Like a fine wine, the best video games are the product of years of labor, countless complexities, and a careful eye for detail.
For years, the developers behind the assassination-focused series had wanted to do a location centered around tango. During the pre-production for Hitman 3, one of the team's environment artists suggested a vineyard as a potential mission location. Mendoza, an Argentinian province known for its wineries and lush landscapes, came to mind as the perfect setting for ‘The Farewell,’ one of the six missions in the final entry of the trilogy.
“I remember being struck by the image of a gaucho riding on horseback in wine country and the experience of eating asado in Patagonia,” Hitman 3 level designer Martin Skov Ansdal recalls of his four-week road trip to Argentina and Chile. A much-needed break after the 2018 release of Hitman 2, Ansdal sampled the region's very best wines and grilled meats. It wasn’t an official research trip, but it proved useful for brainstorming about the next game.
Inverse spoke with Ansdal and IO Interactive associate producer Pablo Prada about the creative process behind this mission, how this stunning real-world location was recreated in the game, and whether or not Agent 47 is truly a wine connoisseur.
Bringing a vision to life
It’s not uncommon to see references to South American countries in video games, but Argentina is rarely the first pick. Aside from a Call of Duty: Ghosts mission in the Santa Cruz province and a soccer field in Fifa Street inspired by one in Buenos Aires, no games have given players the opportunity to explore Argentina and get to know more about the local culture.
Protagonist Agent 47 has previously visited Colombia (Hitman 2) and Chile (Hitman: Blood Money), and the latest entry from IO Interactive takes him on a tour through the winery and vineyards of the fictional Viñedo Yates, making for one of the most faithful representations of Argentina to date.
"Originally we had two ideas,” Ansdal says. “A tango location set in Buenos Aires and a vineyard set in South Africa. These two were combined, and Mendoza seemed like the obvious choice because it is one of the most internationally recognizable wine regions in Argentina. A ski resort in Bariloche also sounded like a very fun idea as well, though it was not considered at the time.”
The team then began to sketch out its vision for the location — a luxurious winery hosting a ceremony held by 47’s main targets Don Archibald Yates and Tamara Vidal, with architecture that resembles the Villavicencio Natural Reserve at first glance.
The team collected dozens of reference photos from Mendoza, but Ansdal says the team was on the lookout for more verticality and vegetation to match the desired layout for 47’s stealth maneuvers. The Villavicencio Natural Reserve was “probably closer to what we needed,” he admits, but they needed to make a location that felt like their own. For this, the environment artists researched the local foliage and soil to give the area an “authentic feeling.”
“I already knew we needed to have a creative use for the grape presser.”
They also had insider help, thanks to associate producer Pablo Prada. ”I am from Argentina, and I remember discussing with Martin about our experiences in the country, preparing a playlist for him with popular tangos, and also giving references to the environment artists of landscapes and type of construction for the region,” Prada explains.
"The Farewell" revolves around a tour, which sees 47 disguising himself as a vineyard worker collecting grapes, ultimately tailing his target as a guide painstakingly explains the winemaking process. It’s an intriguing change of pace that cleverly opens up numerous opportunities to take down the target in gruesome ways.
“I have gone on many vineyard tours — it is such a big part of the tourist experience in wine country that we absolutely had to put it in the game,” Ansdal tells Inverse. “When you work at IOI, you tend to see potential opportunities for the game everywhere. So when we started on the level, I already knew we needed to have a creative use for the grape presser and to involve a fermentation tank in some of Agent 47’s business.”
“ It makes sense that 47 would have honed his degustation to perfection.”
Story-wise, this inclusion proved to be challenging, as 47 and his ally in the mission are not exactly tourists, but Ansdal maintains the team’s approach is both relevant to the story and provides a variety of death traps.
“There were times when I doubted if players would enjoy the very detailed descriptions of the winemaking process,” he explains. “However, at the end of the day, if you are already interested in wine you will be delighted, and if you aren't you will be taken to a completely novel experience."
The team also came up with a variety of ways to portray tango in the mission. As the player arrives at the event’s reception, they’re greeted by a lively band playing for the crowd, composed of NPC couples dancing tango with a unique animation that resembles its real-life counterpart with careful detail. If 47 follows the main escape route after eliminating both targets, he’ll show off his expertise in the South American dance in a cutscene.
Part of the challenge was to have NPCs dancing without the cloth simulations acting erratically, Ansdal explains. This was especially difficult to pull off since the animations can be interrupted with the player’s actions. What’s more, 47 can dance in pretty much any of the unlockable outfits in the game during the end of the mission, and each of them had to work with the complex animations. Nailing the aspects of tango was a big priority from the very beginning — IO Interactive hired professional dancers for the animations, and also consulted them about the music.
An eye for detail
Along with a playlist featuring popular tangos, Prada also provided several cultural details, which led to guards talking about soccer during patrol and characters drinking mate, a traditional South American drink. The latter prompted a small controversy among Argentinian players, as NPCs aren’t seen using the metal straw called bombilla. However, Ansdal confirms there is indeed an animation for it.
“This guard seems to still be using a placeholder coffee drinking animation,” he explains. “This is a bug, which is now annoying me a lot. I will make sure it is fixed for the next patch!”
Argentinian players were disappointed by the lack of a proper accent from NPCs, which the developers attribute to lack of time and budgetary constraints. The Covid-19 pandemic also made casting and recording new voice actors far more difficult than usual. In the end, the team chose to focus on voice talent that would fit the Chongqing level rather than Argentinian voice actors.
“We decided that reusing our Colombian and Mexican accents was still better than having British gauchos,” Ansdal explains.
Despite these shortcomings, Hitman 3’s jaunt to Mendoza is an open door to explore Argentinian culture in a way no other video game has attempted. The playground of poisoned mates and throwable Malbec bottles is particularly memorable for local players, and a compelling showcase of the country’s potential in the games’ sphere.
Even 47 seems to enjoy his visit, as players can taste a glass of wine and see him exchange a thorough description of its smell and flavor with a bartender.
"We like to think that 47 is a man of such immense preparation that he has mastered every skill that might become useful for a hit,” Ansdal concludes. “Wine is a common hobby for the rich, and so it makes sense that 47 would have honed his degustation to perfection. Personally, I find it very funny to imagine [him] in a dark safehouse, surrounded by weapons and disguises, practicing taste notes for Malbec — just in case he needs it."
Hitman 3 is available now for PC, Switch, Stadia, Xbox, and PlayStation.