Flicking through my notebook on the way back from the Sniper Elite V2 preview event, I find a completely blank page save for the word “TESTICLES” at the top. Underlined several times. It was at this point that I stopped writing and started wincing. A wince that still occurs whenever I think about what I saw and heard at developer and publisher Rebellion's HQ in Oxford.
You see, Sniper Elite Version 2's first-person World War II sniping is gilded with a fully dynamic skeletal slow-motion animation system. Aim for an enemy soldier's neck and their vertebrae will shatter. Shoot at the crown of the head and it'll smash like an egg. Go for the heart and blood will fill their thoracic cavity. And, inevitably, you can shoot their balls off.
“Well, what else can we do with it to give it more?” asks Steve Hart, Sniper Elite V2's producer. “Let's get the testicles in there. OK. Oh my God!” This is in addition to a dynamic system that can render hundreds of different death animations. “We know of 125 just because of the camera positions we've got, but we think there's way more than 500 that players will be experiencing,” says Hart. “So it's a pretty cool system.”
These animations require a lot of computer power, one that wouldn't have been possible on last-generation hardware. “From you firing that shot we calculate where you've hit them, what speed they were travelling at if they were moving, where you've hit them,” says Hart. “It's a dynamic system that shows every bone breaking, every crunch. It deforms the bullet on impact, it tumbles and changes trajectory. So it can bounce off the skull and fly in a different direction.”
The inevitable question is, how on earth did the Rebellion guys come up with such a gruesome system? “We're not a big morbid bunch ripping bodies apart, we're really not,” says Hart, somewhat reassuringly. Given the objective of taking killcam to the next level, Hart and his team drew influence from the internal shots in David O Russell's Iraq film, Three Kings.
“Really it was all about the bullet's effect,” says Hart. “Because sniping is such an intimate thing, and it's got and almost voyeuristic touch to it - you're studying that person before you take that shot. You must know something about them, it's almost a characterisation that plays out as part of that. It's quite a difficult thing to pull the trigger. We're not trying to get trying to get a remorseful reaction from the player, but we just want them to know the consequences of their actions.”
The demo I was shown was strictly single-player, but Hart gave me the tiniest titbit of information on how it's going to work in multiplayer. “Can imagine shooting your mate's nuts off?” he asks. Why yes, yes I can. “It's probably going to be the single most epic multiplayer moment of the year.”