With just 16 days to go until the release of Sniper Elite 5, Rebellion HQ shares top secret intel on the real-world inspirations behind one of the spectacular settings coming to the campaign.
Within the action packed CGI trailer we shared in January, some of our keen-eyed Sniper fans may have noticed a familiar structure standing amongst the chaos - the towering presence of Beaumont-Saint-Denis.
The inspiration for Beaumont-Saint-Denis is the real life Abbey of the Mont-Saint-Michel, a breath taking construct situated in the picturesque bay shared by Brittany and Normandy. Its origins can be traced back to the early 8th century where the bishop of a nearby town claimed that the Archangel Michael had demanded a church be built on top of the island on the bay.
Since that time it has gone through a number of changes, including the building of what we now know as the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel. Its towering steeples, narrow winding streets and assorted monastic buildings are all preserved behind high defensive walls. What could be more perfect as inspiration for a Sniper Elite 5 mission?
We sat down with Principal Environment Artist Saija Wintersun, Lead Environment Artist Simon Richards and Head of Design Jordan Woodward to discuss the design of the level and the challenges they faced.
What were the benefits of visiting the site in person?
Saija Wintersun - ‘In order to capture the essence of the location, you have to first experience it. At the end of the day photogrammetry can only replicate the visuals of an object, not the atmosphere. You have to ask yourself what makes this place special. Is it the scale, the claustrophobia, the wind and the cold, the stone, the way the puddles are formed, the ancient medieval wood they had, what kind of birds there are, what does the echo sound like, and so on. Finally there is the challenge of making something that is better than real life. It’s not meant to be an exact copy. It’s something more.’’
Jordan Woodward – ‘One of the aspects of Mont Saint Michel is that it is very maze-like, so to replicate that in the game, it is essential that the designers get a real feel for the place. That feeling of disorientation can only really be translated over into the level having actually felt it personally.’
How does the team go about transferring the space into a playable level?
Simon Richards – ‘All of our environments begin with a whitebox, a basic blockout of the gameplay space. From this point the whitebox is refined until it functions for both Art & Designs needs. We'll then begin populating the environment with art assets created during the whitebox phase, and Design will implement the gameplay. The process between Art & Design is collaborative and we'll often make changes to the gameplay spaces as we build out the environments.’
What was one of the biggest challenges when approaching the design of Beaumont-Saint-Denis?
Saija Wintersun – ‘Building a level is a puzzle, with the artist on one side pushing for impressive visuals and the designer looking for the most fun gameplay. Bringing these opposing viewpoints together is always challenge. We had a lot of compromises in the layout of the island. For example, there were originally lots of sharp angles and steep staircases that may have been realistic but didn’t work for gameplay. We also had to make sure the player has enough sightlines and impressive views without removing too much of the architecture so it still felt like a town.’
Simon Richards – ‘Visiting Mont-Saint-Michel I was struck by how small the town is, and how surprisingly easy it is to get lost! When adapting a real location there's always a balance between preserving the look & feel of the location, and creating a viable gameplay space. We have a lot of gameplay metrics required by the AI and that often means spaces need to be a little larger than they are in reality. It's a fun challenge to figure out the balance between the two, and how far you can push either way.’
Did you feel any pressure basing a level design on such an iconic historical monument?
Saija Wintersun – ‘No, of all the level concepts in the early phase of development, Beaumont-Saint-Denis was the one I wanted to work on the most, as I knew it would be mission people would remember visually.
Simon Richards – ‘The pressure comes from achieving a balance between form and functionality, as we strive to recreate the feel of a real world location, which also supports the requirements of the gameplay. I think we've managed to strike a good balance in this respect.'
Did the pandemic cause many issues during the initial phases of design and if so, how did you overcome them?
Simon Richards – ‘We were lucky in that we managed to complete quite a few reference trips to key locations in France and the Channel Islands prior to the pandemic. We had planned to visit more locations in France, however the restrictions on travel ultimately made those unworkable. Despite that we were still able to arrange location visits within the UK, as and when the restrictions allowed for it.’
What has been the biggest learning experiences, having utilised field trips to sites for reference purposes?
Jordan Woodward – ‘Having not gone on trips beforehand, it made us realise how much more efficiently and accurately a level can be constructed. Having real memories of a place can positively impact design rather than making use of images and videos previously sourced by someone else. Ultimately scale is also much easier to decipher having been there in person. The other great aspect to reference trips is having the level designer and the artists, who ultimately will be working together be able to co-ordinate their ideas collaboratively. Communication is much easier when you have the inspiration right in front of you. We hope that this translates in the final design and that fans of Sniper Elite will enjoy it as much as we had creating it.
Sniper Elite 5 will release simultaneously on Xbox Game Pass, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 4 & 5, Epic, Steam and Windows Store on May 26TH 2022.
Karl Fairburne’s exploits continue. Will he be victorious? That will be up to you.