Splinter Cell Conviction will be released next week, exclusively to Xbox 360 and to celebrate its release we have a XCN Q&A with the Creative Director for the game, Maxime Béland.
In the Q&A he talks about the story, the new direction the series is taking and also the much talked about co-op mode.
Developer Interview: Splinter Cell Conviction
Splinter Cell: Conviction is supported by a much more personal story, focusing on the protagonist, Sam Fisher. Why did you make this choice? Where did you get your inspiration or ideas for the game?
In Double Agent, Sam had been confronted with very difficult decisions, he had to choose between his friend and his organisation. He also lost his daughter. We felt that these situations allowed us to portray Sam Fisher in a way we had never shown him before : as a father, as a man. He’s going after information that is very personal. He isn’t a soldier anymore, the rules don’t apply, but he still has the training.
He will use all of his skills to achieve his personal quest… finding and tracking down the person who killed his daughter. It is personal now… he is on a mission. He’s tense and mean; all his muscles are for predation, pointing towards his goal. Sam has always been a dangerous man, but he was under control. He now allows himself to be even more dangerous!
Why did you decide to go in a new direction with Splinter Cell: Conviction?
It was something that made sense for us, in Conviction Sam is on his own and he is not working for Third Echelon anymore. There is no one to extract him from a situation if he is detected or things turn bad, he has to deal with the consequences. It was a very interesting thing at the beginning of the development to think: How is Sam going to react in a situation like this? It forced us to innovate with our gameplay loop, Prepare – Execute – Vanish.
When Sam is detected, he has the option of trying to either engage the enemy or vanish back in the shadows. And to support this even further, the Last Know Position allows you to play a game of cat and mouse with your enemy, using stealth to eliminate them one by one.
Stealth is a genre with precise guidelines and rules: slow and very tactical. We wanted to expand this and bring the franchise into new territories. We are keeping what we love about stealth games (e.g. the tension, the suspense, the quiet kill), but increased the pace and the number of innovative features. 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.
What has been the greatest challenge with developing this game?
Well, the biggest challenge was to balance between the AI’s reactivity – having the enemies being able to spot you and undertake intelligent actions against you – versus creating opportunities for the player to sneak and use stealth skills to bypass them. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction is a very challenging title because we are supporting both the true stealth way and the pure action-oriented way of playing.
We really want the player to be constantly using stealth in combat – which is a very new concept – and that’s truly something that not a lot games have to offer. So we feel it’s a very unique challenge. It’s always a matter of balancing between sheer action and laying low. Having both of these concepts coexisting in the game is quite a tricky thing to accomplish but it’s something we’re dealing with very well; we have an incredibly intelligent AI that can react in a lot of different ways to a lot of different stimuli and yet a whole set of skills and gadgets for Sam to get around them, if not taking them all out. I really think that players will have a great challenge on both sides of the equation.
Will the single-player or cooperative campaign be expanded with new content download chapters? What sort of DLC do you have planned for this game?
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.
We all know about the cool new Last Known Position and Mark and Execute features, but what are some of the old favourites that will return to the game?
Aside from the M&E and the Last Known Position, you will be able to rely on the more classical tactics, like using the shadows to your advantage, being able to climb on ledges and pipes and taking down your enemies from above. Every athletic action that Sam can do has been reworked differently from the previous Splinter Cells. We are redoing them while keeping in mind that we want the player to be fast, accurate and reactive to any situation. Sam is now faster and more brutal than ever before.
Can you tell us a bit about character development and the process of choosing characters?
Sure, if you take Tom Reed for example: A good enemy character can’t just be a bad guy. He has to be a nemesis, the equal and opposite of the hero in some way. He’s what the hero might have been, the reflection of choices that the hero didn’t make, and the walking, breathing, shooting, cursing consequence of all of those choices made flesh. Which brings us to Tom Reed, and how we ended up building him to be Sam’s equal-but-opposite.
Conviction’s Sam was the ultimate outsider, which meant Reed had to be the ultimate insider. Sam only had improvised resources, which meant Reed had to have all of Third Echelon’s resources – and then some – at his disposal. Put enough of those traits together and you get to a place where you can start figuring out what sort of man has all of those characteristics. You build a personality – in this case, one that’s driven, utterly self-confident, decisive, and merciless. And once that personality’s in place, you can figure out what a guy like Reed wants. What drives him. What his goals are and what he’s willing to do to achieve them. And when we had that, we had Tom Reed. The rest was details.
The collaboration of Tom Clancy is a constant by now. How important was his experience?
Tom Clancy has been highly involved with Red Storm studio when creating the original Rainbow Six game. But since then, he’s been more an inspiration than an active player within our development teams. The values and foundations of his universe are rich, and this inspiration was probably his biggest contribution to Splinter Cell, a 100% Ubisoft creation. Clancy was involved into different validation phases of the concept, mostly for narrative purposes.
The new Sam Fisher reminds me of characters like Jason Bourne or the new James Bond. How much were you influenced through these movies?
Original SC has been through several process and influences before leading to the result we know today. It started as a Si-Fi context, then switched to a more action oriented game, leading back to a more “Tom Clancy” type of setting, and finally, to a stealth experience. This creative process allowed multiple open doors we’ve been able to investigate in order to keep the best from each of them. Obviously, the original Metal Gear was an inspiration for the genre. The Thief series game mechanics were also interesting to evaluate since it allowed an innovative navigation concept for the player.
We’ve also done a lot of research on the visual style of our projections and transitions. We looked at how movies and TV series were breaking the fourth wall to engage audiences, like using 3D text to mark a change in time or location for example, and we found a lot of inspiration there. We found what we think is an original style that perfectly suits the identity of Splinter Cell Conviction and we are very pleased with it.
Are there any “moral” choices in Splinter Cell: Conviction that can have consequences in the story or change gameplay experience?
Yes, Conviction has a couple of scenes like that. I think that what is interesting about all this is that as developers become more experienced in making games, they are willing to push the envelope on different elements, and storytelling and hard choices is one of them. To me, what is the most important is that we do these in a responsible manner, not only to shock players. We are past that. We are now entering maturity as a medium.
Are there any plans or possibilities for a Splinter Cell movie to bring new audiences to the franchise?
In 2008, Ubisoft acquired all rights to the Tom Clancy name for videogames and derivative products. We continue to work on a series of successful novels which complement our existing Tom Clancy brands and later this year we’ll see a novel for Splinter Cell Conviction and also HAWX. As Ubisoft’s aspirations grow, so will aspirations for the Tom Clancy brand and movie epics based on our properties are the next logical step.
What aspect of the game are you most proud of?
I’m really proud about the fact that we have the three big aspects of the game – the story, the gameplay and the narrative system – that perfectly support one another. First we have a story about Sam – he’s not working for Third Echelon anymore, he’s on his own and he is looking for the killer of his daughter. As the game focuses around Sam, we are changing the gameplay in a way that allows the player to really feel Sam’s state of mind. Because Sam is not restrained by the laws and rules of Third Echelon anymore, the gameplay is also less restrictive. You don’t get a game over because you are seen by a camera; you just need to live with the consequences of your actions. It’s the same thing with the way we tell the story in the game. As we want to have a nice story focusing around Sam, we have to build cool and innovative narrative tools to tell the story in real-time. What’s really important for us is to keep the player holding the controller and playing the game as much as possible. For that purpose, we’ve created the projected movies, the projected texts and seamless transitions between our locations to keep the player immersed in our world from the moment starts playing the game until the end.
Is this Sam Fisher’s final appearance?
While we can’t offer any details, rest assured that our plans are to ensure the continued success and endurance of the brand.