The hard cell
You've already read our latest preview of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, right? And you've definitely watched our video showcasing 3 minutes of brutal takedowns, yes? Good--you're all caught up, and ready to hear what the game's Creative Director, Maxime Beland, has to say about Blacklist in our exclusive interview.
The topics for discussion? We inevitably cover next-gen, chat about incredible military gadgets, and end up discussing Hollywood. And Bond, James Bond. Will Fisher ever be as huge as Bond? Well, there is a Splinter Cell movie in the works. For now, though, we're all about Blacklist, which is due out 23 August (UK) and 20 August (US).
Why did you decide to release Blacklist at the end of this generation, instead of waiting for Xbox One and PS4?
We wanted to get the game out as fast as possible. After Splinter Cell: Conviction we started a new studio in Toronto, with a new team, and we wanted to build up their expertise by shipping a game as fast as possible. It worked out great because were shipping before next-gen, and were hitting two consoles with huge install bases. Right now there are loads of PS3s and Xbox 360s out there, so in a months time people can go out there and buy Splinter Cell, and play it right away--they dont have to wait until next-gen.
Plus, the way that weve built the game makes it feel like next-gen. Ive had plenty of people come up to me and say The way youre blending all the modes and allowing people to see their online friends all the time is really next-gen game design and I agree with them [laughs]. So you can wait for that kind of next-gen game design, but were doing it now, and were shipping it in a month.
What has been the reaction to the new Sam Fisher after people have had the chance to pay as him?
When people first heard the news they were shocked. However, when people play the game they really dont say anything. I think a big reason for that is because Eric Johnson, who is the actor now playing Sam Fisher, is doing a great job. Youre playing as him, it feels like Sam, and the quality is there. It feels like a proper Splinter Cell game. We had an event where we brought in a load of Splinter Cell fans from all over the world to get their hands on the game. These guys were hardcore people from the forums--I thought they would hate me for dropping Michael Ironside from the game.
But we invited them along and had them play story, and co-op and Spies vs Mercs. So, after the days play, when they were having dinner one of the most hardcore guys just say Hey, did any of you guys notice that Michael Ironside wasnt there any more? and the rest of them were like No, not really. So I genuinely think Eric and team have done a great job creating a new version of Fisher that people really like and believe in.
The support cast seems to be more diverse, and youve even put a little humour into the game. Splinter Cell is usually terribly straight faced
I think theres always been a little bit of humour. Sam has always been a little sarcastic, so there is always a light touch of humour. The subject matter in Blacklist is very dark, so I think its ok to have a few moments that are a bit lighter, with characters who can make a joke. We wanted to have more likeable characters in the game--thats one of the reasons we brought back Andriy Kobin (who previously kidnapped Sams daughter) from Conviction, because we really liked his character and the actor who played him. We had so much fun writing for that character, plus it creates a real tension with Sam in the game. We wanted to try and build the relationships between Sam and the other people on the plane.
Can you go too far down one route? Did you feel as if you wanted to avoid having the game become too jargon / military heavy?
Theres two answers to that. Firstly: story is nothing unless its telling you about the journey of your characters. You dont have a story unless you have strong characters who evolve and change as you play. Regardless of what youre doing--whether it be bleak action, comedy, stealth--you need a set of characters that you care about. Some youll root for, some youll hate. Theres conflict, theres evolution and theres resolution. Can you go too far down one route? There are always going to be small set of people who like it when you go really specialised. However, the more you go in one direction, the more you risk alienating people.
If you make a game too bleak, then a lot of people are going to say Hey, this is too depressing, I dont want to be a part of it. Every human being is different, and when were making games we usually try to create something that resonates with as many people as possible. Its like: if Im making a chocolate cake, Im not going to force you to eat it. But Im not going to make a vanilla cake because less people are going to want to eat it. I want to make something with as much flavour as possible. So, with every decision you make, youre opening the door to certain things and closing it to others.
Do you think games represent a Hollywood reality, rather than representing actual reality?
Thats interesting, and its something we talk about often. There is realistic, there is believable, and there is Hollywood realistic--and theyre all different. One example that comes to mind is when I was talking to our sound designer a few years ago. He was telling me about the sound of a tornado. When youre close to a tornado it doesnt sound at all like youd hear in the movies. But, the first movie with a tornado came out, they put a specific sound in there, and that got into everyones head as the sound of a tornado. So now, when making a tornado in a movie, if it doesnt sound like that original tornado people arent comfortable with it.
Interestingly, in Zero Dark Thirty they went ultra-realistic with the sound in that, and it sounds incredible. Its so silent, so intense. As a creator it excited me because it was so intense. If something is so over the top you just get immune to it all.
Was there anything in Splinter Cell considered to be too realistic?
One example is in Spies vs Mercs. We have optical camo, much like you saw in Ghost Recon Future Soldier. So, its part of the Clancy universe, but it doesnt actually exist--theres no Delta Force out there that can turn itself invisible. At the same time we know that there is a lot of research around it, and there are certain technologies that are getting there.
Right now you could probably create optical camo in real life, but only if youre staring at the guy from the front (because it would have a series of cameras recording behind him and projecting that to the front). That wouldnt be very practical in a game, so we do the work for them and add in optical camo that works at all angles, because its more fun. We look for the research and say Lets make is quicker, faster, smaller. Thats the kind of rules I like to have for realism. The sticky cam is another example of this. They have the technology for tiny, remote control cameras--its just that they cant stick them to walls just yet.
If you could collaborate with any other development team in the world, who would that be?
It really depends on what I was making. Naughty Dog would be great. Theyve nailed how to make narrative in a game. So if I was working on a strongly story-driven game, Id love to collaborate with them and learn about how they work. Now, if were focusing more on multiplayer, Id love to talk to someone like Respawn to see what their philosophy is on building TitanFall and even their next game. If I was doing an MMO, Id check out Blizzard.
There are some great studios out there, but what I really love is that Ubisoft are right among them. When you think about Ubi Montreal--they make incredible open-world games like Far Cry 3, Assassins Creed, and Watch Dogs. I guarantee you that if my next game is open-world, Im going to be traveling to Montreal a lot. So it depends on what youre doing.
You guys make a great spy game. Settle an office debate for us: who should make the next James Bond game? Fancy it yourself?
Ha--you know what, I dont think about it in that way. Its the opposite for me. I really want Splinter Cell to have an amazing movie franchise and to be as big as James Bond. There are some great Bond movies, and theyre obviously a big point of reference for us. At the same time, Im so hungry for a good Splinter Cell movie. I know were developing one now, and that people are responding to it. Sam Fisher is a great hero--hes interesting, hes different--and the brand has some really iconic images like the three-light goggles. The Splinter Cell world is just so interesting, so yeah, I think it deserves a great movie.
So, what do you think? Will Fisher ever be as huge as James Bond? Will you still be missing Michael Ironside when you're playing through Blacklist? And have you ever heard a tornado up close? We really, really hope you answer 'No' to that last question. As ever, let us know your brain-thinkings in the comments.
Want more super-interesting interview features? We have them, you know. Here's one with Fallout creator Brian Fargo, which is all about choice in games. And here's another with Insomniac's Ted Price, where he discusses the end of the Resistance series. Aw, we miss you Resistance.