At long last we take a look at the highly anticipated Assassin's Creed 3. Sitting down with the game's IP development director Tommy Francois about who our new Assassin is, how he differs from Ezio, and Red Dead Redemption's impact on the game.
Q: Could you describe Connor's personality? How will you make him as likeable a character as Ezio?
Tommy Francois: I think the interesting thing with Connor was how you innovate in that space. With Altair it was all about the sense of duty as an assassin, Ezio was so much about revenge - that came with a hot temper, and so many different things embedded in the character. With Connor we wanted something very different. First of all because we thought that it reflected the duality of the character. He's half British and he's half American Indian, and we didn't want him to be too involved in the American Revolution. We still wanted him to be about the Assassins versus the Templars. We wanted his personality to be driven by justice moreso than anything else. We wanted him to carry his American Indian heritage but also the internal fight with himself. I'm half American and half French and I constantly battle with myself, now in that instance I think it gives us a lot of subject matter to think about. Which is why when you look at this whole justice thing through the prism of his dual, his bi-cultural background, there are so many different things you can play with. Also there are so many different views. We are looking at a period in history that is basically a European civil war in America. In that instance, also, this world is so not black and white – it's in shades of grey. And that's what we're trying to shoot for within Connor.
Q: In the video footage shown during the presentation Connor seems a bit more taciturn compared to Ezio. Was that a conscious decision?
TF: Yes, if you're going to be someone who is just then in French we say: [A bunch of French words]. This means "rotate your tongue ten times in your mouth before you say something". And it's about exactly not being hot tempered. It's about taking a moment to reflect before you say something your girlfriend is going to hate you for. He's not that person, he's much more low-tempered, he has a thoughtful process, he comes from a background where his village was destroyed. This leaves scars with someone. This means that he's reflected on his own life, his origins, and he's reflected on his place in American Indian culture within this new world that is part of this new society that they are trying to build. I think it comes from being much more taciturn – the word you used – and I think that is exactly what we're shooting for.
Also American Indians, if you're going to be true to what their culture dictates it's a lot about that. It's a lot about taking your time, understanding the elements, feeling the elements, feeling the situation.
Q: You referenced Red Dead Redemption as a point of comparison to Assassin's Creed 3's own Frontier storyline. Can you talk about whether you've taken influence from other genres this time around?
TF: Well I didn't reference Red Dead in that way completely, I was talking about the target gameplay footage which is basically our original pitch video that we created, this is one of the first things we did and obviously we tried to innovate there especially when the game is called Assassin's Creed. We're like "alright! Where will we be able to innovate?" And I referenced Red Dead only because that hunting and all that part of [AC3] was so cool because it hadn't been done and then Red Dead comes out and we're like "Oh, they're doing it". So this just meant we needed to innovate even more.
Q: What have you learned from the previous Assassin's Creed titles?
TF: To create these open world games, every opportunity you get to release a game, you need to improve on your system. They're so big – like life simulations – and they're so emerging in terms of gameplay. It's something where with every step we think we're getting better. We learned early on that our combat system needed to get better, we've learned from AC2 to Brotherhood that the RPG elements needed to get better. I think with Assassin's Creed 3 it's like comparing your life to past relationships. As much as some of them might have been painful if you're no longer in them, I should hope that you focus on the positive and learn from your mistakes. And then build a better one after that. That would be the outlook we have on Assassin's. We obsess over feedback. We know everything everyone thinks about our games and we take that and to the nth degree.
Q: Could you tell us about the new engine – is that ready for Next Gen?
TF: The new engine is ready for Assassin's Creed! It was entirely developed just for Assassin's Creed 3, this allowed us to do a lot more with our cutscenes for one, we have much higher detailed characters, we were also capable of doing motion capture, motion capture with facial capture and voice over at the same time, which allows us to have a level of synchronicity closer to what you may see in a Hollywood movie. This is important to delivering story because it allows characters to get truly emotional and the game to focus on their face, but on top of that what it's allowed us to do is draw 2000 characters, and we were never capable of doing that. If you're going to go visit Bunker Hill then you can't portray the battle as it was fought in that day without that, but what it also allowed us to do was create the Frontier. Because the game wasn't ready – we re-did every single animation in the game. Not one of the animations in AC3 is from a previous game. We had to re-do our whole tech tree from that perspective. We also completely changed non-playable characters in relation to Connor but also in relation to how they interact with other non-player characters. Now the animations are much smoother, much faster, the game doesn't bog down. It's allowed us to implement a weather system, we make it impossible for powder weapons in the rain. To fully answer your question about Next Gen, whatever the engine may be it will only be to serve gameplay.
Q: In terms of the simultaneous motion capture and voice work, does this suggest there will be more of a focus on cutscenes in this game compared to those previous?
TF: We're telling a story, I don't know if there's more cutscenes though. What we're saying is we're definitely making it more appealing and more emotional, this is a new hero and a new setting, this implies that we have a lot more to tell. In Assassin's 3 we're going back to what we may have been doing in Assassin's 2 and upwards of that.