Streets Above: Assassin's Creed Interview
We chat with Ubisoft about its Third Crusade adventure.
Most game designers spend relatively little time thinking about the crowds in their worlds. Even in so-called living cities, residents generally either ignore you or run from you, with but a scant nod in the direction of all those interesting greys in between. Not Ubisoft. In its upcoming action game Assassin's Creed the people that pulse through the dusty, busy streets are anything but ordinary.
"The crowd is really our main second character," Claude Langlais, technical director at Ubisoft Montreal and former lead programmer on Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, told us recently. "You get feedback from the crowd on your actions. So, gradually, throughout the game, you can help citizens and bring them on to your side."
Your side in this case is the assassins of the Third Crusade. Lead character Altair, once a highly ranked member, gets demoted to the lowest of grades after spectacularly botching a job. And that's where you come in, to guide Altair back through the ranks in the organization through assassination of key figures in the Holy Land.
At first, says Langlais, your marks won't even know you're coming. Using your ever-improving climbing and Parkour (think Casino Royale's explosive opening) skills, you'll be tasked with assassinating important men who together are conspiring to fan the smouldering Third Crusade.
These men, you will discover, are connected in a way not immediately obvious. Langlais won't say how, leaving players to unravel the conspiracy themselves. But you won't have to worry if you've not been keeping up in your studies of the Crusades.
"The game is something that is pretty accessible," Langlais says. "You don't have to know about history. There are some historical facts, but there's a lot of fiction that goes into it."
And it's that fiction that has people tracking the game thinking. Amid rumours that there is more to Assassin's Creed than you would immediately surmise, Langlais admits that there are parts of the game wholly withdrawn from what we've been shown.
"We're not going to comment too much about the series," he says "but for this game, about 95 per cent takes place during the Third Crusade."
So what about the other five per cent? Speculation seems to have settled on a scenario that spans time somehow, a theory given weight after comments by voice actress Kristen Bell last year that there were Matrix-like elements to the story.
One rumour already put to rest is the destination of the game. Assassin's Creed was originally announced as a PlayStation 3 exclusive. After months of rumours, Ubisoft finally admitted that the game was coming to Xbox 360 and PC too.
Ultimately, and on several levels, Assassin's Creed is reliant on knowledge.
"The rule behind everything we did is to obey the rules everybody knows," explains Langlais.
"Everybody's used to being in a crowd. If you're walking, trying not to attract too much attention, don't shove people out of the way because if you know if you do that you're going to cause trouble. The same rules apply in the game."
"It's mapping everyday life with a bit of acrobatics. It's really about dealing with the rules that people already know."