Ubisoft’s Montreal Studio has kept information about Altairs adventure under wraps, until now. CVG have managed to get a three part interview with Cory May a Scriptwriter for Assassin’s Creed. What follows is a Interview with Cory May.
Q. So, Cory, tell us about the main story to kick things off…
Our game takes place at the height of the Third Crusade. Crusader forces (under Richard the Lionheart) are fighting to regain the region from Saladin. The city of Jerusalem is their ultimate destination (having been conquered by Saladin several years prior to the start of our game). As the Saracens and Crusaders battle one another for control – the Assassins are working to find a way to end the hostilities. They see the war as pointless. There is no reason Crusaders and Saracens should not co-exist in peace. The Assassins are not allied with either side of the conflict, nor are they driven by a desire for profit or power. They are also not interested in furthering a religious agenda. In fact, they are generally opposed to most forms of organised religion (subscribing to the philosophy that “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”).
This means that the Crusaders (and the Saracens) are not the Assassin’s true enemy. War is – as are those who exploit it. So to sum up: The Assassins are fighting to end the Third Crusade. Along the way they will discover a mysterious group that stands to gain a great deal by prolonging and intensifying the war. Once this enemy is discovered, it will be up to Altair and his Assassin brothers to stop them.
Q. What attracted you to the Middle Ages as a setting?
I think it’s safe to say that the Crusades are an area we’ve wanted to explore for a long time, but we’ve been waiting for technology to reach a point where we can do it justice. It’s not enough for us to simply set the game here – we needed to capture the experience of living during this tumultuous time (especially) the fusion of European and Middle Eastern art and architecture; the hustle and bustle of medieval city life; the intrigue and political machinations of regional leaders; the gritty nature of ancient combat; the air of mystery that surrounds the secret societies that rose to power around this time.
We contacted a historian early in the conception phase of development to help us build a foundation of research. We have used the web, documentaries, old medieval encyclopaedias, paintings and novels. The historian helped us with some harder to find information such as original city plans of Jerusalem, Damascus and Acre that date back to the 3rd crusade. There is one book called “The Third Crusade 1191: Richard the Lionheart, Saladin and the Battle for Jerusalem” that has been especially helpful because it covers the year in which our game takes place.
Q. Going back to “nothing is true, everything is permitted”, then… er, explain more…
The phrase itself defines the Assassins. The Assassins function with knowledge and information being given to members only as they move through the organisation’s ranks. To understand the true meaning of this phrase, you’ll have to play the game – and gain Assassin knowledge alongside Altair. To say more would be to give away some rather exciting plot twists and betray the Assassins’ secrets!
You can also apply the creed to the game itself – traditional game design rules that enforce linear level design and restricted gamplay are being thrown away. Previous action/adventure standards are abolished (“Nothing is true”) – and the player is given the freedom to experience this adventure in a manner that fits their individual play style (“Everything is permitted.”)
Thus this concept influences all levels of the game – story, structure, and design. It’s all incredibly exciting!
Q. So, you’ve based the game on some serious historical fact. What advantage does this give you?
By grounding a story in reality, you increase its credibility. Suspension of disbelief becomes easier because it’s happening in our world. You’re exploring cities that still exist today, encountering infamous individuals whose names everyone knows, witnessing battles that really occurred.
At the same time, because our setting is far removed in time (this is nearly 1000 years ago), there’s plenty of freedom to tweak people’s personalities and motivations. It’s fun to explore the idea that something else was happening beneath the information gleaned from historical textbooks. People are also fascinated by history’s mysteries and the Templar Treasure was ripe for exploring. What did the Templars find beneath Solomon’s Temple? Why did they want it? Where is it today?
The same can be said for the Assassin’s themselves. We know a little bit about them, but their very nature made them a secretive, manipulative bunch. Most of what’s known comes from third hand accounts. These were very likely orchestrated events, carefully planned by the Assassins to ensure a specific, controlled image was portrayed. Who were they really? What motivated them? What secrets were members given access to as they rose through the ranks? These were all questions we get to play with in the story. And the answers are pretty interesting.
Q. We bet. So, given all the questions you’re raising, and the various factions at work, presumably you’re driving at producing characters we gamers really care about?
It’s a tragedy that videogames have largely failed to illicit real emotional responses from their players. This is something that cinema has been able to do very well thanks to great writing, acting and directing.
But it should be easier for games than it is for a movie. When you watch a movie you’re watching an actor fall in love on the screen or kick someone’s ass, or be afraid – so there’s a bit of a disconnection between the audience and the story. In videogames, you are that person. You are the one up there on the screen. Since the physical connection between character and player is strong (through the controller), the emotional connection should be even stronger.
The problem is that most games don’t take advantage of this potentially powerful emotional connection. Most games have focused solely on graphics and gameplay and never made any room for an emotionally powerful story. This stuff isn’t mutually exclusive, so we aim to change that. Games can (and should) have it all.
Q. Tell us how development started…
Patrice Desilets our Creative Director, as well as some other key members of our Creative team, read a book about the Assassins and then started to do a lot of research about the clan and the 3rd Crusade. The more we discovered about these people, the more we wanted to make the game. Even the Assassin Motto “Nothing is True, Everything is permitted” fits the game medium perfectly. We developed our main character, Altair as a forward thinking missionary of sorts, on a mission to end the 3rd crusade.
Q. So where’s he fit in?
At the start of our game, Altair is a disgraced Master Assassin sent to end the Third Crusade. To do so, he must seek out those responsible for leading and exacerbating the conflict. The targeted murder of immoral individuals is his primary method of achieving his goal.
Along the way he will discover that the Crusades themselves are simply a cover for a much larger conflict – one in which he will play a pivotal role. But of course there’s a lot to be discovered about our hero over the course of the game.
Currently slated for a September ’07 release date on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s Playstation 3 platforms. Let us know what you think of the three part interview by leaving us a comment below.
You can view all the latest screenshots in our Assassin’s Creed Media Section.