Creative Director of Assassin's Creed 3: This Game Embodies 'The Ideals of Freedom, Liberty and Patriotism'
If you’re a football fan, you might have seen the follow trailer for the upcoming videogame, Assassin’s Creed 3:
If you’re a videogame fan, however, you wouldn’t have needed to—you know this game is coming out October 30 and you’ve watched that trailer at least another additional eight times since opening this story.
While putting the number 3 in a videogame title might make it seem like this game is only for what people like to refer to as “hardcore” gamers, Assassin’s Creed 3 is plenty accessible to other gamers as well.
If you’re unfamiliar with the franchise, you play multiple roles. You’re a descendant of a line of Assassins named Desmond who uses a machine called the Animus to “replay” significant memories of his ancestors as they’ve fought the Assassin’s mortal enemy, the Templars, throughout the centuries. In Assassin’s Creed 3, Desmond will relieve the memories of Connor, who became an Assassin during the American Revolution. (I’ll let you discover the rest by playing the previous games.)
It’s almost poignant in a way, and certainly not in one that developers could have imagined, in how a game, set during the American Revolution, somewhat mirrors what is going on in the rest of the world right now.
Publisher Ubisoft must see the connection too, given their partnership with Rock the Vote. The partnership has resulted in Art of the Assassin, a traveling exhibit showcasing original Assassin’s Creed III-inspired works, as well as musical performances and voter registrations nationwide that give students and young voters a chance to experience the game before the October 30 launch.
Sure, you’ll get to kill a lot of redcoats in this game. But you’ll also get to hang out with George Washington and Ben Franklin in a way that hasn’t been seen since… Day of the Tentacle?
To learn more about the significance of the game coming out this year, as well as talk down and dirty about what fans of the franchise (myself included) can expect, I spoke with Alex Hutchinson, Creative Director, over email recently.
Assassin's Creed 3 is primarily set during the American Revolution. How early in the writing process was this decided? Or was this an era you always wanted to visit in the franchise?
It was almost the first decision we made: we couldn’t really move forward intelligently on mechanics, narrative, characters or environments without knowing where the game was set. So we knew it at the very start of 2010.
There are a lot of cities that were important during the American Revolution. How did you decide the ones you wanted to feature in the game and how many visits did the team pay to each one to research them? How historically accurate are they?
We picked three to start with based on how historically important they were, what cool events took place there that we could potentially use and how fun they were to climb around in. We started with Boston, New York and Philadelphia, but we ended up cutting Philadelphia as the streets were too wide and straight, the ground too flat and it wasn’t fun to explore—although some story scenes do take place there.
And the maps are as accurate as we can make them. We rebuilt them at 1:3 scale based on historical maps from the period and then built replicas of all the major landmarks based on paintings. Also all the generic buildings and crowd characters are still based on art reference from the period.
Nazis were a staple set of villains in video games for years. But never Redcoats. Why do you think that is? Why do you think more games didn't turn to an enemy that has always been popular in films?
I don’t think Redcoats were necessarily evil and also the weaponry of the time doesn’t suit shooters, so I think you need to have a different genre of game to tackle them. Thankfully Assassin’s Creed has a lot more than gunplay, so we thought we could do the period justice.
This game is set during a seminal time for America. We are going into an election year that is also pretty pivotal. Is that a coincidence or are you hoping messages and themes carry from game to real life?
We would be really excited if people could use some of the information in the game to reflect on how the country began. If that helps people during the election in thinking about where America could go from here, then I think that would be amazing.
How important is recounting some of the history versus just trying to tell a good story? How serious do you guys take the historical accuracy and are there ever disagreements amongst team members that want to deviate more from actual history?
Story comes first for us: we build our fictional story first then lay it onto the historical events and try to mesh the two. We try never to deviate from history (except in how particular targets died) and if our story contradicts a real event then we’ll move it somewhere that nothing happened, so even though we’re making something up, we’re not contradicting history.
We have seen historical, real life characters in previous Assassin's Creed games before, but arguably not as well known by non-historians and history buffs. But now we have George Washington, for example. How much more challenging is it to alter the history to better fit your narrative when you're writing for a character that even High Schoolers will think they know pretty well?
We never alter history! We have a lot of info on their opinions and what they did, and they generally only talk about those things. We only make things up for our fictional characters or during fictional events that are completely invented. We also try to show human beings, so we don’t just show the historical cliché, but also try to get them to speak about other issues of the day.
Ben Franklin’s belief that the turkey should be the national bird of America, not the eagle, for example. It’s true: look it up!
Tell me about the partnership with Rock the Vote. How did that come to be and why did you decide this was the right partnership for this game?
We wanted to look for a partner that shared the ideals of freedom, liberty and patriotism that embody Assassin’s Creed III so Rock the Vote was the clear choice for a partner. Both Assassin’s Creed III and Rock the Vote share a loyal following of young adults that, like the people of the American Revolution, just want a chance to have their voice heard. Assassin’s Creed III allows player to virtually step into a monumental political movement. It just makes sense that we also support one in the real world.
All of the trailers have featured new character Connor. But what can you tell us about our old friend Desmond? What's he up to?
We’ve invested a lot of people’s time in Desmond, so hopefully with this game we can pay off that investment. We’re not giving too much away but you’ll get more Desmond than in previous games, so I’m looking forward to hearing people’s reactions.
I've read in other interviews and preview pieces that the potential for future games based on Connor will determine how audiences respond to him as a character. Some might say after Revelations that while Ezio was awesome, it was almost too much of a good thing.
But knowing these games take longer than a year to develop - while it's an annual franchise you do have multiple developers - describe how the team can start to work on future titles while at the same time, wanting to see if audiences will respond positively or negatively to the character of Connor?
Even though we start work on future games before the previous one has been released, we start with technology and mechanics so there’s usually some time to make a course correction but you’re right for the next game we have to make an early, proactive choice.
That said, there’s usually some wiggle room in the story or in some of the side content, and who says the character has to appear in the very next game! We could return to some characters years from now—in fact, I think there’s more fun in that than a direct sequel immediately.
Finally... anything else you'd like to tell fans?
Only that we’re finally finished.
It’s been three long years for us, and a huge amount of work, so we just hope the fans enjoy it and see all that work in the final product! And we hope especially that those people who’ve stuck with the story since Day 1 are satisfied.