7th Nov 2006 | 14:23
Assassin's Creed producer Jade Raymond recently shot into the spotlight at Microsoft's X06 event where she received a bigger round of applause than Peter Moore - and that's before she even had a chance to say anything! Having previously worked on The Sims Online for EA, she now heads up the core team responsible for the Prince of Persia series. Assassin's Creed is an extraordinarily good-looking game where you take on the role of a medieval hitman during the Crusades. It promises to be far more thoughtful and inventive than anything we've seen before in an action game.
Is it true that the game was originally titled Prince of Persia Assassins, and was going to be part of the POP universe?
Jade Raymond: I've had a few people ask me this and I'm not sure where the rumour came from. Assassins is being developed by the Prince of Persia team in Montreal but was never intended to be part of that series. Instead of using Arabian legends we decided to take inspiration from a book called Alamut, by the Slovenian writer Vladimir Bartol.
Is the game's focus stealth like Splinter Cell or action like Prince of Persia?
Jade Raymond: Our goal with this game is to deliver completely next-gen gameplay, so the team set the bar where no game has gone before. I really wouldn't call it a stealth game because it's much more focused on fast-paced action. The only stealth element is the social stealth where you use the crowds to disguise yourself, but we've steered clear of the traditional rules of stealth games like hiding in shadows or sneaking around corners. That's not really what Assassin's Creed is striving for at all.
Why did you set the game during the Crusades?
Jade Raymond: In the book Alamut, the Assassins are a historical clan that came to be during the Crusades. And in terms of gameplay and game structure, we could see the Crusades would work really well. You have all kinds of narrow streets that are great for bustling crowds, and lots of complicated architectural details that makes for interesting level design. And also you have this time that's filled with a lot of warfare and drama.
Were you ever worried that gamers, particularly in the US, might not understand the history of the Crusades and be put off?
Jade Raymond: We really believe as a company that in order to reach the next level in entertainment, you need to look for richer subject matter and for there to be more meaning and depth to games. The whole historical part helps that because it's loosely based on real events and situations that are relevant to people. But we're still aware that we're making a game and our ultimate goal is to provide fun and fast-paced action. So for people whose knowledge of history is sketchy, the Crusades will just be a setting to them. What they're really going to notice is a new gameplay experience.
We've seen futuristic elements in the game - is there going to be a big revelation as to where your character comes from?
Jade Raymond: Well, there will be a massive revelation but I can't say what at the moment. I wouldn't call it sci-fi, although there are elements that are relevant to the modern day.
Does the game include RPG elements where you can improve the Assassin's abilities?
Jade Raymond: Yes. One of our designers is a massive RPG fan and one of our goals was to achieve the satisfaction of levelling-up. A lot of really cool rewards spring from our RPG elements. You start out the game as a Master Assassin with all of your abilities, and at the end of the first mission your rank is stripped away. And then you spend the rest of the game completing missions and trying to regain your previous standing with the Assassin clan. The RPG elements are very much tied into the story.
We've seen some enemies jump over rooftops, but are the enemies also able to climb up walls in pursuit of you?
Jade Raymond: Obviously the enemies you encounter will vary in skill level. One thing about building an engine from the ground up is that you can do things in a smarter way than before. So previously you'd create a main character and only get around to thinking about enemies later in the process. We took a different approach and used an inheritance system so if we want, the enemies can do everything the main character can. We've spent a lot of time on enemy AI that can find its own paths, and they also have all the abilities by default. They're going to ramp up in difficulty as you go through the game. The only limitation to their agility is what we want in terms of level design.
Prince of Persia had the rewind time option to help you rectify mistakes. What happens if you make a serious mistake in Assassin's Creed? Will you have to restart the mission?
Jade Raymond: It depends how much trouble you're in. There are different levels of trouble so if you cause a commotion in the crowd, there are certain ways to calm them down. If you have the guards after you, there's a line of sight system so if you stay out of view they won't be able to find you. You can also look for hiding spots in the crowd where you can blend in and not be seen - do that, and the enemies will eventually forget about you. But if you really cause problems and get into a big fight, an entirely new system kicks in... But I can't talk about this at the moment.
It's fairly unusual to play a character whose occupation is murder. Hitman tempered that with a black sense of humour. How have you made the fact that you're playing a killer enjoyable for those gamers used to playing the good guy?
Jade Raymond: I can see why your thinking of the Hitman analogy, but our central character is actually quite different. Our goal is to create a positive character who's really more of a hero. He's not killing people because it's his job, and he's not a bitter guy either. He's actually a guy who has very specific thoughts and feelings about killing, and this makes him always respectful of his victims. Additionally, the way we've set it up is that the people you kill are all evil characters. There's almost a Robin Hood-style comparison to be made. Well, he's more of a badass than Robin Hood, but you see where we're coming from. All of the guys you take out are causing the general population a lot of hardship and strife.
Are the horse-riding sections going to be a challenge, or are they just sequences that blend the cities together?
Jade Raymond: It's not like you're riding the horse on a path or anything. The horse has a bit of a personality and does certain things to help you in fight situations. He reacts to stress and reacts to enemies being around you. You can also fight on horseback; you need to learn certain commands to do things like make him jump or do acrobatics from the saddle to reach higher places. So there's quite a bit of depth to the horse. We've had an animator and a programmer working for almost two years on just the horse.
This interview originally appeared in Xbox 360 - The Official Xbox Magazine, issue #14.