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Interview: Talking Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag with Creative Director Jean Guesdon

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[GZ]: Personally, though I imagine I’m not alone, there were times in Assassin’s Creed 3 where I felt disconnected from the world. It was incredibly spacious, but the exploration struggled with immersion, apart from the game’s missions. How would you say that your team is addressing this in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag with a world that’s larger than ever before, and more water-based than ever before?

[JG]: From start this has been THE FOCUS of the team. We knew that creating such a big water-based open world would be difficult and we carefully work to avoid any boredom or sense of emptiness. This work took place at several levels:

·      We worked on the controls of the ship to make sure that only few seconds would be needed between the moment when player decides to do something (say, reach this island or this ship he wants to attack) and the moment he actually does it.

·      We worked on the placement of all activities available for the player when at sea (ships routes, islands, shipwrecks, harpooning zones, forts etc…) On that topic, we clearly learned a lot from our friends of Far Cry 3.

·      We also worked on the pacing of the game and the progressive opening of the world to maintain a sense of tension and temptation.

[GZ]: Not to harp too much on Assassin’s Creed 3, because it was a game I enjoyed greatly, but there were a number of technical hiccups within the world that many reviewers and fans noted. Is this issue prevalent simply because video game worlds are expanding, or is it something that can be addressed? And with the latter in mind, is there a different approach with the team this time around with bugs and other technical issues? Lastly, are the next-gen consoles helping at all with this facet of development?

[JG]: Sadly, technical hiccups are inherent at video games. A video game is always a technical prowess, and I can testify that all development teams work very hard to minimize them as much as they can. Next-gen consoles may help in reducing them mostly when it comes to frame rate and better compression. For Black Flag we always paid a lot of attention to quality control and I’m confident that you’ll enjoy a very stable and fluid game.

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[GZ]: In recent development videos, seamless transitions seems to be one of the most important factors for you guys, whether it be from land to naval, from one type of landscape to another or even ship-to-ship. How much of this seamlessness falls on level design? And can you touch on how this seamlessness will influence a better combat experience when the game ships to fans?

[JG]: From the start, we wanted to make Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag ONE UNIFIED GAME. We've worked really hard to make ONE PIRATE GAME. It is not about a "traditional ground game" with a naval part stitched to it, neither is it the opposite. We wanted to create one game that would as fluidly, as seamlessly as possible, merge the two to create one believable and attractive world where you could spend hours without loading another part of the world.

And because nothing is more fun-breaking than to have your play session split by "external reasons..." I had the team work on the "fluidity" of the experience:

·       The idea is to allow players to immerse themselves in the world of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag for real, with as fewer occasions to be "extracted" from it.

·      This is mainly about reducing the number and length of loading screens but also about improving all the little transitions that we can have between gameplay, cinematic and menus screens, for example.

But the seamless experience is not only about being able to leave the wheel when you want to reach the ground, it's also valid for one of the key activity of being a pirate: the boarding of other ships! We made sure to create this unique, fluid loop where the player freely can attack any ship on the ocean and board it with his crew without any loading. This, we believe, will bring a sense of exploration and adventure rarely seen before.

[GZ]: On a less serious note, what has been your favorite piece in the world to develop, and why? I have to say that those Mayan Ruins look incredibly sexy and like they're a blast to explore.

[JG]: Yeah, Mayan ruins are a must because it gave us the maximum freedom to really level design them with the gameplay in mind first. Honestly it’s really hard to choose and pick one type of location because they’re all so different and bring so much variety to the game. Honestly, to be frank, the world in itself has been a pleasure to craft and develop. When you have such a talented team of level designers, artists and technical directors, it’s just pure fun!

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[GZ]: Are you able to elaborate on how multiplayer development has differed from past Assassin’s Creed titles? From a level design standpoint, have you guys undergone any major changes with multiplayer?

[JG]: Multiplayer is definitely a key part of the global offer an Assassin’s Creed game offers to players. And this year will make no exception. The introduction of the Gamelab will, for the very first time, allow players to generate modes and set of rules that will be playable by friends and the community. This sounds to be a turning point for the franchise.

[GZ]: As your team has been developing this gorgeous open world, has the team drawn inspiration from any other games out who have “mastered” the open world formula?

[JG]: When developing Black Flag we wanted to create our own Assassin-Pirate game, but, for sure, we also had a look to games that proved themselves right in the way they were tackling open world. To name a few, Red Dead Redemption, Zelda: The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass and, of course, our own Ubisoft open world games with Far Cry 3 and Assassin’s Creed's previous installments.

Tags: Assassin's Creed 4, Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, Black Flag, gaming, Ubisoft, Jean Guesdon, video games

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