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Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow Interview

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| Action in Gaming | Posted: Mar 11, 2004 5:00 am

Recently, Simon had the chance to query Domitille Doat, Lead Producer over at Ubisoft Shanghai, regarding the sequel to the hugely popular Splinter Cell, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. Here is what was said.

What is the storyline behind Pandora Tomorrow? Does this game start immediately after the end of the original game or later?

The political background of Pandora Tomorrow is pretty straight forward: A few years after East Timor claimed its independency against Indonesia, the United States have backed the country against the Indonesian authorities wishes. They install a temporary military base on East Timor to train the developing Defence Force of the “world’s youngest democracy.”  Resistance to U.S. military presence in Southeast Asia is widespread and passionate. The first sign of the escalating situation is a bomb exploding in the US embassy of Dili in East Timor.

What seems to be a single secret operation will quickly lead you from Dili to Jakarta, Jerusalem, Paris, on a train to Nice in France, jungle villages and will end up in the US in Los Angeles, pursuing some critical intelligence and a deadly virus that threatens the free world.

This scenario is not directly linked with the first opus. Echoes of the first plot resonate - the aftermath of the Georgian Information Crisis still lingers. Fisher’s directives have been altered slightly based on his successes and failures in the Caucasus, meaning more of a focus on stealth than combat.

The original Splinter Cell was developed across different platforms over several months in two countries, but this one is being developed simultaneously on all consoles at Ubisoft Shanghai. Does this give the development team any advantages or disadvantages in comparison to the developing the original title?

It’s actually a similar system as the first game, as different Shanghai teams are working on different platforms and the multiplayer mode was created at Ubisoft Annecy, France.

What major additions (besides levels and multiplayer) are there to the single player game since the first Splinter Cell?

When the original Splinter Cell was completed we were extremely proud but we also had a large range of things on our “to do” list we had to drop for the sake of timing and risk.

Working on a sequel to a game that has sold over four million copies worldwide is extremely risky and challenging because there are a lot of people that expect a lot of you. At the same time, those people are providing so much feedback and ideas on top of our own thoughts, giving us a precise picture of what would be the sequel and what should be the sequel. The core of Pandora Tomorrow is that it takes realistic stealth experience many steps further

The core mechanisms of the success of the first Splinter Cell are realistic stealth experience, intense gameplay moments and, of course, our enhanced light and shadow system. We have taken these points and have pushed them as far as we could. We have broadened this experience beyond our initial limitations.

The first point that we were the most frustrated about is the alarm system. Getting a “mission over” after triggering three alarms is a simple and effective rule but it is a game play rule that had nothing to do with how compelling and script-focused the game was. We have reworked this system to take into account the setting where the missions take place, and whether they are places where it is expected to have either civilians or enemy presence, and possibly a mix. This stresses the danger, the need not to be detected, but also it makes it even clearer that being detected in particular locations means the mission can not be accomplished.

For example being in Los Angeles airport in the middle of the day, or in Jerusalem during the curfew makes it quite obvious that you need to be a ghost. Not to mention an international passenger train!

On the other hand, in a more classic “Splinter Cell” situation, like warehouses and so on, we have tuned the alarm system so that the more you get spotted the more the difficult the enemies become to kill. After an alarm is raised they can increase their armour, equip helmets, now in the knowledge that there is an enemy agent in their midst. The player has every interest to play the game in stealth mode, but even if sometimes they feel the need for action they can go for it at their own risk The system is consequently more balanced

The use of the “whistle button” is a useful (and fun) addition, as now you can toy with your enemies, calling them and running in the opposite direction for example. Other new game-play features include the swat turn, which allows you to cross open doorways and corridors without being seen, and you can now reach higher places with the half-split jump move. One of the new features really influencing the gameplay is the Dynamic Perspective Shadow (Sun Rising effect) that directly affects your stealth capacity. In exterior maps, the gameplay is even more effected by your shadow’s direction in daylight or night time situations than the first game.

Pandora Tomorrow will be one of the first (if not the first) titles in the stealth genre to have online play. Traditionally stealth games haven’t suited a multiplayer style too well. How does Pandora’s multiplayer work?

The game allows you to play one of two different teams featuring different sets of gear and abilities. Those two teams will even have individual camera systems of their own, in order to fit their specific gameplay purpose and make the sides complementary.

The first team is composed of spies belonging to a secret government organization called Shadownet. Their goal is to infiltrate heavily protected areas and to reach strategic points inside. As their missions are extremely sensitive due to the delicate context (that you'll find out in the single player part of the game) spies have been denied the use of lethal force. Their gun neutralizes enemies temporarily by releasing electric shocks. Spies look and play similarly to Sam Fisher: they have a third person and free camera system allowing them to anticipate and observe prior to action. They are very athletic and can perform incredible moves. Their third strong asset is their ability to use high-tech devices to help them in their mission. These include night and thermal vision giving them same dramatic advantages as Sam Fisher to see enemies in extreme conditions.

Facing them are mercenaries. They are highly skilled and paid to protect areas using all means necessary. They are deadly predators using both brutal force and heavy weaponry to take down intruders: they even get a bonus from their employer for every intruder “neutralised”! They play in first person view to allow precise aiming, as well as allowing the spies to retain their stealth element for game balance reasons. The mercs guard particular strongholds and can rely on security systems, as they are directly connected to an environment’s camera and sensors. They also have their own gear including traps and tracking devices - torchlight, laser sights and mines. Like the spies they have their own kind of vision modes: motion tracking vision that detects every quick movement, and electro magnetic vision that detects electrical sources (such as the spies’ vision goggles or weapon when they are using them) and anything that emits slight electro static interference or contains metallic elements.

The whole game plays like a huge game of hide and seek, a cat and mouse game between spies trying to reach strategic places as stealthily as possible and the mercs trying their best to stop them.

Will Sam have any other weapons other then the pistol and SC20K, and can you reveal any new technology that will aid Sam in missions?

In pre production, we spent time analysing the gadgets that were successful and most utilise in SC1, and the ones that were under-utilised by the gamers. We realise that the core interest of the non lethal gadgets is to allow the player to observe, disturb, and play with the enemy. We’ve enhanced this sensation in the new range of new gadgets.  

First of all, we have upgraded some of the previous gadgets like the optic cable which can now be used almost every where and in any position, and have integrated the thermal and night vision in it. The camera jammer, which was not overly used in SC1, have reduced the emphasis of cameras in Pandora Tomorrow.  Some players found that the accuracy in Splinter Cell 1 was not efficient enough, which was kind of deliberate since it was not a shooter game. Now the pistol has a laser sight which allows for perfect accuracy. But there is a disadvantage: enemies can see the red dot, warning them of your presence. The player will have the choice between accuracy and more discretion

As for new non lethal gadgets, we’ve now included a micro camera to record enemy conversation and listen to them from quite far away in a safe spot, GPS system that enables you to locate other CIA or NSA operatives, and chaff and flash bang grenades. All of these extend the gameplay beyond that of the first game.

The last but not least is probably the least technological of them, but our favourite: the whistle!

Most of the levels in the original game were set indoors. How will outdoor levels feature in Pandora? Where will these levels take place?

It is probably the core of the new direction we’re taking, but we’ve used caution. Having open space can easily kill any kind of stealth gameplay: what the point of staying close to this guard if I can path miles away from him. This requires a lot of tuning in the level design, and in the AI of the enemy. This is what we spent most of our time on. We are balancing claustrophobic narrow stressful environment like the train and the submarine with widely open and large setting like Jerusalem’s old city and the East Timor coast with its large ocean and jungles.

The CIA mission is probably one of the most famous levels from the original game, not only because it was tough but because you infiltrated the main server room. Can players expect to infiltrate further real-life locations in Pandora?

We have made a lot of research to offer the most realistic locations to the players. We’re looking for inspirations in movies, books or now, the Internet's huge database. For example, the level in Jerusalem was created based on pictures and plans of the original city. Basically, all the places the player will see are or could be real, that's the only way for us to create a realistic game.

Will Sam be assisted in any way throughout the game or will he once again be a lone agent?

Even if Sam Fisher is a lone wolf during his solo mission, he will be assisted in several missions by different characters. As the threat is worldwide, international cooperation is requested and agents from other countries will help him. And, as before, Irving Lambert is Sam’s lifeline to the NSA and Third Echelon.

The graphics were one of the most impressive aspects of the original game. Have you made any graphical changes to the game’s engine? What new effects can players expect to see in the final game?

We were particularly happy with what we have done with the engine of the first Splinter Cell. Using the same unreal Engine, we had a great start to create Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow. We had to keep the entire Splinter Cell graphic signature in mind: dynamic & interactive lighting, soft bodies and amazing real time shadows. We pushed the engine to the limit of what the console can support. From the light and shadow system we went as far as implementing the sun rise in real time and its direct effect on the shadow. Be aware that, because of this, safe zones are not safe for ever. The same direction was taken for the dynamic and interactive light system.

Bump mapping has been used in some textures and surfaces to provide a more realistic feeling also, especially on the wet texture and on the map like Jakarta where it is pouring rain. Finally, we can support a large number of civilian or enemies on screen along with a perfect graphic quality, this is the proof of an engine that has reached the perfect balance in between optimization of existing features and implementation of new features.

Finally is there anything you want to say to people waiting for the game’s release, and will we be seeing Sam again after Pandora Tomorrow?

We’ve kept all the greatness of Splinter Cell, while increasing the graphical and gameplay quality for Pandora Tomorrow. We’ve implemented all the elements we had in mind to increase the enjoyment of the game. We’re offering even more action and tension to Splinter Cell fans, and recommend that you don’t miss this game!

Thank you for your time.

 

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