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Splinter Cell's dynamic environments

Feature: Throwing people into things is always fun

Welcome to part four in our massive Splinter Cell: Conviction week, where the Ubisoft Montreal developers talk us through a different section of the game each day. Just in case you missed them, you can go back to the beginning and read part one here.

In part four we speak to associate producer Daniel Roy about how Sam Fisher will interact with the environment. And it sounds impressive. So we all know you're Sam Fisher, a fugitive hunted by the cops. At one point in the game you'll have to access a data server hidden in the middle of a park in Washington. "Walking towards your objective, you quickly join a small group of people moving alongside a war memorial, in order to avoid the attention of a cop strolling nearby," Roy explains. "Reaching an open area, you decide you need a quick distraction to progress further. You walk up to a protestor lecturing a small audience, and quickly snatch her laptop and throw it on the ground. The crowd is shocked by this, and call for the cops. The cop begins to walk towards the onlookers, but you avoid his gaze and briskly walk along before he can figure out who's responsible for the commotion."

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This is the kind of interaction with the crowd Ubisoft has been trumpeting in the awesome-looking Assassin's Creed. "Having reached the building, you stand in front of a security guard. The guard notices you, and you know he's starting to put two and two together," continues Roy. "Very soon now he will identify you as that fugitive that's been all over the news. You turn around and walk towards the back of the building. He follows you to question you. As soon as you're out of sight of the crowd, you take him by surprise and knock him unconscious by throwing him violently into a dumpster. You quickly make your way inside the building and hack the data server, but now the cops have congregated outside."

There's a hot dog vendor is within sight and Fisher takes out a silenced pistol and fires, creating chaos and mayhem in the park. Joining the rampaging crowd, Sam runs out of the park, unnoticed by the cops who see you as just another panicked bystander fleeing for his life. Designers have been striving for this kind of dynamic environment for years, but what else is the fifth Splinter Cell doing that we haven't seen before?

"First of all, everything in Conviction - and I mean everything - is dynamic and bound to be pushed over, thrown or broken. This isn't just a dozen objects in the environment; it's everything, from the staplers on a desk, to the desks themselves. The dynamic environment is Sam's primary weapon. He can throw chairs in his enemy's face, throw them into a desk, block a doorway with a bookcase, flip a table to create cover. We want players to look at all the tidy environment of, say, a newspaper office, and think, 'I can use this desk as cover in a tight situation, and then this printer as a deadly weapon.'"

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The AI itself will also use the dynamic environment to full advantage Roy tells us. "We not only improved the AI to account for the dynamic environment, we actually rebuilt their AI around it. Enter a firefight with them, and you'll see them improvise cover by flipping over tables, for instance. It's quite a rush to think you've got an enemy AI pinned down, only to see him rush behind a desk and flip it over, shooting you back from the safety of an improvised cover."

And how will all this super cool new tech change the experience? "In previous Splinter Cells, Sam was equipped by Third Echelon, and could rely on his gear in all situations," said Roy. "Now that he's a fugitive, he only has his immediate environment as a weapon. And Sam being Sam, you can expect him to be deadly with any weapon you put in his hands. He can use it to distract and confuse his enemies, for instance, by exploding a propane tank in order to create confusion with the cops; or he can use the environment as a weapon in hand-to-hand combat.

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