Sylvain Trottier, associate producer on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, on next-gen development and the “grandma test”
Sylvain Trottier, associate producer on Assassin’s Creed IV, is keen to make the differences between generations obvious – so much so that your grandma can tell the difference.
In the new issue of Edge magazine, on sale November 21, we quiz him on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, on next-gen development and on much, much more.
What were the challenges of developing for both generations simultaneously?
For us, it was super important that we didn’t want to end up with two different games. If you go with a next-gen and a current-gen team, chances are that over time the two games will split and they will become very different. It was part of the creative vision to say that we want the same game on all platforms with no gameplay difference and stuff like that. Starting there we said, “OK, where and how can we use the additional power of the CPU, GPU and memory so it looks different?” We came up with something we called ‘the grandma test’. The idea was, if I put the PS3 version and the PS4 version on two TV sets one next to the other, I want a grandma to be able to tell me, “This is the new version.” We wanted somebody somewhere to say, “This is next gen.”
So how do you do that?
The way the entire AC pipeline works, we always start with hi-res and do some magic to shrink down the textures and stuff so it fits in memory on current-gen [consoles]. Yeah, we increased the detail in the faces of the characters on next gen, but these are really light details… We did lots of R&D and we were looking at the before and after with the art directors – very qualified people – and increasing the polygon counts isn’t something that was allowing us to pass the grandma test. You could only really see the difference when it was pointed out. Lighting, shaders, dynamic [flora]: they made a big difference.
Many players are demanding next generation games that are revolutionary. Would you suggest Black Flag’s Xbox One and PS4 update is revolutionary?
Is it going to change everything? No. Not us, because we wanted to push the visuals, pass the grandma test and many of the features we created ended up on current gen, too – like our companion app. Our job was to make a game for our fans, and we did everything we could to give them a beautiful experience on both platforms.
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