Interview: Assassin's Creed 2 creative director, Patrice Désilets

Assassin's Creed 2 is Patrice Désilets' first sequel. If there's any anxiety or fatigue squirming inside of him, it's well hidden by an infectious enthusiasm and candor. Speaking with us during E3 2009 in Ubisoft's den (and thus, din), the creative director frankly discussed several issues with us, including one which you may have heard about, over and over again:

Joystiq: Do you mind if I go back to Assassin's Creed 1 for just a bit?

Patrice Désilets: Yeah, yeah, no problem.

So, that game comes out. You're reading the reviews and people are complaining about repetition.


What do you feel at this point? Do you agree with them?

Repetition for me is a point of view, really. Like, what is repetitive or not? You know, sometimes you go and play the same game over and over again and you are all right with the repetitiveness of it. And in AC1 some people just couldn't bear it. We listened to them while we were making the second one, but, I wasn't nervous or mad. What I was a little disappointed with was some reviewers, how they treated us. They have the right to their opinions and everything, but I felt like they maybe went too fast. But you know what? I also received [opinions that were] the other way around. People being really happy about the game. Doing it two, three, four, five times.


And we sold some eight million copies of it, you know.

Eight million people can't be wrong?

Yeah, exactly. Some people really enjoyed and loved the game.

Do you think it was a mindset thing? People who are looking at the game and saying, "Okay, I have to finish all these missions," versus, "Okay, I have to be an assassin and do my job."

Maybe. Maybe a bit of both. I think what something that was lacking on our side, really, is how we taught you. We didn't do a good job of teaching how to really play Assassin's Creed. So, people, when they found a way, they would always use the same thing.


That is one of the reasons why it would become repetitive. And also I think it's because we tried something new. And some people somehow just didn't get it. But it's alright. I would have been really really pissed off if we had good grades but nobody was playing. We recalculated, my producer and I, that roughly between thirty to thirty five million people played Assassin's Creed 1.


You know, if you count all the rentals, the second-hands. Not all the people bought it. They played it on PC.

"So I put in four hundred and twenty flags that were useless. And I knew it."

Do you have a way of tracking that through Achievements?

No. What we know from Achievements is how many people finished the game. And we have a pretty good, successful rate on finishing the game, because we have like thirty five percent of the people who bought Assassin's Creed on 360 finishing the game. We add the last achievement which is you finishing the game.

What about the people who got all the flags?

Those are crazy people.


But that's all my fault by the way. I assume it fully. I wanted to show gamers that sometimes collection is just a useless waste of time. So I put in four hundred and twenty flags that were useless. And I knew it.

Are you going to do it again?

No, I'm not that mean! Once is enough.

One of the things that bugged me about the original game was how, when you talk to people or you get maps and information like that, I never knew that I actually had the map in the inventory.

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. This won't happen again.

Okay ...

I'm telling you, it will be much easier to understand what is going on, to go back in menu and see all the maps. Don't worry. Some parts of the first game we didn't have time to fully tell the player how it worked.

So, jumping to Assassin's Creed 2 now. I saw that the animus effects are much more dramatic. You see the city falling apart and reconstructing itself.


Do you want to draw more attention to the animus in that way?

Let's say that this time around we are not shy about our animus.


We worked really hard on the first game -- we didn't know what was an Assassin's Creed game. We had all those great ideas and we put it together and I think we gave a really great experience to everyone. But some parts of it, we weren't sure if it was really the right decision. And so the animus and all the present was like, "We know it's important, but how do you really take full advantage it?" This time we know, right?


So, we don't have to be shy about the fact that Assassin's Creed is about someone who is going into a machine that lets him relive the life of an ancestor. It is something we never actually told during all the previews and everything. Now, it is Assassin's Creed. You know it. That's why we can change the ancestors this time around.

And there's sort of a parallel between that and playing a game. You're turning on a machine to live someone else's life.

Yes. It's not something I wanted to expose or work with, but now that you have mentioned it then, yes. People say, yes, that's a little bit like a game inside a game, but it's like this narrative, magic device for us.

And I feel like several Ubisoft games that came out in the last two years have taken game concepts like saving, like dying, like repeating a mission, and worked them into the story ---


--- and made them invisible, in a way.

Yes, it's important. When we chat -- between all the creative directors and producers -- often that thing would appear, all those game rules that you live by in other games. In our games, it's like, "Let's make it part of the narrative." It's much more fun like that because then you are never outside of the game world.

If you look at Assassin's Creed, before you press start you're actually not in the narrative and all that, but as soon as you press start -- bing -- you are inside the story. I feel it makes the game something else than only a video game, and in AC1 there was not enough of the "video game" aspect. So, maybe that's why some people said, "What is this?" Some people, they get it‚ they went into it, but this time in AC2 we're putting a bit more video game stuff on top of this experience. But again, I have made sure that all this is narratively driven, narratively justified, because otherwise, you know, what's the point?


For me it's really too easy just to say, "OK, you will have a save point in the menu," for example.

"All I am saying is that Desmond is back and Desmond will do more than walking around. "

I spoke to the producer (Sebastian Puel) earlier, he was giving me the demo of the game, and he said that there would be more elaborate gameplay outside of the animus. Are you going to different locations?

I'm ... not talking about that. All I am saying is that Desmond is back and Desmond will do more than walking around.

Is Lucy back?

Lucy is back.

Okay, do you still have --

Kristen Bell is back. I'll be recording her lines pretty soon.


Because, since it's in the present, it's the glue that links everything. We're waiting to have everything done so the lines for the present fit what's actually in the game.

Do you think that, as the series goes on, there will be a different gameplay ratio between the person you are playing in the animus and the person you are playing outside of it?

I am not sure yet. I don't know where really I want to go with that, yet.

You know, it's like, "Yes, this is a possibility," but somehow, you know, it's also one of the reasons why you play Assassin's. It's to go back then, you know. I understand that for people who are following the entire series, it's interesting. But for people who pick it up for the first time, they want to play Ezio. They want to play during the Italian Renaissance. You have to really balance it out. So I am not sure yet where, exactly ...

What if we put Sam Fisher in the animus?

For me, Sam Fisher is not in my universe. Really, I am like, Sam Fisher is not in the world that I am living, but Desmond ...

Desmond is.

And Ezio and Altair, they are. So, Sam and the Rabbids, they are not coming into Assassin's Creed. [laughs]

So, you are going back in time and you have all these locations that are fairly realistic, right?


But where do you draw the line with realism? Where can you break the rules?

We are always asking ourselves that question, you know? For sure, the official answer is: fun is always first. But sometimes historical matters will bring you fun also. I like to say that histories are licensed. So, yes we can take some liberties, but not too much, otherwise ... what's the point, right? For example, we had a big debate at work about the Rialto Bridge in Venice.


Rialto Bridge, historically, at the time of making our game, wasn't wood, it wasn't the bridge that you can see now in Venice. That was in 1586, if I remember correctly. So, it's roughly 100 years later. They were talking about doing the bridge like that, but all the political people couldn't agree upon how to make a bridge, and that's why it was still in wood -- and we are making it in wood. We could have taken the decision, saying, "Oh, let's do the bridge and everybody understands or sees or knows that." But what's the point in going there and saying we're historically accurate if we're not? But other times, you know, the flying machine never flew.


It was only a drawing. Sometimes we are going into the what ifs. Because Assassin's Creed is also about telling you what isn't written in the historical books. So it's always a balance between the two.

So that's why you have Leonardo DaVinci making all these items for Ezio?

Yes, but Leonardo DaVinci, what is cool is that here we went in a direction to make Leonardo DaVinci the character that he was at the time where you play the game. He's a young Leonardo DaVinci, and that's interesting. He's not that old, with an old beard and white hair and everything that you see, because it's the only drawing that we have of him. No, he's a young, thirty-something inventor or painter who has fun in life and that makes him a different character and much more interesting.

You made him more awesome, is what you're saying.

Yeah, yeah. [laughs] Basically.

I saw in the trailer that he made a gun for Ezio, attached to his wrist.


How does that work in the game? Will you have an aiming reticle?

We're working on the gun mechanics right now in Montreal. I cannot go into too detail because we are not pleased with what we have right now. Basically, the gun is replacing the throwing knives.

In the first game you could throw some throwing knives and you would kill with one shot. This time it's the gun that would kill with one shot but it takes more time to reload and you have to buy bullets and things like that, because we have an economic system this time around.

But the reticle, it's not about aiming. We're having fun with some concepts in Montreal about how to make that gun more fun than only marking off someone and shooting. You'll see. You'll see.

The economy system, how's that going to work? Are you going to have the Resident Evil shop guy, pulling open his coat and selling you stuff?

No, no, no. [laughs] What we're doing is pretty simple. We have those beautiful cities with shops around, right? So let's have some merchants. Basically, we'll have blacksmiths, people who give you all the weapons that you can buy. That's the only one I can tell you because the others have like a big embargo.

But it makes the world more alive because suddenly everything has values. There's treasures around to find. You go in crowds and you steal money.

"We're having fun with some concepts in Montreal about how to make that gun more fun than only marking off someone and shooting. You'll see."

Pickpocketing money?

Yeah. But it's not one-on-one anymore.

Wait a minute ...

You'll see pretty soon. But it's not one-on-one anymore. It's pretty cool. It's one of my favorite parts of Assassin's Creed 2.

You can be a real kleptomaniac if you want to?


What about the technology of Assassin's Creed? You're using the same engine but you're pushing it further. What's the hardest thing to get right in your engine?

First and foremost for me: it's my first sequel. I never did a sequel before. So each time I had to think, "OK, what's the main character?" This time it was so much easier for us to build the game around someone who can free run and fight and climb and whatnot.

It's the same engine, the Anvil engine -- Anvil and Scimitar are the tools in the engine, it's like two names. We worked hard on the light system because I don't know if you noticed, but in the demo it starts at night and it finishes at noon. In the first game, all the maps from beginning to end ...

It was always day.

Right, now we've worked on this. We have redone the entire AI engine to give programmers and level designers and people on the team more flexibility to build new missions and mission types and new archetypes. So we worked hard on this one, but then it takes time to build that world. You don't do four cities like medieval or Renaissance cities like that if you want to be as accurate as possible. That's what we did for the last two years.

And you've got Venice in this one, you've got ...

Florence, Tuscany and another map that we call The Wetlands.

That's not a city, though.

In Tuscany, in The Wetlands, there is a city there, it's just a smaller one than the others. There will be missions but there's no more kingdom that you travel between the main cities. It's two big cities but the new "kingdom" is also a place where you have cities, where you have missions and where the story will go forward and things like that. This idea of having a place to travel is gone. Just like the idea of having an investigation for the assassination after is gone also.

As far as I know, Assassin's Creed 1 never had any DLC at all. What about this one?

I cannot, uh ...

Would you like to do DLC for it?

I would like to do it all, man, but I cannot talk about it.

So I'm assuming you're not even thinking about stuff like co-op or multiplayer?

Again, I cannot talk about that. I think about all those things. My answer to that is I cannot talk about that, but I live on the same planet as you.

Hmm. Do you think that if someone were to do multiplayer, it would work in this universe? It seems like it's strictly a single-player thing.

No, no, but you could. Right now, all our efforts are on the single-player experience, but for sure we could throw a bunch of players in our universe. Give us two hours of brainstorming and we'll show you how that fits the entire universe. I'm sure we could do it.

Ubisoft announced that they're doing short films based on Assassin's Creed 2. Are you involved in those as well?

I approved the scripts. It's really part of the universe and so I'm not involved in the thing -- they're shooting now -- but I know what they're doing. I know where they're going with it. It's part of what we explained at the press conference, this idea of confluence.

For me it's great because it's a universe I built with my script writer and the people from the first Assassin's. There's this entire universe and you can go in and explain part of this narrative, so I'm really happy that, yes, there are three short movies about Assassin's. It's cool.

Three of them?

I think so. There's maybe 12, though. Now you're like, "What?"



What can you tell me about Assassin's Creed 2 that you haven't told anybody else? What is the one thing that I should be screaming from the rooftops?

[laughs] You're too late, it would have been yesterday. I guess I said it all. What can I tell you what I haven't told anyone yet? We talked about factions ... blending ...

You can tell me something ... obscure.

Oh yeah? Well, you know, everything on the walls will be explained eventually. It was a message. In the first game, the thing at the end wasn't about the second game. The guy who wrote that on the wall wasn't like, "Hey gamers, I'm telling you where we're going next!" That's not the point.

It's not linear?

It has nothing to do with Assassin's Creed 2. What's written on the wall has to do with the Assassin's Creed universe, not the second one.

Ah. Do you ever see yourself making different kinds of Assassin's Creed games, set in the same universe?

You mean to go to different time periods in one game?

Let's go with that.

Yeah, that I thought about. We're just maybe afraid ... how do you communicate this?

It would be jarring, you think?

Yeah, for us, but also for the gamer. But you never know. I would like to do it someday.

Well, let's think about the other angle. What about making a game that doesn't play like Assassin's Creed but is still set in the same universe?

That I would like to do also.

Assassin's Kart. Altair's Big Golf Tournament.

Maybe not like that ... but why not? I have many ideas that we could show. I know, for example, that we could do -- and we're talking here, right, there's no plan about what I'm about to say. We could do a game without the animus just in the Assassin's Creed universe, or only with the animus, somehow doing something really special that has nothing to do with memories. The universe, the way I see it, is really vast. It's this ongoing war between assassins and templars. That's the real Assassin's Creed story. And this war has being going on for a long time. I'm telling you. At the end of AC 2 you'll say, "Holy crap, I never saw it coming."

"I'm telling you. At the end of AC 2 you'll say, 'Holy crap, I never saw it coming.'"

So people won't be mad at the cliffhanger?

There will be a cliffhanger; it's cool to have a cliffhanger.

Yeah, the producer was telling me that it should be a little frustrating.

It has to be. But this time around it'll be easier to replay all the missions. So you can go back and have fun on your favorite missions. I'm not telling you how exactly, it'll come later in a communication about the game, but I'm telling you this. You know what? I wanted to replay some missions and was like, "Oh shit, it's tough."

That's what I was saying. Because you can't see the animus parts again.

But this time around, you'll see. You'll see.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.