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Building the world of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag

Thursday, 23 May 2013 08:21 GMT By Dave Cook

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is set in Ubisoft Montreal’s most ambitious open world to date. Creative head Jean Guesdon tells Dave Cook what it takes to craft such a dense environment.

AC4: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag hits PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Wii U on October 29 in the States, and November 1 across Europe.

We’ve got the most recent Black Flag trailer here, and its full of pirate shenanigans.

Ubisoft is also running a pre-order hub for those ordering the game early. It’s called The Watch and it comes with bonus extras. Check out what you can get here.

The game may be set after the Desmond string of games, but Black Flag certainly won’t be ignoring him. Check out what the studio had to say on the matter here.

Ubisoft Montreal isn’t a stranger to open worlds, but the Caribbean environments of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag are going to raise the studio’s bar considerably.

We’re talking a seamless world filled with islands, jungles, temples and towns, all connected by Edward Kenway’s ship the Jackdaw.

It’s a lofty vision that requires some serious technical clout under the hood, but the team is currently giving it their all.

Think back to the studio’s last release Far Cry 3, and the way that organic traits such as the lay of the land can prove inviting.

No one ever tells you to go off the beaten track in search of loot or relics, but some side roads were impossible to resist.

Visual signposting and areas of genuine interest are important in such vast play-spaces, as they remove the need for blatant herding techniques that might as well be giant signs that read, ‘filler content this way’.

Communicating this without actually saying it not only keeps immersion in the world high, but it avoids intrusive hand-holding – something I personally felt Assassin’s Creed 3 was guilty of almost every step of the way.

I recently spoke with Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag creative producer Jean Guesdon about how his team will turn its vast ambition into a reality, and to better understand the art of solid world-building.

“The world of Assassin’s Creed 4 is the most unique and fresh world we’ve ever built,” Guesdon told me. “This brings a lot of challenges in us understanding how to build this new world. We have three major cities and these are relatively easy for us to put together and give them unique flavor. It is our expertise.

“How they all link together with the 50 plus locations was a major challenge because we wanted the seamlessness to be there. It is very important for us that people feel this world is credible and something they want to explore. This need brings tons of technical challenges like loading, draw distances and spawning. We have worked hard to resolve these things.

“There are also player experience challenges. What motivates the player to explore this world? How do we pace the events and the experience on the ocean? How do we tell unique and memorable environmental stories for this massive world? These are questions that we have been working on resolving from the beginning and are excited to see players gauge our answers”.

There’s no hiding the fact that the towns of Havana, Kingston, and Nassau, as well as their neighbouring islands and bodies of water will make for a large environment, but we’ve all played through big open worlds before, and chances are many of you have – at times – found them to be sparse and under-populated.

It’s a dangerous flaw in world design, and it threatens to break your attention. I recently wrote a personal blog about why I felt the GTA series has long-suffered from this same problem, but like all games, it’s a subjective issue. I asked Guesdon how he and his team approached this very real threat.

“You are right that there is a balancing act in creating an open-world,” he replied. “We cannot build a small world, because it would make the player feel restricted, it wouldn’t give the player this sense of freedom that is inherent to the pirate fantasy.

“At the same time, we do have to make sure that the player never has a feeling of emptiness, or boredom. That is why we are implementing a brand-new system called the Horizon system to our game. When you take out your spyglass, no matter where you are at sea, you should always see something beckoning to you on the horizon.

“It could be an ally that needs defending, it could be a brand new island to explore, it could be a whale that you could harpoon. Our world is truly the most varied of any Assassin’s Creed yet, and we want to make it as lively and eventful as possible. The variety of environments and the unpredictability of events will, together, make it a world that you want to explore”.

These dynamic ‘Horizon’ events recall patrol spawning from Far Cry 3, where just as things seem to be quietening down, a jeep full of armed mercenaries would roll over the hill, forcing you to either scraper or stand your ground and fight. If the same rings true in Black Flag, it could make for many tense encounters at sea.

Of course, building the actual world is one thing, but you can’t create a historical backdrop without properly researching the real stories behind it, and as ever, Ubisoft Montreal’s dedication to the source material is as laser-focused as ever. I asked Guesdon about how far the team has gone in its research.

“Whenever we tackle a new era in an Assassin’s Creed game, we always strive to tell a story about the era rather than the setting,” he explained. “So for this game, it’s not only a game about piracy, but rather a game about life in the early 18th century Caribbean, that happens to focus on piracy because that was an important part of life at this particular time and in this particular place”.

“So, you will get to see how different Empires were struggling to keep control of the most important trade route in the West. You will see how slavery was an important issue in some of the colonies. Of course, you will see how privateers and sailors, discarded by their empires after the signing of the treaty of Utrecht, decided to fight back and take for themselves the riches that were right before them.
In light of this, it is definitely fair to say that it is a morally ambiguous setting”.

Speaking of morally ambiguous, Ubisoft has made no secret of Edward Kenway being something of a naughty bastard, so I asked Guesdon to give us some deeper insight into the man beneath the hood, and to explain just how closely he matches real pirates of the era.

“When researching the era, we found that the typical pirates seen in pop culture don’t match with the personalities of the true pirates that lived during the Golden Age of Piracy,” Guesdon explained. “Edward definitely matches the historical reality of these real pirates. He is a criminal with a very flexible moral code that matches most pirates of his day – a decent man with a penchant for extreme naughtiness.

“He is completely the opposite of the “good” pirates that we see in most media representations of piracy. With regards to his involvement with Blackbeard, Edward is very involved in his history. He is part of the Pirate ‘gang’, so to speak, and lives through the same events that they live through. The specifics will have to wait for another day, but yes, Edward will definitely get some quality time with most of the famous pirates of the era, including dear old Blackbeard”.

Just how the two work together remains to be seen, but we’ll know more as we approach the games release on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Wii U from October 29 in the States, and November 1 across Europe. For now, what do you think of Black Flag’s world? Does it sound inviting? Let us know below.

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11 Comments

  1. Lengendaryboss

    Sounds Ambitious but wouldn’t it be better off as a New IP.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @2 maybe yeah. I was tired of AC by the end of the third game. I really felt it was shoddy. But Black Flag has me filled with cautious optimism.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Lengendaryboss

    @Dave
    I really think series fatigue with Assassin Creed And Call Of Duty are starting to take their toll on some people. Thanks for the article Dave i do hope AC4 rights the wrongs set by AC3.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Mjorh

    Like dave , i’m kinda optimistic about this one .Thx btw .
    @3 I think its kinda unfair sayin that AC is exactly the same as COD , u know ACR n ACIII were kinda disappointing ,not all series of AC franchise , now look at the COD franchise , since MW2 we’re playin the same thing with a different story !

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Lengendaryboss

    @4
    No I meant that coming on an annual cycle is the only way their related. There are differences in quality and development cycle.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Mus42

    Seems like Ubi wanted to make a cool Pirate game but felt it was safer to attach the AC brand to it. But clearly no one will mind the AC moniker so long as the game is strong. I’m really up for a decent Pirate game so I have high(seas) hopes for this! :)

    #6 2 years ago
  7. TheWulf

    I just … gah. I wish it was a new IP!

    I mean, I look at this and I remember the nifty naval battles I tried out recently, and then I see that fucking ridiculous Assassin’s outfit and I’m reminded of how the game is going to try to shove HISTORICAL ACCURACY in my face, with pretences of intellectuality, and showing PIRATES HOW THEY REALLY WERE BACK THEN, YO. And they’ll be torn between trying to create the most realistic setting and just being silly.

    It’s always clear that multiple teams are working on Assassin’s Creed, and one of them just wants to create silly, fun stuff, and the other wants to create HISTORICALLY ACCURATE things. And they don’t go together. It just makes me twitch the way they’re trying to moosh them together.

    THIS IS A HISTORICALLY ACCURATE ACCOUNT OF THE PIRATE AGE, INVOLVING FIRE-BREATHING ZOMBIE PIRATES AND GRAVITY-IGNORING ASSASSINS.

    Sigh.

    If only it was a new IP.

    If only those ship mechanics weren’t trapped by such a terribly shit and poorly envisioned IP.

    If only.

    Gods damn it, Ubisoft. I like SOME of your ideas.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. monkeygourmet

    Needs more new IP…

    Could have been great, it’s actually being dragged down by the AC franchise.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Rosseu

    This is lame

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Dave Cook

    @10 Thanks, I wrote it.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. saicharanb93

    Very nicely written article. And gotta say, it was good thinking from Ubisoft. Remember how little gameplay of naval we had in AC3? very restricted………….It was almost like they wanted us to think ” wish there was a pirate game” and boom, they come out with it……………..as Dave said it, AC4 has good reason to be cautiously optimistic for.

    #11 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    The Forest’s latest patch added substantial improvements to the game. The Forest version 0.16 is now live on Steam with plenty of new additions. The game has been ported over to Unity engine version 5. The plant and skin shaders have been replaced or rewritten. Many other visual tweaks have been made, such as model […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront banner leaks from Star Wars Convention

    EA has been setting up the Battlefront booth at Star Wars Celebration, and one leaked picture shows what could be the game’s main art. Someone on Reddit posted a picture of the game banner at EA’s booth. Here it is: Lots of things happening here. There’s a Star Destroyer in the distance, TIE Fighters and […]

  • Get GTA 5 working with Oculus Rift using this tool

    There’s a way you can play GTA 5 in VR if you own an Oculus Rift Dev Kit and have a bit of cash to spare. VorpX, the go-to program for adding VR support to games has received an update recently to support GTA 5. This is far from perfect, as it only translates the […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team: week of April 15 team revealed

    This week’s Team of the Week is now available for anyone to challenge in FIFA Ultimate Team. The team members get selected each week based on their performance during the weekend matches. You can fire up FIFA Ultimate Team on any platform and challenge this squad. You’ll also find some Team of the Week items […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will let you stealth all encounters, including bosses

    Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will bring back one of the original game’s major features. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is considered by many to be a great game and worthy of bearing the franchise name. One of its grating issues though was its boss fights. You only had one way to fight them: be confrontational. The […]

  • Project Cars PC specs and supported wheels announced

    The release date of Project Cars is inching ever closer and more details have been revealed to answer all your burning questions. Project Cars developer Slightly Mad Studios has revealed the full list of supported steering wheels on all platforms, as well as the minimum and recommended PC specs. Minimum specs CPU – 2.66 GHz […]

  • GTA 5 gets custom FOV mod on PC

    Those not satisfied with GTA 5′s built-in field of view slider can use a new mod to push the number even further. The PC versions of GTA 5 – just like its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts – lets you switch between third and first-person view in shooting and driving. The game has an FOV […]

  • Win! GTA 5 on PC!

    Want to win a Steam key for Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC? Just enter here. GTA 5 released on PC this week and is going down a storm. We like it a lot, which is why we’re giving away a Steam code for Rockstar’s latest. All you need to do is enter your email […]

  • GTA 5 topples Skyrim’s record for highest concurrent players on Steam

    Not factoring in Valve games, GTA 5 is the new king of concurrent player numbers on Steam. GTA 5 is very popular on PC, even more popular than games like Skyrim in its heyday. The number of concurrent players for GTA 5 has peaked today at 301,246. This makes it the only non-Valve game to […]

  • Mortal Kombat X: what does a modern fighting game look like?

    Mortal Kombat continues to evolve as NetherRealm adds RPG systems and daily challenges to a solid fighting game, says Sherif Saed. “Mortal Kombat X takes many cues from games like Destiny, Call of Duty, and GTA Online with hourly, daily and weekly events.” For as many of its familiar facets, Mortal Kombat X has enough […]

  • J-Stars Victory VS+ coming west in June – new trailer

    J-Stars Victory VS+ will make the jump (see what I did there) to the west after all. J-Stars Victory VS+ is the western title for the fighting game which stars characters from a variety of Shonen Jump-published manga. Bandai Namco has announced the fighter will release in Europe on June 26 and in the Americas […]

  • Codemasters F1 license good through 2016

    Codemasters has at least one more F1 game in it. F1 2015 isn’t out yet, so Codemasters is naturally not talking about what it might get up to in the future. We do know what it can get up to, though; Codemasters’ Steven Embling told Videogamer has the option to continue the series. “We have […]

  • Project Cars has pretty deep graphics options on consoles

    Project Cars offers players a wide variety of ways to customise their graphic settings on PS4 and Xbox One. Project Cars is a graphics showcase and all early indications suggest it’s going to be one of the best-looking games out there. Slightly Mad’s commitment to graphics seems to go deeper than making things pretty, though: […]

  • Super Smash Bros. patch nerfs Diddy Kong – report

    Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U is great but Diddy Kong is a beast and must be stopped. The latest Super Smash Bros. 3Ds and Wii U patch seems to have nerfed Diddy Kong, a character so over-powered that serious tournament players generate controversy by choosing to use him. Nintendo doesn’t publish patch notes, […]

  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer shuttered

    Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer 2K Australia has been closed down. Kotaku broke the news, and also had word from an anonymous source, who said that all staff have been let go. 2K responded to our request for comment with the following statement: We can confirm we have taken steps to begin the studio closure process […]

  • Samorost 3 trailer shows Amanita still in fine form

    Samorost 3 looks as delicately beautiful as its siblings. Samarost 3 developer Amanita Design has a reputation for gorgeous, slightly surreal world building. This new trailer for its latest adventure looks just as if not more lovely than the previous Samarost games and Botanicula. Samarost 3 is coming to Mac and PC later this year, […]

  • Amnesia dev’s new project SOMA now in beta

    SOMA is nearly here and I am torn between excitement and horrified dread. SOMA is the latest horror project from Frictional, the team behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent. We’re pretty excited to see what Frictional comes up with next, and we won’t have too long to wait, apparently; the developer has announced that SOMA is […]

  • Steam Guard mobile authenticator now in beta testing

    Steam is now testing its latest security measure. Steam helps you protect your account by offering two-factor authentication, a solution so beautifully elegant and effective that it’s astounding every gaming network doesn’t do the same (looking at you, Sony). Valve’s version is called Steam Guard, and it works via email. This isn’t always super convenient, […]

  • Godzilla battles Mothra in new trailer

    Godzilla lets you stomp around cities and battle classic kaiju. I’m in. Godzilla is coming to PlayStation 3 and PS4 in early July, but we haven’t seen a great deal of it since its December reveal. The new trailer below gives you an idea of just what Natsume has done with one of the biggest […]

  • Tales of Zestiria to launch this year – new trailer

    Tales of Zestiria continues Bandai Namco’s delightful new habit of bringing the popular JRPG series to the west before the shine wears off. Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, the publisher has announced. That’s not a bad turnaround, given it first hit Japan in January, and localisation of text-heavy titles is expensive […]

  • Project Cars release date locked down, new trailer released

    Project Cars finally has a release date. Project Cars will release on May 8, Bandai Namco UK has announced. We haven’t yet had an update from Namco Bandai’s other regional offices, but its probably safe to bet the racer will release around the same time in the Americas, Europe and ANZ region. We can now […]

  • Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains trailer shows combat, online multiplayer

    Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains has plenty to offer fans of the anime. Previously known as Attack on Titan: The Last Wings of Mankind, the Spike Chunsoft action game is coming west thanks to Atlus. Gematsu reports it’s due in both Europe and North America in May, via the 3DS eShop. The trailer below […]

  • Bloodborne stamina recovery rate affected by equip weight

    Bloodborne players have unearthed an important gameplay detail not mentioned in the game’s menus or manual. In Bloodborne, players need to manage their stamina carefully for best results. A far more aggressively-tuned affair than past Souls games, Bloodborne does away with equip weight limits, and items have no listed weight details. As far as players […]

  • Street Fighter’s Ryu, Fire Emblem’s Roy spotted in Super Smash Bros. patch – rumour

    Street Fighter’s Ryu is rumoured for future Super Smash bros DLC following datamining of the latest patch. Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U were updated recently, and hacker shinyquagsire23 claims to have found some interesting files while poking around in the 3DS patch data. As detailed on Reddit, the audio files included a new […]

  • Suikoden 3 PEGI rating suggests PS2 Classic re-release

    Suikoden. Suikoden 2. And now: Suikoden 3. Suikoden 3 has been rated by PEGI for PlayStation 3, presumably ahead of an upcoming re-release. Gematsu turned up the rating, and although we have no further information at this time, it’s not much a leap to assume the RPG will turn up as a PS2 Classic on […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront gameplay reveal to be streamed live, new Instagram tease

    The Star Wars Battlefront gameplay reveal will be live-streamed during a panel hosted by EA as part of the Star Wars Celebration festivities this Friday. This is according to an announcement from Verizon and Disney courtesy of MP1ST. The main stream for the event kicks off at 10am PDT/1pm EDT on Thursday, April 16. It […]

  • GameStop to launch retro game and console trade-in experiment

    GameStop wants to get into the retro game and console business, providing it’s a worthwhile endeavor. To test the possibility, it will soon allow customers in Birmingham, Alabama and New York City to trade-in classic consoles and games in-store. Speaking with IGN, a spokesperson for the company said the initiative will kick off on April […]

  • Battlefield Hardline’s first patch addresses five priority issues requested by the community

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch is in the works, and today, Visceral Games has added Punkbuster and Nvidia DirectX driver fixes to the list of issues to be addressed. Miscellaneous fixes for “the most frequent crashes” will be included in the patch, as well as the following “top five priority” issues voiced by the community. Punkbuster […]

  • GTA 5 user videos: Franklin’s exploits, a traffic jam tickle our funny bone

    Since GTA 5 was released on PC this week, the amount of videos being created with the new editing tools are releasing at a quick rate. Below, are three in particular I found amusing. The first one is from James McVinnie, originally posted on Reddit, showing what occurs after he happens upon vehicles in a […]

  • Invisible Inc. is coming to PS4 and has left Steam Early Access

    Invisible Inc., from Don’t Starve developers Klei Entertainment, has been announced for PlayStation 4 and the game has also a release date on PC. The game has now left Steam Early Access and will arrive on PC May 12. Per a post from studio founder Jamie Cheng on the PS Blog, the game will contain […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Ascendance DLC dated for PC and PlayStation

    The Ascendance DLC pack for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare now has a release date for PC, PlayStation 3 and PS4. It contains four new maps, the OHM 2-in-1 directed energy light machine gun, the OHM Werewolf custom variant, and the new Exo Grapple ability and playlist. The Infection episode of the exo Zombies saga […]

  • Killing Floor 2 PC specs and Digital Deluxe Edition contents announced by Tripwire

    A Digital Deluxe Edition for Killing Floor 2 along with PC specs for the title have been announced, along with the new of a Steam Early Access launch later this month. According to Tripwire Interactive, the Digital Deluxe Edition will run you $39.99/£26.99/€36.99 starting on April 21 on Steam. This edition contains the following additions […]

  • Content in Wolfenstein: The Old Blood tips its hat to Return to Castle Wolfenstein

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, the standalone prequel to last year’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, will contain a few nods to the franchise classic Return to Castle Wolfenstein, according to the developers. According to developer MachineGames, the setting works “well with the pulp B-movie thing we’re going for,” and created a prequel instead of DLC for […]

  • Bloodborne is the latest to receive the Honest Game Trailers treatment

    Smosh Games has released another entry in its Honest Game Trailers series, and this time, it’s poking Bloodborne. According to the trailer, the game is “more disturbing” than the scene in South Park: The Stick of Truth where you are “crushed by your own Dad’s balls.” It also has more “stupid top hats than a […]