When it comes to Hitman VR, IO Interactive owes a lot to Firewall: Zero Hour, the PlayStation VR game from First Contact Entertainment.
As Eksil Møhl, senior game designer at IO, recounts, the studio’s interest in virtual reality started two years ago with his colleague Oliver Winding, a senior writer at the company. One day Winding approached Møhl, asking him to come. He wanted Møhl to try out his new PlayStation VR. Møhl was won over by the system, going out and buying his own as a Christmas present. And that’s where he played Firewall. Like Winding, Møhl wanted to show off the PlayStation VR headset. He brought it to the IO office, showing it to his colleagues and asking them to play Firewall. Luckily, the folks at IO Interactive shared his enthusiasm, including chief game designer Sidsel Hermansen, who remembers people in the office “couldn’t stop playing.”
“We just had to play, play, play,” Hermansen says.
Last August, IO ad it brought the World of Assassination trilogy to PlayStation VR, updating the first two games, Hitman 1 and 2, to support the technology, as well as developing the upcoming Hitman 3 with VR in mind. According to Møhl and Hermansen, it was the studio’s enthusiasm for games like Firewall that led the team to create their own VR mode for Hitman.
Within IO, the Hitman VR team is small – only 10 or 12 people plus QA. That’s a low roster, especially considering that three sets of content are being updated to support a whole new way to play, but IO isn’t building a new game from scratch; it updates existing software. One of the surprising things the team found early in their work on Hitman VR was that while none of the previous games were designed with VR in mind, the levels built naturally lent themselves to the new perspective.
“It’s environmental art, it’s character art, it’s sound design – sound design, I get goosebumps just thinking about it, sound design is so beautiful, ”says Hermansen. “AI, even systemic too, works.”
“And we found that … like one of the 47 levels has to take this USB drive. It’s a part of Intel, something that you take and say ‘Bloop! “The prompt is like that,” Mohl adds, showing the size of a USB drive. “So in virtual reality you can come in and watch it like that,” he puts his face near the table at which he is sitting, “and some weird guy or girl made the craziest USB drive. Like, the little light on and a little wrapper around it that’s a little dirty. There were almost fingerprints on it. “
Another thing Møhl brings up are guns in Hitman. When they started working with VR, they assumed they would have to go in and add holo-dot sights for aiming in first person. Despite the fact that the Hitman games are in the third person, whoever the artist who modeled these weapons, had already done for them.
The Hitman games are already, to some extent, about role-playing; players can choose how they want to assassinate their targets, what outfits Agent 47 wears and what items he uses. The integration of these games into virtual reality amplifies that. It brings out people’s personalities, Hermansen says. Some people will play very cautiously. Others will take every opportunity to play with the world and disturb the NPCs.
“[If] you played in Miami [in Hitman 2], there’s an underpass with a guy playing drums, “Hermansen says.” And he’s like a street musician. And there was that day where I was like, ‘I’m going to play a little bit’, and I realized I could f … I could take his hands off … I took his hand and then , “she begins to imitate the movement of a hand falling on a drum.” There are so many awesome surprises, where it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s right in There. What is happening? “
One thing that is very different in Hitman VR is the way it cuts your distance from the violence of the game. By design, virtual reality eliminates a lot of separation between a player and what is happening on screen, effectively tricking your brain into believing that you really are in this place to do these things. Hitman games can be brutal; there are ways to kill extremely violent people. This is something the team say they thought of when creating Hitman VR, and while it did change some in-game kill animations to better suit VR, it didn’t change any content in the game. That said, players can take it upon themselves to make their experience less bloody, if the experiences of Hermansen and Møhl are anything to say.
“We’ve got a ton of different faces and stuff, but when you’re in VR you notice, ‘Oh, that’s that guy!’” Møhl says. “He is also used here. And he is also the butcher [Hitman 2 level] Sapienza. I remember I had to do something brutal to someone, and Kurt was there and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to kill him. ” But he was like, “Hey!” “
“’Hey, how’s your day?’” Hermansen replies.
“Yeah! Then I was like, ‘I can’t kill him now,” Møhl adds.
“That way it feels more personal what you do,” Hermansen says. “If you f … up, if you have to murder an innocent civilian, then for me, personally, I feel pretty bad.” I’m not going to do this again. Like, next time, I’m gonna do better, because it’s up to me to be a good assassin. Because it’s so much more personal and intense, and I feel like I’m stabbing a poor woman with a knife. “
Speaking to the Hitman VR team, there is an infectious excitement behind everything they say. In just an hour, I went from not being particularly interested in Hitman VR to Googling how much it would cost to buy a PlayStation VR setup. Considering that Hitman 3 is the first game IO has released since becoming an independent studio, it’s easy to feel like it’s a passionate project for the small team; a labor of love carried out within a larger company.
“It’s always fun to make games – oh my god, not always, it’s bulls -; it sucks too sometimes – but I think because we as game designers and them as gameplay coders like to do new things —, ”Hermansen said.“ Everyone is super excited. . The coders are also very excited, like ‘We could do that!’ And ‘Actually, we usually wouldn’t go there, but hey, f – we have to do that,’ right? So that excitement really motivated us and we did a lot more than what should be possible on a relatively small team pitch because of the excitement. I don’t know if it was surprising, but it was a beautiful thing. “