Assassin’s Creed 4: bridging the next-gen divide

By Patrick Garratt, Tuesday, 10 September 2013 13:51 GMT

Assassin’s Creed 4 will release on six formats spanning the greatest generation gap gaming’s ever seen. Patrick Garratt speaks to Black Flag’s multiplayer bosses about filling the power vacuum.

Developing Assassin’s Creed games is always Herculean, but adding a generation transition presents brain-melting challenges. Black Flag, the sixth main game in a franchise spanning 15 full releases, will ship on six formats including Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Speaking to VG247 at French studio Ubisoft Annecy, the site specifically focused on AC4’s multiplayer, game design boss Tim Browne admits bridging the current and next generations has been “tough”.

“It’s been a challenge, but it’s a challenge we relish,” he says. “But one of the advantages we have going into next-gen is a proven formula with Assassin’s Creed multiplayer. We want to do new things, but it also has to work on current gen. We’re well aware that there are a lot of people out there who are going to stay with current gen for a time to come. That said, we know what Microsoft and Sony want to do with their consoles and we’re really excited about working on it.”

Director Damien Kieken says the process had necessitated the inclusion of an engine capable of spanning the variously powered formats.

“We’ve had the same engine since Brotherhood, and for this year we integrated a new engine that works on current gen and next-gen consoles,” he says.

“Then we did upscaled, specific development for next-gen, so the character models are four times higher textures and polygons than the normal ones.”

While the next-gen versions will feature enhanced cosmetics – the finer characters, for the record, will also be included in the PC version – there’ll be added benefits for early adopters of the new machines.

“There are very specific next-gen features which we’re catering for as well, which you won’t have on current gen. Not just graphical improvements, but certain other things,” says Kieken.

While they’re cagey about what they can and can’t say about next-gen features, certain versions, for example, will show your true name in multiplayer. Streaming elements are also being utilised on the next consoles, and Browne notes the obvious performance improvements: current-gen SKUs will be 30FPS, while the Xbox One and PS4 versions will be 60FPS “at a much higher resolution”.

“It is a challenge”

The playable content in both versions is the same, but Kieken doesn’t find this too restrictive.

“It is a challenge, but for a multiplayer game we need to have to have a ton of players, so we’re happy to work on more platforms because it means in the end we have more people to play with. It’s a win.”

One thing common across all formats is a strong commitment to DLC. The studio’s said it’s to release “at least” one year’s worth of post-release content.

Says Kieken: “It’s a bit like on AC3. We’re doing events every month. I don’t want to spoil everything, but I think people will be very happy with the rewards. We’re going all-in on that. We have a big team only doing support. It’s one of the things you need and want to do for a multiplayer game, to always push new content, to keep the players happy, to keep them playing.”

“It’s something we’ve wanted to do for some time,” adds Browne. “We’re very excited to be able to do this now.”

Exciting improvements in AC4’s multiplayer span all formats, and many have been borne from user feedback. In the co-op Wolfpack mode, for example, Annecy has trimmed back the four-player game to two-player if you’re teaming with strangers. The logistics of getting three random players to co-operate for long enough to get a decent game proved too much for many.

“With only one guy is easier,” says Kieken. “If you want to play with three or four players, you have to play with friends. That’s the current design. We will be able to change it post-launch if we need to.”

Adds Browne: “We’ve listened to the community, and we’ve taken on board a lot of things, like, Damien said, we know people found problems with random players at four. We’ve taken it down to two and already with playtesting we’ve seen very good results. We listen to the fans a lot more than they realise.”

The ultimate proof of just how important the player is to the Annecy team is Gamelab, a system which allows complete configuration of multiplayer modes and systems, with more than 200 parameters tweakable. It works on the current-gen versions, but it’s a great example of how Assassin’s Creed is paying attention to its fans as it moves forward onto the new boxes.

“I think it’s one of the things that will come more and more on consoles, because players want to have control of the game,” says Kieken.

“It’s a really good step.”

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag releases on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Wii U on various dates in October and November.

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