Game: Splinter Cell


Developer: Ubi Soft Montreal Publisher: Ubi Soft        

These days, words like “counterintelligence,” “terrorist” and “military tribunal” are bandied about in our regular topics of discussion and current events. The world is a different place than just a few years ago, with government and military overseeing numerous activities around the globe.

One author who can be counted on to create fictionalized accounts—though accurate with the details and gear—of military-based action is Tom Clancy (Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger). In turn, Ubi Soft has a line of games driven by Clancy’s stories, which are simultaneously thrilling military-simulation fans and action/adventure-game enthusiasts.

The latest release, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, puts the player into the shoes of Sam Fisher, a stealth-missions expert with a division of the top-secret National Security Agency (NSA). It’s his job to slip into enemy facilities and glide past guards and other enemy forces undetected, then complete the objective and exit without triggering any alarms or getting killed. The chilling fact hanging over Fisher’s head in all this is that he is running solo, with little or no help from outside. If he is captured or killed, the U.S. will—in Mission: Impossible style—disavow any knowledge of his operation. To anyone in the international political arena, it will appear that he was a rogue or mercenary, thus the term “splinter cell” in the game’s title.

Fisher has been equipped with the latest and best gadgetry, from night vision glasses; to a multifaceted handheld PDA that tracks the mission status, holds notes and offers communication to his handlers; to a fiber-optic scope for peering out from behind a door. His most critical tool, though, is his keen sense of being invisible to those within these facilities. By sticking to the shadows and hiding behind natural cover, Fisher can sneak through the halls and rooms he’s infiltrating.

Ubi Soft has given the main character a number of skills, which are well-animated and lifelike. For instance, he can jump up and kick out into a split that will conceal him up near the ceiling, even when someone passes underneath him. He can press himself with his back against a wall or door, peeking around the corner to spy on the threats that are around him. A wealth of constant hazards, the game’s slow pace and its dynamic music really build the tension within each mission.

The other element that adds to the excitement—though it’s also Splinter Cell’s highlight, no pun intended—is the use of shadow and light. While the evolution of 3-D games has featured extensive use of shadows and light, Splinter Cell is among a new generation where the lighting effects create such a dramatic relationship between the characters and the world around them. The game not only replicates such subtle situations as a vending machine filling a dark hallway with diffused light, but it also shows the effects of light filtered through objects and onto other objects. The realism in these settings is dramatic, such as when light passes through a lattice-work fence and creates a pattern on the walls—as well as on Fisher as he makes his way through the area.

NVIDIA spoke with Xavier Fouilleux, Splinter Cell’s brand manager with Ubi Soft, who offered additional insight into the making of the game.

NVIDIA: The Tom Clancy name has been attached to some popular and powerful video-game series, Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon. How is Splinter Cell going to be set apart from its predecessors?
Xavier Fouilleux: All of Tom Clancy’s games share the same hallmark qualities: uncompromised realism, deep storyline and elite trained units. But Splinter Cell is a departure from the squad-based gameplay gamers associate with Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon. Sam Fisher, the hero of Splinter Cell, acts alone and not in squad like in other Clancy games. The game follows the government’s shadow agency, the Third Echelon, whose goal is to wipe out terrorism through intelligence and covert ops. In Ghost Recon, we follow the adventures of the military elite, while Rainbow Six focuses on a police S.W.A.T. team. The storyline of Splinter Cell makes possible a totally different gameplay experience, but Clancy fans will still find the essence of what they liked in other Clancy’s hit titles.

NVIDIA: What is Splinter Cell about?
XF: When two CIA agents mysteriously vanish in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, the NSA’s secret sub-agency, Third Echelon, deploys Sam Fisher—its most capable splinter cell operative—to recover them. Fisher soon uncovers a deeper conspiracy: a plot that threatens to destabilize the world order and spark nuclear conflict.

Fisher, like all of Third Echelon’s splinter cells, is granted the use of the Fifth Freedom—unprecedented latitude to safeguard America’s security by any means necessary. Acting alone, he uses terrorists’ own tactics against them. Should he fall to enemy hands, the U.S. government will disavow any knowledge of his existence.

No more time for negotiations and diplomacy. The time for decisive action has come. Strike from the darkness…fade away. You are Sam Fisher, Splinter Cell.

NVIDIA: What was Clancy’s involvement with the game’s creation and development?
XF: Tom Clancy and his team work with us on the concept and storyline and approve it. Once the storyline has been greenlighted, they check the game at various points to ensure that it is following the Clancy guidelines.

NVIDIA: The game’s graphics capabilities show noticeable advancement from previous games. Can you run down some of the visual features and nuances that players will see in Splinter Cell?
XF: The game being based on stealth, the light engine was built from the ground up specifically to meet the needs of the game. Effects like the shadow buffer and per pixel shadowing were used, too. Any effects having to do with lights are used at some point in the game and their sum total results in a very unique visual presentation.

Using soft body physics we can have realistic soft material in the game, such as flags, curtains, ropes and spiderwebs. These materials react dynamically to light and shadows, as well as movement. If I run through a curtain, it will react differently than when I creep through it, hitting it lower and slower than my previous attempt. This interaction also creates its own unique shadows.

NVIDIA: How do the graphics help support the game’s premise and enhance in-game tension?
XF: The graphics—particularly the light and shadow effects—are crucial not only to the look and feel of the game, but to the storyline as well. Because it is a stealth game, it is important for Sam to manage his shadow so he can avoid detection. To create that capability, we included a lot of dynamic lights in the game. A player can eliminate the lights in the game to create safe zones. When a guard is passing by and the music ramps up, the player feels pressure to find a dark place to hide. He can look around to see if there is a light he can turn off or shoot—and then sit tight in the darkness.

It’s hard to convey in words the feeling you get when you find yourself in that position. Seeing it first-hand helps, but the only way to truly understand the tension is to play for yourself.

NVIDIA: Do you expect that Splinter Cell will become an ongoing franchise, as Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon have?
XF: We certainly believe that the game fans would be interested in following further adventures of Sam Fisher. So would we—in fact, we have some great ideas should there be another Splinter Cell story down the line.