By Steve Wright
GAME NAME: Assassin's Creed III
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Montreal
PLATFORM(S): PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U
GENRE(S): Action, Stealth
RELEASE DATE(S): 31 October 2012 (Xbox 360, PS3), 22 November 2012 (PC), 30 November 2012 (Wii U)
I met Philippe Bergeron on the last day of the EB Expo, after he had already spent three days speaking with Australian journalists about the upcoming Assassin’s Creed III. Knowing he was from Canada, I was tempted to introduce myself to him and ask my first question in French. I decided against it as he looked a little weary from constant interviews. Well, that, and it’s been ten years since I was in Canada using my French. It would have been embarrassing and may have even pushed the poor guy over the edge.
Instead, I went full-English on him and got him talking about a different type of weariness altogether – Ezio burnout.
“[Development] was really good this time around. I was lucky, I didn't do all the Assassin's games – I did most of them, I just didn't do Revelations, "Bergeron began. "I got a break where I didn't ship a year. I think it was needed in a sense – not that we [at Ubisoft Montreal] got tired of Ezio, but he became a very familiar face, and it almost became routine to develop missions for him.”
Perking up we began to speak about what a new numbered sequel and main character would do for the Assassin's Creed franchise, Bergeron said, “when we came up with Connor in the new time period, it forced our minds into a creative gear. It was refreshing to go through that process again. Designing things from the ground up is always very fun.”
Bergeron likens Assassin’s Creed III to the beginning of Ezio’s arc in Assassin’s Creed II. “If you look at the Ezio storyline, we had the first iteration in AC2 where it wasn't Templar related; it was very much a revenge story. In the second one, Brotherhood, we really focused on the Assassin's Brotherhood and the Templar war. The third one was really about Ezio in his old age; it was a three act structure.
“With Connor, we wanted to go back to that origin story, cause we're telling the story of a new Assassin. We wanted to see him grow up, grassroots, so we sorta pull back a little bit on the Assassin's stuff. It's still there, the Assassin and Templar stuff; I'd say it plays a slightly bigger role than in Assassin's Creed II. But, it's still about Connor and his village with the backdrop of the American Revolution.”
The change in time period -- and continent -- for Assassin’s Creed III also meant there would have to be big changes in the way that the game was constructed.
“The mentality of the team is to make things as historically accurate as possible. We don't want to play into legends or myths. You know the age-old adage of ‘the history is written by the winners’? We don't want to take that route,” Bergeron said. “We try to have as many sources as we can to get to the root of what actually happened.”
Bergeron paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. “I'll give a specific example, which is the Paul Revere ride,” he said. “That story… well it's a story. It's not something that actually happened. There's the spirit of it that happened, but Paul Revere is just a name that's remembered because it rhymed with the previous limerick of the legend. There's actually a whole bunch of people who rode. It's things like that, that we try to get to the root of; Washington's not going to be a bad-ass hero with his chest exposed yelling, 'Rah, I'm going to kill everybody.'”
Connor, the lead character in Assassin’s Creed III, isn’t a legend like Paul Revere; he’s a fictional character created by Ubisoft. Surely it would have been even more difficult to insert him into history alongside George Washington than with Ezio and historical figures of his time?
“I would say this time around it was more difficult [to place Connor] than [Ezio] in the past because everything is so well documented [from that time]. There are many more versions, and most versions sort of agree; finding the grey zones – which is my bread and butter – is much harder as time goes on,” he chuckled. “So, it was a little more complicated to do, but… we focused on Connor and his village with the American Revolution as the backdrop. We didn't have to stick necessarily to just the wars of the American Revolution; there was other stuff that happened at the same time that wasn't as documented, so we can use those things.”
That new backdrop provided Bergeron and Ubisoft Montreal an entirely new bunch of set-pieces to use. One big element of that – naval battles – were on display at EB Expo as part of the Wii U Assassin's Creed III demo.
"When we started AC3, we knew about the time period, and one of the big parts of that era really is naval warfare. It clearly was something that old engine wasn't able to do; we were pretty much ground-based. But, it did fit the role of ‘exotic gameplay’,” he said. "In the past, we had the Leonardo Da Vinci missions where you drove a tank around, or were on a carriage, or stuff like that.
“So [naval missions] sort of fit that role, which is fun to have in a sandbox game; it's a pace changer. So, when we started looking into that… [we realised] it'd be really expensive to do. But, then… we checked with the Singapore studio to see if they'd take that on as a challenge, and they were totally all for it. So, they… started a prototype on that, and very quickly – like a month into it – they showed us the first version of it, and it was very cool. We could make an entire game of it, but we decided to just keep it a part of our game,” he said laughing.
“So [Singapore] went away, and we asked them to polish it and come back, and when they came back – wow. It was stunning. It was like one of those Michael Bay moments where you just see explosions and go 'yeaaaah!' You want as a gamer to see that and do that, so it just fit the role of exotic gameplay perfectly. And it just got bigger and bigger as time went on.”
The naval experience in Assassin’s Creed III has been thoroughly planned. “We ended up with three silos with naval gameplay,” said Bergeron. “The first one is in everything the main path of gameplay, so they're more narratively driven. Then we have narrative structure for another layer of missions that are purely optional, but there is a narrative structure to it so it builds up to the assassination of a Templar. Then we have privateer contracts, which are more like skirmishes; going out to sea and blowing stuff up.”
Bergeron is the Mission Director of Assassin’s Creed III, and as such, is responsible for quite a bit.
“As far as designing missions and setting the tone goes, it's a team effort,” he said. “We sit down the heads of different departments – the AI guys, the art director, the creative director – and we just throw out ideas. The historian and lead writer are also there.
“We talk about things we wish to see in the game, that we wanted to see in the past and didn't get to do, or that come with the time period. We throw those all on the board and do a first level crafting of a story from that. Just highlights, you know.”
This is where Bergeron really steps in. “It's my job from there to collate all that information, and with all the different features that we have, make something that's cohesive. Knowing we're planning to do naval tech, I sort of give highlights – like, ‘oh, we could do the Battle of Chesapeake,’ or we could do blockades in the ocean – very quick ideas. I try to keep it to that level because I want the actual people who are making the missions to have their own say in it. I want it to come from them; to have them be more passionate in what they do and to be more involved.”
Being involved with Assassin’s Creed for such a long time, Bergeron has some favourite facets of Assassin’s Creed III that he gets to help design. “I have a personal soft spot for the Desmond stuff [in AC games]. We spent more time on him this time around; he's going to get more time in the limelight," he said.
Also, perhaps acknowledging that gamers can get a case of weariness themselves over another sequel in a franchise, he added “we’ve also upped the constraint system to cater to [hardcore gamers’] needs. “You can have up to three active constraints at one time. You can ignore them , and it's going to be easy. Any of the three constraints individually is intermediate difficulty, and if you turn on three at the same time -- and if you can do the mission -- you can get an extra sync bonus. We've targeted that system towards the hardcore player; they're all designed to be complimentary to one another.”
After the EB Expo, Bergeron and colleague Julien Laferriére had the chance to tour a bit of Australia on their way back to Montreal, getting back home just in time for launch. We hope Phillipe had a wonderful time in our country and would like to thank Bergeron and Laferriére both for their time.
You can meet Connor and experience the new constraint system very soon --Assassin’s Creed III launches on Xbox 360 and PS3 on 31 October.