Looking at the various levels in Hitman, you’d think that the design team at IO Interactive went on extensive field trips in order to create the various in-game locales. Well, in an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun about the craft of level design, Hitman designers Jesper Hylling and Torbjørn Christensen reveal that a lot of their location research was actually done remotely.
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According to the interview, much of IO’s research was done using YouTube and Google Street View to help model the layout of places like Sapienza. The level is “based on Vernazza and some other towns down there on that shoreline” said Christensen, but the design team "never went to Italy" for further research. This doesn’t mean the design team did not spend ages labouring over specific details, as they were forced to balance their rigorous attention to detail, with making animations seem realistic. The interview refers to Sapienza’s walls in particular, where the team had to make them slightly slimmer, in order to match the animation of Agent 47 throwing someone out of a window.
Luckily, no-one noticed that slight changes but Christensen remarked that if “a structure looks like it can’t hold its own weight then people will start noticing.” It’s a delicate balance between authenticity and form, in order to make a level both convincing and fun to play through. It certainly paid off for Sapienza, with “Italian players saying it’s pretty close” to real coastal towns. That’s one hell of an achievement.
Whereas some levels require authenticity, a dash of the surreal lifts other levels that bit higher. For the Hokkaido level, placing outside of a well-known location like Tokyo allowed the design team “to be more crazy with what we wanted to have,” says Christensen. As long as it seemed believable to the designers, they ran with whatever seemed interesting, resulting in the mountain spa resort/underground gene therapy clinic which appears in the full game.
“We have the high tech and a very stark contrast with the underbelly” says Hylling, with the massive contrast between the two makes the level seem larger. However, the tonal shift still has to make sense, as “if you step into a biome that’s completely weird and makes no sense...it gets strange”, says Christensen. The morgue still shares the high tech aesthetic of the entire spa resort, with the capsule rooms which the guests stay in, matching the drawers found within the underground morgue.
The addition of the underground morgue also links with Hokkaido’s spiral design, with players slowly working their way downwards to the hidden facility underneath the spa. As the target for the mission is strapped to an operating table, IO added in the RFID doors in order to add extra challenge. The fact that Agent 47 has to wear specific disguises in order to infiltrate the inner sanctum added an extra layer of difficulty,which had not been seen in previous levels.
The whole interview is worth a read, as it goes into more detail about how IO balances fantastical and realistic elements to create engaging Hitman levels. Hitman Season Two should be a belter, based on the levels in this first set.