Hitman dev: It's difficult to educate players about choices

IO Interactive had trouble teaching players to think outside the box

IO Interactive has had a tough time teaching players that they have choices in how they solve problems in Hitman: Absolution. In an interview with Gamasutra, director Tore Blystad said players have been conditioned to expect a small list of developer-chosen solutions to game scenarios.

“It's been a lot back and forth between level design, and game design, and technical design, to come up with something that we believe can tackle anything you do in an interesting way, and not just kill you instantly. Because it's very much about the player pushing the game, and the game pushing back, instead of just using a sledgehammer and just killing you instantly, and then restarting,” Blystad told Gamasutra.

“It's quite difficult, actually, to educate players that this is what the game is trying to serve you, because people are increasingly used to games where you're told to do one thing, and if you stray from this line, there will be nothing else around. It's like, you have this experience, and that's it. So we're telling people, actually, "No, no, no. You choose by yourself."”

“If you want to go in here, or here, or if you want to kill them or not, it actually changes the way you play the game -- when you understand that you have the choice. So in the first couple of levels, we are continuously working [on it]. And still back in Copenhagen we're trying to find out, are we teaching the players everything that they need to understand about the gameplay and the possibilities of the game?” Blystad said.

Dishonored developer Arkane Studios told GamesOnNet similar things about player issues in its open-world sneak-fest.

“We try not to lead the player by the nose, but at some point we found that if we don't give a little information, people just get lost and don't know what to do. It's just overwhelming. So we tried to add this element that gave just a hint, to help a little,” said Arkane executive producer Julien Roby

“People would just walk around. They didn't know what to do. They didn't even go upstairs because a guard told them they couldn't. They'd say 'Okay, I can't go upstairs.' They wouldn't do anything.”

Hitman: Absolution is scheduled for release in North America and Europe on November 20, 2012.

More stories

Final Fantasy producer Shinji Hashimoto retires

Square Enix veteran has worked on almost every Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts since 1997

By James Batchelor

Following sale of Western devs, Square Enix wants to acquire and establish new studios

The Japanese company also shared its ambition to accelerate investment in blockchain, AI, and the cloud

By Marie Dealessandri

Latest comments (3)

Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 9 years ago
Actually no it isn't hard to educate players about choices. Dishonoured showed this quite admirably. The issue has never been educating the players it's been the restrictions applied to them when they do try to make choices.

Take a typical shooter for instance. We present the player with an open parking lot and an objective to get to the building opposite. Now taking something like Call of Duty or Modern Warfare. You have immediately restricted the player ability to choose how they go about getting from point A to the objective at point B by simply omitting a cover function. Now the only way to get there is run, gun and hope. Now let's take a game like Rainbow Six. Given the same objective, the player has the choice of sneaking behind cover into the building and avoiding a fire fight or going in all guns blazing. They have this choice simply because they CAN take cover and thus avoid being spotted by the AI.

Often it's the game itself that restricts player choice and not a problem with letting the players know they have choices. If a game allows it, your players will find many ways to complete a task, some you may not even have thought of.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jason Schroder Senior Programmer, Io Interactive9 years ago
I think the complexity comes from how much freedom and choice the player has in choosing how to deal with the NPCs in the game. Educating a player to use cover, to avoid fire, and to reach a waypoint without dying is one thing, that's basic game mechanics. Teaching them to employ and combine outfits, distractions, items, accidents, various forms of killing with varying ranges of noise, etc. all in the context of puzzle solving and achieving high scores is another.

First you have to educate them that they have a choice; they don't have to hide every dead body, they don't have to perform silent kills, they don't have to use accidents, they don't have to kill at all in some levels (though they can, and maybe they should). That's just how some people think they should play. There's a lot they can get away with if they try. It's really up to player how they want to play, but we should encourage them to discover other choices which may also be fun. That's one challenge.

Conveying why an NPC reacted the way they did will start influencing their choices. They may enjoy provoking the AI, or they may prefer to play by the rules and do things covertly. It can take a few repeated provocations to escalate an AI into a forceful reaction in some cases. Some players will take the first warning as gospel and not wish to discover the repercussions. It can be fun/humourous to find out the repercussions, so it's something to educate the player about. In other cases the AI may react immediately (firing your weapon) and the player has to be taught why.

All of this must be communicated, and communicated in a style relevant to the character. This required a consistent rule set, along with an immense amount of dialog. The immensity of the dialog was compounded by the fact that there's 3-4 versions of unique script written per character type (eg. Chicago Cop). Each voiced by a different actor. With multiple lines (some times staggering) for the same dialog recorded. So what you end up with is quite a variety of dialog and permutations of dialog between characters for the same thing. It has to align with what's going on in the game and the player's expectations.

So I think allowing freedom of choice when there are a large number of choices, then communicating those choices and their repercussions in a consistent way is quite challenging! :-)
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Hugo Trepanier Senior Game Designer, Ludia9 years ago
This is not so surprising when you consider that extremely popular games like Call of Duty have been convincing players for years that they can't ever expect to go through a door unless it is a) already wide open, b) opened by an NPC during a scripted event or c) player is explicitly asked to breach it by pressing X.

In the COD world, there is no other way to go through a simple door! Ever.

This type of babysitting does not encourage player creativity, problem solving or exploration in any way. How many times have you been told to crouch when coming close to an obvious obstacle? And this happens not just in the first tutorial level; some games will remind you every single time. We have deliberately dumbed down the experience, to the point where a player is no longer expected to even have to think and figure things out by themselves.

Of course not all games display the same let-me-take-you-by-the-hand attitude, but surely you get my point. Shouldn't be too hard to reverse expectations though, with properly built mission structure, by introducing new mechanics progressively and especially the ability to choose different solutions in a seamless manner.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.