In an exclusive interview with GameSpot, Ubisoft Quebec opens up on lessons from the past: Female leads, Unity issues, and why Desmond is still the benchmark.
A moment of truth awaits Ubisoft Quebec. For the first time since its doors opened some ten years ago, this near-400 person studio has been entrusted with what is undoubtedly Ubisoft’s most important commercial property.
This comes at a key moment for the Assassin’s Creed franchise too, with painful memories tied to the previous entry, and its proprietors keen to demonstrate what the series is still capable of. For Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the latest entry in this garlanded series, the stakes are high.
How will Ubisoft Quebec rise to the challenge? At the heart of this story is Marc-Alexis Cote, the game’s creative director, and Hugo Giard, its level design director. As part of a wider studio visit, both executives speak to GameSpot to discuss the lessons it has learned form the series’ past, along with the vision it has helped craft for the franchise’s future.
What’s the essence of the series that you’re always trying to maintain as you move from one game to the next?[miptheme_quote author=”Marc-Alexis Cote” style=”text-left”]We talked about which one was the best entry for us as developers, and we came up with the same answer: AC2 and Brotherhood nailed the Assassin’s Creed experience.[/miptheme_quote]
Cote: Well the core of the franchise has always been the fantasy of the historical time machine. Even though it’s not technically a time machine, because it doesn’t transport you to another era, it still allows our fans to experience different periods of time. That’s the essence of Assassin’s Creed. As long as we fulfil that, it’s an Assassin’s Creed game. It’s about giving the player the chance to visit another time and place.
That’s what has made the success of the franchise, and in everything we do–even those Leonardo da Vinci missions–when we started building them back in Brotherhood, they started from thinking about what cool stuff Da Vinci did and what if his inventions had been built for real. He made a design for a helicopter, which we once thought to put into the game.
Giard: Yes! You had to pedal the machine and the blades were all flying around and stuff.
Cote: Yes. Again, we as developers travel through time with our historical research, and we need to bring that sense of being amazed and being able to marvel. We need to expose that to the players.
How much texture are you planning to give that dynamic? Are Jacob and Evie always on the same wavelength, but just have differences in approach?
Cote: For me, the whole game and the narrative is defined by how they clash, how they work together, and how their relationship evolves.
Giard: The different way they go about achieving basically the same objective is what creates that conflict. You can’t forget that they have both been trained by the same person, they’re both assassins, but they see the world in completely different ways, yet their objective is the same. Obviously, they’re not going to go about it in the same way, and that creates a conflict that makes the emotions so much more interesting.
There was some controversy surrounding female protagonists with Unity. Many will be thinking the inclusion of a female protagonist is paying lip-service to critics, it’s a reactionary choice that’s trying to save some face for the franchise. Is that a fair comment?
Cote: What I’d say is that they’ve both been part of the experience from the very beginning. Cynics will be cynics, and it’s unfortunate, but we’ve been so focused on build this game the way we want with those two characters. It’s not done to pay lip-service, it’s done to build a great game.[review]
When we were building this experience we asked ourselves “how can we make it feel new, how can we make it feel fresh, how do we avoid telling the same story?” That’s where we came up with the idea of having two protagonists, which evolved into having twin protagonists, and a brother/sister relationship that we’ve never explored. That started two and a half years ago.