Deep below the streets of Paris, in an underground hall at the famous Louvre museum, Mathieu Ferland, Senior Producer of Splinter Cell: Conviction, sat down to answer some questions on the latest stealth game from the famous Tom Clancy brand of games.
Pro-G: Conviction clearly takes the Splinter Cell series of games in a new direction. Can you tell me a little about that?
Mathieu Ferland: Yes for sure. For us it was a logical narrative evolution for Sam Fisher, who had previously been this special spy, and then he turned into a double agent, where he was managing his own destiny more and more through being supported, and through special weapons and abilities. We wanted this game and the narrative to be focussed on Sam himself somehow, so he was not answering to others anymore, and he is making his own way without support.
The development team also had very high ambitions, and wanted to take the opportunity to align the current new console technology with the game's new thematic, as we have always done with the Sam Fisher games.
Pro-G: We've already heard a lot about 'social stealth' and crowd manipulation. Can you explain exactly what this means?
MF: The main intention with the crowd is to be able to manipulate them so they become a diversion tool. The key philosophy in the game is to detect what is useful and use it to your own benefit. Let's say you want to infiltrate a building and you are in the middle of a public area and you break a window. Well, everybody will turn around and guards will look at you at you will have blown your cover. However, if you make your first step to create a diversion in a crowd, by either stealing something from someone's pocket, or creating a little chaos, then the guard's attention is on the wrong thing.
Pro-G: So stealth is now about being seen by people, rather than hiding from them?
MF: To us stealth is the art of going unnoticed, and in the previous Splinter Cell 'light and shadow' was one way to express that, and when you got seen that was it, that is where things ended. Now we feel that stealth is so much bigger than that, and with what is possible with the next generation of consoles, when you get seen is when the action really starts.
Pro-G: So just how large do these crowds get, in terms of NPCs?
MF: Depending on the area, sometimes more than 100, so it is very credible in terms of environment, and that goes beyond just numbers. So, for example, you can hang out with a few people in the crowd, but if you follow just them for too long they will turn around and notice what you are doing.
Pro-G: Does that mean creating the crowd AI was difficult?
MF: Well creating the AI was a big, big, big challenge, not only for crowd credibility but also from a purely technical aspect, because Sam can move any object anywhere in the environment. That means the AI needs to be able to detect that, and react to an object and realise if the object's new position makes sense or is suspicious.
Pro-G: A lack of pace has often been a problem with stealth games. How have you overcome this?
MF: Because you are a fugitive you need to move a bit faster and think a bit faster. We have made sure there are plenty of opportunities surrounding you to act quickly, for example while chased. If you are running and people are chasing you, you can pick up a chair and leave it behind you to block their way, or pick up something to bash the enemy with as you're waiting round a corner.
Pro-G: How would stealth's notoriously complex controls work at a high speed? Surely the player would be overwhelmed?
MF: We used to map all of the actions for Sam on the controller, which would become really complex as every button was used. This time we wanted to make it almost like a sports game, like football. In a football game you can make an aggressive action like a tackle, or a gentle pass. Splinter Cell now has the same philosophy. If I have a table, for example, I can pick it up and make and aggressive action, like hitting someone with it or pushing them away, or make a stealth action and hide under it to use it as a cover, so it is all contextual and that affects the accessibility of control.
Pro-G: How will multiplayer work then?
MF: Well, we cannot talk about multiplayer yet, but think about all those mechanics and think about picking up objects and crouching, and you can imagine the position we are in now.
Pro-G: I've jus been shown some of the Washington DC level. Can you tell me about the other settings we can expect to see in the game? Are they all real locations?
MF: Yes. We used to infiltrate very private areas and get very private information. Now, as a fugitive you will choose to move through everyday locations, like the museum we are sitting in now. It is a good place to hide as it's full of people and huge to navigate. Also, because you are a fugitive, you cannot travel around the world easily, because you are wanted so it will roughly take place in the Washington area.
Pro-G: So will be there anything of the original kind of stealth for fans of the previous games? The light and shadow hiding?
MF: Well, it is all set in public, daylight situations, so it doesn't make sense for Sam to do a split jump, or any of his other moves, in that situation. We have been talking to a lot of gamers about the new direction of the series, and at first they were asked 'where's my Splinter Cell gone?', but then as soon as they were looking at the game and playing it they said 'wow, never mind what I have seen before'.
Pro-G: Finally, can you tell us when the game will hit retail?
MF: Yes. We want to ship this Christmas.
Pro-G: Thanks for your time.