Assassin's Creed has been something of a runaway phenomenon for Ubisoft it seems, with its popularity undeniably and constantly high despite only limited previews and demos available.
While some of this hype around the game is obviously due to its stunning visual style and promised use of next-gen crowd technologies – not to mention the recent burst of interest in Parkour and Free-running since the Prince of Persia series got rebooted – some of it could also be down to the team involved.
In development at Ubisoft Montreal, the game has benefited enormously from the clear passion that producer Jade Raymond has for the game. Although she adamantly refused to divulge any of the details – especially those surrounding the games rumoured ‘futuristic twist’ - bit-tech was able to get a quick question and answer session with Jade at the Ubidays 2007 event.
Jade Raymond, the producer on Assassins Creed (left) spoke about Altair, the player character (right)
Jade, who has previously worked as a programmer for Sony and as a producer for EA before moving to Ubisoft, made her passion for the game evident almost immediately as a whimsical smile crossed her face while she told us that the game was set in the “long, hot summer of 1191”, which puts it during the Third Crusade.
Quizzed about where she turned for inspiration when she was producing the title, Jade said that it pretty much came down to getting her team together and asking “What do we think is cool? Okay, let’s do that. We all love Parkour as well, and I wish I could do some of that stuff”.
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In terms of character design, Jade re-emphasised the theme of birds throughout the game, something which has become widely known in gaming circles despite the games mysterious lack of previews.
It turns out that not only is the theme of birds of prey present in the design of the main character, but also in smaller aspects of the gameplay. Altair, which in Arabic translates as ‘the flyer’, is the main character in this historic/futuristic assassination game which was designed from the ground up to resemble an eagle. Not only do his animations, as he jumps from roof to roof, betray a bird-like quality, but even his hooded robes are peaked specifically so that his shadow appears to have a beak.
As an assassin in this time period, players have no strong allegiance to either side in the crusade and instead represent the Assassin's Guild, who, as Jade points out, were famously encountered in the adventures of Marco Pollo. Missions involve tracking down a number of targets before doing away with them in a fitting manner, leaving a birds feather as a calling card.
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The gameplay is not rigidly structured however and Jade made it clear to us that there was a fair amount of “sandbox philosophy built into the game,” so that players can explore at their own pace and take time to gather information on their targets. “More like a flowerbox game than a sandbox game,” according to Jade.
And what about the much hyped crowd technology that Assassin's Creed is set to showcase? While we were unable to see little more than a demo of in-game footage, Jade assured us that the crowd technology is still at the forefront of the game mechanics and promises realistic behaviour and problems for players. One example we were given revolved around drunken citizens, who may push you over or try to accost you if you act suspiciously in front of them, causing players to stumble and set off reactions in the larger crowd.
A variety of options are made available to the player regarding how to deal with these situations however, with pick-pocketing, distraction and intimidation all playing a part equal to brute force. As the guild themselves famously said; “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted”, something which Jade hinted may play role in the games story, as Altair discovers relationships between his various targets.
In the end, though we were able only to see very little actual footage of Assassin's Creed, it still stood out as one of the highlights of the event. With three tie-in books already in production, all being written by Stephen Barnes, and an in-house movie possibly in the making as well, it looks like the end of this year could well be the season of the eagle.