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Splinter Cell - The Art of Stealth

Feature: Splinter Cell from origin to Conviction - how Ubisoft's reinventing the stealth wheel

We clearly recall the first time we clapped eyes on Splinter Cell at E3 2002. Seeing it on Xbox, here was the first title we'd seen since the debut of the console that spoke in visual terms of what we thought the next-generation should be about. Incredible lighting effects and soft-body physics dropped jaws, and the game was to rewrite the stealth book and set the foundation for one of videogaming's greatest series.

Gazing into the past, Splinter Cell senior producer Mathieu Ferland explains that Ubisoft "wanted to innovate on what was 'next gen'" with the first Splinter Cell game.

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"It was the second generation of games for the original Xbox, and we discovered Dynamic Lighting. The Single spy agent, using the shadows to hide came naturally. High tech gears were truly Clancy and by combining those elements, we created Splinter Cell."

History now tells us that the game was a huge success and its extremely positive reception inevitably spawned sequels. Next up for Third Echelon agent Sam Fisher were Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory, but it wasn't until the fourth game in the series, Double Agent, that Ubisoft decided to look at where it had taken the series and where it wanted to change things going forward.

Ferland describes Double Agent as "a first step in the franchise transition". He says the objective for the sequel was to begin addressing a limitation Ubisoft had with the franchise, namely storytelling and character depth.

"Basically, the mission format and military status of Sam was not the best way to convey and communicate some additional information and depth of either the hero, or the secondary characters around him", Ferland elaborates.

"We wanted to start creating something a little more personal, where secondary characters would be important, and where Sam Fisher would be more than a 'Yes to Order' type with dark humour to express himself. When you have spent a couple of years living with Sam as we did, he becomes part of your days, and you want to know more. We wanted to explore his personality more and pass this knowledge to the gaming community."

Double Agent was about bridging the gap in terms of narrations and getting Sam out of order-lead missions rather than bridging gaps in gameplay, according to Ferland. While daylight maps were present, he describes this as only a half-step as "the core mechanics of light and shadow were still used." However, Double Agent was the first step in the franchise renewal, he explains.

Double Agent proved that Ubisoft could create interesting background and storylines for Sam Fisher in Ferland's mind, and this is something that's being retained for the fifth game in the series, Conviction.

The senior producer describes Conviction as the second step in the renewal of the franchise, and if you've been keeping tabs on the game you'll know that significant changes are afoot.

Stealth, the art of going unnoticed, has been at the beating heart of Ubisoft's Splinter Cell series since its conception but for Conviction an innovative spin is being put on this foundation. In what the publisher calls a radical move, the light and shadow stealth that we've become accustomed to is being left behind for "stealth that is not binary in its core ingredients, but can offer many different ways to go unnoticed", Ferland says.

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It's a change that he describes as "a very natural step for us" and adds that Ubisoft is confident of the new approach to stealth in Conviction. The new approach is labelled "Active stealth" or "improvisation" and Ferland is confident it "will please those that discovered light and Shadow five years ago".

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