A couple of years ago, during a promotional tour of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, associate producer Jean-Francois Boivin said that he felt Assassin's Creed needed "a breather".
"You can't plough a field every year," he said. "Once every three years - or once every something - you have to let it breathe. You have to let the minerals back in. I think it's the same thing with any license, really."
Boivin is no longer with Ubisoft. Funny that. But as it turns out, you can plough a field every 12 months and still beat the previous year's yield. VideoGamer.com talks to game design director Steven Masters to discuss what surprises this year's game has to offer and determine whether Assassin's Creed III really can be the cream of the crop.
VideoGamer: Altair found the Apple, Ezio was the first character to make contact with the First Civilisation... Where does Connor fit in amongst those? What makes him so important to the overall story of Assassin's Creed?
Steven Masters, Game Design Director, Assassin's Creed III: Essentially, it's about Desmond's story. I have to tread carefully because I don't want to give away the core conflict of Desmond. I can tell you that he's back and he's more important than ever, but essentially you're going to be somewhere where you need to find... Ah, yeah. No, I can't give you too much detail on this. This is really hard. Connor has something that you're going to need to get. It's the same premise as all the other Assassin's Creeds essentially. You're after an artefact and you need to relive your ancestors' memories to find out what happened to it so you can track it down. But yeah, he's essential to Desmond's role in the present.
Will there be an apocalypse in ACIII?
[Laughs] I can't give away our story. That's the end of the game, right? Obviously we've been working towards 2012 since the beginning and we're racing towards it right now. Yeah... What happens around that is the crux of the story and I can't give that away right now.
Ubisoft built a trilogy out of Ezio. Do you have plans for Connor beyond ACIII?
We haven't discussed any of our plans for the future yet. I mean, it's safe to say that Assassin's Creed is a big franchise for us. But any stuff on the future I can't comment on.
Do you have plans for Desmond beyond ACIII?
[Laughs] All this is leading towards what's happening next, right? My hands are tied on this.
Does Connor know who Ezio is? Is Ezio a legend in Connor's eyes?
Is there a bloodline between the two?
No, the two of them aren't linked by blood. Your mentor Achilles, who you met in the first cutscene of the sequence that we showed you, he's an old member of the Assassins. He's been around for a while in the New World, but he was part of the New World chapter. So yeah, I think he's got contact or he has knowledge about Ezio, and at some point... I'm just trying to recall in the story if they have a conversation about him or not... But no, there's no direct link between the two characters. It's more about the organisational link, per se.
So there may be references, but...
Yeah, he's not central in any way.
Are we going to see more of Abstergo in ACIII? They haven't been seen in the single-player campaign since Assassin's Creed II.
Yes, I think that's safe to say.
Does Warren Vidic make an appearance in the campaign?
Yeah, I'll give you that one. Yes.
Is the AnvilNext engine next-gen ready?
I can't really speak to the rendering technologies of next-gen, but certainly in terms of pipeline and tool chain and stuff like that, [it] will be pretty straightforward to move to next-gen. But the engineers will need to basically make it work for the new hardware.
Is Ubisoft planning on using the engine for next-gen?
Well yeah, we've been developing Anvil for a long time and there's a lot of people in the company that know how to use the tools. So for us it makes sense to continue developing it. Honestly, I'm not privy to the next-gen hardware or what we're planning on the software side, but I think it's a safe assumption that we will be moving [Anvil] forwards. But it'll probably be... Well, I mean, all the rendering technology would have to change dramatically for the new hardware.
What does AnvilNext allow you to do in ACIII?
We have a couple of scenes - big battles and other scenes - where we're putting over 1,000 people on-screen at the same time. That's an order of magnitude larger than we've ever been able to do. And you actually see it in the crowd when you're navigating in the cities as well. There's actually many more people in the far distance, and some of the architecture of the cities, they just have longer straighter streets. That's something that's traditionally been very difficult for us to achieve. We had to actually put blocking objects and make curves in the roads every 60 metres. So now that we don't have that restriction we're a little bit more free about how we can shape the cities.
But also, the real thing for us was the Frontier and being able to do the organic terrain and support free-running, animals, [and] all the navigation stuff in this new environment. The previous system used for doing free-running, for example, it was fairly rigid. The spacing and the sizing of all the objects had to be quite regular, 90 degree angles, and it didn't really deal with too many options. You could have the occasional beam sticking out, but running up and jumping onto that beam was fairly difficult. And if you were on that beam, you could only go forwards or drop. It was kind of difficult to organise choice inside of the controls.
So the notion of supporting a tree that's made up of a series of Vs that could possibly have branches sticking out or branches at different levels, all of these require a super organic system that's able to reach in a very free-form way. Same thing with having cliffs where it's organic, rocky terrain. You've got little cracks running up it and overhangs. All of these things were just not possible in our previous system, so investing in all of the technology like this just allowed us to make a more organic world.
That's one of the things I noticed during my hands-on. Free-running feels a little more dynamic, a little more natural.
Yeah, I think it's one of the amazing things, like... If you're just riding on your horse or running around on the ground, you see all the trees and it feels like a good action adventure in a forest. But then you realise, 'Oh shit, all of this is interactive'. You can climb all these trees and climb up the cliff faces, and it's options that you've never really had in an action adventure before like this.
So once you start opening your eyes... Like, you remember in AC 1, there was that moment where you realise, 'Oh shit, okay everything I can see is climbable'. And you start to recognise the white cloth over the side of the thing is a starter to go up on the side. Once you start looking around the Frontier you'll have that same moment. The space transforms in your mind. It goes from that rolling terrain with obstacles in the way to something where I can freely play inside of that environment.
Will Desmond be visiting the current-day Frontier, or modern-day Boston?
You will visit some cool places. We're gonna bring him... He's going to have a more important roll than ever before. When you were visiting the Villa in Brotherhood, you were just out there to collect stuff and find a couple of pieces of information. He's going to have a much more interesting role this time.
How does Liberation tie in with Assassin's Creed III?
If you link the two systems together, we'll unlock some stuff on the PS3. But it's mainly about things that will unlock [on Vita].
Are they linked in terms of narrative? I understand that the Animus may not be involved in Liberation.
It's a slightly different concept, yeah. It is the Animus but it's the Abstergo version of it. So yeah, it's not the same.
Is Liberation a timed-exclusive to PlayStation Vita?
Er... No, I think it's a platform-exclusive. It's a true exclusive.
Only I noticed the packaging was missing the 'Only On PlayStation' branding.
Yeah. I wondered whether it may come to iOS or other platforms further down the line?
Not that version as far as I'm aware. I'm pretty sure that's a platform-exclusive.