Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Rating Pending Genre: Adventure
by Matt Leone 03/24/2006
At the Game Developers Conference in San Jose today, Ubisoft's Jade Raymond and Patrice Desilets delivered a speech called "Defining the Assassin." The speech was set up to show the development team's approach to game design, and in the process revealed a lot about Ubisoft's mysterious next-gen game Project Assassins, which has previously only been shown in a brief trailer at last year's Tokyo Game Show.
The main concept the developers wanted to share is the idea of "organic" game design. Their goal is to make a game that a person who isn't accustomed to the traditional video game 'language' can understand and not be intimidated by. "Current-gen games are accessible as long as you know the video game rules," said Desilets. To achieve a next-generation experience, nearly every element of Project Assassins will attempt to focus on providing realism to the player.
This means that everything in the world will be realistic. If someone jumps, they will jump a normal human distance (or, at least, the normal distance of a street runner who can jump and perform fancy tricks -- Ubisoft showed reference footage of scenes like this). If someone climbs up a wall, they will only be able to do so if there is actually something sticking out of the wall for them to climb on. If someone jumps, they will not be able to double jump or turn in mid-air -- though they will be able to reach their hands out and grab onto a ledge if it is close enough to them.
Much of the early tech demo footage shown in the presentation focused on these platforming elements. The team that is working on Project Assassins is the same team that created Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, so it makes sense the game will have lots of platforming elements. But from what we saw at the presentation, it's clear the team wants to take the idea to the next level with quick travel between rooftops, up ladders, and all around a stone and grass covered European city.
The control scheme as well is being designed not to intimidate newcomers to video games. By using only the left analog stick for movement and buttons for each body part and to move around the environment, things are being kept simple. The individual body part system won't quite work like that in Tekken, however. Whatever situation the player is in, they will be able to perform a contextually sensitive action using that body part by pushing the button -- it could be an attack or something less aggressive.
The controls are also being designed to make player interaction with non-player characters realistic. If you literally run into a character in a town, instead of slipping past him as you do in most current-generation games, your character will physically take out his hand and shove that character out of the way. Sometimes this shoving is violent, and sometimes it's very calmly presented and just done so the character can slip by without crashing into the NPC. In one scene shown in a tech demo, the hero shoved so many enemies that everyone in the town starting coming after and attacking him. There's a lot of animation in these kinds of standard interactions that looks to make the game movement very realistic.
Perhaps the most ambitious part of the presentation was when Desilets mentioned he hopes to create a new control standard for third-person action games. He hopes that as there is now with dual-analog controls for first-person shooters, there will soon be a standard in place for third-person games, and it will be one that non-gamers can pick up in addition to hardcore players.
As part of the control scheme in Assassins, combat in the game will also be performed realistically, but as Desilets explained, realistic combat leads to one-hit deaths, so the team has implemented a system where your character blocks with his sword by default, and can choose to attack or be attacked at key moments along the way.
Partway through the presentation, the developers showed a video of a skit from Chapelle's Show, where Dave Chapelle imitates the Grand Theft Auto series by doing game-style things in real life -- and showing how ridiculous they look. Ubisoft's goal with Assassins is to get past this type of fake reality altogether and create something that works in a truly realistic way. To these developers, that is truly next-gen design.
We don't know much about Project Assassins' story or main character -- or even how the balance of action and adventure elements will work -- but today's presentation left us with a lot of hope for something new in the industry. If the game can achieve a sense of realism as ambitious as the developers claim, this could be a big step forward in game design.
Oh, and a final quote from Desilets: "We didn't mention it [in the presentation] but there's also a horse in the game." Sounds next-gen to us.