For Honor: Ubisoft On Creating New Heroes, Modes, & The Game’s Origins

With For Honor’s third season well under way and details of its next major update beginning to surface, we recently put a few questions to the team at Ubisoft Montreal about the game’s origins and future. Speaking with Creative Director, Roman Campos Oriola (RC), and Game Director, Damien Kieken (DK), we discuss the process behind making new modes and characters, For Honor’s original pitch, and ideas that were cut from the final game.

TSA: How do the team at Ubisoft Montreal create a Hero from the ground up? Do you build Heroes around cool archetypes like the Centurion and Highlander, or build them around new playstyles you want to introduce?

Roman Campos Oriola: The first step is often a mix between weapon and archetype. We try to find an existing and iconic archetype that is also using an interesting weapon in terms of martial-arts, which will allow the Hero to bring something new in terms of gameplay.

Then, while the art and animation team work on research, a dedicated fight team works on prototyping the playstyle of the new Hero. Once they are ready, they test those prototypes and they fight with them against our existing roster of Heroes. Eventually, we validate the final “brief” of the character. It’s a mix of concept art, video references and gameplay prototypes.

TSA: Why was the decision made to only introduce two new Heroes with each Season? Is it intentional to keep players trying out the new heroes and shifting between factions?

RC: One of the main reasons is that we do not want to alter the balance of the game too much with each Season. Two new Heroes already represents a lot of changes to the existing metagame. Also, creating a new Hero involves a really large team and a lot of work and resources, including concept, modelling, fight design, animation, dev test… So it’s a mix of constraints.

We also want to create antagonism between new Heroes in our Seasons (Ninja vs. Centurion for example). That’s why we chose to introduce characters from different factions.

TSA: How thorough is your research into the fighting techniques, weapons, and armours of the various factions we see in-game?

RC: It varies a lot depending on the factions and the fighters. For the Knights, we did a lot of research because there is a lot of material out there that we are able to go through thoroughly. We also have stuntmen that are fully proficient in a lot of European martial arts. For the Samurai, we also had access to a lot of knowledge, and we worked with renowned martial artists and experts like Alex Bennett.

For the Vikings, we had access to a lot of material in terms of gear and weapons, but much less in terms of actual fighting style and techniques. So we allowed our stuntmen and animation to get a little more creative!

TSA: Are there any crazy ideas that were cut from the game during development? Horses and pet companions in multiplayer, for instance.

RC: Cavalry charge! It was something that was core to the fantasy we had in mind at the beginning of the project. It was even present in one of the early in-engine videos we created to pitch the project internally. Like always during the development process, you need to make choices about what you want to include in the final game and so we killed the horses.

TSA: Was For Honor’s pitch always Knights vs. Vikings vs. Samurai or was the team’s original idea much different? Were there factions you wanted to have but they didn’t quite make the cut?

RC: The original pitch was pretty much “Fight Club with swords”. It then evolved to the scale of a battle. And it was when we started to think about the weapons, the variety, etc., that we really began to think about the idea of factions. But the game is about the warriors, the Heroes, and the fighting!

TSA: Can you talk about the difficulty of adding new game modes to For Honor and drawing players away from Dominion? You have Ranked Play being introduced to the game, but are you also exploring different game types?

RC: When adding new game modes, there are multiple challenges. First, we need to make sure that they actually work, that they are well balanced etc. Working hand-in-hand with our players is key for us, and we use regular community workshops and test environments to gather precious feedback.

Another challenge lies in the fact that we need to manage the number of playlists available at the same time. For example, if you remember, at launch Skirmish and Elimination were in the same playlist. In the future when we’ll add new modes, we will have multiple options: we could simply add new playlists like we are doing with Duel tournaments, but we could also merge playlists or make the modes available as events during weekends only for example.

But we are definitely willing to explore different game types. Like we announced with our development roadmap, we are currently developing a new game mode. We will reveal more soon!

Damien Kieken: When we develop a new game mode, creating a different experience from an existing modes is a key focus. The objective is not to add more quantity but rather some variety, and offer new ways to enjoy the game for our players.

TSA: What unexpected responses/feedback has there been from fans and players since For Honor’s launch back in February?

DK: Thanks to all of the Alphas, Betas and technical tests we have done before and since launch, we receive great feedback every day that helps us to improve the game – new features ideas or balancing suggestions, for example. Thankfully we didn’t really receive anything in terms of big unexpected feedback from the community.

The real surprise for us was stability, because everything had worked pretty well during our live periods. That’s the reason why it became very quickly the number one focus of the team.

TSA: How important is it for the continued strength of the community to have the shift to dedicated servers? What was the thinking behind not having this server system at launch?

DK: At its core, For Honor is a melee combat game that needs the best possible reactivity for the player. With that in mind, our first choice was to use a peer-to-peer technology, which is used by several other fighting games, to get lowest latency between the players.

This solution works well in Duel and Brawl modes. But after launch, we faced new problems on 4v4 modes and stability became our number one priority. We focused first on improving our current architecture to lower the number of disconnections. We already fixed several issues, and still have a team dedicated to continue improving the current network infrastructure until we are ready to implement dedicated servers.

After several months, we decided to perform a deep analysis of the game architecture taking into account all the things we want to do in the future, that led us to take the decision to make the shift. The stability of a multiplayer game is crucial and we believe that moving to Dedicated Servers is the best choice in order to offer the best experience to players over the long term.

We’d like to thank both Roman and Damien for taking the time to answer our questions. We’re definitely fans of the game, here at TSA, so check in regularly for the latest For Honor news and coverage.

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Senior Editor bursting with lukewarm takes and useless gaming trivia. May as well surgically attach my DualSense at this point.