The future of Assassin’s Creed explored

The future of Assassin’s Creed explored
Emily Gera Updated on by

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Ezio’s story is nearing its end, but we got the chance to sit down with lead scriptwriter Darby McDevitt and senior level designer Falco Poiker to talk about the possible future for the series.

Q: You’ve obviously been doing this for a few years. Has the storyline changed at all since you first concocted it?

Darby McDevitt: The Desmond storyline, so the present day layer which you haven’t seen any of today, that’s always been pretty well planned out. There’s been some little course corrections along the way to accommodate for different twists and turns but the main storyline has been mapped out. And then when you get to specific ancestors, we don’t really map out an ancestor’s timeline until we create them.

So when Altair was created after you get near the end of that project, different projects start coming up like Bloodlines for PSP or Altair’s chronicles. Those storylines start to form all together kind of, and we create a timeline. And when we create it – Ezio took about a year or so to come up with the full-scale story for Ezio. Desmond’s story is pretty well mapped out but the ancestors are crafted sort of as they occur.

Q: There’s obviously an undercurrent of the Adam and Eve story and so on. Do you have that fully fleshed out, do you know where that is heading?

DM: Well, the Adam and Eve stuff is not really a story so much as a historical backdrop. Referring to the first civilisation, the ones who came before, we know who they are, and what their role is. So yeah, we have that all mapped out.

Cory, who is the head writer of the whole series, way back in the day, he had all that stuff in the background and we just sort of let them bubble to the surface with every game.

Q: Can the series still be as successful without Ezio at this point, because obviously he’s such a fan favourite?

DM: Yeah! I think it’s a bit like we’ve created our own Doctor Who. We’ve created a mechanism where people are eager after a couple games to see a new ancestor, because that’s the whole idea of the animus. Ezio is a beloved character though so I think even people who are sceptical of a third Ezio game, when they play it they’ll be very sad to see him go. And when they watch the movie Embers that goes along with this game, which kind of concludes Ezio’s story.

But we’ve created this animus thing where the possibilities are endless. By the time you get twenty generations down from a person you’ve got literally millions of ancestors to choose from so that’s very exciting for people. And I think that’s one of the draws, so it’s a double-edged sword. We create cool characters so we don’t want to get rid of them too quickly because there’s a lot to do with them. Old man Ezio is kind of cool.

Q: How would fans respond to a female assassin ancestor?

DM: Very well. I don’t get to make these decisions but we know that the courtesan in multiplayer is the most popular multiplayer character so I have faith that people would respond well.

Q: Would it be too comedic though? To have Desmond transferred into a lady?

Falko Poiker: [Laughs] Well he does have lady ancestors!

DM: The way it works though, the way that gamete cells work, I think, because in a woman they’re all made at the same time you could actually not play your immediate mother. You could not go through her memories. You could go through the one before that, I think that’s the way the logic works.

FP: Really?

DM: Because if eggs are created at the moment of birth, so you wouldn’t have any memory, they wouldn’t be recording a memory of her.

FP: I didn’t actually know about that.

DM: But I think it would be really weird if somebody played their own mum anyway. We’d always want to go back a few generations. You know, like, when Assassin’s Creed was first created, Animus 1.0, the Templar’s animus really put Desmond in the place of Altair because that was the simple way of trying to keep the subject’s mind intact by not throwing them for a loop. In this we have some explanations in this game about avatar projection where you can scale how much or how little you look like your avatar depending on how much the subject responds psychologically to the transfer. So we’ve now gone away from this idea – we could have Desmond play as a woman. He might have to have some strange quips when he came out of it like “that feels weird”. But yeah, I think we could get away with it. If we didn’t make a big deal of it.

FP: I don’t know how far people go in imagining that Desmond is Ezio. When I play the game I feel like I’m following the story of Desmond and I’m following the story of Ezio. And so, I’d love the play a female character. Like, as long as she was cool and badass and moved well. You know, I mean, it would be fun to hear those quips. It would be fun to have Desmond come out of the animus and say something and that would help you tie the two together.

DM: But you wouldn’t want to dwell on it.

FP: We’ve all played Lara Croft.

DM: And that’s the thing, the animus was meant to be a metaphor for game playing. Like, the reason why we have sync bars and the reason why we have these memory walls is because we’re coming up with justifications for playing a game. But we already have me sitting in my living room playing the character, it’s already that one step removed. So when I’m running around with Lara Croft, I’m not like “Oh my god, I can’t believe it, it feels so weird [to be a woman]”.

Q: How far in the future do you expect the franchise to explore? Do you see an early twentieth century period as opposed to a Renaissance period?

DM: We could go anywhere. Currently right now because we have Desmond as our anchor, we’re only going to go places that Desmond plausibly could go. There are certain ancestors he obviously just doesn’t have.

Q: Would the game be able to keep with the same atmosphere if we saw a Vietnam Desmond ancestor, for instance?

FP: For sure.

DM: We could do it well! [laughs]

FP: As long as the story is good and it feels like Assassin’s Creed, it doesn’t become just a pure shooter or something like that, we don’t actually change the game. But Assassin’s Creed has always been about fluidity and motion, and the fantasy of playing another very bold, flexible character.

So if we put one in Vietnam, he or she would just be that character in Vietnam. It wouldn’t necessarily always have a hidden blade or whatever. But it would be about having the fluid motion. I don’t think it would be strange at all. In fact I’ve always thought a World War II character would be interesting. Because what I think is very cool about Assassin’s Creed is that you can have these very big world events and then your character can be threading their way through those world events, and you would see those world events from different points of view.

The easiest example is Renaissance Italy, where we touched on so many characters in Renaissance Italy. From Leonardo DaVinci to the Borgias. You get to meet all these certain characters in different ways and the story makes its way through that, so a World War II or Vietnam would just have the assassins possibly infiltrating behind the lines to the Germans and you meet them and find out they’re more complex than that. Because we do also try and flesh out our characters and treat our enemies as more than just bad guys.

DM: This is not, of course, a confirmation that we’re thinking in that direction but the other thing is, a lot of people say “no we don’t want a World War II setting because that’s been done before” but what they’re really talking about is shooters have always gone there. First-person shooters or maybe some real-time strategy games. So the idea that a setting that has already been visited is just somehow going to feel old and worn out. It happens, with the mechanics of the parkour and the stealth and the combat, the way we do it, it would be a different game, it wouldn’t be rehashing an old thing.

FP: You could imagine running around London while the bombs fall.

DM: It would be a completely different experience. But of course we’ve got all of human history open to us.

FP: It might be more interesting to go further back in time. But the further back you go the more difficult it is for us because the records that we go by haven’t, in a sense, well say we did World War II, the maps and records that we’d have [would be readily available]. We could even find exactly where areas got bombed. But at the same time that would kind of restrain our artistic freedom in the sense that we’d want to make things slightly different. If you go back to Egyptian period, the records are very slim about what the actual cities look like, what the décor looked like, we don’t really know. The records that we have unearthed were things like buildings of the rich because they would have been made of better material. So that gives us more artistic freedom but makes it more difficult to figure out how do we make sure it feels right. Do we make it all up or do we somehow find out something?

DM: The other thing is, we’ve made a big impression with our parkour mechanics. If you suddenly were like “Hey, this is in the middle of a desert!,” how do you adapt a third of what makes this series so great?

Q: In this game it’s been pointed out there will be a snowy setting. Is that going to have any effect on the gameplay or is that purely atmospheric?

FP: No. We did have something that, we had a hiding spot that was a snow bank but it ended up being cut for time reasons. On top of Masyaf tower we had a snow bank and you could jump into it. But we cut it because it would have only been in that one spot. It wouldn’t make sense to have it in any other place.

Q: This is the second game since Assassin’s Creed 2 that hasn’t been called Assassin’s Creed 3. What does it take to get to the next, non-subtitled game?

FP: New time period, new ancestor. That’s how we make a new game. It’s kind of like, Grand Theft Auto did the same thing. Though would it involve new character and time period? Probably not.

DM: What it also is too, is that we created this great engine for AC2 and now we’re like, we’ve created all these systems and let’s play with these systems in lots of different ways. So the leap between AC 1 and the second one, that’s a huge technological leap as well. So what we do, it’s just like creating a character, like you have Ezio – you want to use him more than once. We’ve created a great engine with lots of new systems, we want to tweak it and see what we can do too.

Q: I won’t ask about Assassin’s Creed 3 because that’s jumping the gun but can you see yourself focusing on an ancestor as thoroughly as you have with Ezio over a period of years?

DM: We don’t even know how to count to three yet.

FP: One, two, what comes after two? Brotherhood?

DM: Oh yeah. All these games work so well because you have a strong central character. Ezio is just great, and especially with the opportunity of three games, and I guess Discovery is four, that creates a big robust character that very few games actually age their character in a realistic manner and get to watch them go through specific stages of life.

Q: Is watching them age going to be a regular occurrence in future games then?

FP: We don’t necessarily need to see a character be born, like we did with Ezio, that might not necessarily happen. But we could always do prequels as well. We could have a character that’s a certain age in one day and then go back to his or her teenage years. We’re not going to lock ourselves into repeating anything necessarily. But if we create a character for one series why not explore that character further because there’s always more stories to tell especially if people really like the character.

Q: In Brotherhood you experimented with multiplayer, non-traditional multiplayer. Can you see yourself adopting more traditional models like Deathmatch and so on?

DM: We do have Capture the Flag. Artefact Assault we call it. We’ve got a lot of new modes. So it’s an upgraded version of the Brotherhood multiplayer with more modes, new characters, streamlined mechanics. We have very, very dedicated fans to our multiplayer. We found that some people found certain things like the scoring to be fairly obtuse, so we’ve made it clear like if you’re about to kill somebody you have a very clear meter indicating how many points you’re going to be getting for the kill in order to make it clear for first time players. And then we’ve included a narrative layer on top of it, so as you advance the multiplayer you actually get to see very cool story snippets about the behind the scenes workings of Abstergo.

FP: I would just say it doesn’t really make sense for us to [move toward traditional multiplayer] because we had a certain amount of success with our more eclectic take on multiplayer, and for us to go for more a straight shooter kind of thing it doesn’t really make sense. What makes more sense for us is to make sure the game is accessible for everybody. The danger of having a unique multiplayer is that, or just a unique game in general, it’s that when you get to the third version the people who are familiar with it are going to have an advantage over the people who are new and you have to always be fighting against that and make sure somebody who has never played it before still has a chance. So I guess one way to do that would be just to use standard multiplayer things like capture the flag and death match. Which we do but we don’t revolve around that. That’s a handicap I think, to rely on what people already know.

Q: How much of the previous Brotherhood story are you wrapping up in Revelations?

DM: All of it except Desmond. Ezio and Altair’s stories are wrapping up, with this and Embers.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations will be released November 15 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.