Ubisoft on designing Assassin's Creed II

GDC 2010: Sequel designer discusses core gameplay pillars, mission repetitiveness, using play tests as a mirror.

Who was there: Patrick Plourde, lead game designer at Ubisoft and one of the key minds behind last year's hit sequel Assassin's Creed II.

Assassin's Creed 2 had no specific assassination mechanic, Plourde said.

What they talked about: While commercially successful, the original Assassin's Creed also had its fair share of detractors. For the sequel, Ubisoft focused on creating a greater variety of missions and objectives, with lead game designer Patrick Plourde using his session at GDC 2010 to outline the team's strategies for "answering every criticism of the first game."

Plourde began by outlining the challenge faced by the 300-strong team working on Assassin's Creed 2: create a game within a two-year time period with 230 features, with no revision time and be both commercially and critically acclaimed. With such high expectations, Plourde said the oft-used motto of "fail early, fail often" would simply not be an option with Assassin's Creed II. The strategy Plourde and the design team came up with was three-pronged: keep the design focused on the core of the game, have a strong documentation structure, and use testing data to validate game design.

The first strategy--having focused design--is all about deciding what type of game you're making, a decision that Plourde said every game development team needs to make at a very early point in the process. For Assassin's Creed II, Plourde said the gameplay pillars were fighting, navigation, and social stealth. "Your gameplay pillars need to be rock solid. If you're a shooter, your shooting needs to be fun. If your platforming is floaty, no one will care there's an amazing third level because no one is going to reach there," he said.

Plourde described the combat in Assassin's Creed II as being different from other games due to its basis in timing and counters, rather than combos. When it came to navigation, fluidity was the focus, with Plourde taking a stab at critics who previously said the free running in the series was too easy. He explained the team wanted to put the challenge in analyzing the environment to maintain fluid movement, as opposed to button presses. The final pillar--social stealth--was given a makeover from the first game, changing the mechanic so that crowds would become a positive thing for players rather than a hindrance.

Once the pillars were identified, the team then went about inserting those pillars in all aspects of gameplay. Plourde said while he agreed with some critics about the missions in the original Assassin's Creed being repetitive, it wasn't for the same reasons. "No one says Tetris is repetitive because blocks are always falling down. Instead, Assassin's Creed missions didn't use core gameplay. They were minigames. Sit on a bench and press Y, for example. They ended up being boring," he said. "If you use your core gameplay as [a] basis for your missions, they're more fun." He used the example of assassinations in the game--there was no core assassination-specific mechanic in Assassin's Creed 2. Instead, players had to use the three core gameplay elements of fight, navigation, and social stealth to succeed.

That doesn't mean you can't have other features within your game, Plourde said, just that they should have less polish than your core gameplay. He cited the example of the economy system in Assassin's Creed 2, saying that compared to something like EVE Online, it was actually quite poor. "But if it's treated as a reward, it becomes a positive in the player's mind," he said.

When it comes to play-testing, Plourde said the process can be a vital mirror into the state of a game. He cited two issues that testing identified; the first being that players tended not to use rooftops to get to objectives (unless they were required to by the mission). The development team then changed the animation of Ezio climbing, which meant he was able to scale buildings much more quickly.

The second issue was with the blend mechanism in the game. Initially, the game's designers planned for the B button to be held down in order to blend with crowds, but testing showed that most players simply didn't understand how the mechanic worked. Plourde and the team then decided to make blending automatic, which significantly increased usage and understanding of the mechanic in future play tests. Finally, Plourde revealed one issue they weren't able to fix--combat. Many play testers cited that the combat didn't feature enough variety, despite the many moves and abilities available in-game. There was no time to address this concern, Plourde said, adding that many reviews picked up on that issue in their critique.

Quote/Takeaway: "Understanding your game is the cornerstone of a successful production." -- Patrick Plourde, lead game designer at Ubisoft

Written By

Randolph is the managing editor of GameSpot, and needs more time to play games.

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Discussion

81 comments
strigon33
strigon33

I totally agree with topeira, the game would just have so much more replay value and entertainment value if you could adjust the difficulty. For one thing, I absolutely loved the whole guards looking around for you idea but come on, the area in which they look for you after they lose sight is RIDICULOUS!!! combat is also really easy. Starting with the fact that you have to not do anything to die. You could literally stand there blocking for all eternity. Guards should cause more damage on tougher difs, meds should heal less, guards should be able to counter you AND KILL YOU! Using health should leave you vulnerable, guards area of observing should be wider and the triangles fill up quicker. People should be able to report you, after running away when notorious a giant area should have guards actually looking for you everywhere. I could go on for ages but basically the game gives you some kick ass tools that you dont really need to use and a lot of the problems with the gameplay could be fixed with a simple difficulty option. A lot of the time when fighting I feel as if I am toying with the guards. I should feel as if I am actually fighting for my life, master assassin or no. What I'm trying to say is that the designers of this game could have done so much better if they jus added a couple of little things. A difficulty setting would take no time, neither would a replay function or a little bit more plot explanation.

topeira
topeira

AC2 is a great game but for some reason UBI forgot to but challenge in it. it's the most un-balanced games i have ever seen. the entire game is favouring the player. the combat is rediculously easy. there is too much money. too much health. too much medicin pockets, regenerating last health diamonds.... arg! the game is SO EASY that all of it's mechanics are just... un-needed. why would i be stealthy? why would i blend in crowds, use smoke bombs, use hidding spots, use poison or any other aid if i can fight 40 guards with such ridiculous ease? there could have been many many ways to balance combat to require skill and make it hard enough to make stealth worth the while but UBI have take none of these ways. in a result is a game that lacks excitement, tension and exhilaration that my G\F would beat without ever playing games in her life. i hope AC3 will show depth in combat. not just in more ways to kill the apponenets but in more way for the opponents to kill the player.... or at least go through the "invulnerability button" called "block"....

dc337
dc337

Everyone complains about the DRM but no one complains about the pirates. What do you expect these companies to do when the pc gaming piracy rate is over 80%? This was probably a last ditch effort to support the pc. If it doesn't work they'll probably just go console only.

muppetsgrc
muppetsgrc

The game is amazing. A bit too easy if you are an experienced gamer, but there's so many things to do, and the main plot, graphics, and music are all awesome. They also focused a lot ton the side-mission variety and uniqueness, as to not be repetitive. Not 100% achieved, but some of them were brilliant. I don't mind the DRM as long as they can provide stable service, and the game IS actually worth it. Some developers out there create awful games, charge a lot, and then complain about piracy...

big-boss-91
big-boss-91

DRM is a necessary evil, it'll stop the piracy by a large percentage, plus mine worked perfectly fine so HA!

sheva2004
sheva2004

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

sheva2004
sheva2004

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

thesilentkiller
thesilentkiller

I don't agree with the DRM program. Even though I have a high speed internet connection, I don't think it should be mandatory to have it in order to play a "single player" game. With that being said, even the DRM can not take away from the excellent game play, graphics and research that was involved in creating AC 2 - This game is outstanding. Just because one disagrees with the DRM is not justification to bash all aspects of the game. Being a major splinter cell fan; I'm hoping that UBI devotes the same amount of effort into the creation of conviction (minus the DRM, of course).

SithChampion
SithChampion

ACII is really a great game. I still play it. I even liked the dlc that came out for it even without the reward of achievement points. (I really wish they did let us have achievement points though).

Bazz3442
Bazz3442

Bought ACII a few days ago and already having problems. If DRM is the answer to piracy (it's not), then there's going to be a war on any publisher who takes it up, and their going to lose millions (money, not lives), and I think this DRM is going to create pirates rather than deter them.

hotbodyboy_2006
hotbodyboy_2006

@ Black_Adder_ Trust me dude. AC 2 not only makes its predecessor look like Garbage but also beats the Prince Of Persia games (Sand Trilogy not the new abysmal poop) and that's some telling. Though its only natural that Ubisoft is concentrating on their now premier franchise like they used to do for their previous premier franchises like Prince Of Persia and Splinter Cell. Its only sad that they are ignoring the franchises that were literally their bread and butter. I just hope the quality of SC Conviction and POP Forgotten Sands is as good as AC 2. That's where i love companies like Capcom who give equal efforts on all their franchises. Just watch RE 6 and DMC 5 come all guns blazing!!! Oh i digress. Do try AC 2..... Its awesome except for the stupid DRM for the PC version.

hotbodyboy_2006
hotbodyboy_2006

@ Black_Adder_ Trust me dude. AC 2 not only makes its predecessor look like Garbage but also beats the Prince Of Persia games (Sand Trilogy not the new abysmal poop) and that's some telling. Though its only natural that Ubisoft is concentrating on their now premier franchise like they used to do for their previous premier franchises like Prince Of Persia and Splinter Cell. Its only sad that they are ignoring the franchises that were literally their bread and butter. I just hope the quality of SC Conviction and POP Forgotten Sands is as good as AC 2. That's where i love companies like Capcom who give equal efforts on all their franchises. Just watch RE 6 and DMC 5 come all guns blazing!!! Oh i digress. Do try AC 2..... Its awesome except for the stupid DRM for the PC version.

hotbodyboy_2006
hotbodyboy_2006

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Black_Adder_
Black_Adder_

Haven't played Assassin's Creed 2. First one was the most boring game I've seen and the gameplay videos and other "cool stuff" shown before next game's release convinced me that AC2 is not worth to waste my money for. Sorry guys, but I like to play a good game not to look at good graphics.

evaneself
evaneself

I can not believe there are voters who support DRM and give negative ratings to people's complaints. Morons voting.

sheva2004
sheva2004

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

toms123
toms123

Customers should not be afraid of Publishers, Publishers should be afraid of their Customers, if you continue to release DRM like this you will go out of business.

BonsaiMet
BonsaiMet

@BigBigR I just find it laughable and slightly pathetic that people are spending so much time complaining about it. Have they not got anything else to do with their lives? Back in the days of the Mega Drive or even the PS1, we didn't run to the internet to immediately start b******g about the game if something went wrong. We just got on with it. Gamers these days seem to spend more time moaning than actually playing and enjoying games.

MindlessTeef
MindlessTeef

My self, as many gamers living in devolpeing countries, simply cannot offord broadband Internet and due to this, cannot have thier PC's online at all times (or at all)... Ubi's DRM... - another customer here.

krelmmaster
krelmmaster

It would seem half of their time and resources were spent on creating their new DRM system which is ultimately useless. When will game developers wake up to reality and accept the fact that there is *no* way to deter pirates from stealing games and that it only ends up punishing those who actually pay for the game. Morons.

daquinot
daquinot

F**k the DRM....Ubisoft can go screw themselfs because nobody will EVER buy another product from them, including myself (-1 customer).....go to the ubisoft official forums and read 44 pages of complaints on how many paying customers have problems with playing the game....

spOOoOOn
spOOoOOn

Leaving plot out of it. You gotta give credit to Ubisoft, I've never seen a sequal improve on every single point of criticism for it's predecessor like this.

myungish
myungish

the plot turned me off the series. as soon as i saw the ending, i turned off my ps3 and i havent touched the game since.

Angre_Leperkan
Angre_Leperkan

I completely agree about the combat in this case, although I loved this game I liked AC's combat system a lot better than this game's because it seemed less...dumb? I can't really think of a word to describe the new combat system. It's not bad, but I feel it should have been improved, and I guess I'm glad that they noticed it, even if they didn't have enough time to fix it for the final release. Hopefully, future AC titles will have better combat as well as everything else that was amazing with AC and AC2.

BigBigR
BigBigR

@BonsaiMet "Oh and will people please stop talking about the bloody DRM?! The article is not about DRM it is about Ubisoft designing the game. If you hate it so much, play it on consoles or shut up and don't play it at all." While I do agree this is not the place to discuss the DRM present on the game's PC version, I have to disagree with that last part of your comment. Assassin's Creed 2 is available for the PC. People with a PC should NOT be forced to buy a console to play it. Also, it's a product. People pay for it, and as such they have the right to demand certain things for their money. If you have a console, good for you. However, that doesn't give you the right to order people to go buy one when they have a perfectly available alternative platform (in this case the PC) with a version officially released for it. It also doesn't give you the right to order people to shut up/not play it. The day consumers stop fighting for their rights is the day they lose them. You must have a game you like a lot, right? AC2 isn't that game for me (I like it, but can live without it), but imagine if it were to you and you only had a PC. Would you like refraining yourself from playing the game not because it sucked (which it doesn't) but because they imposed an idiotic DRM? I do own a console. That doesn't mean I can't see it from a PC gamer's point of view. So should you. Not everyone plays like you do, or has access to the things you have. Try to be a bit more open minded.

BonsaiMet
BonsaiMet

Oh and will people please stop talking about the bloody DRM?! The article is not about DRM it is about Ubisoft designing the game. If you hate it so much, play it on consoles or shut up and don't play it at all.

BonsaiMet
BonsaiMet

I used to like Ubisoft for making great games like the Splinter Cell series and Ghost Recon series. Now though I love them as I believe Assassin's Creed 2 is one of the best games I have ever played. It has everything I want in a game: it's huge, very fun, freedom, great story. And as a bonus it looks amazing. I'e played through it twice and I'll likely play through all over again. Free running around 15th century Italy gave me a feeling very few games do these days: pure joy and happiness. The game puts a big smile on your face and that's the main thing a game should do I think.

Payasoplas
Payasoplas

Why they always talk about everything, but not about what matters? in this case why they didn't talk about taking out the DRM?

newb16
newb16

Consoles are the new computers just look at the PS3.

Gruug
Gruug

I am done buying this or any other game like it on console. Gameplay is just been so simplified that it isn't fun anymore.

sentencer
sentencer

They probably didn't mention anything about the PC version because the majority of the legitimate game owners are having MAJOR problems just playing the game! The servers are going down all the time, there are constant problems, and Ubisoft doesn't seem to care. I for one will never buy an Ubisoft product as long as they keep this invasive DRM. Let me buy my game but DON'T dictate how I play it!

nitsud_19
nitsud_19

One of my favorite games of last year, though I haven't played the first one which may have tainted some perspective buyers views on the sequel.

KristoffBrujah
KristoffBrujah

AC2 = IMO the best game last year. Interesting to see how he turned the series around.

rangeraa
rangeraa

I must have been one of the few that really enjoyed combat in AC2...Sure it could have been better but it is quite unique and really fits the game.

thattotally
thattotally

Man I so want to play this game... Can barely wait

Shardz7
Shardz7

Perhaps the actual game is better than the first, but since their nasty DRM is turning most people away from this release, it's just a shame that not many will see it on the PC. That protection scheme is invasive, thoughtless, and just downright unnecessary and limits their audience quite a bit...but they will learn after the numbers for this game come in. My Internet is up and down like a yoyo at night and I'm on cable...I can't even imagine people having dial-up or DSL having to deal with this crap. @koolr - Actually, I still refuse to ever load Steam on my machine(s) cause it's the same invasive crap they force the developers to include with their games. I can manage my own computer, files, serials, and save games and don't need Valve to hold my hand through it all. Voluntarily loading up a DRM system like that is ridiculous and uses system resources that could be used for something better.

Skargamer
Skargamer

wait. i just realized that he didn't say a thing about assassins creed 2 on the pc.... :|

Skargamer
Skargamer

i just bought the game on thurs and im havin a BLAST with it!!! it is so much fun! especially the extra missions like goin in assassin tombs.

squidracerX
squidracerX

@koolr People got used to Steam because you can play Steam offline. Also many PC users still do not use Steam.... With Ubicrap's new system its ALWAYS online required, and many people cannot always be online still.... Also this means that for as long as people want to play this game Ubisoft will ALWAYS have to have a server running for it. Honestly how many years do you think they will run a server for this game? When they shut it down kiss the PC version goodbye forever.... I personally still play old PC games (fallout 1 and 2, Xcom, axis and allies, Starcraft), those servers would be long gone by now (Interplay went out of business, so their servers would be dust).

squidracerX
squidracerX

Best Buy add has Assassins Creed 2 for $30 on consoles this week, good price!

eal-zubieri
eal-zubieri

if the game sucks on pc doesn't mean that its not good on consoles so who ever wants to play the game should get it on the ps3 or 360.

koolr
koolr

people will get used to DRM. Lot of them opposed even Valves steam DRM but now everybody plays game on steam. @SoetSout Sorry due this game is not hacked

Nuggetol
Nuggetol

If the DRM only needed internet connection but didn't cause any problems for people who buy the game whatsovever then that would've been fine but some people complain about there being problem with it. Even though their internet connection was fine. @SoetSout: I don't believe they've cracked it yet :S

SoetSout
SoetSout

lol they can continue with the DRM, assassins creed 2 had its DRM cracked in a couple of days. So whats the point of wasting time of ppl that are gona buy it. and also a good anti piracy was mass effect 1, took some time to get that one out. so its beter to make it hard to crack then to use DRM. if a protection can hold out atleast 2 months then its fine

silverborg13
silverborg13

if every single game of ubisoft has some DRM protection.. then good luck.. i'll be waiting for much more better games than playing SINGLEPLAYER that REQUIRES a NET