Bang, headshot. Everyone understands a sniper. Delivering death from long range, no one has quite managed to capture that feeling as good as Rebellion has in the Sniper Elite series. One day Rebellion has some exciting news. They're not working on one or two but four different projects in the series. Sniper Elite III is getting ported to the Switch, V2 is getting a remaster, and both a VR game and Sniper Elite 5 got announced. I really wanted to know more, so I got a chance to talk with Rebellion's co-founder and CEO Jason Kingsley about the announcements.
TechRaptor: Hello Jason! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. So, long story short, one day I wake up and there's suddenly four new Sniper Elite games. You guys really seem to be going all in on this series. Why Sniper Elite?
Jason Kingsley: Sniper Elite been an incredible global success for us. Every game we've released has done incredibly well world wide. It seems like a population of the planet enjoys shooting people from long distances, which may say something about that population of the world. But its been real success for us, and we always try to approach things from a portfolio perspective from our business, so we've found ourselves in this unusual place where we got four Sniper Elite titles coming out around about the same time.
I have to say, if I planned it, I wouldn't have planned it this way. Its kind of... yeah. It just happened this way in spite of our best efforts of planning things better.
TechRaptor: So I guess I'll start with the easiest one. Sniper Elite III is coming to the Nintendo Switch. Why Sniper Elite III?
Jason: Well all of our games are based on our own technology engine. So there are certain... Sniper Elite III is a little bit of an older Sniper Elite game, and therefor... whenever we make a game we have to be aware that its gotta run at a good frame rate, its gotta do the right kind of things, control system has got to be weighted. We just felt that Sniper Elite III was a sort of better fit for the Switch at the moment. Sniper Elite 4 is kind of a bit of a cutting edge technology thing, so we felt Sniper Elite III was sort of a better fit gameplay wise, technology wise, for the fantastic platform that is the Switch.
As you all know, it isn't necessarily the fastest game console out there, and it eats batteries. So we just made a decision, we felt that was the right game. It's a really high quality game, but its not our cutting edge tech. So it works really well on the Switch. It'd just be the best game experience for people on that platform.
TechRaptor: You guys are also remastering Sniper Elite V2. Why did you decide to go back to 2?
Jason: One of my things is that gameplay doesn't age at the same speed as graphics for games, which is a sort of a weird mismatch for our industry, yeah? I felt that Sniper Elite V2 is a very good product, but we needed to upgrade the graphics, and there were some bugs and stuff we always wanted to fix. We wanted to get more players playing co-op, more players playing multiplayer. We just felt that, again, that was the better sort of fit for a remaster.
We didn't look at the first game because it required a huge amount of recoding to get it to work, whereas V2 was a slightly more modern version. It was our own engine. It was just a better fit all around, and we had a huge demand from our consumers, our fans, they were sending us e-mails on a constant basis saying "when are you going to bring this to the next gen consoles" "when are you going to do this, that, the other." So we finally found the time to make it work, and it's a bloody good game. It now has a paint job and a spruce up, things fixed and things moved on. Its got more characters in it now.
As a remaster goes, I'm really proud of it. The team has done a really good job on taking a fundamentally good game and bringing it up to speed on next-gen consoles.
TechRaptor: How did that feature originally come about?
Jason: Well, in the original we called in bullet-cam, but we just didn't have the processing power, or the design bandwidth, to actually show what the bullet did. One of the things about the Sniper Elite series that most people don't actually understand is that it's kind of... it's obviously in wartime, but we also wanted to make people understand that a bullet can change history. One bullet can do a lot of damage to the human body. So from a design perspective we actually wanted to make people think twice before actually pulling the trigger.
Which sounds a bit weird given that it's a gun and, you know... gun culture. Obviously gun culture in the US is more prevalent than it is in much of the rest of the world, and for us we kind of wanted-- we're not making statements about guns, we're just saying a sniper can be a terrifying creature, and look at the damage done to the human body. So, yes, of course it's gory and it's all glorified in some ways, but at the same time we kind of wanted to hammer home, I apologize for the bad use of metaphor, but hammer home the idea that bullets are dangerous things and should be used sparingly.
That's, after all, what the Sniper Elite series is about. It's kind of the opposite extreme from your fantastic Call of Duty or the machine gun ballet kind of games that are out there, which are brilliant in their own way. We wanted to make a sort of cerebral, thinking, slower paced sniping game. That's always been the ethos of the Sniper Elite series. It's kind of an older gun shooting game.
Sinan Kubba (PR Executive for Rebellion): So I want to just jump in there as well. We just gave a talk at EGX about the Sniper Elite series, and there's a really good anecdote about the decision making that went into adding the x-rays into V2, so I recommend checking that out. It's on YouTube.
TechRaptor: Awesome, I'll have to. Now, has there ever been a time where you guys have said "okay, this x-ray thing is going a little too far, maybe we need to tone it down"?
Jason: Constant discussions internally about how far we go, how graphic we go. We had discussions about genitalia, because you can shoot people's testicles off but obviously other... you know, there aren't penises in the game. That was kind of a choice we made. We felt that testicles-- I know it sounds weird, but we kind of felt that was acceptable.
Yeah, we have ethical discussions and interesting discussions about how far we push the gore factor. In every game we do, actually. So the Strange Brigade game we just released, which was hugely successful, we toned down the gore completely. That was much more action adventure sort of, what we call in Europe, 15 rating, thing. With puzzles and stuff. Where Sniper Elite is kind of obviously an R-rated title, and it pushes the envelope in terms of graphic violence.
We hope people don't see it as gratuitous, obviously you can turn it off. I've insisted, in the game, that there's a "kill cam off" switch, because some people just don't want to see that. I don't blame them, sometimes it is quite shocking, and some people they find that it's taking a long time, other people find it cathartic, and other times people may just revel in it and want lots of it. So we try to sort of make it scaleable for the audience.
But yeah, we have conversations all the time. I mean, after all, we are based in historical landscape, so we dealt with issues doing partisans and the resistance, underground sort of aspects to it. We likely touch on fascism and Nazism and that kind of stuff in the game without being heavy handed.
So yeah, we probably have more discussion about the ethics of games than many studios do, because we are... our game, Sniper Elite, is based in the real world, so it has real world consequences and decisions.
TechRaptor: I guess, speaking of the ethics of games and all that, perhaps also rather infamously a clip of Sniper Elite 4 was featured in a montage shown at the White House about video games and their connection to actual violence.
TechRaptor: Was that a shock to you guys, or did you expect it?
Jason: Well it was all over international news. Was it a shock? I was certainly surprised. Technically, I guess, you could argue that he didn't ask permission, so he's breaking copyright law by doing it. I'm not sure how that works. Obviously, in some ways, we were quite pleased to get the coverage. I mean, he could have given us a name check or something. At least link to the website so people could buy the game. He didn't do that. As a businessman, I would have thought there was an opportunity there for a deal.
Nonetheless, it was actually, for me, it was a bit of a salutary lesson because, we're based in the UK, we're a UK studio. Sniper Elite, and all of our games, go worldwide, but sometimes that kind of thing hits home about how influential the games business can be in contemporary society. I still kind of think of games as a minority pursuit. It's clearly not. All the stats would say it's very much an important part of people's media consumption. But still, deep down somewhere, I kind of think it's a fringe industry. It's clearly not.
But also to see that our historically based game has done so well and has gone all the way up to the corridors of power in the US, I think is, in a way... I'm not saying we should be proud of it, but I kind of am proud of it in a way. I'm not saying it's a nice thing, but it's quite a shocking and interesting and... it's quite a set of mixed emotions, as you can tell.
TechRaptor: It's all okay. So, moving on, you guys... another one of the projects you guys announced was a VR game for Sniper Elite. Whats it like taking this series about sniping, normally a third person series, and trying to turn it into a VR game?
Jason: Well its been a huge challenge. VR is always a challenge anyway, because it's a new landscape for games making and every VR game we do, or do with our colleagues, is a learning experience for pretty much everybody. There are things we think we know about games which, when you put them in VR, just don't work. There are things which you think aren't going to work, and then do in VR. So VR is always a challenge.
Particularly, a game like Sniper Elite, which is kind of... I don't want to say realistic, but based on the real world. We can't fly in Sniper Elite unless you're in a vehicle. We can't break the rules of physics really, because the game is based in a historical setting. So we have more constraints on us than, say, some other intellectual property that has magic in it or science fiction and can play with things more. We got to stay fairly grounded, which is its own challenge.
Then, also, a bit like doing a driving game, we know that a lot of our players won't actually be elite snipers. There are some players who are actually elite snipers, we have a number of people that are fans of ours that are in law enforcement or the military that are actually gamer snipers who know what to do in real life. But the majority of our fans won't be professional soldiers. So how do we make that an entertaining an interesting experience to them when they actually don't know what they're doing when it comes to guns?
Also particularly from your perspective, as North Americans, it's going to be different with gun handling and gun management than quite a lot of the broader audience across the globe. Because, you know, gun culture in the US is much more of a thing than it is anywhere else. So we've got a whole bunch of things like that to deal with. Different audiences appreciation on how things work.
So yeah, a bit of a challenge, but the team we're working with has done a fantastic job, and I'm looking forward to see what we do with that. The other challenge with VR is it's such a personal experience, and you really need to experience it with a headset on, it's always difficult to watch people playing a VR game and judge if they're having fun or not, because... it doesn't really work the same way when you're watching the flat screen version of a VR game. When you have to wait for them to stop playing the game, take the helmet off, and tell you if it's good or not. It's a weird one. It's definitely a weird one.
TechRaptor: Now at one point I talked to a developer he said that, when he was developing a Kinect game, the hardest thing to do with it was testing the game, because any time he wanted to put something in the game he had to stand up, get scanned by the Kinect, and start interacting with that. Is it the same with a VR game?
Jason: Oh yeah. Yes, absolutely. You really need to go into VR to experience it. So yes, very much so. We've had some fantastic sights in the QA booths where people in QA of the games team are playing sessions, multiplayer sessions, whatever it might be. You'll have 16 people with headsets on all somehow communicating with each other in this virtual world. But also all their brains look like they're partially downloaded into the game space. So you got them all in the real world looking like these blue lights leaking everywhere in the world, leaking everywhere in the office, and they're experiencing something totally different.
It is very much like something out of a sci-fi movie. It really is. It's the real thing. It's... yeah. It's wonderful to think we're at that stage of a new industry where in 50 years time people will be looking at footage we've captured now and talking about this being a frontier of VR. Who knows if we'll even have headsets in another few years? I haven't a clue, but we certainly have some amazing sites of it.
It does keep people fitter as well, because they have to stand up. It's a hassle but I think people's fitness levels have probably marginally increased by it. Just as they were on the Kinect.
TechRaptor: So you guys finally, of course, big announcement in the thing was Sniper Elite 5, or whatever it's going to end up being called. How much can you actually tell me about Sniper Elite 5?
Jason: I can't tell you anything. I can confirm that we're working on it, it is very exciting to be working on another Sniper Elite title, but we don't know what it's going to be called. It's far too early yet. Part of the reason for announcing it is because we didn't want people to think we were not announcing the game. So when we were announcing these other titles we thought that people might go "yeah, this is all great, but what about the next Sniper Elite? The next big new Sniper Elite game?"
So we felt that we owed it to the huge audience that is out there for Sniper Elite to tell them "yes we are working on it" just to stop them from speculating. We're definitely working on it, it's coming along really nicely, we don't know when it's going to come out, we don't know what it's going to be called, but we have people working on it and the stuff I've seen is really really exciting.
But we're not ready to say anything more about it, because, really, arguably, it was too early to announce we were doing it, but we felt we owed it to the fans to let them know.
TechRaptor: Obviously you just said you couldn't tell me, but have you considered moving away from the World War 2 setting for Sniper Elite 5?
Jason: We've considered all sorts of different things, yes. Discussion and conversations are still ongoing backstage. So who knows, basically. We've had a huge amount of success in World War 2 though, so... who knows where we'll be? There's always discussions about what to do.
TechRaptor: Alright, so, I've learned a lot about the Sniper Elite series today, so thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. Do you have any final statements, any last words, or any update on when we'll get a new Nazi Zombie Army game? I had to sneak that one in there.
Jason: Oh that. The Zombie Army series was one of those surprise massive hits for us. So, yeah, I love my zombie games, I love my zombie environments, I like my post apocalyptic world, so yeah. We haven't forgotten the sort of parallel universe of the Zombie Army series. We will definitely be going back to that apocalyptic place one day. Perhaps soon.
TechRaptor: Awesome. Alright, I'd like to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, it was super interesting, and good luck with your meeting.
Jason: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to speak with you Sam.
We'd like to once again thank Jason for taking the time to talk with us.