Assassin’s Creed 4 – Why it chose pirates, oceans and next-gen features

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Another year, another Assassin’s Creed. But instead of an expansion, we’re getting a proper sequel in the core franchise. And it just may be the Assassin’s Creed game that would have been worth waiting an extra year for.

Speaking to the creative director for Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag at E3, Jean Guesdon, we had some questions for him. For instance, why go with a pirate theme for this game? Why that particular era in time for the franchise? And how would it tie into the events of Assassin’s Creed 3? “It’s before the events of the third game,” Guesdon told me .

When we decided to do a pirate game, we researched the history and we find out that the most interesting moments were at the beginning of the 18th century, 70 years prior to AC3.

Desmond’s cycle is now over, and you will be the main hero of the present day.

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Piracy itself happened to represent the ideologies of the Assassin’s order perfectly, Guesdon also explained, in comparison to the thoughts of control that the Templars were seeking. Two trains of thought, that were juxtaposed in that turbulent history in the Caribbean. “We think it’s really interesting, because when we compared the spectrums, you have the Templars, who want people to be ruled. Then you have the good, you have the assassins who want free will,” Guesdon said.

They talk about freedom, and the pirates represent the extremity of that spectrum, all the anarchy, no rules at all and total freedom.

We thought that it would be interesting to tell the story of that man, Edward Kenway, starting as a pirate as a young man, as a rebel, accepting no rules at all to be free and slowly progressively realizing that with no rules, you can’t build anything.

Which brought up another point. In Assassin’s Creed 3, our protagonist Connor, was nothing short of an asshole. Justifiably so, given his life, but he was a jerk nonetheless with the personality of wet cardboard. Edward on the other hand, looks like he’ll be injecting some life back into the role of lead character.

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“I feel that Edward is a really likeable character, first in the sense that he is really badass, he’s good looking, but he also has this really human touch that makes him so human,” Guesdon said.

He’s brash, he’s brutal, he’s a rebel and he makes mistakes sometimes. So we can really relate to him, and to his own personal progression.

Combat is also getting reworked for Assassin’s Creed 4. While cinematic in the execution of that gameplay, Assassin’s Creed 3 had the habit of being an emotionally disconnected experience wherein one simple move would result in an over the top execution. But in the fourth core game, you’re going to have to earn those kills, as the difficulty has been tweaked according to Guesdon, as the combat will also reflect the close-quarters tactics of those days.

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“Pirates were using two cutlasses, and so will Edward,” Guesdon explained.

And also, the guns. Guns were interesting, because pirates had multiple guns, they were carrying as many guns as they could. They could only shoot one bullet at a time, right?

So Edward in our case, will carry up to four guns, in order to chain up to four shots.

It will be a little bit tougher, because we tweaked our enemies. The brutes, the gunners, the agiles, all these archetypes of the soldiers that really combines all of this. So you will have to be quite strong and great with Edward.

Naval combat was a big draw in Assassin’s Creed 3, a saving grace of that game. That’s a feature that will return for Assassin’s Creed 4, but in a more seamless manner as it becomes a natural extension of the game world. “The difference from the previous game, is that naval combat will not be separated from the ground. We made one game that will be unifying, ground and naval. It’s one unified pirate game” Guesdon said.

The seamless transition was really, really important for us. So if you’re on the ground, just go to the dock, with your ship, climb into it and sail away. And if you want to explore this little island, there is something for you there.

Just stop the ship and swim to the island, you are totally free.

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Sailing ships is just one aspect of the game though. One of the new features though, will be a map that encourages undersea exploration. “We think that we can’t really do a pirate game, without underwater shipwrecks, so we worked on a way to bring that to the player, and we realised in our research that pirates were using diving bells,” Guesdon explained.

So Edward will be able to buy one in order to dive to different depths in the ocean.

So we will have different levels like that, different levels will you be able to explore shipwrecks and find buried treasure and maybe find ancient cities. And also locate underwater caves.

So what about the visual side of the game? Assassin’s Creed looked, and still does, gorgeous last year. And with a new generation of consoles releasing towards the end of this year, how will the gameplay and graphics tie into that?

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“I think the visuals are just stunning,” Guesdon said. “We have one of the best artistic teams of the industry, and even on current-gen, it looks gorgeous and amazing.”

But on next-gen? We build the on the power that we have in addition for smooth vegetation and oceans, it’s just stunning, it’s wonderful.

We wanted everyone to share the same experience globally, and so the difference will really be about immersion, graphics, physics and I can testify that as soon as you taste the next-gen one, it’s going to be hard to come back to the current-gen version.

If there is one thing about Assassin’s Creed games that I appreciate though, it’s the eye for historical detail. You could take a field trip in tho
se games, with their accurate design and themes. And don’t expect any of that to change, as Edward interacts with a few iconic faces of that nautical era.

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“We discovered that at that moment, we placed this game between 1715 and 1720ish, because the most famous pirates of that time gathered in the Bahamas and tried to create their own democratic society, a republic of pirates and in the end it failed,” Guesdon said.

But you will play and meet with Edward Thatch, who is the man behind the character of Blackbeard, Calico Jack/Jack Rackham, Benjamin Hornigold. So lots of really interesting characters, all different.

That all ties into the game world itself, which is simply massive once again. How big is it then? “It’s pretty big. It’s sixteen by sixteen kilometers, which is really big,” Guesdon said.

As a comparison, Rome in Assassin’s Creed 2: Brotherhood, was two by two. It’s massive. We have dozens of unique locations, and obviously there is a lot of ocean.

And what we’ve done, is that we’ve take the same amount of ground surface and splintered it into many different ground locations. So they’re smaller, but they’re very varied. You have fishing villages, ancient ruins, plantations.

We still have three main big cities Havana, Nassau and Kingston, so all these locations will really create that exploration feeling.

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is already looking like a much better game that what was released last year. In fact, it’s the kind of game that I’d have rather waited an extra year for, instead. It’s massive, detailed and looks stunning, and it’ll be out in October.

Last Updated: June 20, 2013

Darryn Bonthuys

Word-slinger at Critical Hit. Inventor of the macho Swiss gym chocolate known as Testoblerone. That's...that's about it really.

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