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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

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So you knew within a few days into the project when Assassin's Creed 3 was going to launch?
Yeah well Assassin's Creed has entered into this phase of becoming an annual franchise. I do find it amazing that people have the idea that this concept somehow is less creative. Since when is something less amazing if you get a new one every year? If Breaking Bad was shown twice a week I'd watch it twice a week. If Radiohead put out an album every six months I'd gladly buy one every six months.

What we're saying is that, if a game is good enough, you can put it out as much as you want. But from the production side, it is a stress.

Was the game originally intended for next-generation consoles? I ask because the game uses new tech and when the project started, publishers expected to see new consoles by now.
We always had plans to do this on current generation systems. Obviously our technology will transition forward though.

Do you think the engine gives you a competitive edge, in that you're already more familiar with tech that will be used on next generation systems?
I think it's a bonus to be part of a group of studios that all use Anvil across a lot of projects, so everyone is learning how to use the tech. EA has the same with its Frostbite tech though, so I feel a lot of companies are already prepared for the next generation.

The real issue is going to be cost. Cost is a huge issue moving forward. A game has multiple cost structures in terms of how much you spend making it, but only one rigid price structure in terms of selling it.

I can't give away the development costs, but I can assure that Assassin's Creed 3 costs multiple times more to make than other games on the shelves, but we're charging the same amount for the game.

Usually the cost of developing sequels goes down. It's almost like a way of recouping the outlay of the first game.
Yeah that's why they're done. If people want these massive triple-A blockbusters, people will have to accept that we have to make our money back somehow. It's rare that you'll make your money back on the first one.

Assassin's Creed 3 is a huge undertaking - we went back to basics on a number of things, including tech.

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Doesn't it have the biggest production team ever?
Yeah it might. We might have won that dreaded award that no one wants [laughs].

'Please welcome to the stage, the winner of the Most Persons Employed Award'...
[Laughs] What a nightmare. But I've been lucky to have worked on different teams of all sorts of sizes.

It's hard to foster a culture of creativity with such a huge team.
We need structure though. People are still given creative control over their own part of the game. There was that famous story of the guy at EA Sports that was stuck with designing character noses, and everyone kind of went crazy about it.

That's fine, but the thing is that guy would be in charge of this one section, and then if he does well he's in charge of more, and it goes on. I think that story misunderstood the whole concept.

I get the impression that Assassin's Creed has moved from a trilogy and into a franchise.
It wasn't the original plan to be an ongoing series, no, but it became the plan. The curse of success, for want of better phrase. Any revenue that a publisher can get to make riskier projects is cool with me. People say it's the dark side of capitalism but it's more like communism; we have big projects whose success pay for the little projects.

But if you can keep a series interesting and fresh then I don't see why it shouldn't go on. Nintendo has been great at reinvigorating their franchises, as have other Japanese companies, so we feel we can too.

How big is the challenge of keeping Assassin's Creed fresh and interesting as a franchise?
We were reading reviews about Revelations and a few people were asking whether this was the end of the franchise, and we were thinking 'er slow down'. I mean, I'm no huge fan of Metacritic but the game got an eighty on there. That's not too bad really.

But the way we see Assassin's Creed 3 now is as a franchise, like Mario or Resident Evil, that will have its ups and downs.

Why do Nintendo get it right? It releases a new edition of the same franchise every year and no one bats an eyelid. Why?
You want my real answer? I think there's a subtle racism in the business, especially on the journalists' side, where Japanese developers are forgiven for doing what they do. I think it's condescending to do this.

Seriously?
Yeah. Just think about how many Japanese games are released where their stories are literally gibberish. Literally gibberish. There's no way you could write it with a straight face, and the journalists say 'oh it is brilliant'.

Then Gears of War comes out and apparently it's the worst written narrative in a game ever. I'll take Gears of War over Bayonetta any time.

It's patronising to say, "oh those Japanese stories, they don't really mean what they're doing".

You feel there isn't a fair universal standard?
I just think the simple question should be; is the story any good?

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