It may have sold 22m units across the world, but Ubisoft feels Splinter Cell should be doing even better.
And so it’s tasked one of the masterminds behind Assassin’s Creed to lead a revolution for the spy franchise. MCV speaks to Jade Raymond...
One of my first jobs in the games industry was on Splinter Cell.
I was part of the localisation team that worked on Splinter Cell: Double Agent (2006), and it was here that I fell in love with the series. Never before had a game so successfully made me feel like an actual spy.
And I’m clearly not alone, the Splinter Cell series has sold over 22m units worldwide. It has made $500m in revenue and the five main games in the franchise have never scored lower than 85 on Metacritic.
But Splinter Cell should be doing so much better.
After Double Agent in 2006, Ubisoft set out to make a more accessible Splinter Cell game called Conviction. The game placed a heavier focus on action over stealth and when it launched it did rather well. Critics liked it and it shifted 2m units in a short space of time.
But, due to a difficult and protracted development, Conviction took over four years to build. And by the time game launched in 2010, Ubisoft had released two Assassin’s Creed games, and the publisher’s definition of a successful franchise had changed.
Splinter Cell had been usurped by Assassin’s Creed as Ubisoft’s top core games franchise. And one of the brains behind its success was producer Jade Raymond.
Raymond worked on the first two Assassin’s Creed games, but she’s since departed the franchise to lead a new development outfit in Toronto, Canada. A studio that’s hard at work on the next Splinter Cell title: Blacklist.
“Splinter Cell has benefited a lot from the learning
on Assassin’s Creed especially in the production
of the upcoming graphic novel.”
Jade Raymond - Producer, Ubisoft
“I met with Yannis [Mallat, Ubisoft Montreal CEO] and Yves [Guillemot, Ubisoft CEO] to discuss what franchise to bring to Toronto,” recalls Raymond.
“At the time I was executive producer in Montreal responsible for Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs and another unannounced new IP. We discussed bringing one of those franchises to Toronto, but we ultimately agreed on Splinter Cell because it was the best fit strategically.
She adds: “In my opinion, Splinter Cell is one of the Ubisoft franchises with the greatest untapped potential. The fantasy of being a secret agent is one of the most exciting premises for a game and it’s also ripe for being redefined. What is a spy post 9/11? The world has changed a lot since James Bond was created and I think that there is room to redefine and own the spy genre across media.”
Ubisoft Toronto is not just creating Splinter Cell: Blacklist, it is now handling the entire brand. And the studio has been charged with taking Splinter Cell away from gaming and into books, graphic novels and even a Hollywood movie. Just like Assassin’s Creed.
“We built Assassin’s Creed with multiple games and media in mind, and luckily for those two reasons, Assassin’s Creed has been able to expand successfully beyond the console games into mobile, web, comics, books and soon film,” says Raymond.
“Splinter Cell has benefited a lot from the learning on Assassin’s Creed especially in the production of the upcoming graphic novel.”
The graphic novel is entitled Splinter Cell Echoes, and is being created by writer Nathan Edmonson and artist Marc Laming. “When readers immerse themselves in the graphic novel, they gain access to Sam’s internal monologue and gain more insight into his strengths, weaknesses and fears,” says Raymond.
But there will be a lot more besides just the graphic novel. Not least of which is the new movie, which has Batman/Inception star Tom Hardy attached, plus Hollywood script writer Eric Warren Singer.
Raymond adds: “When Ubisoft considers taking a game to the big screen, we always ask ourselves: ‘How do we stay true to the original game franchise in a way that will be meaningful to fans and exciting to those new to the game world?’ Ubisoft Motion Pictures is working in partnership with New Regency Productions on the development of the Splinter Cell movie, and are actively collaborating with Eric to create a script for the film that will stay true to the universe.
“We don’t have a date or additional details at this time, but we are as excited as you are to see Sam Fisher on the big screen.”
But for all the talk of extending the Splinter Cell brand out to other mediums, Raymond and her team need to first make sure Blacklist delivers.
Following the release of 2010’s Splinter Cell: Conviction, vocal fans were unhappy that the game had become more action-orientated, with a reduced focus on stealth. So what can users expect from Blacklist? A hardcore stealth title like Double Agent, or a more accessible action game like Conviction?
“Ubisoft does extensive post-launch studies on all of the games we put out. The learnings from those studies are invaluable as the trends that result from thousands of players being surveyed are often quite different from the opinions of the smaller group of people who post on forums,” explains Raymond.
“Believe it or not, of the thousands of people surveyed, the players who rated Conviction’s new action-oriented features the highest were in fact players who had played two or more other games within the series. When creating Blacklist, we were inspired by the roots of the franchise and we have paid extra attention to fan feedback from both Conviction post-launch results and regular playtests of Blacklist throughout development.
“Believe it or not, of the thousands of people surveyed,
the players who rated Conviction’s new action-oriented
features the highest were in fact players who had played
two or more other games within the series."
Jade Raymond - Producer, Ubisoft
“Our primary focus was to please our fans and bring back all of the features that made Splinter Cell so popular to begin with. We brought back the knife, the ability to drag dead bodies, the ability to ghost through levels and all of Sam’s signature gadgets.
“So a big inspiration for the innovation on Splinter Cell: Blacklist came from the roots of the franchise. And I do say innovation because we didn’t just re-code the old features exactly as they were.
“Gaming has evolved and gamers expect more these days. We wanted to deliver greater customisation, more varied gameplay styles, new types of sandbox style missions, more multiplayer modes and a bigger scope than ever before.
“I firmly believe that gamers these days don’t want to learn to play a game the way the developer wants them to play. Gamers want to play on their own terms in a way that fits with their personal taste and available time. You can jump in the game for a quick co-op mission with your buddy; try your hand at hacking into a mercenary base online or fly to a location on the map where a single-player mission is available. This kind of fully integrated experience where all modes tie into a single story and economic experience has not really been done before.”
But for all the new initiatives, Splinter Cell’s imminent rebirth has a fight on its hands. The game launches on August 23rd, the same day as Saints Row IV and just a few weeks before GTA V. It also arrives shortly ahead of the launch of the next generation of games consoles.
Raymond concludes: “Splinter Cell: Blacklist is definitely coming out at a very competitive time for our industry. As a gamer and developer I’m very excited about the promise of next generation consoles. That being said, innovation is not necessarily driven by teraflops alone. In my opinion, many of the most exciting new concepts lately have been driven out of the indie development scene and have come to life on less powerful platforms.
“With Splinter Cell: Blacklist, not only do I think that the team is delivering the best stealth experience of this generation, I also think that we are delivering a completely new multiplayer experience. Hopefully unique gameplay is still something that can make a game stand out.”