Assassin’s Creed 4: 80 hrs long, new mechanics & how Abstergo nearly hired your friends
We recently had the chance to speak to Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag‘s lead game designer Jean-Sebastien Decant. Here he talks about the scale of the game, (“20 hours to finish the main story, 50 or 60 hours open world stuff”), how to, “refresh the challenge”, in such a familiar game and how Abstergo’s modern day setting could have been populated with friends from your PSN list.
Be warned: there are spoilers ahead if you’ve not finished all the previous games!
OPM: With regards to the present day story of Black Flag outside of the Animus, what was behind the decision to go with a kind of different story than in previous Assassin’s games?
JSD: I think we have to consider Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag as a new beginning for Assassin’s Creed. And we took the opportunity to redefine what we were doing with the present day. And with Desmond dead, we decided to go for something different. [And we wanted to] put it in perspective with what we do at Ubisoft… so: Abstergo, you walk in that building, it’s a bit like walking into Ubisoft… we wanted to offer to the fans a way to dig into the mysteries of Assassin’s Creed and the templars.
OPM: And how does that play out and work in the game?
JSD: So basically, at any time you can exit the Animus and get off your desk and start walking around. You have a device which can hack machines around you. So that’s the open-world part. And as for the mystery, throughout the game, many times, a few hundred times, you have moments that are narrative-based, we tell you something about being a researcher at Abstergo, your hacking capacities and so on…
OPM: Comparatively, how much bigger is this world than in previous games?
JSD: I wouldn’t be able to give you any numbers, but what I can tell you is we have three big cities, compared to the other games, there’s three huge cities and then fifteen unique locations – like continents – throughout the world, and then lots of [islands where] you can find buildings, stuff like that. The size of the map is like fifteen, twenty minutes, if you were just to sail without stopping, so that’s huge. We really tried to increase the feeling of adventure. At the same time it has to be easy to use so we added a number of teleports, in fact every [objective] you do becomes a teleport. So as you soon as you win somewhere, you can send people there.
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OPM: How are the resources from plundering ships and so on used between Edward and his fleet?
JSD: Basically you have three systems. You can choose weapons and costumes in the stores, you can improve your character – the health bar and number of potions or guns you can carry – through hunting. Then plundering for cargo, this is for the ship to be able to sail anywhere.
OPM: Something quite a few players liked previously was having a home you could upgrade, that homestead, is the ship the replacement for that this time?
JSD: In fact we have those, at the end of sequence 3 you [get your own] hideout. So it’s the new homestead, I would say. You can improve it and everything you gather throughout your journey will be in your mansion there. And there’s a lot of secret tunnels and stuff.
“We spent time revisiting core mechanics.
We didn’t want to create a hardcore game
but we wanted to make a challenge”
OPM: In terms of gameplay it seems quite similar [to previous games] with some tweaks. It feels like it’s been sped up a bit so you traverse, fight and escape a lot faster. Was that a conscious decision? Did you think people maybe found it irritating to be stuck in a chase for too long? Or a fight for too long?
JSD: We spent a lot of time revisiting the core mechanics. Speeding them up was one aspect, but there was also how to refresh challenge in Assassin’s Creed, because up until now it’s been quite easy to traverse the city and do whatever you wanted and we didn’t want to create a hardcore game but we wanted to make a challenge. Put a bit more “weight” on your steps. And how do we do that? We wanted to have stronger enemies, more accurate enemies, they push you to hide-and-seek, be stealthier to kill them. And part of that is, yes, when you get in trouble you can get away fast. But even if you escape, are you going to die? We wanted consequences.