Who was there: It was a meeting of the creative minds at Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood panel at Comic-Con. Jeffrey Yohalem, lead writer for the series, took to the stage to represent Ubisoft and its current work on Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. He was joined by renowned artists Cameron Stewart and Karl Kerschl, both of whom are working on the upcoming Assassin's Creed comic book series set around the time of the 1908 Tunguska event in Russia.
What they talked about: Yohalem spoke quite a bit about the creative process behind Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and how the team built the foundation for the game. He started by addressing the fact that his staff deliberately chooses events from history that the general populace might not know much about (both in the historical sense and explanations surrounding the event), which then allows them to build up potential conspiracies for storytelling purposes.
He then went on to describe how the animus (the futuristic coffin that lets Desmond and others transport themselves into the bodies of their ancestors) is the ultimate narrative tool in that it fully immerses players into the Assassin's Creed world. It also provides explanations for many things, such as why Altair or Ezio can see icons on a map and know where to go to complete missions. The animus, Yohalem said, also makes it possible (and easy) to jump around history, allowing the team to change settings and dates when necessary to push the overall Assassin's Creed story forward.
Yohalem then went on to speak about the overarching story point of the battle between the assassins and the Templar order. He said that the assassins represent freedom, but at the cost of organization and unity, while the Templar are about control and helping people through questionable means. Yohalem described that when crafting the story arc for an Assassin's Creed game, the team can't function like assassins: They have to work together on even footing to accomplish their goals.
As a result, there are three major rules in constructing an Assassin's Creed game, according to Yohalem. The first is "Everything must be justified." If something is going to appear in the game, it needs a reason to be there and can't just exist for the sake of the game. The second rule is "Assassin's Creed is an experience and not a game."
It's not about winning or losing, according to Yohalem. He pointed to the example of unlocking the entire glyph movie as a reward that moves the story forward and thus enhances the experience, as opposed to the traditional reward system of just giving players different capes for completing certain tasks.
The third and final rule is to approach the story with multiple arcs in a way that treats Assassin's Creed like it's a TV show and not a game. So instead of just having a single story arc, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood has multiple, smaller story arcs within the grander narrative.
Those aren't the only rules. Yohalem pointed to the story as being the spine of the experience and then described how the team constructed Brotherhood's plotline based on this idea. He said the grander story arc was created by the entire team and then a rough outline of all the levels was constructed, which was followed by walk-throughs of the levels. The writing team then suggested missions that supported the structure of the story and then a final script was written.
Yohalem talked a bit more about crafting the story, referencing Machiavelli's (in)famous book The Prince as a primary source for the story in Brotherhood and the difficult ascent to a leadership position. But as far as pure gameplay is concerned, he did confirm two more character types for the game's multiplayer mode--the soldier and the blacksmith--but no details were given beyond that.
Stewart and Kerschl then spoke about their recently announced Assassin's Creed comic book project that's based on the world but features an entirely new character and setting, specifically a pre-World War I Russia. The duo said that their inspiration for the setting came from a reference in Assassin's Creed II to the mystery-swathed Tunguska Incident, where a large explosion occurred over Siberia with the potential causes ranging from a comet strike to a UFO explosion. But in general, the period was a tumultuous one in Russian history, with numerous assassination attempts on the Czars and general contempt for the government running rampant. Also, according to Stewart, they chose the period because it has yet to be mined by popular culture.
Kerschl and Stewart reiterated numerous times that Ubisoft gave them a lot of freedom with the project, even allowing them to travel to Russia--specifically, St. Petersburg (aka Leningrad aka Petrograd). It's there that they took in the architecture and plotted out potential routes an assassin might use if trying to maneuver through the city undetected. But overall, it sounds like they want the audience to know that Ubisoft is taking this seriously and is treating it as if it's a new game in the series. In fact, events that occur in the comic will ultimately affect events that transpire in the game.
As for the game's new assassin protagonist, his name is Nikolai Orelov, and aside from the general structure of the assassin's tunic and the older rifle and sword, he is reminiscent of Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid 4. Stewart said that some people have reacted negatively to the character's mustache, but he retorted that they both looked at pictures of Russian men from the era and not a single one of them was without the facial hair. The comic will be a three-issue series and will arrive later in the year, presumably around the time of the release of Brotherhood.
The question-and-answer session yielded questions that were directed toward Yohalem. He declined to answer most of them, but he did deliver some nuggets of information. When asked if there would be more present-day Desmond segments, he answered, "Yes, Desmond's story will take an unexpected turn. A lot is going to change in the present." When asked about the possibility of a female assassin, he said, "Yes, you will. But you have to wait till November."
Another member of the audience asked if you encounter Leonardo da Vinci in Brotherhood, to which he said, "You will, but the circumstances will be completely different." When Stewart and Kerschl were asked if the Pieces of Eden and other Assassin's Creed mythology (such as the modern-day elements) will play into the comic, Stewart answered that the modern-day ancestor of Nikolai is Daniel Cross and that what happens to Daniel will have an impact on the game.
Quotes: "What are you talking about? That's just how he talks," Yohalem exclaimed when a member of the audience asked if the scene with Uncle Mario from ACII was a reference to Nintendo's Super Mario 64.
"I think they're born with a mustache," said Stewart when dealing with complaints about Nikolai's mustache.
The Takeaway: There was a lot to digest at the panel, and it seemed like it might have been better suited for the Game Developers Conference crowd than the Comic-Con crowd. Still, it's always great to get some insight into what makes a game tick, especially since Assassin's Creed is becoming an increasingly more important and popular series. It's apparent that the team at Ubisoft Montreal has a clear direction for it, and it will be interesting to see how the studio balances that against potential problems with oversaturation.