The last handful of years has been the best time in history for Hitman fans, as the Danish developers at IO Interactive breathed new life into the franchise after it had only seen one new title in the previous decade. The World of Assassination trilogy that began with 2016’s Hitman and concluded with last week’s Hitman 3 saw the iconic Agent 47 travel to detailed and intricate locales around the globe to partake in his favorite pastime: killing people.
Of course, whether 47 is mercilessly gunning down his targets (and the occasional civilian casualty) or concocting an elaborate scheme for a spectacular execution that appears as a tragic accident is entirely up to the player. The modern Hitman games are merely there to provide gamers with the tools to carry out their contracts however they see fit, and the system offers enough variety that fans can replay missions and locations in totally different styles for experiences ranging from stealth to action to borderline comedy.
With Hitman 3’s launch in the rearview and a steady stream of updates and content planned for the coming months, SPIN spoke with executive producer Forest Swartout Large to discuss what went into creating the World of Assassination.
SPIN: Considering that the pandemic has caused so many aspects of game development to shift dramatically, what was it like to finish up Hitman 3 in the midst of all of it?
Forest Swartout Large: I would say for about half of development, I seriously thought we were going to have to ship the game with robot voices because of everything from QA studios potentially shutting down to not being able to book voice talent. It was really rough, but we’re not alone. Every industry has felt it, and I think having contracts — like a ship date — to fulfill and promises to make good on made it pretty intense. When I started seeing good reviews, I just started sobbing, because it’s been so many sleepless nights and so much anxiety,
Seeing as Hitman 3 isn’t just a standalone title, but the conclusion to this huge trilogy, how does it feel to be able to take this entire storyline from start to finish?
It’s awesome. It’s such a gift to be able to see this through and be a part of this journey. Every single person on the team — from QA to the render programmers to designers and artists and producers — it’s just a group of super-talented people who have so much passion, love, and really explosive creativity. Sometimes people say producing is like herding cats, so this is like herding cats on steroids. But it’s just been a real gift to actually be able to take this amazing IP and create three unique but complementary games that are also part of a trilogy.
Hitman was obviously a huge franchise before IO stepped in, but it feels like the recent games have really taken it to the next level. What goes into taking such a recognizable classic character like Agent 47 and bringing him into modern gaming?
Hitman is an extremely mechanical game. I mean,  is a clone, right? He’s a genetically modified clone. I think what I’m most proud about — other than shipping in COVID times — is really bringing the emotional journey to 47 and, as a part of the closure on this storyline, making him more relatable. He can do anything. He can play the drums. He’s this world-class assassin. But to make him relatable, I think that was the big challenge that we tried to do.
Hitman 3 also allows players to import Hitman and Hitman 2 into the game (if they already own them or purchase them as DLC), which is pretty much unheard of outside of Hitman 2 doing that with Hitman. What possessed IO to do that kind of seamless backwards compatibility?
Hitman has this beautiful tension created between its extensive and deep systems, and then a bespoke design for each moment. So when we introduce new items, features or mechanics, it really must work across all missions and across all games. It never occurred to us to not make features both backwards and forwards compatible. Of course, we try to do crazy things within each mission to twist or stretch the formula and the existing structure. But when it comes to items and mechanics, it’s a requirement that it works forward and backward. It’s the power of having such a system-heavy game.
How do you and the team come up with the seemingly endless different ways to assassinate people and complete the contracts?
Honestly, we design some of them, but a lot of them are also just pure player creativity. We see YouTube videos of combinations and executions that we didn’t imagine ourselves and that QA never tested for. I think it’s the power of all these systems that work mostly harmoniously and sometimes in crazy and outrageous ways. The team is outrageously creative, and they’re just always coming up with these bonkers ideas. It’s just crazy that it all just kind of works. You can do this elaborate environmental trap. You can have this high fantasy Helmut Kruger moment. You can just go in and slap people with a fish or leave a banana peel for them to slip on. There’s so much range in the game and all of these crazy items. I like to say that no matter what mood I’m in or whatever playstyle I want to play, the game loves me back and it allows me to do that.
Now that Hitman 3 is live and through the usual launch day kinks, what can people expect from it going forward?
A big part of the game is the live [post-launch] tale, so there will be elusive targets, escalations, and more of that good stuff, but also some new stuff. That’s what I’m mostly working on right now other than staying abreast of the stuff we’re fixing. When we’re releasing it, it’s first about making sure that everyone can play the game, and then it’s “What are we releasing next week, next month, and every week for the next year?” We’re hard at work. We have other projects in the studio that some team members have moved on to, but we have a pretty big core team that’s staying with Hitman so that we can keep the live train going.