In this case, a single win-state (Hitman already has this part at least – “kill all targets”), in a system that challenges players’ decision making ability more than the current sandbox mode. More ‘should I do this’ (decision) on top of the ‘can I do this’ (execution).
Why does it need a strategy mode?
It would offer players deeper, more enjoyable gameplay from the core Hitman systems. Better gameplay, interaction, decisions, and more fun, without having to alter the current sandbox mode.
The current sandbox-style mode shouldn’t be removed or replaced. We’ve all enjoyed it and it’s a fun way to interact with the systems, but I think that decision making that contributes to whether you succeed or fail (win or lose, achieve or don’t achieve the goal) will add more depth and enjoyment to the game.
What’s not strategic enough about the current gameplay?
Big parts of it are optional, and rely on players setting their own goals and restrictions. I think once players have sandboxed themselves out, more value can be achieved by playing a mode where most parts of the systems need to be put to use and interacted with.
The current ‘opportunities’ system is especially anti-decision – you follow a set-out series of events with no real choices – and these are incentivised by locking out items behind mastery levels requirements.
What are some other things that currently don’t work as well as they could?
The unlock system - How little faith do you have to have in your mechanics to think you need to lock gear away behind level grinds? Do you need the "oh man I can’t wait for this cool thing" feeling in players because the actual thing isn't that cool once they get to use it, or the available gameplay isn’t that deep? At least tie it into the game further – previous titles’ earn-money-to-buy-items and finders-keepers mechanics felt much more enjoyable.
Wouldn’t any changes reduce the amount of creative play?
No – it’d add more interesting creative play! The current creative play is majorly “I know I’m going to assassinate the targets/win, but let’s see if I can do it this way. The state of the system is exactly the same as the last time I played this level.” Compare this to the first time you played each level, or the (oh my god, fantastic) elusive targets – you had knowledge of most of the game systems, but not exactly how they’d play out in this level. You used heuristics to plan out your strategy and achieve the goal.
What are some things that are already kind of helping?
Elusive targets. The no-saves/replays aspect of elusive targets is a great addition, forcing players to pick the likeliest way to succeed, and adapting if things go wrong instead of restarting. Where the system falls short is how it channels players –the safest method is generally the same each time (sussing out a high window, sniping, escaping). They’d be a much better experience if they:
modified circumstances in the level to channel players to combine different systems in different ways for each target, and
gave players multiple avenues to complete their goal after an initial failure.
Contracts. Contracts almost allow the restrictions I just mentioned, but fall just short. They allow players to specify a certain weapon (removing easy kills from sniping) and a disguise, but don’t allow any further control, like specifying being undetected. Also the restrictions are optional? Strange.
Tom Francis’ suggestions of stunts and styles address the issues with unlocks, contracts and ratings, and would take the sandbox mode to another level. However I’d still take the game further with an additional strategy mode.
How would it work?
A key component of strategy games is randomisation in the system – if a game has 0 randomisation, players can find the ideal strategy and use it every match to win. The system becomes a puzzle, and has been solved. Good randomisation means that players learn partial solutions – strategies - and can keep improving on them. Even in deterministic games like chess, pseudo-random input exists in the form of the other player’s actions. If a player plays against a known set of instructions posing as the other player, they’ll be able to create a path to victory that never needs to change. Other people have already written great articles on randomisation – see input/output randomness from Keith Burgun.
So a main component would be randomising parts of the system. This would be mostly (or all) input randomness – a changed set of circumstances that your actions can then react to. Basic examples would be generating different targets, and changing how key disguises are currently distributed. If the soldier with the small bladder isn’t at the bar in Marrakesh, you’ll have to come up with another way to get a soldier’s uniform, or perhaps change a larger part of your strategy.
Another part of it would be increasing progression within levels, and feeding forward actions of the player. Having situations where selecting one action changes the state of the level and locks out other actions. An example could be:
An NPC with a high-access outfit is also part of a sequence of events that allows the target to be killed fairly easily
To get to the target, the player could take a series of lesser-access outfits that allow access through a more difficult path, and engage the sequence of events to kill the target
Alternatively, the player could take the NPC’s outfit which would give them access to an easier path to the target, but make the actual assassination more difficult because the kill sequence is now unavailable
We’ve still got issues though – when you can just run up to the target, gun them down, and sprint to a nearby boat, there isn’t any reason to make use of the other systems in the game and the randomisation doesn’t have any effect. This is definitely less of an issue than in Blood Money, but could be further mitigated by reducing the number of closets and ensuring that targets in randomly generated levels are protected and far from exits.
No saves or replaying. Whether this is good or just frustrating is a per-game question, but for a Hitman strategy mode it would be required. (For the sandbox mode saves are completely necessary [less so for challenges, where keeping a chain of successful events going gives heightened tension]). On failure, the contract would move to another HITMAN player’s list of available contracts, and add you to the list of failed hitmen. When a player completes the hit, they’re marked as the successful player, and the details are visible online. This would remove rote learning of schedules and make each goal meaningful.
The system would also result in great, unique player stories. There’d still be overlaps because of the finite amount of interactions in levels and the sheer amount of players, but successful players would be creating unique play-throughs of each contract.
HITMAN strategy mode
Procedurally generated level conditions, target, restrictions and details
Increased intra-level progression
Reduced amount of cheap level-help
No saves/unique hits – one attempt which then gets passed to another Hitman player on failure
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
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