Ubisoft Felt Splinter Cell Was Too Hardcore’
Ubisoft Montreal’s Max Beland has told us that his primary goal as creative director on Splinter Cell: Conviction was to make the series more accessible.
Beland was brought on to the project around two years ago, halfway through its protracted development period.
“I joined the team in January of 2008 and at the beginning the goal was to fix the things that weren’t happening. Ubisoft had identified that there were some major issues with the game,” he said.
“We tried to make the whole fugitive direction work for about two months [but] we would have needed more time and at one point you have to decide whether you continue to iterate or do you just pull the plug and do something else.
“So after two months we had a discussion with [Ubisoft] Paris… and they asked us to propose something else… The first thing we identified was that we needed to focus on the core values of Splinter Cell: stealth, realism, tactics, lights and shadow, gadgets, Sam Fisher – all of these things, we wanted to do them, but Ubisoft didn’t want us to make another Double Agent or another Chaos Theory.
“Although Chaos Theory was an amazing game, I think the issue that Ubisoft identified was that, out of everybody that is attracted by the fantasy of playing Sam Fisher, when they actually get to play it, we lose a lot of people. Stealth, I think, has always been delivered as very hardcore gameplay."
According to Beland, the last Splinter Cell outing, 2006’s Double Agent, sold over one million copies, which he deemed a respectable figure.
“… But Ubisoft obviously wanted to see if there was a way to please even more people, to get more people interested in the brand and the genre. That was the mandate and the challenge that we got – can we make stealth something that more people want to play, can we address the issues that people have with the genre.
“So we did our homework. We did a lot of playtesting, a lot of consumer research, we talked to a lot of gamers and there were a lot of themes that were coming back all the time: stealth is punitive, stealth is slow. It was funny, because when you watch the movies they’re not that. James Bond and Jason Bourne run fast, they don’t make noise, they kill one, two, three or four guys super quickly and silently with a sound suppressor, so it’s a lot more dynamic. So we needed to do something with that.
“We need to make the ten people who are attracted to Splinter Cell and stealth happy, we can’t just make two happy because they want to hide in the shadows and look at the control paths for a minute and then steady the camera placement. I think it’s a good and fun type of stealth gameplay but it’s hardcore.”
So the fifth major outing for Sam Fisher represents somewhat of a departure for the series. It’s a faster–paced game than its predecessors, using sneaking only as a stopgap between quick, brutal strikes, and you’re not harshly punished for being spotted or engaging enemies. That’s not to say it dispenses with core gameplay features like the use of light or shadow – “you can shoot out every light in the game,” Beland said – but you won’t find yourself dragging around and hiding dead bodies.
“I think the number one feature to me is Sam,” Beland added. “Sam’s back as the guy that he should have been all along. Sam is a guy who’s fast, he’s quick on his toes and he can run without making a lot of noise. He can be hanging on a ledge and not have to be moving at one centimetre per minute. Sam is a panther, not a grandmother, and that’s my line to the team. I think that’s a good image for what we want to do. All of Sam’s navigation is faster and more dynamic than ever.”
Splinter Cell: Conviction for Xbox 360 launched in the US today and will hit UK stores this Friday, with a PC version following later this month. While it’s a Microsoft console exclusive, Beland previously told us that the franchise may still have a future on PS3.
And while he refused to comment directly on whether plans for a Conviction follow up were already in motion, he suggested there’ll be more series outings in the not too distant future, in line with Ubisoft’s goal of releasing core franchise updates on a 12-18 month basis.