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An Assassin's Revolution

October 30, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Ubisoft is facing something of an uphill battle with Assassin's Creed III. While the series has had major momentum since its introduction, the company has blown through so many games, it's difficult to chart a path for the franchise. Though it's the third game in the franchise by number, it's the fifth to be released this generation.

How can creative director Alex Hutchinson hope to keep the series fresh and exciting for players? Why did the developer decide to set the game during the American Revolution, and how did it tackle the theme -- and make it relatable to today's players?

Hutchinson answers these questions, and more, in this new Gamasutra interview.

This is your first time working on an Assassin's Creed title. Was there something you were looking forward to bring to the series?

Alexander Hutchinson: When you inherit something that is very successful, your first role is not to screw it up. That was rule number one; make sure you leave it in as a good of a shape as you got it.

We had lots of ideas coming in, not just for Assassin's Creed, but for open-world games in general -- for game structure and how you can bring different experiences in a sandbox environment. I built a lot of sandbox games at Maxis, and there are a lot of different angles you can take.

So I had plenty of ideas when I came on, but I was also conscious that there is a big learning curve in making sure you get steeped in the franchise, and you don't try to take it in a direction it doesn't want to go.

Were there any unique challenges or pitfalls in creating the fifth game in a series?

AH: Whenever you are in a long-running series, everyone's like, "You need to change everything -- but don't change anything." You have to satisfy fans, and you have to stay true to the core pillars of the game, but you need to rethink and reinvigorate as much as possible.

We stripped back a lot of things that have grown up over time. We decided that people thought Assassin's Creed is about climbing buildings. Instead of buildings, we went to the frontier and to forests. I think that feels a lot fresher than a new style of architecture to climb.

It's that real balance of finding enough new to keep people excited and hopefully to attract new fans and making it easy for new people to get into, but at the same time not losing in touch with your heritage. Realizing you're building a consistent and cohesive universe.

You said you began working on AC3 before the sequels to AC2 came out. When those were being developed, and then came out to both criticsm and praise, did that effect AC3?

AH: We worked very closely with those teams and many members of those teams joined us along the way -- when Brotherhood wrapped up, we got people from there; when Revelations wrapped up, we got people from there. It's one big unit, even though we were working on separate titles sometimes.

You know, we pay attention. We looked at what people loved. We looked at Brotherhood and people were getting into using the Brotherhood. We thought this was an interesting idea, you not being alone in the world, but we didn't want to do it the same way. If there is something that is very successful, we tried to take the core principle there and see if we can fit it in into our game.

We like each game in the franchise to be relatively stand alone. So we had the idea of six people that you meet, that have unique stories, that have their own missions associated with them, in AC3. So it's in that same vein, but it's not identical. Similarly, we look at features that aren't received well. If they're not resonating with people, then we know to just avoid them.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Michael Joseph
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"AH: As a designer, I love it. I like the stability of the tech that I know that works. I like the fact that you can start with a headstart. On day one, I can get a character on screen, I can get him running around and moving around. We can use existing mechanics and prototyping new ones without having to go back to zero."


A double edged sword to be sure. if part of the lure of creating sequels or certain genres of games is the safety and comfort of having 90%+ of the code you need out of the gate, then maybe that can cause the tech for creating and advancing other genres to atrophy?

The industry has had heavy investment in tech for FPS shooters and 3rd person action adventures games but perhaps at the expense of others.

Suddenly even if you want to create a major space sim or a new 4x game with cutting edge AI or a grand stratetgy game with a tactical battle component like one might find in a Star Legions (planetary invasion simulation) remake, then there's not a lot of studios that are going to have that sort of tech ready to go. Creative Assembly could do it for Star Legions but who else could?

And perhaps this explains how you end up with a XCOM Enemy Unknown that gets remade and pulled back into a turn based cover shooter instead of picking up those dropped reigns of the genre and pulling it forward. We've stopped making big games and instead make small games with tons of content.

I remember when multiple monitors first came out and there was a sense that multi-monitor gaming was going to take off. Now it's just another personal jet pack I still don't have.

p.s. Lucas Arts could make an Empire-centric planetary invasion game in the style of Total War meets Star Legions and do well I think. Star Trek folks could do one with options of playing as Klingon, Borg or Dominion. Plenty of war like races to choose from there. Oh well... would be nice. And it would be interesting and different. :)

Ronildson Palermo
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True words, nevertheless it is very comfortable to work in an environment like the one described by Alexander.

Simon O Brien
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On the other hand, if there are expectations for you to create a sequel, then having a flexible, existing engine can only be a good thing. Rather than having to start from the ground up just to get 'hygiene' features running, you can spend more of your time developing and testing new features within the existing game mechanisms, adding or stripping away from the 90+% core as needs be. Let's face it, if you're creating games at this kind of level, there's going to be some pretty definite expectations from publishers and fans alike for you to iterate on what they know and love.