Ubisoft’s Assassins Creed II is a huge statement of intent about its aggressive stance on games development. It has assigned one of the biggest teams ever to the production – and as well as seeking to improve on the first game, that team is charged with spearheading new explorations in technology and the game-movie crossover. Michael French spoke to producer Sébastien Puel to find out more…
Sébastien Puel has worked for Ubisoft for over five years, eventually becoming producer of the first Assassin’s Creed. As producer on the second game, he is helping oversee the hundreds of staff assigned to the project.
Here he talks about how the game design has been shaped by player feedback and the desire to include tricky historical themes…
You say feedback from the last game has shaped the design of the second. How so?
Assassin’s Creed was an astonishing experience; I believe it brought entirely new elements to the industry by allowing players to fluidly navigate an urban environment while enjoying breathtaking views and full freedom of control.
And beyond gameplay innovations in the area of free-running and crowd, the team also pushed for innovation in storytelling. Assassin’s Creed was the first game to immerse players in a believable and mature experience inspired by historical events.
In Assassin’s Creed II the game structure and the mission system were the most crucial elements we wanted to improve on. We are redefining the overall mission structure to give gamers a more fun, rewarding and unpredictable experience throughout the game by adding a lot of variety in missions types and changing the way the story and the missions unfold.
There are no more patterns of missions to perform, but rather a story that develops through a great amount of missions given characters. Some characters will give you an assassination mission, others an ‘escort and protect’ mission while some will give you a chase mission, and so on. There is no limit to the types of challenges we will give players. We invested most of our development time in ensuring that there is a huge amount of variety and depth in the missions required to finish the story. But we also want the player to have a real freedom and opportunity to explore and ‘use’ the world we have created at their own pace. Cities are now filled with a ton of missions that the player can do if she chooses: for instance, you can now decide to get rid of witnesses if you feel you are becoming too notorious after a not-so-stealthy assassination, or help thieves pursued by guards. These tasks are optional but will bring you interesting rewards if you accept to fulfil them.
What prompted the move in setting for the story of the game from the Middle East to Europe? You try and touch on contentious issues in this series, too – is that ever a problem for a mass-market entertainment company like Ubisoft?
When we created the Assassin’s Creed franchise, we knew we wanted to talk about pivotal periods in history. Moments where everything changes that define the world in which we live. That is exactly the case for the Third Crusade: this period defined the balance of power between Civilization and Religion for the centuries to come.
So when we started Assassin’s Creed II, we asked ourselves the same question. What is an even more exciting defining moment in history? The answer was pretty easy to find: in a few years and in a very precise place, a handful of geniuses radically changed everything; they invented a modern vision of the world, where men were at the centre rather than God. They invented a new way of representing the world with the invention of perspective, they changed politics, architecture, created the art of modern war and diplomacy – they even invented the banking system as we know it! One man even invented planes, helicopter and tanks! Those men were Machiavelli, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Medici to name a few. The place is Italy. The time is the end of the 15th century and it is called Renaissance, literally a Rebirth.
This is history as we learn it. But those were also cruel times, ruled by war, treason and murder. Of course we found it very interesting to depict this darker side of the Renaissance in an Assassin’s Creed game and cast a new light on those astonishing events.
For now – based on the feedback that we have from our fans on forums, Facebook, conventions – everyone is extremely positive about the setting.
Have there been any changes to the core dynamics around character movement and exploration that were such a key part of the design for the first game?
For Assassin’s Creed II, we are keeping the core dynamic that made the first Assassin’s Creed such a great experience.
We are building and adapting on the character physics and animation we created for Altair while taking in mind our new setting and new character. For example, since Venice has higher buildings than Jerusalem – some have up to six floors – we decided that our character needed faster free-running skills. Therefore, lead character Ezio can now climb and run faster across rooftops. Of course we will keep and improve on all those elements with even more gorgeous city landscapes, more animations, a new and even more exciting historical setting, more ways to interact with the crowd.
But our main focus is to bring diversity and depth to the gameplay: more variety in missions and objectives, more weapons, more diverse assassinations and a deep character progression. For example, there is much more exploration in Assassin’s Creed II and exploration will bring more reward. This time, we have secret locations to find in the various environments. The Secret Locations are interiors of several famous landmarks. You can discover their entrance in various regions of the game.
The gameplay in these locations will challenge the player in acrobatics, puzzles and stealth. These locations are not bound to the main quest but offer hours of additional gameplay, details about the story of the assassins versus templars war, and a special reward as players complete each of them. All these elements make the experience evolve throughout the game. We really want Assassin’s Creed II to be unpredictable and have the player wonder after each main assassination: ‘and now, what’s next?’
Check back tomorrow to find out how Ubisoft is also using Assassin’s Creed II to boost its investment in technology – and giving ‘credibility’ to its game via an expansion into making movies.