Last week we caught up with Jean-Francois Boivin, associate producer on Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, to chat about Heavy Rain, the convergence of films and games, and the challenges of making a multiplayer mode that doesn't just copy CoD.
Q: In the presentation you just gave, someone had to ask whether the action was playable, or whether it was a cutscene. What do you think about the fact that games are becoming a lot more film-like these days?
Jean-Francois Boivin: Do you mean philosophically, or in terms of the Assassin's Creed franchise?
Q: Both, I suppose.
JFB: I'll answer the philosophical question first. I think that eventually video games, movies and the like will all be one and same medium. I can very easily see an Assassin's Creed movie in the future, or a Spider-Man movie, like Spider-Man 9, and you put that stuff in your console and then you just watch the movie. Or perhaps right off the bat, do you want to watch Spider-Man 9, or do you want to play Spider-Man 9? And it's the same quality, the same thing. And then you can pause it, and you say, "Oh I love this scene - I'm going to play this scene." I can see that happening, and we're starting to have a glimpse of the possibility with games like Heavy Rain - which, I have to say, changed my life.
JFB: It changed my entire look outlook on interactive entertainment. This is a glimpse of how we're going to bring the video game industry to the next level of commercialism. I can see my mum playing a game like Heavy Rain - [something] much more accessible, obviously, but just the murder mystery and choosing where you want to go and having 22 different endings and just wanting to re-play that story over and over again... I can see that happening. Now, to answer your initial question about cinematics vs Assassin's, we always wanted to keep the player engaged, and Assassin's is a very story-driven franchise. One of the ways we keep the player engaged is to keep them involved, on a controller level, in the story-telling. There are a few ways you can do that. You can do it through Quick Time Events and so on, but we always want to keep the player involved. The worst thing, in my opinion, that you can do to the player in an action adventure environment is to have them put down the controller and watch. Without knowing it, at the core of your attention level, there's a drop there that can be measured scientifically. We don't want that. We want to keep the player on a high, all the time. Super concentrated, super focused.
Q: You're saying there's a disconnect, because you're not taking part in what's going on?
JFB: Physically, there is. Biologically, there is. And you don't want to do that, you want to keep players entertained at all time.
Q: I recently spoke to Ron Gilbert, and he was saying something similar - that he hates cut-scenes...
JFB: Hang on! The operative word in my previous statement was "action adventure". There are some games where it totally fits. If you put me in a Japanese RPG, I'm expecting that, and I want that, right? For me it fits, and if it doesn't have that then it doesn't have that flavour, so that's what I want. But in an action adventure, the name of the game is... in order to stay 'action adventure', you need to have consistent action and consistent adventure. And if your controller is down, you have neither.
Q: If you look at Assassin's Creed, it's a very accessible game in terms of its controls, but there's still a lot to keep track of. Going back to your playable Spider-Man 9 concept... do you think that games like that will retain that level of complex controls? I loved Heavy Rain, but the controls were basically just movement and a whole load of shorthand commands - and even that was too much for some people.
JFB: On the very surface it didn't seem like a very technical game, but it's a hugely complicated game to produce. That is a behemoth of pure, raw, blunt engineering. And how they were able to make it if you play on easy mode, to make it accessible, that is a jewel! I cannot say enough about this game. That's where I see myself in the future someday.
Q: A game like Heavy Rain?
JFB: It's not exactly that kind of stuff, on a Cartesian level, it's more that kind of feeling that I want to give to the player. The one thing that sold me was the scene where I was in the park with my kid. There's no point system, or life system - they don't have those concepts at all, right? Because of the scene beforehand, where I was very stern with my son - he had to eat write and do his homework, and I sent him off to bed in an hour, and with everything that had happened in the past he was kind of pissed off with me - when there was that next scene in the park with him, I felt obligated to spend quality time with my child. They were able to make me feel guilty about how I acted before, without any kind of reward except how I'm feeling. And to do that is brilliant. A lot of people tried to do that, and not a lot of people were able to do that, and these guys pulled it off. Man, I can't even say how frickin' amazing these guys were at making me feel things - without any kind of reward.