Hitman: Blood Money Interview

If you've ever walked into a large room of people and considered what in your environment you could use to "off" one or two of them... well, you might want to get back on your meds. But luckily for you, there is a game that encourages just that kind of macabre train of thought. The emphasis in Hitman has never been, "how do I do this," but "how do I want to do this?" I had a chance to talk with Rasmus Højengaard, Game Director for the upcoming Hitman: Blood Money to see what new moves agent 47 will bring to the table.

Shack: What is the storyline for Hitman: Blood Money?

Rasmus: A rival contract agency enters the scene and war breaks out. Assassins are going missing and it becomes very clear that only one person is going to be left standing. That's a very basic version because Blood Money's overall story is multi-layered – there is an ongoing epic storyline and then of course there's a build-up story to each level and a story that takes place within each mission. Within each mission there's also lots of little stories going on totally separately, and you will even notice progress on the main storyline via little things on the level.

It's all up to the player how much they wished to dive into this.

Shack: Is this a new engine, or has the current engine been given a face lift? If the latter, what are some new improvements in the way of AI, graphics, etc. to keep fans coming back to the Hitman series?

Rasmus: It is a new engine. We have new character system, that makes for better deformation and more variants without the memory overhead. We have a brand new render that takes much more advantage of each platform - many new render shaders and features on all platforms. We even have normal maps and specular maps on the PlayStation 2.

The script engine and the AI has been revamped too, to fit the many new features in the game.

Shack: What new steatlh/athletic moves does Agent 47 have in order to keep up with the likes of Solid Snake and Sam Fisher?

Rasmus: We don't feel we need to keep up. There are 3 [main entries] in this genre - there's Hitman, Splinter Cell and Metal Gear. All games are different and [have] different approaches. Solid Snake is very linear and rule bound ... but makes use of excellent visuals and avantgarde style. Sam Fisher is also very linear, and takes [a] high tech approach. We've made an open ended game, where the point is not to be athletic, not to be a tech-stealth ninja, but to be a cool, believable assassin in cool believable and recognizable environments.

We did though include new moves like scaling walls, sidling ledges, climbing drainpipes, etc. But the idea with this has not been to create a "Sam Fisher" but rather give us more possibility of making the levels more interesting, with even more ways of approaching the objective.

Shack: What does 47 have in his repertoire to deal with gun-packing foes, bodies lying around, etc.?

Rasmus: You can (and should) hide your bodies. This will make everything a lot easier on you, and you will save quite a lot of money in the end from not having to clean up the mess you have left behind. So all over the levels there are dumpsters, freezers, containers and the like, and they can be used for this.

Also if you need items from the characters it's good to not leave them lying around, because if you do, they will be body-bagged if found and dragged to an area with guards and higher security, hence making it more difficult to retrieve those items.

In regards to the still living NPCs, you will be able to disarm them if you're at close range - this is especially helpful if you're out of ammo. You can also take human shields and if you're packing you are able to move around with your weapon semi concealed from view to be ready to take action fast if necessary.

Shack: How will HBM continue the series' strong support of non-linear game play? (e.g., free choice in how to complete missions, setting up deaths to make them look accidental, etc.)

Rasmus: The level design is a lot better and more thought through. There [are] so many new features, that we were forced to make [many changes] in our level design, to keep the game complex, yet understandable and approachable.

The levels are bigger, there are sub objectives, and there are many, many ways to approach each and every one of them. Some are very obvious, and some require a great deal of patience and research to perform.

Especially the new moves gave us a lot more freedom to design the levels in a way that made non-linearity even more evident.

Shack: Can you tell us about some of the levels that have been created to showcase HBM's open-ended game play?

Rasmus: There is an elaborate opera with all the little corridors, back stage areas, actor's rooms, service and maintenance area etc, just like you would expect [at] a real opera.

There's a multi level elaborate rocky mountain mansion, with studios, bars, lounges, staff areas, security quarters, helicopter platform, and all the nice stuff a mansion should have.

All these realistic environments can be accessed however you want to - you just need to take the proper precautions depending on what approach suits you.

I could go on for all 13 of the levels, but that will take too much time, and we're in crunch at the moment.

More on mission objectives, weapons, the Notoriety system and other topics on page 2! _PAGE_BREAK_

Shack: Are all objectives mandatory? If not, are there bonuses that players receive for completing most or all of them?

Rasmus: In most levels all objectives are mandatory, but there are a few occasions, where you can choose what you want to go for.

Shack: How do I keep track of my mission objectives, where targets are, etc.?

Rasmus: You use the map to keep track of your Points-of-Interest, your targets, your item pickups and your NPC's in general. The briefing have detailed info about which objectives have been completed, and which haven't.

When you're on the level a picture-in-picture feature will feed back to you what is going on on the level and you will have a little sound notification if information which is important has been stored in your info list in your mission briefing.

Shack: Tell us about all the weapons that 47 has at his disposal to get the job done.

Rasmus: The major difference between this game and earlier ones is that [Agent 47] can upgrade his 5 trademark weapons. [These are] the W2000 sniper, the Hardballers, the Spas-12, the MP5 and the M4A1. Each of these weapons have between 10 to 20 upgrades that will drastically change performance in regards to sound level, damage, precision, stability and capacity. You can basically make your weapon suit your playing style. To do this, you need to use money you get paid for doing the missions.

Besides these 5 weapons there are about 50 other ballistic and close combat weapons at your disposal.

Shack: Besides guns, knives and all that, can 47 use his environment to kill targets? Details, please!

Rasmus: Yes he can - but it's not obvious, and it requires research to figure out how to do it. It's rewarding though, and will keep your notoriety on the low-side and your money on the high-side.

Shack: What is the Notoriety system, and how does it work?

Rasmus: When you perform your deeds on the mission, and people and cameras see you do this, you will be reported etc. to the papers. This will make NPC's know you, so when you play the next missions, there's a higher risk you might be recognized even before you do anything.

So a good thing is to remove witnesses, destroy security cameras and the tapes to not get too notorious.

If it happens though, and the going gets too tough, you can use bribe or even purchase a new identity to make your life easier again. This is not cheap though!

Shack: How do players keep track of their Notoriety (or lack thereof)?

Rasmus: When you finish a mission a graph in the debriefing will show you your current notoriety level, and when you play a new level it's noted in the mission briefing what your notoriety level is (also if you jump backwards and replay a previous mission).

Shack: Let's say I choose to go absolutely gun crazy during a certain level. How can I prevent dozens of citizens (and targets) from recognizing me in successive missions?

Rasmus: By killing them! The more violent you play, the more you would probably need to take care of business. Violence breeds violence in Blood Money.

Shack: Are there certain pros/cons to foregoing trigger happy killing sprees in favor of stealth? Vice versa?

Rasmus: Well, money wise, you will spend your finances on all the cool gadgets instead of bribing, cleaning up etc. if you take the stealthy approach.

The game will get increasingly challenging in terms of AI if you take the violent approach, so if that's what you're after, then you will get that.

But it will be interesting to try out both approaches because the game will feel and react differently depending on your style of play.

Shack: How does the monetary system in HBM work?

Rasmus: You get paid after a successful mission. Expenses are subtracted and you have an available amount. You can use this to buy upgrades, purchase extra intel, lowering your notoriety, or just saving up.

At certain milestone amounts, you will unlock the next Tier of weapon and equipment upgrades.

Shack: How can I get as much money as possible to buy lots of stuff?

Rasmus: Keep it cool and stealthy. Take out only the necessary people. Don't leave a mess. Stay in the shadows.

Shack: Is the monetary system the only way for Agent 47 to procure weapons?

Rasmus: In terms of upgrades, yes. All the other ballistic weapons, you find on the levels, and put in certain "smuggle boxes" that are then retrieved afterwards by the agency. The weapons are then stored in your hideout, and you can choose to use those on the levels as well.

Melee weapons are only available on the missions where they belong and cannot be collected.

Shack: Weapons are bound to attract a bit of negative attention. What sorts of new tricks does Agent 47 have up his sleeve in order to aid his escape, prevent bystanders from noticing his violent intentions, etc.?

Rasmus: As I mentioned before, he will try and hide the weapon behind his back, and in front of him depending on how his facing, in order to create too much attention. This is not fool proof though! Many of the weapons are of course concealable, with the exception of rifles and assault weapons.

Shack: What happens if there are witnesses to any of 47's assassination attempts? Are there ways to "deal" with witnesses? And what if there are too many witnesses to track down individually?

Rasmus: Well it all comes down to notoriety. If you leave a witness behind, then he will stay that - a witness, and he will add to your notoriety. So the best thing is to take care of as many witnesses as possible to not have to buy down your notoriety. Clean up will be cheaper (but will of course give you a worse and more violent ranking). So it's all a balance and a result of what kind of goals you've set - good rankings, low notoriety, low violence, low noise etc. etc.

Shack: Anything extra that you would like to add?

Rasmus: What can I say....it's a kick ass game. The best looking and best playing Hitman game to date.

Hitman: Blood Money is due out soon on PC, Xbox and Playstation 2.