I talked to some guys from Ubisoft Montreal a few weeks ago about Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Here’s the resultant story from that interview. In playing through Revelations now and as much as it pains me to say this, I feel that it’s lost some of the spark that Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood had. Revelations has some great moments – especially a chase through the caverns underneath a Constantinople basilica – but I just don’t feel it reaches the lofty heights of AC2 and Brotherhood. Perhaps this is a good argument not to have yearly updates of franchies?
OK, on with the interview.
“Your playground is Constantinople,” says Darby McDevitt, a scriptwriter for the latest game in the Assassin’s Creed series.
Few major cities have changed hands more frequently and with such drama as this magnificent outpost on the edge of the Bosphorus, he says. It has been known variously as Byzantium, Nova Roma, Constantinople, Tsarigrad and Istanbul.
“We saw in Constantinople an excellent opportunity to introduce players to the beginnings of the golden age of the Ottoman Empire, an era familiar to many in name only, but whose impacts on world history can still be felt to this day.”
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, McDevitt tells me, intertwines the histories of the series’ leads – Altair Ibn La’Ahad, Ezio Auditore da Firenze and Desmond Miles – in one story, and all three are reflecting on their purpose in life.
“At the heart of their struggles to guide and shape the Assassin Order into a force for good,” says McDevitt, “burns a single nagging question: `Have I done enough?’ Over the course of Revelations, we will watch as our three heroes grapple with this problem.
“Through Altair’s story, Ezio will bear witness to the soaring highs and crushing lows of a man who lived as a devoted Assassin his entire life. How much can one man reasonably accomplish in so short a time? And through Ezio, Desmond will watch a middle-aged man come to terms with a situation he was thrown into after the brutal murder of his father and brothers, all the while wondering, how much of our lives do we choose for ourselves, and how much of it chooses us?”
McDevitt says it was no easy task crafting a story that involved all three main characters from the previous Assassin’s Creed games, especially when the timelines and settings were so wildly disparate. Revelations is the fourth game in the well-received series.
“We’re confident that we have crafted a cohesive, epic tale that honours the tones and themes established by all previous instalments. Altair is still as stoic and philosophical as ever, even in the face of overwhelming odds, while Ezio remains a warm and charismatic presence, full of curiosity and love for all who serve the better side of human nature. The biggest challenge for us from the outset was to shape a story that felt natural and necessary, without resorting to any cheap tricks or flights of fancy.”
The Assassin’s Creed series is known for its open-world nature. Revelations is one of the biggest and deepest games Ubisoft has created, and Constantinople suits that well, he says.
“Constantinople is sometimes called `the crossroads of the world’. It was one of the most diverse cities of the era – a nexus where Europe meets Asia, and where an incredible mix of Turks, Greeks, Arabs, Italians, Jews and Romani (to name a few) lived, worked, and worshipped. Similarly, Constantinople serves as the crossroads for our assassins, where east becomes west, where fortunes reverse, and where new connections are made.”
Players will also travel to Masyaf, Altair’s home, and the Cappadocia region of Turkey, a “mysterious city partly above ground but whose true secret is underground,” says McDevitt.
“This is the first time something like this has been done in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. It’s a huge and very rich environment where over 10,000 people have lived for hundreds of years. This massive city is based on actual cities that people can still visit today. Parts of the city are reminiscent of Petra with very busy merchant streets, and awe-inspiring skylights to let the sun through.”
Art director Raphael Lacoste said the company decided to give Constantinople a “hand-crafted” look, and the game makers studied 16th-century maps to get the feeling of the different districts, main roads, public places and streets, as well as the overall shape of Constantinople. Historical maps were used to locate landmarks.
Then 3D software was used to match the elevations based on the actual topography of Istanbul and historical painting were used as reference for the modelling of the houses and landmarks. Developers also visited Istanbul to get a feel for the city.
Falko Poiker, mission design director, said the main goal was to create a cohesive world for players to explore.
“The core experience of Assassin’s Creed is and will always remain based upon player freedom, and Revelations is no exception. The side missions that players have come to expect will still be there, however, the narrative context will change. We’re looking to use the side missions to enhance the richness of the city and the richness of the characters that surround you. It is organic storytelling: Characters will have a story to tell that leads the player to a mission. A very simple and explicit example is that rather than talking to a person who tells you that a man is abusing his wife, you will be walking through the city and come across a man abusing his wife. At this point you’ll have the choice to intervene.”
In Revelations, Ezio, who was first introduced to the series in Assassin’s Creed 2 as a newborn, is now 50 years old, which required a few changes in the way he was portrayed, says Alexandre Breault, the game’s design director.
“Yes, Ezio is indeed older, but he is more efficient and deadlier than ever as he now has the Constantinople’s assassin tools, such as the hookblade and the bombs, at his disposal. With age comes wisdom and Ezio can now use his evolved instincts – called `eagle sense’ (the ability to sense when enemies are present) – to instinctively pick up cues in the environment to analyse a situation and formulate a strategic response.
“Ezio uses eagle sense to feel and visualise where enemies are around him. It provides an approximation of where enemies will go and also allows you to detect traitors in the crowd. For example, you can scan a crowd to feel the heartbeat of each person and detect who the traitor is. In other words, eagle sense gives Ezio the means to plan his attacks with increased efficiency.”
In previous Assassin’s Creed games, historical figures such as Leonardo da Vinci made cameos, and this device continues in Revelations, as do nods to historical events in the region’s history, says McDevitt.
“Multiple historical figurines will be encountered by Ezio but hanging over Ezio’s storyline like a dark thundercloud is the heated Ottoman war for succession to the throne. The ailing, but still canny, Sultan Bayezid II has already named his son Ahmet as his rightful heir but Ahmet’s ambitious brother, Selim, has raised an army in a bid to take the throne for himself. This fight between father and son affects the decisions of every major player in our story. Everyone, as they say, has a horse in this race.
“Other minor details will adorn the backdrop. A few years earlier, Constantinople suffered through a devastating earthquake, from which the city is still recovering. And we will catch glimpses of several historical events that happened on the margins of the Ottomans’ lands, hearing from those who benefited from the spread of the Empire and those who suffered.”
Designer Breault says that the Assassin’s Creed series is known for taking risks – something that continues in Revelations.
“We take risks and try new ideas. On Assassin’s Creed, that’s an element we really focus on. For each title we release, we want to make sure that we have an innovation that makes it stands out. In Brotherhood, the multiplayer was one of the elements that was totally new and innovative. In Revelations, an example is Desmond’s part of the game. We are integrating it in a really interesting and innovative gameplay. That’s the way we are able to manage the risk of the innovation: We make sure that we keep a good balance between the pillars of our game that we improve and solidify, as well as new elements with which we take risk and try something totally different.”