OXCGN’s Assassin’s Creed 3 Interview with Julien Laffiere
Life, Liberty, and Assassination
by Arthur Kotsopoulos and Daniel Geikowksi
©2012 Arthur Kotsopoulos and Daniel Geikowski
Assassin’s Creed 3 is looking to be one of the biggest, most adventurous titles of 2012.
From an entirely new environment to the new protagonist, Connor, to naval battles to dogs, it’s bursting at the seams with content.
OXCGN’s Arthur Kotsopoulos and Daniel Geikowski sat down with Ubisoft’s Julien Laffiere to answer a few of OXCGN’s burning questions about the game, including the pro-American controversy, their choice of cities and mission balance.
You’ll gain a deeper insight into the world behind Assassin’s Creed 3.
Julien: Cool, haha.
Arthur: How are you handling overseas (primarily English) allegations that the game is portraying the conflict as supposedly “pro-American” rather than neutral? Even though they (America) did win. (OXCGN debates the issue here)
Julien: We’ve been talking about it. I was in the UK about three weeks ago for the press tour, so obviously they wanted to know “Why do you guys hate us?” and stuff like that. It’s not about British hating at all. If you look at it, the concept of America didn’t exist at first, right? It wasn’t Americans versus British.
It was British with some ideals versus British with other ideals or realities. It was loyalists that were loyal to the crown, or patriots or rebels that were against the crown and the taxation. That’s the story that we’re telling: we’re not telling a story about the American Revolution or following George Washington through everything he did. We’re following the story about Connor who is an assassin against the Templars.
Templars are on both sides of the conflict, there’s not just “British are Templars” and “the Americans are Assassins”. They’re on both sides of the conflict and you can also kill ‘Blue Coats’.
In the way we built Connor as a character, we especially chose to have a Native American protagonist because we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t take sides, Americans or British. We really wanted a character who was neutral and use the revolution as the backdrop.
Just like we used the Italian Renaissance as a backdrop, we weren’t telling the story about the conflict at that time; we were telling the story of Ezio IN that period, so the same for Connor. We’re telling the story of Connor in that period.
Arthur: With Ubisoft Montreal being close to Quebec City, one of the oldest cities in North America and an ideal location for an Assassin to scramble over, as well as a place under siege during both the Seven Years War and the War of Independence, why was the choice made to have New York and Boston featured and to leave others out?
I don’t know if you guys have ever been there but it’s a beautiful city, a very historical citynas well and in the history of North America it’s pretty important, but the story about the American Revolution happened really in Boston and New York.
There’s a certain number of cities we can do realistically if we wanted to, but the game is already pretty huge right now.
For example, for awhile we prototyped Philadelphia and we saw that, first of all, a third city would have made the game pretty big, and also the way it was built was with very large streets that wouldn’t be super interesting for gameplay, so the same logic applied to other cities.
It could be cool to do something in Quebec, but what’s the value of doing it in the end? We have to choose our battle in a certain way, but Quebec would have been pretty cool for sure.
Arthur: One of the big attractions for many Assassin’s Creed fans was the beautiful, architecturally rich playgrounds that the player could clamber over and move through. Do you think the focus on the Red Dead-like wilderness areas might detract from that feel, or have the opposite effect and make the game more fresh?
Julien: I feel it’s going to make it fresh. I mean, it’s my opinion, right? I worked on the game. I feel that it’s really going to make the game feel very fresh.
I worked on the franchise for a few years, and the first time I saw prototypes of tree running and the new climbing that we have, I was very excited and I see that game every day.
I see the code way too much, and I was excited. Players will probably be excited about it.
We really treated the forest like a third city in a certain way; we built it not with the same logic, because the logic is totally different, but the same spirit. You compare it to Red Dead Redemption. We wanted to have a full 3D environment that you can climb.
Anything you see you can climb. Basically, I want to be able to climb a tree, I want to be able to climb a big cliff; that’s just the sort of fantasy we wanted and I think that’s what made Assassin’s Creed the game it is and the franchise that it is right now.
We wanted to keep that in the forest; for us, the forest is the big new city if you want. So we have landmark trees that you can climb all the way inside the foliage, and the same with the mountains you can climb.
You get this perspective on this land so that’s the fantasy we wanted to do, but feel very fresh.
On top of it you also have seasons, so you’ll play in the frontier in the Summer, then you go back and it’s Winter and it’s totally different. I feel it’s going to be fresh.
Julien: Yeah, we like to call him the “ultimate predator in the forest.” He’s at home there, and all the gameplay we’ve put in the forest will make you feel that.
When you’re above trees, you feel as if you have this unique perspective on things, so when enemies lurk around you can use your rope dart to get them undetected.
The whole personality and behaviour of the character was influenced by the forest, and we tried to have as many as possible of these elements inside the cities as well to have this fresh new experience, to feel like he’s the ultimate hunter in a kind of way.
Julien: Well, for us we didn’t want the snow to be a simple white texture over the map; it’s beautiful, but if it doesn’t serve the gameplay, in the end it’s kind of a missed opportunity.
For us it was important to make sure it would slow Connor so that you would be encouraged to go up in the trees and slow down the enemy to give you a tactical advantage, and also, to play with the footprint trails to say, “Hey, somebody obviously stepped there.”
Arthur: With the size of the game (being the largest AC title to date), how has the mission structure been handled? Obviously, it’s not going to be filled with nothing but “Go here and kill X” or “Go here and fetch X”.
We have a lot of side content, too, so Naval battles, forts, convoys, and we also have a bunch of stuff you can do that’s completely optional you can engage in if you want to. The homestead (the whole village you get to build around your manor by doing missions) is a big deal.
But for main missions, which was more your question, we’ve done a few games now and in terms of missions we wanted to improve the way we do them. So, not have a different story with the same types of missions like “Go here and kill this guy,” there are a bunch of improvements that we did and one I can think of is that missions are built in a way to always try to surprise the player.
You might be in a chase and the person you’re chasing will transform into the trail of another person, so the original person you were chasing is not your target; it’s the other one. We always tried to send some curve balls to the player, and the optional objectives are back, but they’re unveiled as you do the missions, so as to not overload the player.
At first, you would get a mission that has little description, and then there are the optional objectives, so then you’re like “Oh, I’m following a guy but I’m probably going to have to use my pistol, I’m probably going to do some shooting… but it seems like a non-lethal mission in the first place.”
We unveil those objectives as you go and I think that will improve the pace and the general feeling of the missions. There are also missions happening that I wouldn’t say are in exclusive locations, but some missions were specifically built to happen in a place that was custom built for that mission. I think the pacing is really interesting.
We’ve certainly read a lot of comments about missions being repetitive and we tried to address them as best we could.
I think that was lurking behind your question?
Arthur: Yeah, Revelations was good but I felt it was too much of the same as Brotherhood, because Brotherhood is my favourite of the series. Revelations just didn’t have that balance of missions with story and then the general side missions, so the tower defense parts were a bit worthless.
You didn’t need to do them; they weren’t necessary, and you could have done one or two of them at the start and then after that, even if they were being taken over or under siege, you just didn’t have to do anything with them.
By the time you were done with the game they served no purpose.
Julien: Well, the focus of Revelations was the story, and that thing with Altair and Ezio was really interesting. In AC3 we obviously give birth to Connor; he’s the new character and there’s a lot to do with that story.
In terms of all the side content, we tried to make sure that you can tell you’re on a story.
It’s not like “Why am I doing this for the sake of doing it?”
A lot ties in with the homestead, so you’re going to do things like naval battles, which allow you to unlock trade routes to improve your commerce, and the way you’re doing this is by missions.
Rather than talk to strangers, they have names, and as you do missions with them and improve their skills you will learn their backstory.
We tried to tie everything together and put some narrative meat to it. Obviously, it’s still side content, so you can engage it if you want… or not! Regardless, we really wanted to flesh out a story.
Arthur: And that’s probably why the side missions in Revelations were lacking. Now, do you feel that cross-play between core titles is a great way to further enhance the players’ experience? So with Liberation and AC3 giving the player the ability to unlock special items, et cetera?
Julien: We were super happy when we learned that we would be making a game on the Vita, because first of all there’s a female assassin. That’s something we’ve wanted to do for quite a long time, and we considered it for AC3 but it just didn’t fit, so we were happy to have a female assassin.
But to go back to your question, it’s just cool to be able to tell this story across different elements.
We’ve done comic books that will appeal to a certain audience, and you can tell a different story there. I think having the game on Vita is a great opportunity. It’s not a port; it’s a standalone title and they’re pretty close in terms of time period, so we can do some cross-overs.
It’s a great opportunity: you can play AC3 on PS3, 360 and PC, then play Liberation on Vita and have the same assassin experience and with a different story. It’s a known environment and as game developers, we have this whole meta universe we can tap into.
We can say, “They know about this so let’s show a little reference and see if they can pick it up.”
Arthur: Alex Hutchinson has said that there will be fewer and fewer big AAA games being developed and that this one is the last of the dinosaurs. Does this mean that future Assassin’s Creed games must reduce their scope, or will you be looking at more expansions/episodic content? Such as the Season Pass where “The Tyranny of George Washington” has been the first DLC to be announced.
Do you feel Connor is a character that could be fleshed out over DLC, or over more games such as Ezio was in Revelations or Brotherhood where the development cycle is one to two years, giving players a shorter time to wait and more constant content?
Julien: For us, the way we built the character we didn’t take that into consideration, so we really tried to make the best character possible, the best game possible, the best story possible, all while basically telling thirty years of his life.
As we have done in the past, it lies in the players’ hand. They loved Ezio; the reception was even better than we thought it would have been, even with fans yesterday. They were saying, “How come you don’t make anymore Ezio games? We loved that guy!”
We did three games. The guy was like an old dude in the end, and we told the story we wanted to tell.
To comment on what Alex said, he expressed his personal opinion and maybe it got blown out of proportion. We like to make games and quality games, and we will evolve as the industry evolves.
It’s anyone’s best guess. We all have our opinion on how it’s going to go.
We see games on iPad, which is a great format and brings a lot of different players in the industry, but we’re all about telling stories and as long as there’s a way to tell the story we want to tell, we’re going to tell that story as best as possible.
After that interview, I’m absolutely stoked for Assassin’s Creed 3 and Liberation.
Both titles release on October 30th in the US, with Assassin’s Creed 3 on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC, and Liberation on the Vita.
Assassin’s Creed 3 will also be available on the Wii U at its launch on November 18th.
Limited Editions of the game featured here.
Which versions are you picking up?
©2012 Arthur Kotsopoulos and Daniel Geikowski
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