Making An Open-Ended Game For A Linear Audience

The Hitman series has long been about choice-bald-headed 47 was set loose inside a semi-sandbox with a target or two, and players could come up with any of a number of ways to do away with them.

That style of play is becoming increasingly uncommon, at least in mainstream AAA console games, at least in part because it can be a challenge to communicate that kind of freedom to modern players. But lo, that's what Hitman: Absolution makers IO Interactive are gonna try to do.

In this interesting interview over at Gamasutra, Absolution director Tore Blystad talks about the challenges of building an open-ended game for a modern audience. Key bit:

And this is something that is also… 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?

I do imagine that a player steeped in linear games would have a hard time getting much out of Hitman: Blood Money (a game I love). Then again, if there's anything we've learned over the last couple of months from games like XCOM and Dishonored, it's that there's still a lot of life left in older, more-complex game design, as long as it's done right. We'll see if IO pulls it all together soon enough.