Boss: "With Hitman, we design what we call
.' Each map is a kind of maze, with the level shuttling you down tight winding paths, which makes even a location that doesn't span a huge total area feel very big indeed. Security keeps you from drifting off the standard path. With experience, you gain the knowledge needed to find holes and shortcuts and connections, changing the way you traverse the map."
Designer: "Okay, but I'm not doing that this time."
Boss: "What do you mean? What do you have in mind instead?"
Designer: "I'm going to make four roads form a square. Big wide roads, you can walk any way you like no problem. Within the square are a bunch of houses. You've got fences keeping you from entering some properties, but you can jump over them all. And as for the houses themselves, you don't have to take much time to learn all of them because they all use the exact same layout."
Boss: "Oh no! How could that possibly be a good idea?!"
Designer: "I'm setting this level in an American suburb, see. This is a sort of reimagining of A New Life from Blood Money."
Boss: "Ohhhhh. That could be great. Everyone loved A New Life!"
Designer: "Yeah, picture that level, but it's Vermont now, so the leaves never stop falling."
Boss: "I think what people really found interesting about that level was the sort of voyeuristic experience of invading someone's ordinary life."
Designer: "Yeah, yeah, I know exactly what you're talking about."
Boss: "Uh huh?"
Designer: "You want a mission story centered on sniffing a teen girl's underwear."
Boss: "What?! God no! Actually, be careful even mentioning that we had that in a level, we don't want people getting the wrong idea."
Designer: "But I've already got a motion actor ready. He's really keen on it. Says he'll do it for free even."
Boss: "No, what I meant was that people fondly remember A New Life for plopping them in this very relatable location, where they can observe someone's private domestic life that's totally ordinary till you intervene. We'd never quite pulled that off before."
Designer: "Oh, I get it. But see, all Hitman levels do that now."
Designer: "Oh yeah. All those bedrooms in the Caruso or Delgado mansions, or Alma's place, those apartments in Mumbai, and even staff break rooms. That's standard. So, this time, I decided let's NEVER give the player that experience."
Boss: "I feel like the experience would just come about naturally if you have a bunch of suburban houses."
Designer: "You'd think, but no. See, our main target is this old KGB sky named Janus. He's not in a house with a family, or even servants. Instead, everyone in there is a security guard protecting him. It's never going to feel like a normal home. And the other target, Cassidy, is a security guard himself, and so his house is packed with guards too of course, and security equipment, weapons … "
Boss: "Okay, but there's an appeal in that too, right? These strange and sinister strongholds in an otherwise innocuous neighborhood. Then if you want to sneak into a 'normal' home, you can just slip into one of the other houses."
Designer: "Amazingly, no. For starters, the house next to Cassidy is sealed off for fumigation. You can't go in there at all!"
Boss: "Speaking of fumigation, I was thinking about Club 27. It would have been cool if we'd showed off the gas during that exterminator mission story, using some screen effect, maybe using different colors."
Designer: "Huh, yeah. Too bad we can't go back and drop that in now, ha ha."
Boss: "Add that to this level."
Designer: "An exterminator mission story? Won't that be too much like Bangkok?"
Boss: "No, because you'll have the screen effects."
Designer: "Uh, okay. So, that's the house right next to Cassidy's. Across the street is the Lewinsky property. This isn't even a house you can fully explore, it's just got an attic devoted to surveillance."
Boss: "Is that a reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which involved secretly taped conversations?"
Designer: "Yep. A presidential scandal over taped conversations, happens every 20 years of so in America. This level's theme is 'America,' see, so I wanted a nod of some kind to American politics."
Boss: "You know, I'd like to lean more into that. Politics, I mean."
Designer: "You mean you want some of the characters in this game to be women and minorities?"
Boss: "What? No, I mean … well, actually yes, obviously, but I'm talking about actual politics. Let's have a politician. He can be campaigning door to door, 47 can dress up as him. It'll be real funny."
Designer: "I haven't really written in any way to kill the targets using a politician, though."
Boss: "Never mind that. See, this level's in Vermont right? A senator from Vermont is running for president, and I was thinking the next Hitman release could exactly coincide with the next presidential inauguration. This'll be a nice Easter egg then if this guy wins."
Designer: "Uh … sure … "
Boss: "So those are the weird houses controlled by the targets. But the other houses are ordinary places where families live, I suppose."
Designer: "Like I said, no. Go farther up the street, and the house there is totally vacant. It's for sale, and there's just a plumber inside."
Boss: "Do you get to dress up as the plumber?"
Designer: "Oh, of course. You can dress up as all kinds of handymen. A plumber, a garbage man, a construction worker, a mailman … "
Boss: "Oh wow. I can't wait to hear all the special ways you've written for each of those to kill the targets!"
Designer: "Er, I'll have to get back to you on that. There is a cool mission story in the vacant house, though. You dress up as a realtor and show the place off to Cassidy. Lots of fun deadpan dialog from 47. Then you get into the basement, where there's a laser security grid behind a security room. If you've found the key to the room, you can turn it on with Cassidy inside, and it rips him apart. The whole house shakes!"
Boss: "Do you think this'll ever get old? Disguising yourself and then tinkering with some device that has a clear fatal flaw so it blows up in the target's face?"
Designer: "Someday, maybe. But not yet."
Boss: "But what if you haven't found the key to the room? Then the tour of the home ends without you lasering Cassidy to death?"
Designer: "Yeah, you didn't prepare enough."
Boss: "No, that's no good. Better put the key right next to the security room."
Designer: "I don't understand why a key would ever be right next to the door it unlocks."
Boss: "The house is for sale, the whole building is locked anyway. Don't worry about it."
Designer: "Okay. So, next to Janus' house, we have Helen West's. She's an old lady who sells muffins."
Boss: "Now here's that normal suburban home I was looking for."
Designer: "She's also a serial killer."
Boss: "Oh no."
Designer: "Her basement is full of poisons and evidence of her evil deeds. It'll be a real treat, breaking in down there, looking around, and gradually realizing there's something wrong with the place.
Boss: "By the way, did I tell you about the new system we have of naming areas of the map?"
Boss: "Well, we name areas of the map. So, as soon as you enter this basement, words will flash on the screen. Area discovered: Murder basement."
Designer: "But … but that will spoil the—"
Boss: "And can you use these murder muffins to kill your target?"
Designer: "You certainly can. You can break into Janus' home and leave a poisoned muffin right where he'll eat it!"
Designer: "Or you can just poison the tea that's right next to the plate already."
Boss: "Oh. Seems easier, and less interesting. Still, I guess you'll have to have gone to the murder basement to find the poison."
Designer: "Unless you use the poison frog."
Boss: "The what now?"
Designer: "We have a frog pond, and there's a lethal poison frog hopping there."
Boss: "You mean the one from Santa Fortuna, the one we created to evoke the exotic Colombian jungle?"
Designer: "This one has a different pattern on it."
Boss: "Literally reskinned."
Designer: "The frog pond is also where I've buried one of the clues."
Designer: "Yes, clues. Besides killing the targets, I'm going to make the player find a bunch of clues."
Boss: "I don't know about that. When we had that non-killing objective back in Sapienza, that turned out to be most people's least favorite part of the mission."
Designer: "Oh, but once you know where the clues are, it's really not going to be hard to find them again. I can't imagine players being so petty to complain about a little addition like this."
Boss: "Good point. So, the West house is next to Janus' house?"
Designer: "And on the other side is the Griswold house."
Boss: "What happens when you enter the Grisworld house?"
Designer: "You can't. Other than the basement, which is interesting because it offers a secret way to get into Janus' house."
Boss: "Do you figure a bunch of players will get into Janus' home first that way?"
Designer: "No, no one will, definitely not. But it's going to be really cool when players see the unmarked door, manage to open it, and then discover where it goes."
Boss: "Yeah, uh, I'm going to have to put that secret passage on the map though. So, don't count on too many people discovering that on their own."
Designer: "Oh come on now!"
Boss: "Hey, if players don't want to see where everything is, they shouldn't look at the map."
Designer: "There is one more house, the Wilsons'. This is the closest thing we have to a regular family. It's a couple hosting a barbecue."
Boss: "Finally, a normal home you can break into and pry through!"
Designer: "Yeah, but it's open to visitors. They openly let you walk around there. There are a bunch of other people prying through the home too."
Boss: "So, you don't get that cool interloper feeling then. But you know what? I'll bet you can get the feeling of an ordinary suburb just by hanging around all the public areas outside and blending into the ordinary people there."
Designer: "Kind of. Only, a fair number of the ordinary people are actually more guards of Janus, working undercover to protect him."
Boss: "Why is this guy so paranoid about someone coming to kill him again, after all these years?
Designer: "Well, someone does come to kill him."
Boss: "Can't argue with that."
Designer: "This was never going to be a totally convincing suburb though, without children walking around."
Boss: "Oh, we definitely don't want to open that can of worms. No, we do not want players uploading videos of them gunning down children."
Designer: "Plus designing child NPCs would be a huge headache!"
Boss: "Yeah, no matter what, that would have to be super low-priority on things to do. Maybe we could do that if we were bigger studio making a really mega budget game."
Designer: "Yeah, I suppose developers like those easily have resources to spare for this sort of thing."
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(And in case you missed them, here are a couple more pitch meetings: Sapienza, Santa Fortuna, Paris)
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© Post "Whittleton Creek pitch meeting" for game Hitman 2.
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