Assassin's Creed II isn't only holding its own in the year's hottest charts, but has managed to secure itself a Game of the Year nomination at the VGAs this week and a stable MC rating of 91 percent.
If you've been playing these last few weeks, you'll know the plaudits are well deserved. The original's lack of variety has been so soundly buried under tons of superb presentation and sheer class that the game's massive team can rightly line up for its giant "win" stamp.
With Ezio's adventures being very much of the moment, we managed to grab some time with scriptwriter Corey May and producer Sebastien Puel to chat about getting such a massive title through to completion, justification for that much-debated slow start and the thinking behind the game's showstopping "Nintendo joke".
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Interview by Patrick Garratt.
VG247 - You must be so thrilled at the reaction the game's getting. On a scale of 1-10, how please are you to finally ship?
Corey May - Twelve! But it’s more complicated than that, in some ways. On the one hand, I’m obviously VERY happy (and relieved!) to be done – on the other there’s a weird feeling of “what now” – this thing that basically consumed my life for two years is gone and done.
We keep seeing numbers of over 300 for the AC2 team size. Can you tell us once and for all how many people worked on the game?
Corey May - There were around 250 people working on the game.
While praise for the game's been pretty much universal, one common criticism is that it's got a slow start, and doesn't really get going until Ezio returns to Firenze. Do you agree? Can you tell us a little about how the game's pace was planned?
Corey May - I think it was necessary to spend time with Ezio as a carefree adolescent, unaware of his heritage. And it needed to be more than a token five minutes. So in that sense I disagree. But I fully admit that we could have refined the sequence so that it either moved faster or provided the player with more action-oriented activities. This would have likely made a big difference. But at the end of the day I think the idea of the beginning of the game is important. So, if I could do it again I’d try and “sharpen” it but I wouldn’t cut it. Ezio’s origins are an integral part of his adventure.
You're pretty much unique in that you stood your ground against Modern Warfare 2 with a triple-A title in this release window, and everything points towards that being a wise move. It may even be true that MW2's helped AC2 by raising general interest: would you agree?
Sebastien Puel - There is a lot of competition - like every year at this time. I do believe we do have a very unique proposal for gamers: Assassin's Creed is a non-linear, open-ended game set in an historical background. We're offering a systemic gameplay and a vast playground. I do believe this makes Assassin's very different from most competitors' games, such as Modern Warfare 2.
AC2's a pretty exceptional example of story-based gaming. In terms of narrative delivery, what was the team's goal with the sequel?
Sebastien Puel - Our goal, I suppose – like everything in else in the game - was to address and modify what people didn’t enjoy in AC1 and amp up what they did. It was definitely a challenge because we wanted to increase personality of the characters (especially our protagonist) but there was also a desire to streamline the narrative. Less is more is tough, for me, at least. You really have to economize. Every word becomes important – because suddenly I’m tasked with doing in 20 seconds what I would have done in 120 in AC1. You’ll hopefully notice that the cut-scenes in the game tend to be very short and some are even integrated into the action - information is delivered as you play. We also decided to “direct” the cut-scenes this time around which made them more engaging.
We got rid of the long monologues; well, we transferred them. You have Codex Pages, letters, enemy database videos - stuff like that. So, people who are into the details have a place to go and a way to access them. And then with the truth puzzles, we even made uncovering information interactive. What we’re striving for is a way to merge gameplay and narrative so that the two don’t fight with one another for people’s attention. I think we’re making progress, but there’s still plenty more we can and hopefully will do.
Just to keep with the story, AC2's a very adult game, even if it does have comic overtones. Were you ever tempted to tone it down at all to avoid higher age ratings?
Sebastien Puel - We were never in danger of an AO rating, that I’m aware of, so it really wasn’t much of an issue. We have a pretty good sense of what is and isn’t acceptable. So maybe on some level you could argue I engage in a bit of self censorship but I don’t see it that way. It’s just common sense. Nothing was left out of the narrative that needed to be there. I think it’s why we’ve been able to be a little subversive without drawing the ire of hysterical talking heads.
On the subject of DLC in general, it seems pretty obvious you're going to be serving the game post-launch, mainly because whenever anyone asks about DLC, everyone just says, "No comment." Will there be DLC? You're going to say, "No comment," right?
Sebastien Puel - Actually no, we’ve announced that there will be 2 DLC this week. Battle of Forli and Bonfire of the Vanities coming out in January/February.
[These questions were sent off before the DLC announcement - Ed]
I have to ask this. There's a Nintendo-based joke in the script a few hours in. I'm sure you know what I mean. Who on earth came up with that? My jaw nearly fell through the floor.
Sebastien Puel - Patrice wanted a reference and I found a way to do it. I wanted it to be both natural and unexpected – and I think it works. The line completely fits the context of the scene. He’s simply making an introduction to his long lost nephew!