There’s only a few days left until the release of ”The Infamy’, the first episode of Assassin’s Creed 3 downloadable content, The Tyranny of King George Washington. We were lucky enough to sit down with its creative director last week for a chat about the downloadable content and the rise of episodic content in the video-games industry.
This interview was conducted by Diogo Miguel.
For those who haven’t finished Assassin’s Creed 3, please be advised this interview contains story spoilers.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Would you like to introduce yourself first?
Marc-Alexis Cote: Yes, my name is Marc-Alexis Cote and I’m the creative director on The Tyranny of King George Washington; the three part downloadable content for Assassin’s Creed 3.
Assassin’s Creed has always been appreciated for its thorough and fairly accurate depiction of history; using key historical figures but placing them in fictional scenarios. King Washington is something quite different, however. Why have you chosen to go completely off the leash with this downloadable content and create a wholly fictional scenario that goes against everything that’s ever happened and everything you’ve ever done?
Marc-Alexis Cote: Well, one of the things that, for me, is important, is that it all starts with what is important for downloadable content. In my opinion, downloadable content has to bring something new to the table to be very interesting for the player, and that’s where we started off with the idea of giving powers to the players, to modify the game experience and really make it a valuable experience for them. So for me, creating those three powers – the wolf cloak, the eagle flight and the bear might – were only possible by using this alternate reality
The second point, in Assassin’s Creed 2, we picture George Washington with an Apple of Eden. It’s been in the back of the mind of fans for the last five years, and it’s not something we touched on in Assassin’s creed 3. I felt like the downloadable content had to address that. And players will see by the end of the last episode, if they unlock all the artefacts, they will better understand exactly how Connor became Connor. because this story, it’s the story of Ratonhnhaké:ton. The alternate history is the story of Ratonhnhaké:ton. But overall it’s still the story of Connor and the real George Washington.
It’s something players will grow to understand as they progress through each episode of the downloadable content. For me, that’s one of the rewards of the downloadable content. Of playing it and finishing it and understanding how it all fits in with the core of the franchise.
It’s been said in the media, by mistake, that this is not a cannon experience. But we do consider it a cannon experience. We explain what George Washington did with the apple of Eden, and you will have to play the entire episodes to see exactly how this brings us back to Connor and George Washington.
You’ve said the downloadable content is cannon and set in an alternate reality. However, are you completely freeing the shackles of this downloadable content? If so, how are you introducing this content to players? Through the Animus, or in a different way altogether?
Marc-Alexis Cote: Well, you need to understand how this is explained to the player. By the end of Assassin’s Creed 3 - big spoiler warning – Desmond dies and his memory is uploaded to the cloud. So all the memories of Desmond are still accessible. This story is constructed from the memories of Desmond. But it’s just that you don’t play it through the eyes of Desmond. You just play it through his uploaded conscience. So it is still part of, again, the memories of Desmond and this is why we are saying it is cannon and something that happened to Connor and George Washington. But players will have to play it to understand exactly why and how.
This presents a good question actually. Is it necessary to play the story of Assassin’s Creed 3 to the end before going on to the downloadable content?
Marc-Alexis Cote: Nope, and that’s one of the things we tried to accomplish with this downloadable content. To have it as a standalone(expansion). So that’s another reason for having an alternate history, with a narrative wrapper set in the real world. That’s one of the reason we did this. For players to be able to enjoy it without finishing Assassin’s Creed 3.
This three part episodic downloadable content is a revolutionary new model you’re pioneering here. As you clearly have a large story to tell, how much content would you say is available across all three episodes? How does this model fit into the downloadable content world and do you think this could be a model for future expansions, not just in Assassin’s Creed but in any other franchise?
Marc-Alexis Cote: Across all three episodes we have more than seven and a half hours of content. So we have two and a half hours per episode. So, yes, this is a new model that we are trying. We are trying to do episodic content. But for me, it’s like a TV show right? Like Lost for example. Players get a lot of questions in the first episode and then grow into the story. And then they get their answers by the end. The only thing is that the end is more satisfying in our case, than it is with Lost, in my opinion.
So it’s a new model that we are trying. In my opinion, it makes the pace of the story super interesting, because each episode ends with a cliffhanger, and players are like ‘I want to know what happens’. I think it structures the story in a way. Those two and a half an hour episodes, to me, feel fun to play and they give a lot of expectation about what is to come next; so it makes things interesting – I just can’t stop playing it when I play it.
In terms of downloadable content, do you think there could be a future for this type of episodic material in upcoming Ubisoft titles ?
Marc-Alexis Cote: Well, we will see how fans respond to this kind of content. Hopefully they will love it. But for me, episodic content is something that is starting to pick up. In the industry we have seen it with Telltale, for example, with The Walking Dead video-game, and it’s definitely something we are trying also. We are always on the look out for new models/ ideas and I can’t wait to see how fans respond to it.
Will you be introducing any new game play mechanics in this downloadable content not seen in Assassin’s Creed 3? Is there something players should look out for in particular or anything that could surprise them?
Marc-Alexis Cote: Since the powers are based on the pillars of Assassin’s Creed – stealth, navigation and combat – they just become part of the arsenal/tools that the player can use right. And for me it’s like, you get the eagle power, and it magically transforms the way you navigate, and you walk around the city. You explore the city right? And when you start combining the two, using the eagle, then you decide to kill enemies, then use wolf cloak. It just becomes natural. Kill enemy, activate the wolf cloak, walk around and use the eagle flight to escape without being seen. It just makes for a very stealthy experience.
By adding these powers does it make it easier, for example, to have missions where you are not supposed to be seen? Do you think it makes it easier when you use these powers?
Marc-Alexis Cote: Well, we build the missions around the new powers. Right, so they all take into consideration the new power you have obtained. For example, when you need to stalk an enemy, you can use the wolf cloak to do it much more easily. But then you have guards that will just walk in the middle of your path, so you need to avoid them. Because if you bump into an enemy, you are going to get detected and use your wolf cloak.
So there are definitely different challenges to build on this using those powers. Because it changes the way we need to approach some of our mission design. But we’ve got all the tools to make it challenging for the players.
The decision to create a ‘parallel Connor’ is surprising and intriguing. You’ve spent a long time building up this character and seeing him rise to his role of Assassin. Now it almost feels like players are having to start over?
Marc-Alexis Cote: Well, you see , we are not forgetting character. The core of the story is about how Connor becomes Ratonhnhaké:ton. So you see, when you start the downloadable content, he is a bit confused. You can see him start as Connor: ‘What am I doing here. Mum you are alive’. And then you can see him growing into Ratonhnhaké:ton, his native self. When you are playing downloadable content B(Episode 2), he is going to question himself : ‘What am I doing here? Who am I really?’. And by the end of downloadable content C(episode 3) you will see Connor again, make a comeback at the end. And understand exactly how this is all related to Connor. So it’s not like we are forgetting Connor. It’s like we are building upon Connor and all the side content. All the side missions that you do are related to Connor’s motivation as a character.
Connor’s motivation is fighting oppression, right? So when you walk around the Frontier, Boston and New York – you see people starving and people in slave cars. You see people being attacked by rabid animals. And have to help those people. So this all ties into the whole Connor personna.
But Ratonhnhaké:ton’s motivation is seeking revenge for the death of his mother. He sees his mother die. And for me that’s something quick to build up. I mean, we take Connor as the base persona and we inject some new emotions into him. I think that’s one of the main attractions of the downloadable content. You actually get the impression of a new character, but at the same time giving more depth to the original.
As a last question, this sort of feels like more of a new story than just additional content. Would you like to give people a reason as to why they should give The Tyranny of King Washington a try?
Marc-Alexis Cote: For me, there are three main reasons. First one is that we are experimenting with a new way to play Assassin’s Creed. Different ways to explore pillars of the game.
There’s also an incredible new story that will be rewarding as it plays out and there’s a great amount of content. It’s more than seven and a half hours of main story content plus side quests that the player can do. Though, for me, it’s an invaluable investment for them to also do the optional side quests.
DM: Thank you very much for your time.
The first episode of Assassin’s Creed 3 downloadable content The Tyranny of King George Washington is out on Tuesday. Look out for our review nearer launch.
We thank Diogo for conducting the interview.