Yesterday's Kotaku interview with Assassin's Creed II creative director Patrice Desilets covered a lot, but it did not reveal his thoughts on some of the more surprising and controversial parts of ACII. That's in this post, which is all spoiler.
OK. If you're this far into this post, then I assume you have finished Assassin's Creed II or don't mind having parts of it spoiled for you.
We talked in some general terms about making a game based on history. It's something that Desilets sees as an Assassin's Creed franchise trademark but also "a pain in the ass sometimes." It creates rules that he and the team who conceive the AC storylines are tempted to obey. "Sometimes it gives us ideas. Sometimes it gives us constraints… You want to kill that character, but he didn't die until he was old. So how do we kill him? So we don't kill him." Historical characters will only die in this series when they died in real life.
Consider, then, that the following is an Assassin's Creed franchise rule regarding the death of the fictional characters in the games "that cannot be transgressed," according to Desilets: "You cannot have your ancestor die, because then you couldn't have any memory. You need to move the memory forward." So Ezio or Altair or whoever else might star in the playable historical re-lived memories of true Assassin's Creed protagonists, the modern-day Desmond Miles, cannot be killed in the memories Desmond is experiencing. Otherwise, those memories could not have been passed down. and experienced by Miles via the Animus device But, Desilets noted with a chuckle, there probably is one way around this no-death-during-remembered-moments limitation: "The only way would be to die while fucking."
Some history is bent in the series, of course. Players know this as long as they assume that Rodrigo Borgia may not have really been in a secret society that sought a sci-fi golden apple. And they might know this if they believe that Machiavelli wasn't really in an assassin's guild. These deviations from historical fact are okay, Desilets said. "It's a feeling." He could see, for example, Machiavelli as a fighter. "Is he a fighter really? He was more of an intellectual. But it seems neat to have Machiavelli with a weapon. It's much more cool than to have this guy who is always writing. That's not fun. So we decided he fights, but that's not [the real] Machiavelli." On the other hand, Leonardo Da Vinci cannot be an assassin. Ever. "Imagine Leonardo with a sword and it doesn't fit… There's so many things we can do that sometimes we just have to say, 'I feel it or not.' And it's not really much more scientific than that."
Rules of life, death and sex aside, why did Patrice Desilets go and mix the widely-praised historical parts of Assassin's Creed with the less popular parts of the series that go all sci-fi, with an end of the world, 2012-pending apocalypse, evil corporations and a seemingly alien race meddling with human history? (Remember I said this post would be all-spoiler?)
Desilets describes the series as "A mix of what I really like: history and science fiction. It's a junction between the two." He is aware that the Desmond parts, slow-paced and frequent in the first Assassin's Creed and more sparingly used and action-based in the sequel aren't universally loved. "I know a lot of people are more into the history than the present, but I know that this time around [with the sequel] people understand the present part much more than they did in the first game. In the first game they thought it was useless, but now I'm reading some forums people want to know what's happening with Desmond. Even if some people, like IGN, don't want us to talk about Desmond."
He's aware that some people felt blindsided by the amount of sci-fi in Assassin's Creed II, especially the end-game conversation between Ezio, Desmond and the otherworldly Minerva about a pending modern apocalypse. But that's what players signed up for. "It's been there all along, since the first one, since we developed our thing. If you remember, at the end of AC1, the apple showed this entire world map. No, it's planned. I don't want to talk too much about it, but it's part of our back story… it's a mix of historical accuracy and science fiction and where they meet." He cites Dune and Isaac Asimov as personal sci-fi favorites as well as a love for history and a fascination with assassins.
A few more spoiler topics. That Alatair flashback in Assassin's Creed II? "The flashback was planned as soon as we did our first conception meeting [for the sequel]," he said. These days, it seems natural that Assassin's Creed II would have a different main playable protagonist than the first game. But it was a creative and business risk to chuck the lead character from a popular first game. So Altair had to at least show up. "We said we needed to do something with Altair. Altair needs to be back somehow. He can't be the star of the show, otherwise we missed our point… but somehow he needs to be back. [We came up with] this bleeding effect that would allow Desmond to re-live a memory without an Animus. We said that's great. And we have Acre, the map, so we said let's take a portion of it and make it and we can tell a portion of the story of Altair." Was it wedged in by marketing to promote the Altair-starring Assassin's Creed Bloodlines? Desilets said the marketing team can have good ideas, just like anyone, but it sounds like they're not the ones to credit/blame for ACII's Altair return.
Back to the past. Assassin's Creed II, via some cutscenes and the level unlockable via a Uplay connection, explains some of the Assassin's guild history that bridges the first console game and the second. It mentions Dante and Marco Polo. Even further into the past, ACII shows what appears to be the Biblical Adam and Eve running through a Garden of Eden that is really an alien (or lost) civilization on Earth. I asked Desilets if I could infer from all that that we could get an Assassin's Creed: Adam and Eve: "I don't know. Not any time soon. Is that a good answer?"
Desilets is coy about who would star in future Assassin's Creed games. But he is playful about the possibilities: "You never know… you could also say, 'Oh there's six more games to do with all the assassin's that we showed you. We could do games about them. … We did a graphic novel and in the beginning of the graphic novel there's another assassin from the Roman Empire. We could do a game about that."
So, no hints? No. But he did say that the outline for the Assassin's Creed series is more fleshed out now than ever before. "I have a general idea of where we want to go. The more we go forward the more we know the more we decide this idea goes, let's do this, this and this. It's not like the [storyline] bible is perfect and finished. It's ongoing for us. But we know more and more now."
And now, Assassin's Creed II fans, the floor is yours. Feel free to talk about spoilers, be it what Desilets had to say or your own theories.