Armchair Game Design: Hitman Sandbox RPG

Every once in a while I like to dream up cool video game ideas. You know, stuff that I would love to play but no one has made yet. Unfortunately, I don’t have time, experience or resources to develop these ideas into full fledged games. I do like to talk about them though. So here is the next installment of my armchair game design series.

Let me give you an elevator pitch for this one: Hitman meets Oblivion in a GTA like open city environment. Or to put it another way, I’d love to play a game that would essentially be the Oblivion’s Dark Brotherhood quest line, but set in modern times, and with drivable vehicles. Does that make sense?

The game would take place in an open city environment that would be open to the player from the start. All areas would be accessible, all buildings would be explorable. Just like in Bethesda games you could go into people’s houses and steal their crap and then sell it at pawn shops scattered throughout the city. Unlike the pedestrians from GTA, the inhabitants of our city would be able to interact with you. Many of them would have names and interesting lines of dialogue. When you start a mission, new dialog options would open up for the appropriate NPC’s somewhere in the city.

You would be playing an elite assassin who would obtain quests either via drop-box locations of from elusive contacts in the city. You would probably have more than one person you could bother for new contracts, and also some very shady employer that would contact you via cell phone and drop off your orders somewhere in the city.

Just like in Hitman games targets would have a set routine, and your task would be to learn it and then plan a hit around it. You would be able to do it in many ways. For example, you could just follow your target around. By default most targets would not know who you are. On many missions you would simply be able to walk up to your target and question him about his or her routine. You could also talk to their friends or people they work with. Of course some targets would expect an assassination attempt and perhaps even have your picture making things more difficult. Fortunately just like Agent 47 you would have the option to put on a disguise and sneak past the guards.

All of your targets would live in the city. They would be club owners, business men, organized crime bosses. You will bump into them every once in a while. You could kill them ahead of time, but then your employers would simply notify you they were just begging to negotiate that particular contract for you and you just screwed yourself out of a reward and experience point bonus.

Unlike the Hitman games, all the hits would happen within the city sandbox, and not in some specially designated areas. Unless specified otherwise you would be free to choose the method of assassination. For example, you could train your character to be an excellent sniper and take out every victim at a distance. You could also train in stealth and subterfuge, then get close and slit your targets throat while no one is looking. Or you could make a sabotage/demolitions expert and rig the victims car to explode, cut their break lines, puncture the gas pipe in their apartment and etc. Most missions would not specify the method of assassination for you. Some would ask to either make it look like an accident or make it obvious to send out a message. They wouldn’t actually specify the exact method, and there would usually be many different ways to do this.

Most hits would not have a deadline either – so you could stalk your targets for as log as you needed. You could take your time and pick a perfect spot to commit the crime. Doing hits in public would carry a lot of risks – it would make people freak out and call the police. Then you would have to evade capture in a GTA style car chase.

I’d like the police AI to be more realistic than in GTA games. For one, the Police would be forced to chase and arrest anyone who pulls out a gun on the street – not just you. Furthermore, if the policeman walking around in the street have not personally seen you commit a crime you could try to slip past him by walking slowly and blending into the crowd.

On the flip side, running around with a gun out on the street would be reckless. NPC pedestrians would often snap pictures of you with their cell phones for example. Or they would describe you to a police artist, and your characters face could eventually end up on a most wanted list. This would trigger police to chase you on sight, unless you were in disguise of some sort.

Finally, I’d like the game to have some sort of main story arc that would probably involve getting to know some of the NPC’s in the city, helping them out, then being forced to betray them or be betrayed yourself. You know – something with lot’s of well written dialog and convincing voice acting. The story would of course be completely optional – just like in Morrowind and Oblivion and you would be free to just take contracts from various NPC’s who work for corporations, criminal syndicates and other shady organizations.

Would you play a game like that?

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6 Responses to Armchair Game Design: Hitman Sandbox RPG

  1. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    Well, I believe that GTA (at least VC and SA) is already somewhat like that, only very simplified and dumbed down.

    In SA, you could get a truck and rob people’s houses in the middle of the night. You also have more than one guy who gives you missions, and some contact you via cellphone.
    You can also trains your weapon skills:

    For each weapon, the skill level will result in different upgrades, as a general rule of thumb; reaching higher skill levels will increase the rate of fire and accuracy. Also, with some weapons, getting better skills will give CJ the ability to fire while moving and strafing.

    Mission “liberty” is also present: I remember finishing a mission by, instead of walking and killing all the goons, simply dropping a helicopter on the target :P

    So it’s not so much a game fusion, as an “advanced” GTA, imho.

    What I would play is something like a GTA MMORPG, but with no NPC quests like most mmorpgs; something more like an EVE model, where each player can give assignments to others players.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ IceBrain:

    I played GTA Sand Andreas and I didn’t particularly like it. For one, you couldn’t really scout or plan your missions. The enemies would just spawn at a certain area where they never were before. Many missions had one and only one correct way to do them, and you had to discover it by trial by error.

    The robbery was a mission/mode. You couldn’t just go and steal shit from a random house. You had to find the right car, drive to a specific marker on the map, and then carry out generic boxes out of there.

    This is very different from the way you looted in Oblivion: “Oh! A mansion. Let me see what’s inside”.

    What I want is this:

    - persistent open world from Oblivion with pre-existing NPC’s that don’t just spawn when you enter some trigger area

    - Conversation dialogs from a Bioware game

    - Open ended driving from GTA, but without required stunt driving or street races

    - Hitman game play in which you can knock someone out, take his clothes and infiltrate. I want to have a garrote, poison syringes and etc.. I want to be able to drop pianos on people, rig their cars to explode, put rat poison in their oatmeal, push them off a balcony, etc…

    The only part of GTA that I really liked was the open driving. But I could live without it if I got an Oblivion and Hitman fusion that would just require me to walk and/or take taxis for fast transport.

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  3. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I’d play a game like this. In fact I’d play anything close to Hitman, it’s a shame this genre hasn’t become more popular : planning a single silent assassination is much more fun than the genocides you do in FPSs.

    I don’t think your perfect game would be much different from Hitman as it is, at least not for the actual hits. Interesting hits would have to take place in special locations and targets would need complicated schedules and lots of guards. If you can just get on a roof and snipe every target down, or rig his car, it becomes repetitive and not much fun. Basically, it would be GTA for the time inbetween missions, and Hitman the rest of the time.

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  4. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I think I’d play this, but as noted, it might be hard to add challenge/variety if you can use any method you like.

    Sure, you could set up an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine of death, if the game physics is good enough, but it’d be easier to wait for the mark to walk by a window and drop him with a sniper rifle.

    Maybe if you made more of a thing out of the additional requirements – your clients have demands they want fulfilled, you have to be a little creative about how you make the kill. Or you’d need to make it a little more instanced; set things up so that you can’t use the easy method every time.

    It could be done, if pulled off to be everything we might hope for it’d be pretty epic, but it’d be a tough one to make work.

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  5. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Matt`:
    You could also make repeating a particular method progressively harder. For instance, as the town gets to know a sniper hitman is in town, guards would first watch rooftops and windows, then search persons carrying suspicious bags, patrol the roofs, hire helicopters to spot you, train their bodyguards with “VIP-preserving” reflexes, use decoys, hunt for weapons suppliers, and so on. For chameleons, the security protocols would be gradually increased, with IDs, then IDs with pictures, constant radio contact, retina scans, and guards would become more and more suspicious of their brethren. All these obstacles should be defeatable but sticking to one modus operandi would require some very well studied plans to succeed. It would also make the town feel like it’s reacting to your presence, and that’d be great.

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  6. Mr.Pete GERMANY Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Hell yeah would I play it.
    This is almost exactly an idea I had back in the days when I owned my first PC (damn, I sound old!) somewhere in the early 90′s.
    But: Definitely no MMO. First I don’t like games that tie you to the ‘net and second: There is no city big enough to allow multiple assassins in it. Although it would be funny when you get a contract and the side-note: Oh, 3 others are on it. Go fast!

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