Ubisoft has given the green light to the development of a remake of Splinter Cell which will draw on the brand’s rich canvas. Led by Ubisoft Toronto, the game will be completely rebuilt using Ubisoft’s own Snowdrop Engine – the same engine used to develop Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, as well as Ubisoft’s upcoming Star Wars game – to deliver visuals and next-gen gameplay. , and the dynamic lighting and shadows the series is known for.
To find out more, we spoke with three developers of the project – creative director Chris Auty, producer Matt West and technical producer Peter Handrinos – about their connection to the series, what is preserved and what made Splinter Cell such a revelation.
How do you approach Splinter Cell as a remake? What makes it a remake and not a remaster?
Matt West: To me, a remake takes what you would do in a remaster and takes it a step further. The original Splinter Cell had a lot of amazing and groundbreaking things when it was released 19 years ago. The gaming public now has an even more refined palate. So I think it has to be a remake rather than a remaster. Although we are still in the very early stages of development, we are trying to ensure that the spirit of the early games remains intact, in all the ways that gave Splinter Cell its identity. So as we build it from the ground up, we’re going to update it visually and some of the design elements to match the comfort and the expectations of the players, and we’re going to keep it linear like the games originals, not make it an open world. How can we ensure that new fans are able to pick up the controller and dive in, and fall in love with the game and the world from the start?
Pierre Handrinos: From a technological point of view, if I had to sum up the difference in a few words, what we are doing here is exploration and innovation. We have a new console engine and lifecycle that we can take advantage of, so technology is an area that we don’t want to hold back in the past.
MW: The expression “Stealth Action Redefined” from the original game turned out to be a very precious North Star for us. We are able, for example, to apply this to what Peter just said, in terms of the possibility of prototyping, innovating and testing certain things. It’s very much in line with our redefinition of what stealth action is going to feel like to modern audiences.
Which aspects do you think are the most important to update? What is the core of this experience that must be preserved?
Chris Auty: Splinter Cell was a breakthrough in stealth – as Matt mentioned, it was “stealth redefined” with a huge focus on getting that core gameplay first and foremost, and achieving an ideal: to be a ghost. It’s important to us to preserve the sense of mastery by supporting players who observe situations, make their plan, use their gadgets, and creatively outwit the enemy to deal with the challenges presented to them. Ideally, they end up coming out the other side without anyone realizing you were even there. This is the very essence of Splinter Cell.
MW: One of the things that I think is really exciting about this project is that the last two games that we’ve all worked on have been really big worlds. This means that the decision economy is very expansive, whereas what I love about a Splinter Cell map is that every square inch represents intentionality. Every square inch is part of a choice, or directly offers a choice, or has a direct branch. That gameplay density is front and center in Splinter Cell, and that’s going to be really, really important to us. The gaming experience we aim for is directly tied to what we want players to feel, to capture the essence of when we all played the original games.
CALIFORNIA: Yes, and preserving what made those early games so compelling. We recognize that a big part of Splinter Cell’s appeal lies in the seamless planning, execution, and satisfaction you feel when you step in and absolutely nail every encounter. Seeing your mastery show up at the end of things, especially when you haven’t raised any alarms – that’s a big part of the Splinter Cell experience, and we want to make sure we honor it.
Splinter Cell is being revamped in the Snowplow engine; what does it allow you to do that wouldn’t have been possible 19 years ago, or that wouldn’t be possible with other engines today?
pH: Snowdrop is a proven modern AAA engine. It allows content creators and programmers to try things out quickly, see what works, and ultimately succeed. I think this is one of its main advantages, allowing us to quickly find the modern equivalent of this basic Splinter gameplay. Some other AAA engines don’t necessarily offer this kind of iteration speed, and so that’s really what gives Snowdrop an advantage when upgrading Splinter Cell on a modern engine.
Looking back, what was your first experience with the first Splinter Cell? What made you special in 2002?
CALIFORNIA: I’ve had a background in level design and creation for about 20 years, and saw that back then – that there could be clothes flapping when I walked through them, and there was a sort of real, authentic interaction between me as a player and the world I’m in; seeing enemies move around, allowing me to plan and make different judgments based on where they are and what’s going on – it had a huge impact on me early on. Things like heat vision and its use as a gameplay element – those things weren’t just graphical bells and whistles. They were actually relevant to the experiment.
From a team perspective, we’re all behind this philosophy that what’s added isn’t just eye candy. It has relevance and bearing on the game itself. So it was a huge, defining moment for me to play Splinter Cell for the first time, see this technology and be blown away by it, and then see it integrated into the gameplay. It was a great moment, and a good memory.
Back to the present: what does your team look like at this point? Are there any veterans of previous Splinter Cell games? What
Opportunities are there for people who want to join the project?
pH: We want to invite anyone who is intrigued by what we have said to apply to join Ubisoft Toronto. We’re building a new team, the same way we did when we started the studio. There are openings and technical leadership roles in all of the different job families available. But there are a lot of veterans here, so we’re going to have a really good mix of people who worked on previous Splinter Cell games, and new team members joining and bringing new energy and ideas.
MW: It’s a big deal that Blacklist was the first game to be released at Ubisoft Toronto. It’s in our DNA.
CALIFORNIA: It’s a universal quality of everyone who’s joined so far, and everyone we seek to bring in as well, that there’s a respect for the brand, for the game and its history. I know that everyone currently working on the project has spent an inordinate amount of time researching, playing, reading, and getting to know the games, characters, stories, and what makes Splinter Cell great at its core.
Beyond what we’ve discussed, what’s most important for readers to take away from this announcement?
pH: A lot of time has passed since the original Splinter Cell, and even since the last sequel – enough time to miss an entire console generation. So now we’re going to take the time to explore what this means for us, for light and shadow, for animation technology, for gameplay, AI, and even audio. We are going to ask ourselves: “where does it make sense for us to innovate? What not only matches the legacy, but takes the game to a level that is expected of us, and where can we surprise our players? We want to bring them something new, while connecting them to that feeling they had two decades ago, playing this masterpiece for the first time.
MW: I’ll throw this out there: you have to have a tagline, and one of the things that we’ve been using as a tagline right now, from the very beginning, is the phrase “respect the glasses.” I love the glasses as a symbol of Sam. We are creating a game that will be modern, but built on the brand’s rich history. The game earned its stripes in the right way, by being innovative and challenging, and offering a truly different experience than what was on the market at the time. “Respect the glasses” helps us remember that we must do him justice.
There are things that just need to be redone from scratch to live up to a modern gaming experience. With that, however, what are we to do to absolutely preserve the feeling of the early Splinter Cells? We’re going to straddle the line between the spirit of the old and the comfort of the new, so we can excite and surprise new players, but also make sure that when our returning players pick up the controller, they have that sigh of relief. saying “Ahhh, they got it.”
CALIFORNIA: It’s safe to say that a lot of us on the team are stealth purists, and we’re behind that level of seriousness when it comes to those kinds of mechanics and those kinds of things that we want to see in this game. And we’re very, very aware of what makes classic Splinter Cell what it is.
MW: We talked earlier about this dense world, where every square inch is important because they are all a consequence of a choice or setting the table for the next choice from the player’s perspective. So that kind of density, that compact nature that I think was so palpable in the first trilogy – that’s going to be one of our beacons as we move forward.
CALIFORNIA: With this remake we are building a solid foundation for the future of Splinter Cell.
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