Splinter Cell PC Q&A

The Splinter Cell PC demo was released last night. We speak with the game's producer about the differences between the Xbox version and the PC version, which is due out next month.

Ubi Soft has released a playable demo of Splinter Cell for the PC that includes a short level from the game. The 100MB demo, which GameSpot Complete members can download 561104here , gives players a look at how the Xbox game, known for its impressive graphics, has been adapted to run on PCs. While the PC version is pretty much a straight port of the game, there are a few differences. We've spoken with Mathieu Ferland, producer at Ubi Soft for Splinter Cell, to find out more about the PC version of the game, including its controls, its graphics, and whether the Unreal-engine game might be user-modifiable on the PC.

GameSpot: Tell us a little about the approach used in developing the PC version for release shortly after the high-profile Xbox launch. Was the PC version ever a consideration in the development of the Xbox game?

Mathieu Ferland: When we began developing the core of the game on the Xbox, we were focused on creating the best console game possible. However, when we decided to include the free camera, we knew that the core controls could be perfectly adapted for the PC. Then, we made it happen. We want the PC user to feel like he or she is playing a PC game so we were careful to ensure that the controls were appropriately adapted to fit the unique needs of the PC gamer.

GS: Would you say that the PC version is a direct and faithful conversion? Have there been any significant changes to the way the game plays?

MF: The free-form gameplay, tense action, and look and feel are similar. If you've played the Xbox version, you can expect to have just about the same experience on the PC--except for one or two Easter eggs! (Chalk that up to the fact that the Xbox is a pretty advanced console.) Most of the adaptation was focused on the controls, not the gameplay or look and feel.

GS: How do the graphics fare in the PC version? Do all the special effects carry over, for those with recent DX8 graphics cards?

MF: Splinter Cell looks amazing on the PC. On high-end PCs the performance and definition of the game is unparalleled. But, while that was great news, developers typically focus not on the high-end PC experience but on the lower-end system--the lowest common denominator. We didn't know how these lesser machines would handle very specific technical features like pixel shaders and shadow buffers. So, the biggest challenge was to get similar graphic results with cards that do not manage those effects. It was a pretty intensive effort because we needed to redevelop several graphic features included in the game. Before launching a level, the game detects the system and the installed 3D card and will run proper settings to make sure that it provides the best experience for each user.

GS: How challenging was it to adapt the control scheme used in the Xbox game to a PC's mouse and keyboard? Describe how you adapted the analog movement controls.

MF: On the Xbox, the player uses the two analog sticks to move Sam Fisher and control the camera, so we needed to have this functionality represented on the PC. The free camera fit perfectly with the mouse, so that was not an issue. The second analog control was linked to the speed of Sam Fisher's movement--essentially the core of the stealth gameplay. Whether on the Xbox or the PC, Sam Fisher needs to move very cautiously to grab an enemy without being detected. So, we ran some play tests with this control mapped on the mousewheel and it turned out to be very intuitive. Users who do not have mousewheel can use other buttons mapped on the keyboard to increase or decrease the speed. We also did a lot of work on the graphical user interface. We wanted players to have access to their quick inventory with the mouse and to select a gadget or item with a simple click. This implementation is very intuitive for PC gamers.

GS: It's almost a given that the PC version had to have a save anywhere option. Would you say that the PC version is easier, due to the addition of quick save and other changes?

MF: It's all a matter of how you are using the save option. But yes, we knew that the save-anytime option would make the game a little bit easier, as would the mouse control, which is a little more accurate than a console controller. However, we've changed a few parameters in the AI in order to keep a good balance in the game. We think PC gamers and Xbox gamers will spend about the same number of hours on the game.

GS: In some ways, the game's stealth design seems like it may be more familiar to PC gamers who have played games like those in the Thief series. Between that and the long history of Tom Clancy games on the PC, how do you expect the differing expectations of the PC and Xbox audiences will play out in the game's reception?

MF: I think that both PC and console users are familiar with stealth action games since that genre is represented by the Thief series on the PC and the Metal Gear Solid games on consoles. Xbox gamers really responded well to Splinter Cell because it brought a new level of sophisticated gameplay to the Xbox. It was truly groundbreaking. At the same time, the Xbox game fans are really digging Ghost Recon on the Xbox, which was a pretty faithful port of the PC game.

Splinter Cell itself is an amazing game regardless of where you play it. PC gamers will love it on the PC because it is a great game on their preferred platform. Xbox fans like it on the Xbox because it is a great game on their preferred platform. It's all good.

As far as the Tom Clancy brand goes, these games have always been hallmark games for the PC. We are excited to bring them to console gamers. With new games like Splinter Cell and old favorites like the award-winning Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon series, we think we have a lot to offer gamers, regardless of where they play their games.

GS: Are there any plans to make the game open to user modifications?

MF: Unfortunately, no. To make this game possible on the PC, we had to make some big modifications to the Unreal editor. The level creation, AI system, physics module, and lighting system are very complex and difficult to mix without losing the required consistency. We don't think tools are user-friendly enough at this point to consider the release of Splinter Cell editor.

GS: Can you say how well the Xbox game has done so far, in terms of sales?

MF: Splinter Cell was at the top of every Xbox gamer's holiday wish list. It's the top-selling Xbox game right now. And that's because gamers have played the game and are recommending it to their friends.

Splinter Cell was Ubi Soft's gift to gamers for the holidays. And the warm reception the game has received lets us know that all our hard work has been appreciated.

GS: Anything else you'd like to add?

MF: Ubi Soft is throwing down the gauntlet this year and next with the ever-expanding Clancy lineup. We are excited to bring new games like Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six 3 to gamers who have come to know that the Tom Clancy name makes a promise of great gameplay, incredible realism, and compelling story lines.

GS: Thanks for your time, Mathieu.

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