Sniper Elite became famous in the gaming community following its initial release in 2010. The Series known for its intense Killcam, and realistic sniper physics took the world by storm, and three titles later is still going strong. Now, seven years after the first game’s release developer Rebellion is gearing up for the launch of the fourth title in the franchise, Sniper Elite 4.
Creative director Tim Jones and Lead Artist Tom Beesley look to improve on the formula that made the series famous with Sniper Elite 4. From a more intense Killcam and advanced sniper physics, they spoke to us in an email interview about what it takes to bring Sniper Elite 4 to life.
CGMagazine: What is the story and where does it take place?
Tim Jones: Sniper Elite 4 is set in Italy, 1943. It follows on directly from the North African campaign of Sniper Elite 3. You’re once again playing as covert agent Karl Fairburne, now sent to the Italian peninsula on an assassination mission. But there he uncovers something that could completely shift the war on its head and stop the Allied fight-back dead in its tracks.
The geopolitical situation in Italy at that time is really interesting, and that’s something we really explore. It’s not just a case of the Allies versus the Nazis – there are multiple factions vying for control including the Fascists, the Partisan resistance and the Mafia. They all have a role to play.
At the same time, Italy has yet to bear the full brunt of the Second World War, so the environments aren’t bombed into ruin like, say Berlin, they’re very much intact and teaming with detail. The towns and villages feel very lived-in, and there are far more options for scaling the terrain, using cover, or finding your own ad hoc sniper nests.
CGM: Arguably the most popular feature in the Sniper Elite is the X-Ray Killcam. What improvements have you guys made this time around?
Beesley: We are always looking to improve the visuals and impact of the Kill cams with each iteration of Sniper Elite, and Sniper Elite 4 is no exception. We’ve spent a lot of time completely re-engineering the entire Killcam system, adding much more emphasis on the fidelity of the fracturing and soft tissue damage. Bones splinter and fracture in a far more realistic way, whilst internal organs are greatly improved, deforming in a much more realistic manner. The system that drives the Killcams has been completely redesigned and produces far more polished and effective cameras and Visual FX.
Jones: We’ve also brought in new kill cams for melee takedowns – they really show brutal Kart can be in close quarters – and we’ve also got new explosive kill cams. If you shoot an explosive barrel near a toolbox, to give you one example, you’ll see stuff like screwdrivers, wrenches and so on fly out and impact into enemies. It’s pretty gory stuff! But there’s always the option to turn off the kill cams or reduce their frequency if you like – or increase them if that’s what you’re after!
CGM: With the X-Ray Kill Cam being so detailed, what kind of research did you guys do to find how the bullet affects the body, and so on?
Beesley: Let’s just say there are some Google search histories around the office that would be very difficult to explain away!
CGM: Sniper Elite has brought this kind of mixture between arcade-style elements like high scores with the realism of things like accounting for distance, weight, wind and others. How do you guys try and find a balance between?
Jones: Sniper Elite 4 is meant to be a game you have fun with, a form of escapism, so we don’t adhere to realism in absolutely everything we do. It’s about feeling authentic rather than being slavishly realistic. The sniping in particular is designed to take real elements from sniping like bullet drop, wind and so on, but at the same time make it feel instantly satisfying and fun.
We’ve had veteran snipers come away impressed at the level of detail we’ve been able to reproduce, down to the way heart rate affects your accuracy.
That said, it helps that Sniper Elite 4, like the games before it, is highly customizable in terms of difficulty. You can go from having no outside interference to having gravity, wind and scope drift affect each shot, with no markers to assist you with aiming. There’s even a switch that removes all the remaining ammo in a clip every time you reload – that’s the level of authenticity you can go for. In fact, we call our hardest set difficulty “Authentic”!
What kind of research do you do beforehand when looking at the setting, weapons, ballistics, etc.?
Jones: Lots! Rebellion’s founders, Jason and Chris Kingsley are huge history buffs – Jason is even a trustee of the Royal Armouries here in the UK, and he’s been able to set us up time to see and hold some of the sniper rifles in our game in the flesh.
CGM: The Second World War has been a tried-and-true setting in the world of video games. What steps are you guys doing to make it fresh and exciting?
Jones: You could argue most things are tried-and-true by this point in video games, so it’s always a big challenge to make a game feel fresh. We’re exploring Italy this time around. It’s not only a part of the conflict that’s rarely seen in popular culture, but the terrain is so beautiful and varied. It really makes Sniper Elite 4 stand out visually, not only from other games in the series but other Second World War games, and the variety has had a real impact on the level design.
Of course there really haven’t been many Second World War games in recent years, and I think the success of the Sniper Elite series and more recently, Battlefield 1 shows players are calling out to explore historical battlefields.
CGM: Some of the more repeated criticisms from the last two games are the elements outside of sniping, like the stealth and cover shooting. What are you guys doing to offset those critics this time around?
Jones: More than any other game in the series, Sniper Elite 4 will let players feel like they have viable options for any situation. Success will be down to how they react and how they blend the mechanics given to them. The enemy AI might be incredibly smart, but if they sniff you out, the game’s huge environments allow you to fight on the run with say, submachine guns and shotguns, but then re-engage stealth mode once you’ve shaken them off. The mantra was to reward players and let them learn from their mistakes, rather than punish them!
CGM: What is the future of the franchise? Will we ever see it go beyond the main the Second World War?
Jones: We never say never at Rebellion. Sniper Elite has traditionally been a Second World War series and we feel there’s still plenty to explore within that conflict. But we are always open to going in different directions – the Nazi Zombie Army spinoff, for example, was unlike anything we’d ever done at the studio. Let’s see how Sniper Elite 4 does and then we can start thinking about what is going to happen next – we’ll be sure to keep you posted!
Editor’s note: Some of the responses were edited for grammar and CP Style.