Danish developer of the Hitman series IO Interactive can’t wait to leave the current generation behind so it can flex its artistic muscle on PS4 and the next Xbox, says senior environment artist Janus Kirkegaard.
“I’m a hardcore artist so I see all these limitations with previous consoles have pretty much gone now,” he told us. “You can do more of what you do now, but it’s not just about pushing more polygons or having higher resolutions. It’s about shader complexity and the new stuff you can pull off technically.”
“Playstation 4 and the next Xbox are going to be super cool and I can’t wait to unleash some stuff we had to hold back on,” he continued. “We have a lot of cool stuff planned and we can’t wait to squeeze the lemon a little more. This generation of consoles has lasted a long time and it’s good to be doing something new.”
While he can’t openly discuss forthcoming projects, Kirkegaard is confident that IO can deliver its trademark aesthetic on next-gen platforms. “All our games have a distinctive look and that’s a tradition that will not change soon,” he says. “I’m perfectly fine with moving on from PS3 and Xbox 360. It’s super exciting. I can’t wait to see what kind of graphics we can pull off.”
We spoke to Kirkegaard after he spoke at the Animex animation festival at Teesside University, in which he reflected on the commercial and creative drivers behind Hitman Absolution. “We wanted to create the first true next gen Hitman game – we didn’t consider Blood Money a real next gen title,” he said. “We wanted to create a really great game to put the franchise back on the map. We needed to broaden the audience after Blood Money. We have some hardcore fans, but we needed to widen things to sell more games.”
The introduction of ‘instinct mode’, which enables players to blend into crowds, was one feature introduced to prevent less experienced players from being spotted by AI. “Absolution is primarily a stealth-based game, but you do have the option to go in all guns blazing,” said Kirkegaard. “It wasn’t really a fulfilling experience and we wanted it to be fulfilling if you play it as a shooter. We also wanted to condone voyeurism with the gameplay mechanic of disguise. A janitor disguise, for instance, allows you to get places and eavesdrop.”
Kirkegaard explained that the series’ humour was retained to avoid the dark subject matter of the contract killing series making gameplay “grim and nasty”. And Absolution isn’t short on blackly comic moments – such as when a whale skeleton can be used to crush a target. There were lofty art ambitions behind design choices too.
“A lot of games have the ‘production line’ look to them. Individual artists work on the project and cram in stuff. We wanted to make a distinct look. We wanted to create a game with personality where people would experience places beyond the mountaintop villages of other games.”
Kirkegaard aimed to build environments that would tell stories without being fettered too much by realism. He was keen to use a full colour palette in reaction to the limited range of tones in other titles. “We also had to add a lot of detail,” he added. “In Hitman you sneak and stand still and really scrutinise the environments in a way you don’t do with racing games. If you hide behind a box, you want it to be a good-looking box.”