Just before Assassin’s Creed 3 came out we sat down to chat to director Alex Hutchinson about creating the next installment in the series, the newer elements of the game and the changes number three brings.
Assassin’s Creed 3′s interview
OPM How did the Homestead come about?
Alex Hutchinson I was pitching it to the team early on as this quest-driven train set. You go out into the world, you see people in trouble, you help them out and then they move in around your Homestead. They start their own lives, they occupy the same space, they know who you are – they don’t know you’re an Assassin, obviously, but they move into that area and provide resources for the player. In one sense, they’re telling the story of this sort of wilderness turning into a small town. And on the other side of it, they’re craftsmen and people trying to create a life for themselves that you can interact with. You can buy wood from one, and for a fee turn it into tables and chairs with another and send those off on convoys to New York and Boston to make money. What we wanted to do was create a living ecosystem.
OPM Would you say there’s a bigger RPG element to this Assassin’s Creed game than we’ve experienced before?
AH Absolutely, yes. I wanted to invest in this open-world/action-RPG part of the game. Previous versions had done such a terrific job of creating characters and telling a story that I thought the biggest room for improvement was in the open-world activities. We added everything from historical boardgames of the period to the naval stuff, to this idea of the Homestead evolving around you. [We added] as many opportunities for the player as possible. We wanted a linear start to the game and then for it to open up and give you this massive, RPG feeling of ‘I can go anywhere and do anything’. It’s such a nice, truly unique videogame feeling that I thought if we could get it and nail it in Assassin’s Creed 3, then it would add a huge amount.
OPM Without spoilers there’s a surprise early on, did you want to play with expectations?
AH Ha! I’m a fan of surprises. When I used to buy videogames as a kid – pre-internet, to date me – I’d go home, read the manual and look at the back of the box, and wonder what it was going to be. Then you’d come into school the next day and some other kid would have got further than you or got a different game and you’d debate. ‘What’s going on?’ ‘What’s going to happen?’ Now so much gets spoiled with previews, so we hid as much as possible. But we’ve hidden one giant feature that hopefully fans will be looking forward to. The whole start of the game, we’ve never [shown] a single screenshot from it. It’s a big, significant chunk and I’m hoping that people get that joy of discovery that I think we’ve lost.
OPM Do you think it’s a concern going back to a more strait-laced character like Altair after the flamboyance of Ezio?
AH I think following up Ezio is going to be a challenge, no matter what you do. He’s so iconic, he’s over-the-top, he’s funny, he’s a juicy character to dig into. We just wanted to create someone who could stand up against the other two Assassins. Yes, [Connor] is a little bit more strait-laced, but it’s the story of his whole life. We really hope people get a kick out of him.
OPM Not that we mind, but why is bumping off Brits a key theme of the game?
AH There are missionary factions that you’re sometimes at war with, Templars that you’re at war with, and later in the game as the war passes through its many phases, you have more colonial forces that you need to engage with. Really, your job is to assassinate the Templars, and whoever they’re hiding among is unfortunately going to [suffer] some splash damage.
OPM How do you use the biggest team in gaming to the best effect?
AH I’m curious to know if we [actually do] have the biggest team! We definitely have a very large team, but to use them to the best effect, really it’s about enabling the team and handing off ownership as much as possible. We tend to draw a box around features and see how everything fits together. And then for specific groups, we’ll hand off the fight system to a small group of engineers, designers and artists. Same with the navigation system, [and again] for the naval team. So really you’re trying to not make it the biggest team in games. You’re trying to make [the game] between as many small teams as possible, so everyone can own it, everyone can have input and get the most creatively out of people as possible.
OPM There have been big changes to the combat and navigation control systems. What did you want to achieve with these?
AH You need to challenge yourself asmuch as possible, and we felt there were improvements that we could make to the controls, especially in fights. We wanted Connor to be more aggressive, to reward aggressive players, to make it feel different. [We wanted] to make sure that the enemies attack simultaneously, to make sure they overlap and give less of that feeling of them lining up to fight you. All that sort of stuff. So that really meant going back to the drawing board. On the navigation controls, I can’t emphasise enough to anyone that to safely free-run now, you only need to hold down R1 so you can stay in the trees. You never leap to your death accidentally, but if you want to force a jump you can hit the button and push him forward. And what that does is it frees up your right thumb to control the camera or control a tool. So if you think about it now, you can be on the run and fire your gun [simultaneously]. Or you can be moving through trees and looking around at the same time. We felt we could really add another dimension to the game if we went back to basics on the controls.
OPM What elements are you most proud of in Assassin’s Creed 3?
AH We spent a lot of time working on this Assassin, trying to make someone who was compelling to people and seemed like a cool person to be. The fact that responses have been positive – we’ve already seen cosplaying and fan art – and people seem to really have adopted him, which was really satisfying. When you haven’t shown the new guy, you’re always worried that people won’t embrace him as they did with Ezio before. Overall, just the sheer excitement we’ve generated on a game that comes out once a year has been so rewarding. It’s tough for us. If something comes out once a year, people potentially get tired of it and we work on it every day. Getting people this excited has been really rewarding.
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