Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a great opportunity for Ubisoft on a number levels. There’s the chance to repair the damage done by a difficult launch with Assassin’s Creed Unity, there’s a new lead studio to bed in and there’s revised gameplay to speed up the action in a newer, more modern setting.
Following time with the game (and nearly putting my eye out while playing with a prop assassin’s gauntlet) I sat down to talk about some of these points with François Pelland, Senior Producer on the game at Ubisoft Quebec.
TSA: A good place to start is with the new setting of Victorian London, but have you found that it…. well, actually, how many previous Assassin’s Creed games have you worked on personally?
François Pelland: I was senior producer on Assassin’s Creed 3.
TSA: So you’ve been knee deep, trudging through the history before. Has this been a different experience because of the advancement in technology, being so much closer to now, you’ve got references from early cameras and things like that, has that helped you create the setting?
François: The one thing that we’re blessed with right at the start was the sheer amount of data that we have. As you said, the photograph wasn’t exactly the time that we wanted to have but it was close enough to have a good understanding of how it looked, but we had drawings, we had so many details so that it was almost like an address book of who was living where and what they were doing per building, per house, per apartment.
We started two and a half years ago working really closely with historians so that really helped the whole process. It wasn’t really that different, so the only difference is that we had so much data it was hard to capture everything and to not be overwhelmed with it.
TSA: I guess it would have also helped with some of the historical characters that you’re introducing – Darwin, Dickens, and eventually Jack The Ripper – are you trying to be true to who these characters were or are you trying to be more dramatic, more exaggerated personalities?
François: It’s our perspective on who they were, for sure. It remains a fiction, especially in the story, but I think the one thing that people will see and say is that they are learning about who Darwin is, they will see Darwin for the first time, and that’s always something special. We’ve seen in the past, in Assassin’s Creed 3 with George Washington, there’s an interest, and we get the attention of our players on history and it becomes something beyond just reading a textbook or being in class. Overall it’s really close.
TSA: Of course you’ve got the two Frye twins, and that’s the first time you’ve really had two protagonists, certainly two alongside each other, and that was obviously a key aim for you to have added variety – how do you represent that difference between the two of them in the game?
François: The scriptwriting team wanted to have a modern story, and one way to explore or express the character’s personality is to have someone else that goes and challenges or exploits that personality of someone else and that’s how we managed to do it with the twins. You have that relationship between brother and sister, which is special and that’s the story that we wanted to tell, and then you have that overarching story so that you can understand who they are, and there’s a lot of subtleties that you have which are hard to capture at the start, but the more it goes, you see small smiles from Evie when Jacob’s saying something or the look on Jacob when Henry is talking to Evie and stuff like that, it’s pretty awesome.
As well within the gameplay, if you invest correctly in your skills or like one particular skill, you can be pretty lethal with Evie on the stealth side. Thousands of hours of play testing that we’re running throughout our studios, we’re finding people having a different experience playing as one or the other.
TSA: One stumbling block which I always have when I come back to the Assassin’s Creed series is with the controls, and getting used to them all over again. Is this something that you’ve looked at again?
François: One big focus that we’ve made this year is to polish. The big investment that happened on ACU was especially to do with the navigation, so the free-form navigation, the parkour, is something that we, from a fluidity point of a view and a pace point of view, that we’ve invested a lot in. We’ve added tools like the rope launcher as well, because the buildings are taller and the streets are wider, so that gives a lot of freedom and speed to the navigation, that’s one thing.
In terms of fighting we’ve almost redone it from scratch.
TSA: It feels like there’s a lot more brutal punching, it’s not waiting for the counter to come in, it’s to go for them.
François: Exactly, it’s a more brutal, fast paced fight, because it’s true to the period. That’s always something that we are doing every year, where we have a new period. It would have been impossible to have swords; a sword fight in Victorian London wouldn’t be right so that completely changed and the stealth too.
Instead of having a button to snap and a button to unsnap, now it’s super fluid, and a lot more enjoyable. We’ve given a lot of power to the player if he wants to be stealthy. That’s the way we see it and that’s the way we want to let people to play.
TSA: One last silly question: were tour books really £5000 back in Victorian London? Because I wandered up to the shop and it’s extortionate!
François: Er, yeah… That’s a great question for our historians! [laughs]
Thanks to François for talking to us about Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. You can read more about the game with our preview from yesterday, and there’s also a video chat, discussing the new setting, characters and gameplay.