Assassin’s Creed 3: “Our challenge was, ‘reinvent everything’”
Assassin's Creed III, the cover star of E245, is no mere sequel with a new setting, according to the team who've spent the past three years working on Ubisoft's biggest-ever project. Instead, it's intended as a reinvention, rather than mere iteration, of the multimillion-selling series.
Whereas previous Assassin's Creed games have built upon an existing foundation, adding new mechanics and ideas but keeping to a broadly similar scope, the third game proper is rebuilt from the ground up – starting with brand new engine AnvilNext.
"When we started Assassin's Creed III, right after Assassin's Creed II, we knew Brotherhood was starting, and Brotherhood was a much more direct iteration on [the series]," lead design technical director Marc-Antoine Lussier tells us. "[The Brotherhood team's] guideline was, 'don't reinvent too much, use everything we know, and use the fact that we know how it works to make it even better, but faster'.
"Whereas our challenge was, 'reinvent everything, if possible'."
It's a daunting task. The Assassin's Creed series has hardly lacked ambition over the years, and nor has it held back in terms of the technical demands it placed on the current generation of consoles – a generation that's beginning to creak under the weight of ever larger, and more elaborate, worlds.
"The final product had to be revolutionary," Lussier continues. "On the same consoles, on the same hardware, we had to make sure that we had the power we needed. Also, the fact that we knew the team would be much bigger, that's another aspect – we had to make sure that [AnvilNext] was solid enough and efficient enough to be used by a much larger team."
The engine not only has to survive being pushed and pulled in various directions by hundreds of development staff, and draw the game's 18th century America environments at a decent lick, but also handle an uncommonly expressive protagonist – placed back to back, the 5,000 new animations for Assassin's Creed's main character Connor Kenway would take an hour to watch.
"And there's no cinematic in that – it's just the behaviour when you play," Lussier enthuses. "So there's a lot of new stuff. Everything's changed."
Productions of such scale are becoming increasingly rare, with more developers turning to simpler, more lithe development projects – the charge led, perhaps, by Curiosity, Peter Molyneux's first 22Cans experiment – and the industry becomes ever-more polarised. It's a fact not lost on creative director Alex Hutchinson.
"We're the last of the dinosaurs," he says. "We're still the monster triple-A game with very large teams [and] multiple studios helping out on different bits. There are fewer and fewer of these games being made, especially as the middle has fallen out."
Tags: Action, Adventure, Assassin's Creed III, Design, Engines, Marc-Antoine Lussier, PC, PlayStation 3, Ubisoft, Ubisoft Montreal, Xbox 360