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Celebrating 20 years of Splinter Cell

November 17, 2022
7 minutes read
Matt West Web Banner

It’s been 20 years since Splinter Cell redefined the stealth action-adventure landscape. 

From trailblazing technical innovation, to game-changing mechanics, and compelling storytelling, Splinter Cell has left a lasting impact on us all. 

To celebrate this milestone anniversary, our team reflected on the upcoming Splinter Cell remake with Ubisoft’s Snowdrop engine, the evolution of the series, and a look into what’s in store for the franchise. 

Check out the full conversation between Splinter Cell remake Creative Director Chris Auty, Associate Level Design Director Zavian Porter, Senior Game Designer Andy Schmoll, and Technical Director Christian Carriere above.  

Or for a TLDR version, we’ve recapped the video’s key takeaways for you below. Click the arrows to jump to particular sections of the video! 

What makes Splinter Cell so unforgettable? 

The game placed choice in the hands of players and allowed people to solve challenges dynamically.  

Zavian Porter: It was this action-adventure game where you’re playing as a stealth spy-style guy but unlike other games in the genre, you didn’t just have your gun out all the time. You weren’t just coming up to every enemy, every obstacle, and shooting them in the head. Instead, it was about stealth. It was about going around enemies. It was about watching a situation, a very simple situation but figuring out how you can get past it unnoticed. That was so different.   

Jump to section in video  

What were the technical innovations associated with Splinter Cell? 

Splinter Cell is characterized by major technical leaps like dynamic lighting, outstanding gameplay, cutting-edge graphics, and so much more, that helped redefine the third-person stealth action genre.

Chris Auty: The original game did some incredible things with technology to really push the immersion of the world that you’re in, and it made it feel like it was a living and breathing space, something bigger than just a level space. It had breakable glass technology that was reasonably new and exciting at that time. We had the fish tank physics, the famous fish tank… You could shoot the fish tank and the water would lower down to the point where you shot. At the time, that was super cool and had never really been seen before.

Andy Schmoll: It was amazing to see what Splinter Cell was doing at that time compared to other games. Like that dynamic lighting, like just being able to shoot the lights, creating your own dark spaces, your shadows, recreating the space for how you wanted to play — that was the thing that I thought was really different from the games that came out at the same time that were also focusing on stealth gameplay.

Christian Carriere: No one really did dynamic lighting the same way that Splinter Cell did. Traditionally you would use a light map or a shadow map which is baked into the environment. But when Splinter Cell did it, it was truly dynamic. You could shoot out almost all the lights and it would be pitch black. It would really make you use the gadgets that Sam had got, like the night vision goggles. 

What updates and advancements can people expect to see in the remake? And how will the Snowdrop engine empower them? 

Splinter Cell is being rebuilt from the ground up using Ubisoft’s own Snowdrop engine and the remake will include major advancements in AI engagement, lighting, animation, and audio.  

CC: With Snowdrop, we have advanced lighting in the form of ray-traced global illumination, which gives you more realistic lighting effects, like light transference from different objects onto different materials. On the audio side, we have much better audio simulations. We can have audio occlusion where the sounds will get absorbed by different material types. You can have sound bouncing through a window to you, around the corridor, so a much more realistic audio setting as well.

AS: We can really improve the AI engagement; how they are reacting and what they are reacting to. With all of that, we can make improvements to the cat and mouse gameplay between Sam and the enemies, especially with our enemies behaving like trained professionals. 

CA: With the remake, animation is a big focus for us. What does Sam look like, what does he feel like when he’s moving in his environment, when he’s taking cover, when he’s crouching under things, crawling along a pipe, and more; there’s so much there that relies on the quality of animation and the tech-driven animation system just makes you feel like you’re in that space and part of that experience. 

What can players expect in terms of stealth in the remake? 

Stealth — a term that’s synonymous with the franchise. The team is leveraging the dynamic lighting and shadows Splinter Cell is known for, enhancing stealth mechanics and creating immersive moments of cat and mouse tension. 

ZP: The original Splinter Cell really embraced that ghost play style. The idea that you’re not just going around shooting every enemy you face, leaving a ton of bodies around. It was more about making sure that you’re completing the objective in a very professional way where the enemy barely even knows you’ve ever been there.   

CA: If you’re talking about perfectionism in the game, I think sense of mastery is something that’s really important. We, even, would like for the remake to take that a step further. We would like to make sure that the entire game is playable from beginning to end without a single kill. That’s something that’s important for us as well.

ZP: And a lot of that comes together in the original Splinter Cell alarm system. This was meant to test the player and really show their progress in the mission, but it was a bit harsh.

AS: We want to scale that back a bit in the remake and we want to give the player a few more opportunities to deescalate some of those situations. Obviously stealth is an extremely important aspect for us and we aim to incorporate modern design philosophies improving the minute to minutes stealth gameplay that was so special in the original. 

How has level design evolved over the course of the franchise? 

The team discussed how level design has progressed from being very linear in Splinter Cell to multi-path in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, and where the remake will sit on the spectrum. 

ZP: I can see the evolution of level design over the franchise. During the police station level in the original game, players navigate through tight corridors, through a very designer-oriented path going up a ladder, up a scaffolding, down a zipline, through a vent, all to move forward. They rarely had options on how to proceed. In Chaos Theory, there is the bank level; my favorite level in the Splinter Cell franchise. There are multiple ways to enter the level and there are multiple ways to proceed through the bank itself. You’re doing the heist, you need to sneak in, there are security guards who are turning around through the night, and you can either bust through the front door with blazing guns, or you can go around the side, get up the rooftop and do a really cool rappel into the bank lobby.  We want to bring back those level design principles from Chaos Theory to the original Splinter Cell. The million different ways in and out and around that level and that mission are just so memorable, definitely stealth action redefined. 

What lies in the future for the Splinter Cell franchise? 

Splinter Cell is coming back to your gaming platforms and there is an animated show in development on Netflix! 

CA: There is an animated series that is being worked on with our friends at Netflix as well as the remake itself. It is not simply a remaster. It is being built from the ground up. We get to do all the content from scratch; fresh and ready to go. With the remake, 20 years later, we can look back at the plot, the characters, and the overall story of the original game. We can make some improvements to things that might not have aged particularly well; but the core of the story and the core of the experience will remain as it was in the original game. 

AS: We have also been exploring new and innovative tech and ideas as well as features and elements from the other Splinter Cell titles. 

ZP: We are aiming to create a top-tier remake and push quality as much as possible. This should help us set a good foundation for the franchise going forward.

CC: We have seen a lot of great posts from the community. We read the open letter that was on the subreddit and see all the other posts on various socials. It is really energizing us to keep going. 

Don’t forget to watch the original discussion here! 

The Splinter Cell team is growing! 

We’re seeking top-tier specialists with various backgrounds and expertise to join us on this exciting mission. Want to be a part of the Splinter Cell team? Check out our careers page! 

Read More: Splinter Cell Remake

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