Despite a number of delays, Ubisoft's Splinter Cell: Conviction finally has a nailed down UK release date - and is shaping up to be one of 2010's most anticipated games.
We caught up with the game's designer Patrick Redding at X10 last month to grill him on its development...
There have been a number of delays to the game's release. What have you done in that time to bring it up to standard?
Honestly? In some ways it was the best possible scenario for us because we were angling towards our original release date in February. You know, as is always the case, you develop this kind of laundry list and think: "Aw man if only we had an extra bit of polish time to really go after that and that and that, plus all the usual debugging, that'd be wonderful."
So I mean a lot of it has been fixing issues with the AI, adding different challenge levels, giving the player the right level of difficulty at first.
I mean, you know, that's a delicate path because you push back too far and the player's like: "Ah man you guys are cheating me, I'm invincible" and other times they end up looking dumb. That for us was a really delicate part of the process because of course you have a mix of scripted events in the game, obviously regarding the story, but then also a huge amount of the AI is really emergent. It's ultra-systemic you know - they're going on patrols, they're trying to flank the player, they're using all of the various tools that we've given the player like the LKP as a way of determining where the player is.
That's a really delicate complex and potentially fragile system to try to tune and balance so we've been really putting a lot of time into that.
The story has a kind of 'going rogue' element this time. How has that affected the gameplay?
I think it's strongly reflected in the choice to move away from what I would call the sort of slow, calculating, stealth model into something we have been generally referring to as the 'predatory model'.
You're still Sam Fisher, but you don't have time to be sitting there trying to pick locks and hack into a computer and watch every guard patrol eight times to take a break, you don't have time to be moving bodies.
Your goal is to get to your target and get the information you need out of them and get the hell out of dodge - because you've got the entire wave; you've got the authorities after you, as well the bad guys so that sense of urgency; that sense of: "I don't have a lot of time to stick around". But a lot of the gameplay is about getting into trouble and then getting out of trouble - and that's what inspires the whole Mark and Execute concept.
It's this idea that if I'm being stealthy and things are going incredibly well then of course they'll never know I'm here, and I may never have to fire a shot - I'll be snapping necks and that'll be that. But if I do get discovered, if the shit does hit the fan - which it invariably does in a good story - then he's going to be able to kind of 'ding, ding, ding', take everyone out and jump out the window. I think that's really what informed the gameplay, that's what informed the dynamics of this new Splinter Cell.
So would you say it was a more frantic than previous Splinter Cells?
I think it can be more frantic and I think some players are going to feel as though it is, you know, a more intense experience.
They're tending to get into combat situations more easily but I think that if you want to be stealthy and if you want to take the cold and calculating approach it's still available to you. We don't deny the player that option but there are maybe a few situations, for instance, where someone springs a trap on you in which case you're going to have to get out of dodge - but it's not the kind of thing that we try to purposely introduce too often.