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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.