INTERVIEW: Michael Hampden, lead designer of Assassin's Creed: Rogue - MCV

INTERVIEW: Michael Hampden, lead designer of Assassin's Creed: Rogue

Assassin's Creed prepares to drop a Marvel 'Phase Two' style change-up on us with Unity, but its final current-gen installation is every bit as big as its contemporaries
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Develop had the chance to sit down and pick the brain of Michael Hampden, the Lead Designer on Rogue, who was also heavily involved in the on-water gameplay of the series for the past two iterations.

So was the team behind Rogue primarily made up of Black Flag developers, or did those people end up moving on to Unity?

Kind of both. We had guys who worked on Black Flag who went on to Unity - we had guys like myself who went on to Rogue, so yeah, but regardless we have a team which is a veteran Assassin’s Creed team.

The team which was the lead for this game was Ubisoft Sofia, which is in Bulgaria. They’re an extremely experienced developer, having worked on Black Flag and on Liberation - so a very experienced team to be taking the lead. In Singapore, we had people who had worked on both Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed IV: Blag Flag.

Does the Ubisoft model of having multiple studios work on a title at any given time, and indeed have studios kind of come in and out of the franchise, work as a blessing or a curse?

I think it’s actually an advantage. Most of our studios work on multiple projects.

I think that the great thing about having such a globally diverse gorup of developers it that you have different ideas. You have devs in different areas coming up with different ideas that maybe in another location they wouldn’t have, maybe because of their cultural background or life experience or whatever.

I think that the diversity it provides is good.

So walk us through the development process behind Assassin's Creed: Rogue from your perspective in Singapore.

Well, we were in Singapore, and we needed to figure out what the scope of the game was going to be and what the features were going to be. I managed to get an opportunity to try some new stuff with an awesome team.

So we’ve got all these new ingredients like icebergs and ice sheets - stuff to make the naval gameplay more interesting. Our studio was the one which created the naval experience in Assassin’s Creed III, and so having the naval stuff being such a big part of Rogue allowed us to push a lot of boundaries and really see where we could take it to make it more dynamic.

One of the things you find with a franchise like Assassin’s Creed, because they're such big games, is that you don’t actually get to play it start to finish until fairly late in development. In about alpha or so I finally managed to have time to spend two or three days just playing through the game (not that you can play through the whole game in two or three days), playing through a lot of the storyline and a lot of the content in the order that it’s supposed to be played, and I was really happy with how fun the game was, how all the systems worked together. 

We have a lot of really cool systemic elements in the open world. The game is set sduring the Seven Years War, with the French and British fighting for global dominance. As a result (in the naval battles especially) you can see British and French ships fighting in the world - you can jump in and help the British fighting in their battles (since they're your allies), or you could be fighting against a French ship by yourself, and see this British brig come crashing over the waves and slam into the guy you’re fighting.

You have all these cool systemic elements which help you feel that the game is really coming alive.

With Assassin's Creed: Unity being set to really push the franchise into the new generation, did you feel you had the support, team and budget you needed to make Rogue as strong as it could be? 

Absolutely! We had a full production going on with Rogue, it was very much a triple-A Assassin’s Creed experience.

We’ve got so many new features, and one of the best things about it is that we’ve got a huge open world (more playable land mass than even Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag), so if you love the open world in Black Flag you’re going to love this.

I understand the control scheme has been altered for Unity. Did you ever look at what the team(s) had done with that game and decide to roll any of their control ideas back into Rogue?

Not really. We felt that our fans (especially those fans that are going to be playing Rogue on PS3 and 360) would appreciate it if we gave them the tools they were used to from Black Flag. If you played Black Flag, the controls are very similar.

And with Rogue being the last in a long tradition of Assassin's Creed games on the PS3/360 console generation, did you feel like you had enough flexibility to mould the franchise, or was it kind of set in its ways by then?

Well, the cool thing about the franchise is that it’s got such a long history. There are so many mechanics and cool things we’ve got in the game. You already know what it’s like to play as an Assassin. You know about air assassinations, you know about taking apidgeon and finding an assassination contract off of that.

So in Rogue we kind of flipped it, and decided to make you a templar for the first time.

You’re now fighting assassins. You’ve got assassins that can actually assassinate you. They can air assassinate you - they can jump out of a hay stack and try and stab you. We’ve got cool things like you can actually capture a pidgeon and actually find the contract and intercept them before they kill the guy, so we flip it and you get to see what it’s like from the other perspective, which is pretty cool.

Were there any major features which were left on the cutting room floor which you would've liked to see make it into this game?

Yeah, I mean you always have a couple of things which you try and they don’t really work out. I don’t know if I can really tell you exactly what they were, but it’s always a case of trying things.

It’s just part of the process of game development - you think of an idea, try it out. We might not end up using the idea int eh way we thought we would, but you’ll end up using it in a different way or finding some other application to make it work.

Thank you for your time!

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