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IO Interactive: It's "Difficult To Educate Players" When It Comes To Choice

Matt Gardner
Action Games, Hitman: Absolution, Io Interactive, Square Enix, Stealth Games, Tore Blystad

IO Interactive: It's "Difficult To Educate Players" When It Comes To Choice

The prevalence of linear gaming experiences has led to a certain difficulty in educating gamers about player choice, according to IO Interactive's Tore Blystad.

Instead of simply being a relatively one-way experience, Blystad suggested that games such as Hitman Absolution are all about giving the player the opportunities to discover things for themselves, and that highlighting that can be tricky because gamers are increasingly used to being told that there's only one way to do something and one path to stick to.

"We really want, in Absolution, the feeling that you could try and you could fail, and then you could improvise from there and try something else," Blystad told Gamasutra. "Yeah, there's some lines you cannot cross. If you start just killing everybody, of course the AI will be pretty upset, and they will start looking for you if you run away, and they will look for a really long time depending on how bad you were."

But as much as games such as this depend on stellar AI, Blystad suggested that the design is equally as important - achieving a game that encourages rather than instructs.

"It's quite difficult, actually, to educate players that this is what the game is trying to serve you," he continued, "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?"

He also touched on the nature of the "Instinct" feature that has been criticised in some quarters for seemingly making the game a little too obvious. Blystad acknowledged that Hitman has  rather "diverse" fanbase, and that some of the more vociferous fans "resent being told anything in the world". But he maintained that it was more about offering up a spectrum of experiences for a varied audience, and providing gameplay suited to all-comers, rather than prescribing an experience.

"Our fan base are very diverse. Some people, they resent being told anything in the world," he said. "They just want their target, and they want to find out by themselves. Other people, they actually want to be told the options that they have and the opportunities in the world.

"We found out that yeah, one thing is explaining the mechanics, so that you know that you have these different options in for your character. We have this new feature called "instinct" that's been a big debate, which seems to go down very, very well when people actually get their hands on it. But you can also use that to find things in the world that might not be directly linked to gameplay, but more kind of conceptual areas.

"If I press my instinct button, you see these little sparks rippling up different places in the world, and this is just simply telling there are these points of interest that might be few spots down -- kind of subtly telling you that there are these opportunities in the world.

"But this is a real tightrope for us to walk, because the players have to define themselves, in a way, as they approach the game. If they want to play on normal, they will get more information. If they play on easy, they will get even more. But we really try to restrict ourselves from telling you a solution, because we want to say, 'There are these opportunities, and you always have them available, and you should find out for yourself which one is the best one.'" [Gamasutra]

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