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How Sniper Elite III broadened its appeal by blowing up nervous systems and jeeps

Above: Rebellion wanted to give players a constant and clear visual of where they needed to be in Sniper Elite III.

Image Credit: 505 Games

The marketplace for modern shooters doesn’t take to waiting that well.

It’s remarkable that a series like Sniper Elite even managed a foothold in a genre defined by constant adrenaline. But for the long-distance shooter franchise’s latest installment to continue to gel with this era of shooters, Rebellion Developments had to make some significant overhauls to the core of their gameplay. I recently spoke to Tim Jones, the creative head at Rebellion, about how streamlining a game’s visuals and blowing up tanks brought the series more prominently into the public eye.

Always pointing you in the direction of death

Moving the setting to the North African front of World War II proved both a benefit and a challenge. The broad expanses of the region made for bigger, open maps, but it also made losing sight of your objectives much easier. Thus the first massive change to the franchise’s formula was a practical one. Rebellion streamlined their interface to keep targets and goals in focus.

Adding a visual indicator of enemy awareness helped make navigating Sniper Elite III's large maps more palatable.

Above: Adding a visual indicator of enemy awareness helped make navigating Sniper Elite III’s large maps more palatable.

Image Credit: 505 Games

“Let’s not pretend we’re trying to convert iOS gamers here,” said Tim Jones. “Most of our audience is already … skilled with a controller, but not all of them are used to playing a third-person shooter with such large maps and an emphasis on stealth and choice. The main challenge was communicating these options to series newcomers. …”

Rebellion achieved this by bringing its objective display into step with the rest of today’s shooters. The alarm or alertness status of surrounding patrols was now displayed visually. Objective markers became larger and more obvious. And more onscreen tutorials and hints helped ease newcomers into the game’s rhythm.

“The most important thing is to make sure the game is clearly communicating to the player what they need to know at any given moment,” Jones said. “Whether that is the approximate location of an objective or the awareness state of enemy troops. … Of course, we allow more hardcore players to turn off the visual assists in the options to customize their experience exactly as they want.”

Sniper Elite III came with more weapon choices than just your ultimate long-range gun. Players can equip new weapon types such as a silenced pistol and sub-machine guns. Rebellion wanted to then make sure players had as much control over their arsenal as they could handle.

Pistols, rifles, submachine guns and more are part of your arsenal.

Above: Pistols, rifles, submachine guns and more are part of your arsenal.

Image Credit: 505 Games

“One of the most significant control changes we made was the introduction of the radial menu from which players can intuitively select weapons and inventory items,” said Jones. “We also allow you to assign your favorite items and weapons to be quick-selected on the D-pad. … We don’t want the control scheme to get in the way of player choice.”

New chunks of meat (and chrome) to blast in slow motion

But Rebellion didn’t forget the draw of the Sniper Elite series among all of this interface modernization. The famous kill cams — slow motion camera sweeps that trace your bullet through an X-ray view of the organs or bones it destroys — got their own new additions. Sniper Elite III added a new muscle layer and nervous system circuitry to make the game “as visually impressive as possible.”

Sniper Elite III’s last gameplay renovation came in the form of multipart vehicle destruction. Gone are the single, glowing weakpoints of tanks. In their place Rebellion added grates for players to shoot off before they could snipe the vulnerable mechanical innards to explosive effect. The vehicles operate like soldiers on wheels, requiring just as much careful relocation from players that wanted to avoid the line of fire.

Sniper Elite III gives players the super-human ability of vehicle sniping.

Above: Sniper Elite III gives players the super-human ability of vehicle sniping.

Image Credit: 505 Games

“One of the reasons we love the North African conflict is because of the iconic names and — most importantly — vehicles like the Tiger Tank,” Jones said, “Obviously, taking down vehicles with a sniper requires a little stretching of the imagination, but we wanted to … require players to really approach the vehicles tactically, taking out the outer coverings, keeping stealthy, relocating and then going for the final vehicle takedown as it searches the area for you.”

Hunting along a giant stretch of North Africa for a tank to snipe helps your game stand out in a market dominated by pre-scripted checkpoints. Rebellion Developments made Sniper Elite III more competitive by clearing up hints and giving a greater control over weapon selection, while still keeping true to the franchise’s long-distance kill cam roots. As impossible as it is to snipe a tank to death, Rebellion still wanted to make it fun.


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