By Scott Steinberg
Having sold more than 9 million copies of medieval hit-man simulator Assassin’s Creed II , publisher UbiSoft opted to take a bold step with its sequel, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Unsatisfied with simply letting players stalk targets through ancient Rome’s streets and make acrobatic getaways, Ubisoft decided to add eight-man online head-to-head support to a leading franchise known primarily for its story-driven solo campaigns. It was a potentially fatal gamble, but Arnaud Mametz, lead designer at UbiSoft Annecy, reveals how the series successfully made the jump without committing career suicide.
Scott Steinberg: Development-wise, what was the toughest part of transitioning from a solo to an online game?
Arnaud Mametz: The challenge with AC: Brotherhood was twofold: Respect the license while adapting it to the multiplayer universe. Strong as Assassin’s Creed’s narrative element is, its game mechanics are very deep. It’s based on three pillars: freedom of movement, social stealth and fighting. Translating the first two was easy from a design standpoint -- fighting was the challenge. We wanted players to feel that they’re both hunter and hunted. With that in mind, it was obvious they should be able to kill in one action: It creates power, but reinforces tension.
S.S.:Other major design challenges faced include … ?
Maintaining consistency was another issue. The idea was to put players into the role of a master assassin who needs to be a perfect killer to approach their target, but must also watch their back. Creating a living, breathing multiplayer-compliant crowd was the biggest challenge, though. NPCs have to be everywhere and identical from everyone’s point of view. Everything that happens has to be visible and understandable by anyone else. That’s not a problem in solo mode, but for multiplayer, we cannot have something vague or almost correct; otherwise, the game isn’t possible. And once we did manage to have crowds appear correctly in maps, a new challenge appeared: How to have hundreds of computer-controlled characters reacting to eight players’ actions.
S.S.:Funny you should bring that up. How does the game’s acclaimed crowd-based artificial intelligence system work?
A.M.: Core gameplay mechanics are based on tracking down a target and avoiding a threat, so basically, it’s all about other players’ positions and status. In addition, we ask players to use observation skills to find real opponents in the middle of other skins that look like them. So a huge part of the development was dedicated to NPCs and their moves, players and their animations and finally, the kill system.
S.S.:Sounds gruesome. Dare we ask?
A.M.: We had to create an overall system that monitors players’ different actions and positions to see if a kill was accomplished or not. In a classic shooter with ranged weapons, it’s easy to know if a bullet hits the head or not (since the target’s speed and possible animations are limited). In Brotherhood, the character is able to perform a lot of different moves and can run at high speeds. So designing a one-shot kill system with fast-moving characters running everywhere was a small nightmare.
S.S.:Just what kind of resources did it take to overcome these hurdles?
A.M.: Five studios and 500 people have worked on the game. Work on multiplayer started two years ago with different hide-and-seek gameplay prototypes. When you work on something new, you have to create everything from the ground up. That means trying lots of different things and throwing away more. Nearly 100 people worked on multiplayer alone.