Several years in the making, Splinter Cell: Conviction finally gets its release in Europe and the UK today for Xbox 360 after launching in the US earlier this week. We double-tapped dev boss Maxime Béland for Sam's latest dossier.
Revealed at Ubidays 2007 in Paris for a holiday ship that same year on Xbox 360 and PC, the game was delayed and went ominously dark throughout all of 2008. Receiving a total redux, Conviction switched up from a hobo-looking Sam Fisher to a Jack Bauer-style character, hunting for the truth about the murder of his daughter.
After some smaller delays, the game releases in Europe today.
To celebrate, we grabbed a chat with creative director Maxime Béland on a wide range of Sam-related subjects, including motion-controlled Splinter Cell and its future on other platforms, plus what he thinks of the Ubisoft's controversial PC DRM software.
Answers below. You can watch the first 20 minutes of play from a retail build here.
[Interview by Johnny Cullen.]
VG247: Can you tell us how many times the demo has been downloaded from Xbox Live Marketplace?
Maxime Béland: Unfortunately we do not have exact numbers, but we are very pleased. We do know that on day one of the demo's launch, it was the fourth most downloaded demo and the top third-person shooter demo downloaded in Xbox history.
Some gamers have expressed discontent with the demo. Why do you think that is?
Maxime Béland: When you’re working on a franchise such as Splinter Cell, with such an incredible history, any innovation you make is going to generate some bad reactions from long time fans. Some of our fans are super-passionate about the franchise and really want to have the same ultra-stealthy, slow, cautious and considered experience in new maps. When we decided on the direction for Conviction we wanted to expand the reach of the franchise and let more people enjoy what it is to play as Sam Fisher, to be the ultra-powerful, highly-trained secret agent acting from the shadows. With that in mind we made a lot of changes; in essence we kept the core of the stealth experience but unleashed a lot of Sam’s potential by giving him a more offensive capability to complement his defensive side. We also really increased the pace of the game, letting you play in a fast and fluid manner.
In the end, we put the choice of playing in a stealth or action style into the player’s hands; we don’t force one way or the other.
We haven't heard anything about DLC yet. Is that something you'd be planning to look at, stuff for either Denied Ops or possibly an extension of Sam's story?
Maxime Béland: Right now we’re focusing solely on delivering the best game possible. Once the game has shipped, we will shift our focus towards DLC content.
[Ubi announced yesterday that the game's going to get free DLC on a weekly basis - Ed]
Sam's looking for retribution in regards to daughter Sarah in Conviction, irrespective of consequences. Will this be the last time we him in a Splinter Cell game or, like Jack Bauer, will he be called on again while having some time off?
Maxime Béland: While we cannot offer any details, rest assured that our plans are to ensure the continued success and endurance of the brand.
The interrogation stuff in 24: The Game was fun. Obviously, this is going to be a lot more brutal than 24, but what have you done to make interrogation realistic and "enjoyable"? Any inspiration?
Maxime Béland: Sam is on a personal quest to find his daughter’s killer and he’s been trained to the limits of human capability. He knows all about getting information out of people.
During each Interrogation, you have total control over the scene; you get to choose how the action plays out. You can move around in the environment and use anything you see to help get the information out of your target.
Some moves are more brutal than others, and every interrogation will be unique. When Sam is faced with people that he knows are involved with the death of his daughter, he doesn’t hold back. But, if it’s someone that he just needs a little information from, he will not be so over the top.
It also serves an important narrative purpose: it allows the player to learn more about the story and his objectives. These are real interactive narrative moments. We did lots of motion capture sessions for these, with tons of different interactions with the environment (animations, destructions…) specific to the location where the interrogation is being held.
Each interrogation will be a memorable moment for the player.
Would you agree that Conviction is more of an organic and traditional stealth game compared to other games in the genre, such as Metal Gear Solid 4?
Maxime Béland: The Metal Gear series contains awesome games; I have a huge amount of respect for them, and really enjoy the experience they provide. Splinter Cell Conviction is an entirely different animal though, with a really unique flavor in the stealth action genre. We’ve taken the concepts of stealth gameplay and really turned them on their head; Conviction is a game where you are an extremely fast, agile predator, where you have the choice of using stealth as you want to use it. Conviction is a game where stealth is a tool, rather than a requirement, and you can use it during intense action sequences to gain the upper hand. It’s a game where we want to keep you inside of the action and not let the storytelling get in the way of the gameplay.
The game's been a long time coming. There have been several delays, and the whole project went dark throughout much of 2008. What will convince people to buy Conviction now if they've been put off by the slips?
Maxime Béland: We are totally committed to innovation and quality, so when we started working on the game four years ago, the team was very dedicated to this and we drove innovation into every field, whether in technology, gameplay or character design.
Some of the risks we took in these areas paid off, such as the technology, but some didn’t work out as well as we’d hoped, such as some elements of the gameplay. We felt we went a little bit too far from what the Splinter Cell brand was about, and we needed to refocus on the core values: stealth, tension, cool moves and so on. Due to this, we kept all the great tools we already had, such as an amazing lighting engine and the dynamic environment, then we focused the gameplay more on the Splinter Cell values and strengths, such as light and shadows, athletic moves or gadgets to provide to the player the best possible Splinter Cell experience.
Splinter Cell has a long history and is a great brand because it has always revolved around some core pillars that have a really wide appeal. It’s a series filled with tension, tactics, outwitting your enemies and really delivering on the feeling of being a predator. Of course, what it means to be a stealth game has changed over time, as has Splinter Cell itself. We used to have things like three alarms and the mission would be failed, the light and noise meter, and detailed radars and maps. We looked at all of these elements and what they brought to the game, and worked to execute those concepts in a new, faster, more action-oriented experience.
Even if it has been a long wait, we believe we have found a good balance that provides all the traits our long-time fans have come to love, but packaged it in a revolutionary manner.
Naturally, we have to bring up the series and PS3. It's been made clear that Conviction's a 360 and PC exclusive, but what about future games? Are we going to see them coming to PS3 and other platforms? Would you ever even consider doing a main SC title as a PS3 exclusive?
Maxime Béland: We’ll have to see what decisions are made by Ubisoft’s management in the future; the decision for Conviction was purely a business move. Microsoft have been wonderful in their support for Conviction. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with them on Splinter Cell Conviction.
As of late, Ubisoft’s gotten a fair bit of stick over DRM on its PC games, like Assassin’s Creed II and Silent Hunter V. Can you tell us how DRM will work in Conviction, and what your reaction is to the situation so far?
Maxime Béland: Yes, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction will include the same DRM as all Ubisoft PC titles. We consider that protecting our PC games is vital to our business and will allow us to continue investing in the development of creative and innovative games on the PC platform.
Is the team interested in doing future SC games with Natal or PlayStation Move?
Maxime Béland: Personally, I would love to play with Natal and PlayStation Move to see what the possibilities are. As a company we are investing in lots of R+D for Natal, so if they find an interesting angle for it with Splinter Cell you never know what might happen!
Splinter Cell: Conviction releases in the UK today for Xbox 360. The PC version releases on April 29.