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Assassin's Creed 3 E3 2012 interview: Ubisoft on revolutionary sequel

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Assassin's Creed 3 E3 images

© Ubisoft

Assassin's Creed 3 offers the biggest changes to Ubisoft's hugely successful open-world series, offering a new setting - the American Revolution - a new lead in assassin Connor, and new approaches to how urban and wilderness environments are designed and approached by the player.

We chat to creative director Alex Hutchinson about why they opted for this particular time period, how the game's more free-form environments are designed, and whether Connor will be return for future games.

> Read our E3 2012 preview of Assassin's Creed 3

Why go for the American Revolution this time?
"We wanted somewhere fresh, and the beauty of an open world game is that you can go places that are more unusual than, say, a shooter or other genres of game.

"We kind of liked the idea of throwing some problems at ourselves and dealing with them. So somewhere that other games hadn't been with secondary characters and a period that people hadn't touched felt really juicy.

"Also, we wanted to take the navigation somewhere new, we wanted something different. We wanted open environments and wooded environments. Obviously we're moving forward in time and America was at this point kind of an untouched continent, relatively, by at least the West.

"So we had big opportunities for weather, and forests and a new cityscape. We wanted something that didn't look like the previous Assassins and didn't play like the previous Assassins."

Assassin's Creed 3 E3 images

© Ubisoft



And the campaign takes place over a period of 30 years I believe?
"Thereabouts. We realise we probably should never have said that because you can sort of figure things out if you retcon it, but it's thereabouts. It's a bit over 30 years."

And obviously there are going to be all kinds of changes over that set period. How do you represent that in the game?
"Luckily for us, because it's very difficult to change the city radically, obviously, the layouts and the functional things didn't change so much, but if you think of the make-up of Boston for example, it's a city not at war, then at war, an occupied city and then a city that had been liberated by patriots, so you have these crowd or character changes throughout the game

"There are some key things that happen to the environment but most of the changes are in the tone and the behaviour of the NPCs."

Assassin's Creed 3 E3 images

© Ubisoft



You're rebuilding combat from the ground up. What's your philosophy to combat this time?
"We're trying to keep it as fluid and dynamic as possible. So the way we described it early on was that we're a relatively mass-market game so we can't make ridiculously hard combat, but we can make it hard to be amazing at it.

"So you can stumble your way through 90% of fights as a casual player, but if you want to run into a fight, assassinate a guy on the move, immediately begin a kills chain, pick everybody off, switch between pistols and close combat moves and basically wipe everybody out without ever being touched, this should be quite tricky.

"So we worked a lot on the archetypes, we worked a lot on base combat strategy of when you should use which move. We took out the need to lock onto anybody with the left trigger to keep it really, really fluid and we added running assassinations so you can charge enemies with any weapon.

"We have multiple enemies attacking simultaneously now, so there's lots of little things that we put in. You can kick people off buildings - there's a new one for you."

Assassins Creed III screenshot

© Ubisoft



It's been said that the environment is no longer gridded. What knock-on effects does that have when it comes to designing locations?
"It gives your engineers a lot of headaches, that's the first effect. No, it means you have a bit more room to move, so instead of dealing with static metrics of things have to be this far apart or these sorts of distances, we can deal with ranges.

"So the jump can be from 75cm and a metre and a half, so you can start to get more dynamic behaviour from the world team when they're building their environments and you get more natural shapes.

"We thought this would be a catastrophic failure if we built this forest that then looked exactly like a Lego forest or something very static. We tried very hard to make it work in something that looked very natural."

Assassin's Creed 3 E3 images

© Ubisoft



In the cities themselves, you can go into buildings now. Why decide to introduce that at this point in the franchise?
"It was a couple of things. They're not really big interiors, we don't do a lot of them. There are some like you can go into pubs and shops and things like that but we didn't want to go into every house.

"We really like this idea that there's a lot of movies where someone cuts through someone's living room, it was a good idea from one of the guys on the world team and we just thought, 'F**k it', as a chase breaker when you're being pursued, this idea of cutting through buildings and then losing your pursuers was visually exciting and added a bit of flavour, and stopped the buildings from looking like empty shells

"You start to feel there are people in the buildings, there are people around, they do come from somewhere, they don't just live on the street."

Assassins Creed III screenshot

© Ubisoft



You probably can't talk much about Desmond and his part in the game but each Assassin's Creed has had a different gameplay twist. Is that the same here?
"We felt like the story we were always telling was Desmond going from this nobody to being this highly trained assassin by reliving the lives of his ancestors. So I can't really talk about it, but Desmond is far more active this time than he's ever been before."

And when it comes to Connor, Ezio had a story arc over several games. Is that the same here?
"We don't know actually on that one. I don't know. We're eating up a lot of time. The fun thing about Assassin's - or one of the fun things for me is - you get to tell someone's whole life, you know what I mean?

"So any time you just tell like a week, you're losing one of the joys of the game, which is that we can leap forward ten years, or five years, or whatever. So we're eating a lot of time, from him being very small right up to the end of the Revolution.

"I don't know if there's much room left, but I wouldn't be surprised. If he's as popular... we've fallen in love with him, and we like him and hopefully the fans do as well, I'm sure there'll be ways to sneak him into other things. I dunno, Ezio is in Soulcalibur, so who knows?"

Assassin's Creed 3 E3 images

© Ubisoft



Ezio was the central character in three games, and Altair in one. What's the advantage of having one game for one character and three games for one character?
"I think the both have their ups and downs, because one game for one character means you can really sink your teeth into it and it's really fresh and new and cool.

"But when you have the same character in the next game, people come into it already knowing who this guy is and they have a relationship with him so you can sort of start off on the run, you know?

"It was probably the hardest thing we had to do - making sure the costume was right, that it still felt like an assassin but it fitted the period, it reflected a little bit of his heritage.

"Casting a voice actor who doesn't sound like Nolan North, or like Ezio, especially now we have a minority lead, we need to treat it very respectfully, very carefully.

Assassin's Creed 3 E3 images

© Ubisoft



"It was super painful, it took probably a year of ongoing iterations with one group of people to get it to the point where we're happy with it, no one's said, 'Oh my god, he looks terrible', or, 'He sounds retarded', and that means we've at least achieved it.

"It takes a long time, you need time. So if you had a game that was on a much shorter dev cycle, it would be very scary to try and get it right quickly, so I think that's a challenge. If you do, I think it's rewarding. It's much, much more fun to have someone new."

By the looks of the demos that we've seen, there are a lot of advantages to climbing through trees, but are there any disadvantages to that? Are there any scenarios where you'd rather attack from the ground, or do anything from the ground?
"Not really, because we see in playtests that, because it's a game about climbing, if you don't give people a nudge, they're happy to stay - not only on the ground - but on roads.

"We see a lot of people following the roads like good citizens even in, say, Brotherhood where there's only fields between you and the roads, they will go around on the road.

"Which I find very curious, I don't quite understand the logic but that's what happens. No, we always want to encourage you to climb and at the moment there's no downside."


You've discussed basic Wii U stuff, such as how you use the tablet controller during the game. If you play on another console, would there be any sorts of disadvantages or any major differences?
"There's no major difference. Actually one of the best things is, for once PC, Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3 is pretty much identical gaming, 99.9%, which is the first time in a long time we've been in that state.

"So, not really. I think there's little advantages, like the map is always cool to look at but obviously it's not a big disadvantage, because obviously our lead platforms are still PS3 and Xbox 360, so we make it super usable and super fun on those. Then it's just a little added bonus for Wii U players."

> Follow our ongoing E3 2012 coverage

Assassin's Creed 3 will be available on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U and PC on October 31.

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