Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is easily the most ambitious game in Ubisoft's yearly franchise. The open seas, the promise of seamlessness, a Golden Age of piracy and a story arc that will surely intertwine with the rest of the series all add up to a package that should be unbelievably large.
As we near the title's Oct. 29 release, we landed a chance to chat with two members of Black Flag's development team. Lead Scriptwriter Darby McDevitt and Lead Game Designer Jean-Sébastien Décant took time to parse through a pile of questions composed by the gaming team here at TechnoBuffalo.
While we wait for a chance to play through this nautical affair, the words offered up by Ubisoft echo a whole lot of potential. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag sounds like it could be a blast.
A Game Built On Three Pillars
According to Ubisoft and the marketing drum up that's working towards Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag's release, this world is massive, seamless and brimming with content. That notion puts a ton of weight on developers when it comes to actually building said world. So, we asked Ubisoft about its major goals when it came to making this game. What were they aiming for, and what were the backbone principles of development?
We can picture their response scrawled on a whiteboard in a meeting room during the early days of Black Flag's conception. According to Jean-Sébastien Décant, the Lead Game Designer, this was the three word mantra delivered by Creative Director Jean Guesdon: "Epic, Fluid, Freedom."
Consider that mantra the team's mission statement for building the world of Assassin's Creed IV, and you'll likely have a good preconception of the way things are meant to ebb and flow in this game's universe.
Décant took us through each pillar, starting with Epic. That one's about "the overall game scope, the massive storyline and the potential of open world naval battles." Every moment, it seems, should be grand.
The next pillar is all about the much-touted seamlessness of the game. They called up Fluid "to push tech and design into finding solutions to limit loadings to a minimum and ensure that going from land to sea and vice versa was not going to be a chore. For example, following the mantra the team pushed for adding teleports on each synchronization point to facilitate quick access everywhere. Basically we went for everything we could think of to limit the friction, the downtime."
If that friction is genuinely missing from exploring this massive space, Assassin's Creed IV will offer a less barriered experience than III.
Finally, and this one speaks to the value and replayability of the offering, comes Freedom. Here's Décant once more: "…we looked for ways to empower the player and let him craft his own adventures. Freedom to pick your mission approach, from brash pirate to stealthy assassin, freedom to deeply upgrade and customize a ship, freedom to go wherever whenever, freedom to pick multiple activities at the same time and complete them in parallel… Looking at the final game, the three words mantra from Jean sure has proven useful and on the spot."
Okay, Why Pirates?
Even though Ubisoft elected to keep the Assassin's Creed brand and storyline intact for this new outing, the high seas adventure in the Caribbean seems a far leap from where the original game started. Assassin's Creed used to be about a growing conflict in Europe with ties to the modern day. Now? This game seems all over the place, though that's not necessarily a bad thing.
We asked Ubisoft directly about its decision to go with pirates for this new entry. It boils down to continuing the theme of revolution from Assassin's Creed III. McDevitt, again, the Lead Scriptwriter, explained that "Since Assassin's Creed III covered a monumental revolution borne out of Enlightenment values, we thought the idea of going back in time about 60 years to another smaller revolution would work quite well."
In the gradual growth and evolution that has been the Assassin's Creed franchise, the jump to the Caribbean works.
McDevitt went on to pad the decision with a stroke about history. "It is a historical fact that for a brief few years in the early 1700s a large group of pirates settled in Nassau with the hope of turning it into their own autonomous 'Republic' governed by loose democratic values." Those loose values will likely lead to debauchery and pirate mayhem in the game. McDevitt continued, "The experiment failed miserably, but it offered a brief glimpse of what sort of thinking would eventually spur on the American Revolution a few decades later. This aspect of the pirates of the late 'Golden Age' is not well known, but we felt it had incredible potential for an Assassins Creed game."
And it does have incredible potential. A central theme within all of the Assassin's Creed titles has always been revolution and bucking authority. This Golden Age of piracy is the very epitome of that concept. Sure, it's a departure from jumping on rooftops in Rome, but it makes sense in the scheme of the franchise.
Exploration, High-Seas Combat And Loot
The transition from the built up European continent to the recently settled New World in Assassin's Creed III made for a dynamic slide in this franchise's gameplay. Moving from a revolutionary America to the unruly and strictly colonial Caribbean should do that again.
The question most longtime Assassins likely have in their minds stems from the literal height of the world. That is, what can we climb in the stout colonial Caribbean? McDevitt offered that, yes, "the cities of the new world were somewhat smaller." He countered by saying that the team "worked very hard to make sure each of the cities were enjoyable to navigate and explore" and that "each one has a unique feel and layout."
Assassin's Creed IV won't necessarily be about getting way up high so much as it's about experiencing new and diverse locales. That diversity should also seep into the side activities within the game. We mentioned hunting as one of our favorites in Assassin's Creed III, and we asked if we can expect anything as intriguing in Black Flag. The answer? Naval combat.
Décant explained that naval combat is "by far the most robust activity in Assassin's Creed IV." It all starts with the initiation of each conflict. "Engaging into a naval battle on high seas using various tactics depending on the weapons at hand and the type of enemy in order to incapacitate it. Then jumping from deck to deck seamlessly in the company of the pirate crew to plunder the ship… It's quite enthralling!"
Further fleshing that combat out is the ship's upgrade system. Edward Kenway commands the Jackdaw, and players will need to invest captured loot into "ship upgrades: improving its hull, number of cannons, expanding the crew quarters and so on." Décant suggested that these battles and the ship's upgrade system is easily the deepest and engrossing additions to the Assassin's Creed formula.
Finally, it looks like Black Flag is going to be peppered with all sorts of mini-games and optional affairs to push it out in all directions. We asked about things that will distract us from the main storyline, and Décant spilled info about a lot of options.
"We have the underwater sites with beautiful locations to explore, filled with treasures but infested by deadly shark." Yep, we've seen sharks a lot in the promotional material for ACIV. He went on, "We also have the Kenway's Fleet mini game where you can send ships captured in the open world on trading missions around the globe. It also features a JRPG style naval battles mini game to secure trading routes and avoid losing ships to other pirates. The Kenway's Fleet mini game is part of the companion game offer, meaning that you will be able to access it from the captain's cabin on the player's ship in the main game but also from a smartphone or a tablet." That's right, a JRPG style mini game that can be played on a mobile device.
Last, and Décant seemed excited about this one, is harpooning. "My favorite activity remains the harpooning though. It has this beast VS man kind of feel. Edward with a harpoon, bare chest on a rowboat in the middle of the ocean, facing killer whales and various sneaky sharks while the crew is encouraging him. It's quite a unique experience in the videogame landscape."
Throughout our entire discussion, McDevitt and Décant seemed to constantly echo Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag's three pillars: Epic, Fluid and Freedom. If the team at Ubisoft has truly made good on all three pieces of that puzzle, this game could be a slam dunk.
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