Interviews// Assassin's Creed: Revelations - Part 1

Posted 12 Oct 2011 18:00 by
Assassinís Creed: Revelations is certainly looking like an exciting way to provide closure to the life of Ezio Auditore. And in fact, AltaÔr and Demondsís too. On top of this, itís the third game in the series in as many years. That has to be some creative challenge.

After my playthrough of the first couple of hours into Ezioís final chapter (which you can read here), I spoke with Ubisoft Montrealís Mission Design Director, Falko Poiker, about the many iterations the studio went through. Youíll be quite surprised at how the Den Defence gameplay evolved into the tower defence approach we know today.

We covered a lot of ground in the interview - this is Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon.

SPOnG: This is the third game that features Ezio Auditore. Did you guys plan for a trilogy at all?

Falko Poiker: I canít answer with a definitive yes or no. I would think that... was it always the plan to have three Assassinís Creed games that have the same character? The answer would probably be Ďno.í Did we know what the story of Ezio was during Assassinís Creed II, and did we know where it might go? That would be closer to a Ďyes.í But in games it would be absurd to think that we could definitely make three games out of this, until you see the success of the first one.

On a certain level, we didnít know where things were going, but whether we were going to make two more games with Ezio depended on the success of the previous game. If Brotherhood had bombed, we probably would not have made Revelations. Brotherhood was a bit of a test, really. Can we come up with a game in a year that has the quality necessary to be called Assassinís Creed? And we showed that with flying colours, as far as Iím concerned. Brotherhood was a really fantastic game. I think weíve proved that again with Revelations.

SPOnG: Has it been challenging for you, as mission design director, to think of new ideas and ensure that each new game doesnít bore the player? There must be a danger of making them feel like theyíre doing the same thing over again, with annual releases.

Falko Poiker: Yeah, itís a constant fear that people are going to find repetition in what I do. I was fortunate that I had a fresh team to work with. We brought new people into the team for Revelations, because the people who had developed Assassinís Creed II and Brotherhood were totally beat. We needed to give them a break, instead of saying ĎOkay, youíre doing another one in a year! No more Summer for you!í (Laughs)

At the beginning of Revelationsí development, I just had a lot of brainstorming sessions - and when you have a team of new people everybody has a lot of crazy ideas. The people who have been working on ACII, they had lots of opportunities to come up with ideas and implement them. I was lucky in that I didnít work on ACII, but on Brotherhood, and then became director of Revelations. So I still had some ideas that I wasnít able to implement before.

So it wasnít really tough to come up with new things, per se. I was still worried that players would still slip into the repetition though, so I was constantly working towards ensuring that doesnít happen. And when youíre really actively thinking about something, youíre making subtle changes all the time. In the end, I was going through everything with a fine-toothed comb and anything that looked too repetitive or similar to another mission in the game, I changed. Hopefully that comes through to players in the final game.

That said, the other challenge is that you donít want to go too far away. You donít want the people who love the series to feel uncomfortable with it, to the point where it doesnít seem like Assassinís Creed to them anymore. Youíre always balancing the things that were successful in the previous game yet not wanting to repeat them too much to make people bored.

SPOnG: You guys came close to that line of unfamiliarity with the Den Defence missions. Itís almost like a tower defence game, those segments.

Falko Poiker: It is a tower defence game. (Laughs) Itís not Ďalmost-kinda-likeí a tower defence game, it IS a tower defence game. Only with Ezio and the production values that we need for our game. Most tower defence games that you see out there... because theyíre 2D they have a certain style. But weíve set the genre in Ezioís world, so while it uses the mechanics of a tower defence game, it has the animations and environments of Assassinís Creed.

SPOnG: How did you guys get the idea to implement something like that into the game?

Falko Poiker: It was a big evolution. I mean, we started the project with three major new features - the Hookblade, the bombs and in a sense the Dens. Which wasnít really a new feature, but was a major improvement of what we loved in Brotherhood. We really love the Den gameplay, it really goes back to what the original Assassinís Creed game does very well - hereís your setup, hereís your target, figure out how to do it. You have to be really strategic about how youíre going to assassinate the guy, especially if heís a coward and going to run away.

We wanted to bring that back, but the question is how do you fit the Borgia tower into Constantinople? At that time period, the land was totally dominated by the Ottoman Empire and it didnít make sense for Ezio to come and take over the city from the Ottomans. However, we did have this underground society of Byzantines, who were the previous owners of Constantinople. They are Templars, which is what we made up, and this society is trying to take over the city from the Assassins. So you have this fighting between two underground societies, and thatís really the push and pull of the Dens.

SPOnG: So how did the Den mechanic evolve? Was it always a tower defence-style affair?

Falko Poiker: Well, attacking Dens is just like a Borgia tower attack in Brotherhood. The Den Defence missions used to be simply Ezio actually fighting people, and it just didnít work. It was actually quite boring, because youíd just get waves and waves of enemies and youíd be running around trying to kill them all. We then tried emphasising the bombs to see if that might work... eventually we figured that there has to be a better way of doing this.

It became an evolution of the Brotherhood gameplay, where youíre sending in your fellow Assassins to defend the Den for you. We reviewed it again at that stage, and one of the problems was that it was hard to make sure that the player was looking in the right place. Thatís when we thought of locking the player in place, and put Ezio on a tower so he has an overview of the space. Itís the same concept, therefore, as a tower defence game, so we went with that and studied up on the genre so we could adapt those mechanics into our game.

Thatís how a feature evolves. From the beginning, we donít really have a clear idea of how weíre going to do it. Our Den Attacking missions were the same - we originally thought of having the Dens underground because Constantinople - and Istanbul, by the fact that itís the same city - is full of cisterns and passageways. We tapped into that and decided to make all the Dens underground at one stage. As it was a battle between underground societies, that would have been really cool.

SPOnG: Underground? Cool! Why did that not follow through into the final version of the game?

Falko Poiker: The problem there was that Anvil, our engine that powers Assassinís Creed, is designed for huge outdoor spaces. So the camera, navigation... everything is designed for a very wide view and for speed. When you have an underground location, such as in a game like Splinter Cell, you really want an engine like Unreal, which is made for indoor spaces. It slows the player down, tightens the camera and is designed in such a way to make it easier to see and target things that are nearby.

It was very hard to do the same with Anvil because in a room, Ezio would quickly end up on the other side of the building in a split second. Before you know it, youíre running up the wall and it would be really tough to control. We would have had to recreate the game to allow for underground spaces. We scrapped that idea and put it out of the ground. Once we did that, all of a sudden it worked and it was loads of fun.

In development you try new things, and it evolves to what it is. And I had my doubts, Iíll be clear on that now. I was looking at 2D tower defence games, and I was having a hard time taking that back to our concept and making it into this 3D gameplay. It required a lot of work to make it as an Assassinís Creed feature. I was ready to cut it at any moment, but it just kept getting better and better.

Now you look at it, and itís one of our best features. The guys attacking look convincing, thereís a lot of variety in the gameplay, you can deploy many strategies for success... so it works, but after telling our fans that weíre putting tower defence gameplay into Assassinís Creed, I think three quarters of them would say ĎI dunno, that doesnít seem right.í

SPOnG: Has it been challenging for you, as mission design director, to think of new ideas and ensure that each new game doesnít bore the player? There must be a danger of making them feel like theyíre doing the same thing over again, with annual releases.

Falko Poiker: The Mediterranean Defence mode is an extension of the Assassin recruit missions in Brotherhood. Whatís different is that instead of just playing through missions in a city until some more pop up, thereís a focused goal at the end of it. So as you do these missions, youíre taking over more of the city and eroding the influence of the Templars in the area. Eventually, you take over that city. Itís just adding more of a reason to accomplish these optional tasks, because people did enjoy playing them. This time, youíre not only levelling up your Assassins but also increasing your influence in the Mediterranean.

Part 2 of our interview will be coming to SPOnG soon!

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