Alex Amancio left his role art directing Fry Cry 2's sweaty jungles to become creative director on Assassin’s Creed Revelations. The locale might be more refined, but there's a great danger of allowing the Assassin's Creed series, now in its fourth major iteration, to become just as chaotic. We ask Amancio how he's taming Ezio's world, the importance of seagulls to Revelations' Constantinople, and how he's pulling together the work of six different Ubisoft studios to achieve it.
What's been the big challenge of making Assassin’s Creed Revelations?
As Assassin’s Creed is becoming bigger and bigger with every opus, we’re also becoming bigger on the horizontal. We have a lot of different play systems which are just piling up, and we risk losing a lot of the core experience. What we’ve been doing for this game is to try and bring everything closer together, bridge a lot of these systems, and essentially create more of a core experience. We’re also working very hard on blending the narrative with the gameplay. Open world games are notoriously difficult when it comes to this because you have this huge set of systems and then you want to tell a story. How do you guarantee the player is following the story enough and not playing around with the systems – which is what you want, in a sense.
How do you start implementing those changes? At the scripting level?
We start right off the bat. We write the story in a way where we know it will be compatible with this new direction. First of all – fewer characters, more meaningful characters. You don’t want to just have a checklist of different characters that you’re parading in front of the player. You actually want these characters to mean something. And for them to mean something, the player has to live something with the characters. That means restricting the actual number.
And then making sure the story is simple enough to be followed so that you can stop playing for a week, for example, and then pick back up and understand what’s going on, but without making it overly simple so that the story is just very high level. So how we do it is we actually construct the story in layers. The first layer is extremely simple: you know what you have to do, and in the case of Revelations, it’s find the five keys that will open Masyaf. But once you start digging, there’s different layers of story and narrative and character that create a rich tapestry.
How do Ubisoft's studios come together to make this project?
Montreal is the lead for game. Traditionally for Assassin's Creed, Montreal is always the lead. Then we have Ubisoft Quebec, which creates the exotic gameplay moments. They created the flying machine and the tank in Brotherhood. Now they're still bringing these new exotic systems into the game. They also did a mission for the game – they made our Gamescom demo mission. Then we have Singapore. They traditionally do the linear sequences. We have Ubisoft Annecy, which works on the multiplayer, starting with Brotherhood. We have Ubisoft Massive, which created another one of the rich elements we have in the game, the completely optional Desmond experience. It's something for players who want to dig deeper into the characters' pasts. I think these are pretty much the main studios who worked on it, and we have Bucharest do some testing work for us. So it is really a global initiative.
Is is hard to co-ordinate? What are the challenges?
Working with so many studios around the world – just the different time zones – it's either very early meetings or very late meetings. There's 6 hours with Europe, 12 hours with Singapore. But those guys are professional, they know what they're doing. Plus, I must say the teams on Assassin's Creed are passionate about the game, and it is so not an ego-driven initiative. It's more of a team-work. We all have one thing in mind, and it's the end product, the game being as good as it can be. It's been a pleasure to work with all these people around the globe.
Is the spread of workload a function of making three games in three years?
Of course there's the factor of actually making the game in a short period. But in my experience in game development any amount of time they give me is a short period, because you just cram as much as you can into it. So even if were to do a three- or four-year initiative, I think we would still work in this fashion, just because these people have grown in experience, and have become experts at these areas in the game. I think it's more to do with expertise than the amount of time that we have.
There must have been a worry that quality would drop. Were there discussions about what to put in place to stop that from happening?
There's always that worry, no matter the development cycle. We knew for a fact the game was going to be shipped in a year, so we really did take measures to make sure that the game that we were making would be high quality. Now if the game hadn't been to our liking, would we have shipped it? I don't think so. We have a lot of respect within Ubisoft for the franchise – this is our baby, right? We created this from the ground up and everybody at the company, even people that don't work on the series directly, we're very proud of what it's accomplished, and we're very protective of it. We have a strong leadership cell here in Montreal, and we make sure that everything fits together. And ultimately, we're not afraid of reacting if we feel that we haven't delivered exactly what we felt we should have.
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