Ubisoft raised more than a few eyebrows when it revealed its bold plans for Assassin’s Creed III earlier this month. In a sharp break from the Renaissance theme that has dominated the last three games, ACIII will shift its focus to the desperate, bloody days of the American Revolution in a story that spans 30 years. The change is scenery is matched by a change in character, with protagonist Connor Kenway taking center stage as an assassin caught between the escalating atrocities of the Patriots and the Redcoats. It’s a juicy premise positively bursting with potential.
With Assassin’s Creed III set to land on PS3 this October 30th, we sat down with Creative Director Alex Hutchinson to discuss the game’s ambitious premise and many, many gameplay enhancements. Read on for the choice highlights, or tune in to the entire 15-minute interview on episode 018 of PlayStation Blogcast. As always, let us know what you think in the comments!
PlayStation.Blog: When it comes to the basic ingredients of US history, Americans know our stuff. Do you feel pressure to portray characters such as George Washington in a certain way? Do you have creative freedom with him?
Alex Hutchinson, Creative Director, Assassin’s Creed III: One of the cool things about Assassin’s Creed III is that we have so much information this time. In previous games, we were filling in gaps — we knew approximately what happened, or an opinion of what happened, so we had a lot of room to move. But now, we pretty much know where all the Founding Fathers were every day of the Revolution and what they were thinking. They were copious letter writers, so we have all kinds of crazy information to build on; Ben Franklin believing that the national bird should be a turkey instead of a “thieving” eagle, or his opinions on women and so on.
It’s more about finding different angles on these people, things that maybe aren’t in the populist history, things that we can defend. It’s a lot of fun, there are some juicy characters….Pretty much 80 percent of the speaking characters are real people. You’ve heard of Paul Revere and George Washington, but a lot of the secondary characters here you won’t have heard of. If you sit there with Wikipedia open, though, you can look them up.
PSB: What inspired the name of protagonist Connor Kenway?
AH: His given Native American name is very hard to pronounce, it’s Ratohnhaké:ton. [laughter]. We took it very seriously when we decided to have a Native American assassin, we wanted someone who was one step removed — we didn’t want a Redcoat or a Patriot. We also really liked the idea of having a minority as the lead character, especially one that isn’t really represented in popular culture.
It comes with a lot of risk as well; we’ve hired a Native American consultant to make sure we’re handling things appropriately, and the actor who voices Connor is Native American as well.
PSB: You showed of epic-looking battlefield sequences pitting the Redcoats against the Patriots — how does Connor fight on the battlefield?
AH: The narrative of the game is “Assassins versus Templars,” it’s not about you saving the American Revolution. You get involved in aspects of it; the story picks up before the Revolution kicks off and continues after it. So whenever you’re at these battle events, you’re never going to be in the line infantry shooting a rifle or serving as an actual soldier. You have an ulterior motive at the battle: Connor’s goal is to assassinate a specific person. Whoever else lives or dies in that battle is not something that concerns him.
PSB: What did you think when BioShock Infinite was revealed? Both games explore similar elements such as patriotism and the dawn of American Exceptionalism, though in different ways.
AH: I was a huge fan of BioShock, I loved that game. I think most of our team has pre-orders in for BioShock Infinite, actually! Luckily, the flavor of the games is radically different: we are far more earnest, you know what I mean? BioShock is a super-smart game, but they like to exaggerate for effect. I think it will be good for both games to co-exist because they play off each other a little.
PSB: For the first time, Connor has the ability to use two weapons at once — how does that change the flow of combat?
AH: We wanted him to feel more like a predator, so all of his combat is two-handed whether it’s tomahawk and knife, or hidden blade and knife. There’s a lot of new gear, and if you’ve watched movies like The Last of the Mohicans you can probably figure out some of them! But the core combat system has been rebuilt completely. What the buttons do, how they do it, the enemy types, the strategy, and so forth.
PSB: The climbing controls seem to have been simplified. Have you fundamentally changed the way traversal works for Assassin’s Creed III?
AH: The goal was to create a character who was as nimble and as capable in a wilderness environment as Ezio and Altair were in cities. We wanted to turn the frontier into a 3D playing space of uneven surfaces and slopes and trees….so when we looked at the controls, we thought we could clarify them. Having to hold two buttons at once in order to climb was definitely something we wanted to address.
In Assassin’s Creed III, if you hold R1 you’ll free run safely. You’ll stay relatively horizontal, so Connor will run past trees and he’ll only take “safe” jumps. But if you hold X as well, then the run becomes “unsafe” — he’ll try to go vertical, and if he hits the edge of a cliff, he’ll jump. Hopefully it’ll give peoples’ hands some relief, but it’s also a way of telling the game whether you want to take risks or not.
And we’ve managed to unify that new control scheme with our fighting. R1 is always sprint, so you don’t have to lock onto enemies anymore in order to attack them. And if you wanna get out of a fight, you just hold R1 and off you go. We have this idea, too, that Connor is always in motion — that he can assassinate on the run. So we have ways to run past a guard, snatch his musket, shoot his buddy, kill the next guy, and keep on moving.