Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
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Update 2016-03-01: Since this post still comes up occasionally, I’ve edited it to be a bit less dickish.
The women in Hitman: Blood Money are grotesquely over-sexualised, which is not unusual for a videogame, but I think the reason for it might be. Blood Money’s vision of the world is stylised to let us see it through the eyes of the hitman: a sociopathic clone completely disconnected from human nature. To make someone see the world the way your character does, make the world the way the character sees it.
Its characters are oversexualised in a profoundly unsexy way – both genders are luridly exaggerated beyond attractiveness. The Hitman is asexual, and people’s sexual attributes and inclinations appear exaggerated and repulsive to him. Hence the chesty women, the muscle-bound men, and the endless sex-talk (conversation topics range from “fucking”, “who I’d like to fuck”, “I’m drunk and would like to fuck you”, “how hot are these girls?”, “wow these girls are hot”, “let’s fuck later”, “I’m going to fuck you later”, “I want to fuck you”, “would you like to fuck?”, and “here’s some aphrodisiac to help with the fucking”) . It’s shoved in our face to make us as disgusted by it as a cold, sexless killer would be. I think it even wants you to hate them a little bit, to let you see how someone like this can kill without hesitation or remorse.
The Hitman is usually thought of as something of a blank-slate protagonist, but he’s actually one of the best examples of effectively putting the player in his avatar’s shoes. You’re made to feel something of the way this anti-hero feels just by the filter through which he sees the world, but what he does in response to it is still up to you. The genius of it is that they’re portraying a character by how they paint everything but the character, rather than dictating the character’s actions or story.
One of the reasons games are so exciting as a young artform is that developers are just discovering tricks like this. It’s not entirely new to Hitman: it’s had huge breasts and permanent scowls since the first game. The second one made you feel 47’s disconnection from other people by sending you almost exclusively to foreign-language countries, and the third externalised his stormy disposition by setting every flashback mission on a dark and rainy night – even ones which actually happened by day. But Blood Money’s sex angle is the most efficient ploy so far, and like every aspect of the fourth game, feels like the idea finally coming of age.
The rest of this post is just about the mechanics of Hitman and what I like about them and how they could be improved, which probably should have been a separate post but it’s too late now.
Social Situations And Silenced Weapons
Hitman has always been extraordinary for mixing violence in with polite society, but control, interface and AI quirks have often interfered with the fun. Those are almost entirely gone now, and Blood Money is genuinely the game the series always wanted to be. It’s the first time they’ve consistently kept all the important elements together:
Fuzzy suspicion: Actually this one is largely new, and finally doing it right is the main reason Blood Money is so much better than previous Hitman games. Guards are just a bit more human in how they react to suspicious behaviour, in that they no longer open fire the second you step out of line. That single tweak removes 90% of the frustrating moments a Hitman game normally inflicts on you. It also adds another freedom: the ability to get past AI guards with misdirection and trickery, rather than stealth or violence. My current favourite approach is to just slightly irritate people:
a) My target and his girlfriend are making out in a corridor. I turn the light off. He irritably barges past me to turn it back on, and they retreat to his room for some privacy, but the moment is gone and the girl walks out for some air. As she leaves, I slip in and throttle him. I am the mood killer. Also the killer.
b) A handyman is repainting a doorway to the maintenance tunnels I need to get to. I can’t kill him because the cop opposite takes only very brief breaks from his watch. Instead, I nab his toolbox and toss it across the room with a clang. Annoyed, he goes over to fetch it, and while he’s occupied I stroll through the door.
c) Two guards man the monitors in a security booth overlooked by a CCTV camera. They’re close enough that neither can be killed without alerting the other, no matter where their attention is turned. I back round the corner, and throw my gun into their line of sight. It’s a dangerous item, so of course one of them has to confiscate it and take it to the security HQ in the main building. While he’s away, I throttle his partner, steal the camera’s tape, and take his clothes so that the main building’s reception guard won’t think anything of it when I follow the gun-confiscator into the security HQ – a nice quiet place to strangle him and take my gun back. Psych!
Public areas: without these it’s just a stealth game, a simplistic and degenerate genre compared to Hitman’s actual multi-faceted magnificence. Masses of Hitman missions have lacked a space for you to move around in without disguise or subterfuge, a calm initial phase to the hit in which you can observe patterns and plan your approach. Wonderfully every single one of Blood Money’s jobs includes one, and it ensures you the quintessential Hitman experience – walking around unnoticed, observing routines, seeing a social situation in a killer’s terms: who can be taken out quietly, where the body will go, how attention can be diverted from that door. These considerations exist in hostile environments too, but it’s a stressful and constrictive situation. It’s only fun when you’re allowed to be there, but not to do what it is you must do. It adds an element of audacity: when everyone’s out to get you, killing is just a survival tactic. In Hitman, everyone’s happily going about their lives in normal society, and you’re going to stride in and do something massive and terrible and get away with it.
Subtle kills: Subltety and elegance barely featured in the original game, but as Hitman matures it starts to appreciate the finer things in murder. A simple squirt of a syringe, the turn of a dial on a pyrotechnics control panel, the clicking of a detonator, the unseen flinging of a kitchen knife, a short sharp shove to a precariously positioned target, or the removal of a prop gun and the placing of its working counterpart. Approaches that take masses of planning, but which manifest themselves in a single, simple, silent easy action. Blood Money invented most of these options, and by cramming every mission full of them, moved from the pre-scripted puzzle-solution feel of Contracts to a playground of homicidal oppourtunity.
A wealth of interesting options: In general, too, there’s a gorgeously rich possibility space. Full not just of ways to succeed, but cool, dramatic and stylish ones. They made twelve of the best Hitman missions ever, then just kept on making them, again and again, in the same environment with the same targets, adding superfluous alternatives just to suit the depraved stylistic preferences of their players, or simply to increase their chances of stumbling upon something brilliant. Steve and I have spent more time talking about alternative approaches to Blood Money’s missions than I have playing Contracts’.
Meditations On Murder
I’d like to fix Blood Money. It makes one giant mistake, and introduces three new systems that don’t quite work.
Saves: WHAT. The first two limitations are simply mad – you can save seven times, but only in three slots – and only on Tuesdays? Do we get an extra save if we own a domesticated meercat? How about only letting us save when we’re facing Mecca? But the third is criminally derranged. The game will delete – it will fucking delete – your save games if you need to quit or restart. It will delete them. It DELETES them!
Upgradable Weapons: A nice idea, using the money from jobs – and bonuses for style – to bolt on silencers, scopes and new ammo types to your favourite bit of kit. For some reason, though, they decided to make these so cheap that even an inept hitman can afford to buy virtually all of them at every stage. To counter-act that self-inflicted spanner in the works, they then locked off the good upgrades until you reach a certain mission. Despite being the rationale behind the very title of the game, money becomes irrelevant and only progress restricts your weaponry – for no coherent in-game reason. It’s not a huge problem, but it would be so easy to make it so good: just make everything expensive. Let me spend all my earnings on a really good silencer after the first few missions, if that’s how I want to play. I’ll still look forward to getting accuracy and damage upgrades later on, and I won’t be able to afford the good ones until the very end.
Notoriety: The more witnesses you leave, the better photofit the police have of your face, the more likely guards are to get suspicious when you act out. “Hey, isn’t that guy clambering over the compound wall the one from the paper the other day?” But for some reason it’s not based on the number of witnesses – bodies found while you’re still at the scene or just lots of unnecessary killing also increase your notoriety.
It’s obvious two separate metres are needed: Recognisability and Heat. Recognisability is entirely down to witnesses escaping alive and security cameras catching you, and represents how good an idea the police have of what you look like. Heat is down to how many people you’ve killed, and represents how high a priority you are for the police. If you’ve killed hundreds of innocent people but no-one’s ever lived to tell the tale, they’ll want to find you badly but guards will be no more suspicious of you than anyone else. Security will be increased, but you’ll be able to get away with the same things. If you’ve only ever killed your targets and no-one else, sticking to non-lethal takedowns for anyone else in your way, security will be lighter throughout. But if people or cameras have seen you and got away, those few guards will be harder to slip by. Apart from making more logical sense, the point of separating out Heat is to compliment the player’s style. If he likes killing loads of people, increased security will be fun but challenging for him, and he’s not punished. If he doesn’t, but did it because a plan went wrong, the increased security ups the stakes and encourages him to get the subtler methods right.
Accidents: It’s the obvious next step in the subtlety stakes to avoid even the suspicion of foul play, but in Blood Money it’s not quite well-developed enough to be a viable goal throughout. Nearly all of the targets can be killed with accidents, but a) a few can’t, and b) there’s no reward for pulling it off. I’ve heard that the plan was for the post-mission newspaper article to be just an obituary if the death looked like an accident, which would have been great, but didn’t seem to make it to the final game.
I don’t think accidents are enough. Some of them are extremely suspicious, and there are more inventive ways of entirely avoiding heat: faking suicide, eliminating the body altogether, or framing someone. There’s one opportunity to frame someone in Blood Money – getting the other actor to shoot your target on the opera mission – but there could be more. Stealing someone’s gun, shooting the target, then dropping the weapon at the scene and leaving before anyone else sees you ought to work as a successful frame up. As should knocking someone out, dressing up as them, doing the hit, then switching clothes back. “Honestly, a guy in a suit came and did it! But you won’t find his fingerprints on the gun because he was wearing gloves. Also you can’t see the guy.” Getting rid of the body could be in furnaces, downriver, posted elsewhere (!) or even stolen discreetly from the scene (would require a vehicle, I guess). Suicides could be a simple case of fibre-wiring someone, dragging the body to underneath a light fitting and stringing them up. It doesn’t have to be ultra-convincing, the police in Hitman are intentionally dumb.
The Silent Assassin accolade has a few inconsistencies – bodies found while you’re at the scene mean no Silent Assassin rating, even though all bodies will eventually be found either way, and the speedruns show that it’s possible to get Silent Assassin even when you flee the scene in a hail of gunfire, even in Professional difficulty. The point of this system would be to introduce a new accolade to replace Silent Assassin: Case Closed. It would mean that you attracted 0 heat on the mission, that the police aren’t looking for you at all – a much more satisfying result than having been seen at the scene, and leaving evidence of foul play.
More Game Design Ideas
bob_arctor: Wow. That's a compelling case to buy the thing, despite the fact I didn't really enjoy the demo. From a Thief-lover's perspective I found the demo clumsy and linear.
I understand they stop being like that shortly after, but I thought I'd wait for a better demo to tempt me, as Darwinia did. First demo repels and doesn't show off the game's features well at all. Second hooks me.
Only they haven't done a second demo. And I hated the previous Hitmen, all clumsy things.
Tom Francis: It's the worst demo-level choice ever - that literally isn't a level, it's the tutorial. And like most tutorials, it utterly sucks and has nothing to do with the game that follows. Every actual mission is set in a proper freely-roamable area, and is incredibly open-ended. I've played every mission at least ten times now, but have never gone back to the tutorial one.
Sex, Violence, Language, Games, Other… at The Bloggings of The_B: [...] ;offender” of violent gaming - in every sense of the word - Hitman: Blood Money, and Tom Francis’ take on the game itself and how it embraces a rather dark etho [...]
The_B: That was a really interesting read, but I did pick up on:
"Blood Money - like many games - intentionally inspires dark actions: youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re tasked with murdering innocent people"
Well, technically the targets are rarely "innocent" anyway, and I think it's something else IO have done since the first Hitman, in that most of the targets are morally suspect, so again distancing the player slightly from the act they are to commit. However, as you say, it's an adult game, and it uses adult techniques to distance itself, and that works to it's advantage, I feel.
Tom Francis: I can only think of one or two of your victims you know are killers themselves. It's often hinted that they're not nice people, but much of that is again done in-game with art and dialogue - they scowl, they say nasty things, but all you really know about them is that someone wants them dead. If being corrupt or belonging to a gang count as guilty, then you're right. Maybe I should have said "in cold blood" - that's the unusual thing. These people aren't trying to kill you, or anyone else.
That said, the Mardi Gras police just killed twelve civilians trying to shoot me for entering a jazz bar without a jaunty hat.
The_B: I suppose my definition of "innocent" is slightly more encompassing than yours, but agreed none of them are trying to kill you. But then I suppose it brings up another thing, I mean in quite a few action adventure games, you're killing others to survive in a literal sense. But in other ways, you are doing that in Blood Money as well. Okay, it gets rather literal towards the end, but the fact that 47 kills for an occupation - as a means of income "to survive" - that is another slightly more adult approach of putting the gamer in a psychological situation of their acions. Rather than killing to stay alive, surely 47 is killing to sustain his exsistence.
Well, I assume that the hits are his only source of income anyway, you never see him taking insults from angry customers at his local call center anyway...
Iain: "YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not destroying anything when you kill in a game, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re just toying with a digital actor. Even if you were, it would be an entity so simple as to be trivial in comparison to even an insect life"
But a Buddhist would tell you that even killing an insect is morally wrong. I don't happen to be one myself, (given that I'm atheist) but I am getting sick of games where the only way in which you can interact with the game world is by killing things in it. Or where the sole objective and purpose of your involvement in the game world is to kill or destroy things in it.
I don't care a jot whether the victims are "innocent" or not - it's the limitation of your ability to interact with the world and the assumption on the behalf of the developers that all I would want to do is kill, maim and destroy that's distateful.
Though perhaps it's simplistic to entirely blame the game makers.
Even when I hear an anecdote about Sims 2, it's not about how people created a really nice house, or made their Sims really successful and created a prosperous dynasty, it's about how innovatively they managed to find new ways into killing off their characters or making their lives utterly miserable.
Hitman is just symptomatic of the emotional immaturity of both game designers and game players. It's not making any real moral statement at all. It simply creates a world in which you have the option of either killing your target or killing lots of people AND your target. Either way, you're still a killer. Killing one person or killing a hundred is morally reprehensible either way. You can't say someone's a good murderer because he "only" murdered three people instead of thirty.
Suffice to say, I'm not a fan of the series.
Pentadact: Games are many stages removed from the experience of real life, so the only reason to do something in a game is if you can't do it in real life. Equally it's the most extreme or unacceptable behaviour that we tell each other about afterwards, because that's the most different to what we do in real life, therefore the most noteworthy.
To me the prevailance of violent games is completely logical. A taste for violence is hardcoded into our evolutionary psychology, but our existing society keeps most people from having - or being able - to use it. An imaginary and consequence free environment is the perfect outlet. Which also explains why games appeal much less to women: less hardcoded bloodlust.
How would you like to be able to interact with people in games? We already have adventure games where you can talk to them, but technological and development limitations mean that's always fairly restrictive in its interactivity. Obviously there are great nonviolent stories to be told, but games aren't often the best medium for them: what they're good as is simulating physical interactions, not social ones.
Incidentally, the reason killing just your target is considered 'good' within Hitman isn't moral, it's practical. The idea is that you've attracted less attention from the police, which means you're less well-known and have a lower chance of being recognised in the future. There's no moral statement intended, it's just coincidence that the most professional crime is usually the least heinous.
roBurky: "Obviously there are great nonviolent stories to be told, but games aren't often the best medium for them: what they're good as is simulating physical interactions, not social ones."
I disagree with that. It's just what we've spent the effort on, due to the aforementioned hardcoded bloodlust. If we had spent the last few decades spending as much time on developing games' capacity for social interactions as physical ons, they'd be just as good.
Pentadact: Well, AI researchers have spent their effort on making something that can be a convincing conversant than something that can be a convincing two-bit thug, and they haven't got very far. And these are concentrated ongoing projects, rather than a bunch of small competing teams just trying to get something out of the door to make money. Violent scenarios are computationally simpler than social ones, thus computers are better at simulating them and they're easier to program.
I'm sure one day, after decades of research and billions of pounds in funding, they'll get good enough to make a game as socially interesting as Coronation Street. But right now it's a lot easier to make a convincing TV show, and that's saying a lot.
The_B: "Games are many stages removed from the experience of real life, so the only reason to do something in a game is if you can't do it in real life. Equally it's the most extreme or unacceptable behaviour that we tell each other about afterwards, because that's the most different to what we do in real life, therefore the most noteworthy."
I agree with this to some degree, but then also we can look at the commercial success of games like The Sims, and indeed popular sports titles as examples of (realtively) non-violent and things that - in many respects - could do. We can play football, or golf or even pool - ableit most of us not very well. I don't think it's just the fact it's something we can't do in real life - most of it is about doing it well, and in that sense, presentation I presume plays a large part in our enjoyment of a game.
Tom Francis: But there aren't many sports games about having a kick-around with your friends. They typically see you leading your favourite team - or yourself - to become champions of the world. For most people that's harder to do in real life than killing someone.
Admittedly the Sims works because it's grounded in what people best understand, but again the fun of it is in what wouldn't normally happen. Don starts a family with the maid, or dies from the fumes of his own washing up. And as for things you couldn't do in real life; in The Sims you're a hovering God able to toy with people's lives in any way you like. Similarly in football games, you're the manager and every player simultaneously.
I agree that it's sometimes the ease with which a game lets you do something that's appealing, but that's rarely enough on its own. And often games that feel most grounded in reality are much less realistic in what they let you do than a gritty militiary shooter.
The_B: I think the main part I don't agree with is saying that because we can't do it in real life is the ONLY reason we do something in a game - sure, it's probably one of the key factors - but as I say, I think it's the presentation to the player of how they achieve - or at least give the player the illusion of achieving - that particular skill or feat or action.
It is interesting to note though, how often we can fault games often then, therefore, for their "lack of realism". But of course, that can be down to context as well, I suppose.
The_B: Oh, and Fifa Street was kind of about having a kick around with your mates, and that didn't do too badly. I'm throwing that in to be awkward.
Chijts: Pentaduct why aren't you working for a games company? Whenever I read any of your ideal edits to a game practically all of them are screaming to be put into the game in question. Such as in this article here. I haven't played this game yet, but taking your slant on "notoreity" sounds like an extremely logical step to make the game that much more fun... by being fair I guess.
"..but I am getting sick of games where the only way in which you can interact with the game world is by killing things in it."
As for the violence in video games, it's been there since day one. Didn't the first game invented involve two spaceships, with the one objective of killing (I assume a spaceship would have a pilot) the other one first? There has been a vast amount of games since that their goal has been to shoot everything that moves.
There are also plenty of games recently that are much less focused on causing harm, infact the game I've been playing at the moment is Okami, where one of the main goals is to restore nature, which is a gratifying experience. Or even Tom's love - Braid, which at its heart is about puzzle solving using time and space.
The reason we play games is for being able to do things that you can't usually, perhaps even from the enviroment we live in rather then just skill alone. As for the Fifa thing, I can't play football to save my life, but I can atleast be competent at a computer version of it.
Jason L: Because having good ideas, especially in retrospect, is much easier than getting 100-some people to follow them, which is in turn inexpressibly easier than implementing them. Assuming the dev team was competent and ambitious - the latter is a given - that notoriety system was probably on the table at some point, but they couldn't get it done inside the budget; axed. Tom's a game critic, and a good one, but only a critic. One of a critic's roles is to note ideas that work and/or suggest improvements to raise the odds that future games will improve on current ones, but at the expense of having no direct influence on any particular game. If you're in an actual dev team, you're working for three years on one thing and 99% of that time is not spent kicking back spinning cool ideas. Even during that one percent, most of the team has no voice. Everyone in video games is an idea man; if anything is ever to actually come out, the vast majority of them must be utterly submerged and they are.
Chijts: Fair enough, I didn't think of those issues. It must be pretty shit to spend that time on a game and know an idea you have would make it that much better, but no one agrees with you or it's too late etc.
Cptn.Average: Not to be undermine the debate, but Iain I think you may be a little bit overcritical of the games themes considering its title is "Hitman: Blood Money". It's obviously a game that's been designed from the outset to portay a grim subject, and it seems to have at least done it in a stylish and dramatic way, which many games fail to achieve.
Pentadact: Good article.
HoW Monty: Sorry bout that, was just testing to see if my comment would come up in black. Well programmed.
Tom Francis: I can't help noticing that since I made it difficult to imitate me, I've had a lot more people trying to imitate me. I could probably tweak it to replace 'Pentadact' with 'Imposter' when this happens.
Pentadact: Actually, I think I'll do that. From now on, all imposters have a black border to indicate their foolishness.
Tom Francis: Touché, sir.
Bret: So, should we just shoot you both?
Tom Francis: Shoot Flexo!
Formerly Cpt.Muffin: Tom gains a Futurama contextual reference point.
Bret: If that really was Tom...
Or do all the impostor's points go to the real Tom?
Jazmeister: I remember this X-Men cartoon where there are two wolverines and Jubilee has a gun and one says "Shoot us both! It's the only way to be sure!" and she shoots the other one - who turns out to be the real wolverine, who just says "Well, you live n learn, kid|bub".
1) Get a picture of Tom - one of those ones where he's thoughtfully looking at the top right corner.
2) Copy it and flip it, so there are two looking at the top centre.
3) Apply flexo beard.
4) Repeat for further subjects - apply caution with Rossignol.
DoctorDisaster: Seriously? That was the villain's plan -- have Jubilee shoot the guy who heals gunshot wounds in like a second? That must have been an incredibly stupid villain.
I think the black box did attract attention to the possibility of impersonating you. (Why doesn't 'impostor' have a verb form?) It also made it possible to do it just as a way of messing around, without actually confusing people. You have removed the real-world consequences for fakery and now you are reaping the whirlwind, or something.
Bret: Maybe the villain wanted to make Wolverine irritated enough to gut Jubilee like a fish.
DoctorDisaster: Wait, I thought we were talking about a villain.
Jazmeister: I think the villain was fighting Wolverine and his plan was to not get shot and hopefully escape, but yeah.
I should have said "exercise" caution.
Jubilee's powers are fireworks, aren't they?! I think Wolverine pities her too much. Maybe it would be mercy. I remember she wrecks an arcade machine and the guys like "DO J00 NO HOW MUCH THAT COST!" and she says "A quarter?"
XChillaGorillaX: ok now I got two fave blogs. yours and 1Fo.. sorry I meant First Person Shouter :D
what a great gaming article. I really love Hitman but i didnt realise all those psychic tricks the developers use on us gamers.
but.. you wrote that there is no reward for accidents. at the one hand its true.. but at the other hand you just feel great and like a genius when you fake a death like this. There is also an archievment on the xbox 360 version for accidents. But well.. it gives you 5 Gamerscore which is like..almost.. nothing :D
Crowbar: That saves thing is annoying. Does anyone know if there's a mod for that? Or if there's a way I can fix it myself?
Lampica: @Lain - what are you on about? If you don't want to kill in video games then obviously you should avoid a title called "Hitman" right? Pretty basic...
There actually are lots of non-violent games out there. Plenty of interesting adventure games, exploration games, stealth games, sports games, and puzzlers. Even some Action RPGs where most violence is optional and non-violent solutions exist to most objectives. These games have been a mainstay in video games since the beginning and continue to be developed and released now too. Remember Pong? Frogger? Old school text based RPGs, Sierra's old point and click adventure games, Myst, Sim City. Oblivion, and Fallout3 both offer innumerable alternatives to violence, as well as Deus Ex (the original) - though of course these conflict oriented action games have some parts where the only way forward in the story is some physical confrontation, though I think they are a far cry from what you're saying. Certainly they offer more ways of interacting with the game than killing. You yourself even mentioned The Sims, but somehow managed to fault even that game for violence - go figure...
Minecraft is pretty fun. You don't really have to kill anything in that game though the possibility is there. There are thousands of really great flash games which are not based even remotely on violence as well.
@Chijts - The first game invented did not have anything to do with spaceships. I think it was probably wrestling. The first 'video' game was also neither violent nor about spaceships. I believe that the first video game to be released commercially was Pong, you hit the ball back and forth with blocks that you could move up and down on each side of the screen. Unless you want to get very abstract then Pong was not about killing and even in an abstract sense, no more violent than tennis or table hockey.
And as I mentioned above, non-violent games have not gone away, and continue to be produced and released to this day.
@Pentadact & The_B - I have my own doubts about whether games only truly appeal when they let us do things we can't normally do.. What about all the video game versions of card games. Solitaire even. Not many people can't play a real game of solitaire. Pool. Looking way back there was an old game that let you play hacky-sack by yourself. There are games where you make tacos. If you make them in real life you get to eat them too, yet these games do hold some appeal.
Certainly escapism and fantasy fulfillment do play major roles in the appeal of video games, but I have don't buy that there are not many other factors at play here as well. Heck, a big part of why I play games is just enjoy the art that goes into them. To look at the ingenious use of polygons and textures and animation. It is the same sense I get from looking at paintings by my favorite artists. I think the novelty of just seeing what can be done with computers plays a part in the appeal to many casual gamers. Colorful, happy cuteness appeals to many, and humor plays a role too. Some people's competitive nature draws them in, others get hooked on collecting and/or progress in the same way they may get hooked into just-one-more in many real life activities.
I had more thoughts on the actual game in question here but I got sidetracked by the comments, and now, I really have said too much...
Jackohbite: Gotta say, I recently started trying to actually finish Hitman (I have a kind of a long list of games I need to finish) and an incident in the Porn King level made this article ring especially true for me. Not the, well, the whole level, though that was part of it (those poor girls were cold and I felt bad for them) but one incident in particular.
Super duper spoilers
There's a part where you can slip an aphrodisiac into your targets drink, making him drag a woman back to his room to give him a lapdance. I followed them, obviously, not sure how it'd end and wanting to be close so I could walk in, block him and shoot him once it was over and the girl had left, and after they entered the room I looked through the keyhole. The view was totally obscured by the (ridiculously busty) girl giving the target a lapdance, and yet I watched, for almost a minute. That's not the amazing thing, the amazing thing is I was watching it because I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to kill the guy she was dancing for. Not because of her. Her ass was an annoyance and an obstruction and I hope never to say that collection of words in the same sentence ever again. I watched because I wanted to be sure that I'd be able to kill this guy, and didn't even consider anything else. That's what this game can do. Inspire dark actions? Shit, GTA didn't make me act this cold and disconnected.
Of course, later I realized I had a map that'd let me watch their movements remotely without getting a face full of ass, but shut up, the point stands.
sigh: how about you get rid of that stupid fucking thing blocking half the page on the right.