Defining the Assassin
Gameplay on the Move
intriguing Ubisoft Montreal-lead GDC session, discussing the company's
next-gen title, started just a few minutes later than its scheduled
time with the somewhat unexpected announcement from conference staff
that no picture or video footage may be taken during the conference.
was only somewhat unexpected since it is possible to merely talk about
company projects and processes without showing a single image of
internal tools and builds; many lectures choose to go that route. This
was not one of them, and the announcement helped raise the expectations
of the audience.
Ubisoft Montreal Creative Director Patrice Desilets
Assassin is Ubisoft Montreal's working name for their game set on
redefining the action genre for next-generation consoles; with such
ambition comes a healthy mix of strong, disruptive design philosophies
and a stiff shot of new technology, as was presented. Representing
Project Assassin were Creative Director Patrice Desilets, whose
previous work was on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Producer Jade Raymond.
next-generation of consoles will afford developers more possibilities
than ever before; with that in mind, Patrice's vision for
next-generation games consists of organic design. Patrice looked at
what was possible in reality and wondered, "Why do we create rules for
our characters instead of using the ones we have in the real world?"
From this, he states that the more game rules can mirror real-life
rules, the better players are able to suspend their disbelief and be
immersed in the game. He also states that with a foundation in real
world rules, games can be made even more accessible to the non-gaming
public because of their familiarity with those rules.
The only released art of Ubisoft's Project Assassin thus far.
showed the audience a reference video montage they used for the actions
and scenarios that they would like to see in this game. Among the
clips were scenes from Raiders of the Lost Art, Braveheart, the French film Banlieue 13 featuring noted traceur David Belle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Belle),
Japanese anime action scenes, and American football game video game
clips. All the scenes featured different types of interactions, from
people using the architecture and environment in sophisticated ways to
motion through crowds to various methods of combat. "In order to be
accessible and immersive in a rich and complex world, interactivity
must be interactive," he said.
Ubisoft Montreal Producer Jade Raymond
then moved to the theory and practice component of the session's title,
using existing videos to show the current state of video games before
switching to the tools they developed to create a different type of
began by talking about the game cliché of the double jump. It exists
only in video game parlance and is not only inorganic, it is not
understood by anyone except video game players. Instead, Patrice uses
human possibilities for jumping. "Just like in real life a jump
shouldn't be hard to do… you shouldn't have to think about it." The
team designed a system of targetable jumping, using dynamic blending of
start and end positions based on all human possibilities, and in this
system, a jump cannot be modified once it is started, unlike the video
game convention. Jade then presented the jumping tool they developed,
which featured numerous beams which the game avatar could jump onto or
hang from; designers could use this tool to see the full range of
possibilities of the avatar and system.
Patrice presented the climbing cliché; a different texture on a wall
signaled to the player that it was climbable; instead of this, Patrice
set a rule that any thing that juts out 10 centimeters can be used as a
handhold or step. This gives the player horizontal and vertical
possibilities and, like real life, make climbing about targeting the
right place rather than being able to or not. Again, Jade presented
the climb tool, which shows a 3D object and an avatar, and presents the
possibilities of motion with that object. It featured all the
different possible poses for climbing and animates between each one
using blending and inverse kinematics.
the larger realm of level design, again Patrice stated that they take a
cue from real life, making it a totally free path rather than the
linear rhythm sequence of previous games. This provides different
relationship between level designers and art designers. Typically,
level designers flag the path of interactivity within an environment;
now, the tools can create these flags based on the 3D art assets. This
means that level designers have to work much more closely with art
because the visuals actually create the gameplay. Jade showed a video
tech demo of what results from these design decisions; it featured a
very fleshed-out environment, which the avatar had no problem
traversing through running, climbing, and jumping on top of and around
buildings. She noted that in this video, all the player is doing is
moving with the directional pad and pressing a single button.
next cliché Patrice presented was in fighting among NPCs. Rather than
the room to room "sausage link" design he presented in previous games,
fights should follow reality, with swords being as lethal as they
normally are and fights being as escapable as the world surrounding
would permit. Another tech demo showed a character working within this
system and surviving through an auto-block system Patrice developed for
"…interaction with NPCs should be more diverse than killing," Patrice
said. Just like in real life, people should be obstacles; pushing and
unbalancing should also happen. He showed video clips of Madden and FIFA
to demonstrate how sports games are already doing this. Jade then
presented a series of videos showing how an avatar would automatically
move his hands to push or twist his body to accommodate the people that
were in his way while he moved. Sometimes he would unbalance or push
someone down; eventually, the guard characters began to push him down.
They would even pin him by the arms and keep him from moving after
then talked about the AI in the controller interface that's necessary
for making this happen. Over 700 contextual interactions are in place
and there is still more to come. Each button is mapped to a body part,
and intensity dictates the type of action that happens; five buttons
and the directional are responsible for all the controls in the game.
Assassin strives for real world rules and drew influence from many
sources including parkour (also known as free running).
final video showed a full gameplay sequence that featured all of these
elements. The avatar walked through a crowded street and jumped from
rooftop to rooftop before descending to street level to assassinate a
character, then had to escape from a large group of guards intent on
either arresting or killing him. The video ends with him about to ride
the horse to escape, and the two note that there is a lot more that
they haven't revealed in gameplay elements.
the session's conclusion, Patrice noted the importance of intuitive and
organic controls in games, especially for the non-gamers of today.
Jade ran another movie montage of the target possibilities that game
developers have yet to hit. It will be an interesting future as
developers try many different paths to expand video games' reach with
both gamers and non-gamers.