Hitman 2 Game Director Eskil Møhl talks Swiss Cheese, Expanding Inwards and Crown Casino
During PAX Australia 2018, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Hitman 2 Game Director Eskil Møhl to chat about the game and IO’s journey from Hitman to Hitman 2. Hitman 2 development began not long after Hitman was released and according to Møhl is a natural progression for the franchise.
Having separated from Square Enix in 2017 and managing to retain the Hitman IP, IO has now partnered with Warner Bros. to continue Agent 47’s story and his string of improbably complex assassinations.
Because the episodic Hitman was so well received, Møhl and I discussed the challenges of expanding upon that game’s mechanics, making Hitman 2 for the second time and the future of the franchise.
According to Møhl, Hitman 2 is a soft reboot for the franchise. “This second part, Hitman 2 is sort of answering a lot of the old questions and we find out a lot about his past. Things that 47 can’t remember.”
Hitman 2 Development
Møhl tells me that in Hitman 2, players will revisit some of 47’s family members and will reintroduce players to some of the more familiar elements of the series. That’s what IO prefers to call it a soft reboot.
Everything that’s come before is still canon and Hitman and Hitman 2 take place directly after Absolution.
It does take place right after Absolution and it’s not saying these older things didn’t happen.
Doing it this way allows IO to expand and explore Agent 47’s history and the lore surrounding him, while still catering for fans who’ve been with the franchise since the beginning. Regarding the story in Hitman 2, Møhl tells me that it’s one of the best IO has ever written.
It’s all very spy, thriller, classic evil people, greed and all that stuff.
Personally I do find the story really, really good. It’s super hard to make a story for this game because it’s like, ‘sandbox and sandbox and sandbox’ and it’s not really narrative like a linear game at all
Møhl doesn’t go into much detail on the story, which is fair enough, given the nature of the subject matter, spoilers would be inherent. However, knowing that Hitman 2 is paying tribute to the past while looking forward should be exciting for fans, old and new alike.
Location, Location, Location
During the Hitman 2 development, as the story was being written, Møhl tells me that selecting the locations for the game is a really organic process.
“Sometimes certain locations are being proposed and they might not work,” he explains. “We had a few of those that we think, alright let’s change this around to make the story fit the location.”
Rather than specifically write a location into the game, in Hitman 2 development, IO worked instead to make sure the story served the locations and not vice versa.
“It’s very much about the locations actually in the game,” Møhl says. ” The core mechanics are there and we keep polishing them but it’s very much the levels that steal the show.
“They are like their own little kingdoms, right? With the targets almost being like royalty for these kingdoms.”
And it’s not just the story and locations that drive each other. Locations in Hitman 2 drive other locations as Møhl explained;
We have Miami which is very bright and noisy and colourful with a tonne of people in it, right? Then we say, alright let’s have something super dark and cause it’s very bright so let’s see if we can change the mood a bit for some of the other ones.
Tone, mood and atmosphere are adjectives that Møhl uses to describe the locations more than he does the story or the characters. These are the real stars of the show.
The Swiss Cheese Approach
If creating these “little kingdoms” sounds like a daunting task, it is. According to Møhl, each of the levels is blocked out and then given, what he calls, “the Swiss Cheese approach.” What this means is that nowhere in these locations will you find yourself at a dead end.
There’s always an alternative route. It’s true, it’s a puzzle game but it’s not a puzzle game in the sense where you’re suddenly, “oh, shit now I’m stuck.”
It’s a puzzle game where if you get stuck it moves you into another way of solving it.
Another term Møhl says the team at IO use is “expanding inwards.” He tells me it would be easy to make the levels absolutely huge, but that something would be lost in that and it wouldn’t be as much fun to play.
“We need to find out if there’s a certain limit and for us, it’s bigger isn’t always necessarily better,” he says. “We have this thing we say,’ expanding inwards.’ Instead of just growing, growing, growing like a lot of games we kind of like the tension you can get when hiding behind a door.
“It’s also so much a killer fantasy. It can be just a door and a guard and a hallway and suddenly, that’s your universe.”
Møhl is keen to stress that locations in Hitman 2 aren’t curated though. There’s some scripting, but as he explains, it becomes impossible to control very quickly.
“We found out that the bigger we make the levels the more difficulty there is in making them,” Møhl says. “But we did have a blueprint from the last game, cause back then we didn’t even know, if it would work.”
I asked if IO puts in place certain triggers and the like and Møhl says that it does to a certain extent, but that it becomes unmanageable.
When the systems take over we are like, “Oh, shit.” Then we are looking at ourselves thinking to ourselves, “What the hell is going to happen?” and trying to make sense of it.
We do have these mission stories that are called opportunities that are sort of there, more to guide people who don’t know the depth of the game.
Because when you go in and look at it for the first time it sort of looks like a third person action game.
Hitman 2 may look like a third-person action game and to an extent it is, but it’s a lot more and it’s very different. I think Møhl puts it best when he says “There’s a balance we are trying to strike because there is this part of it being badass and well dressed and this, cool professional.
“The second part of it is everything turns to shit very easily and suddenly you’re running around like a flamingo and hitting people over the head with a fish and die miserably, right?”
Finally, I ask Møhl if Agent 47 will ever make his way to Australia. He tells me that in Hitman 2 there’s a location called Haunt Bay set in New Zealand and I gently remind him that the two countries aren’t one and the same.
Sharing a laugh, he tells me that as he’s walked around Melbourne at PAX Australia 2018 the potential to model a location after Crown Casino isn’t lost on him.
That is totally not out of the question because right now I’m just walking around nowhere and looking at, I would love to do this casino there. Now I’m looking at that thing with all the fire coming up, I’m like yeah, that could work
Special thanks to Eskil Møhl for chatting to us at PAX Australia 2018.