Upcoming shooter Sniper Elite 3 is the third instalment in the World War 2 franchise, developed by UK studio Rebellion. This time we're off to Africa to help the Allies hold back the advance of Rommel's Afrika Korps. Promising bigger levels, more varied objectives and better AI while remaining chock full of the series' familiar gory slow-mo sniping, Sniper Elite 3 sounds like a winner for camping little gits like me. I spoke to Senior Producer Jean-Baptiste Bolcato to find out more...
Strategy Informer: So there's a brand new setting in Sniper Elite 3, what made you choose the war in Africa?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: I think it was just do be a bit different, to move away from the usual European warfare. It's an interesting part of history, as this is also when the Americans started to step in to the war. It's also interesting visually, and a chance to play with our new engine features. So a combination of all those, and a setting that isn't overused. I can't think of too many World War 2 games set in Africa.
Strategy Informer: Obviously the terrain and the difference in setting allows for more open and varied levels, could you talk us through some of the environments we'll visit in the game?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: So we start at Tobruk and then Halfaya Pass, and we go to Kasserine Pass. Lots of gullies or valleys with high-standing ground, caves. One of the things we want to avoid is being repetitive, so rather than just desert and rocks we have jungles, an oasis. We have a fort on top of a hill by night-time, so there's all sorts of background clutter, all feeding in to that more open world. There was one summary keyword coming in from the studio heads, and that was choice, choice everywhere. Which makes for a trickier design experience, but it's also rewarding because you see emerging gameplay all over the place as long as you set up your encounters properly with the right AI..
Strategy Informer: What can you tell us about the character we'll be playing this time around?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: It's still the same guy, Karl Fairburne, so it's taking place two years before V2. He's American actually, and he's helping the Allies in a counter-attack against the Axis. In V2 he's a lone soldier, he doesn't care too much, I think he's something of a machine. In the third one we're trying to explain why, so in the story there's going to be stuff in there that explains that.
Strategy Informer: What new weapons and gear can we expect?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: We basically have a selection of weapons that try to be different from V2, so V2 had a lot of the classics, and we'll bring them back as day one DLC, pre-orders. But it's a slightly different arsenal, but about the same number. What's interesting is that all the rifles are completely customisable. You can swap scopes, swap opticals, you can really do your own stuff. Especially for multiplayer it's quite cool. We also have different outfits for multiplayer as well, so you can have a Russian outfit, everything. On top of that you have those extra little bits of equipment to do your traps, mines and stuff. So there's not a huge amount more, it's an increment but it's also refined. I hate to use the word sandbox, but it's so open now you can put a mine there, a mine here.
Strategy Informer: It seems like a lot of the new gear is also designed with the new relocation mechanic in mind.
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Exactly, so you can protect yourself, slow them down. It's all designed to make sniping more fun, more varied. It's important for the player to be able to de-escalate the conflict, otherwise it's difficult for the player to be able to play stealthily. So we want the player to be able to take a few shots, then be able to duck out and stay hidden, come out and shoot again. The relocation system allows us to do that.
Strategy Informer: I know you've been working a lot on the AI and the new squad system. Could you tell us a little bit about how that works
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Yeah, so basically they all have their own senses, they're all individuals but they're also attached to a squad. The squad have their own directives as a whole. There's ranks in there, so if their leader is there the soldiers are going to be a lot punchier. There's lots of little touches like that. The snipers are different, they can shoot you but they can also communicate to the rest of the squad so that they react quicker. Compared to V2, which was suffering a bit because as soon as you screwed up the whole army descends on you, some troops will have specific tasks, so those guys will keep guarding this set area and they're not supposed to leave. So that's the way we keep things zoned, and then you can de-escalate things by relocating.
Strategy Informer: Can you tell us a little more about what the new enhancements to the Asura engine allow you to do that you couldn't before?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: It splits in two. There's improvements that benefit all machines, and then it's a PC engine so the next-gen work was driven by the PC. The new layer that's benefiting all consoles is the instancing system, which is a new way we have of creating, like five miles of stuff, whereas before the visual were quite good-looking but it was mainly corridors. Beyond that we completely reworked the lighting system, where there's a new layer of ambient shadowing. And then there's tessellation on PC as well, and that's obviously great if you have a monster PC, but the way we do it on lower-end systems is great as well. We worked to keep the frame rate solid as well, because it's such a precise job to snipe properly that you need that to be right.
Strategy Informer: Speaking of sniping, how about the kill-cam? It's kind of a signature mechanic of the franchise. What changes have you made to it?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: So first of all we developed new tools; it was quite hard-coded before, partially procedural but also a list of blueprints and text files. Now we have tools for the artists to work on the cameras, to work on each detail, each breakage of bone. On top of that we reconstructed the skeleton from the bottom up, added the layers of muscles, the organs. It was already working quite well but we've improved the tools and we've improved a lot of detail within it. On top of that we added the vehicle kill-cam , which is still work in progress but working quite well. We focus on engines and fuel dumps and that kind of stuff. So you zoom in take a shot and it shows the fuel tank in flames and then you pop it again and get a cool explosion. Each level also has its own long-shot, a little bit like the V2 rocket level in the last game, there's always a cool shot that changes the story.
Strategy Informer: There seems to be a larger focus on enemy vehicles in this game, is that a by-product of being able to have more going on on-screen along with those bigger levels?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Yeah, just to bring a new layer of interesting stuff to do in the game. They were a critical part of the war, especially in Africa. So we have two fully-fleshed tanks, the Tiger being the main one with a really complex multi-stage takedown, they can disembark their crew, that kind of stuff. Then we have other vehicles, trucks. They can all be taken down with your rifle, you can take out the drivers through the glass, there's a lot of other stuff you can do to them. It's also reflected in the story, which I can't tell you too much about!
Strategy Informer: What can you tell us about the multiplayer side of things, and what you've added there?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: So we've gone from eight to twelve, still peer to peer on console but server based on PC. There's five dedicated levels, completely made for multiplayer. We still have the original five modes, we didn't add modes, we refined them. We introduced, and it's still a work in progress, but the relocation mechanic is also in multiplayer. Sometimes everybody waits and it's just eight people waiting, so we're really rewarding you if you take a shot and relocate. Just like in singleplayer you're going to have a boost to your XP score, which will be reflected in your rewards at the end of the match, so people are encouraged to take risks. But the guys who just want to camp, well it's a sniper game so we don't want to alienate a community that enjoyed that specific experience.
Strategy Informer: How about co-operative modes?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: We have Overwatch, which was already in there, but we've pushed it quite a long way. One of you is the sniper, who only has a rifle and starts in a specific location, and he helps his mate on the floor who doesn't have a sniper weapon through the level. And then you have the singleplayer campaign, eight missions, playable in co-op as well. Then we have two Survival levels and two Overwatch ones, for which we've retuned the Halfaya level and a couple of other ones. The Survival ones, which are waves of enemies, you can play solo as well.
Thanks to Jean-Baptiste for indulging me while I worked out how my recorder was supposed to work. Sniper Elite 3 is planned for release in the second quarter of 2014, and don't forget to check out our preview too.