Three things Assassin’s Creed 2 got wrong, and what Ubisoft’s doing about it

Brotherhood Production Manager Julien Laferrière attempts to soothe our ire.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, October 21, 2010

I dread telling developers what I dislike about their work. At preview events, that is. I have no qualms running games down on high-horseback via the ephemeral medium of Internet, but when you’re actually sharing room space with one or more members of a team, room space bought and paid for by the people paying them, wolfing what is thus indirectly their finger-food, downing their tequila, leaving fingerstains all over their very own dev units, snorting ground-up kittens from the chests of their very own wives and mothers… well, it’s hard to do anything other than grin radiantly in response to the awful, awful question “so, what are your thoughts so far?”

That’s rather naïve and ungenerous of me, though. Naïve because when PR folk stuff you full of free booze, grub and hookers, the idea is naturally less to feed you up as to feed up the score you’ll pluck from the recesses of your psyche six months down the line. And ungenerous because contrary to popular belief/CliffyB’s Twitter account, not every developer has an ego the size of Harrods. Most of these people are quite happy to entertain the idea that other people, knowing relatively little about the internal mechanics of videogame development, might nevertheless be entitled to analyse videogames. Most developers can take outsider criticism, in other words, even to their faces. Even from me.

Julien Laferrière is one of those developers. He was a Production Manager on Assassin’s Creed II, and is now Production Manager on Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. During our most recent hands on with the latter, I had the opportunity to pick his brains about three particular problems with the former. Just what has Ubisoft done to address matters? Brace for subheadings.

VGD’s beef #1: There was too little incentive to use stealth

If you’ve read my previous pieces on Brotherhood, you’ll know that one of my big issues with AC2 was that you weren’t really obliged to be sneaky. Leading man Ezio is an assassin, a deliverer of unexpected death. Ergo, he should be neither seen nor heard. Why, then, am I allowed to run up to this merchant in full view of all Roma, knife him in the ear, counter-kill a dozen Swiss guards, spend 30 seconds in a haystack and stroll away whistling?

Julien’s response: We’ve scaled objectives so that stealthier players are rewarded

“A thing we’ve introduced in AC Brotherhood is the constraints system, so that almost every mission in the game – once you’ve passed a few missions – they have a constraint, an optional constraint. Basically it might be “do this mission and don’t get detected”, for example. So a more casual player could just try to finish the mission, and somebody [more ambitious] could say “I’m going to do it without getting detected”. And in a way, it’s getting into some sort of a special relationship with the developers, because the guys who designed the mission, they’d say “well that mission would be really cool if you played it super-stealthy”. So it’s a way we’ve found to appeal to lots of different kinds of players.”

VGD’s beef #2: PS3 fans got sorry leftovers

Though a far sight from the staticky, juddering mess owners of the buxom black box were lumped with in 2007, Assassin’s Creed II on PS3 is still quantifiably inferior to its Xbox 360 cousin, with tearing in particular many times as rife.

Julien’s response: We’ve learned our lesson, tech-wise

“It’s really important to us of course to release our games on both platforms, and I’d say that the level of maturity and experience we have with the consoles makes us pretty solid on developing for both at the same time. We really know them inside out, so we can extract everything we can from the console. It just makes the whole development cycle easier, because we know them so well we can really focus on the gameplay and telling a story, making a good game instead of struggling with new hardware.”

VGD’s beef #3: Too many bolt-on features

As much as I enjoyed strolling through the precincts of my own, custom-designed Monteriggioni like the Renaissance equivalent of the Godfather, twirling my new wine-red cloak, mulling over the next shoe purchase, I wasn’t really conscious of a connection between these simple pleasures and, well, being an assassin. I also struggled to see many of AC2′s sidequests – rooftop races, beat-downs, poster-ripping, thief-catching, etc – as more than filler material.

Julien’s response: We’re doing more to tie peripheral content into the narrative

“The goal for Brotherhood was to offer the same level of variety by adding new layers – for example, the Borgia towers that change the whole experience – but to have everything tie into the main narrative more. So you might remember the beat ‘em up missions and the races from Assassin’s Creed 2 – now we’ve made them side-missions involving the different factions. So every time you do a side-mission, it might be a race, afterwards you might have a beat ‘em up section, but it will have some sort of story around it to justify it to the main narrative.”

Convinced, readers? Am I blowing smoke up Julien’s arse, or is he blowing smoke up mine? Check out our hands-ons here and here, and an interview with Associate Producer Jean-Francois Boivin here.

3 Responses to “Three things Assassin’s Creed 2 got wrong, and what Ubisoft’s doing about it”

  1. Tom Ato says:

    I thought the first 2 Assassin’s Creed games were absolutely amazing, Assassin’s Creed is one of my favourite new franchises and Brotherhood should be awesome.

  2. Jordan says:

    Each of your beefs is a marked improvement over the first AC however.

    1) You aren’t FORCED to be stealthy the way you were in the first game. Not being able to run or gallop a horse without being chased by guards was a huge liability. Relaxing that resulted in beef #1, but I like it better than AC 1.

    2) As you say, it was an improvement over 1 AND the PS3 version supported connectivity with AC on the PSP unlocking unique content in both games.

    3) Bolt on features? Lets talj flag collection in 1. Other than earning an achievement there was no purpose to them. By collecting items you actually advance the game in 2 (collecting the keys to unlock the armor from the first game, finding all the statues to increase your income at the villa.)

    These things all couod have been done better, but they are leaps and bounds above the first game.

  3. Chris says:

    Assassin’s Creed always struck me having great potential, but I’ve always found their games to be dissatisfying in the long run. It was like playing an open-ended game with mostly repetition to do and gawking at awesome architecture.

    In fact, I liken AC2 to be more like AC 1.5. The way AC1 should’ve been. I still felt cheated by the time AC2 ended though…

    Their conscious improvements with every entry is welcome though and it looks like this newest entry will be the first to strike meaty game-ness whilst balancing with their now-famous presentation.

    I say all this but I’m currently enjoying Sengoku Basara despite it’s ‘behind-the-curve’-ness

    Where is my virtua fighter dammit.


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