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Hitman: Absolution director discusses challenges of AI, player choice in non-linear games

"playfulness within the AI is something that we believe is very important in a game like Hitman" Tore Blystad, IO Interactive

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Designing a non-linear experience with a balance between artificial intelligence and game design is difficult, said Hitman: Absolution game director Tore Blystad in an interview with Gamasutra.

Asked about the interplay between AI systems and designers' intent, Blystad said, "It's like the chicken and the egg in a way." The AI has to offer a diverse set of responses to players' actions, but those responses must feel believable without causing too much frustration, because developer IO Interactive wants to give players the freedom to experiment with a variety of approaches and play with Absolution's systems.

"It's very much about the player pushing the game, and the game pushing back," said Blystad. "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."

While Blystad and IO believe that AI should have a "playfulness," they've found that it's very difficult to educate people about the freedom they have within the game — especially since many players are used to more linear or guided experiences.

"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," he pointed out. He characterized the level of information Absolution provides to players as a "real tightrope for us to walk," since players should be able to "define themselves, in a way, as they approach a game" as non-linear as Absolution.

Blystad added that the developers are still trying to figure out, "Are we teaching the players everything that they need to understand about the gameplay and the possibilities of the game?"

Hitman: Absolution launches on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on Nov. 20.

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