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Interview: The next Patrice Desilets

Assassin's Creed 3 creative director Alex Hutchinson explains how he wants to reshape Ubisoft's star IP

So how stressed is the man who has stepped into the shoes of Assassin's Creed's spiritual father, Patrice Desilets? How does it feel to spearhead production on what is likely the most expensive and important individual game project in Ubisoft's garlanded history?

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How stressed is Alex Hutchinson?

"Incredibly," he says instantly, not fazed at all by the confession.

"Any job you care about is stressful. I got very good advice from a producer years ago; He said the only solution to stress is repeated exposure. It's kind of true. You learn to ignore it. These days it's like a dull roar."

To bring an acute sense of awareness to his task at hand, I tell Hutchinson that he's effectively been brought in at Ubisoft to create The Godfather Part III.

"The bad one?" he jokes, still unfazed.

"Seriously though, I know what you mean, but the reaction people have to the game is what is making it all worth it."

What about Patrice? How does it feel to work under the meteorite-sized shadow of Assassin's Creed's previous creative director?

"Well, there's enough pressure on the game as it is, but actually a few of the Ubisoft guys that joined THQ had stopped by at E3 to take a look at our game. They gave us some really great feedback. That was a brilliant moment, to be honest."

But the nod from Desilets' team will likely be far from Hutchinson's thoughts on the week of October 30th, when his career-defining project launches across retail around the world. By then, the Australian-born developer will be absorbed in early sales projections, endless review scores, and engulfed by fan feedback on forums and across social media.

Either that, or he'll be on holiday.

Read on for our full Q&A with Hutchinson, which took place at one of the world's leading games industry events, GDC Europe. We discuss the future of the Assassin's Creed franchise, Ubisoft's policy of innovation, positive discrimination towards Japan and, if only too briefly, Anne Robinson.


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Interview: Alex Hutchinson, creative director, Assassin's Creed 3

CVG: Your personal story is of someone who has climbed the ladder in the industry, starting as a journalist and now spearheading one of the industry's biggest IPs. What would be your advice for people starting out in game development?
HUTCHINSON: I think the main thing is don't be precious about what you're doing when you start out. Many people want to create their dream game from the start, but just do whatever you can. The great thing about this industry is that people can smell it if you're ambitious or talented, so if you work hard you'll naturally move up the ranks. If you really do want it, someone will notice. You can't fake passion.

That also sounds like advice for creative directors and studio managers too; it sounds like you're saying they should spot talent and help nurture it.
Oh yeah, you have an obligation to bring good people in and pass on the favours that you got on your own way up.

I get the impression you worked immeasurably hard in the early days where you made several licensed games per year. It all sounds a bit barmy.
Yeah it was insane. Back in the day there was this real sweatshop mentality in the business. I still think it exists, but it has moved to mobile and free-to-play and other segments of the industry.

That low-to-mid-end licensed game, which used to be the money maker for a lot of smaller studios, doesn't exist on consoles any more. I think it exists on mobile and PCs though. It's interesting because I remember when people were claiming that the PC market was ready to die. I mean, I've heard about the end of the world coming for the last thirteen years.

I used to be worried, because at certain stages over the years I thought that the kind of games I like to make were dying. But as a content creator, you realise that there's no point caring about hardware and platforms. I mean, one will always emerge in which you can build the kind of games you want to.

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Perhaps it's the opportunities that come with the hardware that gets people interested. I'm sure you can remember the first time the Wii controller was revealed, for example.
Yeah the Wii is funny, because I remember when it first emerged people thought it was going to be another failed Nintendo console, but it had something that is fresh and interesting. That should be the message to all hardware manufacturers: If I can do something new and unique with the hardware, then it's far more likely to be a success.

You've been brought in to spearhead a massive IP that is cherished by fans. How do you find a balance between making your own mark on Assassin's Creed whilst remaining true to its roots?
Well I've been incredibly lucky on this one. Ubisoft has given me the chance to build Assassin's Creed 3 from day one with enough time to do it properly. Quite often a creative director will inherit a project when it's half finished and under a very tight schedule, so your chance of making an impact is very limited.

Assassin's Creed 3 was always a three year project. We had the terrifying prospect of knowing the exact Assassin's Creed release date. October 30th, 2012, was the first thing we knew about it, so we had a chance to do a lot with it.

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