Q&A: Ubisoft dissects Assassin's Creed

Creative Director Patrice Desilets talks puppeteering, the challenges of cross-platform development, and why AC won't feature multiplayer content.

Not surprisingly, Assassin's Creed has been hiding in the shadows during its lengthy development cycle. Recently, we caught up with the project's creative director Patrice Desilets from Ubisoft Montreal to discuss some of the intricacies of the Scimitar game engine powering the title and to get a little more insight into the challenges of writing the engine from scratch. Check out GameSpot's latest hands-on for our thoughts on the game.

GameSpot AU: Environmental interactivity, particularly with crowds and the world surrounding the player appear to be paramount to the gameplay. Would Assassins have been possible on last generation's console hardware and still provided the same experience?

Patrice Desilets: This game would never have been possible on the last generation of consoles. Before the next-gen specs were actually announced, we had our own vision in mind of what next gen should be. Building a new engine from scratch allowed us to create the right tools and to bring this vision to life.

We started with the concept that the player should have full control over the Assassin's body and that the Assassin should be able to interact with the world in an intuitive and natural way. The new gameplay comes from how the living and breathing world reacts to your second-to-second actions. The need for artificial puzzle elements like moving walls or fire traps disappears because for the first time, we can base our gameplay on social rules and the natural traps found in real cities. So players will be able to tune the difficulty level of the game when choosing how they behave in the world. They will make the challenge easier if they follow the social rules and achieve all sorts of side missions prior to main assignments or harder if they decide to create havoc in the city before completing the mission.

I think next-gen consoles need to live up to their technological promise through compelling gameplay, not just more graphics. It's actually very easy to scale a game from PlayStation 1 to PlayStation 2 to PlayStation 3...but it's still the same game! As creators of interactive entertainment, we need to evolve from a technology-driven industry into one focused on player experiences.

Complete control over Altair plays a big part of the game.

GS AU: The E3 Media & Business Summit demo at this year's E3 Microsoft press event focused heavily on free running. Tell us about the unique control system you're developing for Assassin's Creed.

PD: Altair has over 1,000 different contextual moves. Obviously finding a way to map that onto a controller is a challenge. We did not want to confuse people with a million combos to memorize, so we had to take a different approach to controls. We were inspired by a "puppeteering" concept. To use the PS3 controller layout for reference, triangle is mapped to your character's head, square to your character's weapon hand, circle is mapped to your free hand, and X is mapped to your feet. Each body part then reacts contextually to the situation you are in. If you are in a fight context and you press free hand, it will allow you to grab and throw an opponent; if you are in a crowd situation, free hand will allow you to push the people out of the way. It's a new concept, so it takes a bit of time to get used to, but once you "get it" the controls are intuitive.

GS AU: How will item customizability affect your character's skills, including your interaction with the environment?

PD: Every time you rank up, equipment is restored to you. Sometimes it's a new weapon that changes the dynamic of fights--like throwing knives that let you dispatch enemies at a distance. Other times, you get items that change the way you interact with your environment. For example, at Rank 4 you obtain gloves that give you better grasping ability; this completely changes climbing and free running because you can descend buildings quickly by letting go and then grabbing back on. When you jump toward an edge, your new gloves allow you to reach and grab on to things that were previously out of reach. If you are falling because you have been hit by an arrow or other projectile, you can catch yourself before you plummet to your death. Other items like boots and special belts allow you to interact with the crowd in new ways. Ranking up is more than just getting a sword that does more damage; it changes your gameplay strategies.

GS AU: How hard is it to create living crowds rather than a group of scripted artificial intelligence characters clumped together? How much of the game relies on the environment's reactions to your behavior?

PD: As you explore the kingdom and its major cities, you will be confronted by a population ravaged by war. People of all types have become the victims of the power struggles between nations. You will have the option to discover and participate in side missions, as well as specific missions to help the people. In this way, it is possible for you to win the population's confidence and it will in turn help you in the completion of your missions. The crowd then becomes a strategic tool that you can use to your advantage to either help hide you during your approach or to slow pursuers during an escape.

GS AU: There has been a lot of speculation about the Assassin's Creed universe, including rumored plans to move between different time periods. What can you tell us about the Assassin's universe?

PD: We'll leave that for the player to discover?

GS AU: Will the PS3 version of the game include Sixaxis support? If so, how will it be used?

PD: We have prototyped this, but we are not sure yet if the prototypes will make it into the final game. We don't want to add control features, for instance, if they are going to end up feeling gimmicky. We want to make sure that everything in the game makes sense within the overall experience.

GS AU: The Scimitar engine was written from the ground up for this game (and allegedly another title). What were some of the technical challenges of designing an engine for three different platforms? Did you need to drop or scale features on any platform because they simply couldn't be brought to their full potential?

PD: The Scimitar engine was indeed written from the ground up, but with reusability in mind. Of course, some choices were made in developing the engine to ensure proper functionality across all platforms. One of the most important things was to be able to get the same results on all platforms, including our authoring tools on the PC. After that, it's really a matter of choosing what matters most to the player and offer the best gameplay experience no matter which medium is chosen. Once you have a clear idea of what you want the player to experience, there are (mostly) always ways to get it done, given time and some flexibility. The biggest asset is having a great team that's qualified and motivated.

GS AU: Assassin's Creed was originally announced as a PS3-only title. What caused the change to offer it cross-platform?

PD: Our ambitions with AC are high: We're aiming to deliver a completely new gameplay experience on a brand new engine. With AI, physics, animation, and graphics ambitions like ours, we weren't sure how many consoles we could support. But we always wanted to share our next-gen vision with as many gamers as possible. Mid-2006, we were finally able to prove to ourselves that we will be able to deliver on both systems without sacrificing the quality or innovation of our original concept.

GS AU: What can you tell us about multiplayer or online functionality in Assassin's Creed?

PD: Assassin's Creed will not feature any multiplayer or online functionality. We wanted to make a great game first and foremost but did not want to add a multiplayer mode just for the sake of it. It had to fit with the core gameplay experience, which essentially centers around a solitary assassin. Giving the player a great experience as Altair is the priority for the team.

GS AU: Patrice Desilets, thanks for your time.

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104 comments
marriage0
marriage0

iv seen a lot of places, including shops advertising it as 16 NOV 07, but recently it changed on play.com to 31 March 08...anybody know anything about this? im talking about the pc version, just to be clear :)

Adsonic76
Adsonic76

Gamespot mention the release date for assassin creed on PC will be on NOV.2007, I have checked in many webpages the release date wasn't known even Ubisoft site didn't mention when the release date will be for this game on PC, can anyone tell me when the actual release date for assassin creed will be on pc

zellwwf
zellwwf

i will surely adore this game... But it was quite wierd how did the Pd response about if we can jump into another time

FrostyDeath313
FrostyDeath313

I can't wait for this ASSASSINS CREED is going to be a great game ESPECIALLY the freedom your going to have.I have no doubt Ubisoft won't screw this one up Prince of Persiao excuse me. XD

lsny
lsny

I am really hoping that it comes out in November but it seems a bit more like a tentative release date to me...however, regardless of the outcome, there are plenty of games on 360 to tide me over until it's released.

wars45
wars45

i love onlinegameing but thiswont need it

TheoleDominion1
TheoleDominion1

Another cool coop idea is place the two players in different parts of the city. The first player to figure out the clues and assassinates the target 1st wins.

senjutsu
senjutsu

can't wait for this game, the 1st next gen title my ps3 will get! :D

templargunman
templargunman

Jesus I can't wait, All I have is halo 3, I'll be bored out of my mind... *wink* *wink* ;)

devilscry
devilscry

"This game needs more blood, it doesn't have enough blood, there should definately be more blood in it".......wow, if i actually sounded like that, there'd be no wonder why people would think Games make Kids violent and do violent things. I'm seriously looking forward to this game, but not because of violence. Its because of the action and the freedom and the story, it all seems so interesting and too good to pass up. it doesn't appeal to me cause of violence...When you look at yourself and realize you're just playing violent games cause they're violent, well, i think its time you spoke to someone about that, or they spoke to you.

hilltops
hilltops

@xgalacticax |s that why ppl buy games for "blood and gore"? Because if this is the case seriously cross the l|ne and become a psycho killer, seriously consider this because then it's not gameplay either it's real life.. That aside..Cannot wait for this game..ANTICIPATION!! >:-)

CreatureRising
CreatureRising

games with different ways of doing things most of the time have alot of replay value like Bioshock.

Taegre
Taegre

I hope the PS3 and XBOX 360 versions won't have som different features from eachother. Like when the spider-man 3 game came out, they weren't really the same exact game, they both had a different look when it came to graphics, but they did that on purpose. That would suck playing it on the 360 and hearing that the PS3 version is better.

okassar
okassar

This game will OWN.That's all I can say.It doesn't need multiplayer or not.But,since there is no multiplayer,there's no reason to buy,but a HUGE reason to rent it and play through,like with Bioshock.But it's up next to Halo 3 and Mass Effect.

soniqstylz
soniqstylz

It had little to do with that, GrimBee. It's because Sony wouldn't pony up the money for exclusivity. Ubisoft already said as much a long time ago.

GrimBee
GrimBee

Sounds to me like the developers had their idea of what a next gen game should be - thought that the ps3 would be the most powerful machine and then made it exclusively for the ps3. When they realised that there isn't much difference between a 360 and the Ps3 - I guess they saw their limits and decided to release the game for both consoles. Had the ps3 of been the power-house that it was promised - AC would probably of still been a ps3 exclusive - using all that power to redefine the infustry. This interview was a great read - they seem to know what they are talking about, not a hint of arrogance and just a good solid banter between games lovers. And when the developers of this fine title decide to make it on the 360 so they can make more cash and bring the game to more people - you can now dissect which developers are making games for gamers, or simply making games for an exclusive lump sum.

xgalacticax
xgalacticax

gimme ninja gaiden 2 or god of war 3, not this. nice crowd and cloth effects tho. but not enof blood.

sidious
sidious

Wow. This isn't my MOST anticipated game of the holidays (that would be Mass Effect), but it is up there. Sounds unique and amazing.

psymon_05
psymon_05

They're right about multi-player, it doesn't need to be added to every game for the sake of it. This game should be all the better for it.

BoBo94
BoBo94

Cant wait for this game! Hope it works on my pc though!

KoNtRa_
KoNtRa_

im more hyped for this game than halo3, AC will be awesome, buying it on day one

kratos_karmakar
kratos_karmakar

multiplayer? who cares bout multiplayer . i wanna play as a lone assassin with no friggin side kix. this game will prove a point that fps cant b next gen gameplay wise coz they only feature good graphix with run and gun tactix.

hilltops
hilltops

This will be in for christmas..Hmm |nterest|ng concept..

Pete5506
Pete5506

this gam is on my must get list

ctg867
ctg867

Looking alright. Wasn't a PoP fan but I'll give this a chance. It looks like it still needs some tweaking, but it's such a high profile game, I have to give it the benefit of the doubt on this one. I'll wait for the ratings before I count it in or out.

bboygamer89
bboygamer89

i think ppl could live without the multiplayer mode how would that work/??

bliSSter138
bliSSter138

a couple of other people have caught the lack of a "pc" or "windows" reference on the interview video, which made me curious. i checked most of the online retailers and they've all pulled any listing of AC for windows and no news sources have anything other than the original announcement... anyone have any insights from ubi? did they decide to drop a windows version and forget to tell everyone or is it still under development? i wouldn't mind this game at all via console b/c it's more of an adventure title and they really shine there, but if it's available for windows i'd just as soon pick it up on that platform. what gives ubisoft?

greatcarbuncle
greatcarbuncle

i can't wait. i've been looking forward to this since that first fateful e3 demo, but i think some sort of offline co-op would have been pretty sweet, like in chaos theory where the co-op had a different story.

Necromancer5
Necromancer5

Who cares about this nobdy where's Jade Raymond?!!! Lol just kidding I'm planning to get this game it looks awesome!

SkankForCrack
SkankForCrack

So, who thinks they are going to drop the bomb at TGS? And give us a date. I hope they do, this game will dictate what I do or don't buy for my 360. I need to buy some new socks.

lamprey263
lamprey263

I'm glad they didn't resort to some crappy multiplayer for the sake of saying it has multiplayer, so now they can work on perfecting the game for both consoles.

smoothn00dle
smoothn00dle

How do u make millions on a 10 mins game conceptual demo? A shining example here! I believe this game is the first proto-type GTA4 deal worth around 10 millions. Anything less, Ubisoft is loosing faces. ====================================================== To get M$ open up their wallet. Game developers declare their games as PS3 exclusive. Put a beautiful girl up front. Let the hook sink for mulit-platform bidding war. Millions dollars paid for before the game even released. ====================================================== Wait a minute, the new Splinter cell 5 also have crowd control and development started before 2005. Ubisoft wouldn't just port the engine over and change the texture to Jesus time. I BET my socks. ====================================================== I think Sony put exclusivity announcement into contract term nowday to avoid anyone making money on their expense. A good lesson to remember thou. Write that down *v*

dQuarters
dQuarters

@ Hotlavaman Sweet idea. Maybe for a sequel. I was kinda hoping they were making multiplayer, too. But I'm glad they primarily focussed on a polished SP experience. Now... DEMO? :D

Tree06
Tree06

This is game is shaping up nicely. Can't wait to play it.

chromium42
chromium42

"jacob-goodlich great interveiw! but it would have been nice to have gotten an apolagie from him about our lost exclusivity!!!" This type of comment just floors me. Why would you or I expect a game developer and the publisher apologize to us for wanting to be successfull at making a great game? Sales volume = success in business folks. If Ubi doesn't make money on their games, they will be less able to make great games. By making their title available across multiple platforms they are logarithmically increasing the sales potential. I've said before and I'll say again, that I prefer exclusive titles because I feel that you get a higher quality product (instead of a game suited to the lowest common denominator of the systems being developed for); but I don't feel animosity towards a developer or publisher for going multi-platform. It's good business sense.

Azhar85
Azhar85

I'll really happy with ubisoft persepective that all gamers can share their next-gen vision with each others...this so far wlll reduce a little bit tension heat in console wars of this next gen era....

smoothn00dle
smoothn00dle

"Assassin's Creed was originally announced as a PS3 only title" =================================================== To Xbots who spread BS on Assassin Creed was 360 first. U are Wrong *v*

lb003g0676
lb003g0676

He uses PS3 as the exmaple platform, thats nice.... we finally get soem recognition. Perhpas he actually prefers it... Meh, that is just fanboy assumption by me.

TiKRuy
TiKRuy

"I think next-gen consoles need to live up to their technological promise through compelling gameplay, not just more graphics. It's actually very easy to scale a game from PS1, to PS2, to PS3... but it's still the same game! As creators of interactive entertainment, we need to evolve from a technology-driven industry into one focused on player experiences." yeah.. im thankfull that ubisoft did what they did. I have high hopes for this one =)

Agermemnon
Agermemnon

The parkour stuff better be done well no clunky stuff please just nice fluid movement .

FascistSquirrel
FascistSquirrel

good thing they decided to put it on 360 too i wasnt gonna miss out

Frost71
Frost71

"I think next-gen consoles need to live up to their technological promise through compelling gameplay, not just more graphics. It's actually very easy to scale a game from PS1, to PS2, to PS3... but it's still the same game! As creators of interactive entertainment, we need to evolve from a technology-driven industry into one focused on player experiences." Amen!

hotlavaman
hotlavaman

i still think it would be great to have 1 on 1 on 1 on 1 on 1 in a city, but they are all disguised, so you would have to watch someone's movement to see if they behaved like an npc all the time by following them, of course, they might recognize you following them and setup a trap....wouldn't that be sweet?

r3351925
r3351925

aah this game is easy to control but it'll take you around 30 mins to get used to the control, i've played the e3 demo in gitex and i have a video in my profile to prove it :D, the only thing that makes me wonder, i fell from the tower which altair starts on and i didnt die, isnt that weird?????

stenfisk
stenfisk

Syzgygy that was an really good idea, it would be awesome to run around the city and assassinate people!