Interview: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Posted by Ken Barnes
Creative Director 'fesses up
Ubisoft have released an interview with the Jean Guesdon, the creative director behind Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.
It sheds some nice light on the game's main new character, Edward Kenway, so rather than pick it to pieces, we'll let you have at it word for word, as it came to us. There's plenty to digest, so brace yourselves...or face the keelhaul!
Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag (ACIVBF) is a project developed by world-wide studios. Who leads the development and how do you coordinate within all these studios?
Ubisoft Montreal is the lead studio for ACIVBF but it’s a real co-production with other studios (Ubisoft Singapore, Ubisoft Sofia, Ubisoft Québec for the Single Player and Ubisoft Annecy and Bucharest for the Multiplayer part).
We are extremely efficient with this kind of process now. Multiple studios have been involved in parallel on AC games starting since AC2.
We’ve put in place a dedicated team to ensure the best possible communication with tools and processes to make sure that everybody knows what he has to deliver.
What is the story of Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag? Where does it take place?
ACIVBF tells the story of Edward Kenway, a young British man that left the navy to embrace piracy during the final decade of the Golden Age of Piracy in the West Indies (now known as the Caribbean).
Edward will be thrown in the middle of the ancient war between Templars and Assassins. He will be trained by them and finally become the first Kenway member of the Assassin Order. He’s the father of Haytham, Connor is therefore Edward’s grandson
What are the forces at play? What is the Templar’s role in the story? The Assassins?
ACIVBF, like any other Assassin Game tells the secret story, the true story behind events of our history that shaped the world. Behind the War between English and Spanish, between Empires and Pirates there was also the secret war between Templars and Assassins.
In ACIVBF Templars are looking for a mysterious place that, as rumors say, could give them a strong advantage against their eternal enemies, the Assassins, in order to achieve their goal of human domination. But Assassins are everywhere and they’ll carefully make sure that such a plan is not realized. Edward will be their more important asset to do so.
The Golden Age of Piracy and legendary pirates have been much fantasized in people’s mind by recent entertainment, How is this period treated in the game?
The Assassin Creed franchise has been praised for its efforts to depict history as realistically as it can be and ACIVBF will not change that.
We feel that Assassin Creed is the perfect vehicle to tell the TRUE story of piracy, far from the “cliché” fantasy one.
We have the ambition to respect that time period and its characters and show our audience what being a pirate meant.
It wasn’t an amusement park, neither it was taking place under big dark grey clouds.
It’s a story about men and women trying to survive far from their homeland in precarious conditions but full of hope in better tomorrows.
Men and women that, for a certain time, and against Big Empires have bond together to create what they thought could become a distinct society.
For those who don’t really know what the Golden Age of Piracy is exactly, could you summarize the key historical episode quickly?
They are several major phases in piracy history but the Golden Age we’re depicting in the game spans approximately a decade, starting around 1715.
These years followed the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 that ended war between the main European powers (Spain, Great Britain, France, Portugal and Dutch Republic).
At that moment, most sailors from these countries became unemployed and a lot of men preferred to become outlaws and PIRATES rather than staying under their respective crowns.
The Caribbean seas were navigated by massive galleons full of precious metals and goods; the weather was generally accommodating and even if live was hard these men were FREE.
One major event occurred in 1715 with the massive wreckage of the Golden Fleet. Eleven galleons full of gold were smashed against the Florida coast by a Hurricane. This triggered a Gold Rush that brought many pirates to the region. They decided to establish their base in New Providence – Bahamas, better known today as Nassau.
In Nassau they tried to create what could be seen as one of the first prototype of a democratic society with fewer distinctions based on race or sex.
Can you introduce us to the new protagonist, Edward Kenway? What is his back story? His personality?
Edward Kenway is a young, brash Welshman born to an English Father and Welsh mother. He is charismatic and clever, but has a recklessness that borders on pathological. He is generally kind, but naturally selfish, and has a habit of valuing his own ludicrous ideas long before he will consider sensible or rational approaches to any problem. And he enjoys his drink, much to the detriment of his vital organs.
By the time Edward was in his early teens his family had moved to Bristol in the south East of England where he eventually met and married a woman two years his senior, the lovely and stable Caroline Scott. By all accounts the marriage was a lively one, but Caroline soon grew tired of Edward’s inability to find steady work or take his responsibilities as a husband seriously. But it was Edward’s grandiose ideas about sailing as a privateer in the West Indies and earning a fortune in gold that eventually disrupted what should otherwise have been a happy marriage.
Caroline eventually left Edward to return to her family’s modest home, leaving Edward alone with his bitter ambitions. But — much to everyone’s surprise – made good on this one promise. In late 1712, he boarded a ship and set sail for Jamaica to sail with renowned privateer, Benjamin Hornigold. And here he would remain for six months, until history threw Edward and his company another complication: Peace broke out.
In 1713, the treaty of Utrecht effectively ended all conflict between the major empires. British Privateers were no longer needed or indeed tolerated in the West Indies, causing thousands of previously active sailors to find themselves out of work. Not the most ideal situation for these young and restless men … for as the old saying goes, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop…” And indeed, in the following years, Edward, and so many of his bretheren would find the Devil’s work far more attractive than their King’s…
Is Edward Kenway a pirate as well as an assassin? How do both of his identities fit together and how will he deal with them?
From the opening moments of ACBF, Edward is an experienced privateer-turned-pirate, with a taste for danger and adventure. He is both a skilled sailor and seasoned fighter, but he fights for no cause but his own. However, events occuring early in our story lead Edward right into the heard of the Assassin / Templar conspiracy, a conflict in which he will play a vital role. Without saying more, we can definitely say that Edward Kenway is one of the most uniquely conflicted heroes in the Assassin’s Creed franchise to date.
What can you tell us of Edward’s skills? How is this reflected in navigation, combat and stealth?
By 1715, Edward has already been a sailor for 2 years, an experience that has given him a taste for all the dangers and excitements to be found at sea. He can reef a sail, weigh an anchor, and swab a deck as any average sailor must. He has also developed extraordinary sense of balance and talent for climbing, even under the harshest conditions – “every finger’s a fishhook” as sailors of old were known to say.
Edward is also no stranger to combat, typically against the Spanish navy and merchants, having been a privateer for the English crown prior to his dip into piracy. By the time our game opens, Edward Kenway has seen and faced more than his fair share of violence and turmoil – enough to make a man cynical and suspicious of the world and everyone in it.
Temperamentally, Edward is efficient, lethal and brash, and always looking towards the finish line. This combination can be easily seen in the fight system. Edward uses dual swords and multi-pistols as his main arsenal. Proper chaining of these weapons allows him to kill very quickly and efficiently a big group of enemies. During a boarding sequence this is necessary for success.
Stealth wise, Edward's brash behaviour gives him new ingredients to play with. Using people's homes (hiding doors) to evade patrols, hiring prostitutes to distract guards and getting drunk pirates to do some dirty fighting for him.
What are the different weapons Edward will be using on his missions?
Edward's main arsenals are the dual swords and multi-pistols. The multi-pistols are a tool that can be combined with any other weapon to have insane kill counts. Besides this Edward also gets a blowpipe with multiple effect darts, the double hidden blades (AC classic) and is able to use all the weapons enemies carry (Rifles, single sword, knives and Heavy Axe). The Rope Dart will also make a return.
But another element of Edward is The Jackdaw, his Ship. This will also receive new weapons as the game progresses. These include the Round shot (base weapons), Heat shot (shotgun like weapon), Mines, Mortar, Swivel guns, Chain shot and Ram!
What can you tell us of the scope of the game? Is it comparable to ACIII?[/b]
You know, we don’t really craft a game comparing its size to previous ones. ACIVBF will be significantly different from any previous AC games. The global world is bigger but its structure is totally different and will allow us to visit more than 50 (fifty) locations.
The “main path”, the story of the game, will be around the same amplitude than AC3 and the world will be filled with new gameplays and things to do.
So I would definitely say that this adventure will provide to the players one of the most appealing and diversified playground ever seen.
In AC3, the world was beautiful and rich with things to do, but a lot of gameplay systems weren’t attractive or not introduced properly. In ACIVBF, how are you making sure the player has a fun, intelligent and progressive experience from start to end?
AC is a great franchise that allows us to learn from previous iterations. We’ve identified some areas of improvements and will definitely make sure that all systems are properly introduced and relevant to the player’s own motivations.
We’re not the legacy of AC3 only but of all previous AC games and we spent a lot of time analysing the best things we could use from all of them.
Assassin’s Creed’s gameplay heritage was mainly set on land. With ACIII, you introduced some naval missions without making it a central piece of the game. With ACIVBF being set in the Caribbean, how will you be balancing sea and land?
Our main ambition with that game is to deliver a TRUE PIRATE GAME, which means ONE, SINGLE, UNIFIED GAME using both naval and ground gameplay.
Players will obviously be able to attack, board and plunder ships at sea but a LOT of activities will be set on ground. From attacking plantations, exploring shipwrecks, debunking smugglers from their caves, discovering Mayan ruins without forgetting our 3 main cities Havana, Nassau and Kingston. The “pirate loop” will require the mastery of both naval and ground gameplay to be able to continue exploration in the world and progression of the character.
Is land gameplay (combat, free-running, exploration) still a key component of the game?
This game is not only a naval game. Yes, the naval component, based on the successful first iteration in AC3, will be a key part of it but the ground/land gameplay remains important as it is one of the pillars of the AC franchise. Free-running, social stealth and combat are still the key pillars of our ground experience but are also used (free-running and combat) in the boarding sequences of ships.
Fans will recognize what they liked.
What is the percentage split between land and sea missions?
Mission wise, land missions will represent approximately 60% of the game and naval ones 40%. But if you take the global experience that players will leave with ACIVBF we’re more talking about 50-50.
The Seamless, systemic open-world system (Horizon System) packed full of sea and underwater activities will represent a big part of the game.
Stealth was once a key element in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but that has become less and less prevalent in recent games. How much stealth is there in ACIVBF?
We are putting a lot of effort to improve that pillar of the franchise. Being a pirate was also about taking places by surprise, and this would require stealth abilities. So yes, stealth will be back in ACIVBF. Infiltrations, tails and exploration of islands are all part of it.
How are you making sure players can play the game stealthily (like an assassin should do) while having freedom of choice when tackling each situation?
In ACIVBF we are making sure that the Level Design not only support but encourage stealth. We’re working hard at providing missions and environments that always allow the player to choose this type of play.
What is the "horizon system" and how will it work in the game? How will you make sure the sea is breathing with interesting opportunities for the player? Can you give us examples?
At any given moment in the game when you are aboard your ship you can take out your spyglass and survey the world. The Horizon system ensures that you will always have 2 or 3 pirate “opportunities” available to you. That could be a merchant ship convoy to rob, a whale to hunt, fellow pirates to rescue… the list goes on. These opportunities happen systemically and evolve based on your progress, meaning that every player’s experience will be different. It means that if you love the naval experience you can play it as much as you want, being constantly and variably challenged outside the main story path.
You mention that Edward’s ship, the Jackdaw, can be looked at as a 2nd hero in the game. Can you explain what you mean by that?
We consider the Jackdaw as a 2nd main hero for a very simple reason: Global progression of the player will rely on both Edward’s progression as a man and an assassin and Jackdaw’s progression as a vessel that allows Edward to access new territories and defeat stronger and stronger enemies.
If the Jackdaw doesn’t progress, Edward doesn’t either. Both can’t be separated, they form the two faces of one game (naval and the ground) merged into one unified destiny.
How are you improving the ship’s control when navigating and combating?
To give a fulfilling progression system with the Jackdaw we decided very early on that we needed a lot more depth in the gameplay potential of the Naval experience while at the same time keeping it easy to understand.
Firstly, we completely overhauled the ocean physics system so that the navigation feels more intense, realistic and fun. You feel it when the wind picks up and yours sails are full. You feel the weight of the ship when riding up a huge wave and then the speed boost riding down when you crash through the crest. Raising and lowering the sails has much more impact. Due to this, storms are much more intense and have a big impact on navigating the ship!
In AC3 the combat system was mostly about timing your shot, now in ACIVBF we have a trajectory based aiming system where the player is challenged on reading the distance and speed of the enemy to get that perfect hit. This is the most basic element of the combat system. We have 5 new weapons that all have their own unique functions and attributes. This is further enhanced and given more depth with 6 unique AI Behaviors that challenge and put pressure on the player to master the system.
Will we get a chance to meet some historical pirates? Will Blackbeard be in the game?
Not only have we chosen this time period for the real importance of the pirates’ attempt at democracy in the Bahamas but also, obviously because it provided us an incredible cast to play with.
Edward, being one of the fiercest pirates of the time will have the opportunity to meet many of the legendary ones.
Blackbeard, Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vane, Calico Jack Rackham, Bartholomew Roberts will all be part of the game and you will fight alongside (and in some cases against) all of them.
Is ACIVBF a next gen game? What’s the difference between the Next Gen version and the PS3/XBOX360 version?
ACIVBF will also be available on Next Gen consoles. In addition to improved graphics and physics, Next Gen versions will bring to the players new connected features allowing them to feel that even if they remain “Single Player” it will be better to be a “Single Connected Player”. I mean, that Next Gen Consoles will allow players to have a solo experience that benefit the presence of a huge community.
Will Desmond be in the game?
Desmond has been the main protagonist of the franchise so far. This won’t be the case in ACIVBF. That being said ACIVBF is not a reboot, neither is it a spinoff and we’re continuing to develop a consistent mythology. So yes, Desmond will be referred to as a very important legacy of the AC universe.
What is Abstergo Entertainment? And what can we expect of the present sequences?
Abstergo Entertainment is a subset of the Abstergo conglomerate. It’s a division specialised in Entertainment providing historical content for games or movies. Abstergo Entertainment has worked closely with Ubisoft to deliver Assassin’s Creed Liberation on the PSVita Platform and also The Multiplayer of Assassin’s Creed III.
Abstergo Entertainment is ACIVBF present playground and players will be immersed like never before IN the AC universe. They will become part of the AC universe, able to meet some already known protagonists of the AC franchise.
As the Creative Director, can you tell us of what are the key challenges you are facing when developing ACIVBF?
I would list 3 main key challenges:
- Delivering the first true realistic & fun naval open world game.
- Delivering the first true realistic pirate game while staying true to the pillars of the AC franchise.
- Keeping a strong vision of the game and making sure that all teams around the world understand it and want to deliver it.
Ultimately, what is your objective with ACIVBF? And what’s the "take away" you want players to have when they finish the game?
Ultimately my objective with ACIVBF is to provide a very good, polished and fun game that players will enjoy as much as we enjoy creating it. I would be thrilled to receive testimonies telling us that the way we’re depicting this period in history helped some of our audience to realize what the Golden Age of Piracy was really like.