How Assassin's Creed 3 was created
Translation of feature from 245 issue of the British magazine Edge.
Assassin's Creed III is the largest project in the history of Ubisoft. Development lasted three years; 600 employees of the company were directly involved in the project, not to mention others at Ubisoft studios around the world, including Quebec, Bucharest and Singapore.
Only for the new hero of the series, Connor Kenway, 5000+ animations were created with a total duration of more than an hour. In the "extras" involved 120 characters, game mechanics enriched 145 new features. The picture is completed by the new AnvilNext engine. How was such a large-scale game created? For the answer we went to Montreal. We were received by Francois Pellan, senior producer of ACIII.
“How did you manage to create such a big game? We ourselves do not fully understand this, ”said Pellan. - On the first playable prototype, at the end of the preproduction, when they were assembling the version for E3, they sat until midnight and nothing came of it. And you come the next day, you see: something has changed, it has moved in the past few hours. Tighten the last forces together with the team, and you get a phenomenal result in time for the deadline. ”
However, even the most mysterious magic will always find a technical explanation. And although the gradual approach to the completion of ACIII turns out to be not particularly romantic, the result is still impressive.
In January 2010, Alex Hutchinson took on the role of ACIII Creative Director. Assassins's Creed II was just coming out and collecting positive feedback, but it was already clear that something new was needed. “Obviously, you can’t try to sell the same thing over and over again,” recalls Hutchinson. “Therefore, the company posed a paradoxical task for us: change everything so that everything remains as it was. I had to look for a middle ground between updating the series and a fundamentally new game. "
Marc-Antoine Lussier, Lead Technical Director of Design, notes that Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood began to be developed around the same time, but this project had other goals. “Brotherhood was much closer to ACII,” he says. - We had a general principle: not to reinvent too much. Use our knowledge and understanding of a mechanic to make a game better - but fast. With ACIII, the situation was just the opposite: to re-create everything that is possible. ”
In previous games, the action took place in warm and dry countries. ACIII decided to add snow and greenery. Therefore, from the early stages of the project, technical specialists began selling snow. In addition, I wanted to choose an important historical moment for the project related to political intrigues and active actions, but not worn out. The war for US independence came up in all respects.
The last major question remained: who will become the new hero? After choosing an era, it became clear that the new assassin should be out of conflict. So a hero of mixed Anglo-Indian origin appeared. Who else could reliably navigate the surrounding wilderness? The drama of national identification allowed the hero to stand out from the rest of the characters in the industry - the usual rolls with huge guns.
The wild lands of the American frontier with great difficulty were given to the colonists, but the task for designers, artists and animators of the Montreal studio Ubisoft was not much easier. Creating a forest required experience that was radically different from the team’s experience, and required a whole year of research. The action of the previous games in the series took place in cities, so designers could simply copy entire blocks of objects, placing them differently in different places.
“We immediately realized that there would be difficulties with the forest! - says Lucier. “You can't just line up trees at regular intervals and call it a forest.” I had to smash my head: “How to create an organically looking forest, so that it would be convenient to climb trees and jump from one to the other?” It is necessary to do it both beautifully and functionally. It was a crazy task. ”
At first we tried a procedural solution. The team tried to set certain parameters (distance between trees, number of branches, etc.) and get the arrangement from the computer. After spending a couple of months, they decided to conduct an experiment and instructed the artists to manually draw the most beautiful forest area with an area of 100 by 100 meters. The work took a week, but at the exit the forest began to look much better than a computer simulation. The procedure was abandoned in favor of manual work, leaving more artists to the task. The art director of ACIII, The Chin Ngo, compares the process with picking a bouquet of individual flowers so that it looks beautiful from all sides.
Big cities are no longer a problem for Ubisoft Montreal. But I had to tinker with the forest. We needed waterfalls, rocky ledges, landmarks. The beauty of the forest was supposed to smooth out the wretchedness of colonial architecture.
“One of the problems was that the colonial architecture compared to European cities is very young, without history. Very simple, even boring. Take Boston Street and Constantinople Street - the difference is enormous, ”says Ngo.
Artists decided to compensate for the primitiveness of architecture with high detail. For example, wooden window frames are slightly twisted due to the scorching sun. The team also tried to reflect the marine climate of Boston, to show it more humid due to blue tones and puddles. Artists tried to shift the viewer's attention from buildings to highly detailed streets, where something is constantly happening. Hutchinson draws attention to the fact that the cities in ACIII are distinguished by record historical authenticity. They are recreated on a 1: 3 scale based on maps and real topography. Showing us a map of Boston, Hutchinson, as a seasoned guide, talks about the location of the Boston massacre. In the distance, Beacon Hill rises - it was torn down to fill the isthmus in the bay (initially, Boston and the mainland were connected by a single bridge).
Screenwriter Matt Turner draws attention to the work of historical consultants - based on engravings of that era, they suggested what the city should look like. “They came and said, yes, indeed, Boston Street is depicted here in 1778, but note that there are no animals or beggars on the streets. The street is empty - in fact, everything was completely wrong. Just an artist trying to embellish the city. " “It was impossible to confine ourselves to cities alone,” says Ngo. - This is not enough, it is boring. We were engaged in other areas. Wild forests are only part of the world. We even added naval battles. By the sum of the terms, I am calm for the game. "
Naval battles were no easier than forests. This task fell on the shoulders of a Singapore studio. Since sea scenes are not rich in detail, a significant part of the console’s power was devoted to modeling a realistic ocean.
We ask Yannis Mallat, director of Ubisoft Montreal, if he is concerned about the constant growth of AAA-class project budgets. In response, he gives an example of naval battles: such solutions allow you to maintain interest in the game sufficient to make the development and marketing of the game pay off. “Singapore has done everything possible to bring the sea battle to perfection, but this is still a risky element,” he says. “It’s still not possible to say whether this feature will“ shoot ”, but we believe in the talent of our employees.”
New features were invented during an eight-week brainstorming session called “50 New Things”. One day a week, all studio employees could work on some kind of new idea of their own, attract other specialists as needed and form mini-teams. As a result, a fair amount of ideas came into being. Hutchinson compares the first year of project development with a declining drawer. At first, anything could get into the box, and the leadership did not limit the time very tightly, provided that the ideas fit into the framework of the historical period. As you develop, the drawer decreases, and the emphasis shifts to central tasks and working with them.
One of the innovations was fighting on uneven rocky surfaces. “Generally they don’t do that in games,” Hutchinson sighs. “Look at Batman, at other great games: they have their own zones for moving, and then there are large open areas for fights, because otherwise you are raking in a bunch of problems.” Even such an inconspicuous, it would seem, innovation requires careful prototyping.
How to bring together 145 new solutions on a project of this scale? ACIII lead gameplay programmer Stephen Masters describes the process of approving features as follows. First, he made a short description for each specific feature. The list was grouped thematically and sent out to teams of various directions (AI, battles, missions, etc.). And already the teams were responsible for the development and prototyping of new elements.
For each feature a set of documents was developed in MS Excel format. Designers worked with them, playtests were conducted and analyzed on their basis. “We threw out a bunch of abstract thoughts from the documents,” Masters explains. - I worked on a project where there was a 300-page “Bible” on game design. She could slap on the table and say "Do this." It was hell, making changes was a nightmare, and getting employees to read it was simply impossible. Our new system is better and more interactive. I take the document, run over my eyes and ask: “But this thing works as it is written here?”
The ACIII team received the official green light in December 2010 after presenting the overall project structure, prototypes and video gameplay to the management of the company in France. There were no objections. The studio continued to work on a new movement system, combat mechanics and other ideas. Also began the gradual creation of Boston and forests to test the gameplay. The culmination was the first working prototype of new mechanics in a new gaming environment, introduced in June 2011.
From this moment, development has begun in full swing. A large part of the team of artists joined the project, along with programmers and mission designers: work began on creating the game itself. From May to June of the current year, work on corrections was ongoing in parallel with the development, so that by October the project would reach the desired level of quality.
“There are fewer and fewer games like this,” says Hutchinson. - Especially after the “average” games disappeared from the market. It has always been clear to us that this is a rare opportunity. We had an experienced team already working on the projects of the series, and company support - we could do something huge. We had almost three years to do this, which in our time is rare. Technologies and platforms were already in serious condition, and we did not have to waste time on experiments. Of course, we must not forget about the colossal audience on all platforms. Everything is rare at once, so we immediately realized that such an opportunity could be the only one in my career. ”