As Hitman: The Complete First Season gears up to hit shelves, Fandom speaks to Christian Elverdam, Creative Director at developer IO Interactive. He discusses new bonus mission ‘Landslide’ as well as the game’s highlights, his favourite locations, and the challenges he faced during development. Elverdam also discusses the future of gaming… and plans for Hitman Season 2.
Landslide: What To Expect
Firstly, that brand new bonus mission: ‘Landslide’. It follows the success of bonus missions ‘The Icon’ and ‘A House Built On Sand’, and like ‘The Icon’, takes place in Sapienza – the location for Episode 2. Elverdam gives a little insight into what we can expect.
“It takes you back to Sapienza albeit with a little bit of a different flavour,” he says. “It’s a different time of day and there is this corrupt Italian politician walking the streets escorted by bodyguards. That is your target. I think you can compare it to the other bonus missions in terms of scope and scale, and also in how the two previous bonus missions sort of changed how the level feels.”
He compares ‘Landslide’ most directly with ‘A House Built On Sand’, saying that the second bonus mission set in Marrakesh is a “straight-up Hitman fantasy” from the minds of the game’s developers.
“There’s a little bit of a tie-in to the actual story in Marrakesh but it’s more that it was just an idea to work around a meeting, and training people,” he says. “I think the politician in ‘Landslide’ is definitely the same thing. It’s a classic assassination in that sense.”
Pushing Boundaries With ‘The Icon’
He saw ‘The Icon’, on the other hand, as an opportunity to see how far they could actually push things. “One of the things we did in Season 1 is invent this new system where we can change level set-up and geometry in a way that fits a live game,” says Elverdam. “I think it’s one of the biggest technological undertakings for Season 1. It’s such an unsung hero because you don’t notice it as a player. But we can actually introduce new stuff without you downloading tons of gigabytes every time.”
‘The Icon’ revolves around a film set, and a B-movie with a director who’s gone rogue. Elverdam says the idea came from an “outrageous idea back in the day” about introducing an alien invasion.
“Which is completely bonkers, right, because it’s completely off,” he says. “But we wanted to embrace [Hitman’s dark humour] and say: ‘Let’s go crazy’ and be a little bit unexpected.”
Developing the Locations
The game features a set of diverse locations – six in all including Paris, Sapienza, Marrakesh, Bangkok, Colorado and Hokkaido. But how do Christian and his team go about deciding what works, both separately and as a whole?
“There are a few factors that contribute to what a level ends up becoming. We have a few things we know we want. We want to travel the world: that’s sort of a pillar in Hitman,” says Elverdam. “No matter what we do, that’s a central thing. So where does it feel exotic or interesting to travel? You also typically travel to an event, or take part in an event. The fashion show … in Paris is an event that we chose to put in. There’s a military coup about to happen in Marrakesh, there’s a recording session of an album in Thailand. So, we try to combine actual physical globetrotting with what I would call ‘event tourism’.”
Finally, the characters themselves influence the way a location turns out. He gives the character of Silvio Caruso in Sapienza as an example: “He has this whole back story with both being a geek and having this complex relationship with his mother, and this almost obsessive interest in viruses and disease”.
It’s this that informs the surroundings, from the Renaissance style of the old observatory and the inclusion of plague doctors to his personal quarters, which house a projector and slides full of family memories.
“You couldn’t really foresee that you would have that kind of room in an old mansion but that came into being because of the character,” he says.
So what are Christian Elverdam’s personal favourite locations? He says it’s easier for him to pick favourite moments over broad locations.
“I vividly recall the first time I walked around in Sapienza when it was just grey mesh,” he says. “I mean, simply just grey geometry. And already back then it had this very organic nature where you could just walk around everywhere; you would never really end up in a dead end. And I had this feeling that you can be lost but not without this sense that you can always go somewhere. It’s such a nice feeling, that you can wander everywhere.”
He also likes a very specific element of Hokkaido.
“Hokkaido as a region is one of the most wild and inhospitable regions in northern Japan. Combining that with the sterile and somewhat comfortable, luxurious spa-like facility, that contrast felt very nice,” he says. “There’s [also] something in the contrast between the Swedish consulate and its Scandinavian arrogance and the life in the Bazaar in Marrakesh.”
He mentions Paris and Sapienza for their ability to “stand their ground as huge levels”. He says he’s amazed at Paris and the hours of gameplay it’s carried and how Sapienza is regarded by many as the gem of the package.
“It’s so sprawling and gorgeous,” he says. “I think we set a new standard for what a Hitman level can be. But even though some of the levels are smaller, like Hokkaido, I still think that’s a remarkable level. Colorado for its vastness. And Thailand feels proper exotic.”
Injecting More Humour Into ‘Hitman’
Dark humour has been a key characteristic of Hitman since its inception, but it’s something Christian admits to ramping up this time around.
“We embraced it in how we portray Agent 47, who is pretty void of emotion,” he explains. “He has this element of dry humour that we gave him this time around. The way he talks to people. The way he has a double meaning in some of the stuff he’s saying.”
Humour is important because of the dark subject matter, Christian says, but also because it’s not possible to be super realistic, and therefore super serious, even if they wanted to.
“If you’re in Paris or Italy and a few people are dead in a toilet, that means the town goes into lockdown, and there’s forensic [investigations]. In real life, it’s not that exciting. It’s basically just shutdown,” he explains. “So, maybe we’ll accept as a player that okay, they’re dragging this body bag into a corner and trying to clean it up a little bit, but if you think about it, that’s highly unrealistic. The only way I think we can treat that is [with] a little bit of humour. If our guards were too serious about what’s going on things would fall apart. So it’s better to have them a little bit stupid and have fun, right?”
Right. And people do like to have fun. Take the guys who created the ‘Puddle Pile’. Elverdam explains, “One of the things that I really loved – they did this wonderful, crazy assassination in Paris where they electrocuted this water puddle and they found a way to lure I don’t know how many people into [it].”
In true Hitman spirit, the assassination found its way into the fabric of the game at a later date.
“With a wink of the eye, in Colorado later you have two guys talking about this weird incident in Paris where this mysterious water puddle somehow controlled people’s minds and got them killed,” says Elverdam. “So, we like to poke fun.”
And that includes incorporating satire – in Bangkok you can meet an objectionable American businessman who is talking about running for president that you can kill.
‘Hitman’ Season 2: Where Next?
Christian Elverdam freely admits they’ve raised the bar in Hitman, which leads us to question where the game goes from here. So, what are their plans for Season 2?
“We got a lot of stuff right in Season 1,” Christian begins. “I’m not saying you don’t look at stuff and say: ‘Wow, I would love to do that even better’. There’s tons of that in there. But we are pretty happy about where we ended up. So, when we are looking at stuff now, we are looking at an entire season and discussing what worked. We’re not saying what didn’t work.
“Take our disguise system. We had such anxiety when the game launched around how it would be perceived. And we’ve had really nice feedback. So, we are going to improve and tweak – we’re not going to redo the disguise system, as an example.
“The mindset is that we are going to take what worked and polish it up and make it even better, instead of thinking we have to rethink a lot of stuff. The elusive targets really made a mark; they really did the opposite of a normal hit. Going from ‘repetition is the key to mastery’ to this moment-in-time-assassination – that feels super solid and obviously was a first. So what is the natural evolution of that? That’s going to be interesting. This is a format where a lot of the characters are still alive which is also completely atypical – we have a lot of important characters alive in the world. So, there’s an [extensive] foundation to build on.”
He’s also keen to find ways to draw in newcomers to Hitman without alienating them with the game’s complexity, and without distancing the super-engaged hardcore fans. “It will be the eternal battleground of Hitman, I think,” he says.
The Future of Gaming
The future of Hitman may or may not tie in with Christian Elverdam’s ideas on the future of gaming, which he sees as containing more immersive VR as well as an increase in augmented reality, along the lines of Pokémon Go. But for Christian, the most profound change happening is one that few people talk about.
“In 30 years from now, everyone will be playing games,” he predicts. “In the 1970s and 1980s, it was the persona non grata. It’s always been the case that the newest medium is the one under heaviest scrutiny. You know, [people said] VHS tapes would make us stupid or not go to the movies. And then later it was computer games. So, if you think about the future of gaming, I would say let’s see what happens when everyone in the world is a gamer. When the next, or some new, American president in the future is a dedicated gamer. Or when the Danish Prime Minister is a gamer. Right now, you wouldn’t ask if your Prime Minister is going to the movies. You don’t say, ‘By the way, do you go to the movies?’ or, “By the way, do you watch TV shows?’ It would be a ridiculous question. Within a decade or two maybe that will also be a ridiculous question when it comes to games. I think that will actually profoundly change how we think about games.”
For now, we’re just thinking about how we’re going to go about offing that corrupt Italian politician…
Hitman: The Complete First Season is available to buy on disc from January 31.