty sure when the game gets released we are all going to get schooled by the people outside."

Forget Connor and Corvo - Agent 47 is the best assassin in the business, they say. Watching a developer walkthrough demonstration certainly shows that skilled players can make the most of 47's skills and tricks, but speaking to art director Roberto Marchesi at a preview event, I learned that the team behind Hitman: Absolution are well aware that their fans will soon know the game better than IO Interactive does.

VG247: Have you built an infrastructure for recording metrics and stuff, to find out how people are playing?

We are using metrics actively. First in Hitman: Sniper Challenge, which we released as a pre-order incentive. We were tracking metrics in that and it was very interesting to see the number of kills, the number of restarts, where the kills took place. It's a really powerful tool for the level designers to figure out okay, what is working, what is not working. It was surprising, where some people got kills the most.

The metrics would tell us exactly where some people would get shots all the time, and it was very interesting because it was not the places we expected to get shot at. So it is a tool to understanding how players perceive the game and how we can present it to make them get a better experience.

Metrics are also recorded when you play Contracts. The moment when you're creating a Contract, the game is recording. It takes an account of how you killed the target, what weapons you were using, how long a time it took you to get to the exit. From then on, it's stored, it's locked in, and people can access it. I'm pretty sure that people will make Contracts for fun; some people might make them because they want to be the best assassin; others might simply want to recreate the game, played in the most tight possible way.

When you've been playing Contracts internally at IO Interactive, do you have a champion?

We have a couple of people who think they're good. But I'm pretty sure when the game gets released we are all going to get schooled by the people outside.

"When we released Sniper Challenge, we had a maximum score in our head that we thought was pretty much the top. After some ten days they were almost twice as much. And the way they achieved that score was such an ingenious way that – it just tells us pretty clearly that someone will just trump us at this game."

You told me earlier that you can't possibly predict all the hundreds of things people will do in the game. Has anybody done anything in a preview or play test which has really surprised you so far?

I think the most surprising thing again goes back to the Sniper's Challenge. When we released it, we had a maximum score in our head that we thought was pretty much the top that we expected the players to get to. After some ten days they were almost twice as much. And the way they achieved that score was such an ingenious way that - it just tells us pretty clearly that someone will just trump us at this game. We have to do our best to make sure to let them do whatever they want, and have the game respond well to it.

Can you explain what the Sniper Challenge strategy was?

Mostly it is a positioning game and a timing game, and most people went for head shots at the right time, and not getting discovered. But at one point the guy who had the top score was doing something really different. The first nine shots were not shot at anyone at all.

To distract, to pull guards around?

He was positioning shots left and right to have the guards move where he wanted. That was nine shots, so that was a high number. It was very impressive. I thought that just really showcases that we cannot predict what people will do.

You told me earlier that there are things in the game which surprise even you. So surprise me. What's the strangest place you know of to hide a body?

One I think that most people don't actually use and it's kind of interesting, and I am actually happy about that: in the tutorial there are some pretty interesting leaf collectors.

Do you mean a mulcher? Oh, gross, you can put a body in a mulcher. Does that fill up or can you keep putting bodies in? It would be cool if you could just keep mulching bodies.

But you see, you can either leave a body behind, or you just keep killing people.

There's an achievement for going through the game and not killing anyone but the targets, Silent Assassin. Is there one for killing everyone? Could you even do that, with the huge crowds?

No. That would just be mean. I don't think they have that achievement.

Hitman: Absolution's latest cinematic

It wouldn't be fun really. When you're discovered, speaking of beating a lot of people to death, is there a limited number of enemies that will come for you?

If you enter a firefight, the enemies that are present at the start of the level are there. If the firefight is prolonged and you're not able to contain the situation, these guys will call for reinforcements and they will get in there. In the King of Chinatown case, in the beginning they are all cops. If you start a firefight with them, after a while they will call in reinforcements, and these are SWATs that come in with bigger guns and automatic weapons, so the challenge will ramp up.

We really want people to be able to play the game the way they want. So if you want to go shooting, you should be able to do it and have fun with it. It's still a challenge; it takes some time to clear out half the police department. It can be done though, and after a while they will stop spawning because we want you to be able to play through the game if you want just to shoot at stuff but you still want to have fun doing it.

What actions refill your Instinct bar?

Instinct is an economy we introduced to stop players from abusing it, because with Instinct you have gameplay mechanics which can be quite powerful, like the blending, where you have a disguise, and the slow timed shooting. So we needed to have an economy.

You can refill it by for instance hiding bodies; taking out targets; head shots I think refill it too. There are a couple of other things that do refill it. How much they actually do it, they were tinkering with right to the very last minute, because it's really a question of balancing, it has to go through lots of play testing.

So Instinct lets you see enemies and patrol paths all the time, even when the bar is empty, and then -

On normal difficulty. I don't think it does on hard. On hard, I think it costs just being in Instinct, and it does turn off some of the features.

And you can't complete any challenges on easy, so there is a real incentive to get better and to push up to the more difficult levels.

Well, the incentives are basically the payoffs. Like with Contracts. If you do make a Contract on a harder difficulty it will obviously be, just be being on the harder difficulty, a harder contract. So the payoff will be higher. There are no challenges that are tied into a specific difficulty so once you unlock challenges, they are there. It would be pretty harsh if we made you finish the game and play on hard before you could do challenges.

I played through as far as the door to the hippy commune. All the environments up to that point were connected; they just flowed into each other,maybe with a short cutscene to show you were transitioning. Does that continue through the whole game, long sequences of continuous environments?

Yes. In theory it should feel like one long movie, in your head. Hopefully it takes longer than one long movie to finish - but that I'm pretty sure of.

How long will it take for an average play through, like, if you were j-

That's a really impossible question to answer. Because the game is so scalable. I dunno how you're going to approach it. If you just go in guns blazing, which is, in theory, the fastest way to finish - it could take up to seven, eight hours still. If you knew exactly what you were doing - and that takes time to master - it's much faster anyway. The game is way too scalable. I think most people will have many hours in there, many more than they actually imagined.

Hitman: Absolution is due on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on November 20.

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