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Splinter Cell: Conviction

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: April 13, 2010 (US), April 16, 2010 (EU)

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'Splinter Cell Conviction' (ALL) Developer Interview

by Adam Pavlacka on Jan. 15, 2010 @ 6:38 a.m. PST

Sam Fisher teams up with Third Echelon to help Anna Grimsdottir, Sam's former intelligence gathering operative, who is in trouble. When Sam Fischer is being fed bogus intel and supplied with wrong equipment, he turns on his former employer, realizing the threat comes from within Third Echelon.

An investigation into his daughter’s death unwittingly leads former agent Sam Fisher to discover he’s been betrayed by his prior agency, the Third Echelon. Now a renegade, Fisher finds himself in a race against time to thwart a deadly terrorist plot that threatens millions.

WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!

I'm Patrick Redding, and I'm the game director for multiplayer on Splinter Cell: Conviction.

WP: How did the multiplayer come into this? Was this a situation where the team was working on single-player and you decided you wanted to add multiplayer? Were you working on multiplayer separately and then brought it into a single-player game?

PR: Basically, it's one team that's been working on the whole game, and then we obviously have dedicated resources focusing on the multiplayer part of it, but it's all been developed under the same creative vision. Our creative director, Max Beland, has been responsible for ensuring that the whole package is consistent, whether it's single- or multiplayer.

Really, the origins of multiplayer were pretty early on in the process. As you know, Conviction went through a couple of different phases of development. As part of the second phase of development, there was a revisiting of both single-player and multiplayer, but it was really done in tandem. We knew that we had this important idea that we wanted to try and communicate about stealth-action gameplay. We wanted to make it a lot less about sitting up in a tree for six hours, watching one guy patrol around. We wanted to make it a little more dynamic and try to make the players feel like they could move in and out of stealth and action a little more fluidly. As soon as we started talking about that in the context of single-player, in the context of Sam Fisher, then the next logical step was, "Fine, how do we do that in a multiplayer context?"

WP: Is that how the two new multiplayer characters came into being, rather than having you play as Sam Fisher?

PR: Obviously that came a little later. We tossed around a lot of different ideas about how co-op and multiplayer could work. Once we looked at what we were trying to do with Conviction, what we were trying to do with mechanics like Mark and Execute, Last Known Position, and all of these predatory tools for stalking the AI, we realized that co-op was 1) the way to go, and 2) because Sam's story is so personal, it's so much about his personal vendetta, if you will, that in a way, co-op afforded us an opportunity to get back to that core classic Splinter Cell framework of a secret agent on a mission with the backing of an organization.

A little bit later after that, there was the idea that this has already been done before, so what can we bring to it that's new and fresh? For one thing, if we take the notion that we could be telling a story that is connected to Sam's but perhaps not happening at the same time, then that opens the door for us to have essentially adventures taking place in a totally different geographic location than where Sam's going to be. It doesn't have to be in the U.S., it doesn't have to be in Malta as his story starts. At that point, we broached this notion of, "What if we have agents that were working for rival agencies that were working together?" It would create this interesting dynamic.

WP: Let's talk about that. Part of the story and drama in Splinter Cell games is that Sam is no longer with the agency and is running around on his own. With Archer and Kestrel, are they a throwback to the old-school Splinter Cell games because they do have the support of their agencies? Or is it some sort of hybrid gameplay? What were you going for?

PR: I think that you hit the nail on the head. Obviously, Sam's situation is so extreme relative to where he's been in the previous games that I think what we wanted to say was, "We know that we want to have some of that same moral ambiguity, some of that gray area, but it would be really interesting to start from the assumption or premise that we have two agents who are good spies working for agencies whose mission they believe in and who they feel merits their loyalty and full involvement, and then see what we can do with that."

In other words, you take these guys who are patriots, for lack of a better word — they're not boy scouts, but they are working for their countries' best interests — and now we're in a situation where, under normal circumstances, they might have been at odds with each other, but their countries' best interests happen to align and now they have to work together. What's cool about that is that it lets us still examine the initial setup for the situation that Sam finds himself in, but from a slightly different perspective. It's from the perspective of these two operatives, who are working for their states, basically.

WP: Another thing that you guys did that is a little bit different is that you have four different missions in the prologue story. It is story-based, but it's co-op, so you've got a good chunk of the game here that can only be played if you play co-op. Did you see that as any sort of a risk, that some players may miss out on some of the story because of that?

PR: No, because for one thing, we're taking a look at one particular piece of that story and that setup and that world. Sam's story line is extremely personal to Sam. All of his stakes, the reason why he's invested in it, has everything to do with his family and friends and the things that he's been through personally. With Archer and Kestrel, what we're doing is taking a different facet of that, maybe something that's a little bit less about the intimate experiences that Sam's having and more about the larger geopolitical context of his story and examining it with these agents.

If you fire up the game and you only ever play the Sam story in single-player, I think by the end of it, you'd have a full grasp of his evolution as a character and where he's headed. At the same time, if you then go back and play co-op afterward, I think you'd have a little bit of insight into how things went down the way that they did. Similarly, it's not out of the question that someone would fire up the game and have his friend with him or happen to be online at the same time as one of his friends, and end up playing the co-op missions first. It's not going to spoil anything, but it's certainly going to set the stage for some of the things that Sam encounters in a somewhat clearer way.

WP: The co-op missions end up enhancing the story, but they're not a completely separate story.

PR: That's correct, yeah.

WP: Aside from the co-op, what are the more traditional multiplayer modes in Splinter Cell: Conviction?

PR: Co-op has a pretty good tradition in the Splinter Cell franchise in terms of popular co-op campaign that was available in Chaos Theory. For us, we're following on the heels of what I consider to be one of the better co-op games out there. At the same time, we also know that players do like to have the opportunity to test themselves against each other.

What we're bringing to the table is a Spy-versus-Spy adversarial mode. It consists of two players, one spy versus the other spy, but the thing that makes it challenging for us on Conviction is that a lot of tools, a lot of the new mechanics that we're giving players are focused on how the player is powerful and predatory and able to dominate the AI enemy. Obviously, some of those mechanics aren't going to translate perfectly if you turn them on another player. It would be pretty anticlimactic if I could Mark and Execute one of my fellow players, and he's not going to be terribly convinced by a glowing silhouette, that it's my last known position. (laughs)

So what we wanted to do was to keep and preserve those mechanics but also offer players the opportunity to outwit each other. The way we did it was take the Spy-versus-Spy mode and added enemy AI to that mix. At the same time that I'm stalking my friend around the map and trying to get the drop on him, I have to contend with these other enemies. As I get more sophisticated in my gameplay, I can also use those enemies as both a smokescreen to my movements and a way of flushing out my friend.

WP: Looking at these things from a slightly different angle, EA has recently taken a lot of their major sports games — basketball, football, hockey — and condensed them down into chunks that are more arcade-style but focused on Xbox Live. The Xbox Live and PlayStation Network games have really ratcheted up in quality. Have you guys ever thought about the possibility of a sequel to Archer and Kestrel's story as an arcade game on XBL and PSN?

PR: All of the things that you're describing are extremely interesting, and of course, nothing is impossible in terms of where we might go. For us, right now, it's hard to be anything but completely occupied with closing and shipping the retail game of Splinter Cell: Conviction, but we do have a DLC strategy, which is going to be unfolding in the coming weeks. We are planning to continue to service both our single-player and co-op experiences in a variety of ways. In terms of where we might go down the road either in a purely online experience in the next retail experience is a choice that's going way above my pay grade. People are thinking hard about it. We have a huge investment, both emotionally and creatively and other, in Splinter Cell: Conviction as a reinvention of the franchise, so it's needless to say we're going to find ways to continue to evolve on that.

WP:  When you say "reinvention," are you still keeping entirely within the past Splinter Cell continuity, or is this sort of a reimaging of the series?

PR: No, as much as it's in the vogue these days to reboot franchises from the ground up, that's not what we're doing. Everything that has happened to Sam — from the first Splinter Cell through Pandora Tomorrow through Chaos Theory through Double Agent — all of that is canonical, as is the rest of the Clancy universe. This is very much building on that. It's definitely taking Sam in a new direction. Some unspecified number of years has passed since he was in his previous mode, and I think it's safe to say that the franchise as a whole is steering in a slightly new direction with that.

WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what is really going to make the multiplayer aspect of Splinter Cell: Conviction worth playing?

PR: If single-player is all about making Sam Fisher into the panther, I would say that co-op is about having Archer and Kestrel being a pack of two wolves who are taking down their enemies the way wolves would take down the herd. It's really the idea of using these tools to dominate and move aggressively through your enemies.

WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?

PR: The only thing I'll mention, and we talked a little bit about earlier, was the notion of the deniable ops missions. One of the things that was important for us is that it's great to offer a campaign mode for players, it's great for two buddies to be able to work their way through the story missions together, but with all of these mechanics and all of these ingredients that we've come up with, we've found that there's a huge opportunity to give players access to lots of different kinds of maps, including specialized maps for playing some of our other game modes. We have Hunter mode; we have Infiltration mode, which is like the classic, pure stealth gameplay mode, and I think old-school Splinter Cell fans are really going to like it; we've got Last Stand, which is really a new thing for Splinter Cell as a franchise, this notion of doing survival gameplay; and finally, there's Faceoff, which, as an adversarial mode, is trying to evolve to take advantage of these new ingredients within Conviction. All of this is a way for, in most cases, both single-player and co-op players, to explore new content and new maps and new locations.
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