Assassin’s Creed Revelations: Annual mission
Since 2009's Assassin's Creed II, the series has been annual, releasing a new chapter in Ezio's story each November. For a game that models entire cities, it would seem a punishing schedule, but Assassin's Creed Revelations mission design director Falco Poiker, who previously worked on Brotherhood, having previously worked on the Ubisoft's Splinter Cell series, begs to differ. We talked to him about the challenges and benefits of a year dev cycle, and what it takes to build a team up to 180 people in the space of a few months.
What would you say is the hardest thing to get right in Assassin's Creed?
Well, one of the things that is really important to the series is accuracy. At least to me, the historical accuracy of it. We're a historical game as opposed to a fantastical game, like Prince Of Persia, for example. You play that game and at no point do you think "This might have actually happened," because you deal with fantastic characters and monsters and powers. What Assassin's Creed has really tried to do is recreate as much as possible these cities and the past, to find real characters that have lived in that period of time. And we add a layer of fiction to them, so that they meet our character who's a fictional character and we wrap our character's story in with them. [My job is] almost policing that sometimes, policing the accuracy part. And not only historically accurate, but accurate to the other games in the story. We want to respect those games and then make sure that the things that were said and done are reflected in our games.
Another big challenge is just the amount of work that needs to be done. There's so many main missions, there's so many optional missions, the cities are huge, the distances that the player needs to cover are huge and we need to make sure that's not boring. There's just the mass of work that needs to be done. That's a huge, huge challenge. Because for me, at the beginning I have to set that all up. I have to explain to everybody what they're going do, so that's a lot of work for me.
Falco Poiker fell in love with Assassin's Creed when he saw a pre-release version, but only managed to get on the team for last year's Brotherhood
And it's been a relatively short space of time, hasn't it?
Yeah, these games, the production cycle is less than a year, which actually for me is about ideal. Most productions – real production is about that length, but because you have the previous game that's just finishing on production and you start the next game's production, there's this very quick ramp-up time where you're just swallowing resources saying, "OK, let's make this team." And from a 20-person team to a 180-people team within a few months, even that is a bit of a nightmare. Getting to know everybody, what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, who do I give this important mission to? It's a creative mission – is that person creative or are they technical? So yeah, the time is definitely not on our side.
But a lot of people complain about that, I mean I'm talking internally – people say there's not enough time. But it gives an impetus to the team and we find a direction that we say we're going to run in, and there's very little of the indecision that comes with teams that spend two, three, four years developing games. Frequently those games will restart completely from the ground-up because they're like, "We're not satisfied where we are." We don't have that luxury so the time actually kind of works in our favour. We go one direction and we go with it. If there's problems, oh well, we'll fix it along the way.
What are you most proud of in the game?
I had an idea for a mission in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood and it ended up being cut because it was too complicated to do. I proposed it again for Revelations and hey, because I'm the director, I've got that much more say and it's in the game. It's where Ezio plays a lute [having knocked out a group of minstrels and stolen their clothes, Ezio plays the lute as a distraction to facilitate an assassination]. That was one of my pet ideas so it's really cool to see that come together.