Q: Could you introduce yourself and explain your role in the project?
I'm Mathieu Ferland, the senior producer on Conviction. My role is to support the producer and development teams with all high level issues they may encounter. I also closely monitor the Splinter Cell brand evolution, especially since Conviction is based on new core game play innovations and new setup.
Q: Who is in charge of the development?
MF: The game is created and developed by previous SC’s team in Ubisoft Montreal’s studio. Once SCCT was completed, the team started the conception and R&D for Conviction. The benefits of working with a team having such a strong experience in regard to Splinter Cell’s philosophy is high. For the first time, all multiplayer and online features are being completely developed in Montreal. Also, this experience is precious as we are changing some core game play mechanics but wanted to keep the true spirit of the franchise.
Q: How is it linked with previous Splinter Cell? Is having played to Splinter Cell Double Agent mandatory to fully understand the storyline?
MF: This is a stand alone game and the surprising storyline is clear and consistent even if you haven’t played previous games. However, Splinter Cell fans will recognize some interesting subtleties.
Q: For people new to the franchise, what can you tell up about the main character, Sam Fisher?
Sam Fisher has evolved a lot through the first four games of the series. He used to be a soldier, then became a double agent where he had to make choices between opposing orders. Now, facing a new situation where he’s a fugitive, he no longer acts upon order but has to trust and follow his own convictions.
In fact Sam is like us, as he got older, his beliefs and questioning are becoming more central. We are somehow in a similar situation, we grew up along Sam and our perception of the medium has changed: We want to mix our game play ambitions with a stronger narrative. Also, we wanted to share the vision we always had for Sam but that we couldn’t fully explore while he was in “soldier obey order” setting.
Q: How is the game structured?
MF: Because of the intense pacing of the game, we’ve changed the classic structure. It used to be based on a “per mission” walkthrough experience, which made sense with the situation of Sam Fisher. With Conviction, because there are many “turn around” and surprising situations, we’ve decided to develop “episodes.” Episodes are shorter but you’ll find much more of them in the game campaign. The major benefit to this new structure is to get through game play loop more often, get more feedback and reward from the game, and have more fun. You can play 15 minutes through en episode and get a complete experience, which was not possible in a mission based structure. Since the game is built over systems that change the experience each time you play, this provides a cool opportunity to replay an episode multiple times in different ways.
Q: What are the weapons available? Will there still be very hi-tech weaponry?
MF: Once you’ve run away from Third Echelon, you need to find new resources on your own. Old friends and new contacts will be the key to get what you want on the black market. This lost of gadgets force Sam to rely more on his instinct, on his ability to detect important things and to focus on them based on his skills and vast experience as an agent. Game play mechanics have changed a lot in Conviction; weapons and gadgets needed to evolve as well and Sam’s instinct remains an important influence.
Q: As Sam seems to have dramatically changed, I suppose game play should have evolved the same… Could you tell us more? How this settlement will be different from previous episodes?
MF: Splinter Cell core mechanics used to rely on lights and shadows. This was the major innovation of the original Splinter Cell, supported by a new technology, a techno that was not possibly imaginable on previous consoles. One of the ambitions of SC team for Conviction, was to take the same opportunity of next gen consoles to provide game play that was not possible before. We wanted to keep the particular relationship the player was developing with his environment through his experience. Only, as a fugitive, the relation needed to be faster and player also needs to think faster. We call this new game play: “improvisation”. This stealth relation with the environment remains an important factor; but tools and mechanics for the gamer are completely supporting this new fugitive context: you’ll need more than just shadows to stay alive!
Q: What are your ambitions behind such a drastic change of one the biggest franchise in the video-game industry?
MF: Our ambition is to propose a never seen before game play experience, supported by new technologies and new game philosophies. While we are very cautious about Splinter Cell universe and continuity in the brand, we wanted to change the core game play and be proactive to new opportunities in the industry. We also wanted to propose more fun, more quickly, and enlarge our fan-base by proposing an experience that is more accessible but not less exciting!
Q: You are changing some core elements, how do you maintain the Splinter Cell Spirit.
MF: The first thing we did when we thought about rejuvenating the game play was making sure the core team would be made of long time veterans of Splinter Cell. We knew the strengths of our game play, as well as things we have always wanted to address. Basically, Splinter Cell has always been strong as it was very environment centric. When we developed the light and shadow game play, we offered the gamers a new approach, a new way to “read” and interact with their environment. I remember playing some FPS after long sessions of SCCT, and becoming really ineffective as my first reflex was to look for shadow in the game not to be seen… not a very efficient tactic when the system was not supporting this feature. ConViction will bring the same benefit, but this time through the dynamic environment. Just like when we were playing SC and looking for shadows in other games, we have realized that now, we are looking to interact and make some of our strategies in other games involving all the elements in the environment. Again, not the best strategy when the environment is not designed this way.
Splinter Cell has also always been on the “smart” side of the action adventure gaming. While we offer a more accessible experience with ConViction, playing with a strategic mind will always bring a richer experience to the gamers, be it through stealth techniques, or more action driven techniques. The player’s ability to read effectively his environment in some tense situations will be key, just like it was in previous SC titles. You could have been going through SC pretty straight forward but SC fans experienced something different, trying to find hotspots for reverse break necks or alternate route to increase their experience. We will provide a very similar experience with ConViction, you can play the game in a very compelling way pretty straight forward, however if you want to invest more in the game, the bounty will be even higher.
Basically the main element that we changed is usage of “patience.” We really wanted to push the player and provide another sense of Tension. While previous SCs were creating tension in the action (moving for a stealth kill) it was still based on patience and release of tension. We wanted to put pressure on the gamer and provide a more dynamic pace while preserving the strategic and environment driven approach. The fugitive concept, and the way we modified the tempo of the game are strongly and intrinsically tied.
Q: Have you developed a special engine for Splinter Cell: Conviction?
MF: Yes and no. Many modules of the engine needed to be redesigned in order to support this new core game play. Since the Engine developed for SCCT was already proposing many next gen features, and because Splinter Cell engine evolved so much through years of experience, we wanted to maintain these knowledge and be more productive.
Q: What are the specific technologies you developed for this episode? Are there any particular achievements you’re proud of? On which basis do you consider that this Splinter Cell episode will be truly next-gen?
MF: Since lights and shadows are not the core game play for navigation; we needed to think of how a fugitive behaves. Basically, we’ve concluded that he needs anything he can use in the environment to survive, so we’ve developed a full dynamic environment. Being able to pick any object in the environment to use it as a weapon or as a defense tool is not an easy task when comes the time to deal with physics, animation, AI behavior and consistent lighting. Innovation needed to be part of these technical challenges and we made it happen. Changing an environment is a complex topic technically… but making this progression believable through AI and other component is a great achievement we’re very proud of (more info about dynamic environment below).
Q: Can you tell us more about the dynamic environment within the game? Are you using a specific engine, such as Ageia or Euphoria?
MF: In terms of middleware, Havok we worked closely with them for physics, but we developed our own animation & interaction system with physical objects. We needed a very strong dynamic environment to sustain the fugitive experience we wanted to create. The fugitive’s art is improvisation, and using his environment as an inventory is key to translate this art. We decided to create our own system to have maximum flexibility with our game intention, also as we are in a systemic environment (simulation), we needed to be able to have every component closely linked to the environment.
Q: Did this technology bring specific challenges to the team? Which ones?
MF: To develop a dynamic environment that results in a new innovative game play, we needed to develop and merge many concepts.
Physic : the majority of objects are interactive and are part of the physic simulation. It’s a huge challenge in term of processing power using one of three core of the Xbox 360 processor only for these computations.
For AI, we had to create a real dynamic navigation mesh for NPCs, so they can react to changes in the environment - triggered by the player or by other NPCs. For example, if you’re moving an object, AI needs to detect the size of it and behave appropriately, either to avoid it or to walk over it.
As in previous SC games, all the lighting is dynamic. This time around however, we needed to develop a real time ambient occlusion module in order to maintain a high level of consistency and realism considering unpredictable changes in the dynamic environment.
As previously mentioned, a new animation module needed to be developed in order to appropriately attach our character movements to any moving object in the dynamic environment. In other words, we needed to develop a system to link IK technology and the information about every “picky up” point on objects to make the animations believable in such environment. We call this module the Handle System.
Q: How far do you think you’re going to take advantage of the Xbox 360 hardware?
MF: Being the second game of the franchise operating on the Xbox 360, our technical experience and knowledge improves everyday and this makes a difference in the results. Also, since Conviction is exclusive to X360, there is no need to think about specifications of other consoles and to develop common solutions. This freedom allows more flexibility and it surely shows more of what the Xbox 360 can really perform.
Q: Do you have first information about the PC version?
MF: No, except there is a PC version.
Q: What about the multiplayer? Did you keep the spy VS merc game play?
MF: All Multiplayer concepts and functionalities will be revealed later, with detailed information on game modes.
Q: When will the game be released?
MF: The game will be available for Christmas 2007.
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